Select Committee on Defence Fourth Report

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  We commend the Secretary of State for Defence for volunteering to expose the Ministry of Defence to parliamentary scrutiny on this matter. (Paragraph 2)

2.  To be asked to conduct an inquiry in secret, and to report on matters which we cannot make public, is highly unusual. (Paragraph 5)

3.  We found the MoD's initial response to our inquiry inadequate, and sensed that the Department had not anticipated that we would pursue an inquiry in depth. But, following our strong response, the MoD responded positively to our inquiry and has been helpful both in providing full answers to our questions in writing and in offering high-level briefing. We believe our inquiry has sharpened the MoD's response to the Iran hostage incident. (Paragraph 9)

4.  The decision not to publish the Fulton report has led some people to conclude that the whole thing was a whitewash. We can assure the House that this is not the case. The Fulton report was robust in identifying serious weaknesses, and recommended a range of remedial actions. The Government immediately drew up an action plan for implementing these recommendations, and has made good progress towards discharging the actions. (Paragraph 13)

5.  The perception that everyone has been let off scot-free for the Iran hostage incident is ill-founded. Whilst it was decided that there were insufficient grounds for courts martial, formal administration action has been taken against a number of Service personnel across a wide spectrum of ranks. (Paragraph 15)

6.  We were told that no action had been taken against individuals, military or civilian, for failings relating to media handling. Given the catalogue of serious mistakes made, we think this is unacceptable. (Paragraph 16)

7.  While security constraints prevent us from making public the exact nature of the weaknesses identified, it is public knowledge that there were weaknesses in intelligence, in communications, in doctrine and in training. There was a lapse in operational focus in the front line, and a widespread failure of situational awareness. (Paragraph 17)

8.  We are satisfied that, provided all of the many recommendations are implemented, the MoD will have significantly reduced the likelihood of a recurrence and addressed the weaknesses identified by Fulton. (Paragraph 18)

9.  We accept that a lack of resources was not the direct cause of the events of 23 March. (Paragraph 19)

10.  We are concerned to ensure that the MoD's current budgetary uncertainty does not impede the implementation of the action plan. (Paragraph 20)

11.  It is clear that the decision to allow the Service personnel to sell their stories was a serious mistake and deeply damaging to the reputation of the Royal Navy. The Secretary of State for Defence has accepted responsibility and apologised. This should not absolve others from blame. (Paragraph 22)

12.  While we continue to have concerns about the MoD's media operations, we note the progress made in implementing the Hall recommendations and particularly welcome the decision to increase military involvement in media handling. (Paragraph 23)

13.  The Fulton report, and the evidence provided to us in support of it, contain a depth of operational detail which it would be damaging to make public. This makes it difficult for us to demonstrate openly the grounds on which we have reached our conclusions. However, we assure the House of Commons, and the public, that we have scrutinised the report thoroughly, and have obtained extensive additional evidence from the MoD. We have written to the Secretary of State for Defence with a number of classified conclusions and recommendations. While the hostage-taking exposed worrying weaknesses, action has been taken to address them. The incident was a national embarrassment, deeply damaging to the reputation of the Royal Navy. It has, however, provided the spur to remedy major weaknesses. (Paragraph 24)

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