Select Committee on Defence First Special Report


79. Of the 18 objectives we set ourselves at the beginning of the 1997-98 Session, we assess ourselves to have achieved or overshot our target on 9. On a further three, we have put in hand the necessary steps to implement our objective. On a further three, all relating to the annual reporting cycle, the normal pattern of work was disrupted by the Strategic Defence Review process. One was not applicable during the year in question, and one was not met at all. We succeeded in considering only one Executive Agency (DERA) during the Session.

Figure 5

Achievement against objectives







Statement on the Defence Estimates

To take evidence and report in time for debate

Annually (May to August)

Not published due to SDR


Budget/public expenditure survey

To take oral evidence from the Secretary of State immediately after spending plans are announced

Annually (November)

Subsumed into SDR and CSR for relevant period


Chiefs of Staff

To meet each informally

Once a year (at least)

Evidence taken formally


Front line forces

To visit one unit of each service

Once a year



Support units

To visit one unit of each service

Once every 18 months

Not met


Statutory Instruments

To consider important ones and possibly take oral evidence

On laying



Public appointments

To consider significant ones and possibly take oral evidence

As they occur



MoD Performance report

To take note


Subsumed within SDR


British forces on operations at Brigade (or equivalent) level and above

To visit (2/3 days)

Once a year



Gulf War syndrome

To monitor developments, take evidence and report

Once a year/ as events require



Northern Ireland

To visit (3/4 days)

Once every two years



Defence agencies

To take oral evidence on annual report

Two agencies per year

One agency considered


Defence Committees of major European countries

To meet/visit

Once every two years for France, Germany & Italy (possibly within NAA/WEU)

Germany visited


USA Congressional Committees in the field of national security

To meet/visit

Once a year (possibly within NAA)



Major procurement projects

To monitor developments and seek regular written or oral evidence

Annually (Eurofighter, CNGF, Challenger 2)

Work in hand


Resource Accounting and Budgeting

To monitor MoD's progress and take part in the choice of performance measures

By the end of the Parliament

Work in hand


Defence manufacturers

To visit/be briefed by UK defence manufacturers

One a year



Replies to parliamentary questions

To monitor refusals to give information and consider taking evidence in private

Once a year

Met in part/work in hand

We have re-adopted these objectives, with some minor variations, for the current session.

80. There have been parliamentary committees engaged in the scrutiny of defence policy since the reign of Edward III. It is now twenty years since the 'new' select committee system was established. Much progress has been made since then, but these committees are no longer new, and we believe that the time has come to review their function and role, building on the experience of our own operations and on that of committees elsewhere in the democratic world. We consider, therefore, that while we have discharged our duties to the House reasonably effectively, within the terms of our remit under Standing Order No. 152 and the general powers given by the House to its committees, those powers are not themselves at the final stage of their development. We have commented elsewhere on the need for a more formal involvement of the committees in the development of legislation at the earliest possible stage, where circumstances allow. Moves have been made in their direction, but they need to be developed and entrenched. We have taken it upon ourselves to examine the MoD's output of delegated legislation, but we are forced to do this in a context where the House's procedures for scrutiny of delegated legislation are woefully inadequate. Nothing has been done to implement the wise recommendations made in this area by the Procedure Committee nearly three years ago.[73] We have also, on our own initiative, decided to hold quasi-confirmation hearings of major public appointments, but Parliament has nothing approaching a right of veto, or even a right to consultation in these areas, although the Chancellor of the Exchequer has placed the relationship between the Treasury Committee and the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee on a more formal footing. Again, these powers need developing. We have also commented on the Procedure Committee's inquiry into Financial Procedure, to which we have given evidence. We hope that it recommends ways of tying the Committees more firmly into the financial procedures of the House. We have also commented on the exercise of the Crown Prerogative in relation to treaty ratification. The Modernisation Committee is pressing ahead with reforms to the ways in which the House works. It is important that, before long, the role of Select Committees and their powers are comprehensively examined to produce recommendations on how they can be enhanced in pursuit of the government's declared aim of making Parliament more effective.

73  Fourth Report from the Procedure Committee, Session 1995-96, Delegated Legislation, HC 152 Back

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