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Orders of the Day — Iran (Temporary Powers) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:20 pm on 12th May 1980.

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Photo of Mr Raymond Fletcher Mr Raymond Fletcher , Ilkeston 9:20 pm, 12th May 1980

I find myself in an odd position. I am asked to vote for a Bill which, I am assured by many of its supporters, will not do any damage because it cannot work but will have a restraining influence upon the military proclivities of our major ally in the Western Alliance.

Quite frankly, such a Bill is in no sense a Bill at all: it is a declaration. Had the Government presented to us a motion declaring our contempt for the political organisation—they are not students, as the Minister well knows—which kidnapped the hostages and still holds them, stating that we condemn that sort of actions and that we as a House support all the attempts, through diplomatic and other means, to bring about their release. I should vote for the Bill. But I might, in return, expect from the great Power that I am told has been protecting me for so many years a resolution passed through both Houses of Congress condemning the terrorists who are tormenting the citizens of a certain part of the United Kingdom, namely, Northern Ireland. Let us have a little tit-for-tat in the Alliance if it is to remain an alliance.

We have heard a good deal of waffle about how grateful we should be for what the Americans did during the war and what they have done since. In politics, gratitude is an emotion to be encouraged upon occasions. But if I were to allow my actions to be dictated entirely by gratitude, I should have to vote Communist at the next election because 20 million Soviet soldiers died to destroy Nazi Germany. We should not conduct our political discussions in the House in that way and in those terms.

Why do I call the Bill, as I do contemptuously, a scrap of paper? Because the Minister himself knows quite well that sanctions invariably produce the opposite effects to those intended. We could go through history and pick one or two examples such as the rigid sanctions imposed upon Napoleonic Europe, backed by the most effective naval blockade in history—the wooden walls that guarded every French port. What happened in Napoleonic Europe as a result of that form of sanctions and blockade? Did scientific progress cease? Did the population drop? I expect that it dropped a little after battles. Did the economy collapse? Above all, did the power and authority of Emperor Napoleon diminish by one iota? It did not.

It is tragic that we continually find soldiers talking more sense than politicians. Sir John Glubb, creator and leader of the Arab Legion, wrote in The Times recently that, when we make war against revolutions, instead of calming them we make them more revolutionary. It happened in Russia in 1917. That could have been a Menshevik revolution. Lenin himself anticipated no more than a bourgeois revolution and had no conception of a leap forward into Communism or Socialism. Outside intervention did its work and produced the State with which we now have to live.

There are other examples of the denial to people of the means of life, by however small a degree, intensifying the feelings that prompted them to make the revolution in the first place.

I happen to know a little about Iran. I have not been there recently, but I was there during certain interesting negotiations which were being conducted between the Shah and the leaders of the Soviet Union, to which I shall refer briefly later. However, in Iran we have so confused a revolution that possibly the most intelligent intelligence officer in our employment cannot yet decipher its outlines or predict its outcome. Part of it is revolutionary in the Western sense of the term and talks of Socialism and taking over property and the oil wells, and part of it wants to go back to the thirteenth century and the purity of Islam as it was assumed to be in the thirteenth century. Mullah is against mullah, ayatollah is against ayatollah, party is against party and the last election produced an absolute goulash of a result which will make it impossible for any kind of firm government to operate for a time in Iran.

But nature abhors a vacuum. Someone must get the tramways running. Someone must keep the sewage moving through the pipes. The apparatus of ordinary life must be maintained. Therefore, public order must inevitably prevail, because it is as much a necessity as food and drink.

Although I say it with certain reservations—I am inclined to believe that assemblies such as our own, with all the good will in the world, may muck up this process—I expect that revolution gradually to lose its fierce, fanatical Islamic character and simmer down into something like a normal kind of revolution—not very pretty, not manned or staffed by people with whom one would care to go to dinner, but nevertheless running a country in a revolutionary way which is different from the way of the Shah.

Then we may get a government, and with such a government we may be able to negotiate. When I use the collective pronoun, I do not refer simply to ourselves and the United States, and still less to those who will be voting in the next primary election—with which I do not doubt the Bill has a little to do. I am talking about the world community. I am talking about those States which belong to the United Nations—those international organisations which were listed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore). They can have something to say and they will be able to get the hostages out.

That may take a long time. Other American hostages have been held in the Far East. It took a long time to get them out, but in the end they were got out by negotiation with people who were red in tooth and claw, if Conservative Members like that kind of description. If these sanctions were to be applied, if the Bill were to become a reality, and if as a result the Iranians felt "The whole world is against us. Once it was only the Americans, but now it is the whole Western world, and we have done business with them", what do they do? They may say that we supported the Shah. But, even though the Shah was not the worst of all despots, he was certainly no democrat. The Shah might appear to make a good gesture if he sent back some of the money as a first instalment towards the release of the hostages.

The average Iranian thinks that the whole world is against him. However, he will hear a voice from the North, from comrade Brezhnev. Mr. Brezhnev might even learn the language in order to tell the Iranians that the whole world is not against them and that Russia has never been against them. He might point out that agreements were concluded with the previous Government, in the belief that the Shah had been introducing modernisation and the use of progressive methods.

I do not wish to be accused of romancing. I have an article that has been written by an Iranian who is deputy to the director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The pamphlet deals with the Soviet Union and the Persian Gulf. It lists other trade agreements, and demonstrates that differences of ideology and of religion never interfered with business between the Shah and leaders of the Soviet Union. He pointed out that the Soviet Union had an agreement to pipe Iranian gas which was flaring uselessly into the atmosphere into the Soviet Union and Comecon countries. As some hon. Members may know, there are few better bargainers than hardened Communists.

In 1975 Iran reached an agreement with West Germany, France, Austria, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union to embark on an ambitious project. It was agreed that 13·5 billion cubic metres of Iranian gas should be piped through the Soviet Union into West Germany and other Western countries at less than world prices. It was a great deal. The first stage involved $3 billion. An installation was constructed at Ispahan. No doubt this information is in the Library. It is extremely instructive and shows that the Soviet Union was ready to collaborate with the Shah. It shows that the Soviet Union is ready to collaborate with the Ayatollah if he and his followers are driven to near desperation by the imposition of sanctions.

Have we not come to a pretty pass if we enact a Bill in the hope that we shall be able to restrain an ally from engaging in military action which may start a chain reaction engulfing the whole world? This legislation is meaningless. We are discussing sanctions that can have no effect. They cannot be applied without a blockade. We are discussing measures that will have the opposite result to that intended. We are talking about words which will not release a single hostage from a cell. Finally, we are talking not about solidarity with our strongest ally but of restraining our strongest ally from military action. Are we in the House of Commons or are we in a lunatic asylum? I sometimes wonder.