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 will step up to that plate, and have done. I take responsibility for what happened—that is my job and my responsibility. I do not think that we will serve any purpose by seeking to identify other individuals to blame, when a perfectly professional report, carried out by a man of integrity, has said that this set of circumstances came about because of a combination of factors.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the situation could have been much worse, but the fact is that it did not develop into something much worse. There is some credit to be given to those who secured the return of these 15 young people much more quickly than many informed commentators said could be done, in a situation in which the Iranians did not get the public apology that they so craved for their own propaganda purposes, and in which their own behaviour and illegal activities, exposed across the region, diminished their standing in the region among those countries whom they most tried to impress by these actions.

The hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions that I will seek to answer quickly. It is not our intention to gag the armed forces; however, they are in a difficult position. We need to find a balance between openness and risk to security. The overriding ethos of the services is the putting of the interests of the whole above those of the individual. Every single individual in the services who seeks to engage with the media takes on that challenge, which is why there is a clear and unequivocal rule that if a member of the services wishes to engage with the media, he or she requires permission so to do. Some are barred by contract from so doing, as the report reveals. This is all very sensible, but a significant degree of communication goes on between members of the armed services, the media and the public. We are not going to move back from that openness, but we will have to manage it against the various challenges, particularly those to security.

On air cover, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman details on the operating procedures of every country that operates in the Gulf, but I can tell him that they do not always board with air cover. It largely depends on where they are in the operational area, and I am not going to go into the details of that.