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Orders of the Day — Iran (Temporary Powers) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:35 pm on 12th May 1980.

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Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Epping Forest 9:35 pm, 12th May 1980

The cases are different, as I have said. I hope that there will be European solidarity in this matter.

It is said that we ought to be chary of supporting the United States because on this side of the Atlantic we stand to lose more by sanctions than would the Americans. In the last decade, Iran became one of the United Kingdom's biggest markets—I think the largest in Asia. I hope that the Minister of State will say something about that in his reply. He may be able to confirm that our trade with Iran has recently been reviving. Now we are being asked to place it in jeopardy, and even to cut it off.

We on this side of the Atlantic stand to lose more by sanctions. On the other hand, it may be thought strange that 35 years after the end of the Second World War we are still relying on the United States to provide the military protection both of Western Europe—or that part of Europe that is still free—and of interests in the Gulf and the Third world that are more important to Europeans than to Americans. Here I answer the pedantry, the expression of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who laid great stress on the narrow boundaries of the North Atlantic Alliance.

It is an anomaly that we should rely so heavily on American military protection. Why do we do so? We in Western Europe are more productive than the Soviets; we are more advanced in science and technology than the Soviets; and we outnumber them. Nevertheless, we have been readier to will the end of a greater independence within the Alliance than to will the means. The means are rearmament and the sacrifices that that will impose.

This Bill is required—no one has made any secret of it—by the volatile and emotional state of United States opinion. This Bill is required by the indispensable Alliance, but an alliance runs more than one way. I am glad that the hon. Member for Ilkeston referred to Northern Ireland. The Minister of State, Foreign Office expressed the hope that this measure would gain us influence in Washington. But let him, let the Foreign Office, press for a redress of inequities in our relations. Let them be corrected. Let the Royal Ulster Constabulary be provided with the hand guns that it requires to protect itself and its fellow citizens. Terrorism is terrorism, whether it takes place in an American embassy or in Northern Ireland.

I repeat that this is an enabling Bill, and I hope that it will not have to be followed by the laying of orders that are harmful to mutual commerce. We are in a moving situation. British soldiers, police, firemen and others have earned the admiration of the House and the world by risking their lives to save Iranian hostages. Tehran should be prepared to listen to London.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) mentioned the Straits of Hormuz. I was there recently, and flew by helicopter quite close to the Soviet warship that always lies in anchor on the edge of the waters of the Sultanate of Oman, to which my right hon. Friend also referred. It may or may not be of comfort to hon. Members to know that the guns in the Soviet ship that I saw were covered up, and that half the ship's company were sunbathing and the other half were playing volleyball. The Straits of Hormuz—the North bank of which is Iranian, of course—are of great importance.

I certainly commend to the House what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone. A President of the United States, more distinguished than some since, believed in speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Equilibrium in this important region calls for Western maritime and military forces, to which the British and other European navies should contribute. If that be a thick stick, it is no more than is required by the balance of power, and, indeed, the integrity of Iran, which is in danger of disintegration stimulated from the Soviet Union.

Reverting to the homely adage of President Theodore Roosevelt, I hope that the soft speaking will be left to European and Muslim Governments. I trust that private diplomacy is at work as we debate the Bill this evening and that Her Majesty's Government are enlisting help from friendly Muslim States. Most of them have been appalled by the taking of hostages in Iran. I am not surprised at that.

I think that I am the only hon. Member in the House who has served an independent Muslim Government. Admittedly, Pakistan is a predominantly sunni rather than shi'a country.

We have heard a number of generalisations about Islam. It is dangerous to generalise about any of the great religions. Christianity has a Pope. Christianity has the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). Similarly, Islam is divided. The hon. Member for Ilkeston correctly spoke of the quarrels in Iran between rival religious leaders.

Perhaps I could quote a few words by King Hussein: I am deeply disturbed when I see actions in the Muslim and Arab worlds that are totally alien to its teachings. We are taught to protect foreigners and their property, even in a state of war. Foreign emissaries have always been respected and protected. It is the sacred duty of the state and society to do so. I cannot help but conclude that we have been penetrated by alien forces, acting under the guise of Islam. These forces seek to destroy Islam and the strength it gives Muslims to survive against foreign ideologies. I have a suspicion that the so-called students in this crime are more amenable to the small but disciplined Tudeh Party, and therefore to Moscow, than to Tehran or even to Qom.

The USSR, supported by the GDR, vetoed the United Nations Security Council resolution that would have given practical effect to the world organisation's condemnation of the outrage in Tehran. I wonder whether that was wise. Soviet missions abroad would have no special immunity from crimes such as that with which the Bill is intended to deal.

Her Majesty's Government have to deal with more legitimate authorities in Iran than those that are being manipulated in Soviet interests. We note the gratitude that has been expressed by President Bani-Sadr to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and this country. I trust that dialogue is in process.

Finally, Britain is no enemy of the Islamic revival. Britain once ruled or protected millions of Muslims. In the post-imperial phase, she should not be too insular to study the good that is in Islam.

The Christian West should acknowledge part, at least, of the Islamic criticism of Western civilisation. The Christian West understands, as does Islam, that the answer to Marxism is not more materialism. Whatever the House decides tonight, for Iran the consequence of Soviet imperial patronage is apparent in the Horn of Africa, South Yemen and Afghanistan.