Examination of witnesses (Questions 1-19)
WEDNESDAY 28 MARCH 2001
HOON MP AND
Chairman: Welcome, Secretary of State.
I thought initially of giving you an opportunity of making a statement
on foot-and-mouth disease in the north of England, but perhaps
I shall refrain from asking, unless you wish to tell us something
Mr Hoon: Could I simply apologise to
you and other members of the Committee for my late arrival. I
am sure that if members of the Committee do want to ask about
the situation in Cumbria I could give them a first-hand report,
but no doubt you would prefer to stick to the advertised subject.
Chairman: That is a matter of debate.
I am sure somebody will frame a question along the lines of whether
the European Army can come to our assistance in putting down a
hundred thousand sheep.
Mr Hoon: I am delighted to be able to
report that the British Army do not need any assistance.
1. Thank you very much. We took evidence from
you on 16 February last year, Secretary of State, on the changes
taking place in the rapidly developing area of European security
and defence. We published our report on the topic in May last
year. That report focused on two key issues of what has come to
be known as the European Security and Defence Policy, ESDP. The
first was the "Helsinki Headline Goal" of a European
Rapid Reaction Force to be ready for deployment by the end of
2002. The second was the transfer of functions for the political
and strategic direction of this proposed force from the WEU to
the EU. In the past 12 months these areas have developed rapidlywe
have had two European Councils and the ERRF Capabilities Commitment
Conference, and the EU's High Representative for the CFSP, Mr
Solana, has been building the institutional structures within
the EU. Our report of last year was greeted with a deafening silence.
Since then, however, the topic has become one of intense party-political
controversy. No doubt strong views on each side on the principle
of the policy are held by individual members of this Committee,
but we have not assembled here today to debate on party-political
linesthat is the job of the Chamber, not the Select Committees.
Without either implicitly endorsing or rejecting the principle
of the ESDP, I hope we can today examine the practicalities of
its implementation so that our evidence can be used to make the
party-political debate, which can quite rightly and properly be
pursued elsewhere, better informed. Is there anything you would
like to say by way of introduction?
(Mr Hoon) I look forward to the debate that follows
from your injunction.
2. We all do but, with the agreement of the
Committee, it has been decided we will be drawing stumps in an
hour and a half, for which I am very grateful to the Committee.
I am sure you will be as well. May I just ask, are we on target
to achieve the Helsinki Headline Goal in full by the end of next
(Mr Hoon) The Helsinki Headline Goal is not expressed
as being to be achieved by the end of next year. What we are looking
for is the year 2003 as being the timetable and whilst there is
still a good deal of work to be done I am confident that we will
be able to achieve that in the timescale specified.
3. Will the others be able to do so as well,
do you think?
(Mr Hoon) Yes, I think that there is a very strong
commitment to achieving this "tightly defined target",
which is how I would describe it. There are certain areas where
clearly we do need to do some further work, but nevertheless I
think we have made a very good start and we need to maintain the
momentum. I might mention for the benefit of the Committee that
we have, together with France, proposed that there should be a
second Capabilities Conference and that that should take place
probably towards the end of this year specifically to identify
those areas of shortfall that we are working on, those areas where,
after the first Capabilities Conference, we judged that there
is more still to be done and to find ways in which we can rectify
those gaps. That seems to me to be a very useful step forward.
Obviously it will require perhaps a rather more difficult process
than the one that has been undertaken so far in the sense that
so far we have been able to identify resources that we readily
have available. It is rather more difficult to identify which
countries will be able to fill the shortfall gaps and therefore
it is a slightly more difficult process that we have set in train
but nevertheless an extremely important and valuable one because
again it does demonstrate our commitment to improving capabilities,
which is what we judge European defence is all about.
4. Thank you for that. The only reason I said
at the end of 2002 was that the Headline Goals were for the beginning
of 2003 so there is not much difference between the two.
(Mr Hoon) No, there is not. I am perfectly happy to
have this checked but 2003 is the date and my assumption was always
that it was by the end of 2003 rather than by the beginning.
Chairman: We will have to have a little
bet on it afterwards.
5. At the Conference in November 2000, the Capabilities
Commitment Conference, the so-called Force Catalogue was drawn
up listing the commitments made by Member States to achieving
the Helsinki goals. The Force Catalogue revealed a number of serious
deficiencies. I wonder if you would let us know what you think
are the most glaring deficiencies and what progress is being made
to put them right.
(Mr Hoon) As the Committee will be aware, the biggest
single weakness is in the area of heavy lift capability. That
should not be at all surprising to the Committee because that
of course is an area of weakness that this country identified
in the process leading to the Strategic Defence Review. It is
an area where Kosovo in particular demonstrated a degree of weakness
in that we did not have available to us the ability to move forces
and equipment quickly into theatres and areas of conflict. That
of course is why we have undertaken to purchase, to lease, six
ro-ro ferries as well as the very substantial commitment to aircraft
that we have made: 25 A400Ms and the leasing of four C-17s, the
first of which will become available in May of this year. I was
in the United States last week and had the opportunity of seeing
one of these aircraft, which will be a very considerable addition
to the RAF's capability. I did not deal with the second part of
your question. It is still a little early to say who will be doing
what. Obviously we will be making this contribution, as will other
countries, in relation to strategic air lift because, as you will
be aware, a number of other countries have also signed up for
the A400M. That will be a slightly longer term development of
what we need. Part of the work that we are currently engaged on,
leading to the second Capabilities Conference, is to examine the
areas of weakness and find ways in which to remedy them. I am
not avoiding your question. It is just that we still have the
work to do leading to the second Capabilities Conference. I suspect
even then we will not be able to tick all the boxes because some
of these, obviously, like new aircraft, are longer term issues.
6. Following through the issue of new aircraft,
one of the biggest projects of all of course is the joint strike
fighter which will serve in our aircraft carriers. How closely
are we integrated with the United States in developing the joint
(Mr Hoon) It has not quite been developed in the way
that you suggest. Again in the United States last week I was privileged
to be able to see one of the prototypes and the process being
undertaken is a competitive one between two consortia that have
funded so far the development of the prototypes and will submit
those for examination by both the United States Government and
the British Government. We have committed ourselves to an eight
per cent share in the aircraft although we believe that as a result
of that commitment, where we will be a full partner in the project,
the opportunities available for British industry will almost certainly
produce more than eight per cent of the share of the work that
results. This is a very competitive process and when the time
comes for making the selection as between the two quite different
aircraft, which is going to be quite an interesting process to
determine how choices are made between the two solutions to the
problem that have been advanced by the two different industrial
consortia, obviously we will be fully involved in that.
7. So we are closely involved with the Americans;
we will effectively be developing with them, as a minority partner
but with them, a joint fighter which will obviously have a significance
in terms of having carriers which are similar to theirs?
(Mr Hoon) The reason it is described as joint, as
I am sure you are aware, is that the idea is to produce an aircraft
that can fulfil a number of different roles for different services
in the United States as well as for us. There will be different
variants of the aircraft according to the function that is required.
Essentially the framework within which those variations sit will
8. So we are working in harmony with our American
partners to develop this aircraft?
(Mr Hoon) What I am trying to get across is that this
is very much at the moment an industrial process. Obviously there
is close consultation with the Department of Defence and with
the Ministry of Defence here. Indeed, I saw the aircraft at a
USAF air base. Certainly we are heavily engaged but until the
point comes where there is what the Americans call a down selection,
where they actually choose which aircraft to take forward, much
of the financial responsibility at any rate is placed firmly on
9. It is evident to us the aircraft carrier
itself is just a tin box on which you land the aeroplane. The
aeroplane is the key to the development.
(Mr Hoon) It is, but there are still some decisions
to be taken as to the precise variant that we might decide upon
and consequential decisions for the design of the aircraft carrier.
10. Now tell us about the Anglo-French Carrier
(Mr Hoon) There are discussions under way between
us and France about co-operation as far as our carriers are concerned
but there are no formal proposals that I am aware of to develop
a joint force along the lines that your question might suggest.
11. I quote the Commander-in-Chief of the French
Navy surface fleet, Admiral Henri-Francois Pile. He said: "We
are having tightly focussed discussions with the Royal Navy".
"Tres e«troit" was the expression he used.
The French Naval Attache« said during a broadcast on 3 November
on the Today Programme: "We are having discussions
with the British as to whether we can produce a common aircraft
programme or a programme with the majority of the systems and
armaments in common".
(Mr Hoon) There are a variety of different discussions
that we are having with partners and Allies and I have mentioned
them previously to this Committee. I am very committed to working
with our partners and Allies to develop a common approach. I suspect
that the quotation that you have cited rather overstates the degree
of development that has so far been achieved. We are certainly
having discussions and we are having discussions with quite a
considerable number of partners in order to improve the way in
which we work together. As I have mentioned to the Committee on
a previous occasion, in the area of naval co-operation the Memorandum
of Understanding goes back to 1996 and there is a good deal of
work done in common, but as far as the development of any specific
ship in common is concerned, that is not something which is currently
12. I just wonder how Captain Jean Moulou, the
French Naval Attache«, got the impression that for him he
was aiming for "a completely joint investment. For me ...
Yes", he said. Who is stringing whom along?
(Mr Hoon) I am not aware of any plans for there to
be developed a joint aircraft carrier. I am sure that there have
been from time to time conversations and discussions about that
and it is clearly in the fullness of time a possible option, but
it is not something that we are working on as of today.
Chairman: Perhaps, as Sir Robert Walmsley
is in the next room, I can create a precedent by summoning him
to answer that question.
13. I must say that the Navy traditionally used
to have a girl in every port but it does sound to me as if the
Government may possibly on this occasion be doing something it
has been accused of in the past, which is saying different things
to different people. Let us move on. All of the capabilities needed
to enhance the European defence capability are expensive and require
a considerable investment on the part of European states. What
is the United Kingdom doing? You mentioned air lift. Can you expand
a little on what the United Kingdom is doing to address these
deficiencies which have been identified in addition to the air
lift which you mentioned earlier?
(Mr Hoon) I gave you an example of what we identified
in the Strategic Defence Review as being a particular deficiency
in the United Kingdom. There is also, as I indicated earlier,
a considerable amount of work going on to both identify the shortfalls
following on from the Capabilities Conference last November and
to work out ways in which each of the countries identifies potential
solutions. I have indicated one area where the United Kingdom
will make a contribution, which is in relation to heavy lift.
It is too early to say yet who will be making other contributions
because frankly we will not be able to rectify all of the shortfalls
ourselves. Obviously this is a combined effort and we are still
discussing with our partners and allies who will do what and by
(Mr Hatfield) Perhaps I can give a couple of details
on where we are in looking at that. One of the other areas identified
as a specific shortfall, and in fact it is a familiar one from
NATO as well, is the Suppression of Enemy Air Defences, and we
are talking to the Germans and Italians in particular about the
possibility of co-operation there. Another area where we are talking
about the co-operation with, in this case, particularly the French,
is Combat Search and Rescue. It is too early to say whether this
will lead to a specific proposal, but both of those are areas
we are investigating. We are working with a Nordic group of countries
on what is essentially their plan to produce a single coherent
Nordic brigade which could be deployed by 2003 and where we could
provide some assistance in fielding that which possibly would
fit into a wider British structure.
14. Are there some areas where it has been decided
that it will be appropriate for one nation to take the lead and
the initiative and seek to provide the filling of the gap in the
European defence capability?
(Mr Hoon) Not yet, no, because those sorts of discussions
are still under way. We are still assessing the gaps and who might
be in a position to fill them. I suspect, given that in a sense
the Headline Goal is a European version of much of what we set
out in our Strategic Defence Review in the sense that the emphasis
is very much on moving forces quickly into a crisis, that many
of the conclusions that we identified as being deficiencies in
our own capability will be found ultimately to be common deficiencies
across Europe. I think it is fair to say that we probably are
more advanced in addressing those issues as a result of the timeliness
of the Strategic Defence Review than are a number of our continental
partners and therefore we are probably more advanced in addressing
some of the solutions as well.
15. We are told that in relation to the numbers
sometimes used in international gatherings, particularly of the
NATO Parliamentary Assembly, if you take the American effort as
a hundred then the European effort in defence is about 60 but
the effect is about 15.
(Mr Hoon) I would not disagree with that assessment.
I would not necessarily agree with the precise statistics but
I think that the order of magnitude of the discrepancy is probably
about right. Specifically, what the Headline Goal is designed
to deal with is the gap if you like between the 15 and the 60
because what has happened there over far too many years of course
was that European nations simply duplicated their capabilities
and the spending that they make is not cumulative. What the Headline
Goal is trying to develop is a process by which defence spending
in Europe is cumulative rather than duplicating existing capabilities.
16. But dealing with the 60, with the gross
European effort, I believe that something like six of the 19 NATO
countries are expanding their defence expenditure and these tend
to be the rather smaller countries and the increases are small.
What is your message to your NATO colleagues in terms of their
(Mr Hoon) Those figures I think came out of NATO and
they were a little disappointing, certainly as far as the United
Kingdom was concerned, because they did not indicate that the
United Kingdom was increasing its defence expenditure, which is
quite wrong. We will have an extra £1,250 million to spend
on defence in the course of the three years from the Defence Spending
Review. Therefore your six is not a strictly accurate figure.
The further qualification that you need to reflect upon is that
not all countries allocate defence expenditure in quite the same
way that we do. For example, Germany does not allocate significant
defence procurement spending in with its defence budget. Therefore,
when they come, for example, as they will, to allocate the money
for the A400M, that will only retrospectively appear as allocated
to defence. A number of countries adopt a similar approach. Some
of those figures do need treating with a certain amount of caution.
Nevertheless I agree with the sentiment you have expressed, which
is that not only do we want to see European nations spending their
money on defence in a different and more effective way, which
is what the Headline Goal is about, but we also want to see them
17. How are you going to exercise influence
to persuade them to change their role from "scatter gun"
down to a more specific task force in these countries?
(Mr Hoon) That is precisely the purpose of the Headline
Goal. The Headline Goal is very specific. It sets out a particular
output. Instead of looking at the problem in terms of inputs,
that is, what countries spend on defence, which we cannot guarantee
will produce what we want at the end of the day, by concentrating
on outputs, on what we actually want to deliver, we will use the
political process that the European Union affords to ensure that
at the end of the process we have what was set out in the Headline
Goal. How we get there I accept is still a subject of debate but
that is what we are working on. The Capabilities Conference in
Brussels was a very useful beginning. What we need to do now is
to build on that and go through the process that I have previously
18. Do you sense that there is a willingness
then on the part of those countries to change so dramatically
what they might have been doing in the past? We met the Defence
Committee for example from Holland who were here recently. They
were not looking to be driven by an EU directive telling them
they had to specialise. They were very much of the opinion that
they were doing the right thing now.
(Mr Hoon) All I can say to you in relation to the
Netherlands is that the Government has specifically put aside
a fund for their contribution to the Headline Goal, so they have
actually recognised the importance of the Headline Goal for the
Government. I know not what members of the Committee were saying,
but the Government has actually committed itself not only to put
money on one side out of its defence budget for this purpose but
also to say, and I have had this in conversation a number of times
with the Dutch Defence Minister, that whenever a procurement arises
they will test the importance of that procurement against the
Headline Goal. They will actually say, "What contribution
will this particular piece of equipment make to our ability to
satisfy the Headline Goal?", which is a fairly forward-looking
view in relation to satisfying the goal, and I think does demonstrate
the commitment that the European countries have to this process.
19. How is the Working Group on Capabilities
established by the EU and NATO working out in practice?
(Mr Hatfield) The Committee has been meeting, two
or three times already this year. It is only meant to be a temporary
group until we get on to more permanent arrangements, but I suspect
it will in fact be replaced by a somewhat similar group on a permanent
basis to link the big NATO planning system with the EU Headline
Goal process so that we make sure that the development of capabilities
in the two organisations marches together, particularly of course
for the 11 countries who are members of both organisations. At
the moment it has only had two or three meetings. One of its early
meetings will be about the linkage of the two planning systems
in the way I have just described.