– in the House of Lords at 11:36 am on 9th February 2006.

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Photo of Lord Hurd of Westwell Lord Hurd of Westwell Conservative 11:36 am, 9th February 2006

rose to call attention to the situation in Iran; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, I am most grateful for the opportunity to start a discussion among your Lordships about Iran, which I think is timely and of great importance. What happens in Iran is linked with events in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, and to some extent we cannot make sense of this situation unless we look at the whole. An observer 10 years ago, trying to look forward, might have guessed that the Palestine dispute would remain unsettled. But I do not think that even in a nightmare he or she would have supposed that Britain would have 8,000 troops deployed in southern Iraq and be sending 4,000 troops to southern Afghanistan for three years. Both are dangerous missions in disorderly places, with troops in both cases in danger, not primarily from foreign invaders but from those Afghans and Iraqis who resent our presence as a foreign occupation. Nor would the observer have guessed that while extending ourselves in those two places we would be locked in a tense argument with a powerful country lying between those two deployments, because of well founded fears that Iran has an ambition to copy Israel and Pakistan by becoming the third nuclear military power in the region.

My first point is this. I wish I felt confident that the planners in Whitehall, the Chiefs of Staff and, above all, the Cabinet sometimes looked at these linked issues as a whole. Of course they come from different backgrounds. We find ourselves in these situations—originally I had written "wandered into these situations"—for different reasons, but the situations are related. My worry, based on some experience, is that the more difficult the issues in each case, the more short-term will be the consideration of those issues. That is the first point on which I would like some reassurance.

It is easy to oversimplify—we all do it all the time—by trying to fit all these situations into one category. Some talk about them as part of the war against terror, the struggle for energy, the battle against tyranny and in favour of democracy, or the clash of civilisations or religions. All of those are elements. Just as the countries and situations are geographically linked, so are the elements within them. But we can only conclude, I believe, that we find ourselves in a thoroughly dangerous situation. It is dangerous for British troops, dangerous for British interests and dangerous for the peace of the world.

The handling of that situation, looked at as a whole for a moment, will require exceptional skill from the Government. It will involve disposing our Armed Forces, which are second to none in skill and, where necessary, cunning, and diplomatic and intelligence services, which have a high and deserved reputation. But all that depends on skilled, clear leadership from the Government. I hope that the Government and all of us will not be ashamed to learn from some mistakes of the recent past. Above all, I urge that this time, across the whole range of linked issues, we get our facts straight and put them plainly to Parliament and the public.

I have a special reason for making that last point. It is very hard, even for those of us who try to follow these matters, to follow them successfully and to discover what is happening on the ground in any of these areas, but particularly in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. The media—this is entirely understandable and many of us have discussed it with journalists—are hugely concerned partly with the expense but overwhelmingly with the danger of sending people to cover these situations. That is particularly true in Iraq. It may well become true in Afghanistan, and there are different difficulties in Iraq.

The result is that there is no continuous thread of reporting in our newspapers. I find that I have to read the Herald Tribune or the Wall Street Journal—American newspapers—to get anything like a continuous thread of reporting. It is as if we are passengers in a vehicle driven by Ministers, as is right, but we are to some extent blindfolded. We therefore rely, more so than in other issues, on Ministers to see clearly and to have our confidence won as passengers by what they tell us. That is a big responsibility on government and it applies in these situations even more than usual.

On Iran, it seems to me that the Government must be right in opposing further proliferation in principle, and in this case in particular, and that they are right to distrust the assurances of a regime which is undemocratic, oppressive, unreliable and a friend to terrorism. They have also been right to build up pressure on that regime through mobilising diplomacy, and they have been right in their tactics. They have been right to join our European partners; the Foreign Secretary has been right to take the initiative with his colleagues in France and Germany; they have been right to get the approval of the European Union as a whole; and they have been right to set off down a diplomatic path. I believe that that will increasingly be the pattern for the future—for example, in our relationships with Russia.

We have a choice as Europeans. There is no compulsion and no treaty obligation but there are shared analyses and shared interests, which I believe increasingly will lead us, as in this case, not to squabble and fly off in different directions, as we did over Iraq, but to come together and work together.

The other big difference over the handling of Iraq is that this European effort is in partnership with the United States. European diplomacy was first accepted rather sceptically and grudgingly but then warmly welcomed by the United States, and it is now part of that country's policy. This is the United States in the second term of President Bush. The rhetoric and the speeches are broadly the same—there is a continuity—but the practice is different. I have seen it described in one newspaper today as "neo-realism", following the neo-conservatives. It is the rediscovery of diplomacy, and perhaps it is the State Department reasserting its control over foreign policy.

The first phase of this diplomacy, based on the IAEA, ended without agreement. That is not particularly surprising because I believe that we are in for a very long haul. But the achievements have occurred through the IAEA conclusions about the concealment and non-compliance practised by Iran. Those conclusions, and the endorsement of them by a wide range of the international community and, now, the acceptance that there needs to be a transfer of the discussion to the Security Council and acceptance even by Russia and China, are important, although limited, achievements. Now there is a pause until March and then the Security Council will discuss the matter. Again, there is a big difference between what one might call Bush 1 and Bush 2. There is no longer scorn of the Security Council but a reliance on it.

The pressures build on Iran, but I believe that they will take a long time to build effectively. Can the Minister tell us something about the status of the Russian proposal to enrich uranium for Iran in Russia? Is that acceptable to us or to the United States? What are the prospects for it, and what is Iran saying about it?

I should mention sanctions because that issue is in the background of both this debate and the Security Council debate. I shall not press the Minister for details, but I hope that the Government will be calculating what might do some good, what might increase the pressure and what the traffic in the Security Council is likely to bear. The United States already applies extensive sanctions to Iran because of history. What would therefore be involved is the Europeans, Russia, India, China and so on joining in some of those sanctions to help build up the pressure.

Perhaps I may say a word about the use of force. There are always bellicose journalists who urge us to bring on the bombers, but I think that everybody, including those in Washington, is fully aware of the grave risks involved. It may be tempting to speculate on a focused attack just on nuclear installations. However, we know from Iraq that there is no such thing as an attack that is so focused that no innocent people are killed. Any such attack involves killing considerable numbers of innocent people. I am not qualified to comment on the technical possibilities of a focused attack on nuclear installations, but such an attack would leave an untouched, angry and revengeful government in Tehran with probably a united people behind them. That would be true whether the United States or Israel launched the attack. An attack by Israel would be regarded—accurately, to a large extent—as a joint effort with the United States.

I have not seen the next point made before. However, Britain would be vulnerable in the above situation. We have chosen to station our troops, in modest numbers, whether in southern Iraq or southern Afghanistan, where we are uniquely vulnerable to this kind of retaliation from nearby Iran. We cannot realistically and for ever rule out the use of force. If the regime in Iran or its successor moved from words and piled up an unmistakable danger, I do not think that we could entirely rule out the use of force. But we should not deceive ourselves that we can have some sort of strike without a war, or some sort of war that does not involve huge dangers and damage and many, many thousands of casualties, our own and Iranian.

I should say something about democracy and the attitude and appeal of the President of the United States. In a way his appeal to the Iranian people was similar to the appeal to the Iraqi people. But there is a difference. Saddam Hussein and his family were corrupt and self-seeking and built palaces as part of the parade of power. In Iran we are dealing with puritanism as well as patriotism. President Ahmadinejad appeals to the poor, dresses simply and behaves simply. He has the same sort of appeal as Hamas on the West Bank and in Gaza and as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. We should not neglect the importance of the puritan appeal in an area of the world that is marked by such glaring inequalities.

Patriotism is also important. Iran is an ancient country with a huge history of which it is very conscious. This is more than simply a platitude for after-dinner speeches; it is a relevant political fact. We have forgotten so much of our history and, in a way, the Iranians remember too much of theirs. They remember past glory; they remember humiliation—at our hands, Russian hands and American hands; and the coup of 1953 against Mossadeq—things which we never knew or have forgotten. Out of this comes a deep reluctance to be told by other people how they should behave.

I will not deal with the question of exiles and the rights of the PMOI because other noble Lords will make that point. They may be right in urging the deregistration of that organisation from the terror list. But I do not believe that we can say that exiles from abroad hold the keys to the future of Iran. We made that mistake in Iraq and I do not think that we should repeat it, however admirable and brave these people should be.

We need to build up the pressures, but also to indicate the rewards. An Iran which accepted to forswear military power; recognised the need for peace with Israel, as all the Arab governments do, and had decent respect for human rights—that Iran—should have a notable part in deciding the future of the Middle East and the security of the Gulf. Arab countries are already beginning to talk about the possibility of observer status for that sort of Iran. We should say this now so that it clearly sees both the pressures building against it if its increasing isolation continues, but also the rewards available if it takes the other course. The pressures are inevitable, and we should build them up, but the rewards should be evident. That requires patience. And patience, in the rather hectic, media-driven world in which we live, is often mistaken for weakness. I am clear, however, that patient strength is the only way in which to see our way through these great dangers. I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Lord Temple-Morris Lord Temple-Morris Labour 11:52 am, 9th February 2006

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, for giving us the chance to debate Iran at a very topical and relevant time. I congratulate him on the way he has introduced the debate, and I shall be referring to many of his points as I go along. He is aware of my long-time interest in Iran, and I am only too well aware of the balanced and knowledgeable way that he dealt with Iran, often in difficult times, when he was Foreign Secretary.

First, by way of a declaration of interest, I have never had, and do not have, any financial interests in Iran. There is a personal interest, however, in that I have been married, if not to the country, to one of its former citizens for 41 years. I am the president, and have been for some years, of the Iran Society. I was an officer, mainly chairman, of the British-Iranian All-Party Parliamentary Group in this building for 31 years; I resigned from that office, while in this House, together with a number of other offices to do with Iran—keeping the Iran Society, which is purely cultural and non-political—because of my deep reluctance to have anything officially to do, as a Back-Bench volunteer, with the present regime in Iran.

By way of background—the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, has touched on this—we are dealing with an old civilisation and a very fine people who have been grossly abused by various rulers and invaders. Over a couple of thousand years, they have developed a psyche of weathering the storm, and absorbing the ways of the invader. That has led, in order to survive, to their wanting to be told what to do, and even an expectation that others will do it for them. That gave us the vulnerability which led to the tragic Iranian revolution of 1979. The net result of that revolution, and the psyche of the people, was that the only two organised elements at the time took control: the mosques and the secular Left. I mention this because it is relevant to what we do in the future.

After the revolution, there was a particularly vicious and nasty civil war between 1979 and 1983. The secular Left, in the form of an organisation that exists now—the People's Mujaheddin of Iran—lost out and eventually left the country in 1983. Before, during and after the war, it suffered persecution of monumental and extremely unpleasant proportions, which extended to its female as well as its male members.

The United States took the wrong approach to the present situation. It tried to isolate Iran from an early stage, which made the situation worse. It failed to support elements in Iran which could have made more of a difference then than perhaps they can now. It is a sad precedent that when a country such as America, much as we love it, is expelled from a country—for example, Cuba—it finds it difficult to forgive.

Europe is just about as united as it can be over Iran, but we are for ever in commercial competition within Iran and we are not strong enough on our own, without the United States, to make a real difference. Russia is heavily involved commercially in Iran, particularly in its nuclear industry. It will, I think, play it both ways and end up profiting out of Iran. China, which is on the wings, has made a speciality of getting into many countries with which the West is in difficulty or is leaving. In such cases, it does not, I am afraid, care very much about the nature of the regime. Finally, let us not forget India. India has an awful lot to gain from Iran. Its outlook, subject to international public opinion, will be commercial.

Internally, Iran is in a mess; it is in an economic and political mess. It has more than 60 million people. It cannot provide jobs for its youth. It has an Islamic government. Nobody is really in power—a different answer here, a different answer there, but with one important exception: internal security. It is completely dependent on its oil, gas and natural resources. It has a bad infrastructure. Its aeroplanes crash; its lifts do not work. I could continue in that vein. Its non-oil exports are minimal. Tragically, it has made a mess even of its caviar industry. It is dependent on the West for consumer goods. Noble Lords will perhaps have a different view, but the East will not be able to replace the West in a country which has always leant towards the West and will continue to do so. It is nonsense to think that the West needs it more than it needs us. We need its oil, but it needs the money with which we pay for it.

Iran presents certain problems for us, the first of which is the nuclear issue. I am convinced—the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, has already mentioned it—that it is going for a nuclear bomb, and I am equally convinced that it cannot be trusted with it. This leads to the seriousness underlying this debate, as has been said.

Terrorism has largely been limited so far to Arab-Israel, to Hezbollah and to Hamas, but some serious meddling in Iraq does not augur well for the future. British lives have been lost because of it. So it is a serious situation. If there was a military strike in whole or in part on Iran, the potential terrorism that would come out of Iran would dwarf anything that is happening in Iraq, however ghastly that might be.

We need to strike a balance between pressure and maximum sanctions and isolation. Isolation is dangerous and unpredictable, but pressure remains relevant. People will argue for dialogue. I have spent 26 years since the Iranian revolution indulging in dialogue with Iran. I am quite convinced as a result that it will not genuinely engage and that it will play for time. I have already mentioned its vulnerabilities: the economy, infrastructure and population. We must support dissidents within and outside Iran. They expect it and they want a lead on it. Secondly, we must continually expose—and not just in a little resolution in some UN committee—its atrocious human rights violations. We must support protestors within the country all the time. A recent strike by bus drivers in Tehran and its repression was largely ignored by western media in spite of appeals—particularly to trades unions—to help. That is an example of something we should take action on.

Finally, one thing will really hurt and will illustrate where the Government stand. I have thought a lot about it, and I have never advocated this before. I dealt earlier with the civil war in Iran after the revolution. To de-proscribe the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran—which has never been a terrorist organisation as far as this country is concerned and has a perfectly respectable political wing—as a terrorist organisation would be the biggest signal that could be sent. Dialogue is no longer a priority; action and pressure are. In bringing action and pressure, we have to encourage the Iranian people, not the administration, because, at the end of the day, only they can do it.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, may I remind noble Lords that this is a timed debate? Each noble Lord has seven minutes and if he goes beyond seven minutes on the clock, he is into his eighth minute. Every minute we go above detracts from the time that the Minister has to respond.

Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat 12:01 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, I shall keep that remark in mind. It pays to put our relationship with Iran in some perspective. As has been said already, the Iranians are a very proud people. Through their history, they trace themselves directly to the ancient Persian empire. Indeed, they tell me that the collapse of the Persian empire, following its defeat by Alexander the Great, still grieves them to this day, some several thousand years later. So the injustices that the Iranians suffered at the hands of the United States and us over 50 years ago are as fresh and disturbing to Iranians as if they happened yesterday. Iranians remember well that in the 1950s, the United Kingdom introduced a two-year embargo on Iranian oil exports as a response to Mossadeq's socialist government nationalising the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. They remember well that the United Kingdom, again in league with the United States, orchestrated the overthrow of their Prime Minister and the reinstallation of the Shah to counter the threat of Iranian oil and gas fields falling under the influence of Russia.

When I visited Iran, I was amazed to find that it is one of the few countries in the world where the BBC is intensely distrusted. Iranians believe that BBC World Service announcements to Iran facilitated the regime change of Mossadeq. Again, they believe that the 20 million demonstrators who took to the streets against the Shah, which led to his fall, were mobilised through the BBC. That is what Iranians believe, and today they are still deeply suspicious of the United Kingdom instigating regime change from outside.

Iranians look around and see the US and UK military presence in Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan and the Gulf states. They are more or less surrounded. It is hardly surprising if Iranians consider that the pursuit of nuclear weapons as a deterrent to attack is the logical course. So how should we react? Clearly, threats of military reprisal could well be counter-productive. They could reinforce the inherent distrust and the hold that the regime has on the Iranian people through fear. They could encourage conservatives in the Iranian regime to pursue nuclear weapons development with all possible haste.

Our intelligence services and other intelligence sources conclude that Iran is pursuing a twin-track programme: the legal development of nuclear-fuelled power generation as a substitute for gas and oil and the illegal development of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons—illegal because Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Intelligence sources have concluded that Iran is aiming to reach a stage when it can switch from civil nuclear power to include nuclear weaponry development in the shortest time possible. Iran's scientists and engineers are thought to be about five years away from producing Iran's first thermonuclear weapon.

Clearly the West has to react, but surely not by attempting to repeat the type of regime change carried out in Iraq. Intervention must be under the aegis and through the authority and legitimacy of the United Nations. Any other route would surely lead to ever-greater and possibly catastrophic instability throughout the region.

As a first step, the UN Security Council could condemn Iranian failure to comply with the undertakings that were given to the IAEA and demand compliance. The United Nations could follow up by authorising a number of actions to reinforce that compliance. It could, for example, seek UN oil sanctions. As has been mentioned, oil comprises 80 per cent of Iranian exports. It is unlikely to be easy to achieve this. China, for example, takes about a quarter of Iran's oil exports, and her burgeoning economy has a huge appetite for oil. Russia, too, is likely to object, and India, as has been mentioned, as well as Japan, South Korea, France and Italy are all major customers for Iranian oil.

We could seek energy equipment sanctions through a United Nations Security Council prohibition of the transfer or sale of oil and gas technology to Iran. That is a smart sanction, and could be a significant move that affected the regime more than the Iranian people. Again, however, it could be difficult to get agreement, given Russia's energy interests. Are military strikes a contender? Under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, the UNSC could authorise a strike against military targets, but that is extremely unlikely. Military strikes by the United States, possibly backed by Israel, are perhaps more likely, but given the scale of the nuclear development facilities at Esfahan, it would need to go far beyond the concept of mere surgical or pinpoint strikes to be effective.

The inevitable outcome of that would surely be a large number of civilian deaths, and Iranian military conventional retaliation against Israel and US and United Kingdom assets in the region. Are we ready for that? It could also mean the destruction of the ancient capital of Esfahan, founded by Shah Abbas the Great in the 16th century. A world heritage site sits on the crossroads of the ancient silk caravan routes. Are we prepared to commit that destruction?

There needs to be a change in the political climate in Iran to encourage policies and initiatives that are not based on the presumptions of external threats and duplicity. In that context, the use of external agents to instigate internal regime change is clearly a non-starter. The Iranian regime is under internal pressure to change. The population has more than doubled since the revolution. The young people are vastly in the majority, and they are pressing for greater social freedom and economic opportunity, but external threats, implied or direct, allow the Iranian Government to suppress the call for change by prioritising the need to defend Iran from external attack. While the Iranian regime can mobilise public support in defence against threats from the West and thus justify harsh restrictions on civil liberties, reform will be slow.

Finally, there needs to be a clear demonstration from the United States and us that, through compliance with the IAEA, Iran need not be under military threat. We could start with a security guarantee to Iran from the United States and continue with a commitment in the longer term to the creation of a nuclear-free zone throughout the Middle East as an extension to a successful peace process in which Iran could play a prominent role. I fear, however, that that is a long haul indeed.

Photo of The Bishop of Rochester The Bishop of Rochester Bishop 12:08 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, in the debate today, many will rightly focus on the political situation in Iran—some have done so already—and on its implications for the region and for the world. Iran's relations with her neighbours, the confrontational situation with Israel and international unease about Iran's nuclear ambitions are all causes of significant concern.

A number of people in this Chamber can address these concerns better than I can. I am sure that they will do so. Indeed, they have done so. I wish, however, to draw your Lordships' attention to some features of the situation which should not be forgotten. The first is that Iran is not only a revolutionary Islamic republic. As has been said, it is the bearer of an ancient and dynamic civilisation which predates the coming not only of Islam but of Christianity. It has also had a hugely creative relationship with Judaism. The remaining Jews in Iran are a legacy from the time of Queen Esther.

This civilisation has its own sense of history, its own literature—historical, poetical, scientific and theological—and its own culture. Nor have the people of Iran always been victims of invaders. They have sometimes been conquerors of other parts of the world themselves. The relationship of that complex heritage to Shi'a Islam is not always straightforward. It is largely awareness of that civilisation that distinguishes Iran from its Arab neighbours. As a factor in the national consciousness, it should never be underestimated. It would certainly play an important role in the cultural and spiritual renewal of the Irani people.

Secondly, there is a great deal of ferment in Iran; that has been hinted at already. There is a spiritual hunger and thirst that is not being quenched and that continues to seek freedom for the spiritual quest. Young people, who are by far the majority, are dissatisfied with the artificial constraints imposed on their access to knowledge, entertainment and current affairs. They wish to be treated as adults in terms of their relationships and are looking for trust not for repression. It is difficult to see how any regime can indefinitely hold back the tide for change.

Thirdly, the ulema or the fuquha, the religious scholars themselves, or at least some of them, are opening up to the outside world. In Tehran, Qorn and Meshed, they are studying, translating and commenting on contemporary philosophical, literary and theological movements and works. There are projects for translating the works of western theologians, for instance—people of other faiths—and there are regular programmes for inter-faith dialogue. In the past week we have seen the dangers of caricature all too clearly. We must not succumb to that tendency but evaluate carefully where such intellectual activity is leading and what impact it will have in the long run on that nation's life.

Music, poetry and film continue to flourish even in post-revolutionary Iran and are often the vehicles for social comment and political criticism. Any policy of exchange will need to support the recovery of Iran's ancient heritage. The work of the British Institute of Persian Studies has been second to none in that respect and I hope it can continue. The young need to be encouraged and the religious scholars supported in their wish to widen their horizons. Whatever happens politically, we must make every effort to continue and increase academic, cultural and religious contacts.

I make a final observation: the United Nations and other monitoring agencies have consistently singled out the parlous state of Iran's religious and ethnic minorities. Their freedom is in many cases significantly restricted. Their properties have been confiscated and they live in constant fear of being reported to the Basiji, or revolutionary guard. Their survival and welfare should be in our minds when we consider the political options.

We pray that Iran will, once again, attain greatness not on the basis of its military power but because of the sensitivity of its people, the scope of its art and literature and the sweetness of its language. We pray that it will be once more a respected member of the international community and that it will make its own special contribution. As an Iranian poet has said,

"Iran Khudaya bar zamin, dar har Zaman azad bad

Kuh o dar o dastish hami, az rachmata abad bad".

He says,

"Oh God may Iran be free in every age, its hills plains and forests flourish by your grace".

I am sure we can all say "Amen" to that.

Photo of Baroness Gould of Potternewton Baroness Gould of Potternewton Labour 12:15 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for initiating the debate and for providing the opportunity to consider the position of human rights in Iran and the inclusion of the PMOI on the terrorist list.

It is just about a year since I spoke at a symposium of parliamentarians and jurists calling for the removal of the PMOI from the terrorist list. I said then that I hoped that the following year would be the year in which a dark and brutal chapter in Iran's proud history would close and a new dawn would begin. But what is the reality? What has happened since? As we speak, Nazanin, an 18 year-old Iranian girl, languishes in solitary confinement in a Tehran gaol, counting down the last days of her short life. Nazanin has been sentenced to death by one of Iran's Islamic courts. She was accused of killing the man trying to rape her in a park in Tehran when she was just 17 years old. A weeping Nazanin told the religious judge that she and her 16 year-old niece were attacked by three men who wanted to rape them. The judge accepted her account but nevertheless condemned her to death. This is the regime we are talking about.

Nazanin's story is not an isolated one. Earlier this month, another girl, Delara Darabi, was sentenced to death for a crime she allegedly committed as a minor—a crime she absolutely denies. A particularly repugnant case is that of 16 year-old Atefeh Rajabi who, in August 2004, was hanged in public for what the religious judge described as "acts incompatible with chastity". He then personally put the rope around her neck.

Since the new president assumed office—undemocratically elected by only 10 per cent of the population—150 men and women have been hanged in public in Iran. The total number of political executions in the past 26 years is believed to exceed 120,000, many of whom have been minors. Iran has one of the most deplorable records of human rights violations in the world. There have been no fewer than 54 UN resolutions condemning the ruling mullahs for their continuing grave violations of human rights. As has been widely reported by international human rights organisations, the government of the radical Islamic president has been stepping up international repression. Executions, arbitrary arrests and violent suppression of anti-government protests and strikes are on the rise.

The nuclear danger can never be underestimated; it has to be one of our major concerns. But that does not mean that we should lose sight of the fact that millions of Iranians are living under this repressive and theocratic regime. From the onset, the president's policies have exhibited a volatile mixture of nationalism and radical Islamic social engineering. His language has been one of contempt for the international community and for religious and ethnic minorities; there has been xenophobia, anti-Semitism and an absolute rejection of compromise, so clearly illustrated by his vow to defy referral to the Security Council of his suspected nuclear ambitions.

As is so often the case, women are the first victims of the renewed crackdown by the ultra-Islamic radicals. Earlier this month, the president's adviser said that plans to enforce gender segregation on Iran's pedestrian walkways were well under way. The official said that this was part of a government plan called "Enhancing the hijab"—that is the veil—"culture and female chastity". When the president was the mayor of Tehran, he ordered all buildings belonging to the municipality to have separate lifts for men and women. I assume those lifts were actually working.

In Iran, violence against women has been legalised and institutionalised by the state. A recent study conducted by the National Welfare Organisation found that two-thirds of Iranian women are victims of domestic violence. Iran remains one of the only countries in the world where women are stoned to death. Last year, the UN Special Rapporteur for Violence Against Women, Professor Ertürk, chastised Iran over what she said were abuses and discrimination built into the Islamic republic's laws. She wrote in her report:

"Iran's laws do not provide protection for victims of domestic violence and make it difficult to escape violence through divorce".

She also said that suffering wives face time-consuming judicial procedures and stigmatisation.

At the same time as condemning the Iranian regime, we should be offering our support to Mrs Maryam Rajavi, as did my noble friend Lord Temple-Morris, and the Iranian resistance for staying true to their goal of standing up for the basic rights of the Iranian people. As well as revealing to the world the mullahs' nuclear weapons programme, their terrorist atrocities carried out in various parts of the world and their interference in Iraq, the PMOI and the NCRI have been fundamentally the primary source of information concerning the Iranian regime. As the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said, getting information is difficult.

It is therefore a grave injustice that the PMOI should find itself proscribed and have restrictions placed on its activities. The placing of the illegitimate terror tag on the PMOI was an undeserved gift to the mullahs, as has been the policy of appeasement which only strengthens the mullahs in their abuse of human rights. It is about time that we stopped appeasing the mullahs. It is about time that we de-proscribed the PMOI. The proscription of the PMOI does not have the support of many hundreds of parliamentarians, British jurists or the British public. I believe that Britain is in a unique position to take the lead in launching a new policy initiative on Iran and forging a transatlantic consensus that will through a robust, creative and firm diplomacy prevent Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. I ask my noble friend the Minister whether the Government are prepared to take up that challenge.

I end by doing something I never believed I would ever do—quote from an editorial in the Sun. It says:

"Meanwhile, the EU has stupidly labelled the only effective internal opposition, the PMOI, as terrorists.

The PMOI has never targeted the West. It publicly ceased attacks on the Iranian military in 2001.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw must today demand EU action to lift this crazy ban.

And stop appeasing a regime that aims to hold the Arab and Western world at nuclear gunpoint".

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative 12:22 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, I, too, agree with the Sun on this occasion. I thank my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell for having initiated this debate. I am well aware, when listening to someone with his experience, how much I have to learn.

I start with some facts known to us all. Few doubt that Iran is a sponsor of terrorism, retaining close links with the most notorious terrorist groups in the Middle East. Few doubt that it has been making trouble in Iraq. Few question that with the intensification of its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, it is a threat to world peace. Few doubt that the regime is an evil dictatorship with complete contempt for human rights. But after the experience of Iraq, I doubt whether anyone yearns for a war launched by the US, Britain or anyone else to topple the regime. Most people want to see change—peaceful change, if possible—brought about by the people of Iran themselves. One would like to see the West pursuing policies which make such change more rather than less possible.

I frankly admit that it is only comparatively recently that I have come to study these matters, and I repeat that I am no expert. Noble Lords will also appreciate that I am not automatically attracted to organisations with Marxist leanings. But I have come to the same conclusion as the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and many others on all sides of the House. It is clear that the PMOI is a member party of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which is an alliance of a number of parties, individuals and groups, acting as a Parliament in exile, calling for an end to the present regime, calling for free elections and a democratic state. As for the PMOI itself, it appears to be by far the largest and most active opposition movement in Iran, and before being banned by the regime in 1981, had half a million members.

The US Congressional Research Service describes the organisation as,

"a major opponent of the regime in Tehran, advocating democracy, human rights protection and free-market economics for Iran".

Right now, the PMOI is active within Iran carrying out propaganda and political campaigns and it has proved itself the best source of intelligence about what is going on there. In 2002, it was the first to reveal Iran's secret nuclear sites.

I pay close attention to the words of my noble friend Lord Hurd who doubts whether the exiles have the capacity to bring about change, but nobody has told me of any organisation other than the PMOI which offers any hope of bringing democracy to Iran. Nobody has told me of another organisation which also has broad support and which is also in a position to tap the huge discontent and yearning for change in Iranian society evidenced by the boycotting of the last presidential election.

Back in 1997, America put the PMOI on its list of terrorist organisations. There is reason to think that that was not so much out of concern for the organisation's activities as to further a policy of rapprochement with the regime. The Clinton administration made what a senior US official described as,

"a goodwill gesture to the new Iranian President Muhammad Khatami", and in March 2001 Britain followed suit, including the PMOI in a list of 21 organisations proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. I can well understand why that happened at that time, but the trouble is that by our actions against an organisation which has certainly never attacked western or British interests, we have been helping no one but the mullahs. By attaching the terrorist tag to the only organisation capable of opposing them, we have been legitimising their rule. We have enabled them to argue that, faced with what the West apparently recognises is a terrorist threat, they have been entitled within Iran to take stern, even brutal measures. And of course, proscription has certainly weakened gravely the ability of the PMOI to present its case in America and Europe. It has stopped it engaging in political activity to gather support and build up opposition to the regime.

In those circumstances, I ask the Government to consider whether the time has come to take the lead in de-proscribing the PMOI. I do not accept that the PMOI was a terrorist organisation within the meaning of the 2001 Act. Its operations were carried out against the military targets of a tyrannical regime. In a sense, all that is beside the point, as one can see from reading the debate in 2001. On that occasion, the Home Secretary was at pains to point out that, even after having come to the conclusion that a particular organisation is concerned in terrorism within the meaning of Section 3 of the Act, he had a discretion whether to list it or not. One can see why. If the powers in the Act had existed in 1938 and the British government of that day had sought to use them to proscribe an organisation bent on using violent means to rid Germany of the Nazis, I like to think that the government would have been condemned by every decent citizen.

The parallel is obvious. So long as we continue to proscribe the PMOI, we undermine and weaken the principal opposition to a regime whose continued existence is certainly not in our interests. We make it easy for the regime to brush aside the so-called reformers in its own ranks and enable them to give the impression to their own people that the West, if not on the side of the regime, is against those who oppose it. We are helping to prop up a tyrannical regime with a complete contempt for human rights. If on the other hand we de-proscribe the PMOI, we will be signalling support for the democratic change in Iran which we surely all desire.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat 12:30 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, by talking a great deal about the PMOI, partly because I think it is a difficult problem. I issue one note of warning: after our experience in Iraq with Mr Chalabi and his associates, one should be careful about treating the evidence of exiles as full proof of the position that they hold. There are often people with strong interests, not least in Iran, in retaining what was, in the past under the Shah, a pretty feudal regime. One has to bear that in mind in deciding whether to support a particular group of people who are essentially associated with the families that for so long ran Iran.

The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, was wise to say that there is a certain appeal, not least in the Middle East, to people who exercise a puritanical attitude towards their own enrichment. In a world where corruption is profoundly known, it is important to notice that somebody will attract support simply because they live in an austere way and appear to be still a man of the people. While I in no way condone the terrible human rights abuses that have occurred in Iran—the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, was absolutely right in what she said, not least about the dreadful position of women in the country—we have to be careful in simply dismissing the appeal that the president and those around him may have at the present time to many Iranians who over the years have felt profoundly exploited and maltreated by the West.

In that context, I add one thing to what the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, because it is often easy for us to forget these things. There was Mossadeq, there was the Shah himself who to a great extent was imposed upon the country, but we should not forget that the most dreadful war of recent times in terms of the loss of young men was the Iran-Iraq war. The level of casualties in that war was equivalent to the First World War in Britain or France; it was the sacrifice of a generation. That generation was mostly sacrificed to arms and weapons provided to Iraq by the West, particularly by the United States, in order to defeat and weaken Iran. That is not long ago, it is a recent memory and feeds deeply into Iranian paranoia about the West—a paranoia which is not, alas, entirely a fantasy.

There are a couple of things about the approach that we might now take, by way of one other observation. The West has supported the whole architecture of nuclear non-proliferation with its words, but not, alas, with its deeds. As recently as last spring, there was an attempt to reject the comprehensive test ban treaty, specifically because there was an attempt by the first Bush administration—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, that the second administration has learnt both patience and wisdom—to escape from the treaty, to talk about bunker busters and a new generation of nuclear weapons, and to flatly refuse to carry out the responsibilities of the nuclear powers towards sustaining the non-proliferation treaty. We ourselves have gone a long way to undermine the strength of that architecture. We have to answer in part to ourselves for the way we in which we weakened the non-proliferation treaties.

Colleagues in this House may recall that as recently as 19 January of this year, President Chirac had this to say at the appropriately named Finistère base of the French armed forces:

"in the face of the concerns of the present and the uncertainties of the future, nuclear deterrence remains the fundamental guarantee of our security".

It is phrases and thoughts like that that clearly feed the Iranian belief that they too should protect their security, surrounded as they are by many hostile states. It is worth adding that they have noticed that both India and Pakistan, after a great deal of world furore as they reached the point of becoming nuclear powers, became quite acceptable to the international community having become nuclear powers—in the teeth of the IAEA and of the UN regimes to prevent proliferation.

What might be done about all this? I echo the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, in asking about the Russian proposal to deal with the enriching of uranium and to then supply Iran. I understand that the first reaction to that was one of rejection by the Government of Iran, but it is the one show in town that may have some life in it. The fact that Russia has a $1 billion development contract with Iran to develop the Shahab nuclear missiles—the missiles are not currently nuclear but could become so—is serious, but it gives Russia a disproportionate amount of influence. India also has great influence, and has so far not been brought into the discussion about Iran's position.

Lastly, what early hints were there in the beginning of the diplomatic minuet with Iran that there might be some possibility of discussing a non-aggression pact in the Middle East? There is a problem; Israel is a nuclear power at the present time. In looking more widely at the position of the region, as did the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, in introducing this fascinating debate, there is a real possibility that a non-aggression pact linked to a slow-down and, eventually, to a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East might get us somewhere. Iran has to be persuaded that she is not going to be attacked out of the blue in the way that Iraq was, and she has to be persuaded that a response to that by either sanctions or, worse, the loosing of terrorist forces over the whole of the region would present the whole world with a catastrophe, and one that would exact a colossal price from us all.

To conclude, one line that we might pursue was eloquently and beautifully expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester. We should stop to think for a moment whether Iran might be at least as well approached by an attempt to build up an inter-faith dialogue, given that its council of guardians are the people who actually run the place, than by the conventional methods of politics. I agree with what the right reverend Prelate hinted at: through theology and culture we may begin to establish the kind of links with Iran that one day may bring about the change that all of us want to see—the enlightenment in that remarkable civilisation.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 12:37 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, it is well over two years since this House debated, through an Unstarred Question that I put on the Order Paper, the question of Iran's relationship with the international community. It is thus timely that, on the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, we should return to the subject now—all the more so because the relationship has not evolved positively, as was then hoped; quite the contrary.

The EU3's efforts to agree with Iran the objective criteria necessary to alleviate legitimate concerns about that country's nuclear programme have met with a frustrating combination of prevarication, evasion and the reversal of commitments to suspend all work on uranium enrichment. At the same time, the new president of Iran has fuelled international concern with a series of bellicose statements, in particular about the state of Israel, which would be unacceptable in the mouth of any head of government but which are all the more alarming coming from one whose country's nuclear programme cannot yet be demonstrated by the IAEA to be exclusively peaceful in nature and which possesses a sophisticated missile capability. It seems entirely appropriate that this matter should now be reported to the UN Security Council and quite unreasonable that Iran should consider such a report as being in some way a hostile act for which it is not wholly responsible.

What is the course of action in the Security Council most likely to secure the objective we all share—including, purportedly, the Government of Iran—of certainty that Iran's nuclear programme is and will remain exclusively civilian? As a first step, I suggest that the Security Council should clearly set out what is required of Iran to achieve that objective and what is needed to avoid a situation in which the further pursuit of Iran's nuclear programme might be considered a threat to international peace and security.

A complete cessation of all enrichment activities, whether research or production, is surely an essential part of this, not because it is a legal requirement under the non-proliferation treaty—it is not—but because Iran's long-standing clandestine activities in this field, including the purchase of technology from Pakistan, taken together with the better understanding that we have now of the scope that uranium enrichment production capacity provides for a country to switch to a military programme, makes it essential. Similarly, Iran's continued acceptance of the inspection regime provided for in the Additional Protocol will be essential. In return, Iran has the right to get absolute guarantees, but no obstacles will be put in the way of the development of a bona fide civil nuclear programme. In the short term that may best be achieved by the Russian offer of enrichment services; in the medium and longer term, and to counter Iran's claims that it is being treated discriminatorily, I would believe that we need a general system of international guarantees of enrichment services operating through the IAEA. This proposal was put forward by the UN Secretary-General last year on the recommendation of the high-level panel, and it seems to be gaining a wider degree of international support. I would be grateful if the Minister would tell us whether the Government are yet ready publicly to throw their weight behind it—and, if not, why not.

There is much talk of sanctions against Iran, and it may come to that; but it should surely do so only if Iran refuses to co-operate or endlessly prevaricates over fulfilling what the Security Council states is essential, or if it continues to reverse its policy of full co-operation with the IAEA. The most effective sanction is the unity of the international community. The Government have done well to secure the agreement of the five permanent members of the Security Council on the need for the IAEA to report on this matter to the Security Council. It will be of the greatest importance to maintain that unity. Of course, if the price of unity is inaction in the face of Iranian refusal to co-operate, that would be too high a price to pay. But patience and perseverance are more likely to produce results than pressure for immediate action on sanctions.

I also believe that we have to look wider than the nuclear issue in isolation, if the drift away from diplomacy and towards coercion is to be halted. Iran does have legitimate security concerns and, while it is not legitimate for it to develop nuclear weapons in response, it has a right to expect those concerns to be taken seriously. It is surely high time to begin exploring more actively whether the establishment of some regional security institutions, based on co-operation between the three main powers in the Gulf sub-region—Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia—could provide part of the response to those concerns.

It is also an inescapable fact that Iran has security concerns about the intentions of the United States. While I welcome the much strengthened US support for the efforts of the EU3, I cannot see how those concerns can be addressed or dissipated without some direct contact between Iran and the United States. If the US can talk to the North Koreans and discuss its security concerns, why is it so inconceivable that it should do so to the Iranians? If bilateral contact is unacceptable, perhaps a group of which the United States could be a member could take up a dialogue.

It is clear that we are going to have to live through a considerable period of heightened tension between Iran and the international community. It is important that the EU3 continues to pursue a coherent and flexible strategy—one that combines firmness over the nuclear issue with a willingness to look beyond that to a prospect of enhanced co-operation. So far as Iran's internal politics are concerned, recent developments cannot but be a serious discouragement to all who want to see a fully democratic Iran, in which sectarian and ultra-nationalist views no longer determine Iranian foreign policy. But it is for Iranians themselves, and not for us, to seek to bring that about. Loose talk about regime change is liable to be counter-productive, merely strengthening the hand of those in power and encouraging the very policy options that we are seeking to avoid—just as bad as public discussions of military options. Of course these do exist; it would be na-ve in the extreme to suppose otherwise. But it is surely right to make it clear at every stage and to every interlocutor that the policies that we are pursuing are to be achieved by diplomacy and peaceful means and not by the threats of force.

Finally, I make a plea as someone who began his diplomatic career 45 years ago in Tehran. We must really try to put ourselves in the shoes of the Iranians and to understand their thinking. It would be quite wrong to suppose that this is exclusively conditioned by religious extremism. Some of the things that President Ahmadinejad says could just as well have been said—indeed, they were said—by Prime Minister Mossadeq in the 1950s. Iran's experience of being pushed around and manipulated by the great powers is a long and bitter one. We need to appeal to the pragmatic instincts, which exist in every Iranian whom I have ever known and to avoid playing to those memories of earlier defeats and humiliations. To coin a phrase, we need to show them respect, even when we disagree with them.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour 12:45 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, I follow and adopt the wise and measured words of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and particularly the appeal to see ourselves as the Iranians see us. I also congratulate, as have other noble Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, on his initiation of this debate and on drawing attention to the grave and in some ways urgent nature of the question. It is a test for us all of the limits of soft power and hard power.

When the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place published its report on Iran in March 2004, we began by stressing the geo-strategic significance of the country, surrounded by volatile neighbours, and with substantial oil and gas reserves and a large population, as well as the positive contribution Iran could make to vital UK interests—the Middle East peace process, the war on terror, Iraq, and the drug supply, on which we have co-operated very closely with Iran. Our conclusions appear today somewhat optimistic in the light of the wild rhetoric of President Ahmadinejad and Iran's conduct on the nuclear issue. But our broad conclusions remain valid. Iran is a powerful country. The balance of regional power, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, has swung decisively in its favour. It makes sense to co-operate in areas of mutual interest such as drug control. Now, however, the nuclear problem puts all others in the shade.

Dealing with that issue requires an understanding of the history of Iran, the motivation of its leaders and the complex dynamics of the parallel power structures. In particular, we should ponder where each step that we take along the road may lead, what is our end game and the attendant dangers to regional and indeed world peace. The deal brokered by the EU3 in autumn 2003 was hailed at the time as a triumph of EU diplomacy. Indeed, members of the Foreign Affairs Committee were there at the time of the deal. It certainly bought time in which other key countries, such as Russia and China, came to recognise the dangers. The question remains whether it has been wholly played out or whether parts, such as security guarantees—the attempt to address the real security concerns of an encircled Iran—can profitably be revived.

The US for historical reasons has been more sceptical, and its rhetoric, such as "axis of evil", and even the later State of the Union message on encouraging internal opposition, has been shrill and counter-productive. Ultimately, however, historians may conclude that the West was indeed deluded and that Iran's aim has been consistent—the development of military nuclear capability. This aim has been fuelled in part by recognition that if Iraq had nuclear weapons the coalition would not have invaded it and by perceived double standards in the West. Now Iran is emboldened, made more confident by the problems of the coalition in Iraq, by the rise in oil prices which has bought new dependencies from other major countries—new friends in India, China and Russia—and by technical help from Venezuela and missiles from North Korea.

What is the evidence of its intention of developing a military nuclear capability? There is the 18 years' history of Iran's duplicity; the fact that oil- and gas-rich Iran does not need civil nuclear power and the discovery of weapons-grade uranium traces at Natanz with implausible explanations on the Iranians' part. There is the hampering of IAEA investigations and the rejection, so far, of the Russian offer to enrich uranium in Russia, under Russian supervision. What is the current status of the IAEA initiative for an international fuel bank, under its management, to guarantee supply to countries like Iran? What is the Government's best estimate of when Iran is likely to have enough material to make a nuclear bomb, and how dangerous would it be if Iran obtained nuclear capability?

The rhetoric of their president is alarming, with the intent—and, potentially, the capability—to destroy Israel, together with links with terrorists groups that could lead to those groups obtaining dirty bombs. That would destabilise the wider region, including Saudi Arabia, and undermine the non-proliferation treaty with no consensus for replacement. The key questions are: what is to be done next, and where would different responses lead? The military option—that is, selective strikes on nuclear sites—has been raised. Potentially, that could be technically feasible in the short term. Yet the recipes and research scientists are there, and it would be realised at considerable political cost.

Is there any life left in the diplomatic track? It is certainly vital to follow solely the UN route and to keep Russia and China on board. It has been a miracle of diplomacy that they have indeed joined the international consensus. Are there incentives such as security guarantees which could even now divert Iran, which sees itself as surrounded by US forces?

Clearly, and to conclude, we need a twin track. We should continue to explore whether there is any realistic prospect of a deal including security guarantees and with enhanced technical and commercial co-operation as rewards. As other noble Lords have said, Russia is the best hope of providing a deus ex machina, the way out of such problems in classical tragedy. At the same time, while recognising the difficulties of reaching a consensus on sanctions—those that we mentioned as being mostly relatively ineffective, such as football sanctions—we should make clear to Iran that there is indeed a price to pay if it fails to respond and that penalties would increase incrementally to international isolation.

I conclude that the task is formidably difficult and that we may fail, with frightening consequences for regional and world security.

Photo of Lord Blaker Lord Blaker Conservative 12:53 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, I too want to thank my noble friend Lord Hurd for initiating this debate and for laying a basis for excellent debate with his excellent speech. I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment, but I am sure all noble Lords will agree with that.

The Iran crisis is more serious than the Iraq crisis, for three reasons. There is a greater and real danger of nuclear proliferation; there is, I believe, an increased hostility among Middle Eastern countries toward western countries, generated by the Iraq war; and, if the Iran crisis ever led to military action—which I hope it will not, yet we cannot rule that out—it is difficult to see where the necessary troops could be found among the coalition countries. However, the situation is in one way better than the Iraq crisis was, in that the European Union countries are now working together. They are now also working with the United States.

I want to refer to one lesson from the Iraq story that is relevant in this situation and in other international problems which may face us, which is that we should be ready to put our views strongly to the United States. I am a great supporter of the American alliance, and have been all my life. However, one serious aspect of the Iraq crisis was that the Prime Minister clearly failed to put our views and interests strongly enough to the Government of President Bush. Indeed, we know that he and President Bush made an agreement 11 months before the war began, supporting the idea of war in principle. I have no idea what persuaded him to do that—his wish to be popular, I suspect—but that was a great pity. We have greater experience of the Middle East than the Americans, who should have paid greater attention to our views.

I believe that the United States expected to be welcomed in Iraq and that their troops, when they got there, would have received the sort of reception they had in France in 1944, with flowers and joy. They expected the situation in Iraq to be peaceful, which it turned out not to be. I remember hearing a powerful speech just before the beginning of the Iraq war from my noble friend Lord Jopling, who is not here today. He had been in Washington the week before and had had several talks with politicians and military people, and he made the point that there appeared to be virtually no preparation being given to what would happen after the Iraq war. That is what led to many of the disasters which have followed ever since. Have the allies worked out a strategy for the possibility that, for example, the Russian offer of enriching uranium may fail? What other strategy should then be adopted? I seek some reassurance on that, although I do not suggest that it is the only problem to be faced. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, that we are in for a long haul.

I turn now to Israel, which is very relevant to this situation. Israel is an important factor in the whole of the Middle East, and a matter of concern to almost every Middle Eastern country. We know that the new president of Iran made that extraordinary statement about wiping Israel off the face of the map. That hostility to Israel clouds and hampers all western efforts to encourage stability in the Middle East. What is required is for the United States, which alone can do this, to put pressure on Israel to follow the road map. I mention pressure on Israel; although the Palestinians also need to do things, at present I want to draw attention to the importance of pressuring Israel to move forward.

I also want to ask about the Russian suggestion for enriching uranium on Iran's behalf, which has already been mentioned. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, that one cannot rely on the British media for information on such matters. He mentioned being informed by reading papers from New York, or other American papers; we are badly informed on that matter and I would like to hear from the Minister where it stands.

Lastly, I want to reinforce what has been said by a number of noble Lords about the termination of the proscription of the PMOI, which seems to be extremely desirable in the present circumstances.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs 12:59 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, I am grateful, as all of your Lordships are, to the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for introducing this debate and to the Opposition for giving it time. My own engagement with Iran goes back a long time; I had a month there in 1961 and I may be the only Member of your Lordships' House to see the inside of an Iranian prison. In the light of some of the remarks about the present state of human rights and freedoms, I should say that there is a good deal of loss of memory or perhaps absence of awareness of what life was like in Iran before the revolution in terms of human rights. In my time there I was arrested by Savak, the secret police, on a number of occasions. It was a brutal, horrid regime of torture, denial of freedom of speech and all the rest of it—rather worse, as far as I can gather, than prevails today. Certainly, the press was not as free then as it is now.

Photo of Baroness Gould of Potternewton Baroness Gould of Potternewton Labour

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way, as I appreciate that this is a timed debate, but past bad human rights does not mean that we should tolerate bad human rights now.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs

My Lords, of course it does not. On the other hand, to try to discuss Iran without context, whether cultural, historic or regional, is a recipe for coming to the wrong conclusions.

I have been back to Iran a number of times in recent years, including the visit by the parliamentary group in 2000—the first since the revolution. As president of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, I returned there in 2004, trying to drum up an effective exchange of trade between the two countries. No one has mentioned that. We have good trade with Iran; it is too imbalanced for its good health, in that we export 10 times more to Iran than we import, but it is not insignificant to consider the role of trade in bringing about rapprochement, supporting progressive forces in that country and generally defusing heightened tensions. I strongly argue for that.

I have a strong affection and admiration for Iran and its people, tempered with, I hope, an open-minded criticality of those aspects that are unacceptable, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, scarcely needed to point out. Human rights are the most obvious, because the West and this country particularly espouse and value them. I do not defend Iran's record on human rights—I spoke recently to Amnesty and have done so over the years. Its view on Iran is that human rights are generally improving, but in the past year or so it has gone backwards—not to the position that it was once in, as was characterised during the early revolutionary days, but backwards none the less. I should put in context the fact that there are fewer executions in Iran in a year than there are in the United States. We should think about that.

Some noble Lords have said that there is no democracy in Iran, including the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. That is simply not true. While democracy in Iran is not perfect by our standards, it is more effective than in any surrounding country—countries that are often supported without equivocation by the United States. Iran has elections; we heard about the boycott—well, fewer electors boycotted the recent Iranian elections than boycotted our recent general election. Of course there is gerrymandering of the lists and there is no defence for that; but pretending that Iran is not on the road to the democracy that we would all wish it to have is idle and misleading.

I should remind those who want to bring back the PMOI, give it support and let it loose that it was harboured, supported and sustained by Saddam Hussein—scarcely the most benign of patrons. The idea that we could do that and encourage regime change in a way that will really bring about that for which we devoutly hope—a fully democratic Iran in which human rights are fully respected—is pie in the sky and a dangerous illusion.

I also wish to comment on what my noble friend Lady Williams said about the Iran-Iraq war. You cannot come near an understanding of the chemistry of Iran today unless you appreciate how it feels and felt about that war. It was as recently as 16 to 18 years ago that we in the West—we, too, supplied arms to Saddam—supported that ghastly man in his land grab against Iran. Try to put the boot on the other foot. What if Iran had supported a country that had tried to take, say, part of our territorial rights a mere 18 years ago and, as my noble friend Lady Williams said, we had lost a million people, killed or seriously wounded? It is not good enough to pretend that we now have the moral authority to tell the Iranians what to do and how to run their country.

In my remaining minute, I would like to look forward, because the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was spot on. First, I praise Jack Straw. His performance as Foreign Secretary has been impeccable. He has tried his level best to support progressive forces within Iran and is still doing so—as are the EU3. I would powerfully resist any attempt at military intervention or sanctions. We are a long way from sanctions, because the moment that we impose them is the moment that we drive Iran ever more into the solidarity that it possesses as greatly as any nation on earth. It is a proud country and you will bring all their forces together if you do that. The Americans have had sanctions for 25 years and much good it has done the Iranian progressives. The "axis of evil" speech by President Bush threw power away from the progressives and made President Khatami's attempts at rapprochement with the West nugatory.

Nuclear demilitarisation of the Middle East is essential if we are to stop Iran trying, as it may be, to obtain nuclear arms. We can do that only in the context of the absolute guarantee of the territorial integrity of Israel. That will mean America, us and the EU giving Israel that assurance so that it can abandon its nuclear weaponry. With that there would be a prospect of getting Iran to do the right thing in nuclear terms. I also commend the notion of a UN-ensured supply of enriched uranium so that Iran can be assured of obtaining that commodity, which is essential for its peaceful nuclear generation programme.

Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour 1:07 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, both on securing this timely debate and on his thoughtful introduction. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, will forgive me if on this occasion I resist the temptation to embark on a bilateral debate with him. If our contributions appear to be gabbled and somewhat breathless, it reflects the economical ration of time that has been permitted. I am not complaining. Your Lordships' House can boast a ready supply of experience and expertise—everything except time.

It is unnecessary to argue for the proposition that the Iranian Government are seeking to procure materials and equipment for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Of course the purpose is not to provide civil nuclear energy; it is to terrorise, if not to attack, other sovereign states. The president has proudly announced his aspiration that Israel should be "wiped off the map". This is not the occasion to discuss the future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, although it is a pleasure, as it is so often, to agree with everything said by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on that subject. It is true that that regime would be seriously threatened, particularly by neighbouring states, if Iran could acquire nuclear weapons without attracting the manifest disapproval of the international community.

However, there is a more serious aspect to the situation. A nuclear weapon in the hands of the present Iranian Government cannot be equated simply with horizontal proliferation among normal states. That Government are totally indifferent to human life and have sponsored a network of terrorism both inside and outside the borders of Iraq. I shall not repeat what was said so eloquently by my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton and the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, but Iran's human rights record is so appalling that it has attracted condemnation by United Nations human rights bodies on 54 occasions, without any response or improvement.

It is not easy to show a respect we do not feel. There is no future in appeasement. Negotiations with a regime which has repeatedly broken its undertakings before the delegates have returned home are pointless. Sanctions would be a matter for the Security Council, under chapter 7 of the charter, but we all know the difficulties of imposing sanctions of a non-military character. The council's reaction to a proposal for military intervention is not always swift and sure. I doubt that we would wish to see it embark on that light-heartedly. Action unauthorised by the charter would deal a destructive blow to the international rule of law, for which the world would pay a heavy penalty. I agree with those noble Lords who have made that point.

There are no simple solutions, but the most promising resolution of the dilemma, and the most painless one for the people of Iran, lies with the people of Iran themselves. There can be little doubt that the silent majority want change. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Temple-Morris and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester on that. I say the silent majority; of course, it is not always silent. The Iranian Government admit that in 2004 there were 1,300 demonstrations about the economic and cultural restraints now imposed on the people of Iran. That was in spite of police brutality and repressive sentences.

This is an unstable regime in all three senses of that word. The people of Iran are looking for a leadership they can respect. I think that is available. It was the National Council of Resistance that in 1991 revealed the nuclear programme, and in 2002 disclosed the site in Natanz. The NCRI has long spearheaded the resistance to the network of international terrorism. Not all resistance comes from outside Iran. There are very courageous advocates within its borders.

It is tragic that in 1991 the United Kingdom government included in the schedule of terrorist organisations one of the organisations forming the NCRI, the PMOI. It was foremost in condemning the terrorism, yet its members were labelled terrorists. That decision and the procedure by which it was reached have been the subject of concern from jurists and legislators across the world. Some of us gave voice to our disquiet in a debate in your Lordships' House on 27 March 2001. That is history; I do not propose to repeat today what many of your Lordships have said, time and again, over the years. Since the decision to include the PMOI in the schedule was first made, much has changed. It was never suggested—as the former Home Secretary, my right honourable friend Jack Straw, made clear—that there was any question of a threat to the United Kingdom. The PMOI has never been violent outside the borders of Iran. It is true that some members of the PMOI have conducted violent operations within Iran. I do not condone that, but they were carefully targeted against individuals who were practising torture. There was no question of anyone else being in danger.

In June 2001 the organisation renounced all violence and I understand that that was made known to the United Kingdom Government. It has adhered to that self-imposed prohibition. The present situation has been investigated and considered by many responsible jurists and politicians. In November, 500 jurists from 15 European countries gave opinions that the PMOI did not belong on that list. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, has considered the questions and reached a similar conclusion. Time is against me, but I should say that he asked me to tell the House that he regrets being absent from this debate, where he would have spoken for himself, but he had an unavoidable commitment elsewhere. If the NCRI were permitted to conduct its business without the shackles imposed by that label, and with a message that its revulsion against the regime is shared by every decent country in Europe, I believe that the solution to our dilemma could be found within Iran, from the Iranian people.

Photo of Lord Taverne Lord Taverne Liberal Democrat 1:15 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, was very gloomy in introducing this debate; if anything, I take an even gloomier view. There is a certain amount of wishful thinking about Iran, particularly manifested—with great respect to him—by my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury. First, there is the view that Iran is some kind of democracy. I certainly do not take at face value the Iranian regime's claim of a 60 per cent vote in the last election; the first figure was very much lower. What sort of democratic regime is it in which the candidates for the presidency, according to the specific provisions of electoral law, have to show that in heart and in practice they are loyal to the supreme leader? Who decides whether they are loyal to the supreme leader but the supreme leader himself? Then they are further vetted by the Revolutionary Guard. It is a very strange kind of democracy.

Unfortunately, that was true of Khatami, before Ahmadinejad, who was not quite the noble figure and democrat that many people in the West portrayed. Too many hopes were built on him. Ahmadinejad, the present president, has brought out the regime in its true colours. Certainly it was supporting the insurgency in Iraq a long time before he came to power. There is a feeling that it may have Sharia law, but so does Saudi Arabia and we can deal with it; it is not an unreasonable regime. Since the revolution, real power has been in the hands of a small group of people who are theocratic, fundamentalist and wish to export their revolution elsewhere. It is not like Saudi Arabia, which is a conservative kingdom and does not seem to have any ambitions to export its influence. This is, unfortunately, not the case with the regime in Iran. As a state, it is the principal champion of Islamic extremism in the world.

I do not believe that Iran will be diverted from its nuclear ambitions. We may well be to blame for these conditions and ambitions—I agree with my noble friend Lady Williams on this—and of course we should take all the reasonable steps advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. But it is clear, certainly since 2003 at least, that it intends to acquire nuclear weapons. I do not think it is going to be diverted if we are as nice to it as we can possibly be. I cannot see—and this is why I am so gloomy—any prospect of success.

What happens if Iran is not diverted from its nuclear ambitions? Are we really expecting Israel to stand by and do nothing? I agree that military action or an invasion by the West would have the most appalling consequences. Leaving aside the fact that Saudi Arabia will certainly wish to acquire nuclear weapons, is Israel just going to stand by? I do not see this. If it needed United States assistance in its efforts—and the United States will certainly be blamed—I do not think the United States would refuse to help, if it felt Israel reasonably believed its future to be threatened.

It seems to me that the only hope is a change of regime internally. It may or may not be likely. There have been unexpected changes of regime elsewhere, including Georgia, where a popular revolution replaced a dictatorial regime; Serbia; the Ukraine; and recently there was a manifestation of an unexpected popular uprising in Lebanon. What seems incredible in these circumstances is that we should then ban and proscribe the opposition to this regime, which it regards with most apprehension, as is the case. That opposition may not be the answer—I agree with my noble friend Lady Williams—but I just do not know. It may be no more reliable than Chalabi. I doubt that, but we certainly did not proscribe Chalabi and the Iraqi exiles. That would have been madness. The proscription was the result of a rather sordid deal done by the Foreign Secretary as a quid pro quo for the Iranians saying that they would be reasonable in the negotiations on nuclear power. That, of course, was a delusion, as has since been shown to be the case.

So what are the grounds for proscribing the opposition? I hope that the Minister will answer that—the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, made a very powerful speech on that subject. The Minister must deal with those questions. What about the view expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, who has been absolutely clear that there is no justification for the proscription of the PMOI? I hope that the Minister will answer that. It was a ridiculous stance taken by the Foreign Secretary, and the British Government should lead the way on de-proscription.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Swynnerton Lord Thomas of Swynnerton Crossbench 1:20 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, in this interesting debate, an important contribution was made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, who pointed out that not only does Iran have an ancient civilisation but it has one that has influenced our own civilisation. It is perfectly true that, in speaking of Iran, we are talking about a country with a very ancient history. It is not a state patched up in the aftermath of the First World War by Sir Percy Cox and other civil servants; it is a state that has had for many centuries some degree of political life—sometimes better, sometimes worse—in the territory which it now occupies. That is probably why most of us who are not experts on Iran are interested.

I support the position of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, who, in an eloquent speech, argued for pressure of different sorts on Iran, and I recognise the subtlety of the subsequent approach by the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, in discussing different types of pressure. However, in putting forward our view that Iran should not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapons programme, we might be more persuasive and effective if we coupled that approach with some recognition that we—Britain, as one of the eight nuclear possessor states—have an obligation to try to do something about nuclear disarmament in the long run. That point was touched upon briefly by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, with whose speech I was in general agreement, although I much disliked her contemptuous use of the word "feudal" as though it were a synonym for evil. So far as I can see, life in Iran today is a good deal worse than it was under the feudal system—in this country at least.

It is important to stress that. After all, as a nuclear possessor state surely we have a duty to make some plan for the long-term future. All of us who know anything of human history know that, if these weapons exist, in the long run they are bound to be used. Whatever views we may have about deterrence, in the long run they are bound to be used with catastrophic consequences.

It is fair to recall that in the sometimes regretted days of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union and their allies made token concessions to the idea that in the long run there would be general disarmament—not unilateral but general disarmament. The fact that that matter has rather dropped off the international agenda since 1990 is something that we should regret.

We should perhaps ask the Foreign Office, through the Minister, to look again at some of those old ideas about nuclear disarmament in the long run, which we have discussed extensively in the past. It may seem a long way from Iran but it is worth recalling that, if the most ambitious disarmament plan of the era of the Cold War—the Baruch plan of 1946—had been accepted by the Soviet Union, it would have made it impossible to develop nuclear material and have nuclear development other than through an international agency.

It is particularly satisfactory that Germany should be playing such an important part in the negotiations with Iran over the nuclear issue because Germany certainly could, technically speaking, produce nuclear weapons but, for all sorts of reasons, has not been able to do so and, indeed, has not chosen to do so. Other states, such as Canada and Australia and others in Europe, set a very fine example to the rest of the world.

The policy urged by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, and others could, I submit, surely be assisted in being put across if we were all conscious of our obligations to try to do something in the long run to remove the nuclear threat. I will no doubt be dismissed as a dreamer in putting forward this position but in fact I believe that I am a realist.

Photo of Lord Clarke of Hampstead Lord Clarke of Hampstead Labour 1:27 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for securing this timely and most important debate. I declare an interest in that I have been an active supporter of the National Council of Resistance of Iran for almost 20 years.

For many years, I have heard apologists for the mullahs advocating continued dialogue with the wicked regime in Iran. I have said on a number of occasions that it was of course necessary to attempt to reach an accommodation on the nuclear programme—the nuclear programme exposed by the National Council of Resistance, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. More recently, the National Council of Resistance has exposed and pinpointed the secret underground nuclear tunnels in at least 14 sites near Tehran, Esfahan and Qom. It is reported that these underground sites are used, in particular, for hiding research centres, workshops, nuclear equipment and nuclear and missile command and control centres. The building work on those sites commenced as early as 1989. It is now time to stop the talking and face the reality. The reality is that those in power in Iran were simply playing for time while they continued with their nuclear development programme. In my view, the time was passed some while ago.

Voices in many parts of the world have been raised in an attempt to point out the folly of attempted appeasement of a vicious and evil regime—a government with a record of human rights abuses that are well documented in a number of reports to the United Nations. I am sure that Members of this House will have learnt from the state-run media in Iran that at least seven people were hanged and 11 sentenced to death in the first two weeks of this year. I say to those who try to draw a parallel between the summary execution of innocent people in Iran and the judicial system in America that there is no parallel at all. The 16 year-old girl who was hanged from a lamppost for arguing with a judge did not have the right to appeal. She did not have an army of lawyers to look after her—she was simply taken out and hanged—and a boy of 14 was beaten to death for eating during Ramadan. Comparisons with America's judicial system are odious and unnecessary and wrong in this debate. The reports of the recent hangings and executions are not my words. They are from the mullahs' own approved media outlets—Javan and the state-run new agency Irna. The executions included public hangings.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs

My Lords, I acknowledge that this is a timed debate, but as the noble Lord addressed his last remarks to me, I should make it clear that I did not make a comparison between the judicial systems of the two countries—although Iran has a judicial system. I was referring to the outcome of the judicial system, and my facts were correct.

Photo of Lord Clarke of Hampstead Lord Clarke of Hampstead Labour

My Lords, I am not a lawyer like the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. I can speak only as I hear. If I got the wrong impression, I apologise unreservedly, but the House will know what I was trying to say. They are not my words but come from the agency that is supported by the regime. Tragically there are hundreds of examples of the state-run media proclaiming what the Government have done. My noble friend Lady Gould graphically described some of them today.

There are evil people who perpetrate torture, executions, denial of human rights, the export of terrorism—those are not my words, but the words of the Prime Minister. Tony Blair has told the world that Iran exports terrorism and finances terrorist groups. They are the hallmarks of a regime that wants a nuclear arsenal, but for what purpose we should ask. Is it to defend Iran, or to put into practice the destruction of Israel as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stated he wants to do? We have to decide what the real reason is.

To their credit, the British Government, together with other European nations, have tried to maintain constructive dialogue with these dreadful people who think little of killing innocent children, and to address the persecution of those who seek to expose the reality of life in Iran. The need for encouraging the opposition that exists in Iran now is so evident. Those who say that only the Iranian people can bring about change in Iran are right. The only effective voice for change is the National Council of Resistance of Iran. If the opposition in Iran is denied the right to criticise or speak out, it is our duty to assist those who seek real democracy in Iran—not the sham elections that brought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

Here in our safe democracy we should look at what happened before the most recent elections. Out of more than 1,000 potential candidates only eight were approved by the Guardian Council, which is the mullahs' watchdog. That is why our Government should now do the honourable thing and remove the label of terrorism from the PMOI. To his credit, our Foreign Secretary has now confessed that more than four years ago when he was Home Secretary he conceded the ban to the Iranian Foreign Minister. On Wednesday of last week, he admitted in an interview on Radio 4 that the Iranian Government demanded it—and he conceded to impose the ban.

I remember the occasion well because I went to speak to Mr Straw in his office at the time, when he was Home Secretary. I reminded him of when we were at the Labour Party conference, which I had the privilege of chairing. I looked up at the gallery and said, "We have our friends from the People's Mojahedin of Iran with us". Everybody, including the people on the platform, welcomed them to our conference. I reminded Mr Straw of our time in opposition when we had good relations with the National Council of Resistance. To this day I cannot understand why a nation such as ours could give such comfort to brutal bullies. There is now sufficient evidence to confirm that the PMOI has renounced violence. I welcome the decision to report Iran to the United Nations Security Council.

Finally, I urge those who think my views are strident to read the Commons Hansard report of last Wednesday. An excellent speech was made by Mr David Gauke, the Member for South West Hertfordshire. His analysis and balanced contribution to the debate on Iran's nuclear programme is well worth reading. Our Government should do everything they can to help the people of Iran to throw off the yoke of tyranny.

Photo of Lord Russell-Johnston Lord Russell-Johnston Liberal Democrat 1:34 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, like many others, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for enabling the debate to take place. It is particularly timely because of the nuclear threat. He dealt with it sombrely as has been said, but directly and clearly, and I do not think that I can add much to his remarks.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that we should realise how Iranians see us, given the interference for which we have been responsible. I do not dissent from that, but it is a profound mistake to regard the government in Iran as truly representative of Iranian opinion. We are dealing with a country where those espousing a fundamentalist form of Islam, which rejects all the tenets of liberal democracy, are in repressive control. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, described the consequences for human rights, especially women's rights. I do not need to repeat them, but a short paragraph from this month's Foreign Affairs sums up the position very well, and shows that there has been no new development. It states:

"In the aftermath of the 1979 revolution, Iran's new government quickly suspended the country's progressive family law, disallowed female judges, and strongly enforced the wearing of the hijab. Within a few months, sharia rulings lowered the marriage age to nine"—

I repeat, nine—

"permitted polygamy, gave fathers the right to decide who their daughters could marry, permitted unilateral divorce for men but not women, and gave fathers sole custody of children in the case of divorce"— a splendid judicial base on which to build a country.

The noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, has far more experience of these questions, but I do not see how we can have an effective dialogue with such a regime. All we can do is support those Iranians—perhaps the majority of its youthful population—who want an open and fair society.

As was said by the previous speaker, this task has been undertaken by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which is a broad coalition, and which is publicly clearly committed to a democratic Iran with full religious freedom on a secular basis and human rights. I have witnessed the huge support for it among Iranians living in Europe, having taken part in rallies in Paris, where there were about 40,000 people and in Brussels where there were about 35,000. It was not reported by the BBC Farsi Service, which has been accused by the council of considerable bias. It is not a question of bias of the BBC in toto because there are no complaints about the Arabic Service or the World Service—only the Farsi Service.

The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, suggested that Iranians outside the country had only limited influence. With great respect, I query that. Mrs Rajavi is well regarded by many in Iran who admire her courage, tenacity and objectives. Her broadcasts have had great impact within the country. There was a moment when I thought that perhaps the Foreign Office would follow this route. I remind noble Lords of the moment when the late Robin Cook spoke of his wish for an ethical foreign policy. The mandarins in the Foreign Office quickly disposed of that idea, but it remains in the minds of many. The latest Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, admitted on the BBC last week that he agreed to have the PMOI proscribed as a terrorist organisation following a conversation with the Foreign Minister of Iran. That says it all. It is widely believed that that policy was part of the failed European Union attempt to persuade the theocratic regime to abandon its nuclear policy.

On Tuesday morning—the day before yesterday—I was in Luxembourg at the European Court of Justice when the case against the definition of the PMOI as terrorists was brought. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, has set this out clearly, so I need not repeat what he said, except to say that I agree with him. It was made clear at the hearing that it happened because of British pressure. Britain was directly represented. There was a European Council advocate and there was a lady advocate representing the United Kingdom. She suggested that other member states agreed with Britain but refused to specify which they were, although she said that if she had been asked before, she would have been willing to give that information. We found that rather incredible. She stated that there were regular reviews of this question. When did the last review take place? When is the next review due? Lastly, she produced no justification for the classification of the PMOI; presumably it goes back to when it was acting as insurgents against the regime. It was undoubtedly engaged in hostilities at that time.

The Government should change their position. I know how difficult it is for any government to admit that they have been wrong. I understand the wish to get the regime to abandon its nuclear aims. Now, however, the Government must admit that the policy has been wrong and that the right thing to do is clearly to support the Iranians who want democracy.

Photo of Lord Mitchell Lord Mitchell Labour 1:41 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell. This debate is both timely and vital.

The Minister will be delighted to know that my speech will be brief. Four simple questions need to be asked about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. On two occasions, he has stated that Iran will wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. For the first time, one member of the United Nations is advocating the total annihilation of another member. Is this political posturing, or does he mean it? He has said that Iran is developing nuclear technology because Iranians need the capability to produce nuclear power, but Iran is a country swimming in oil. Why would it be making tremendous sacrifices to develop a technology that it could not conceivably need for 50 years? He absolutely denies that his country has any intention of developing nuclear weapons. But who believes him? Again, is this political posturing or does he mean it?

It has been reported that, having made a speech in which he denied that the Holocaust ever happened, President Ahmadinejad's government is this very week sponsoring a competition for the best cartoons depicting the Holocaust, in response to the sad Danish cartoon situation. Again, is this political posturing or does he mean what he says?

Finally, President Ahmadinejad says that he wants to promote a world Caliphate to be run by Iran. I ask again, is this political posturing or does he mean it?

I do not believe such statements are posturing. I believe them to be true. If they are true, we certainly have a very serious problem on our hands. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, makes a plea for patience, but time is running out. Some of those close to the matter believe that Iran will have its own nuclear bomb within the next 12 months. It is also developing ballistic capability. It is reported that Iran has tested rockets with a range of 1,500 km. Put bomb and rocket together, and political posturing no longer looks like rhetoric.

Let us look at the targets in Iran's sights. Coalition troops—British, American, Australian and others—are located just across the borders of neighbouring Afghanistan and Iraq. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are all within easy target. Finally, there is Israel—a country with no borders with Iran; indeed, a country separated from Iran by two intermediate countries.

If President Ahmadinejad means what he says, then he needs to be resolutely deterred from any mischief making. We need firm and sensitive diplomacy, but we also need to send him a very clear message that if Iran attacks any country the consequences for him and for his country will be severe and appropriate.

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Spokesperson in the Lords (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs 1:44 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, both for the initiative in choosing this subject and for his wise words—the words of a sadly all-too gloomy, "head-shaking about the sins of the world" kind of former Foreign Secretary. One can understand why. Many of his points were extremely important and significant, and have been repeated on a number of occasions by other speakers in this debate.

I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, about the disturbing lack of UK press news on the subject. The same thing applies to the whole of the Middle East, and what is happening in Israel and Palestine. There is little detailed news in the British press. I know that it is expensive to have foreign correspondents in these hugely extended areas but, because Iraq is so dangerous, there is a concentration there. They stay in the green zone, and we get very little news from them. I am glad, as the noble Lord said, that the US is co-operating with the EU3. I will return to that in a moment.

We also thank the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, for his wise words and his knowledge and experience of that country. Although he is a gentleman in every sense of the word—if I may embarrass him by saying so—he sounded suitably fierce about the present regime in Iran and what should be done about it. I am grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord Chidgey, for his wise words, as well as my noble friend Baroness Williams of Crosby. I only wish time would allow me to mention others.

We ask the Minister to give us some answers to the points that have been raised. However, that is easier to ask than to deliver—not because the Minister is not capable of doing so, but because nothing is more complicated and dispiriting than this looming crisis with Iran. For once, the West, as represented by the EU3 in this context, can be thanked for some exceedingly patient diplomacy. We can also thank the IAEA for having been so patient. Back in November 2003 the chairman was already giving solemn warnings about what Iran was doing in flouting its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty.

As a good European—I hope—I assert that it is not Europe's fault that no progress has so far been made. Indeed, the reverse is the case; it looks like a dispiriting failure. Europe—the EU3 and the whole of the Union—needs to be heavily engaged. In that context, we on these Benches fully support the Government and wish them well in dealing with these complex matters. All the options are fraught with difficulties. On the future nature of the Iranian governmental system, its so-called democratic structures are sometimes more robust than we imagine, mostly in demonstrations against the regime, when harsh measures are taken.

However, people note what is going on, even with the limited news. We see the oppressive straitjacket of the mullahs' regime alongside the mad ranting of President Ahmadinejad. Whether he means what he says is an interesting point, but the international community has a duty to ensure that what he has recently said, about Israel and so on, is never realised.

The Iranian diaspora is enormous and complex. Recently, even Reza Pahlavi—the son of the former Shah of Iran—has been making suggestions about democracy, despite the rather obnoxious features of his father's regime. We can perhaps take some of his suggestions with a pinch of salt; I hope I am not being unfair to the children of the former Shah.

Americans and others are rash to seek to intervene in such dangerous territory and tell them what to do. The future of Iran belongs to the Iranian people and their decisions will count. That should be the international norm, except if they need assistance from outside of a peaceful kind in which case we should ensure that they have it.

No one can just allow Iran's international defiance of reasonable requests to go on without the international community responding to the latent danger. Israel is understandably deeply alarmed at the potential nuclear threat if Iran goes ahead with the uranium enrichment in total defiance of the international proscription against it under the NPT. Equally, however, Israel would gain more worldwide respect—and in Arabia and Iran—if it, too, said that it was now going to adhere to the NPT and accept all the treaty obligations and duties arising from it. Why should Israel be the exception that causes a certain amount of anger and resentment in Arabia, Iran and elsewhere? Sensible Israelis know that and are well aware of it. Israel has understandably been made, by the United States, the unbeatable military power; to protect and defend itself, to ensure that it is not attacked, ruined or invaded. Nor is there any sign of anyone being able to do that. The quid pro quo is that Israel fully joins the international community and the UN Security Council in making general, collective rules of action and behaviour and suggestions for the peace of the whole area, including the development of the nuclear-free zone, as my noble friend Lady Williams said. That must be one of the priorities for the international community and the United Nations.

President Ahmadinejad, with his extraordinary outbursts—I suppose they are populist, rallying outbursts and therefore intended for national, internal consumption, but I presume that we all notice what he says—has done a real disservice to his people by hardening opinion against his country abroad in general. It makes it much harder for sensible Ministers—there must be some; I presume that one or two moderate mullahs are around as well—to prevail in that kind of climate. Gradually, the secular population will be forced against its will to support this eccentric president.

Now that Russia and China have joined fully in the criticism, and all five of the veto-bearing members of the United Nations Security Council are standing by for a possible resolution, which could include the imposition of sanctions, this is the critical moment. We therefore require guidance from the Minister about what the Government think can now happen. Will EU3 continue to operate just as a trio within the wider European Union in reporting to and liaising with the Security Council? Will the United States, which has been co-operating hitherto, continue to do that too and to reassure outside opinion that it will support what the whole of the United Nations Security Council decides, and not interfere in the wrong sense as it has in other countries? One is always worried about tendencies even in the Mark II Bush presidency. Some people would not readily agree that it is significantly different from Mark I, but we can leave that matter open.

I remember being in Baghdad in 1988, when it was full of American and British businessmen, politicians and officials who were saying that Saddam Hussein's government were the most wonderful government in the whole of Arabia. It was an efficient regime which bought a lot of our military equipment. They were very opposed to Iran. Even when the gassing in Halabja had taken place, we all recall the Americans saying that the Iranians had done that and not Saddam Hussein.

So our perceptions at a particular time can be misleading. We often regret them later on. Now is a time for collective wisdom in the United Nations and in the European Union's own deliberations about what to do. One welcomes also the opinion of the 10 new member states, including the two Mediterranean islands.

No one wants to alienate the Iranian people because of what they perceive as the basic, built-in unfairness of the wider picture. That is an important issue. Other countries are allowed to pursue nuclear energy and peaceful nuclear activity. The United States is perceived by many people in Iran as often flouting international rules of behaviour and law. Israel is doing exactly what it likes without restraint in the occupied West Bank. More and more people think that is because of a secret agreement between Bush and Sharon. Arabia and the wider Muslim world remain unimpressed by the continuing double standards about which the United Nations does all too little for all sorts of different mechanistic reasons.

However, Iran has to be realistic. Does it really need to do its own uranium enrichment? The answer is no. Why did it brush aside the Russian offer? I admit that it was probably made cynically, but it was a reasonable and genuine offer. If it wishes to resume its own peaceful activities, can those activities then be separated from the looming danger that they later turn into military activities? Those activities must be conducted under the non-proliferation treaty arrangements and full IAEA supervision. North Korea left the treaty, but Iran has so far wisely stayed in it. Surely, therefore, Iran needs the security guarantee package that has been proposed in the EU, in some quarters of the UN and elsewhere. That may be one of the main areas on which the Minister will enlighten us today. How will that package be constructed? Will he refer also to the question of possible sanctions?

In the mean time, do not let us antagonise Iranian moderates with premature sanctions until all diplomatic avenues have been exhausted beyond all reasonable doubt. Iran has a final opportunity to step back from nationalistic recklessness and to co-operate fully with the inspectors. Far from that being a humiliation, it is just the normal behaviour of any adherent to the NPT. That would avoid the loss of patience that the United Nations as a whole will inevitably feel if no Iranian response is forthcoming. The stakes are high, but the prize would be great if this turns out well.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, Parliament, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 1:56 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, I join with others in warmly thanking my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell for initiating the debate and for the magisterial overview with which he launched it. I thank also your Lordships for the brevity and briskness of many of the contributions. The digital clock seems to have gone a little awry, but the good old analogue clock tells us that the Minister will have ample time in which to answer all the questions.

This is a time of great danger. I agree with noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, who emphasised that point. I agree, too, with the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, that Iran is bound to press ahead. Anyone who really knows anything about the mentality and attitudes in Tehran at the moment will know that that Government and those people will press ahead with nuclear development and move towards a weapons capability. They tried to do it in secrecy with the Natanz uranium enrichment plant and other developments—which were revealed and ceased to be secret—but they have pressed on. Frankly, all that stands in the way of Iran's move to possess nuclear weapons are technological and technical factors. Those might be considerable. There could be difficulties over the further development of Iran's uranium enrichment plants, and there could be some delays in the missile programme as well. Most of its missiles are in the "yet-to-fly" category. That is our only hope, but it is a slender hope on which to base our intentions and our desire to see stability in the region.

It is a crucially dangerous time. It is so, first, for the obvious reason that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, proliferation will cascade throughout the region. Countries such as Egypt would perhaps want to be in on the act as well. That is an enormous danger, leading to even further instability and turmoil in the Middle East.

It is a dangerous time, secondly, because the Western response is not working and is not going to work. Many noble Lords will disagree with that. Neither EU diplomacy nor American belligerence will stop the Iranians moving ahead on the path which they have taken. On the contrary, they will make things worse. Mutterings from Washington about the use of force or the latest, almost alarmingly dotty, rumour that three brigades are being put together to invade Iran by land are just what the hard-line mullahs and Mr Ahmadinejad need. He wants nothing more than the opportunity to defy the West. The more the diplomatic gentility of the EU drags on, and the more the mutterings from Washington about the use of force and bombing continue, the more delighted he becomes and the more certain it is that the programme for nuclear development will be accelerated. I am sure that that is correct.

Will targeted smart sanctions from the United Nations help? I wish I shared the view of wise people such as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that this is the path that we should go along, and that pressure of a kind will have some effect on the Iranians. I wish that I could be an optimist along with them, but I am not—first, for the obvious reason that the United Nations will never agree.

China has stated that it is against sanctions "on principle". It has said that it will never vote for sanctions. So that avenue is blocked. Secondly, we all know from bitter experience that sanctions do not work at all well and hit the poorest, however smart they are, and they usually have the effect of entrenching the incumbent government, which would make Mr Ahmadinejad's position stronger, which is just what he needs.

Thirdly, and most importantly, although it was much neglected in your Lordships' debate, Iran's response to sanctions could be devastating. It could not only cut its own oil production—it is the second biggest oil exporter in the world and although it has promised OPEC that it will not do so, it is, in fact, perfectly ready to do so—but it could do much worse than that. It could mine the Straits of Hormuz, or sink a few vessels in them, and halt up to 18 million barrels of oil a day, which is about a quarter of the entire global consumption of oil. The outcome of that would be a massive world financial and energy crisis that would deeply hurt all countries, including our own, in ways that we have not experienced since the full-blown wars of the twentieth century. That is not appreciated when people talk about whether they would do this or that or use force against Iran. We are dealing with a desperately dangerous situation in which Iran could bring the roof down, not only on its own head, but on ours as well.

Is there a silver lining to all this? Yes, there is. I have tried to explain it in an article in today's International Herald Tribune. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, reads it. The effect of all this could be to make the move to a low energy world—the green revolution—a lot more likely. Noble Lords will remember that last time there was an oil price explosion—also triggered, ironically, by events in Iran—it all turned to dust. Oil prices collapsed, after a lot of speeches from people, including me, that they were going to stay high, from $95 equivalent to $9 in a few months. All the investment in new oil alternatives, green energy, nuclear, compact cars—the whole lot—was shelved. Nothing happened. This time, Mr Ahmadinejad and the Iranians have injected real fear into the oil market. This fear is probably as effective, or more effective, than any amount of speeches by the American president on "addiction to oil" or talk about carbon reduction targets that we all know are not being met and will not be met. While I repeat that the dangers of the situation are great, and that, in the end, Mr Ahamdinejad will ruin Iran and impoverish its people, as some noble Lords have rightly said, in the mean time, perhaps we should say "Thank you" to him for a clear sign that oil will remain not just very expensive, but extremely unreliable and a wonderful but very dangerous commodity.

One or two other questions have arisen in the debate. One is on the role of the exiles, about which my noble friend Lord Waddington spoke eloquently and passionately. My hesitant view is that they should be listened to, but not relied upon. I hope that the position of the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran will be kept under review by the Government and that they will have open minds and watch the position very carefully indeed. My noble friend Lord Waddington, the noble Lords, Lord Russell-Johnston and Lord Mitchell, the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and other noble Lords said some very wise words. I hope that the Government are listening to what they say on what I recognise is a difficult situation on which one cannot leap to a particular position just like that.

Finally, there are two evident longer-term possibilities in what is otherwise an extremely gloomy, dangerous situation that we have inadequate responses to deal with. They are that only the great Asian powers—China, India, and Japan—plus Russia can bring real pressure to bear on this Iranian regime with all its atrocities, evils and cruelties that we have heard described so graphically today. The Foreign Secretary should not be going to Brussels so much and thinking so much about what is said in Washington; he should be visiting—not summoning—Beijing, Delhi, Tokyo and Moscow. They are the countries with real leverage on Iran. China has a £70 billion gas contract with Iran and gets 14 per cent of its oil daily from Iran. Japan has huge investments in Iran and is in the same sort of position. Russia supplies civil nuclear assistance and air defence supplies and has major links and influence with Iran. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said, Russia may be offering the possibility of a way out of the labyrinth with its uranium enrichment offer. That is the first point, which seems to me to be obvious, but understated. We in the West are not in a position to solve this problem alone: it is as much an Asian problem as a European or American one. We should recognise that. A too Western or Euro-centric approach will make things worse, not better.

Secondly, it is clear that the non-proliferation treaty regime faces a crisis, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, rightly observed. It is obvious that it must be reformed to overcome its weaknesses, to embrace the new nuclear and would-be nuclear nations and to ensure that, even if they go this route, it is very transparent and collaborative and an effective pathway to the other NPT goals which people always forget about, which are sustained and organised disarmament and the development of safe, civil nuclear energy. Those are the aims and we must somehow embrace Iranian ambitions in them. These are the ways to contain a crisis—

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Spokesperson in the Lords (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, does the noble Lord include Israel in his suggestions?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, Parliament, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I accept that the position of Israel is crucial in this, as many noble Lords said. It should be fully taken into account. The new nuclear world is not the world of the existing five powers. Pakistan, Israel and India do not fit into the old treaty but have nuclear weapons, and others may, alas, be on the verge of getting them. The present treaty regime must be reformed—I will not say replaced—to cope with the facts and realities of the new situation. These are the ways to contain a crisis in the face of which—we must be honest and frank about this—current Western policy is proving entirely ineffective.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, I think I understood the noble Lord to say that it is the policy of Her Majesty's Opposition that the non-proliferation treaty should be revised to recognise the nuclear status of India, Pakistan, Israel and anyone else who wants to pop up and say that they have a nuclear programme. Is that correct?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, Parliament, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

No, my Lords. That is an over-simplification of a much more complicated thought, which is that at present we are dealing with an NPT regime with the five existing nuclear powers at its core. The reality is that there are more existing nuclear powers and—the noble Lord does not accept this, but I tell him that it will happen—Iran will get nuclear weapons. I ask the noble Lord whether he will hang on to the NPT in those circumstances, or recognise that we must embrace an Iran with nuclear weapons in a new collaborative, transparent regime. That is the issue that he, and high officials of state in his former department, will have to face. I urge them to face it sooner rather than later. Those are the remarks I have to offer to your Lordships in a fascinating debate.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 2:09 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, it is self-evident that today's debate is exceptionally timely. I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, not only for raising the issues but for doing so with such wisdom and generosity towards the Foreign Secretary and the Government. He will have seen frequently and at first hand the interests of this country and of our allies through the complex prism of security concerns, and that knowledge shone through. Twenty Members of the House have taken part in the debate, and I thank all 19, aside from myself.

This is a desperately dangerous moment: the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is right about that. I shall read his article in the International Herald Tribune today, even if I say little about low energy economies in general in this response. I assure him that the Foreign Secretary all the time raises the questions that he seeks to have raised in capitals around the world.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester and others have made the point that if we put the debate into context, it is a debate about a great and ancient culture that, sadly, is now somewhat isolated from international communities. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, reminds us of the dissonance and suspicion that it now has for some of the rest of the world. A good part of that is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, because of the Iran-Iraq war. It is also, of course, about the West and its arming of Iraq, but it is also about Iraq itself and Iraq's intentions in those years.

Last week, the 35 members of the International Atomic Energy Agency board met in special session to discuss Iran's challenge to the international non-proliferation system and how to respond to this challenge. On 4 February, they adopted a resolution that paves the way for the UN Security Council to discuss Iran's nuclear programme for the first time. This resolution is a clear demonstration of just how thin the patience of the international community has been worn by years of Iranian deception and delay.

The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, helped us through the key sequence, as did the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, in his introductory speech. Two and a half years have now passed since Iran was forced to admit to the IAEA that for many years it had been busily engaged in the construction of secret installations to enrich uranium and to produce plutonium, which could be used to produce material for nuclear weapons. In that two and a half years, Iran has ignored repeated IAEA board resolutions calling on it to address international concerns and to take steps to build confidence that its nuclear programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes.

In the past two and a half years, we have attempted with France and Germany, as the E3, to find a diplomatic solution to the issue. We have negotiated with Iran in good faith, aiming to persuade Iran to take steps to guarantee that its nuclear programme will not be used for military ends. We offer Iran the prospect not only of long-term solutions to the nuclear issue, but of a stronger relationship with Europe, and the prospect of building consistently on that relationship and co-operating on political and security issues and in economic and scientific fields. Iran, however, has rejected all constructive attempts to find a solution to this issue. That is why the IAEA board has been compelled to send Iran a strong message that the international community will no longer accept Iran's continuing failure to restore the confidence that was destroyed by 18 years of concealment and deception.

The two and a half years invested in negotiations with Iran have not been wasted. I make that point straightforwardly to the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston. In that time, Iran's nuclear programme has been slowed down and opened up to international inspections. Last week's vote demonstrated a degree of international consensus and unity of purpose that was quite inconceivable two and a half years ago; China and Russia voting in that group—inconceivable!

The international community is now united in opposition to the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is absolutely right to say that the steps now taken in relation to the UN Security Council are the right ones. Our aim in involving the Security Council is to support rather than to supplant the IAEA's authority. No action will be taken at the Security Council until publication of the report to the March meeting of the board of governors on Iran's co-operation with the IAEA by the IAEA director-general, Dr El Baradei. Speculation about sanctions, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said—I hope I am not trying to put words into his mouth—is premature at this stage, although of course their future use cannot be ruled out.

My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have repeatedly made it clear that military action is on no one's agenda. We are committed to a diplomatic solution, and are working to see diplomacy succeed. The consequences of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons are unthinkable. Central Asia and the Middle East, two of the world's most volatile areas, would be destabilised. Other states are almost certain to seek to enhance their own capabilities, thus prompting a regional arms race. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the bedrock of international efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, would plainly be badly damaged, as would the goal, which we persist in achieving, of creating a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, a cause to which we are committed.

If Iran's nuclear programme is indeed intended purely for civilian use, it has no economic or technical rationale. There is no requirement for Iran to resume activities now when it has no operating nuclear reactors, with only one under construction that has a long-term contract for fuel supply. More worryingly, Iran has had information that would help it to produce uranium hemispheres, which have no use other than in the development of nuclear weapons provided by the Khan operation.

We know that information has been made available to the IAEA about tests related to high explosives and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle, all of which plainly have a military nuclear dimension. Combined with Iran's long history of concealment, these facts have resulted in a lack of international confidence that Iran's nuclear programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes, as demonstrated by the overwhelming support for Saturday's board resolution. May I say to noble Lords who have asked about the United States that I believe that it is wholly aligned with the process that I have described, as are many other countries such as Brazil, India, Egypt and China?

That brings us to the questions that have been asked about Russia in this context. With our support, Russia too has sought a way forward that is not yet wholly formally formulated but that none the less is clear and proposes that, as part of the final agreement, Iran might have a financial-only stake in the enrichment joint venture in Russia. This would help to assure Iran that it could rely on a supply of fuel for its nuclear reactors without acquiring technologies that could be used to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

The Russians, too, made it clear that in order for their ideas to proceed further, Iran would need to keep suspended all its own enrichment and enrichment-related activities. We are prepared to endorse that idea but only so long as all the enrichment took place outside Iran and in Russia. The Russians have presented it in these terms. Since then, the Iranian position has been contradictory and, I believe, deliberately confusing. At the Iranians' request, European political directors agreed to meet one of Iran's negotiators, Javad Vaidi, in Brussels on Monday, 30 January, but Vaidi indicated that there was no room for flexibility.

Iran's resumption of uranium enrichment-related activity three weeks ago was a clear rejection by Iran of both European and Russian efforts to get back into the talks. Iran's actions have shown no respect for the IAEA resolutions or for the commitments that it has made both to us and to the Russians. This cannot be portrayed as harmless research. The Iranians are developing technologies that would enable them to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. What Iran claims is a small step is in fact a fundamental one.

The consequences of Iran having those weapons—as I have said, the destabilisation of the region and the inauguration of an arms race—is unthinkable and cannot be accepted by any of us. That, in turn, raises the questions that the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Anderson, raised about the idea of fuel banks. There are possible attractions. A lot of work has been done over the best part of 30 years in looking at the establishment of a central internationally run depository for all enriched uranium produced in the world. This is not one of the options which the IAEA's panel of experts considers to be feasible at the moment. Apart from the implications for the IAEA of having to store and to maintain the stockpile, the stock of enriched uranium would be of little practical use. At the moment, there are too many different reactor designs, each with its own kind of fuel. Fuel would have to be fabricated to order, usually by the state supplying the reactor. Practical difficulties such as these, not to mention the responsibility for dispensing with spent fuels, have made it very difficult to find a workable solution as yet, but I do not rule out the possibility that people should carry on trying.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs

My Lords, would not that objection, however difficult, overcome the one real objection that any state in Iran's position might have: that they would be vulnerable to their relationship with the supplying state—in this case, Russia—in a way that the international arrangements would not be?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I understand the point. I have no doubt that, if it were possible to see the technical solutions, everyone would embrace it very rapidly. We must overcome the practical difficulties expressed by the panels of experts, far more specialist than I am—and, perhaps I dare say, most Members of your Lordships' House.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, at no stage did the panel, Kofi Annan or I suggest that all enriched uranium in the world should be deposited with the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is suggested that there should be a system of drawing rights whereby countries that produced enriched uranium would contribute it to the potential of the IAEA and the countries that were in good standing with it should be able to withdraw it. If the noble Lord reflects for one minute, he will notice that that is exactly what the Russian scheme consists of. The Russians are offering to make fuel rods for Iranian reactors, so why is it so impossible to put that under a general international regime?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I accept that that is precisely what the Russians are offering to do, and there may well be more general applicability in the sense of a virtual bank with a number of contributors. I just make the point that the IAEA is still expressing technical reservations about whether it can be done in reality but that does not rule out the idea in any respect.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, asked how close we thought the Iranians were to constructing a nuclear weapon. I do not want to speculate too much but by the end of the decade is the best advice that we have at the moment. Much of the technical equipment from the Khan research laboratories is plainly in their hands.

The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, asked what we regarded as the next step. I shall put it in context. We must consider the background against which the IAEA special board meeting took place last week. That was the next step to get the agreement of the members of that board and to then take the following step of making the reference to the United Nations. It is not just Iran's 18-year history of concealment and its failure to take steps to give us confidence in its nuclear intentions that have caused disquiet in the international community; as noble Lords have said, it is also its approach to the Middle East peace process and to Iraq, its attitude towards terrorism and its human rights record.

We have all been appalled—nauseated—by President Ahmadinejad's denial of the existence of the Holocaust and calls for the destruction of Israel, which my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, described as,

"sickening, horrific hostility to . . . Israel".

The noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, put the point in terms. Recently, the president met leaders of Islamic Jihad in Damascus while its bombs were killing and injuring civilians in Israel. The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, in a careful and balanced approach, said that it was right and important to describe the harm done to the Iranian people through this kind of demagogic statement.

We have a longstanding concern that groups seeking to undermine the Middle East peace process through violence draw support from inside Iran. We are concerned by its approach to terrorism and the nature of its relationship with Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. We have repeatedly pressed Iran to renounce all support for groups using terror and violence, and to support a solution to the Palestinian question based on the principle of two states living side by side in peace and security. The EU has said that progress in its relations with Iran will depend on action by Iran to deal with those concerns, including its approach to terrorism and its attitude to the Middle East peace process.

Iran has other responsibilities in the region. It is vital that the neighbours of Iraq and Afghanistan feel that, as things develop towards more democratic societies, they can do so also within a framework of peace and security. Iran has given many public undertakings to improve border security, fight terrorism and not to interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq and Afghanistan, and I welcome those commitments. Iran must resist the temptation to interfere in the political stability of its neighbours. We continue to investigate extremist Shia groups in Iraq and their links to Iran. The particular nature of some of the explosive devices used in Iraq against British troops lead us either to Iranian elements or to Lebanese Hezbollah.

Against that background, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, we must respect Iran; we should all make efforts to do so. But, as I am sure everyone accepts, respect cannot cloak the sense that Iran's human rights violations cannot continue. The noble Lord, Lord Clarke, made the point with passion. I have also read Mr Gauke's speech and think that it is an extremely important contribution. Iran's human rights record is grim and deteriorating. The EU has been clear that our relations with Iran can move forward only if Iran takes action to address the EU's human rights concerns. We frequently express those concerns. We are particularly concerned about Iran's treatment of religious minorities, juvenile offenders and political activists.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, made the point about violence against women. The words "violation of human rights" hardly encompass what is being done to women in those circumstances. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, it does not help to apply the kind of relativism of talking about these things in a historical sequence. When faults appear in the penal system of the United Kingdom, we do not justify that by referring to Judge Jeffreys's judicial regime. Those are not the right comparisons; there are much more direct standards that are accepted and applied throughout the world—and so they should be.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs

My Lords, I was referring, not to Judge Jeffreys in the 17th century, but to the Shah, who preceded the revolution and was supported by us to the hilt.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I still think that that is a rationalisation to set alongside what should be a much more fundamental judgment about proper human rights.

We have emphasised that such human rights abuses—I could go through a long list but I will not—cannot continue. Nor can we continue to see freedom of expression come under increasing attack in Iran, where investigative journalists continue to be imprisoned and censorship of all the main media continues. We are monitoring closely Iran's response to recent strikes.

Let me make a further point about whether Iran feels under great pressure. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked whether it would feel more secure with a non-aggression pact in place. We are aware of no discussion between Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, but we are involved with regional security conferences.

Photo of Lord Taverne Lord Taverne Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the time allocated for the noble Lord's speech is running to an end. I hope that he will not ignore the point made by many speakers about the de-proscription of the PMOI.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I have not the smallest intention of doing so. I shall turn to that point immediately.

It is clear that there is a range of concerns, and I hope that that will not turn into uncritical enthusiasm for groups opposed to the Iranian regime, particularly those calling for the repeal of proscription currently in place. The MeK, or the PMOI, now tends to describe itself as a democratic party working for human rights, but there has been a history of involvement in terrorism. I have looked at the balance of the information available. In 2001 there were two armed attacks for which it accepted responsibility. It was accused of a further armed attack in June 2002, about which it has said nothing.

Let me bring us right up to date. In an interview with the LA Times in February this year, Maryam Rajavi was asked whether the use of violence was a PMOI option now and answered,

"The tactics and methods have been imposed not by us, but by the mullahs".

Some may say that that is ambiguous rather than direct, but noble Lords have provided interesting information about the new disposition of these groups—as they have described it. I am willing to look at this group in particular. Fundamentally, of course, the whole of the question would need to be put to the review commission, although there are regular reviews. That is in the hands of the group itself. If it has things to say about a non-violent trajectory, that must be the way in which it carries it forward.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, the Minister is not quite right on that point. There could be de-proscription without an application by the party alleged to be a terrorist organisation—that is specifically provided for in the Act.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, proscription took place under my right honourable friend Jack Straw's tenancy of the Home Office and has continued under subsequent Home Office Secretaries of State. If the organisation has new evidence about having turned its back on violence, it is its obligation to place that evidence in competent hands where it can be assessed properly. That must be the right way forward.

Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend ruling out the possibility of discussing the matter with someone else?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I repeat that if noble Lords have new information, as they have indicated they have, I am willing to hear it and discuss it. It has been a measured debate. We face a complex dilemma. Some will ask what we are going to do, others ask for an assurance that we will not do anything. The United Kingdom's position, made plain by my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, is that we are trying to pursue peaceful and diplomatic means. We do not use the word "never" about other options, but speculation about sanctions or military action is, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said at the beginning, unlikely to bolster the diplomatic effort. I think that that is right.

At this time we are trying to make sure that we are obtaining the right responses. This is not a proposition that understates the importance of nuclear proliferation and its dangers or of Iranian support for terrorism. Iran should not believe that we have no appetite; that we are, as it has put it recently, fake superpowers or, as the president put it, mangy old lions. No one should believe that proceeding carefully shows a lack of resolve. It is careful resolve, which is what is required. The bottom line is straightforward. The international community cannot allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons capability. It cannot have the means to wipe another state off the map. It cannot export terrorism; it cannot defy the Security Council, which must ensure compliance with the Iranian international obligations. We try to make progress step by step and preferably with as little rhetoric as we can achieve.

Photo of Lord Hurd of Westwell Lord Hurd of Westwell Conservative 2:33 pm, 9th February 2006

My Lords, it remains for me to thank all those who have taken part in the debate. I thank the Minister for his measured reply and my noble friend for injecting from the Front Bench some individual ideas that carried the argument a great deal further forward. I hope that the Minister will remember what I said at the beginning about keeping us plainly informed. We need a continuous flow of information of the quality that he has given us and he will forgive us if we press him quite hard from time to time on those points. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.