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Written Statements

Volume 691: debated on Tuesday 24 April 2007

Written Statement

Tuesday 24 April 2007

Iraq

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce that UK forces will today recommence boarding operations in the Gulf that were suspended following the seizure of Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel by the Iranians on 23 March 2007.

Pending the results of the inquiries set up to identify any lessons we can learn from this incident, we have taken measures, in line with the findings of initial reviews of procedures, to ensure that the risk to boarding operations is minimised. This will involve an incremental return to full boarding operations in all areas. This approach in no way affects overall coalition naval operations in the Gulf.

As I announced to the House on Monday 16 April (Official Report, cols. 23-26), there will be two inquiries, aimed at learning lessons from the events surrounding the seizure of RN personnel.

First, the Chief of the Defence Staff has initiated an inquiry into the operational circumstances, consequences and implications of the apprehension by Iranians of the 15 Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel from HMS “Cornwall”. The inquiry will be led by Lieutenant-General Sir Rob Fulton, Royal Marines, (Retd), currently the Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Gibraltar.

The terms of reference of the inquiry are to establish the circumstances and to examine the policy, strategy and operational frameworks within which boardings were conducted and the way that these were given effect through coalition command and control arrangements. The inquiry will cover the risk and threat assessment, strategic and operational planning, tactical decisions, rules of engagement, training, equipment and resources. The Chief of the Defence Staff has also directed General Fulton to consider specific operational issues, the details of which remain classified. This inquiry is due to report in May 2007.

Secondly, I have asked a small team to conduct a review of media access to individual personnel involved in operations, particularly in such high- profile incidents. This review will draw on all relevant experience, including recent incidents and other high profile incidents; consider how best to manage the complex issues at play, including in balancing our responsibilities to support our people and their families, to safeguard the security of our people and operations, to protect the reputation of the services, and to meet the requirements of transparency in a demanding media environment; and identify lessons and make recommendations for any necessary changes in policy, regulations, processes and practice, including in relation to media payments to our personnel.

The review team will be led by Tony Hall, the chief executive of the Royal Opera House and formerly the BBC's director of news and current affairs, who is also a non-executive member of the board of Channel 4. He is well qualified to lead this work. The other members will be Patrick Turner, a senior civil servant in the Ministry of Defence, and Major-General Andrew Stewart, Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Policy) in the Ministry of Defence. I expect this work to report in a broadly similar timeframe.