Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 16 OCTOBER 2002
WEBB CBE, MR
20. Okay. The early work that was done that
was not used in stage two, that was obviously used to inform the
strategy about how you moved forward. Is there anything in relation
to that that is going to be published that we can see as useful
background to us about the strategic thinking that then informed
how you move forward?
(Mr Webb) Most of it came out.
21. In that rather thin document you are fingering?
(Mr Webb) In the discussion document and in here.
I do not have any particular problems about any of this. If there
is something that you are particularly interested in I am sure
we could see if we could provide it.
22. Were these work groups publishing reports
for ministers that were relatively concise pieces of work as a
result of the conclusion of that first stage?
(Mr Webb) Yes.
23. It may be that those would be interesting
for us to look at.
(Mr Webb) The advice we give to ministers is a difficult
area but behind that is usually a lot of analytical material.
There was a lot of work done and if there is something that you
are particularly interested in I am sure we could try and see
whether the background materialI think I would probably
like to make my usual exception about things where we put advice
to ministers because it is important that I can give them unvarnished
advice without worrying at all that it will be published.
24. Can I take you back to what you said in
an earlier reply to Jim Knight and that was that after you produced
the working groups' paper you took that out for further discussion.
That is what you said. I would be grateful if you could explain
where that went and how far down the chain of command that went
and the relevance of the feedback from that discussion and whether
or not that is available.
(Mr Webb) We produced the discussion document, which
is the one that we published, so that was both made public
25. No, this was before that. I am talking about
when you said you went to ministers with the working groups' thoughts
on this and then you thought, or you decided, that would have
to go for further discussion. That is not the published document,
that is the document that went somewhere else. I am interested
to know who that went to and what was the basis of the discussion,
what was the feedback from that.
(Mr Webb) It is the same piece of work.
26. Is it?
(Mr Webb) Yes. We turned it into a discussion document
because otherwise you have mounds of background paper. In order
to allow people to comment on it you need to turn it into a discussion
document. It was the same discussion document which we sent both
externallyyou saw it on the website and as a published
documentbut also very extensively within the defence community,
so many comments came back internally, either because people e-mailed
things straight into us or because they fed it up the chain of
command, as happens in the military world, and we got responses
up through the armed forces about what the general reaction was.
Both those things happened. We then adjusted a bit to what we
got. You give ministers initial conclusions and say "This
is the way that things are going, we think we now have to do some
wider discussion, here is a discussion document" and then
you adjust a bit as you go on. What we did not do was to make
all this sequential because otherwise, Chairman, you would have
been really cross with me for taking a long time. What we did
was to get on with some of the discussion at the same time as
we initiated the work on implementation, so we overlapped it a
bit which meant we had a very busy spring. That was to avoid losing
time. I think I am missing some anxiety of yours.
27. I just wanted to know if there was more
than one discussion document. There was the internal discussion
document produced for the benefit internally of the MoD and presumably
the Foreign Office. I would be interested to know whether they
had any input in those two stages, one in the consultation that
was going on in the working groups and in the final document before
it went to your ministers. I want to know where the Foreign Office's
input came. It certainly did not emerge after the discussion document
went out to people like us. There were two documents obviously.
(Mr Webb) We had an internal report on the progress
of the work last autumn which we discussed in a consultative group
not just involving the Foreign Office but a range of other government
departmentsI mentioned the Treasury and the intelligence
communitythey joined in at that stage. We turned that into
a report which also went round to other ministers so that after
Christmas we reported, as happens in these cases. Although you
involve officials of other departments the ministers like to know
at least in summary what is happening and you try to produce a
piece of paper which is manageable for a busy Cabinet minister,
so you get a shorter version on the basis that their officials
will know the detail about their department's interests in much
more depth. We did indeed do both of those things. The Foreign
Office were involved in both those stages and the Foreign Office
were again involved as we got towards the end of the exercise
and wrote up the White Paper as a whole. Probably the bit they
were less involved in was developing the force structure bit but
that is more MoD business. They were involved in the initial working
groups, they were involved in preparing a summary report for ministers,
they saw the report that was going to ministers collectively and
they were involved at the end of the exercise as we tried to wrap
up what we were going to do to implement the strategic conclusions.
28. Is the Foreign Office input into that final
discussion document as they presented it to you available to us?
(Mr Webb) I do not think so, sir, because I think
it is terribly important that we have live discussions between
us and the Foreign Office. I really want my Foreign Office colleagues
to be able to say "Oy, I think you have really missed it
here MoD, please redo this bit".
29. So behaving just as we do towards you.
(Mr Webb) Absolutely, Chairman, and we pay equal attention.
30. You look convincing, I have to say.
(Mr Webb) We do get very valuable comments from other
departments. We get both informal contributions from other departments
by involving them in working groups and at my level my counterparts
will write me a letter saying "thank you, I have seen your
emerging conclusions, we have these points on it". My whole
thesis about the campaign against international terrorism is that
one of the things the British Government can do well is to have
an integrated approach in the international arena in particular,
so it is in our interests to get it right by involving other people
so there is not some sense of having to have your homework marked,
we want the Foreign Office and other departments involved early
31. Mr Webb, in the initial discussion paper
which came out in February there was a fairly grand campaign envisaged
to develop techniques and ensure that we have the necessary capabilities,
to collapse whole terrorist organisations which may be widely
spread geographically, and not just individual cells. There clearly
was a revision as a result of the thinking you have been doing
over the summer because when the White Paper came out it spoke
of "operations [against terrorist groups] may often consist
of harrying and disruption of our opponents without producing
a clear-cut outcome" and "the successful engagement
of terrorists, even if only on a small scale, and the destruction
of their infrastructure, may weaken and demoralise the opposition."
Could it be said that in the light of your analysis you scaled
back the ambitions of the New Chapter?
(Mr Webb) No, I do not think so. What the first comment
that you made was going to was, if you like, a concept. What I
was trying to avoid, and I think one of the working groups said
this very clearly, was that you must not think you are succeeding
simply because you deal with one element of a networked group
and therefore conceptually you must be going after the group wherever
it has spread, hence the word about "collapsing". That
may be ambitious but it is certainly the right mind set. What
you can actually do about that of course when you get down to
the implementation phase is you say that Britain is just one contributor
to an overall campaign, so we cannot do all of that obviously
but what we can do is to try and work with a range of other countries
to engage the issue. Progress has been made in that you will have
seen although of course we have suffered from further terrorist
attacks widely there has also been interdiction widely and countries
come to mind like Morocco to Singapore where co-operation has
helped to engage the group as a whole. I think it is a distinction
between having the right concept and ambition and being a bit
realistic about the UK's share of it. To keep coming back to the
point about co-ordination, I think the events of the last week
have shown how important it is to have that international co-ordination.
32. Afghanistan did represent the attempt to
destroy a whole set piece organisation even if it was spread out
in the hills. Would you not agree that the shift of emphasis must
be towards trying to deal with cells of terrorist groups widely
spread around the world and that poses a very much more difficult
challenge, particularly for the Ministry of Defence which is more
used to engaging either on an individual campaign like in Malaya
or Kenya or set piece confrontation like in the Gulf War?
(Mr Webb) I do not think it makes it more difficult
for us in the sense that each one of those in the end reduces
to a specific operation.
33. What I mean is that it informs how you organise
your resources. The original consultation document said that "we
must therefore continue to be ready and willing to deploy significant
forces overseas to fight against terrorism and those who harbour
them" and that is what Afghanistan was, whereas the principal
key conclusionperhaps Major General Fulton might like to
respond to thiswas we must aim for knowledge superiority.
That is a very different thrust from deploying large elements
of troops overseas.
(Mr Webb) No, it is the bit you do before you deploy
what troops you need very precisely. Can I just come back to make
another point which is that Afghanistan was very important in
that it disrupted the central planning and direction of the al-Qaeda
and I think it did that very successfully as well as actually
reducing the number of people that they had, the training camps.
A number of people were captured and so on. Since then there has
obviously been a range of cells which have been able to mount
operations which have been significant. It is a very grim situation
we faced in Bali over the last weekend. We must continue to go
after those individual cells and for the UK to play its role in
that. Another dimension of it, which you will see in the strategy
document, is to try to prevent them getting a new base like Afghanistan
because although we must not in any sense understate the damage
and deaths that can result from individual cells it would be much
worse if they could get back a central training direction organising
capacity of the kind they managed to find in Afghanistan. You
mentioned havens and that is a terribly important point if I may
34. Would you like to share with us where Ministry
of Defence thinking currently locates those potential new havens
to replace Afghanistan?
(Mr Webb) I hope not, Sir, because if I knew you would
expect me to be planning to do something about it.
Mr Howarth: I thought I would just explore and
see how far you are prepared to go.
35. Mr Webb is too old to fall for a sucker
punch like that.
(Mr Webb) Do you want to add anything to that, Rob?
(Major General Fulton) Only to underline the point
you have made that we saw very clearly that knowledge superiority
was the key enabler without which we could not focus the military
effort. In my working group we put quite a lot of effort into
identifying not only what did we need to do that we were not doing
at the moment in order to understand the terrorist as well as
simply counting him but also to understand what part of that was
the military role and what part of that was properly the preserve
of others, the classic military intelligence activities of scan,
cue and focus. We believed that really the right part of that
was for us to look at improving the military's ability both to
cue our assets and then to focus in order to provide actionable
intelligence on which military forces could act. In the scan function,
scanning the world to identify the point that you have made, we
had a part to play but also so did others.
36. Just one final question. Why do you need
to produce a further White Paper next year and in which areas
of the current New Chapter White Paper do you regard the conclusions
as still tentative?
(Mr Webb) We have committed ourselves to present to
Parliament a White Paper during each parliament and it seemed
to us thatthis is Mr Hoon's call obviouslynext year
would allow us to draw together the New Chapter, the conclusions
that we can take from the spending review, which of course led
to the most welcome increase in defence budget.
37. We are going to come on to that.
(Mr Webb) And draw it altogether. There probably will
be some updating of the New Chapter work but it is actually the
commitment to give an overall Defence White Paper once per parliament.
We imagined the Committee would rather have that sooner in the
parliament than for us to wait another year.
38. Do you think that the kind of things that
you will be looking at will be perhaps an increase in special
forces, more emphasis on intelligence of the kind that Major General
Fulton was just explaining to us and, indeed, issues concerning
(Mr Webb) I think all those will be looked at. We
have talked about special forces' equipment, for example, and
certainly intelligence gathering and we will probably get on to
the question of the accelerated plans for UAVs and so on. I think
all that will be seen as something that we are trying to gel together
as a package.
39. One last question on this section, Mr Webb.
Can you remind me, what was the deal by which the navy was going
to get its two new aircraft carriers? What did they have to give
up? It is all a question of compromises. Can you remember? If
you cannot can you drop us a note? I would be very interested
in this, it is very important.
(Mr Webb) It really does not work like that. We do
future resource allocation across defence as a whole and we then
make adjustments to the individual services. Obviously there has
to be some realism about the number of people the individual services
can recruit and so on but it is really not a question that if
one service gets the new platform that they automatically are
seen to be denuded of another platform, it just goes into the
overall pool. I suppose what I would say the SDR reduced was the
amount of heavy forces kept against Russian threats, that would
be an example of an area where there were quite natural reductions
in the late 1990s.
Chairman: The Committee had a letter
from the MoD saying that its naval commitment was 32 frigates
and destroyers. Will that number survive the New Chapter review
and the events of the next five years? Is it still 32 frigates
Mr Hancock: We have not got 32 frigates
and destroyers, have we?
5 Note from Witness: The Strategic Defence
Review: A New Chapter. Back