Iran (Detention of Naval Personnel)

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 4:16 pm on 19th June 2007.

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Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence 4:16 pm, 19th June 2007

I think that I can deal with all the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. I do not think that any of them transgressed the border between what we can discuss in the House and what cannot be discussed for reasons of operational security.

Let me say at the outset that mistakes were made—of that there is no doubt—and I have accepted full responsibility. There are matters that must be put right, which is why I was determined that we would conduct the two reviews whose results I have announced today. I asked for the faults to be exposed and for recommendations to be made on how they could be corrected, and I believe that both General Fulton and Tony Hall have done that for us. I intend to see this through, and will see through the operational side with the supervision of the Select Committee.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of resources. That was addressed in the report. As I said in my statement, the report makes it clear that the incident did not result from equipment or resource issues. Indeed, the coalition maritime commander has explicitly said he is content that he has the resources required for the tasks that he is given; but, as ever, we keep resources under review. I have said many times that we will always seek to give commanders the resources they need for the job that we ask of them, and we will keep those resources under consideration as part of our continuing review.

There has been a great deal of speculation about helicopters, but the bottom line is that if the helicopter had been asked to stay at the scene, it could have done so. There is sufficient helicopter support for these operations. That issue, however, comes within the broader continuing review of resources.

Was there an intelligence failure? General Fulton's inquiry centred on exactly that sort of question. Clearly, any failings in this regard would be operationally sensitive, but I can tell the House that there were shortcomings, which will be addressed through a plan overseen by the chiefs of staff. The Select Committee has been briefed in detail, and I do not intend to go into any further details.

The generic training given to the Navy through FOST—flag officer sea training—was considered to be world class against the test of the review, but a shortcoming was identified in relation to the need to train for specific tasks, particularly boarding. That is exactly what has been addressed, as well as the issue of there being specifically nominated boarding parties instead of the way in which they were previously put together.

The BBC was present on HMS Cornwall at the time. General Fulton's reputation goes before him, and I am sure that all who know him know that he has done a thorough and professional job. He has come to the view that the BBC's presence had no operational effect.

I shall now turn to the Hall report and the media—