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Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: 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
 
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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.

1.27 pm

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: 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
 
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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.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: 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.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: 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
 
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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.

1.34 pm


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