Select Committee on Defence First Special Report


Miscellaneous Memoranda

41. Over the course of the Session, the Committee has received a number of memoranda from the MoD on matters not directly connected to current inquiries. The more substantial of these are appended to this Report, and a full list is given on page xx. Most of these did not raise matters on which we wish to comment, but there are some issues to which we give some further consideration below.


42. The Committee's report on the SDR reviewed the reforms anticipated by the MoD in its 'smart procurement' initiative, including the particular challenges faced in procuring equipment at a time of quickly evolving technologies.[27] During our SDR inquiry, to inform our deliberations in this area we requested details of the Future Infantry System Technology ('FIST') programme,[28] and we referred to the FIST programme in our subsequent report.[29] The Committee monitors developments with major equipment programmes, including significant public-private partnership schemes for services linked to provision of capital assets. We received information from the MoD during the course of the year on a number of projects, including SA80,[30] Challenger II[31] and the Defence Fixed Telecommunications System which was the MoD's biggest PFI deal.[32]


43. The Committee commented at some length on outstanding personnel issues in its Report on the SDR.[33] We received a note from the MoD on the decision to extend eligibility for membership of courts-martial to Warrant Officers[34] which had been suggested by the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 1996 and which we welcome. We also received a report on measures taken by the MoD in response to the threat of being served with a Non Discrimination Notice by the Commission for Racial Equality.[35] We welcomed these positive developments in our Report on the SDR[36] while noting that there was room for further improvement. We also received notes on the results of the study on social issues which may arise from Service and civilian families living in proximity[37] and on the anthrax vaccination programme for personnel likely to be deployed to the Gulf.[38] The government also announced a review of the Armed Forces Pension Scheme[39] as well as the wider review of Armed Forces' pay announced in the SDR.[40] The government is also reviewing the system of compensation for personnel injured on duty.[41] We expect to look at the results of these linked initiatives when their outcomes are clearer.


44. We received a paper on actions taken by the MoD in response to a recommendation made by our predecessors that the Defence Housing Executive should strengthen its professional competence.[42] We welcome the efforts made, and will be returning to the monitoring of the effects of the decision to sell off the Married Quarters Estate in England and Wales (which our predecessors deprecated) in due course. However, the standard of management of the whole defence estate, and in particular the single and married quarters, is a question on which we remain unconvinced that the MoD is delivering the best value for taxpayers' money. Our colleagues on the Committee of Public Accounts had some stringent criticisms to make in a recent report, particularly in relation to the management and disposal of vacant quarters.[43] We will continue to pursue these issues in our monitoring of the MoD's performance.

45. We also were told of the adoption of a Private Finance Initiative to provide both infrastructure and staff for the new Joint Services Command and Staff College at Shrivenham.[44] This was another project about which our predecessors expressed considerable doubts. Again, we will in due course be taking up the Secretary of State's invitation to visit the new College, and will be examining its work, and the value for money it provides, in greater detail.

46. We also note the MoD's proposals to reform the Royal Tournament[45] and reorganise the regional structure of the Army's Land Command.[46] Both these have attracted controversy, particularly the latter. We had some comments to make on the relationship between the restructuring of Land Command and that of the TAVRAs in our recent report on TA restructuring.[47] We noted the small changes made to reserve numbers in Supplementary Votes A.[48]


47. The Committee sought a memorandum from the MoD on the implications of certain provisions of the Landmines Bill which was introduced to and passed by the House at very short notice.[49] We publish it with this Report.[50] We regret that the very compressed timetable for the consideration of this Bill by the House made it impossible to us to take oral evidence as we might otherwise have wished to do. We believe that select committees can play a very useful role in the pre-legislative scrutiny of legislation, particularly in cases such as the Landmines Bill where it is not a matter of party-political controversy. We recommend that the MoD seek to involve the Committee at the earliest possible stage of the development of any future legislation in which it is involved.


48. The involvement of HMS Cornwall and HMS Monmouth, deployed to Sierra Leone to assist during the emergency there in February and March 1998, became the subject of political controversy subsequently. The Committee sought evidence on their part in Operation Resilient,[51] and two members and the Clerk subsequently inspected the Ships' Logs for the relevant periods at the invitation of the Secretary of State to provide some parliamentary scrutiny of their operations. We found nothing that appeared to merit further action or add materially to the information already in the public domain.[52] We noted, however, that the Logs are filled-in in pencil. If Ships' Logs are claimed to have some evidential status in circumstances such as the controversy over their role in Sierra Leone, we doubt if this is appropriate and we recommend that this practice be reconsidered.


49. We receive regular notice of all accidents involving military aircraft.[53] While this is useful, we propose that we should systematise our follow-up to these notifications. We therefore recommend that the MoD provide the Committee on a quarterly basis with a list of aircraft accidents subject to a Board of Inquiry, and the conclusions of these Boards as they become available.


50. We note the proposal to remove the military garrison on South Georgia and its replacement by a British Antarctic Survey team.[54] We hope to visit the Falkland Islands garrison within the next twelve to eighteen months.

27  Eighth Report, op cit paras 320-351 Back

28  Ev pp 1-3 Back

29  Eighth Report, op cit para 321 Back

30  Ev p 3 Back

31  Ev p 3 Back

32  Ev p 1 Back

33  Eighth Report, op cit, paras 352-377 Back

34  Ev pp 3-4 Back

35  Ev pp 4-5 Back

36  Eighth Report, op cit, para 374 Back

37  Ev p 5 Back

38  Ev pp 5-6 Back

39  Ev p 5 Back

40  See Eighth Report, op cit, para 366 Back

41  HC Deb, 22 December 1998, c420w Back

42  Sixth Report, Session 1995-96, Future of the Married Quarters Estate, HC 424, para 74; Ev pp 6-8 Back

43  Forty-eighth Report from the committee of Public Accounts, Session 1997-98, Ministry of Defence: Sale of the Married Quarters Estate, HC 518, paras 4 (xiii) to (xv) and 41 to 53 Back

44  Ev p 8 Back

45  Ev pp 8-9 Back

46  Ev p 9 Back

47  First Report, Session 1998-99, The Strategic Defence Review: Territorial Army Restructuring, HC 70 Back

48  Ev pp 9-10 Back

49  10 July 1998, all stages Back

50  Ev pp 10-12 Back

51  Ev pp 12-14 Back

52  Ev pp 14-16 Back

53  Ev p 16 Back

54  Ev pp 16-17 Back

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