Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 857-859)


24 JUNE 2003

  Chairman: Sir Michael, may I welcome you and Mr Ricketts for the first part, which effectively is the spill-over of the proceedings from this morning, a matter which is particularly within your own sphere of knowledge and responsibility. I shall call a number of colleagues in respect of that. Then we will have a short break, when the proceedings there in respect of our Iraq inquiry will then be in abeyance until we meet the Foreign Secretary again on Friday morning, briefly, in public session, then in private session. We will move on then to the normal meeting with you and your colleagues in respect of the FCO administration, the Annual Report. So first then on to the Iraq inquiry. Mr Maples.

  Q857  Mr Maples: Sir Michael, I wonder if you can help us with something that came up this morning, which I do not quite understand now. In answer to the different questions, the Foreign Secretary said that the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee last met on June 28, 2001, just after the election, and therefore it has not met since, in what is now two years, which included September 11, the Afghanistan war and the Iraq war, and the War Cabinet, which had a slightly different membership, met on 29 occasions, all apparently between 19 March and 28 April, in other words, when the war was actually on, which was what one would expect. So what I do not think I understand is, and, I think, several other members of the Committee, we used to understand the process by which foreign policy decisions were arrived at, through a Cabinet sub-committee meeting, with detailed papers, making a decision, reporting to the Cabinet and that being accountable to Parliament; how does that process work now, if OPD, or DOP, or whatever it is called now, effectively does not exist?

  Sir Michael Jay: The main ministerial discussion which takes place on foreign policy issues is in Cabinet, and there is a Cabinet meeting, there are always foreign affairs on the agenda, and I think I am right in saying that Iraq was on the agenda of each Cabinet meeting, or virtually every Cabinet meeting, in the nine months, or so, up until the conflict broke out, in April. The main, formal ministerial forum for discussing foreign policy issues is in Cabinet.

  Q858  Mr Maples: But those cannot be a meeting of 23 people, all with detailed papers, setting out military options and strategic options; presumably, there is some pre-meeting which brings to Cabinet, as OPD would have done, a policy suggestion?

  Sir Michael Jay: There are informal meetings of ministers, which will be chaired either by the Prime Minister or by the Foreign Secretary, to discuss whatever the issues of the day might be, which will meet as necessary.

  Q859  Mr Maples: So there is no formal structure, as there used to be with OPD, there is no formal channel by which matters reach the Cabinet, after having been considered in detail, as I say, with papers and options, and so on?

  Sir Michael Jay: As the Foreign Secretary said this morning, OPD itself did not meet in that period.

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