Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Waddington: 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
9 Feb 2006 : Column 790
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,

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,

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
9 Feb 2006 : Column 791
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.

12.30 pm

Baroness Williams of Crosby: 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,
9 Feb 2006 : Column 792
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:

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.
9 Feb 2006 : Column 793
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.

12.37 pm

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page