Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Blaker: 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
9 Feb 2006 : Column 798
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.

12.59 pm

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: 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
9 Feb 2006 : Column 799
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.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: 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.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: 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
9 Feb 2006 : Column 800
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.

1.07 pm

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page