Engagements

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 28th March 2007.

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Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister 11:30 am, 28th March 2007

No, I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of rules of engagement, because I think that it is important that we deal with it. First, I should make it absolutely clear that the rules of engagement do allow our forces to take whatever measures are necessary in their own self-defence. However, in my view, it was entirely sensible that those on the spot conducted themselves and behaved in the way that they did. They were coming down off the merchant civilian vessel, having checked it, and they were then surrounded by six Iranian vessels, which were heavily armed. If they had engaged in military combat at that stage, there would undoubtedly have been severe loss of life. I think that they took the right decision and did what was entirely sensible. Of course, we always keep the rules of engagement under constant review to make sure that we are carrying out our functions and protecting our people properly, but my understanding is that those who were out there and patrolling these waters believed that the rules of engagement are right.

It is important that we understand one other additional fact: by the time HMS Cornwall knew that our forces had been detained unlawfully by the Iranians, they were in Iranian waters, and again military engagement would have put a lot of lives at risk. I think that they took the right decision, and it is important that such decisions are left to people on the ground.