Select Committee on Defence First Report

Consultation Process

3. Declaring the restructuring process a success, the Secretary of State said that in the Strategic Defence Review it—

... was determined that the Territorial Army should become more relevant, more useable and better integrated with the rest of our forces. Since then, we have analysed how to put that vision into practice and engaged in detailed and widespread consultation with those most expert on the TA.[14]

However, concerns were raised that the consultation process itself was not as open as had been suggested by Ministers.[15] We were made aware of a level of disquiet over the way in which the process had been handled, and we received anecdotal evidence that senior officers in the TA had felt that the consultation was a cosmetic exercise. Our witnesses from the TAVRAs expressed the view that the consultation was, at best, adequate and that the TA Colonels were still of the opinion that they had not been listened to.[16] We were also concerned that a letter from Land Command to all Brigade Commanders on breaches of confidentiality—which was subsequently leaked to the press—appeared to seek to gag members of the TA from talking to Members of Parliament.[17]

4. Our witnesses from the MoD defended the consultation process[18] and argued that the letter on breaches of confidentiality sent by General Walker was aimed at stopping "idle chatter to groups of people"[19] in particular, "to allow Ministers to take their decisions without newspapers bothering them".[20] However, General Walker was not completely accurate in this account of the wording of the letter. The actual words used in the letter were 'not only deliberate contacts with the Press or politicians but also idle chatter on social occasions'. Whilst we acknowledge that discipline within the Armed Forces must be maintained, we take a serious view of restrictions being placed on the well-established right of individuals, and particularly volunteers, to talk to Members of Parliament. It is the tone of the letter, as much as its content, which strikes a false note however. We return to this subject in our conclusions.

5. The consultation exercises undertaken within the MoD prior to publication of the Government's Strategic Defence Review generally appeared successful, and we praised it in our report on the SDR.[21] However, the evidence on the current consultation process on the TA is less positive. We believe that, with the obvious sensitivity surrounding the review of the TA, and the political interest which it had generated, the MoD should have handled the consultation process more carefully. The Ministry of Defence has fallen below the high standards it set itself during the SDR in its conduct of this exercise. We recommend that the forthcoming review of the Territorial and Auxiliary Volunteer Reserve Associations[22] should be used as an opportunity to demonstrate that the MoD is genuinely seeking opinions on its proposals.

14   HC Deb 17 November 1998 col 749 Back

15   HC Deb 19 October 1998, col 972, 20 October 1998, col 1104 Back

16   Q 10 Back

17   A copy of the letter was placed in the House of Lords Library Back

18   QQ 204-206 Back

19   Q 204 Back

20   Q 204 Back

21   Eighth Report, op cit, paras 53-65, 80 Back

22   Paras 28-37 Back

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