The work of the Committee 2007-08 - Defence Committee Contents


2  Core Tasks and inquiries

3.  This part of our report describes how we sought to cover each of the core tasks recommended by the Liaison Committee. A table summarising this can be found at Annex 1.

Examination of Government and European Commission policy proposals

4.  The Liaison Committee's Core Task 1 encourages us to scrutinise policy proposals from the UK Government and the European Commission in the form of Green Papers, White Papers, draft Guidance etc, and to inquire further where we consider appropriate.

UK/US DEFENCE TRADE COOPERATION TREATY

5.  As a Committee, we have had a longstanding interest in defence cooperation with our allies. In June 2007, the Prime Minister and the US President signed the UK/US Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty. Published in September 2007, the Treaty established a framework for defence trade cooperation between the United Kingdom and the United States of America.[1] Although treaties are ratified by the Government under the Royal Prerogative, rather than by Parliament, treaties are laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days (by Government undertaking the 'Ponsonby rule') before ratification to enable Parliament to consider and comment on them. At our request, the Government extended the period of time available to Parliament to scrutinise the UK/US Defence Trade Co-operation Treaty. This allowed us to conduct an inquiry into the Treaty. We are grateful to the Government for this flexibility. In November 2007 we took evidence from defence companies as well as the MoD and the Cabinet Office and published our report in December 2007 which recommended early ratification of the Treaty.[2]

ARMS EXPORT CONTROLS

6.  In 2007-08, we continued our contribution to the Committees on Arms Export Controls (formerly the 'Quadripartite' Committee), together with Members from the Foreign Affairs, Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and International Development Committees. The Committees carry out detailed scrutiny of the Government's controls on exports of equipment and technology with a military application. In July 2008 they produced a Report on the scrutiny of Arms Export Controls.[3]

7.  The Committees concluded that the Government should make it illegal for British citizens overseas, as well as everyone living in the UK, to trade in any form of arms or weaponry between overseas countries without a licence. The Committees also urged the Government, in completing its Review of Export Controls, to extend its existing rule covering the trade of certain "high risk" items to all goods and technologies on UK's Military List, which covers military, security and para-military goods, software and technology and arms ammunition and related material. [4]

Examination of emerging and deficient policy

8.  Core Task 2 encourages us to scrutinise Government policy and to identify where a Committee inquiry would be worthwhile.

CURRENT OPERATIONS

9.  In our First Report of the Session on UK land operations in Iraq we welcomed the apparent improvement in the security situation following the surge of US Forces and we noted the dramatic reduction of violence in the UK area of operations in South Eastern Iraq. However, we warned that there had been no corresponding reduction in the number of attacks on the civilian population and that, although improved, the security situation continued to cause concern. We said that the development of the Iraqi Security Forces was fundamental to the long-term security of Iraq and to the drawdown and eventual withdrawal of UK Forces. While there had been progress in improving the performance of the Iraqi Army, the police remained a source of deep and continuing concern. We noted the Prime Minister's announcement that the Government planned, from the Spring of 2008, to reduce UK Forces in Iraq to 2,500 but said that important questions remained about the sustainability of a force of this size. We also said that unless UK Forces in Iraq were capable of doing more than simply protecting themselves at Basra Air Station, the entire UK presence in South Eastern Iraq would be open to question.[5]

10.  We published an additional Report on the situation in Iraq and the Gulf in July.[6] Our Report was published soon after we had visited Iraq in June as part of our regular programme of scrutiny of the UK's major overseas operational deployments. It was based principally on what we had seen during the visit. We found the security situation in Basra transformed. There had been an obvious and substantial improvement in security and it seemed clear to us that it was largely the result of the success of Operation Charge of the Knights, the Iraqi-led effort to break the control of the militias in Basra. Due to our concern that the House and wider public were not necessarily aware of the very positive developments which we undoubtedly saw in Iraq, we decided to agree a Report drawing attention to them.

THE IRAN HOSTAGES INCIDENT: THE LESSONS LEARNED

11.  In March 2007, 15 Royal Navy personnel from HMS Cornwall—a Royal Navy Frigate, deployed with the Coalition Task Force in the Northern Gulf—were captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard while conducting a boarding operation on a merchant vessel in shallow waters near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, between Iraq and Iran. They were taken to Iran and detained until early April 2007. In mid-April the Secretary of State for Defence announced that he had appointed Lieutenant General Sir Rob Fulton RM (retired) to inquire into the operational circumstances and factors leading to the capture of the Royal Navy personnel. He said that, because the inquiry would consider operationally sensitive material, it would not be possible to publish all of the conclusions, but that they would be presented to the Defence Committee in full.

12.  We undertook an inquiry into the incident, The Iran hostages incident: the lessons learned. Unusually, because of the classified nature of the material presented to us, we had to conduct our evidence sessions for our inquiry into The Iran hostages incident in private. We had some reservations about conducting scrutiny on terms of the Government's choosing.

13.  Our inquiry sought: to scrutinise the Fulton Report on behalf of the House of Commons and to establish whether it was comprehensive and its recommendations sufficient; to ensure that the MoD's related action plan was adequate and properly implemented and resourced; to scrutinise the Hall report into the sale of the stories of the Royal Navy personnel to the press upon their release; and to ensure that the lessons of the HMS Cornwall incident had been fully learned and disseminated. Our Report was published in December 2007.[7]

14.  We found the MoD's initial response to our inquiry to be inadequate, and sensed that the Department had not anticipated that we would pursue an inquiry in depth. Noting our persistence, the MoD eventually responded positively and was helpful in providing full answers to our questions in writing and in offering high level briefing. We concluded that the Fulton Report, and the evidence provided to us in support of it, contained a depth of operational detail which it would have been damaging to have made public. This made it difficult for us to demonstrate openly the grounds on which we reached our conclusions. In our Report, we assured the House that we had scrutinised the Fulton Report thoroughly and we wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence with a number of classified conclusions and recommendations.

MEDICAL CARE FOR THE ARMED FORCES

15.  We published our Report on Medical care for the Armed Forces in February.[8] We focussed on three main issues: healthcare for Service personnel, both at home and overseas, and the arrangements for those returning from overseas postings; medical support for operations, including the treatment of injured personnel—from immediate treatment in the theatre of operations to after-care in the UK—and the facilities provided for them; and how medical services for the Armed Forces are delivered, in particular how the MoD engages with the NHS to provide healthcare. We held a webforum during our inquiry, further details of which are provided in paragraph 48.

16.  In our Report, we paid tribute to the world-class clinical care provided to Service personnel by Defence Medical Services working with the NHS, and encouraged the MoD to continue the improvements at the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine in Birmingham. The DMS's rehabilitation services, especially at Headley Court, are exceptional and contribute enormously to the welfare of Service personnel. We concluded that the delivery of care through the MoD, NHS, and charities and welfare organisations worked well. However, we also concluded that more needed to be done to address the sharing of best practice between the DMS and the NHS.

17.  We also raised concerns over the provision of services to Armed Forces personnel in Scotland where we found such provision inadequate. We concluded that the MoD and the Scottish Executive must review the structures through which they engaged with other departments and administrations and look at how improvements could be made. We also paid tribute to the role that Reserve personnel played in the delivery of military healthcare.

THE FUTURE OF NATO AND EUROPEAN DEFENCE

18.  In March we published our Report on the future of NATO and European defence ahead of the NATO Summit to be held in Bucharest in April.[9] Our intention in holding this inquiry was to provide a comprehensive analysis of the current state of the Atlantic Alliance. We concluded that NATO remains an indispensable Alliance and must maintain its position at the heart of UK and European defence policy. We warned that it faces severe threats to its credibility and cohesion, most notably from a lack of political will to support it in its member countries. We also warned that succeeding in Afghanistan must remain at the top of NATO's agenda. Furthermore, the burden in Afghanistan is not shared equitably and other nations should contribute more.

DEFENCE EQUIPMENT 2008

19.  We also conducted our annual inquiry into Defence Equipment.[10] We commended the MoD's Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) organisation for the speed at which it was getting urgently needed equipment to UK Armed Forces on current operations. We highlighted a number of concerns about the acquisition of defence equipment including further in-service date slippage and cost increases on a number of key equipment programmes. We were disappointed to learn that Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft would not be available to operate from the first new aircraft carrier when it was due in service in 2014.[11] We stressed the need for the MoD to take the difficult decisions which will lead to a realistic and affordable equipment programme. This might mean cutting whole equipment programmes rather than just delaying orders or making cuts to the number of platforms ordered across a range of programmes.

RECRUITING AND RETAINING ARMED FORCES PERSONNEL

20.  In July we published our Report on Recruiting and retaining Armed Forces personnel.[12] In particular, we wanted to examine the factors which hamper recruitment to the Armed Forces, and identify what the MoD was doing to improve recruitment; examine the difficulties the Armed Forces had in retaining personnel, and identify what the MoD was doing to improve retention; and to examine the recruitment and retention of reservists. We also held a webforum which provided first-hand comments from Service personnel about the problems they face: further details of this webforum are provided in paragraph 48.

21.  We concluded that the MoD was not responding with sufficient flexibility and imagination to the problems it faces relating to the recruitment and retention of Armed Forces personnel. We recognised the important effect of the state of the economy and public opinion upon trends in recruitment but stressed the importance of the MoD working harder to recruit people to those particular trades which were currently seriously undermanned. As it costs less for the MoD to retain than to recruit and train a member of the Armed Forces, we also felt that not enough emphasis was being placed on ways of improving the retention of personnel. In particular, more needed to be done with regard to health care and social and affordable housing.

THE CONTRIBUTION OF UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLES TO ISTAR CAPABILITY

22.  We published a Report on The contribution of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to ISTAR capability.[13] Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) is a key military capability and is fundamental to Network Enabled Capability (NEC). Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have emerged as an important means of collecting ISTAR information. We concluded that the MoD had been perhaps slow to appreciate the potential of UAVs, but now recognises the important contribution they can make. The UAVs acquired for current operations are proving very effective in collecting ISTAR information. However, improvements are required particularly in how this information is processed and disseminated.

UK NATIONAL SECURITY AND RESILIENCE

23.  The Committee decided in January to inquire into the Ministry of Defence's contribution to the broad spectrum of UK national security and resilience issues. This was in the context of the then-impending publication of a cross-departmental national security strategy and the review, headed by the Rt Hon Adam Ingram MP, former Armed Forces Minister, of the UK's military response to terrorism, to which the Government has now responded.[14]

24.  In March, the Government published The National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom: Security in an interdependent world (NSS). Although the publication was coordinated by the Cabinet Office, the Strategy stated its aim as being "to set out how we will address and manage this diverse though interconnected set of security challenges and underlying drivers".[15] Chapter 4 of the NSS deals in part with the contribution of the Armed Forces to the overarching security policy of the UK.

25.  Our inquiry is still underway. We have, so far, taken oral evidence from industry, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office, and the Cabinet Office. We have received a classified copy of Mr Ingram's final report to the Prime Minister, and very much hope to arrange a private briefing from Mr Ingram in the near future and take further oral evidence.

Examination of legislation and of specific output from the Department

26.  The Liaison Committee's Core Task 3 calls for committees to conduct scrutiny on any published draft Bill within its responsibilities. Core Task 4 calls for us to develop a framework for being informed of secondary legislation, circulars and guidance, treaties and previously identified casework decisions, so that they can be drawn to our attention where necessary. The MoD has presented no draft primary legislation to Parliament since July 2005. The MoD has provided us with copies of all secondary legislation laid. We have in place a system of scrutiny, by which occasional bulletins are put before us summarising the secondary legislation laid and alerting us to matters of significance. We continue to take a particular interest in the implementation of the provisions of the Armed Forces Act 2006 which is carried out by means of secondary legislation.

Examination of Departmental expenditure

27.  Core Task 5 calls for committees to develop a systematic framework for committee scrutiny of the Department's Main and Supplementary Estimates, its expenditure plans and its annual accounts.

28.  Following our usual practice, we reported on the Winter Supplementary Estimate 2007-08, the Spring Supplementary Estimate 2007-08, and the Main Estimates 2008-09, in each case before the House of Commons was invited to agree the Estimates.[16] In this task, we have received valuable assistance from the Committee Office Scrutiny Unit. As we noted last year, the MoD's Supplementary Estimates have been of particular interest since they used to be the first to reveal the cost of military operations, which have traditionally not been covered in the Main Estimates. On account of our insistence, this cost will, from 2009-10, be included in some detail in the Main Estimate. A number of our other requests, asking for additional information, have also been agreed.

29.  In addition to our scrutiny of the Estimates, we have held an annual inquiry into the MoD's Resource Accounts, as set out in the Departmental Annual Report and Accounts. In this task we were assisted by the National Audit Office (NAO), which produced an analysis of the MoD's Annual Report and Accounts for our inquiry.[17] In November 2007 we took evidence from the Permanent Under Secretary of State and the Finance Director at the MoD and we published our Report on the MoD's Annual Report and Accounts in January 2008.

30.  Approximately one fifth (£6 billion) of the MoD's budget is spent on the procurement of defence equipment. We are committed to holding an annual defence procurement inquiry, but—in line with the MoD's new focus on through-life equipment costs and the merger of the Defence Procurement Agency and the Defence Logistics Organistation into the Defence Equipment and Support organisation—we are focusing on defence equipment costs through-life rather than on acquisition costs alone.

31.  As part of our examination of expenditure, we have also monitored the Departmental Minutes which the MoD has laid before the House of Commons in line with the requirement on Departments to inform the House when they propose to make a gift of a value exceeding £250,000.

Examination of Public Service Agreements and targets

32.  Core Task 6 calls on committees to scrutinise Departments' Public Service Agreements and associated targets.

33.  We have held annual inquiries on the MoD's Annual Report and Accounts—the Department's report to Parliament on its performance in each financial year. These inquiries have examined the MoD's performance against its Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets. This has involved taking oral evidence from the Secretary of State, the Permanent Under Secretary of State and the Finance Director at the MoD. We published our Report into the Ministry of Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2006-07[18] in January 2008.

34.  The MoD's assessment of its expected achievements against its six Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets, which ran until the end of March 2008, had deteriorated since the previous year's Annual Report and Accounts. At the end of 2007, the MoD did not expect to meet the target relating to generating forces and expected "only partly" to meet targets relating to recruitment and retention, and defence equipment procurement.[19] The ultimate failure to meet the target for generating forces was a consequence of the continuing high levels of deployment of the Armed Forces. We are deeply concerned that, for seven of the last eight years, and for every year since 2002, the Armed Forces have been operating at or above the level of concurrent operations for which they are resourced and structured to deliver.

35.  We plan to publish our Report into the Ministry of Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2007-08 in early 2009.

Scrutiny of Agencies and other associated public bodies

36.  Core Task 7 encourages committees to monitor the work of the Department's Executive Agencies, Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs) and other associated public bodies.

37.  Our scrutiny during the 2007-08 Session was focused on key organisations within the MoD, including Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S). DE&S was formed on 1 April 2007 following the merger of the Defence Procurement Agency (a defence agency) and the Defence Logistics Organisation. DE&S, which spends some £16 billion a year, does not have Agency status. However, given its importance and its level of expenditure, we have undertaken regular inquiries into its actives and performance. We took oral evidence from the Chief of Defence Materiel, head of DE&S, in January 2008 and visited DE&S at Abbey Wood, Bristol, in October 2008. In January 2009 we will begin an inquiry into the Defence Support Group (DSG). DSG is a Trading Fund formed following the merger of ABRO and DARA on 1 April 2008. In addition to Defence Agencies and Trading Funds, the MoD sponsors other bodies including two Public Corporations and five Executive NDPBs. The latter are Service museums with charitable status. We have not yet scrutinised the work of these other sponsored bodies this Parliament.

Scrutiny of major appointments

38.  Core Task 8 calls for scrutiny of all major appointments by the Department, envisaging that Departments would notify committees in advance of these appointments.

39.  The MoD informs us of key civilian and Service appointments once they had been decided. We monitored all significant appointments to the MoD, its associated agencies and public bodies, as well as to the Armed Forces. To date, we have seen no reason to act upon them. However, we endeavour to hold evidence sessions with new Ministers, senior officials and Service personnel at an early opportunity.

40.  Following the departure of Lord Drayson, the Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, in November 2007, we held an evidence session with his successor, the Rt Hon Baroness Taylor of Bolton, on 21 November 2007 as part of our inquiry into the UK/US Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty.

41.  In January 2008, as part of our annual inquiry into Defence Equipment, we took evidence from General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue, the first Chief of Defence Materiel, who took up his post as head of the new Defence Equipment and Support organisation (DE&S) on 1 April 2007. We also took evidence from Sir Kevin during our current inquiry into Defence Equipment.

42.  We have continued to take particular interest in the appointment of the new Service Complaints Commissioner, a position we encouraged the MoD to create in our two Reports on the Armed Forces Bill. We have decided to take evidence from the Commissioner, Dr Susan Atkins, in the first part of 2009, at the end of her first year in office.

43.  Proposals following the publication of the Governance of Britain White Paper for involving select committees in public appointments by inviting committees to hold non-binding pre-appointment hearings with nominees for key positions were welcome; but in the case of the Ministry of Defence there were no positions included in the first proposed list. As a Committee we felt that six positions at least be subject to such hearings - those of the Chief of the Defence Staff, the three Service Chiefs, the Chief of Defence Materiel, and the Service Complaints Commissioner. The Department has now conceded one position to which pre-appointment hearings can apply—that of the Service Complaints Commissioner. We hope that there may be some movement from the Ministry of Defence in future in line with practice in other Departments in engaging more proactively with their departmental select committees on this matter.

Examination of implementation of legislation and policy initiatives

44.  Core Task 9 encourages committees to examine the implementation of legislation and major policy initiatives, calling on us to develop a framework of progress reports from Departments. We will continue to scrutinise the UK's export control arrangements as part of our involvement in the work of the Committees on Arms Export Controls. We will also continue to take a particular interest in the implementation of the provisions of the Armed Forces Act 2006 which is carried out by means of secondary legislation.

Production of reports for debate

45.  Core Task 10 calls for committees to produce Reports which are suitable for debate in the House, including Westminster Hall and debating Committees.

46.  Our Reports on UK land operations in Iraq and The future of NATO and European defence were 'tagged' on the Order Paper as relevant to the general debate in the House on Defence in the World on 8 May. The House held a general debate on Defence Procurement on 19 June, and on that occasion, our Reports on Ministry of Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2006-07 and Defence Equipment 2008 were tagged as relevant. Our Report on Medical care for the Armed Forces was debated in Westminster Hall on 17 July.


1   Treaty between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the United States of America concerning defence trade cooperation: London and Washington, 21 and 26 June 2007, Cm 7213, September 2007 Back

2   Defence Committee, Third Report of Session 2007-08, UK/US Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty, HC 107 Back

3   Defence Committee, Twelfth Report (First Joint Report of the Committees on Arms Export Controls) of Session 2007-08, Scrutiny of Arms Export Controls (2008): UK Strategic Export Controls Annual Report 2006, Quarterly Reports for 2007, licensing policy and review of export control legislation, HC 254 Back

4   Defence Committee, Twelfth Report (First Joint Report of the Committees on Arms Export Controls) of Session 2007-08, Scrutiny of Arms Export Controls (2008): UK Strategic Export Controls Annual Report 2006, Quarterly Reports for 2007, licensing policy and review of export control legislation, HC 254 Back

5   Defence Committee, First Report of Session 2007-08, UK land operations in Iraq 2007, HC 110 Back

6   Defence Committee, Fifteenth Report of Session 2007-08, UK operations in Iraq and the Gulf, HC 982 Back

7   Defence Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2007-08, The Iran hostages incident: the lessons learned, HC 181 Back

8   Defence Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2007-08, Medical care for the Armed Forces, HC 327 Back

9   Defence Committee, Ninth Report of Session 2007-08, The future of NATO and European defence, HC 111 Back

10   Defence Committee, Tenth Report of Session 2007-08, Defence Equipment 2008, HC 295 Back

11   This has now been overtaken by the recent announcement on the delay of the aircraft carriers. Back

12   Defence Committee, Fourteenth Report of Session 2007-08, Recruiting and retaining Armed Forces personnel, HC 424 Back

13   Defence Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session 2007-08, The contribution of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to ISTAR capability, HC 535 Back

14   HC Deb, 8 December 2008, cols 26-27WS Back

15   Cabinet Office, The National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom: Security in an interdependent world, Cm 7921, March 2008 Back

16   Defence Committee, Second Report of Session 2007-08, Costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan: Winter Supplementary Estimate 2007-08, HC 138; Eighth Report of Session 2007-08, Operational costs in Afghanistan and Iraq: Spring Supplementary Estimate 2007-08, HC 400; Defence Committee, Eleventh Report of Session 2007-08, Ministry of Defence Main Estimates 2008-09, HC 885. Back

17   National Audit Office, Performance of the Ministry of Defence 2006-07, Briefing for the Defence Committee, November 2007. We did not print this evidence in our report, but it is available on our website at: http://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmdefence/memo/ara/ucmara02.pdf  Back

18   Defence Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2007-08, Ministry of Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2006-07, HC 61  Back

19   Ministry of Defence, Public Service Agreement Report: Quarter 1 2007-2008 Back


 
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Prepared 14 January 2009