Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
WEDNESDAY 16 OCTOBER 2002
WEBB CBE, MR
1. Mr Webb, Mr Mann, Major General, welcome.
Would you like to introduce your team, Mr Webb. Although you are
pretty well-known to us it may be there is somebody here who has
not come across you, which I doubt.
(Mr Webb) Good morning, Chairman, and
welcome back. If I could just introduce my team and explain perhaps
a little bit of their expertise because they go to some of the
issues that we have been working on over the summer since the
New Chapter White Paper was published. On my left is Major General
Rob Fulton, who is a Capability Manager for Information Superiority.
During the SDR work he led the latter part of the work on the
overseas dimension of the project, so he brings expertise both
in that dimension of the SDR New Chapter but also particular equipment
issues and he isI will make him blushour leading
expert on network centric capability. On my right is Bruce Mann,
the Director General for Finance Management, who I stole from
inside the Ministry of Defence to do the work on the home dimension
of the New Chapter. I am going to give him back shortly because
we now have an SDR implementation leader, who is sitting behind
us, but Bruce led the homeland side and can talk about that but
also about the financial elements, including things like the Conflict
Prevention Fund and so on. That is our team.
2. Thank you. We are publishing the Government
response to our superb report, which I am sure went down really
badly in the MoD, which is part of our purpose, of course, in
the Select Committee and is coming out next Thursday. It should
be a good read. Thanks very much for coming. Throughout your New
Chapter exercise it was emphasised that the fundamental assumptions
of the 1998 original SDR remain valid. May I ask first what steps
did you take to test those assumptions?
(Mr Webb) We had an element of the work which looked
at the strategic context which involved talking to the Foreign
Office in depth. Given that the SDR was a foreign policy led review
we wanted to check that the foreign policy background still looked
right and we engaged with a wide range of other experts to try
and see whether the overall background was similar. We concluded
that it was except for two dimensions really. Firstly, that the
asymmetric warfare issue which this Committee itself spent time
on after the SDR had manifested itself more directly and visibly
than perhaps we had seen at that time. Secondly, the tempo of
operations had been greater than we had perhaps expected but in
a different way. Rather than having medium scale operations what
we tended to have was rather more small operations. So there were
those differences. Overall the context looked rather as we had
seen it in 1997-98 with those variations.
3. I do not want to be obstreperous on this
occasion, it is a wonderful document, but do I recall the words
"for the first time in a generation the UK home base is secure",
but you got it wrong on the reserves, you got it wrong on the
budget, you did not spend much attention in the SDR, as you pointed
out, on asymmetric warfare and we are still waiting to see if
Smart Procurement is as smart as it is made out to be. One should
not become too self-congratulatory on that document. The reason
I ask that question is whether the time you took, which was longer
than one would normally have anticipated for a document the size
that it was, did look in real detail? Was the reason for the delay
that even though you may say, that the fundamentals were absolutely
correct, that you were looking more thoroughly at what was in
your document than even you are prepared to admit? Was it really
a fundamental examination, if not a fundamental reassessment,
whichever terminology you might wish to use?
(Mr Webb) I might have misunderstood your opening
question, Chairman, but what I thought you were asking about was
whether the strategic context in which we did the original SDR
looked the same and with the exceptions that I have mentioned
it did look much the same. There may be questions about what has
happened to the implementation of SDR since then but that is a
slightly different point, if I may say so, although I am very
happy to take questions on implementation. On the question of
strategic context, I stand by what I said. One of the things we
spent a good deal of time doing, and I said this when I came to
the Committee last autumn, was to try to understand the problem
of international terrorism. I am unabashed in saying that this
is a complex and difficult issue to understand. What it is not
is simply, if you like, symptoms and causes of violent people.
You need to try to get under the roots and causes. The strategy
which we laid out, which took some time to debate and involved
us consulting a lot of experts, including people from the Muslim
world, was to try and get a depth of understanding before we wrote
up how to try to tackle it. That was why we took some months to
debate all of that and I am unashamed. I would say that even now
there are elements of our understanding of the problem of al-Qaeda
that we do not understand yet. I think it was right to take time
to think it through and then to have a systematic process for
generating the key elements of our response, which was different
from the conclusions reached elsewhere. To that extent we were
doing some original work and to be confident about that takes
some time. When we had done the first phase of that we decided
to have a period of discussion and open up a discussion document
and I think we got a lot out of that. I think a number of people
have released their comments to the Committee and I think you
will have seen how interesting many of those were. We then needed
to do what you need to do in defence departments, which is to
move on from a nice concept and understanding to actually making
some plans to do something about it and that takes a bit of time
as well. Before you make changes to the armed forces and their
equipment programme and so on you need to spend some time getting
it right. I feel that we did take the right amount of time. During
that period in parallel we took immediate action to deal with
some of the proximate threats, for example strengthening the air
defence system in the UK and getting ready to deal with incidents.
Of course, we actually had military deployments connected with
international terrorism during the period we were writing the
report, we had both ISAF and Operation Jacana. We were not sitting
on our hands. I still stand by the idea that this is a difficult
long-term problem and it was right to spend a reasonable amount
of time thinking about it and hearing from other people.
4. The original document was foreign policy
(Mr Webb) Yes.
5. Was the New Chapter foreign policy led? Was
the Foreign Office consulted?
(Mr Webb) Very much so. They were not only consulted
but involved in the working groups. Of course, in the course of
last autumn the Government itself produced a strategy for dealing
with international terrorism and we were very much locked into
the process of producing that. We helped produce it but we also
drew some material out of it. It was not just the Foreign Office
but also the Cabinet Office and other elements of Government,
including the intelligence community. Absolutely it was foreign
policy led. We have checked it out and as we go forward we will
continue to check that we are in line with the Foreign Office.
This is very much the new way of doing things.
6. Was this document Treasury led as well?
(Mr Webb) No, but the Treasury participated in the
work and came to a number of the working groups. If I may say
so, by the time we got to the question of resource allocation,
which we did by early summer, I think that the Government had
a better internal debate because officials from the Treasury had
participated in some of our earlier work.
7. Positively, I hope.
(Mr Webb) Very constructively. They contributed in
a collegiate sense to the debate that we had.
8. I think you should look behind you when you
look left and right, I am sure they are pretty close behind you!
Will the New Chapter process ever be completed or is it like the
war on terrorism, an activity where you can never stop examining
and never declare victory?
(Mr Webb) Thank you, that is an important point to
make. I think I am going to say that we should go on with it if
only because, as I think we have been reminded over the last week,
we need to somehow capture a sense of continuing vigilance. That
is not always easy because events move on and people's memories
fade away. Somehow one of the things which we need to do, certainly
inside the defence area, is to have that sense of continuing vigilance.
One way you keep vigilance is to keep coming back and restudying
the problem. When I said I do not think we have got to the bottom
of understanding al-Qaeda, I spend time myself and others more
specialist time on trying to go on understanding and assessing
the situation and seeing what might happen next. That was very
much a feature of the Government's updated strategy document published
last month. I think we should see it as a long-term campaign and
I think we should maintain an agility to deal with it. To that
extent I agree with you but in another sense we have to make decisions
about force structure and about equipment choices and we need
to get those right, so while agility and flexibility are in our
mind, as I say, in the defence department you have to choose what
forces you are going to have and you have to make decisions about
what equipment to give them. We need to capture both of those
things. It is not to get yourself into limbo, you need to take
decisions about what you are going to do but you also need to
keep an agility and be prepared to say that is not looking like
the right way to go about it, let us try something else. We need
to have that flavour and we should come back to you honestly and
say "we did not get all this right first time, we are going
to try a new route here" or whatever.
9. Thank you. Why was the New Chapter White
Paper published before the consultation on the reserve forces
which was a key element of the New Chapter package?
(Mr Webb) You were teasing me a moment ago about not
getting it out early enough. First of all we needed to think before
we asked people to come and give their time as reservists to the
issue. As Bruce will explain we have asked a lot of people to
give their time. You need to be sure you are putting a good question,
so we took quite an amount of time talking particularly to the
police and other departments and to the local authorities world
about that. We needed to talk about what we were going to do before
we talked to the reserve community about whether they would do
it. There is another very practical issue which is that reservists
are most available to be consulted during the summer when they
do their big exercise season and there are more of them available,
so we actually timed the consultation for that to run over the
summer period. I think you would not have thanked us if we had
held up the whole exercise until now so we did it in two parts.
10. Lastly, does the MoD intend to release any
further documents other than the conclusion of the reserve force
consultation before the White Paper promised for next year?
(Mr Webb) On this subject we may. I think we should
keep in the habit of open consultation. I do not think there is
anything in Mr Hoon's mind at the moment on this subject. He may
have some other things that he thinks we ought to get some discussion
11. I am interested in the point you were making
about possibly changing policy. I accept that the war on terrorism
means that as things develop possibly policy is going to change
but is that not going to mean a change of mind set or a change
in culture not only in the Civil Service but also the MoD? Does
it not need to admit it has got things wrong or adjust to the
changes that you have described?
(Mr Webb) I think the first thing I say to people
when I am talking to internal training courses, and I did one
on Monday, is to talk about agility. I do not think I am probably
talking about major changes in policy but I do not want to feel
that we have got ourselves on a rigid track here. We certainly
need to adjust to the lessons that we routinely do of individual
operations. Every time we do an operation we have a lessons exercise
and we make changes. My guidance both in terms of the armed forces
future planning and also to individual civilian and armed forces
people isI keep saying, it is rather repetitiousagility
is something we need for the future and I think the Committee's
understanding of that is helpful to us so we feel we can change
if we need to without feeling necessarily we have done anything
wrong, we have simply learned and moved on in a different direction.
12. Does that include ministers as well?
(Mr Webb) Ministers already have this capacity in
Mr Jones: There was certainly no evidence of
that when the Secretary of State was before this Committee.
Chairman: We will have Mr Knight before
Kevan digs a deeper hole for the Committee.
13. Mr Webb, I am interested in the process
that you went through in order to do the review. I gather there
are work streams or work groups that were set up and it was a
two phase process.
(Mr Webb) Yes.
14. Can you just talk us through briefly how
(Mr Webb) Yes. We had work streams which looked at
the strategic issues. One of my deputies, Air Vice Marshal David
Hobart, Chief of Defence Staff (Policy), led work which looked
very conceptually at how you deal with this. It is very important
in terms of getting the armed forces structure and clear about
the roles which the Government wants for them to think about the
high level operational concepts, in other words how you are going
to engage terrorism. Out of that came this very important thought
that there were two real underlying dimensions. One was to go
after the roots and causes, the other was to deal with the violent
terrorists themselves, what we call sometimes "stabilisation"
on the one hand and "find and strike" on the other.
That was one group of people which had all sorts of sub-dimensions.
There would be, for example, a legal international dimension,
there would be people from our joint doctrine centre, a wide range
of people on that. A second group run by another colleague, Brian
Hawtin, was to look at the international context because, of course,
we were not just doing this as the UK but as part of a big international
community and so they were looking at the relationship with the
United Nations, the military coalitions, the roles of international
organisations and our bilateral relations and what you needed
to think about in terms of relations with countries where terrorism
might find a home again. There were those two work streams. We
then had a work stream under Bruce Mann looking at the home dimension,
how to deal with the specific threats to the UK homeland, and
then we had a group which originally was led by Major General
Tony Milton who came and gave evidence here which looked at overseas
engagement. It took the international concept and then turned
it into practical military effect, what military effect are you
trying to create. Tony did the work on that and he has now gone
off to become Commandant of the Royal Marines. We had those four
elements and we drew them altogether. I ought to say I think I
said to the Committee last year there were some other secret elements
of the work and I ought to mention that. I said there was going
to be that and there was a secret dimension to it.
15. Did that amount to a fifth work group?
(Mr Webb) Yes, more or less. We then drew it altogether
and we wrote something up for ministers saying "this is the
overall shape, let us now go out and do some discussion on it"
and then we overlapped it a bit, we moved ahead and said "that
is the overall shape of what we are trying to do now, let us turn
it into force structure and concepts and so on".
16. So that structure of four/five work groups
at the outset was specifically tasked with, if you like, the bolt-on
to SDR in terms of the asymmetric threat, it did not do any kind
of review of where the forces were at the moment and the wider
brief that the SDR as a whole had covered?
(Mr Webb) No, except where you were prompted to look
at things that had been in the SDR.
17. We will be talking about Saif Sareea and
the lessons from that a bit later on.
(Mr Webb) They certainly had access to the Saif Sareea
18. Sure, and we will discuss that, but there
is an argument that the United States, for example, when they
had their large increase in defence expenditure spent a fair amount
of that on people, on reimbursement of the armed forces for example.
There is an argument for saying that in the context of things
like Saif Sareea investing, reviewing whether or not we have got
the people stuff right, things like armed forces pensions, things
like whether they are properly equipped, the level of recruitment
and retention and whether they are properly manned up could have
been part of that review and you could have had a work group just
assessing whether or not you had got things right within the existing
work as well as the add-on.
(Mr Webb) That was the bit we did in the second phase.
We decided in the first phase what we needed to do. The moment
you say "how are we going to do it", you do not start
with a blank sheet of paper, you start off with the force structure,
equipment programmes and people that you already have. As we got
into the second phase where we looked at the implementation we
had, as well as the homeland and the overseas dimensions, a specific
people cell looking at the interaction with people issues which
are obviously a key element of defence capability and also science
and technology and a range of other things. We did do that but
we just got to it in the second phase.
19. When you moved to the second phase there
were some work groups which closed down because they were no longer
required, is that right?
(Mr Webb) Yes. The people who had been looking at
the strategic concept and the very conceptual work, they had written
their report and done their bit. The other three ran on, as did
a bit of tidy up of the secret area.