New Forest East


Dr Julian Lewis: Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the taking of hostages and the flouting of international law has been the signature strategy of Iran ever since the Islamic revolution in 1979? If he does accept that, was it not entirely predictable – and, indeed, predicted – that by impounding this Iranian ship, however legally justified that was, the consequence would be an attempt to retaliate by grabbing a British vessel? What consideration was given, before the original decision was taken, to the adequacy of the number of ships in the Gulf, either ours or those of our allies? What attempts were made to persuade vessels that had to navigate the strait that they should do so in small convoys, which would at least enable two, or at most three, frigates to protect a larger number of ships? Sailing independently and separately meant that one or more were bound to be seized.

[The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Jeremy Hunt): My right hon. Friend is right: we did foresee that this could be one of the reactions from the Iranian Government. That is why we took a number of steps after the detention in Gibraltar on 4 July, including the despatch of HMS Duncan and a lot of extra activity from HMS Montrose over the past few days in escorting 30 vessels, a number of which were British-flagged. There has been a lot of additional activity, but we wanted to do it in a way that was not a red rag to a bull and did not end up with even bigger consequences than the ones we faced, and that gave diplomatic channels a chance to work. I think that it was right to start in that way, but regrettably Iran has not chosen to follow the path that we hoped, and so that is why we are taking much more robust action today.]