Select Committee on Defence First Special Report


The Defence Committee has agreed to the following Special Report:—



1. Under Standing Order No. 152 of the House of Commons the Defence Committee is made responsible for monitoring the expenditure, policy and administration of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and associated bodies. The size of this task should not be under-estimated: not only is the defence budget at around £22 billion one of the largest in Whitehall, but also it is directly spent by the Ministry, unlike transfer payments (which form a large element of the budget of the Department of Social Security) or payments forwarded to local authorities (as is the case with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Department for Education and Employment) or health authorities (as is the case with the Department of Health). The number of directly-employed staff in the MoD and its 44 Defence Executive Agencies (over 300,000) far exceeds the number of any other Department. The MoD's equipment procurement expenditure is running at around £10 billion a year. For major programmes within that budget, the MoD is effectively acting as a monopsonist buyer, since few types of equipment exported by UK manufacturers are purchased by overseas buyers if they have not previously been ordered by the MoD. It therefore supports an industry of some 420,000 workers, who together with the MoD's own workforce represent some 2.8% of the UK workforce.

2. It has become increasingly the custom for public sector organisations to account for their achievements to the appropriate constituency of interests by means of annual reports. We recently took evidence[1] on the MoD's own Annual Performance Report for 1997-98. The Departmental Select Committees of the House have been instrumental in developing the annual reporting to Parliament by the Departments they monitor. We have concluded that we should experiment in accounting ourselves to Parliament (and a wider readership) for our discharge of the functions laid upon us by the House of Commons. The public often have only a vague idea of the work of Select Committees, and we hope that perhaps this Report will give a clearer indication of the activities MPs engage in away from the House of Commons Chamber. This is therefore the first in what, if its reception is positive, may become a regular series of sessional reports by the Committee to the House.

3. We begin by reviewing the Committee's objectives and activities over the Session. We then consider our reports and the government's responses to them. We then review a number of miscellaneous issues which arose in the course of the year, and some broader questions which have arisen in the course of our deliberations and inquiries. Finally, we outline the principle features of the Committee's programme for the current and future sessions.

1  10 February 1999 Back

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Prepared 10 March 1999