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

3  Working Practices and Innovation

Extending our range of witnesses

47.  Although we have taken evidence from Ministers and officials at the MoD as part of all of our inquiries, our evidence-taking from Government was not limited to the Ministry of Defence. As part of our inquiry into Medical care for the Armed Forces we took evidence from the Minister of State for Health Services at the Department of Health. We have also taken evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in our inquiry into the future of NATO and European Defence, and on our single evidence session on Iraq and Afghanistan, held jointly with the Foreign Affairs Committee, with the Defence and Foreign Secretaries in October 2008. As part of our inquiry into the UK/US Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty, we took oral evidence from the Cabinet Office as well as from the MoD. We took oral evidence from the Home Office and Cabinet Office as part of our inquiry into UK national security and resilience. A complete list of witnesses and oral evidence sessions is provided in Annex 3. We also took evidence from the Scottish Executive and NHS Trusts in relation to our inquiry into medical care.


48.  We held a webforum as part of our inquiry into Medical care for the Armed Forces. This was the first Committee webforum hosted internally by the House of Commons.[20] It sought to obtain the personal views of Service personnel and others who may not wish to contribute formal evidence to our inquiries. We ran this webforum in two stages either side of the Parliamentary summer recess. We received in excess of 150 postings from people who had registered. Following on from this success, we decided to host a webforum during our inquiry into Recruiting and retaining Armed Forces personnel. The forum ran between 2 April 2008 and 28 May 2008 and attracted 13,785 views (7,271 views in most popular thread), 184 posts and 226 registrations.

49.  Each webforum provided us with an opportunity to respond to comments posted on the forum and for contributors in turn to respond to our comments. We believe it was a useful way of engaging public interest in our inquiries and of furthering well-informed debate on defence matters. It also extended the scope of our inquiry by allowing us to hear the views of those who might not otherwise have made representations to a select committee.

Publication of evidence on the internet

50.  We have continued to publish memoranda received during the course of our inquiries on our website rather than waiting until the relevant Report was published. We believe it to be important in encouraging debate and stimulating a greater response to our calls for evidence. We have also agreed to publish the Government responses to our Reports on the internet in order make them available to the public as quickly as possible before considering whether to print them as Special Reports.


51.  As we explained in our previous Reports on the work of the Committee, the list of the formal activities of the Committee gives only a partial picture of the work that we do. Formal evidence naturally forms the backbone of our work and underpins our inquiries. However, we have also held a number of informal seminars in addition to a large number of informal meetings with visiting delegations.

52.  We received confidential briefings from the MoD on the UK/US Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty and on the Fulton Report into the Iran hostages incident. During a seminar, which we held at the Defence Academy at Shrivenham, we reflected critically on our performance to date, identified areas where we can further improve our working practices, and established our priorities for the year ahead. A list of our seminars and informal briefings is set out in Annex 4.

Inward visits

53.  During the course of the year we also met a large number of foreign delegations. We hosted meetings with delegations of MPs from the Parliaments of Afghanistan, Germany, Poland, Georgia, France, The Czech Republic, Pakistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina. We also met government ministers from Columbia and Albania. In addition, we held informal meetings with Ambassador Francesc Vendrell, the EU Special Representative to Afghanistan and with the German Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces. A list of our meetings with inward visitors is listed in Annex 4.

Outward visits

54.  We again visited UK Forces on deployment in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We believe that visiting our troops wherever they are deployed is crucial to our understanding of the conditions in which our Armed Forces operate. We visited Iraq via Bahrain and the Northern Gulf in June as part of our inquiry into The Iran hostages incident: the lessons learned. In Bahrain, we visited Coalition Maritime Component Command and met both the US Naval Central Commander, and the UK Deputy Commander. We also visited Royal Naval ships in the Northern Gulf operation as part of Combined Task Force 158 whose primary mission was to maintain security around the al-Basra Oil Terminal (ABOT) and the Khawr al-Amaya Oil Terminal (KAAOT). In Iraq we visited the UK-Led Naval Training Team (NaTT) based within the Iraqi Navy compound in Umm Qasr, UK Forces and local politicians at the Contingency Operating Base at Basra Air Station and Military Transition Teams (MiTTs) embedded with the Iraqi units which they are training outside the COB. As noted above, the very positive developments we saw in Iraq prompted the publication of our Report, UK operations in Iraq and the Gulf.

55.  In July, we decided to travel to Afghanistan via Pakistan where we held discussions with senior Pakistani government and military representatives in Islamabad. In Afghanistan, we met UK Forces and officials, Afghan politicians and journalists in Kabul, and UK Forces, local politicians and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Camp Bastion and Lashkar Gah, in Helmand Province, Southern Afghanistan. We also were able to travel to the Bost Hotel in Lashkar Gah to meet the Governor of Helmand and Provincial Council Members.

56.  As in 2007, we continued our visits to defence establishments in the UK. Individual Members visited several Ministry of Defence Health Units (MDHUs) around England as part of our inquiry into Medical care for the Armed Forces. Individual Members also visited training establishments HMS Raleigh and Army Training Regiment Bassingbourn, and an Armed Forces Careers Information Office in London as part of our inquiry into Recruiting and retaining Armed Forces personnel. We also visited Defence Equipment and Support in Abbey Wood as part of our inquiry into Defence Equipment and the Ministry of Defence Counter Terrorism Science and Technology Centre at DSTL, Porton Down, as part of our inquiry into UK national security and resilience.

Political engagement within Europe

57.  In 2007-08, the Chairman and Mr Crausby attended two meetings of Chairmen of Defence Committees of EU Member States: in Naples in December 2007; and in Paris in October 2008. Our Chairman also represented the Committee at the French Summer Defence Conference in September 2008. Individual Members of the Committee also represented the Committee at various defence conferences and at a training exercise in Europe.


58.  In the 2007-08 session, in line with the new procedure, we received copies of petitions to Government calling for more generous policies, and priority in housing, for serving and returning members of the Armed Forces, in recognition of their contribution in Iraq and Afghanistan; calling for the Secretary of State to "honour the covenant between government and service and ex-service personnel" by providing necessary support and medical care; calling for Admiral John Byng to be granted a posthumous pardon; calling for the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Health and other relevant bodies to promote the proposal of Gosport Borough Council, Fareham Borough Council and the Haslar Task Force for the future use of Haslar site for the provision of healthcare services and treatment in Gosport, Fareham and the surrounding areas; and calling for all ex-Gurkha soldiers and their families to be granted British citizenship upon leaving the service. We have decided to take no action on these petitions.

Specialist Advisers

59.  Our work has been greatly assisted by our team of specialist advisers: Paul Beaver, Rear Admiral Richard Cheadle CB DL, Professor Michael Clarke, Major General Timothy Cross CBE, Professor David Kirkpatrick, Dr Andrew Rathmell, Rear Admiral David Snelson CB, and Air Marshal Philip Sturley CB MBE. Dr Sibylle Bauer ably advised the Committees on Arms Export Controls (previously the Quadripartite Committee). Their advice, both directly to the Members of the Committee and to our staff, has been invaluable.

20   Our 2006 webforum was hosted by the Hansard Society, as had been the practice with previous such operations. Back

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