Select Committee on Defence First Special Report



Inquiries and Reports

14. We published fourteen Reports and sixteen Special Reports over the Session.[15] These included 802 pages of reports, 124 memoranda amounting to 451 pages of written evidence, and oral evidence representing the transcripts of 31 evidence sessions at which 4,646 questions were asked of our witnesses. A summary of our main recommendations and undertakings, and the government's responses to them is given at Annex E .

15. We also continued its joint inquiry with colleagues from the Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees into the first two annual reports from the government on strategic export controls. There were six such joint meetings, at five of which members of the Defence Committee were present. Two Reports from the 'Quadripartite' committee were published over the Session.[16]


16. This Report, published on 6 December 1999, examined the Convention formally establishing the Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation (known as OCCAR), before the Convention was formally ratified by the UK Government. OCCAR is a defence procurement collaborative venture involving the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy. We viewed OCCAR's creation as a laudable pragmatic step in improving European co-operation on defence procurement. We particularly welcomed its move away from the concept known as juste retour, which had been the basis for all previous European collaborations and which guaranteed participating countries a share of the work involved in direct relation to their financial contribution rather than on the basis of financial competitiveness. We were concerned that OCCAR should avoid the pitfalls of previous collaborations by being adequately but not excessively staffed and by keeping its running costs within reasonable bounds, and that it should be properly accountable to Parliament by ensuring that OCCAR-managed projects are included in the MoD's annual Major Projects Survey. We concluded that it remained to be seen how OCCAR would fit in the wider context of European defence co-operation and how it would inter-relate with NATO, although we hoped these issues would become clearer once OCCAR had achieved its first objective of proving it could operate effectively. We recommended ratification of the treaty.[17]

17. The Government's observations were published on 16 February 2000 as the Sixth Special Report from the Committee. The Government noted the Committee's comments about juste retour and affirmed that the United Kingdom would press for the earliest possible introduction of open competition within OCCAR. The MoD undertook to keep the Committee informed of increases in OCCAR's running costs; and to consider the most appropriate ways of monitoring its activities.


18. This Report, published on 10 February, effectively replaced the traditional annual reports from the Defence Committee in the past on the Statement on the Defence Estimates. It examined the MoD's Performance Reports for 1997/98 and 1998/99, the MoD's Expenditure Plans for 1999/2000 to 2001/2002, the first MoD Investment Strategy (published in March 1999) and the Defence White Paper 1999. It examined changes in the strategic context, broadly concluding that the analysis of the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) continued to be relevant. It examined the progress in implementing the changes in force structure proposed under the SDR, and progress in implementing the smart procurement initiative. On the latter subject, it pressed for better information on the assessment of savings being achieved under the initiative. The Report surveyed the progress in implementation of resource accounting and budgeting in the MoD, and urged greater disclosure of information in future resource accounts, especially in relation to output and performance analyses.

19. We also examined the pressures on the defence budget, and concluded that the condition of the budget was sufficiently poor to give rise to serious concern. It also examined in some detail the problems of overstretch and undermanning in the three Services, and noted that so far as trained strengths were concerned, the situation appeared to be deteriorating rather than improving.

20. While applauding some of the improvements in the presentation of information in the various documents, we took issue with the decision to discontinue publication of an annual defence White Paper.

21. The government's Observations were published as our Seventh Special Report on 9 May. It responded to a number of detailed points made—we will be following up many of these in our annual reports on major procurement projects and our report on the next annual reporting cycle. We will also be examining measures to address recruitment and retention problems in detail in our forthcoming Report on Armed Forces personnel.

22. The MoD remained obdurate on the matter of an annual defence White Paper, but promised instead an annual 'Memorandum on Defence Policy'. There has been no such document in 2000—though something along these lines is promised shortly. We remain of the view that the disappearance of an annual overview report (along the lines of the old Statement on the Defence Estimates) has diminished, rather than enhanced, the opportunities for scrutiny of the government's defence policy, but will continue to monitor the quality of all the documents in the reporting cycle and to urge greater transparency and better "read across" between them.


23. This Report was made jointly by ourselves, the Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, and marks a remarkable breakthrough in cooperation between select committees. Three members of the Defence Committee were delegated to participate in the so-called 'Quadripartite Committee'.[18]

24. The Report examined in some detail the first two annual reports from the government on the granting of licences for the export of military-use goods. The Committee welcomed these reports as a significant advance in producing a new level of openness in this controversial area which has in the past been shrouded in unnecessary secrecy. It made a number of recommendations about particular licensing decisions and about the format and content of future reports. It also criticised the delay in introducing new legislation on exports.

25. The government's response, published as Cm 4799 on 14 July, resisted a number of our requests for greater information, but responded positively to others. It nonetheless declared an intention not to amend further the format of the report for three years.


26. This report was published on 16 February 2000. The inquiry was conducted in accordance with the Committee's standing objective to examine legislation affecting the MoD. It examined the proposed amendments to the Service Discipline Acts included in the Armed Forces Discipline Bill [Lords], and reported in time to inform the Second Reading debate on the Bill. The key areas of change proposed in the Bill related to arrangements for authorising detention before trial; the right of an accused person to elect for trial by court-martial; and the introduction of a summary appeal court. The report was extensively referred to during the Standing Committee proceedings on the Bill.[19] The Act came into force at the same time as the Human Rights Act 1998, on 2 October 2000.

27. No written response from the government was required.


28. This Report, published on 10 April 2000, examined the merger earlier that month of two agencies—Military Survey and the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (JARIC)—to form the Defence Geographic and Imagery Intelligence Agency. The inquiry also presented us with an opportunity to continue our progressive coverage of the MoD's agencies.[20] We visited JARIC and took oral evidence from the agencies' chief executives and MoD 'owner', and examined the rationale for their merger. In particular, our inquiry examined the extent to which their operating procedures and outputs were converging, and the opportunities for efficiency improvements from a merger. Our Report concluded that the merger was a sensible way of facilitating the common 'integrated intelligence picture' increasingly sought by their intelligence customers. The merger, we also highlighted, presented an important opportunity to address existing staff and skill shortages. Some of the evidence—both written and oral—could not be published because of sensitivities about UK/US cooperation on intelligence issues, and we sought from the MoD a reassessment of previously 'sidelined' information to see what might be made public.

29. The Government's reply, published on 5 July 2000 as the Committee's Eighth Special Report (HC 629), largely accepted the Committee's conclusions. It declined initially to declassify any of the sidelined evidence, but relented subsequently.[21] We published this further evidence as our Fourteenth Special Report.


30. This report, published on 9 May 2000, arose from a brief inquiry focused on the appointment of Sir Keith O'Nions as new Chief Scientific Adviser to the MoD. It was the second time this Parliament that we have been able to examine senior appointments by the MoD (one of the Committee's standing objectives)—in 1998-99 we had examined the appointment of the new Head of Defence Export Services.[22] In the current Session we intend similarly to hear from the new Chief of the Defence Staff. We took oral evidence from the CSA two months after he took up his new duties, and examined the nature of his role and the experiences Sir Keith bought to the position. Such issues had special interest at that time because we were also in the process of examining the future of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (see Ninth Report, below). Of particular importance in that regard, the CSA is the figurehead of the MoD's scientific advisory capability; he holds the MoD's budget for research, most of which is placed with DERA; and he chairs the MoD committee charged with recommending equipment acquisitions to Ministers. We noted that Sir Keith appeared well-equipped to bring a wide range of expertise to bear, and we wished him well in his new post.

31. Little of what we had to say was contentious and the Government's response, published as our Ninth Special Report (HC 731) on 3 August, welcomed our endorsement of Sir Keith's appointment. We used our report, however, to push yet again for more open access to departmental information which we believed properly belonged in the public domain or to be essential for the Committee's effective work. The MoD regrettably declined to make available the report of its Defence Research Committee (chaired by the CSA).


32. This Report, published on 11 May 2000, continued the work of our predecessors in the last Parliament in relation to Gulf veterans. It assessed the performance of the MoD in meeting the objectives it had set itself in July 1997 in its document Gulf Veterans: a new beginning. We were concerned that, despite some improvements, the MoD's Medical Assessment Programme was not seen by veterans as adequately meeting their needs. We welcomed the detailed research studies which the MoD had carried out into many of the possible causes of Gulf veterans' illnesses and the epidemiological studies under way and recommended further research where we thought it necessary. We looked at financial arrangements for compensation of Gulf veterans: the delay in the MoD concluding its review of Armed Forces' pensions prevented us commenting in detail on this, although we welcomed recent improvements in the operation of the War Pensions Agency. We concluded that although the MoD had gone some way to meeting the 'debt of honour' which it acknowledges is owed, more remains to be done to try to improve the quality of life of veterans, particularly in ensuring they have appropriate medical and financial assistance.

33. The government Observations on the Report, published on 3 August as our Eleventh Special Report, acknowledged past problems in running the Medical Assessment Programme but asserted that the majority of veterans are now satisfied with its services. The MoD will continue to conduct research on possible exposures and symptoms. The MoD accepted that those who serve their country should be adequately compensated for ill health arising from their service but believes that adequate financial provisions are in place. Changes to benefits available to members of the Reserve Forces had already been made. It may be possible to draw on research into other multi-symptom illnesses to improve treatment for Gulf veterans' illnesses.


34. This Report, published on 11 May, arose from a request from the European Scrutiny Committee for an Opinion from the Defence Committee on the proposals of the Finnish Presidency for the establishment of an EU-wide military crisis management capability under the CFSP. This was the first occasion in which the new procedure in Standing Order No. 143(ii) had been invoked. We responded to this procedure with enthusiasm, having already identified the proposals (first floated at the Pörtschach Summit in 1999) as a major development in security policy. The Report extensively analysed the history of the 'European Pillar' of the NATO Alliance back to the 1950s and though its development under the WEU 'umbrella' in the 1990s. It analysed the challenge represented in putting together the proposed new rapid reaction force to meet the so-called 'Helsinki headline goal', noting that the biggest problem was in creating the support necessary to deploy such a force, rather than mustering the troops themselves. The Report also examined the reservations of some critics of the concept of the Common European Security and Defence Policy. The Report went on to make a number of recommendations about the institutional structures needed to underpin the new EU arrangements to ensure inclusivity in respect of the Non-EU Allies (particularly the USA).

35. The government's response, published on 3 August as our Tenth Special Report, had little additional hard information to offer, as much still depended on the outcome of EU-wide negotiations. We will be pursuing this issue with further evidence from the Secretary of State in 2001.


36. This report, published on 20 June 2000, was the third this Parliament dealing with defence research and the future status of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA).[23] Our report of the previous Session[24] had played an important part in persuading the MoD to rethink its plans for a so-called 'Reliance model' of public-private partnership for DERA. This third inquiry focused on the 'Core Competence' approach put forward for consultation by the MoD in its place. While this envisaged a much larger component of DERA being retained within the MoD than in the previous plan, which appeared to reduce the risk of the MoD losing an impartial intelligent-customer capability, we highlighted new concerns, including whether adequately clear dividing lines could be made between the staff, infrastructure and information systems of each part of DERA. We also highlighted many areas of uncertainty that we had raised in our previous Reports but which were still to be resolved in the MoD's latest plans. We concluded that the potential benefits of a partial privatisation remained to be convincingly demonstrated, and that the risks of the MoD proceeding—even in its improved format—continued to outweigh the still hypothetical benefits.

37. Subsequently, the MoD announced in July 2000 that it would proceed with its new plans for a public-private partnership, as it confirmed in its response to our Report (published as the Committee's Twelfth Special Report (HC 901) on 23 October 2000). We intend to continue to pursue this matter.


38. Our Tenth Report, published on 6 July 2000, was the second in an annual series which aims to monitor the MoD's progress in reaping the benefits of its smart procurement[25] initiative, by monitoring progress on a range of major procurement projects.[26] Our reports include memoranda from the MoD on each of these tracker projects (see para xx), and examine in more detail those of particular topical sensitivity. In the previous Session, our Report had focused on the collaborative Common New Generation Frigate programme, shortly after the MoD had decided to withdraw from its 'Horizon' warship component. In our latest Report we concentrated our attention in three main areas—Eurofighter armaments (where recent decisions had been made concerning the selection of the Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM), and not to fit a cannon to later batches of the aircraft), strategic air- and sea-lift (where recent airlift decisions had been made and sealift decisions were imminent[27]), and the Bowman communications system (after the MoD had sought proposals from potential alternative suppliers).[28]

39. We had some concerns about some aspects of the programmes we examined, most notably about the woefully slow progress of the Bowman system, and we considered that there was still some way to go before we could hope to report that all was well in defence procurement. Nevertheless, we were encouraged by some evidence of further movement away from the arbitrary workshares of past collaboration programmes, the leadership role being exercised by the UK (on BVRAAM for example), and moves to inject competitive pressures into the flagging Bowman programme.

40. The government's reply, published on 23 October as the Committee's Thirteenth Special Report (HC 902), accepted most of our conclusions—the main exception being that of the rationale for seconding the Chief of Defence Procurement's deputy to the private sector, French-owned defence manufacturers Thomson CSF.[29] The response also set out further explanation—as we had requested—of the MoD's decision not to fit a cannon on later batches of Eurofighter and the circumstances in which the Joint Rapid Reaction Force could operate without the heavy equipment unable to be airlifted by a future A400M transport aircraft.


41. This Report, published on 25 July, continued the joint examination with our three partner Committees of issues raised by the government's annual reports on strategic export controls. (See Third Report above.) In particular, it examined issues relating to Pakistan, Zimbabwe and China which had become matters of public debate since the publication of our Third Report. It also gave the joint committee's preliminary reactions to the government's response to that Report. Most radically, we proposed arrangements by which Parliament could become involved in prior scrutiny of proposed export licences.

42. The government's response was published as Cm 4872 on 8 December 2000. This followed the announcement in the Queen's Speech of the government's intention to publish draft legislation on export controls and licensing powers. We hope to find some means by which the four Committees can jointly consider this draft legislation. The government rejected, however, our proposals for prior scrutiny. There was a debate on these issues in Westminster Hall on 14 December 2000.


43. Like our First Report (see above), our Twelfth Report (published on 2 August 2000) examined a treaty presented to Parliament before ratification. In accordance with the so-called Ponsonby Rule, Members of Parliament may make representations that a treaty not be ratified until some form of parliamentary examination has taken place. Our presumption is that we will invoke the Rule in all significant cases in the defence field.[30] In our Twelfth Report we examined the extent of compliance with the existing CFE treaty and the changes implied by the new Agreement. We concluded that the agreement offers real improvements on the existing treaty and reflected the changed post-Cold War security environment. But in the light of continued Russian non-compliance with the current treaty's provisions—breaches of equipment ceilings in the Caucasus and some refusals to allow equipment inspections—we also recommended some caution before ratification by the UK, during which time the Russian authorities must in turn be pressed to ratify the Agreement on the basis of their full compliance.

44. The government's reply, published on 1 November 2000 as the Committee's Fifteenth Special Report (HC 929), fully accepted the Committee's conclusions. We pursued some of these matters on our visit to Russia in December 2000.


45. This Report, published on 2 August, assessed the United Kingdom's contribution to the no-fly zone operations over northern and southern Iraq. It examined the humanitarian and legal basis for the no-fly zones and concluded that UK participation in the operations was justified on moral and humanitarian grounds. The Report examined the performance and serviceability of the equipment used by UK forces, particularly the Tornado F3 aircraft. We also highlighted some operational welfare deficiencies which need to be addressed, such as the poor standard of some accommodation and weaknesses in welfare telephone systems. We suggested that more could be done in the region in terms of defence diplomacy and in promoting the UK defence industry. Our overall conclusion was that the UK was making a valid contribution to the stability of the Gulf region, to protecting minority peoples there, and in containing Iraq's ability to threaten its neighbours. The Minutes of Proceedings published with the Report included the text of a dissenting report.

46. The Government's observations, published on 1 November as our Thirteenth Special Report, welcomed the Committee's support for the no-fly zone operations. Improvements to equipment for British forces deployed in the Gulf were highlighted, including the Capability Sustainment Programme for the Tornado F3. Necessary improvements to accommodation in Kuwait are in hand (although the completion date will not be until May 2001) and difficulties with the Project Welcome welfare telephone system have been resolved. The Government acknowledged the need to keep under careful review the UK's defence diplomacy measures in the region and the extent to which opportunities to promote the British defence industry there are fully taken up.


47. This Report, published on 24 October, was the Committee's major work of the Session. It was the product of an almost year-long examination of the circumstances of the build-up to, and the execution of, Operation Allied Force, NATO's campaign to coerce the Serbian government to end its ethnic cleansing of the province of Kosovo. The Report examined the background to military intervention from 1995 to 1997 and the conduct of the 78-day air campaign against Serbia between March and June 1999. It examined the evolution of the Alliance's strategy, the UK's contribution to the campaign, the lessons of the campaign for UK and European capabilities, the use of intelligence, the conduct of information operations, the lessons for the evolution and the UK's and NATO's military doctrine and the implications for the future of the Alliance of the lessons that had emerged.

48. The government's observations were received on 9 January 2001. They will be published as our Second Special Report of this Session.


49. The First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Reports of the Committee have all been cited on the Order Paper of the House as relevant to debates in one way or another, some more than once.[31]

50. We noted last year the change in pattern of the three one-day single service defence debates in the House into days devoted to 'Defence in the World', 'Defence Equipment' and 'Armed Forces Personnel'. Once again, we note that defence debates were not as well-spaced throughout the session as is desirable. In particular, three days were devoted to defence in the space of five sitting days both in February and at the end of October/beginning of November 2000. We also note that, having carried over the two-day defence debate normally held on the House's return in October to February, the government then, without a public declaration, shaved a day off the total number of defence debates in this Session. [32]

15  A full list of Defence Committee Reports in published at Annex D Back

16  See Third and Eleventh Reports below Back

17  This happened on 3 May 2000 Back

18  Mr Cohen, Mr Colvin and Mr George (Mr Colvin was subsequently replaced by Mr Viggers). Back

19  See Official Report, Standing Committee D Back

20  See paras 60-62 below Back

21   See para 55 below Back

22  Second Report, Session 1998-99, HC 147. Back

23  Following our Sixth Report, The Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, Session 1997-98, HC 621; and our Ninth Report, Defence Research, Session 1998-99, HC 616 Back

24  Ninth Report Back

25  Now retitled by the MoD as 'Smart Acquisition' Back

26  The first report in this series was the Committee's Eighth Report, Major Procurement Projects Survey: The Common New Generation Frigate Programme, Session 1998-99 Back

27  Those decisions were subsequently announced in the Defence Equipment debate in October 2000 Back

28  Subsequently, the MoD did opt to relaunch the Bowman competition Back

29   Now 'Thales' Back

30  See paras 52 and 53 below Back

31  17 February, 22 and 28 February, 15 June, 26 October and 1 and 2 November 2000 Back

32   See Appendix 5 Back

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