Pauline Neville-Jones: You Ask The Questions

The shadow security minister answers your questions, such as 'Which state is the biggest threat?' and 'Have you caused a diplomatic incident?'2
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The Independent Online

Which state do you think is the greatest threat to global security and why?

Charlotte Fullwell


I can't pick a single state. States which behave in a menacing way towards their neighbours, those which are badly divided internally and unstable, those which are so weak the governments cannot control what goes on within their borders all are capable of constituting serious threats, especially if they are also dictatorships or possess weapons of mass destruction, or are havens for terrorists. Some states combine several of these characteristics and we need to both protect ourselves against them and work to eradicate the causes which make them threats.

Would you advocate military action against Iran?

Zac Julien

Shoreditch, east London

I would not advocate military action against Iran but I would not exclude it if no other way can be found to prevent Iran possessing nuclear weapons. It is hard to imagine a more destabilising development in the Middle East. The stakes are thus very high and time is limited. The aggressive attitude of the current regime in Tehran blocks a co-operative way forward and obliges the outside world to apply pressure instead.

Afghanistan was the saving grace of our interventionist foreign policy, but now we're losing there too, is intervention a dead policy?

Ishmael K


We have a difficult task in Afghanistan and though we could lose there, it is not right to conclude that the UK is losing. Helmand is the most challenging province militarily and it will take time to gain and keep control from the Taliban. It is vital to provide enough security so that ordinary Afghanis can take control of their lives, participate in economic development and feel the country is theirs. A recent poll among Afghanis showed overwhelming support for the coalition and hostility towards the Taliban. Intervention is not, I think, a dead policy but one to be pursued with care and caution.

Did you support the invasion of Iraq? If yes, do you regret that?

Seb Green


I supported the intervention. I believed Saddam Hussein to be in possession of weapons of mass destruction, which he had previously used on his own population, and to be in breach of UN resolutions. The previous UN sanctions policy showed no sign of weakening this brutal and oppressive man's grip on power but was causing considerable suffering among ordinary Iraqis. I greatly regret the failure to plan to win the peace which has been appallingly costly in lives as well as resources.

As a former BBC governor, do you think the corporation has now totally lost its way?

Nadine F


The communications industry is undergoing major change and all broadcasters have to adapt to a multichannel market. The BBC has lost trust, is facing increasing competition and cannot take its current central position for granted. If it is to continue to be financed by the licence fee, the corporation needs to focus hard on its public service remit, to which news and current affairs are central, on the quality of its programming and on greatly increasing its efficiency.

Did you hound Greg Dyke out of his job after the David Kelly affair?

Eugene Frier


I most certainly did not. A clear majority on the board of governors voted to accept the resignation he had offered, something he has been unwilling to accept.

What's the difference between 42 days' detention without trial and internment?

M Ali


The difference is internment can be indefinite imprisonment without trial but we should remember we already have double the maximum length of detention without trial of any Western democracy. The Conservative Party opposes the Government's proposal to extend pre-charge detention even further from the present limit of 28 days because we do not believe the Government has made anything like a strong enough case to justify this serious curtailment of individual liberty.

Is waterboarding torture?

Vikram Kadak


Most people think waterboarding is torture. Even if they are not illegal, methods of interrogation which put people in fear of their lives are wrong. They taint the validity of the confessions made in such conditions quite apart from the damage done to the reputation of those engaging in such practices.

Do you think another terrorist attack on London is inevitable?

Lucy Jones

London, N1

Our intelligence services and the police face an immense task and have had considerable success in preventing atrocities taking place in the UK. A number of conspiracies have nevertheless evaded detection before the event and we must expect that there will be further attempts. The terrorist has to be lucky only once.

Should we be able to accept phone-tap evidence?

Steve Petman


The UK is one of the few democracies which does not permit the use of intercept evidence in terrorism trials, though we do permit its use in other legal proceedings. The argument in favour of its use in relation to terrorist offences, which is powerful, is that it would increase the chances of having enough evidence to bring people to trial rather than having to resort to executive detention of individuals.

Aren't the current security checks at airports completely over the top?

Kenneth Robson

Via email

Airport and airlines are obvious targets for terrorists and the UK has some of the busiest in the world. It is only 18 months since a major plot to blow up many transatlantic flights out of London was foiled. Safety must be paramount and checks have to be thorough. This does not, however, mean that they need to be carried out in ways which inconvenience the public such as keeping travellers in long queues while security machinery remains unstaffed (which we have all experienced) and imposing restrictions which appear to be for the convenience of the security staff, such as the single bag rule, which is unique to British airports. Such restrictions are driving travellers who do not have to use UK airports elsewhere and are damaging the UK economy.

Do you think David Miliband is out of his depth as Foreign Secretary?

Malinda S


Mr Miliband would be helped if he had more support from Mr Brown.

Time magazine has named Vladimir Putin as its Person of the Year. Who's yours?

William Clarraige

Via email

Alan Johnston, BBC correspondent in Gaza, for his great moral courage.

Should ex-diplomats be allowed to write embarrassing, best-selling books when they retire?

David Rix


We should hang on to free speech. Embarrassing people may be distasteful but long may it remain permissible. The Government has used the controversy over breach of trust created by one such book to introduce draconian rules concerning not merely the writing of books by senior officials once they retire, but what they may say in public until they die. The FCO has undertaken to revise the rules.

Did you find that being a woman held you back in the masculine world of international diplomacy?

Tina Ludlow

Via email

The honest answer is yes, to some extent. When I joined the FCO in the 1960s, female officers were required to resign on getting engaged. There were parts of the world to which the FCO did not send women, which included the Middle East but went much wider. I was frequently the first woman to hold posts to which I was appointed. Things were much the same in the diplomatic services of other countries. Much, but by no means all, of this disappeared while I was in the FCO. Since then there has been a positive change in attitude to women in diplomacy not before time. The emergence of women foreign ministers has made an important difference.

Are you a natural Conservative?

Elli Watson

Via email

I think so. When I was a civil servant, I had to be politically neutral. But when David Cameron asked me if I would chair a policy group, I had no hesitation. And I am thrilled to be in the Shadow Cabinet and take the Conservative whip in the Lords.

Would David Cameron really make a good leader?

Paul Collinson

Via email

I would not have accepted David Cameron's invitation to join his Shadow Cabinet if I had not been convinced that he had great leadership qualities and was more than worthy of the job of Prime Minister. He is interested not just in having power but in what to do with it in the best interests of the country.

Isn't it wrong that you made so much money from the privatisation of QinetiQ, a public company?

Harold Spensor


No. I invested 50,000 of my own money on which I made the same proportionate return eight times as the taxpayer made at the time of flotation when the company was valued at 1.3bn.

What one policy would you like to see Gordon Brown change in 2008?

Gareth Davis

London, SW1

The Labour Party talks about an enabling state. But it is putting in place a bossy, interfering state. We need to move towards trusting people more to run their own lives.

Have you ever caused an international diplomatic incident?

Charles Meakes


So many gaffes it would be hard to choose. Falling headlong down a flight of stairs at a formal occasion, landing at the feet of assembled foreign ministers was one of my less funny moments. Very bruising too.