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Shah Of Iran

Volume 958: debated on Thursday 16 November 1978

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asked the Prime Minister if he plans to invite the Shah of Iran to make an official visit to Great Britain.

In view of the commendable stand taken by the British Government on the issue of human rights in other parts of the world, including the Soviet Union, will the Prime Minister make it perfectly clear that we shall in no way condone the corruption, torture, imprisonment of opponents, shooting-down of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators and other atrocities associated with the present Iranian regime? To this end, will he advise that no royal visit should take place either way at present?

My hon. Friend attacks, as he frequently does, the shortcomings of the present regime. I know no one who denies those shortcomings. It is in the interests of us all that there should be a stable and a democratic Iran.

When my hon. Friend attacks the present regime, he should also consider how far the alternatives would be an improvement. Here in this House we should stick to the general principle that I have followed on all occasions, and of which the Shah is clearly aware, namely, that I believe it to be the general desire of the House that he should pursue his proposal for free elections and that Iran should continue to move on towards the path of democracy. To say that is not to condone the shortcomings of the present regime, but it acknowledges the difficulties that would arise under a change.

Although it is extremely easy at present to be destructive about the situation in Iran, will the Prime Minister reaffirm what he has already said—that the opposition in [ran seems to be both disparate and illogical, and that it is an overwhelming Western interest that peace and stability should be restored there by the present Government?

I think that the overwhelming interest of this country and of the West is that there should be a regime in Iran which commands the support of the people. That, as I understand it, is what the Shah is trying to move towards. Whether he can do so is a matter of question. I do not think that we should try to insist—because we should fail if we did—on a regime that is put there basically because it is in Western interests. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman meant that.

Does the Prime Minister understand that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House support his belief that when it comes to civil rights and parliamentary democracy it is not easy to choose between the Shah and any possible alternative? Will he remind his hon. Friends below the Gangway, who seem so sympathetic towards a rather nasty and reactionary priest-hood, that they would be the first to have their hands chopped off if that priesthood came to power?

There are important movements of opinion taking place throughout the Islamic world at present, not only in Iran. We should endeavour to understand those movements, as well as to try to support the movement towards a stable and democratic regime. I do not think that I can add anything further to what I have said.