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Iran

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th February 1986.

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Photo of Mrs Renée Short Mrs Renée Short , Wolverhampton North East 12:00 am, 5th February 1986

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations were made to the Iranian authorities about the recent boarding of a British ship; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

Our policy rests firmly on the general principle of freedom of navigation. The Iranian authorities have been asked for an explanation of the reasons why the British registered Barber Perseus was stopped by the Iranian navy on 12 January.

Photo of Mrs Renée Short Mrs Renée Short , Wolverhampton North East

What damage was done to the British ship, and if damage was done, has the Minister sought compensation for it? What steps is he taking towards creating international co-operation to ensure that such an occurrence does not recur?

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

I can assure the hon. Lady that no damage was done to the ship. Regarding the international legal position, we uphold strongly the general principle of freedom of navigation on the high seas. Iran may be entitled under article 51 of the United Nations charter to exercise an inherent right of self-defence by stopping and searching foreign merchant ships on the high seas. However, that is an exceptional right, and can be used only if there are reasonable grounds to suspect a vessel of taking arms to the other side for use in a conflict.

Photo of Dr Maurice Miller Dr Maurice Miller , East Kilbride

What is the difference between one country stopping a ship and boarding it for reasons known to it, and another country doing the same with an aeroplane?

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

Under article 51 of the United Nations charter there is a specific and inherent right of self-defence by stopping and searching foreign merchant ships on the high seas. The Iranians are using that specific right to stop merchant ships. As my right hon. and learned Friend said earlier, the international convention on hijacking means that terrorists should be brought to trial either by prosecution or extradition.

Photo of Mr Anthony Kershaw Mr Anthony Kershaw , Stroud

Will my hon. Friend confirm that it would be against our long-term interests to abolish the right of search on the high seas?

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

Yes, I take my hon. Friend's point. None the less, we are anxious that the Iranians should act extremely cautiously. Our position is based on the general principle of freedom of navigation and the United Nations charter.