Skip to main content


Volume 551: debated on Monday 22 October 2012

7. How many UK service personnel are based in the Gulf; and whether reserves are earmarked for deployment to the Gulf in the event of military action against Iran. (123717)

Just under 2,000 UK military personnel in the Gulf region are serving on current operations, of whom the majority are royal naval personnel. Reserves could be made available to support the full range of military activity in any operation. The decision to employ reserves is taken by Ministers and subject to a 28-day notice period for individuals.

The UK, together with the international community, remains committed to a negotiated diplomatic solution with Iran on its nuclear ambitions. The Government are pursuing a strategy of pressure and engagement to persuade Iran to negotiate seriously, and to allay the legitimate concerns of the international community. However, we have made it clear that if Iran makes the wrong choice, all options remain on the table.

What assessment has been made both of the conventional capability of the Iranian armed forces, and of the ability of Her Majesty’s armed forces to overcome the particular challenges of an armed conflict in that theatre?

The Iranian armed forces have a significant capability. We do not, at the moment, advocate a military solution to this crisis. We advocate a solution based on pressure and engagement, and on persuading the Iranians to engage with the legitimate concerns of the international community. Should the situation evolve, it is certain that, if the UK took part in any action, it would do so as part of an international coalition.

The ramifications of any military action against Iran are enormously unpredictable, not only for our forces in the middle east but for the wider region, so I am glad to hear the Secretary of State confirm that our main thrust is diplomacy. Although we are enormously worried about Iran’s intentions, I hope he can tell the House that we will do everything we can to avoid any military dimension.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Because of the strategic position occupied by Iran and the vital nature of the strait of Hormuz to the world’s economy—oil supplies transit that waterway—any action, or even suggestion of action, will be deeply destabilising and debilitating. We remain committed to the process of engagement with our European allies and others, which includes the use of economic and financial sanctions to bring pressure to bear on the Iranian regime. There is very significant evidence, particularly the declining value of the Iranian currency, to suggest that such sanctions are beginning to have an effect and to cause fracture within the Iranian leadership.

I commend my right hon. Friend and the Government for the policy they are pursuing towards Iran. Will he continue to ensure that the policy serves to divide the Iranian Government from their people and does not inadvertently unite them?

My hon. Friend makes a good point and is absolutely right. I have quizzed many of our allies in the Gulf who have an intimate knowledge of what is going on in Iran on the ground. We do not want those sanctions to unite the Iranian people with their oppressive regime; we want to wake the Iranian people up to the cost of this madcap dash for nuclear capability.

16. Does the Secretary of State agree with the Israeli Prime Minister that the international community must draw a “clear red line” over Iran’s nuclear programme? If so, where would that be? (123727)

The Israeli Government have their own well known position on the issue. The UK Government believe that engagement and continuous ratcheted pressure on the Iranian regime is the best way to proceed. We have also made it very clear to the Israelis and others that we do not believe that a pre-emptive military strike is the right way to proceed or the best way to resolve the situation.