the Process forward
74. The Secretary of State declared from the outset
that he wanted the SDR to mark a new era of openness at the MoD.
We acknowledge that the process of the SDR has laid the foundations
for that 'open and inclusive'
approach, certainly being the most open defence review yetalthough
'openness' remains a relative concept. This was a relatively risky
approach. It might not have worked, but it did.
75. However, there remain some doubts in our minds
as to whether there has been a genuine and enduring culture change
within the MoD. The Secretary of State has been punctilious in
seeking to involve this Committee in the SDR process, and eventually
agreed to our meetings with the Assistant Chiefs of Staff which
proved very useful. We note, however, that the producers of the
'fly-on-the-wall' documentary, broadcast on BBC2 on 31st May,
which followed the SDR process, seem to have been given rather
more access to the inner workings of government than we were.
Over the years, our predecessor Committees have been denied access
to documents on the basis that they constitute 'advice to Ministers',
on the basis that they are 'commercially confidential', on grounds
of 'national security' or because of 'political sensitivity'.
We made some comments about the denial to the Committee of full
information in relation to the draft Corporate Plan for the Defence
Evaluation and Research Agency in an earlier report of this Session.
In the course of this inquiry, we have been denied access to details
of the structure of the working parties participating in the SDR
process, and also to the report on procurement processes prepared
In none of these cases do we accept that the category of 'advice
to Ministers' applies. Moreover, we note that the convention that
this category of information may be withheld from Committees of
the House is one which the House has never accepted.
76. We shall maintain a posture of constructive engagement
with the Ministry on these questions of disclosure of information
to Parliament, while we shall continue to press the case for greater
openness. While we acknowledge the need for some confidentiality
on matters of national security, we do not accept that there is
anything automatically sacrosanct about 'advice to Ministers'.
77. Perhaps more importantly, although the quality
of information to Parliament from the MoD has steadily improved
over the last twenty years, the SDR does not altogether represent
an advance in this area. Previous Statements on the Defence
Estimates have included summary statistical data, although
previous Committees have not found these have provided sufficient
information to allow a thorough analysis of MoD's activities.
We have welcomed the publication of the SDR Supporting Essays,
but the White Paper lacks even the financial and statistical information
of the Statement on the Defence Estimates. We have more
to say about the quality of the MoD's published financial information
in the SDR and more generally later in the Report.
In a letter to the Chairman from the Secretary of State we were
also told that the MoD intend to modify the way in which they
divide information presented to Parliament through the annual
SDE in the Spring and annual Performance Report in the Autumn.
We shall be examining these arrangements critically.
78. Another factor which will influence the ways
in which information is presented to Parliament is the introduction
of resource accounting and budgeting into departmental accounts
over the next few years. We discuss the difficulty of precisely
ascertaining the relative costs of maintaining different aspects
of the country's military capabilities below.
79. We intend therefore, in the next year, to conduct
an inquiry into the implications for financial reporting to Parliament
of the MoD's adoption of resource accounting and budgeting, and
also into wider questions of the provision of information to Parliament
and others, including the potential impact of the proposed Freedom
of Information legislation. While we congratulate the MoD on carrying
forward the process of making more transparent its own sometimes
opaque internal processes, we believe there is some way to go
before Parliament can be assured that it has the information it
needs, in the form it needs, to come to its own verdicts on the
soundness of the MoD's judgements.
80. We conclude that the process underlying the
SDR does represent a new and welcome departure in making more
open the discussion and formulation of our security and defence
policy between government departments and outside government.
We congratulate the Secretary of State for Defence on his courage
in undertaking this perhaps risky initiative. The task for the
future is to sustain this new approach in the formulation and
discussion of security and defence policy, and for our own part
we intend to take every opportunity to urge greater transparency
on the Ministry of Defence.
81. When the Committee met members of the National
Defense Panel in Washington in February, we discussed their own
Review. They laid
particular emphasis in our discussions on the importance they
attached to the development by the Pentagon of what they called
a 'Transformation Strategy'. In essence, this is a clear plan
for getting from where you are to where you want to be. The SDR
recognises in many ways the importance of not just setting goals
but addressing how to reach them. However, it falls far short
of setting out a detailed route to the future, with destinations
and milestones defined. We will be looking for a clearer definition
by the MoD of its own 'transformation strategy' in the future,
and we will be pressing for clear and measurable targets and timescales
to be defined by which Parliament, and the wider public, can assure
themselves that real progress in implementing the SDR's strategy
has been achieved. We give a number of specific examples of
this further below.