Select Committee on Defence Eighth Report


The Defence Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



1. The Committee last reported on the MoD's annual cycle of reports to Parliament in February 2000.[8] In our own Report, we set out how the format and content of those various documents were being revised by the MoD.[9] We made a number of comments and criticisms about these new arrangements, and we took particular issue with the Secretary of State's decision to discontinue publication of either the long-running series of the annual Statement on the Defence Estimates or an annual Defence White Paper[10] which it was indicated in the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) would replace the SDE. [11]

2. In its response, the government countered that it fully recognised—

... its responsibilities to keep Parliament, the public and the media as fully informed about Departmental activities, plans and policies as possible. But defence policy is relatively stable and an annual restatement of policy is not necessarily the best vehicle to communicate the information sought by diverse audiences. The Government is therefore considering a new approach that would comprise five major strands:

    i)    An annual Memorandum on Defence Policy. This would be made public but be very different from the traditional Statement on the Defence Estimates White Paper. It would be much shorter and in the style of an essay, aimed very much at Parliament and the wider community.

    ii)    The current Departmental reporting documents (Departmental Performance Report, Expenditure Plans, Departmental Investment Strategy, and Defence Statistics) would continue to be published and improved.

    iii)  A new series of timely in-depth publications would be produced on specific issues, as and when they arise. The account of the Kosovo Crisis and the paper on defending against Biological and Chemical Weapons published [in 1999] and the Kosovo Lessons Learned document [published in 2000] are examples of the sort of document that would be produced. The Government would, of course, carefully consider any requests by the Committee for publications on particular issues.

    iv)  Continual improvement of the numerous documents, which the Ministry of Defence produces, that are aimed specifically at the non-specialist, general public audience. These include service-specific brochures and more general information leaflets.

    v)    A full Defence White Paper, of the style and approach published in 1999, perhaps every five years or every Parliament (or sooner if circumstances justify this).

Taken together, the publication of these documents would ensure that our reporting is clearer, more efficient, better focused and should mean that we are placing a greater amount of relevant and timely information in the public domain than ever before. The Department would be interested in the Committee's views on such an approach.[12]

3. A key question we still address in this Report, and we hope in future Reports on the cycle, is whether the new arrangements represent, taken together, an advance in the quality of the MoD's accountability to Parliament, or a retreat.

4. The documents we are therefore considering in this Report are:

Key Documents
MoD Annual Reporting Cycle 2000-01
The Government's Expenditure Plans 2000/01 to 2001/02: Ministry of Defence,[13] April 2000

UK Defence Statistics 2000, September 2000

Spending Review 2000: The Defence Investment Strategy,[14] October 2000

Ministry of Defence Performance Report 1999/2000,[15] December 2000

Ministry of Defence Appropriation Accounts[16] and Resource Accounts[17] for 1999-2000

The Government's Expenditure Plans 2001/2002 to 2003/2004 and Main Estimates 2001/2002: Ministry of Defence[18]

In addition, the Department has published a number of other significant papers during the period in question. These are—

  • Defence Policy 2001 (February 2001)
  • The Future Strategic Context of Defence (February 2001)

and the first two papers in a series entitled The Ministry of Defence Policy Papers on

  • Defence Diplomacy (December 2000)
  • Multinational Defence Co-operation (February 2001)

5. The MoD also published, in June 2000, a paper entitled Kosovo: Lessons from the crisis.[19] We discussed this extensively in our own Report on the subject, published in October 2000.[20] We do not intend, therefore, in this Report, to examine those issues further. Last year our Report on the annual reporting cycle considered at length personnel matters. We published a detailed examination of these issues in February in our Second Report of this Session.[21] Furthermore, we do not examine here one of the key current issues of defence policy, the development of the Common European Security and Defence Policy within the EU. We published a separate report on this topic in May 2000,[22] and we took evidence on progress in the development of the ESDP from the Secretary of State on 28 March 2001.[23]

6. In this Report, therefore, we consider—

  • The format and content of the reporting cycle

  • The strategic context for defence

  • The Smart Procurement/Acquisition Initiative—a recurring feature in the MoD's reporting documents

  • The Defence Budget

This Report should be read alongside our other series of annual reports on the MoD's major procurement projects, which is the main vehicle we use to monitor the use of the MoD's £5 billion a year of equipment purchases.[24]

7. We took oral evidence on the 2000-01 reporting cycle from senior MoD officials on 17 January[25] and from the Secretary of State on 7 February.[26]

8  Second Report, Session 1999-2000, Ministry of Defence Annual Reporting Cycle, HC 158 Back

9  ibid, paras 2 and 3 Back

10  ibid, paras 9 to 16 Back

11  The first, and for the moment last, Defence White Paper was published in December 1999 as Cm 4446 Back

12  Seventh Special Report, Session 1999-2000, HC 452, Annex para 4 Back

13  Cm 4608 Back

14  Available on the internet at Back

15  Cm 5000 Back

16  HC 25-VI, January 2001 Back

17  HC 50, January 2001 Back

18  Cm 5109 Back

19  Cm 4724 Back

20  Fourteenth Report, Session 1999-2000, Lessons of Kosovo, HC 347-I and II Back

21  Second Report, Session 2000-01, The Strategic Defence Review: Policy for People, HC 29-I Back

22  Eighth Report, Session 1999-2000, European Security and Defence, HC 264 Back

23  HC (2000-01) 390 Back

24  The second report in this series was published in July 2000, Tenth Report, Session 1999-2000, Major Procurement Projects, HC 528 Back

25  QQ 1 to 151 Back

26  QQ 152 to 285 Back

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Prepared 9 May 2001