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Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, both on
 
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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
 
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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.

1.15 pm

Lord Taverne: 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
 
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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
 
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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.

1.20 pm


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