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Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I join with others in warmly thanking my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell for initiating the debate and for the magisterial overview with which he launched it. I thank also your Lordships for the brevity and briskness of many of the contributions. The digital clock seems to have gone a little awry, but the good old analogue clock tells us that the Minister will have ample time in which to answer all the questions.

This is a time of great danger. I agree with noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, who emphasised that point. I agree, too, with the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, that Iran is bound to press ahead. Anyone who really knows anything about the mentality and attitudes in Tehran at the moment will know that that Government and those people will press ahead with nuclear development and move towards a weapons capability. They tried to do it in secrecy with the Natanz uranium enrichment plant and other developments—which were revealed and ceased to be secret—but they have pressed on. Frankly, all that stands in the way of Iran's move to possess nuclear weapons are technological and technical factors. Those might be considerable. There could be difficulties over the further development of Iran's uranium enrichment plants, and there could be some delays in the missile programme as well. Most of
 
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its missiles are in the "yet-to-fly" category. That is our only hope, but it is a slender hope on which to base our intentions and our desire to see stability in the region.

It is a crucially dangerous time. It is so, first, for the obvious reason that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, proliferation will cascade throughout the region. Countries such as Egypt would perhaps want to be in on the act as well. That is an enormous danger, leading to even further instability and turmoil in the Middle East.

It is a dangerous time, secondly, because the Western response is not working and is not going to work. Many noble Lords will disagree with that. Neither EU diplomacy nor American belligerence will stop the Iranians moving ahead on the path which they have taken. On the contrary, they will make things worse. Mutterings from Washington about the use of force or the latest, almost alarmingly dotty, rumour that three brigades are being put together to invade Iran by land are just what the hard-line mullahs and Mr Ahmadinejad need. He wants nothing more than the opportunity to defy the West. The more the diplomatic gentility of the EU drags on, and the more the mutterings from Washington about the use of force and bombing continue, the more delighted he becomes and the more certain it is that the programme for nuclear development will be accelerated. I am sure that that is correct.

Will targeted smart sanctions from the United Nations help? I wish I shared the view of wise people such as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that this is the path that we should go along, and that pressure of a kind will have some effect on the Iranians. I wish that I could be an optimist along with them, but I am not—first, for the obvious reason that the United Nations will never agree.

China has stated that it is against sanctions "on principle". It has said that it will never vote for sanctions. So that avenue is blocked. Secondly, we all know from bitter experience that sanctions do not work at all well and hit the poorest, however smart they are, and they usually have the effect of entrenching the incumbent government, which would make Mr Ahmadinejad's position stronger, which is just what he needs.

Thirdly, and most importantly, although it was much neglected in your Lordships' debate, Iran's response to sanctions could be devastating. It could not only cut its own oil production—it is the second biggest oil exporter in the world and although it has promised OPEC that it will not do so, it is, in fact, perfectly ready to do so—but it could do much worse than that. It could mine the Straits of Hormuz, or sink a few vessels in them, and halt up to 18 million barrels of oil a day, which is about a quarter of the entire global consumption of oil. The outcome of that would be a massive world financial and energy crisis that would deeply hurt all countries, including our own, in ways that we have not experienced since the full-blown wars of the twentieth century. That is not appreciated when people talk about whether they would do this or that or use force against Iran. We are dealing with a
 
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desperately dangerous situation in which Iran could bring the roof down, not only on its own head, but on ours as well.

Is there a silver lining to all this? Yes, there is. I have tried to explain it in an article in today's International Herald Tribune. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, reads it. The effect of all this could be to make the move to a low energy world—the green revolution—a lot more likely. Noble Lords will remember that last time there was an oil price explosion—also triggered, ironically, by events in Iran—it all turned to dust. Oil prices collapsed, after a lot of speeches from people, including me, that they were going to stay high, from $95 equivalent to $9 in a few months. All the investment in new oil alternatives, green energy, nuclear, compact cars—the whole lot—was shelved. Nothing happened. This time, Mr Ahmadinejad and the Iranians have injected real fear into the oil market. This fear is probably as effective, or more effective, than any amount of speeches by the American president on "addiction to oil" or talk about carbon reduction targets that we all know are not being met and will not be met. While I repeat that the dangers of the situation are great, and that, in the end, Mr Ahamdinejad will ruin Iran and impoverish its people, as some noble Lords have rightly said, in the mean time, perhaps we should say "Thank you" to him for a clear sign that oil will remain not just very expensive, but extremely unreliable and a wonderful but very dangerous commodity.

One or two other questions have arisen in the debate. One is on the role of the exiles, about which my noble friend Lord Waddington spoke eloquently and passionately. My hesitant view is that they should be listened to, but not relied upon. I hope that the position of the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran will be kept under review by the Government and that they will have open minds and watch the position very carefully indeed. My noble friend Lord Waddington, the noble Lords, Lord Russell-Johnston and Lord Mitchell, the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and other noble Lords said some very wise words. I hope that the Government are listening to what they say on what I recognise is a difficult situation on which one cannot leap to a particular position just like that.

Finally, there are two evident longer-term possibilities in what is otherwise an extremely gloomy, dangerous situation that we have inadequate responses to deal with. They are that only the great Asian powers—China, India, and Japan—plus Russia can bring real pressure to bear on this Iranian regime with all its atrocities, evils and cruelties that we have heard described so graphically today. The Foreign Secretary should not be going to Brussels so much and thinking so much about what is said in Washington; he should be visiting—not summoning—Beijing, Delhi, Tokyo and Moscow. They are the countries with real leverage on Iran. China has a £70 billion gas contract with Iran and gets 14 per cent of its oil daily from Iran. Japan has huge investments in Iran and is in the same sort of position. Russia supplies civil nuclear assistance and air defence supplies and has major links
 
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and influence with Iran. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said, Russia may be offering the possibility of a way out of the labyrinth with its uranium enrichment offer. That is the first point, which seems to me to be obvious, but understated. We in the West are not in a position to solve this problem alone: it is as much an Asian problem as a European or American one. We should recognise that. A too Western or Euro-centric approach will make things worse, not better.

Secondly, it is clear that the non-proliferation treaty regime faces a crisis, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, rightly observed. It is obvious that it must be reformed to overcome its weaknesses, to embrace the new nuclear and would-be nuclear nations and to ensure that, even if they go this route, it is very transparent and collaborative and an effective pathway to the other NPT goals which people always forget about, which are sustained and organised disarmament and the development of safe, civil nuclear energy. Those are the aims and we must somehow embrace Iranian ambitions in them. These are the ways to contain a crisis—

Lord Dykes: My Lords, does the noble Lord include Israel in his suggestions?

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I accept that the position of Israel is crucial in this, as many noble Lords said. It should be fully taken into account. The new nuclear world is not the world of the existing five powers. Pakistan, Israel and India do not fit into the old treaty but have nuclear weapons, and others may, alas, be on the verge of getting them. The present treaty regime must be reformed—I will not say replaced—to cope with the facts and realities of the new situation. These are the ways to contain a crisis in the face of which—we must be honest and frank about this—current Western policy is proving entirely ineffective.


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