Who does UK National Strategy - Public Administration Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 52-113)

RT HON WILLIAM HAGUE MP AND DAVID FROST

14 SEPTEMBER 2010

  Q52 Chair: Foreign Secretary, welcome to this session of the Public Administration Committee.

William Hague: Thank you.

  Chair: For the sake of good order and for the record, can you introduce yourself and your fellow witness?

  William Hague: I am William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, and this is David Frost, former Head of the Strategy Unit and now the Head of our Central Policy Planning at the Foreign Office.

  Chair: What this inquiry is about is strategy; national strategy, not a strategy. It is about how strategy is made, sustained and adapted and whether we have the capacity in government to do that process, which can both imagine and challenge decision making processes from a strategic point of view as things happen. Robert Halfon.

  Q53  Robert Halfon: Good morning, Foreign Secretary.

  William Hague: Morning.

  Robert Halfon: How would you define strategy and how do you distinguish it from policies, plans and government programme?

  William Hague: Well that is an enormous question, of course: what is strategy? It is probably worthy of many seminars in itself, but the way I think about it and in terms of the way we are going about our work is that we have to have a national strategy for extending our influence, for maintaining our presence in the world and for ensuring that we can look after the security and prosperity of the British people. That requires something more than just dealing with things on a day-to-day basis. That means that while we may deal in the Foreign Office from day to day with what is going on in Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear programme and how to support the Middle East peace process—and all of these things one could argue we have a strategy towards—there should be something that is overarching and above and beyond that and that those things are consistent with. There should be some sense of what we are trying to achieve as a country over a longer period. So the way I think of strategy in the context in which you are looking at it as a committee is that strategy is the sort of thing I set out in my speech on a networked world at the beginning of July: extending British influence and connections in the world over a period of many years on a sustained basis, using our national assets and advantages in order to do so—so having a strong sense of what our assets are so that we can leverage those—and trying to pursue that—it may be over a decade, it may be over two decades—to stop our influence diminishing in ways that it otherwise would, given the way the world is developing, with the rise of the emerging powers, the relative shrinking of European economies and so on. I know this is not answering your question with reference to our specific proposals and policies, and one could have a much more abstract discussion about this, but for me it is a sense of that wider strategy of the country, which other policies should then fit in, rather than just responding on a day-to-day basis. But I would stress this—and you may want to come on to this in your questions: it is very important that what we do day-to-day is connected with such a strategy. I think there is often too much of a distinction between strategy and tactics, because unless the people implementing day-to-day decisions have a strong sense of what their overall strategy is, it does not get operated in practice.

  Q54  Robert Halfon: Would you make the distinction between a Grand Strategy and a National Security Strategy and do you agree that if there is that difference, a long term strategy needs to look forward 20 years plus?

  William Hague: I think a National Security Strategy is an important component of it. I do not think a National Security Strategy is the entire strategy of the country, because there needs to be a strategy not only for maintaining our security, but for advancing our prosperity. These things are closely linked; it is only on strong economic foundations that it is possible to build an effective foreign or defence policy. But it cannot just be a defensive strategy. Was it not a Napoleonic maxim: "The side that stays within its fortifications is beaten"? I think one has to have a strong sense of how the country is going to extend its influence and reach out into the rest of the world, using whatever, to use the jargon, using soft power as well as hard power. So there is something more to the strategy of the country than the National Security Strategy.

  Q55  Robert Halfon: Once you have devised that strategy, how does it withstand political pressures and a change of government?

  William Hague: If it is good, of course, it will withstand a change of government not by seeking prior agreement across political parties but by being something that has been clearly demonstrated as something the country should pursue. I think that is really how consensus and cross party agreement works in this country. Of course, we are in a period now where it works in a different way between the two coalition parties, because since we are in government together, we have to formally agree things together. But I think if an approach to the future of the nation is shown and understood to be working, it will be something that is continued by other governments in the future.

  Q56  Robert Halfon: You are described by an assortment of organisations and media as a "big beast" and it is suggested that that gives you more influence. How far does development of strategy in your case depend on the seniority or nature of "big beastness", if you like, of the person involved?

  William Hague: Right. Yes, this is going to get into an interesting discussion. Clearly for ministers to influence what is going on, they have to be able to operate politically in the Government, not just hold their departments. But I think this is about much more than the influence or role of one minister at a time. This is getting us on to another subject really, but my vision for the Foreign Office is that, yes, it will handle these things and make the right decisions about Iran, Afghanistan and so on now, but that it will also see itself as a central department of government, not just a small spending department, with the responsibility of doing the thinking, of having the creativity and of producing long term thinking, and that what we will ensure over the next few years is that it has the long term capability to do that. That means, for instance, that if I have to choose in spending reductions between reducing some programme expenditure now or capability to do the sort of things I am just describing in the future, I will stress preserving the capability for the long term future. So I think having strong central government departments that know it is their job to do the thinking, to be creative, and whose career structures are designed to encourage that is an essential part of the job we do as ministers now. That is what I am trying to bring about in the Foreign Office. So the future role of the Foreign Office does not depend on whether the holder of the office of Foreign Secretary is a big beast or a medium sized beast.

  Q57  Robert Halfon: But following on from that question, how important is leadership in relation to making strategy and how is this provided by the Government currently?

  William Hague: Sorry, how is leadership provided—

  Robert Halfon: Yes, how important is leadership in actually devising the strategy and how is this provided by the Government currently?

  William Hague: It is very important, because I think this can only come right from the top. I think this is an important point in any deliberations you have about how strategy units or departments should be formalised. If a good strategic sense about the country comes from the very top; from the Prime Minister and the senior ministers, then there will be a strong sense of strategy in the actions of the Government sustained over time. If there is not such a strategic sense; if government is conducted in a way that is short term or day-to-day or about media management or immediate tactics, no amount of having strategy units and rooms full of strategic thinking will save us from the consequences. I think I probably would be getting into too much of a partisan discussion in this committee to get into it too much, but we can all think of Prime Ministers over history who have had a natural sense of strategy and others who have not. That is the single most important consideration here, because I feel in the current Government that from the senior members of both the parties involved, there is a strong sense of the need for strategic thinking. Much of that takes place in the National Security Council, but it takes place in the other forums in which government makes decisions. Without that, it is not possible to devise structures that guarantee strategic thinking.

  Q58  Robert Halfon: Thank you for that. Finally, Mr Chairman, in Peter Hennessy's book The Secret State, he argues for a national security Secretary of State and that that person should be someone who is incredibly close to the Prime Minister, has no other political ambitions and is seen as a great confidant of the Prime Minister. Do you agree with that and do you think such a post would be worth exploring?

  William Hague: No. We have created a new position of National Security Adviser and I believe Sir Peter Ricketts is speaking to your committee, Mr Chairman, later on today. He is doing a great job at it. He is an official, as you know; a former permanent secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I think that is the right level of that appointment; a very, very senior appointment in the Civil Service. But I think the creation of a minister in that role, in particular of a senior minister in that role, would conflict with the way we have envisaged the National Security Council working. Our objective in creating the National Security Council has been explicitly not to create a new department. Of course you can see sometimes in the way other governments elsewhere in the world have operated that it is possible to create a great rivalry between a centre of advice on national security and the people in the other departments. Dr Henry Kissinger was here with us yesterday and he was able to recount in the 1960s and 1970s how that worked in the United States. Our objective in creating a National Security Council is to ensure that the existing departments work well together. Not that there is a rival source of advice to the Prime Minister, but that that advice is drawn together in a way that ministers can think about together and own together. But the principal adviser to the Prime Minister on foreign affairs should be the Foreign Secretary; the principal adviser on international development should be the Development Secretary. With the National Security Council, as in so many other ways, we are trying to make Cabinet government work and not create a lot of cross-cutting lines and overlapping responsibilities that create confusion and rivalry in government. So I do not think a Secretary of State for national security would be a good idea. Sorry, Mr Chairman.

  Q59  Chair: Foreign Secretary, we are going to have to go a bit faster, but I think it was very necessary to have a discursive opening 10 minutes. Just to clarify, in effect you are saying the Foreign Secretary is the Secretary of State for national strategy.

  William Hague: No. I think there is a strong role for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in leading that wider strategy. It would not be doing its job if it did not provide it. In our national security discussions so far, it is the FCO that provides the papers—the input—to lead such discussions. But really it is all the ministers together who are dealing with our national security.

  Q60  Chair: So you are saying that the capacity—the thinking and exploratory capacity—in order to support the leadership of national strategy is based in your department?

  William Hague: I am saying a very large measure of it—the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has to be capable of producing that thinking. That does not mean you want other people elsewhere in government also capable of such things, because you do want an internal debate about these things, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should be equipped with the skills, the experience and the personnel to be able to intellectually lead such a process and to do so over decades.

  Chair: We will move on. Greg Mulholland.

  Q61  Greg Mulholland: Thank you, Chair. Morning William, morning David. Following on from Robert's question mentioning Peter Hennessy, we had a very lively session last week with Peter Hennessy and during that session he suggested that use of the word "vision" was very problematic in terms of taking away from a strategy, which is obviously what we are trying to focus on. On his remit, I therefore pay tribute to you; you did not mention the word "vision" once in your speech on 1 July. Unfortunately, however, one of your staff in the introduction said, "The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, gave the following speech outlining the Government's vision for UK foreign policy". So perhaps a little word with some of the FCO staff there.

  William Hague: I haven't quite got control of all the staff.

  Greg Mulholland: But that speech obviously laid out the Government's new approach and I was very pleased to hear you say, "My coalition colleagues and I are utterly determined to supply" the leadership—and you used this rather wonderfully poetic phrase that the last Government had "neglected to lift its eyes to the wider strategic needs of the country". How are you going to actually do that? How are you going to provide that leadership that you said was lacking from the last Government?   William Hague: I think we are providing the leadership, because we are looking at those things. It is very clear from all of the senior members of the Government that we have to consider these problems together and in the round; that the senior members of the Government have to be able to sit in a room together and say, "What is the position of the United Kingdom in the world? How are we going to improve that position over time? Given the long term trends, how are we going to mitigate those that are damaging to us and enhance those that are positive for us?" I think it may have been a while since the senior members of a government sat together and considered those questions. Perhaps it becomes harder and harder as a government goes on to do so. Obviously, the most opportune time to do that is at the beginning of a government. So I think we are doing that and a lot of the thinking that we have done is set out in that speech that you are referring to that I gave on 1 July, which is saying that we need a major national effort to engage more closely with the emerging economies; the emerging powers. It seems an obvious thing to say, but we had not actually embarked on that as a nation systematically until now. Then we are carrying that out in practice. The visit of the Prime Minister to India in July, along with many members of the Cabinet and huge numbers of businesspeople, cultural and sporting leaders and so on, was a very visible manifestation of that enhanced engagement with emerging powers and economies. So we will all lead from the front in actually delivering that around the world.

  Q62  Greg Mulholland: Certainly the Government have shown that desire to get around lots of visits. I didn't do quite as well myself; my summer holiday was actually in your constituency, which is an hour from my house.

  William Hague: And a splendid place to spend it.

  Greg Mulholland: But as wonderful place as any to go in the world, I'm sure you'll agree. The Conservative manifesto—a document I am obviously very familiar with now—notes that foreign and defence issues cannot be separated from domestic threats, which I think is very much in line with the discussions we are having. Then it says, "The response must cut across energy, education, community cohesion, health, technology, international development and the environment too". Again, bringing you back to the question that Robert asked, do you not think therefore there is a danger that the focus on national security through the Council and also the strategies is too limited? I think what we are concerned about is: is that not failing to acknowledge the difference between national security and national interest, which is actually what a national strategy—a Grand Strategy—should be about?

  William Hague: There would be a danger of it being too narrow if we did not do any other work. I think this slightly comes back to my answer to Mr Halfon's question, because if the purpose of thinking about national security in the round was only defensive, well yes, then it would not necessarily be advancing our national interest in many other ways. Of course, what we have to guard against in working out our National Security Strategy is putting everything into it, because then you cannot focus on security and defence. There has to be, in parallel and consistent with a National Security Strategy, a strategy for advancing the influence of the country in the world. That is a lot of what my speech on that occasion—

  Q63  Chair: But isn't the central ingredient of strategy about prioritising? How do you prioritise, particularly on these very complex areas, unless you have an enormous amount of thinking capacity and exploratory capacity? You say you have that in your department.

  William Hague: It is about prioritising and of course in the security and defence review, we will have to prioritise. That is what we are engaged in now in the consideration that ministers are giving to the Strategic Defence and Security Review. Yes, we have to do so in the Foreign Office; clearly, if we put huge additional effort into relations with one country, we cannot necessarily then do so with another additional country at the same time, although I think it is possible to inject a lot more energy into diplomatic efforts and a lot more cohesion in government that makes a huge impact without additional resources. Yes, you have to have a clear sense of priority, but really I am agreeing with Mr Mulholland that you do have to have not just a National Security Strategy but a strong sense in government of what strategy we are pursuing to elevate the influence of the country in the world, of which the National Security Strategy is part. We are considering how to develop the work of the National Security Council so that we are also able to use it to manage and lead all our work with emerging powers across the board. In that regard, it is very important for me to explain that what I want to see is not only the Foreign Office able to give the leading role that I have described and be a central department of government, but foreign affairs run through the veins of all the domestic departments of government. So now we have to work out how to use the national security machinery to do that effectively so that these enhanced relationships with, for instance, a country like India are not just a diplomatic relationship, but it is also cultural, educational, economic and is pursued by government departments across the board. It is when we do that successfully together that we are implementing a wider national strategy of the sort that I think you are talking about here in your committee.

  Q64  Greg Mulholland: Just very briefly; I know time is limited and perhaps this is one that might get a fuller answer at a future session, but one particular phrase stands out in your speech and that is that you said there will be a "fundamental reappraisal of Britain's place in the world" as part of this new strategic approach. But is that not what every government says and is the problem not actually that people are so clinging on to what Britain was and has been in the past that actually we are not really prepared to accept what this country is today and that becomes a problem in terms of making that strategy?

  William Hague: It may be something that other governments have said, but whether they have all done it I would question. I think you can see in the way I am describing the approach we are taking and in the speech that I gave there it is quite fundamental; we are saying the world is changing in some dramatic ways, that on some forecasts the whole of Europe may be down to 10% of world economic output by the year 2050 and that means we have to look out at the world in a different way. It means it is urgent to extend those relationships with other parts of the world and that means enhancing bilateral relationships as well as our work with multilateral organisations, because as I put it in my speech, the world has become more multilateral but, rather paradoxically, it has become more bilateral as well. So I think we are doing some quite important and fundamental thinking about that in a way that perhaps not every government has done.

  Chair: Thank you. Moving on, Kevin Brennan.

  Q65  Kevin Brennan: I will come to Mr Frost in a minute.

  William Hague: Please do. It's time he answered a question.

  Kevin Brennan: He looks a bit lonely up there. We have known each other for 30 years, since we were trying to strangle the SDP at birth together.

  William Hague: I was hoping you weren't going to mention that.

  Kevin Brennan: Obviously that shows how times can change and priorities can change over 30 years, the way things have turned out. Who is in charge in the Foreign Office of looking 30 years hence at what Britain's role in the world will be and what our world situation will be then?

  William Hague: I am. This goes back to the point I was making earlier about the role of a Prime Minister in setting a national strategy. The person at the top of the organisation has to be doing the essential thinking about the long term, otherwise it is not possible to implement a strategy. People who have been great strategists had to do it themselves: Napoleon did not have a strategy unit. He worked it out; he made his strategy—

  Q66  Kevin Brennan: Was he ultimately a great strategist?

  William Hague: He came a cropper in the end. But you see what I mean; it has to be present in the upper reaches of the organisation.

  Q67  Kevin Brennan: But who gives you the input into that?

  William Hague: Of course, anybody in charge of anything has to help out with that. You need people who help you with that. You need other ministers—

  Q68  Kevin Brennan: So how many people have you got in the Foreign Office helping you with that and then across departments?

  William Hague: Well hopefully all of them. Again, I think this is an essential point. The Foreign Office in the last Government—you can ask David to talk more about our current arrangements—had a strategy unit. However, I would not say—and I don't want to get into too much criticism of the last Government—that that ended up with the Foreign Office having a strong sense of strategy in the sense that we have just been talking about, because unless it comes from the top of the organisation, it does not work.

  Q69  Kevin Brennan: Perhaps Mr Frost could tell us what has changed, then, under the new arrangements?

  William Hague: Please go ahead.

  Mr David Frost: Thank you, Mr Brennan. The difficulty that we identified with a situation where you had a large strategy function—and it was pretty large—separate from the policy parts of the FCO was that you institutionalised competition on particular issues; every time one bit of the bureaucracy picked up another issue, it was potentially the responsibility of others around the system as well. But instead of enshrining good internal debate, it actually enshrined some turf wars and competition to some extent. So the philosophy that we have introduced with the changes now is to do only at the centre what needs to be done at the centre and that, for example, the director who is responsible for the Middle East is also responsible for strategy on the Middle East. From time to time, that will involve looking 30 years ahead; from time to time it will not, but the responsibility is in one place.

  Q70  Kevin Brennan: Given that our inquiry is about Grand Strategy, how is that done and how does that differ from the previous administration?

  Mr David Frost: It is really what the Foreign Secretary has just been explaining, that it is the deliberations in the National Security Council and the clear decisions that come from it, flowing through the capillaries out through departments—via units like mine, very often, but not just that—that generates the overall strategy.

  Q71  Kevin Brennan: Can you just explain what your unit does and what it is all about?

  Paul Flynn: What does that mean?

  Chair: I'm mystified, I have to say.

  Paul Flynn: Absolutely. Could you translate your last answer into English?

  Mr David Frost: My unit does, if you like, the central staff functions in the Foreign Office. It is not responsible for a particular geographical area; it is responsible for our collective relationship with the National Security Council, making sure our input as an organisation into that works well. Devising and monitoring the internal business planning process that enables—

  Q72  Kevin Brennan: Does that mean you provide the staff and the papers for the National Security Council?

  Mr David Frost: We are involved in preparing them, but for example if the National Security Council is taking a paper on Russia, that will be prepared by the Russia directorate because they have the responsibility for that area of policy.

  Q73  Chair: Kevin, can I just interrupt? How many people do you have in your department?

  Mr David Frost: I have 15 or so.

  Chair: 15?

  Mr David Frost: Yes.

  Q74  Chair: So when the Foreign Secretary breezes past and says, "Look, what work have you done about the consequences of us opening negotiations with Hamas?" you've done the work?

  William Hague: That wouldn't be the job, as David has explained, because that is something which the Middle East and North Africa Directorate should do.

  Q75  Chair: So they would have some papers prepared on all the different scenarios of what you might ask for?

  William Hague: Well if they didn't, I am sure they would prepare them very quickly if the Foreign Secretary asked for them. This is an important point in what I am arguing, that the separation of policy from strategic thinking is a dangerous thing to do because all you create in the end is a turf war and overlapping responsibilities.

  Q76  Chair: Is there no difference between policy and strategy?

  William Hague: There can be a difference. I am arguing that the two are so closely related that they have to be carried out by the same people. That does not mean that you do not need other free ranging, free thinking ideas. Clearly, governments need to be able to draw on the ideas of a wide range of experienced people; of people who are in NGOs, people who are in other governments, people who have served in diplomacy or military affairs in the past and of think tanks like the International Institute of Strategic Studies or Chatham House. There is a vast community of advice and thinking which it is very important that governments tap into. I am not arguing for a moment that one would want to do without any of that. But the thinking about what the strategy of the nation should be, or the foreign policy strategy in a particular situation in the Middle East, has got to be something that the officials themselves are working on in detail, because if they are not fit to do that, then they should not be in charge of such a department.

  Chair: Kevin, last question.

  Q77  Kevin Brennan: Can we just come back, Mr Frost, just to be clear? You have a unit of about 15 people and it helps to oil the wheels to enable the National Security Council to work and it garners and gathers together the papers for that. Does it provide the secretariat support to the National Security Council or is that done separately?

  Mr David Frost: There is a Cabinet Office Secretariat for the Council proper; we're the Secretariat for the FCO.

  Q78  Kevin Brennan: In a nutshell and in plain English as one of our colleagues said, if you were summing up what your unit's role is, what would you say? In words of plain English intelligible to a person on the Cardiff Omnibus.

  Mr David Frost: It is to help monitor the performance of the Foreign Office against its declared priorities. It is to make sure that we make the National Security Council work as well as we possibly can and support the Foreign Secretary in doing so and that where necessary, we pick up some of the cross-cutting issues, new issues and forward looking issues that do not naturally immediately fall somewhere else in the Office.

  Kevin Brennan: That's quite a large nutshell.

  Q79  Chair: So it is a monitoring role; it is not what we would call strategy.

  William Hague: It is not the strategy unit. Let me make the point again: I believe it is a mistake to have a separate strategy unit.

  Q80  Chair: Yes, but Foreign Secretary, the ingredients of a strategy are extremely large and complex. Who is doing all this horizon scanning and free thinking and who is challenging you with alternative scenarios?

  William Hague: Right. It is very important that thinking is infused throughout the entire organisation; that it is able to come throughout the organisation. So for instance, I have told our ambassadors that I will read every e-gram they send, that if they want to send differing advice or differing opinion from what may emerge from Foreign Office or other governmental structures, they can do so and the Secretary of State will read it; they can be sure of that. So you can get the advice and thinking of people on the ground. They are encouraged to do so in a long term sense; not just what is going on this particular—

  Q81  Chair: So you would expect the ambassador in Washington to be a contributor to UK national strategy?

  William Hague: Absolutely, yes.

  Q82  Chair: Even though he has his own priorities and objectives and preoccupations and we know that he is extremely busy and probably hardly has the time of day to do that long term horizon scanning and thinking? We know what high pressure these jobs are and indeed being a Secretary of State.

  William Hague: Yes, and usually the most important experience, reflections and wisdom come from very busy people, because they are the people who have been through enough situations. So someone who is our ambassador in Washington, to take that example, will be someone who has served in many different positions in the Foreign Office, in several different countries, who has more to offer the Government than being our representative in Washington, a vital role though that is. So yes, it is essential the whole organisation feels able to do that and is open to the thinking of people in other countries and outside government. That being open to that and the whole organisation being open to that is much more important than having a small number of people sitting in a room on their own, thinking they are doing strategy, where unless they are intimately connected with the thinking of the ministers, the Prime Minister and the National Security Council, they would not be able to deliver the benefit of such strategic thinking.

  Q83  Kevin Brennan: So strategy is better done on the hoof?

  William Hague: No, it is better done all the time.

  Q84  Chair: But you expect the GOC in Basra or the Brigade Commander in Helmand or the spy in Moscow to produce strategy rather than the Chiefs of Staff in London or the Joint Intelligence Committee and Joint Assessment Staffs in the Cabinet Office?

  William Hague: No, that is the absolute opposite to what I am saying. I am saying, as I have argued before, that the strategy of the country comes from the Prime Minister, the National Security Council and the Foreign Secretary; they have to be the people who think together about this and use every possible source of advice about it, including the advice and the varied opinions of the people who work in their departments. So no, we are not leaving it to the spy in a particular location or the soldier in a particular location.

  Q85  Chair: Kevin, can we move on?

  Kevin Brennan: Yes, finally, there was an article in the Spectator in May saying that the Foreign Office had yet to discover how to use its new found power and that instead had taken to just bullying other Whitehall colleagues—the Spectator is saying this, not me, Foreign Secretary—and had not sought sufficient input from other departments to brief the Prime Minister on India, for example. Is that a criticism that you accept in any way: small, large or medium?

  William Hague: No. I think it is very important coming into a department not to be uncritical of it, but it is also important not to be unfair to it. As I said to the Foreign Affairs Committee last week, I think there has been too much institutional timidity developed in the Foreign Office over decades of the Foreign Office not playing its full role in foreign policy decisions in various governments. Now, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and I are all determined that it is going to do so in the future; we're putting that right. It is very important that is not replaced by an institutional arrogance, but I am not aware of it being; I think we have a particularly good culture now—or we are certainly developing one—of cooperation with other departments. I think, for instance, relations between the FCO and DfID have been transformed in recent months compared to any that we have seen since DfID was created.

  Q86  Chair: How good do you think the Civil Service is at strategic thinking in its usual line management roles?

  William Hague: Not good enough, but as you can gather from my argument, not necessarily assisted by creating separate strategies.

  Q87  Chair: So how should it be inculcated and how should strategic thinking be assessed and measured for its quality?

  William Hague: In various ways. First of all, again, the signals that this matter have to come from the very top of government. The way in which ministers conduct themselves and the way in which they do their work are, in my experience, the most important management tools for civil servants, because civil servants will naturally try to fulfil the expectations and demands of their ministers. I do not subscribe to the "Yes Minister" view of the Civil Service; I think on the whole the Civil Service tries to follow a lead. But of course it can also be built in in terms of training and I think more needs to be done on that in the future. The necessary skills of creativity and strategic thinking need to be comprised highly in the ways that officials are promoted over time and should be an important part of the personnel structure.

  Q88  Chair: But this is not reality, is it? If an ambassador keeps disagreeing with the Foreign Secretary, he's not going to get promoted, is he?

  William Hague: It depends if he has good reasons for doing so.

  Q89  Chair: Where is the challenge function in this strategic process if you are expecting it all to come from the chain of command?

  William Hague: Yes, I think that is a very good point. First of all, it is very important to have an atmosphere of diverse discussion—of a readiness to listen to other points of view—within any large organisation. I think that is true in a company; it is true in a government. I have to say in support of our Prime Minister and indeed Deputy Prime Minister that they create at the top very much that atmosphere that a vigorous discussion is welcome. That is the same atmosphere I try to create in the Foreign Office. External challenges are also very important, which I think is your point, Mr Chairman. Would it be worthwhile to create an internal structure which provides that challenge? I think that is worthy of debate. I think it is separate from and would be additional to the structures that we have talked about.

  Q90  Chair: A kind of joint strategic assessment staff somewhere that invites all these challenging scenarios?

  William Hague: It is worthy of debate is all I would say for the moment.

  Chair: I think I welcome that very much.

  William Hague: But do not underestimate the importance of using all those challenging thinkers who are there, as it were, for free, who you do not have to pay for in government and set up in a special unit. Last week, you could see the International Institute for Strategic Studies publish a paper on Afghanistan that disagrees quite strongly with the Government and NATO's approach. We may disagree with that—of course we do—but that is a valuable intellectual challenge to the Government's strategic thinking.

  Q91  Chair: The Institute for Government has said that there is, and I quote, "An embryonic community of strategists throughout Whitehall, but they are hampered by an absence of joint training, cultural differences in different departments and a lack of interchange with outside bodies". Would you accept that?

  William Hague: I think that has been true, yes. I hope we are now beginning to address that.

  Q92  Chair: How are you addressing it?

  William Hague: By creating the National Security Council and by leading the thinking about the long term national future in government. Because again, and I think this is a crucial point, if you set up something like the National Security Council and really use it as the centre of decision making, then Whitehall responds to that.

  Q93  Chair: So you would agree with the Chief of the Defence Staff, who said in a recent letter to RUSI that, "We have lost the institutionalised capacity and culture for strategic thought to apply in Whitehall as a whole and not just in the military"? I'm paraphrasing.

  William Hague: I think that may be stressing the institutional loss too strongly, because as you can see from my remarks, I stress particularly the importance of political leaders being prepared to do that thinking and entire organisations being prepared to join in that thinking. So I would partly agree with that.

  Q94  Chair: Well we have him on Thursday, but I would suspect his concern is that you do not lack political leadership, but the counterpoint to political leadership is capacity for the detail and the prioritising and the understanding of the constraints and limitations, otherwise visions tend to take charge and governments charge off in very laudable directions but without necessarily the capacity to deliver what they started.

  William Hague: Yes, and my argument would be that unless the whole senior ranks of your organisation are suffused with such thinking; unless it is the atmosphere of the entire organisation to consider those priorities, capabilities, constraints and risks, no amount of having a strategy unit sitting in the corner will save you from making some terrible mistakes.

  Q95  Chair: Would it be worth the Foreign Office spending a very little money on university chairs in order to promote more diverse strategic thinking outside Whitehall as well as inside Whitehall? There used to be quite a collection of defence and security chairs, for example, promoted by the Ministry of Defence, but they have all fallen into disuse. Indeed, even Chatham House gets very little money for this kind of thinking from the Foreign Office these days.

  William Hague: Well we do support Wilton Park, which does some very good work, and we will look at any ideas your committee produces, Mr Chairman, but in the environment of closing our £155 billion budget deficit—

  Chair: No, moving on; we are not doing that here. Charlie Elphicke.

  Q96  Charlie Elphicke: Thank you, Mr Chairman. First I would like to ask you for your reaction to some evidence we heard last week that we are in a strategic muddle as a country. On the one hand, our foreign and military policies are slaved to the United States and on the other hand, our economic policy and many of our laws are slaved to the European Union. As a nation, strategically, do you think we would do better to have a more independent minded approach and be more shipmasters in the ships of our own national destiny?

  William Hague: Well we should have an independently minded approach, but an independent mind does not take long to reach the conclusion that our alliance with the United States is of extreme importance to us and that our membership of the European Union is desirable for the country. So yes, those things—the relationship with the United States and the European Union—are, if you like, givens in our approach to the world. But it is important to do independent thinking and action beyond that. That is why I have set out so far—and I will give a further speech about other aspects of this tomorrow—a distinctive British foreign policy, which is not the same as US foreign policy and is not the same as the common foreign policy positions of the European Union. It does not conflict necessarily with either of those things, but it is a distinctive British approach of building up our commercial and cultural and other influences in the world. So I think that is an independently pursued foreign policy.

  Q97  Charlie Elphicke: We hear a lot about National Security Strategy. Do you think it would be better phrased if it was `national security and strategy', rather than `national security strategy'?

  William Hague: It depends whether it is a strategy. I have seen national security strategies in the past that are really a national security list of things that we are going to do; not a strategy, but a checklist of items. We have to do better than that, particularly given all the challenges we face in the world. Let's call it a strategy if it is a strategy. We are talking about strategy in every second breath in this discussion, but it is one of the most overused words; I think it ranks even beyond `vision' as an overused word. But if we actually have a true strategy for securing our security in this country linked to our policies to advance our prosperity, well, then let's call it a strategy.

  Q98  Charlie Elphicke: The Committee has expressed some doubt that purring mandarins in the Foreign Office would necessarily use the First Secretary of State's suggestion box to advocate a widely different policy. Parliament's Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy has yet to be nominated. Is that enough to ensure that you are challenged and government is challenged on it, or should we go down the route where we have, like in America, a think tank like RAND to do that kind of thing?

  William Hague: Well it falls back into what I was saying to the Chairman that such things are worthy of debate. There was the joint committee set up by the previous Government, but I don't think it met very often.

  Chair: It never sat.

  William Hague: Did it never sit at all? I thought it would have at least met once or twice. So clearly it was not really taken up by Parliament as a useful mechanism, but then nor was the National Security Committee of the Cabinet of the last Government anything like the National Security Council that we have created. How such things are scrutinised? I am sure there is room for further discussion about how such things are scrutinised. All I would caution against is creating a profusion of committees. Since the whole purpose of the NSC, as I have described, is to make sure that the existing departments work well together, in terms of parliamentary accountability, those committees that monitor each of the departments involved in the NSC must have an important role in monitoring its work.

  Q99  Charlie Elphicke: In that case, could I ask whether you would be willing to—and indeed whether you would—publish an annual review of national strategy and perhaps make a report to Parliament every year?

  William Hague: We will consider any suggestions put forward by the Committee, which may include those suggestions.

  Chair: Perhaps the joint committee should in fact be the joint committee on national strategy, rather than just security strategy.

  William Hague: The ideas are flowing all the time.

  Chair: Paul Flynn.

  Q100  Paul Flynn: This is Blairism mark two delivered in a Churchillian accent. I can find absolutely no difference between what you are saying and what Tony Blair said. Tony Blair talked about joined up thinking, you talk about connected; Tony Blair talked about walking tall in the world and you want to extend powers. Walking tall in the world and not having an independent foreign policy has cost us 513 lives in following America. Would you say that part of the strategy should be that we do introduce the kind of independent policy that we had in 1940—which came as news to your Prime Minister—and we had under Harold Wilson, or if there is a future war in Afghanistan, would we automatically follow America into it?

  William Hague: Well, we will make our own decisions, but that is a question about a specific situation rather than our strategy.

  Q101  Paul Flynn: If I make it clearer, are we still what your Prime Minister said: the junior partner to the United States, which entails us making a higher contribution in blood and treasure to international conflicts?

  William Hague: We are the junior partner, although if you looked at the forces in Afghanistan even relative to the size of countries, the United States would make a proportionally larger contribution.

  Paul Flynn: But there is four times the chance of dying if you are a British soldier than if you are an American soldier; it is a far greater contribution.   William Hague: British soldiers have made an immense contribution, as we know, in that and every other sense. But I do want to come back to the premise of your question, because Mr Flynn has argued, Mr Chairman, that there is no difference between this and Tony Blair's approach. It is the opposite pole from Tony Blair's approach. I don't want to be too rude about him because I work with him very happily now on Middle East issues, but Tony Blair became known for the sofa style of decision making in Downing Street. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not play the role that it should have played in decisions that led up to the war in Iraq. The Department for International Development did not plan, as we have been hearing at the Chilcot Inquiry. The approach of having a National Security Council and ministers thinking together about national security and wider strategic issues is I think a very long way away from how the Blair or Brown Governments were conducted. Hopefully that means that mistakes are avoided in the future.

  Q102  Paul Flynn: Aren't you repeating the most frequently made mistake in politics, which is following this myth that when you get a crisis, you decide you will have a dozen sofas, in your case; that you will have a big committee, you will have a policy and you will throw adjectives at it? It could be "strategic", "holistic", "joined up", "multilayered" or "multifaceted", but the problem is that when you join one bad idea up with a second bad idea and a third bad idea, you don't get a good idea; you get a bigger bad idea. What we are seeing now is a more bureaucratic system than we had before, but when they come up with this great policy, taking all those strands in, a decision will be taken by the big beasts and it tends, who has the biggest teeth, he will be the one who gets the bone in the end. It will be a political dogfight in the end, regardless of this wonderfully sophisticated strategic council that has been set up. Isn't that the truth of it?

  William Hague: Well, I'll take a bit of time on this one because I disagree with every single sentence of Mr Flynn's question. Clearly, decisions about huge questions on peace and war should be taken by the democratically accountable politicians.

  Paul Flynn: Parliament.

  William Hague: The big beasts. Accountable to Parliament, and indeed I think both you and I have been on the side of saying that Parliament should have the right to approve or not approve such things.

  Paul Flynn: Indeed. Absolutely.

  William Hague: So we can at least agree on that. But they should not be taken by only one big beast, as may have happened sometimes in the previous Government. This is not creating a more bureaucratic system. I think I can confidently say that at the end of the Comprehensive Spending Review, the Cabinet Office will have fewer officials and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will have fewer officials at the senior levels than at the time when the decisions you are so critical of were made. So this is not a more bureaucratic system. Could it lead to everybody being wrong together around the National Security Council table? Well I suppose in theory it could, but the chances of being wrong are much smaller if you have the expertise of many different diplomats, of aid experts, of soldiers, of the intelligence agencies all available for ministers to consider together. Remember, this is a key advantage of the structure we have now created; that not just the Prime Minister but other senior ministers have access to the full range of that advice and the Government collectively can think about immense decisions together.

  Q103  Paul Flynn: Mr Frost, you will recall the report in 2004 that the Strategy Unit made—a splendid report, in my view—which contradicted the policy of the day of the Government. The Government had a policy on drugs that said they were going to reduce drug related crime by 25% in 2005 and by 50% in 2008. That report, by the blue sky thinker, which was the jargon of the day, was that this was impossible, counterproductive, bound to fail and highly critical of government policy, so the Government refused to publish the report. It was later leaked and other countries have taken up the recommendations in that report at the time. Doesn't this prove that however good the strategy is and however high quality the people are contributing to it, the final decision will be taken at the power face by the Prime Minister of the day, based on prejudices, pressures on him and so on, and that there really is ultimately little value to be gained from high quality strategic thinking? Hasn't that been your life's experience?

  Mr David Frost: I am not familiar with the particular case you mentioned, which I think was the then Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, rather than the Foreign Office one, and it worked in a slightly different way.

  Paul Flynn: It was, yes.

  Mr David Frost: I think it comes back to the point that we were discussing earlier about challenge and as the Foreign Secretary has said, it is important to have a culture internally where people can express different views and where having that sort of debate produces the best possible outcome. But at some point obviously somebody has to take a decision and the organisation has to swing behind it.

  Q104  Chair: Mr Flynn, can I just interject? How often has your department produced a paper and sent it into the Cabinet Office that conflicts with government policy?

  Mr David Frost: Well that is not the role of my department as it is currently structured.

  Q105  Chair: Then you don't do strategy, really, do you? You just do agreement.

  William Hague: Well Mr Chairman, let me go back to the earlier discussion. In something like the National Security Council, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is taking a lead in shaping the Government's policy. We are all discussing that together. If we want to send in a paper that conflicts with some previous assumption, of course we do so.

  Q106  Chair: Okay, so how many papers have you received from your strategy unit which disagree with your policy?

  William Hague: We don't have a strategy unit, for the reasons that I have described. But there is no penalty in the Foreign Office for sending a paper or an e-gram to the Foreign Secretary that says, "I think we have got all this wrong".

  Q107  Chair: I accept that. It is probably easier in the early days of a government than later on. Mr Flynn?

  Paul Flynn: How coherent can the strategic defence review be when it is being conducted in parallel with the spending review and the development of the National Security Strategy? If it was going to make sense, shouldn't it be done sequentially?

  William Hague: Well no, when you think about it, it has to be done in parallel, because to decide on the shape of our security and defences separately from any idea of the money available or separately from any idea of national strategy would be a mistake. These things have to be integrated together, otherwise they would all have to be changed afterwards. So it is absolutely right to do them in parallel.

  Q108  Paul Flynn: This pure utopia—this is just utopia, isn't it? But if we take your dilemma at the moment, what would be on your desk about how Britain exits from Afghanistan? What are the considerations? What advice would you expect? How you can spin the exit as a victory for politicians? How you can secure the stability for people in Afghanistan? What are the considerations that you would have in devising an exit?

  William Hague: Afghanistan is a good example. On an issue like Afghanistan, which has been of course our single biggest preoccupation in the National Security Council, we have taken a lot of time to think together and to read what people say who are not on the National Security Council. In fact, we invited to our meeting at Chequers at the end of May people from outside to speak to the National Security Council because they had a different view; because they favoured either an exit or withdrawal or a different strategy. So we actually did encourage entirely different viewpoints to be put to the National Security Council.

  Q109  Paul Flynn: Would you regard the sharing of aircraft carriers or air tankers with the French as a strategic decision or just a cost cutting one?

  William Hague: Any decision on defence cooperation with France—and you will have to wait for the outcome of the review for any decisions about that—of course is a strategic one.

  Chair: Mr Halfon?

  Q110  Robert Halfon: Thank you, Mr Chairman. At the beginning, you made clear that there was a distinction between a general strategy and the National Security Council strategy. But in your answers, when you were asked about how the Government is devising strategy, you immediately quoted the National Security Council and have been using that example all the way through. Is it not the case, therefore, from what you are saying, that actually the real strategy is being decided by the National Security Council and that there is not a Grand Strategy being decided anywhere else other than your messages from ambassadors or people on the job and so on and so forth?

  William Hague: The National Security Council of course decides, following a preceding discussion in the Cabinet, the national security and defence strategy. I referred earlier to how we are looking at how to develop the National Security Council so that its work also assists in the wider implementation of foreign policy that I have talked about; of making foreign policy run through the veins of all government departments. So that is something that needs adding to it, but remember, there is a national strategy right on top of all of this, which the Prime Minister and the Cabinet discuss together and pursue together, central to which is the deficit reduction without which we will not have a credible national position in the world on very much at all. So I return to the point that strategy works if it comes from the very top of the organisation and if it does not come from the very top, it will not work.

  Chair: Mr Elphicke, very briefly.

  Q111  Charlie Elphicke: How would you succinctly sum up the UK's current national strategy over the next five to 10 year horizon?

  William Hague: There is little need for me to do so, since it is perfectly set out in my speech of 1 July on Britain and the networked world, subject to what we say in the national security and defence review. But it is really that: to embark on systematically extending our influence and our relationships with countries of the world with whom we have sometimes neglected the relationships so that we are in a stronger position to advance our prosperity and protect our security.

  Q112  Chair: Foreign Secretary, this has been a very rich and interesting session for us. If I can just end with one or two brief questions of my own. You very kindly brought Mr Frost with you, who is described as the Director for Strategy, Policy Planning and Analysis. Are you now planning to change his job title to remove the word "strategy", seeing as that is not what he does? You tell us.

  William Hague: He is no longer the head of the strategy unit, since we have stopped having it, but I will look at the job titles to make sure they are commensurate with that.

  Q113  Chair: Finally, I personally would agree that you are right about what should be the case in terms of leadership of strategy; that national security is not the same as national interest and therefore Grand Strategy or national strategy has to reflect wider concerns. You also acknowledge that the Civil Service has not been good enough at providing that strategic challenge, that strategic thinking and all the iterative possibilities, limitations and options. What can you do specifically to improve the Civil Service in order that ministers are able to exercise that leadership intelligently and in a well informed way in the way that you obviously do not feel has been the case hitherto?

  William Hague: Let me stress that I do not blame civil servants in this respect.

  Chair: No, I am not in the blame game either.   William Hague: Well I am; I blame ministers. Well, I sometimes am. Again, I think I made this point earlier. Civil servants will respond to what you expect them to do and what you lead them to do. If they have not done enough strategic thinking, it is because they have not been tasked to do so or expected to do so or organised to do so in the right way. So the most important thing to change that is for ministers to show that that is what they expect and value and will particularly prize in how the Civil Service works for them. The second thing is to make sure that civil servants feel they have the freedom, using and building on all of their experiences, to express their views about such things. The third thing is to build it into the skills of an organisation over the long term in the way in which people are trained and what they know will feature highly in the evaluation of their performance. I think all of those things need doing.

  Chair: Foreign Secretary, Mr Frost, thank you very, very much indeed. We are very grateful to you.   William Hague: It's a pleasure. Thank you.


 
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