Select Committee on Defence First Special Report

Formal Meetings

5. The Committee held 48 formal meetings, at 34 of which evidence was taken. On one of these occasions evidence was taken partly in private.[2] 24 evidence sessions were televised.

6. We took evidence from the Rt Hon George Robertson MP, Secretary of State for Defence on four occasions,[3] from Mr John Reid MP, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces on three occasions,[4] and Rt Hon Lord Gilbert, the Minister for Defence Procurement on three occasions.[5] We also took evidence from Rt Hon Clare Short MP, the Secretary of State for International Development[6] and from Mr Tony Lloyd MP, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on three occasions.[7] Despite invitations to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to give evidence to us on both NATO enlargement and the Strategic Defence Review, he was unable to find time to do so. While we were grateful for the Minister of State giving his time to the Committee, we particularly regret that the Foreign Secretary did not seize the opportunity to give evidence on the Strategic Defence Review (SDR), which on many occasions was declared to be "foreign policy led". The Treasury Chief Secretary also declined an invitation to give evidence to us putting the SDR into the context of the Comprehensive Spending Review—an omission which we particularly regretted since the balance of priorities in spending between the different activities of government in the promotion of its overall security policy lay at the heart of the SDR's outcome.

7. While, in the case of the Chief Secretary, we appreciate that he must avoid laying himself open to regular appearances before each and every departmental select committee, and while we accept that the Secretary of State for Defence speaks on behalf of the government as a whole,[8] we urge that Ministers should make a presumption of accepting invitations to appear before Committees overlooking departments other than their own in response to reasonable and well-founded requests. A recent joint appearance by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for International Development before the International Development Committee[9] to give evidence on debt relief shows that this can be effective at the highest level of government. The Prime Minister is reported recently to have called for "joined-up government". Scrutiny of joined-up government will require a joined-up Parliament, and the government must be prepared to facilitate this.

8. In what we believe to be a distinct new departure in select committee activities, we also took evidence on two occasions from Ministers in foreign governments. On 19 January 1998, jointly with the Foreign Affairs Committee, we took evidence from Dr Gyula Horn, the Prime Minister of Hungary and Mr László Kovács, his Foreign Minister. We believe this to be the first occasion, certainly in living memory, on which a Head of Government of an independent state has given evidence to a Committee of the House. On 11 February 1998, we also took evidence from Dr Janusz Onyszkiewicz, the Minister of National Defence of the Republic of Poland. We hope to extend this international dimension of the work of select committees, and have already in the current session taken evidence from the Foreign Minister of Slovakia,[10] and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bulgarian Chamber of Deputies.[11]

9. Other witnesses included 46 appearances by officials of the MoD, including 16 by serving officers. A full list of witnesses appears as Annex A. The Committee has deliberately sought to extend the range of witnesses from whom evidence is taken beyond the defence establishment, and we hope to build further on this aspect of our work.

2  Thursday 23 July, morning sitting, evidence from Mr Tony Lloyd MP, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Back

3  30 July 1997, 14 January 1998, 13 July 1998, 23 July 1998 Back

4  29 July 1997, 4 March 1998, 22 July 1998 Back

5  11 March 1998, 30 April 1998, 16 July 1998 Back

6  11 February 1998 Back

7  18 February 1998, 8 April 1998, 23 July 1998 Back

8  HC 138-III, Q 1566 Back

9  See Third Report from the International Development Committee, Session 1997-98, Debt Relief, HC 563 Back

10  27 January 1999 Back

11  16 February 1999 Back

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Prepared 10 March 1999