Ministry of Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2007-08 - Defence Committee Contents

Examination of Witness (Questions 180-188)


12 NOVEMBER 2008

  Q180  Mr Havard: Can I ask you one question in relation to this? You are quite right about the strategic defence review, it is a much longer thing. However, the Armed Forces minister in June said that the planning assumption review that was taking place which would be informed by the equipment review will be a ten year look at planning assumptions for the future. Is that still the case?

  Mr Hutton: I have not seen any work on the planning assumptions on that basis, no. Maybe I need to think about that.

  Q181  Mr Jenkin: Just before we leave Snatch, I understand you have received a letter from the solicitors representing the families of the victims, those who have died in Snatch Land Rovers, requesting that you instigate some kind of inquiry that would be beyond the scope of a coroner's inquest. Would you consider holding such an inquiry—I am not suggesting it need be a public inquiry—chaired by a senior retired armed services chief and perhaps some privy councillors taking part to demonstrate that the equipment being provided to the frontline is what we really need? There is obviously a crisis of confidence amongst many of the Armed Forces and certainly in the public about this matter.

  Mr Hutton: I would be prepared to look at that. I have to say, I have not had that letter drawn to my attention so I have not seen this correspondence yet. Obviously I would look very seriously at that, yes.

  Chairman: We will move onto the issue of Afghanistan and Iraq, the helicopter issue that you were talking about earlier, Secretary of State. Adam Holloway?

  Mr Holloway: Sorry, I am totally off the ball today. Where are we?

  Chairman: We will move further on because I think actually you have answered that question. Let us move onto the issue of NATO.

  Q182  Mr Hancock: The MoD hosted a formal meeting in September focussed on the modernisation of NATO. We ourselves have done a report on the future of NATO. What issues were discussed and in what ways do you believe that NATO has to change to become more efficient and more effective in what they can and what they are prepared to do?

  Mr Hutton: I think it has to change in two fundamental ways. It has to become far less bureaucratic because it is far too bureaucratic at the moment. I think there are over 3,000 committees involved in the work of NATO. I might have added a digit to that, someone can correct me in a minute, but there are hundreds and hundreds of committees. That is just not viable. We have to streamline the headquarters function of NATO. We have to make it more effective and efficient as a planning entity. Finally I think we have to focus on perhaps the most important issue of all, we have to work with our NATO partners and allies to improve the levels of deployability of NATO forces because the nature of the new security challenge is different to the old one. I think there is precious little point in having 80 or 90% of our forces positioned in static places pointing at the Russians; I do not understand that.

  Q183  Mr Hancock: Some of your predecessors have indicated the view that NATO partners had to change their opinion on things, particularly their willingness to share the real burden when it comes to war fighting. Are you optimistic that there is going to be a significant change within the idea that you can buy into NATO collectively but you can be selective in what you actually put your forces to as being a thing of the past and they need to be more realistic now to say that it cannot always be the same half a dozen countries who put their troops on the line time and time again?

  Mr Hutton: Am I optimistic? I have attended one meeting of NATO Defence Ministers and I think I am going to reserve judgment about whether I am optimistic or pessimistic about this. What I do believe very strongly is that NATO membership brings with it some pretty full on obligations and it is not a pick and mix menu; I do not believe that that is what NATO membership involves. On burden sharing, I think we have to respect some important constitutional issues that some members of NATO have to carry and work under, about the extent to which operational forces can be deployed in a context and I think we have to respect that, in which case we need other types of help and other types of support. There cannot be a general get out clause to do nothing. I think we have to work at this, we have to build alliances and I think it is very important that we retain NATO unity as we set about doing this re-organisation. I do not think it is going to help me; it is not going to help us in Afghanistan if it looks like a bun fight around the NATO Council Chamber. That is not a good idea. I think we are going to have to work with our friends and allies and these are our closest friends and allies, we should never lose sight of that fact although sometimes it is easy to do that. These are our closest friends and allies. We share a very strong agenda with many of them to shake up NATO, to get it better aligned to the modern world, not least of which is the United States which shares our view about these things. So let us work and try to get the change. I do not know how long it is going to take us, but we have to keep focus on it.

  Q184  Mr Hancock: Could you give us your view of what the nature and the quality of NATO's commitments to both Georgia and the Ukraine are?

  Mr Hutton: I think they were set out pretty clearly at Bucharest, that they will become members of NATO.

  Q185  Mr Hancock: Do you believe, at this moment in time, that there is a commitment from NATO to protect and look after them?

  Mr Hutton: Article five will extend when they become members of NATO.

  Q186  Mr Hancock: At the present time do you believe they are mistaken in their belief that that commitment is already there?

  Mr Hutton: Yes. There is no Article five commitment to countries that are not members of NATO.

  Q187  Linda Gilroy: What do you think the prospects are for working with EU partners to achieve better alignment of some of the capabilities to enable them to step up to the mark alongside us?

  Mr Hutton: I think the prospects are good and I think the Somalia mission will be the first maritime mission under the ESDP banner. That will be a good thing. I consider this to be a genuine additional resource that is becoming available to deal with the problem of piracy off the Horn of Africa. I think the prospects are good but, as I have been trying to say, we have to be pragmatic about this and not theological. I think we should look to build these alliances where they are going to add value, where they are going to add to UK national security interests and that is the way we should focus on it. Just to correct some of the stories, I am not in favour of a European army; I think that is a barmy idea and if ever it was it would get pretty short shrift.

  Q188  Chairman: Would I be right in thinking, Secretary of State, that some of your remarks were over interpreted and what you were saying was that where Europe can add defence value that is to be welcomed?

  Mr Hutton: That is what I was trying to say. The other thing I have learned since I came into this job is that every word counts. I am trying to be a bit clearer today about my intentions in this regard. The questioning, as I remember it, was about the ESDP; it was not about a European army. My comments about being pragmatic and looking at things that would work were in the context of the European Security and Defence Policy and not in the context of some notional argument about whether we should have a European army.

  Chairman: Secretary of State and to the Committee, I would like to say thank you to both of you because the Committee has been disciplined and, Secretary of State, so have you. You have come to the end before 16.18 when we are just about to have some votes. If I may diffidently say so, I thought that was an extremely impressive first outing in front of the Committee alone. There will be things no doubt that we will want to ask you questions about. I would like to end with an apology to Adam Holloway because I gave the impression that he had missed a question about helicopters when actually the person who had missed the question about helicopters was me. That is the end of the session. Thank you very much.

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