Select Committee on Defence First Special Report

Inquiries and Reports

21. The Committee published eight reports over the Session.[16] These included 333 pages of reports, 124 memoranda amounting to 267 pages of written evidence, and oral evidence representing the transcripts of 34 evidence sessions at which 3,026 questions were asked of our witnesses. A summary of our main recommendations and undertakings, and the government's responses to them, is given at Annex F. In the current session we will review the need to recall Ministers or civil servants to account for action taken in response to these recommendations. We summarise the contents of the reports below.


22. This report arose from the Committee's visit to Bosnia in November 1997. No formal evidence was taken, although we received briefing from the MoD and over our three days in the country we met a wide range of military personnel, local people and politicians, and representatives of the international organisations working in the region.[17] The report was published on 8 December 1998. Its main recommendation was that the UN mandate for peace keeping operations should be renewed, and that the UK should continue to supply a significant military contribution to SFOR. The mandate was renewed by the Security Council on 20th June 1998 and on 22nd June the Secretary of State for Defence announced that the UK was committing 4,800 troops to SFOR for a further 12 months.[18] We also recommended that the additional costs of this operation should be met from the reserve, and not fall upon the MoD's budget. In the 1998 Spring Supplementary Estimates, £178 million was allocated from the reserve for this purpose.

23. The Government's reply was published as the Second Special Report, Session 1997-98 (HC 535) on 9 February 1998. The report was debated in the House on 17th June 1998.[19]


24. In accordance with our objective of taking evidence on significant statutory instruments laid by the MoD (see Figure 1, objective 6 above), we took evidence on the draft Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) (Amendment) Order 1998, which was laid before the House on 13 January. The instrument extends certain immunities and privileges previously enjoyed by NATO and Commonwealth forces within the UK to countries which have joined NATO's Partnership for Peace. We received written evidence, and took oral evidence from MoD officials on 29 January. Our report was published on 2 February in time for the debate on the draft Order in standing committee on 3 February.

25. The Report was tagged to the motion in the House to approve the draft Order on 4 February 1998. The Committee recommended that the House approve the draft Order, which it did. The government's reply was published as the Third Special Report, Session 1997-98, HC 903 on 13 July 1998. We received a note from the MoD on a new designation Order related to visiting forces.[20]

26. In our report we urged the MoD to make available better explanatory memoranda for future Statutory Instruments, and we are pleased to note some progress in this area.[21]


27. In July 1997, NATO took the historic decision to invite the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to join it. We continued our predecessor Committees' explorations of matters relating to NATO by embarking upon an inquiry into the security, military, political and financial ramifications of enlargement, as well as the enlargement process and the UK Parliament's role in it. We concluded that while we endorsed the accession of the three invited nations, NATO should embark upon any further enlargement with caution. We also urged that the Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons turn its attention to the current unsatisfactory arrangements for Parliamentary examination of international treaties.

28. The government's reply was published in the Third Special Report, HC 903 on 13 July 1998, in which we reiterated the request we had made in the Report that enlargement be debated on the floor of the House. We also tabled an early day motion to trigger such a debate under the Ponsonby Rule. The debate took place on 17 July 1998, and the Report was listed on the Order Paper as relevant to debate. The government ratified the protocols on the accession of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland after the debate, and formal invitations to membership have now been issued to the three nations' governments.


29. This short inquiry arose from the case made to the Committee for the need to address apparently irreconcilable views, expressed in a number of different quarters, about the likely causes of the crash of an RAF Chinook helicopter on the Mull of Kintyre on 2 June 1994 and the appropriateness of the MoD's procedures for investigating and apportioning blame for the accident. Apart from the question of possible human error and how the MoD arrived at its conclusion of negligence on the parts of the pilots, also at stake was the issue of the reliability of the aircraft and restrictions imposed on its military utility. We did not, however, seek to reopen the decisions made by the Board of Inquiry or the Fatal Accident Inquiry undertaken respectively by the military and civil authorities. We took oral evidence from the Minister for the Armed Forces and others and written evidence from many interested parties, including a relative of one of the crew, was submitted to us.

30. The Government's reply was published as part of our Fourth Special Report (HC 1109) on 3 November 1998. As a result of our inquiry, they agreed to our recommendation for a reappraisal of the policy for transporting key personnel, subsequently issuing new criteria for determining appropriate transport arrangements, and they resolved the doubts over safe weight limits for Chinook Mark 2 aircraft by removing the restrictions previously in place.


31. The Government laid the Reserves Call Out Order 1998, which gives statutory authority under the Reserve Forces Act 1996 for the calling out of up to 1000 reservists over the period April 1998 to April 1999, on 8 April 1998. In pursuit of our objective to monitor the MoD's use of delegated legislation, we sought written evidence and took oral evidence from MoD officials on 24 June 1998. In our Report we expressed approval for the way in which this relatively new call out procedure was working; and welcomed the MoD's open minded approach to further improvements. Our Report also drew to the attention of the House administrative changes to the Territorial Army Regulations and to the Regulations for the Royal Naval Reserve. The Report was published on 10 August 1998. The government's reply was published in our Fourth Special Report, Session 1997-98, HC 1109, on 3 November 1998. The Committee has continued to take a close interest in matters relating to the Reserve Forces.

32. The Report was listed on the Order Paper as relevant to the debate on the motion to approve the government's Strategic Defence Review on 19/20 October 1998.


33. In selecting the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) for the first in a series of reviews of Defence Executive Agencies' performance (see Figure 1, Objective 12 above), we were able to address two major initiatives at the heart of that agency's business—the then Green Paper on a possible Defence Diversification Agency[22] and options being considered within the MoD concerning DERA's future status, which included some degree of privatisation. We visited DERA's headquarters at Farnborough, and took oral evidence from DERA's Chief Executive and the Minister for Defence Procurement. We also sought written evidence from a wide range of interested parties, including industry, on the oral evidence of the Minister. The report was published on 1 July 1998. It set out the criteria which we considered should be satisfied in any change to DERA's status, and warned that even partial privatisation would be unacceptable. The government's reply was published as part of our Fourth Special Report (HC 1109).

34. Our report was intended as an early warning to the MoD of our concerns, and the government's response did little to allay our fears. We intend to scrutinise the MoD's plans for DERA as they take shape in the current Session, along with the MoD's progress in setting up and operating a Defence Diversification Agency.

35. The Report was listed on the Order Paper as relevant to the debate on the motion to approve the government's Strategic Defence Review on 19/20 October 1998.


36. This inquiry followed up an earlier report of the same title three years before,[23] and was prompted by the slow progress that was then being made in rationalising European defence industries and in promoting more effective collaboration amongst customer countries. As in the earlier inquiry, we took evidence jointly with the Trade and Industry Select Committee from firms, trade associations and Ministers of both the MoD and the DTI. The report, which was identical with the Eighth Report of the Trade and Industry Committee, was published on 16 July 1998, and the government's reply, published on 3 November 1998 as the Fifth Special Report (HC 1131), largely accepted the conclusions and recommendations of the Committees. The Defence Committee will continue to monitor the restructuring of the European defence industry as it unfolds.

37. The Report was listed on the Order Paper as relevant to the debate on the motion to approve the government's Strategic Defence Review on 19/20 October 1998.


38. Our examination of the government's Strategic Defence Review, which was announced by the Secretary of State shortly after the general election and was finally published on 8 July 1998,[24] formed the core of the Committee's work over the Session. In all, we held 23 sessions of oral evidence before and after its publication, and received 48 memoranda in connection with the inquiry. Our report was published on 10 September and was listed on the Order Paper as relevant to the debate on the motion to approve the SDR on 19 and 20 October 1998. It was also listed as relevant to adjournment debates on the Royal Navy[25] and the Army.[26]

39. Overall, with some reservations, the Committee endorsed the broad thrust of the government's proposals. The Committee, however, stressed that the real test of the government's commitment to this plan would be in its effective, full and timely implementation. We committed ourselves to monitoring this process, particularly in the following areas.

Figure 4: Committee Undertakings to monitor SDR implementation
  (References are to the Eighth Report)

That the government keep the Committee informed of methods of assessing the effectiveness and cost of defence diplomacy (para 149)

To monitor whether readiness targets are manageable for individual service personnel and formations, and coherent across the 3 Services (para187)

To monitor progress in tackling problems of defence medical services, and to examine work of the Defence Secondary Care Agency in detail (para 201)

That future SDEs clearly identify costs of stationing forces in Germany (para 214)

To monitor progress with, and added-value from, joint initiatives—Jt Helicopter Cmd, Jt Force 2000, Jt Doctrine Centre, CJO, CDL (para 224)

To monitor new carriers' progress (incl. air groups) (para 236)

To monitor impact of reduced submarine and frigate/destroyer flotillas (para 237)

That future SDEs have a clear statistical analysis of actual training times and operational deployments under Army's new 'readiness cycle' structure, identify causes of significant deviations and shortfalls, and set out proposals to remedy them (para 241)

That MoD set milestones for route to completion of Force Structure package and publish monitoring analyses of progress against these (para 257)

To monitor how Ro-Ros and additional airlift are acquired; and use of PPP for equipment more generally. (Para 301)

To monitor whether Chief of Defence Logistics organisation is cost-effective (para 302)

To monitor impact on equipment programmes of Abbey Wood (Procurement Executive) rationalisations (para 341)

To examine the basis of decision to have PPP in DERA (para 344)

That future SDEs include statement of 'smart procurement' savings (para 350)

That a standardised method of measuring overstretch in all three services is introduced (para 359)

To monitor progress against Army manpower shortages (para 361)

That future SDEs report planned v. actual improvements to single living accommodation (para 369)

To monitor ethnic minorities and women numbers (para 374)

To monitor progress with qualitative and quantitative measures of the effectiveness of recruitment/retention programmes, and the results (para 377)

To monitor progress with asset sales against £700m/£250m budget estimates (para 391)

To monitor progress against 3% efficiency targets and whether 'genuine efficiency' claimed. (Para 392)

To monitor introduction of RAB (paras 402)

To monitor whether use of private sector, including PPP, represents VFM (para 404)

To monitor the quality of financial information given to Parliament and the extent to which the defence budget is sufficient to implement the SDR undertakings (para 405)

To press for better quality financial information and to assess sustainability of defence budget (para 405)

This work will form the core of the Committee's programme over the remainder of this Parliament.

40. There was one area in which the government's response was particularly disappointing. In our Report we argued that the SDR had been an effective defence review, but had failed to deliver on the government's manifesto promise of a strategic security review. We made a number of suggestions and recommendations for measures to develop the interdepartmental and interlocking policy aspects of security policy in the very different post-Cold War world—another example of where there is a pressing need for more "joined-up government". These were largely ignored or brushed aside by the government in its response, and we do not intend to let this matter rest.

16  A full list of Defence Committee reports published since 1979 is at Annex B Back

17  See First Report, Session 1997-98, op cit Appendix 1, p xxi Back

18  HC Deb, 22 June 1998, cc 690-2 Back

19  HC Deb, 17 June 1998, cc 299-322 Back

20  Ev p 10 Back

21  See eg First Report, Session 1998-99, Territorial Army Restructuring, Ev pp 42-46 Back

22  Cm 3861 Back

23  HC 61/62, 1995-96 Back

24  Cm 3999 Back

25  HC Deb, 12 November 1998, cc 504-572 Back

26  HC Deb, 28 October 1998, cc 360-435 Back

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