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Orders of the Day — Iran (Temporary Powers) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:17 pm on 12th May 1980.

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Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down 8:17 pm, 12th May 1980

The Bill was commended to the House in a remarkable speech. I doubt if there are many parallels to be found of a Minister being so evidently miserable at opening a Second Reading debate. Ministers have opened Second Reading debates with greater and lesser amounts of enthusiasm, but they can rarely have done so much with such manifest distaste. It is to be hoped that the Minister's speech was not listened to, and that it will not be read, by either of the two groups to whom he claims it was directed. He refuted the argument that the Bill would influence the Iranians; and the Americans would have been ashamed and angry to hear how the measure was commended as a means of influencing the United States.

The speech of the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) was very different. The right hon. Gentleman traversed both bivalves of the Minister's argument with great force. He then arrived at the opposite conclusion to that to which his argument had led. Had his speech been handed down from antiquity in manuscript form, textual critics would have unhesitatingly distinguished Isaiah A in the first two-thirds of the speech from Isaiah B, a quite different person, who was responsible for the remainder.

In introducing the Bill, the Minister made no effort to justify it on the ground that sanctions would produce a specific and foreseeable effect. Indeed, his opening words, which were as remarkable as anything in his speech, were that this Bill was a Bill "for the good health of the Alliance". Nevertheless, as the House is being invited to place upon the statute book part of a framework—for some of the framework is apparently already there—under which sanctions can be imposed in connection with the taking of the hostages, it is not unreasonable to spend at least part of our time considering whether the economic sanctions which are—perhaps—to be levied under the Bill will conduce to that result.

I do not think that there is disagreement in any quarter of the House as to the general experience of economic sanctions as a means for altering the behaviour of the Government of the country against which they are levied. By now, all of us realise that even the apparent exception of Rhodesia proves the rule, since sanctions there, if effective at all, were effective only when, after the collapse of the Portuguese empire, military force and infiltration had filled the scene.

If that is true in general, if that is true of sanctions levied against Governments coldly pursuing a pre-determined course of action, how much more must it be so in the case of the Iranian Government, and of those varied groups who appear to exercise power in Iran. What is likely to be the effect upon those whose enthusiasms and beliefs have produced the revolution in Iran of hearing that a number of Western countries, linked perhaps with Japan, have decided to attempt, not indeed to starve them, but in some way to choke them by cutting off trade with them? I should have thought that, apart from anger and ridicule, the almost inevitable and foreseeable result would be to promote greater determination and greater pertinacity.

But then, we are not dealing with a single, collective, organised form of Government. As the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar said with great accuracy and force, we are dealing with a shifting scene, where one group after another appears to exercise power. What foundation can there be in those circumstances for thinking that we can select a particular group—there was the phrase used by the Minister introducing the Bill, "Give a signal" he said "to the sort of people who understand the realities of the outside world"—or for making the extraordinary supposition that we can identify a "sort of people" in Iran, and then target or beam this measure upon them, so as not only to persuade them but to give them the means of prevailing over the other forces at work in that country?