Iran — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:09 pm on 24th January 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 4:09 pm, 24th January 2012

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement on the EU, Iran and the Strait of Hormuz, made in the other place by the Foreign Secretary.

We on these Benches welcome the extensive international engagement in this policy, especially from our European partners, but also from other long-standing friends and allies. I was, of course, pleased to learn of the announcement by the Australian Foreign Minister this morning. Will the Minister outline how much support this policy has managed to garner at international level, particularly from Russia, China, India and Japan? The ban by Russia and China on supplying military equipment as well as training and maintenance is very welcome, but will the Minister say what assurances they are giving that this will be continued, and what influence they are exerting on Tehran to ensure a more responsible attitude from the regime?

On the diplomatic front, we have seen reports that at a meeting in Moscow on 18 January, Russian officials presented the Iranians with a proposed framework for negotiations with the P5+1, probably based on Russian proposals made in August. Can the Minister inform the House of any response the Government have received from Russia? The Government and the EU have rightly made it clear that we have no quarrel with the Iranian people. Before the Arab spring, we had the green movement in Iran, in which we saw huge numbers on the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities seeking reform. Although this protest was barbarically repressed, it showed the considerable public alienation in Iran from the regime. In that light, what assessment have the Government made of the state of public opinion in Iran and of divisions in the political elite? What weight do the Government give to the threat by Iran to attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz? Do the Government intend to participate in any international naval task force to keep the strait open? What agreement have the Government obtained from other P5 countries for such action as well as from those in the Gulf? What reaction has there been from other countries in the Gulf to the threat to the Strait of Hormuz? Given the defence cuts, can the Government guarantee that vessels could be made available for such operational activity?

The policy position as set out yesterday by the former Leader of your Lordships' House, my noble friend Lady Ashton, in her capacity as the EU's high representative on foreign affairs, is undeniably correct. However, there is no doubt either that the crisis in the Gulf could further weaken worldwide economic growth, so can the Minister outline the reaction from the main oil-consuming countries in Asia, which have a high dependence on Iranian oil, to the policy of a ban on crude oil imports from Iran and-this is almost as important-the export of refined products back to Iran? Given the disproportionate effect that these necessary sanctions will have on the vulnerable economies of southern Europe, will the Minister indicate what measures are being taken to protect them?

Finally, in the event of a crisis in the Gulf having a material impact on the world economy, what indications have the Government had from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in such circumstances contingency plans are in place to deal with any economic effects? The position in the region, the attitude being struck by Iran and the economic impact of any implementation of the threat by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz are unquestionably serious. Your Lordships' House and we on these Benches look forward to the Government continuing to keep this House fully informed.