Select Committee on Defence Ninth Special Report



The Government welcomes the Committee's report on the Appointment of the Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA). In particular the Government is pleased to note that the Committee considers that Sir Keith O'Nions, the Ministry of Defence's newly appointed CSA is well-equipped to bring a wide range of expertise to bear on his new work and notes that it wishes him well in this appointment.

The importance the Ministry of Defence places on defence research is reflected in the appointment of a Chief Scientific Adviser with the experience and expertise of Sir Keith in order to provide a broader perspective of science and technology. Like the Committee, the Ministry of Defence also considers it important that its Chief Scientific Adviser maintains his currency in scientific issues which is why he retains strong links with the wider academic community.

A detailed response to the specific points made by the Committee is provided below.


We will continue to monitor closely the MOD's performance in managing risk in its equipment programme.

The Government notes the Committee's intention to monitor the Department's performance in this respect.


The careful limitation of the Equipment Approvals Committee's role to that of an independent source of advice on equipment cost-effectiveness is important and right—it would be wrong for it to have to assess the weight of factors which depend essentially on political judgements in making its recommendations.

The Ministry of Defence notes the Committee's comments on the role of the Equipment Approvals Committee chaired by Sir Keith O'Nions as CSA. The role of the EAC, and the Department's consideration of a range of industrial and economic factors relating to equipment procurement, were also addressed in the Committee's Seventh Report of 1998 (which was also the Eighth Report of the Trade and Industry Committee) and in the Government's response. It is for Ministers, as the Committee notes, to reach final decisions on major equipment investments, taking account of all relevant factors, and to make any political judgements.

We recommend therefore that in future such directions (from Ministers to the MOD's Accounting Officer) are also submitted to the Chairman of the Defence Committee.

The Ministry of Defence notes the Committee's recommendation that formal directions from Ministers to the Department's Accounting Officer on equipment approval decisions should be submitted to the Chairman of the Committee in addition to their existing notification to the Treasury and to the Comptroller and Auditor General. The Committee may wish to raise this proposal with the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts.


We are disappointed that once again the MOD has declined to let us see such an important document (the Defence Research Committee's annual report to the Secretary of State), at the heart of a select committee inquiry, citing such grounds (advice to Ministers). If this is still the Department's position when the Defence Research Committee's report is prepared, the MOD must at the very least distil for us those matters that summarise the state of health of the programme, leaving out if necessary the recommendations and other 'advice' it provides for its Ministerial audience.

As the Committee is aware, official advice to Ministers is not made available to Parliament. The report by the Defence Research Committee to the Secretary of State constitutes advice to Ministers. The forthcoming report has not yet been submitted to the Secretary of State. The Department is always ready to provide factual information on the status of the research programme, in recognition of the importance that both the Ministry of Defence and the Committee itself place on defence research issues.

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It is heartening to hear praise for the strength of the MOD's science and technology base coming from a relative newcomer to the Department. The future high profile of these critical elements depends on a sound and adequately funded research strategy.

The Ministry of Defence endorses the Committee's view that science and technology are critical to defence. The Department allocates substantial sums to defence research and will continue to do so. The Committee will be aware that a review of science and technology within the Ministry of Defence is underway, the purpose of which is to ensure that we do indeed obtain the required output within allocated resources. This review is likely to take about a year to complete.


The continued ability to retain impartial scientific advice is, as we have made clear time and again, a crucial criterion by which we shall judge whether the future plan's for DERA's ownership and structure are appropriate.

The Government fully accepts that the continued ability to retain access to impartial scientific advice is a very important element in plans for the future of DERA under a public-private partnership.

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