Examination of witness (Questions 1033
TUESDAY 20 JUNE 2000
1033. John, welcome again. As you know, we published
our report on DERA yesterday. Your two appearances before us were
bravura performances, we did not believe a word of it. You delivered
a Geoffrey Boycott style of straight bat to some ferocious fast
balls, slow balls and wides.
(Lord Gilbert) That was ferocious?
Mr Cann: This is good cricket
1034. Now with the freedom of elder statesman
status, no longer in the firing line, you have looked at the report.
Is there anything you think we have said that you think is wrong?
You have very good connections with the United States. Is there
anything you would perhaps like to add to that?
(Lord Gilbert) First of all, thank you all very much
for inviting me here and turning up so you have got a quorum.
I was not prepared to talk much about DERA, I have been checking
up on all of the things I want to say to you on Kosovo. With respect
to your DERA report, the game is not over yet, as I am sure you
know. I think I said on the floor of the Other Place a few weeks
ago that I had recently been in touch with senior officials in
Washington who had said to me that they were satisfied with what
the Ministry of Defence is now proposing, subject to three provisos,
three very important provisos, with which I am sure you are familiar.
I made it clear on the floor of the Other Place that I was aware
of this. The Americans that I was talking to assured me that they
would not come to a final agreement on our proposals until they
had gone back to their grass roots people in the laboratories
to see if they were satisfied. What I found most encouraging was
the attitude of the Americans that it was extremely important
to them that we got this right and the last thing they wanted
was to have a foul up. I think what I said is reflected in Baroness
Symons' remarks when she said that the Americans were broadly
satisfied with the proposals but clearly not yet completely satisfied.
Unless they are completely satisfied then I think enormous damage
could be done to this country for the indefinite future and the
really serious thing is that we will not know what we are not
having; it is going to be insidious; it just will not happen.
That is why I think it is absolutely essential to get a ringing
vote of confidence from the Americans at the end of this process.
I can think of no single thing that is more important for the
future defence of this country.
1035. This is our third report in two years
and we have threatened a fourth. Once they announce the chairman
of flogged-off DERAof course it will be John Chisholmwe
will invite him in and whoever is invited to chair what is left
of DERA we will invite him or her in. If they introduce primary
legislation then we will have a public session or two. If they
try to introduce it by secondary legislation we have a precedent
for examining that issue as far as we are concerned. In fairness,
nobody has had a go at me to fade away on this and we will persist
in examining to ensure that the result is the right one. According
to the Financial Times today it is game, set and match,
virtually everybody has now been assured and the MoD will get
their way. The article shows a heavy amount of spin that I thought
had disappeared over the last couple of weeks. The fact that the
spinning, in my view, was done in the Financial Times had
a distinct motive of not frightening the horses but, I am afraid
to say, there is a lot of frightening to be done before this is
finally resolved. We are not inflexible but even the compromise
that emerged has so many unanswered questions, there were so many
things they could not divulge to us, there were so many things
to which apparently they have not given sufficient thought to.
To expect a ringing endorsement from a half empty document, as
we looked at it, is being rather optimistic. When they have done
all their thinking and then presented a response to the consultation
period we will then get Baroness Symons in so she can give the
definitive version of the consultation. She was here last time
from 10.30 until 1.30 and it will be as long as that again. We
are continuing our endeavour to get the right decision out of
(Lord Gilbert) I think it is no secret, Chairman,
that, when I was with the Ministry of Defence I was not in the
least bit happy with the original proposals. I made that fairly
clear. I like to think that I made a contribution by insisting
with our American friends that they just did not give us polite
answers; we wanted to know exactly what they thought. It is my
impression that they have spoken very frankly with people at various
levels in the Ministry of Defence. I am sure you have your contacts
in Washington better than mine, but when
1036. Never better than yours.
(Lord Gilbert) When an announcement is made that we
have come to the end of the road I certainly propose to satisfy
myself by talking to people in Washington and I do not propose
to accept merely what the Ministry of Defence says. I have no
doubt that you and I might have a private conversation at that
point in time, if that is agreeable.
1037. Thank you for those remarks. John, we
are coming to the conclusion of our public hearings into the Lessons
of Kosovo with the Secretary of State tomorrow. Really we have
a whole series of disparate questions, we have not got any set
formally, we will just play it as it comes. I know you were pretty
active during the conflict, so the first easy question is what
did you do in the war, Dr Gilbert?
(Lord Gilbert) Well, Chairman, my credentials for
appearing in front of your Committee, and I am extremely grateful
because I know you have taken a lot of official evidence and you
are right at the end of your hearings, are that we had an 8.30
meeting every morning in the Defence Crisis Management Centre
as you probably know, and I was present at every single one of
them; nobody else came anywhere near that batting record. I chaired,
shall we say, 20 per cent, possibly more. I chaired every one
when my boss was not there. We also had mop-up meetings in the
evening, 6.00/7.30, when actually more was discussed than at the
8.30 meetings. I missed only two of those from the start to finish
of the campaign and its aftermath. I was also present at all but
about five or six of the press conferences. I do not seek in any
way to exaggerate my role in things, which was really extremely
small, and I do not think I took part in any really serious decision
making at all, although I did try to put my oar in. All I am saying
is that I think, as far as the collective memory of the MoD is
concerned as to what actually happened inside the building in
that period, there are not many people who had quite so comprehensive
a view as I did. My boss told me that I had seen every single
piece of paper on Kosovo that he had. I am not at all sure that
was the case. I am not accusing him of falsifying events, his
memory may have been faulty, he may not have known what I saw
and what he saw, but still he assured me of that. I did also see
the reports, for example, on all the conversations between the
Prime Minister and President Clinton and Mr Chirac and Mr Schroderbar
only one weekend when things got a little rocky between Downing
Street and the White House and there were telephone calls which,
of course, were not circulated.
1038. Thank you. In terms of the heroic figures
and the heroic countries, who would you put high on that list
in helping to achieve the eventual, with great difficulty, successful
(Lord Gilbert) I am happy to start at that end of
the matter, Chairman. I think that NATO owes a great debt of gratitude
mainly to its friends in South East Europe. I think the Hungarian,
Bulgarian and Romanian Governments showed enormous courage. First
of all, the Hungarian and Romanian Governments received demands
from the Russians for the use of their air space. They turned
these demands down flat without having the slightest idea what
the consequences to them might be. For all they knew they might
have been very serious. The Hungarians did likewise and allowed
our planes to use their air space, as did a certain non-NATO country
because you will be familiar from the map, Chairman, with the
fact that it is impossible to get to Hungary from other NATO air
space without going through non-NATO air space, such is the nonsense
of the nature of the enlargement of NATO that took place a little
while ago. I cannot recall offhand whether we actually used Bulgarian
and Romanian air space, but they were certainly prepared to allow
us to do so. I think the next government which deserves a huge
amount of praise is the Greek Government. I would single out in
that government the Defence Minister, whose name I have got written
down somewhere but I am sure you know it. It is a very long name.
1039. We will find out and insert it.
(Lord Gilbert) The point being, Chairman, that consistently