Bob Ainsworth makes a speech in the House of Commons during a backbench business debate on Iran

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): There are two people to whom the House ought to be grateful including, first, the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). I attended the Backbench Business Committee with him to push for this debate. I made it clear that I did not agree with the motion he had drafted, but that it was important that it should be tabled. He has come to the Chamber to express an unpopular point of view. Long may people do so, because challenging the consensus in the House, as elsewhere, is enormously important. He has done so tonight to good effect, although I disagree with the motion and will not vote for it. I will vote for the amendment tabled by the other Member who has made a particularly important contribution tonight: the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind).

We ought to be grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman because I have the greatest respect for his knowledge and experience, and for a Member with such knowledge and experience to reveal that he believes that an American military intervention in Iran would have temporary, limited consequences is of great value. It reveals—and he is not alone in this—that there is, both in America and in this country, what can only be described as a war party. That justifies the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay in the first place: the notion that American could intervene militarily in yet another Muslim country with only limited, temporary consequences is believed, but it is complete and utter nonsense.

The consequences of an American military intervention, let alone an Israeli intervention, in Iran would be profound and long-lasting, as has been said by many other Members, and it should be avoided. That is not to say that we should take the option of military intervention off the table. We are dealing with a police state. Iran is a proud country with a rich culture, a strong middle class and a young population, but they have been repressed by a bunch of paranoids. Yes, those people put a religious connotation on that, but we are dealing with a police state. History surely teaches us that we do not deal effectively with a police state by telling it before we even talk to it that, in the final analysis, if all else has failed, we will do nothing about it.

Let us be equally wary of the people we are dealing with who are repressing the people of Iran, and of the war party, which is happy, whether it does it in the tones of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington or in the more belligerent tones of some American politicians who are pushing us towards an end that we are all—one would hope that people in Iran wish this too—desperate to avoid. Let us voice our desperation at the same time as our determination to find a reasonable solution that suits the Iranian people as well as peace in the region and peace in the world. That is enormously important.

Bob Stewart: We are already doing as much diplomatically as we can, but we have to put as much effort as we can into encouraging the growth of democracy and encouraging those people who are against the Iranian Government so that somehow they have the courage and support from outside to break out and get rid of the hoodlums who are running the country and causing so much chaos throughout the world.

Mr Ainsworth: That is exactly the point that I want to come on to: the limitations of soft power on its own when dealing with a regime such as Iran.

There are two issues that I want to raise: first, satellite communications to the people of Iran have been jammed locally, with possible health consequences because of the powerful jamming equipment that is used, and they have been jammed at source as well. We are effectively doing nothing about that. The victims have been punished, but not the perpetrators. The Iranian regime has jammed those signals, but when Eutelsat and other providers raised that with the Iranians, they were told, “Oh, dreadfully sorry, there’s not a lot we can do about it.” Then we wind up the BBC Persian service, with Farsi1, Asia News Network and Voice of America being taken off those satellite platforms, which would effectively be shut down if that did not happen. We are depriving the Iranian population of access to international opinion. We are allowing those stations to be closed, rather than taking effective legal, international action against the regime, which prevents its own people from listening to world opinion. We have to do something about that. I ask the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who is on the Treasury Bench, to take effective action within the European Union and within the international forum of the United Nations to prevent such activity to the maximum extent possible.

There is one other area in which we can help. Increasing numbers of diplomats and others are defecting from Iran. “Defecting” is a cold war word that has almost slipped out of our vocabulary, but there are people who are so contemptuous of what they are being asked to do by the Iranian regime that they are walking away from their jobs and defecting. We are not making them as welcome as we should and thereby encouraging others to do the same. We are not allowing them access. We are not giving them visas or platforms to tell us what is going on within the system to the extent that we should do in order to expose the iniquities of the regime.

I appeal to the Government to consider how those defectors can be encouraged. Yes, I know there is a political imperative to deal with the immigration regime, but let us look at visas for that category of people so that we can be educated about what they are being asked to do that is against the interests of their own people. Those are two areas of soft power that we ought to make work.

Although I do not support everything he said tonight, I totally support the amendment of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and the tone and content of the speech from the Foreign Secretary. That is absolutely the right policy, which we must stick to.

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