Examination of Witnesses (Questions 52-113)|
MP AND DAVID
14 SEPTEMBER 2010
Q52 Chair: Foreign Secretary, welcome
to this session of the Public Administration Committee.
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,
William Hague: Morning.
Robert Halfon: How would you define strategy
and how do you distinguish it from policies, plans and government
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
processand all of these things one could argue we have
a strategy towardsthere 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 soso having a strong sense of what our assets are
so that we can leverage thoseand trying to pursue thatit
may be over a decade, it may be over two decadesto 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 thisand 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
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
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
William Hague: Sorry, how is leadership
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 papersthe inputto 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 capacitythe thinking and exploratory capacityin
order to support the leadership of national strategy is based
in your department?
William Hague: I am saying a very
large measure of itthe 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 leadershipand 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
manifestoa document I am obviously very familiar with nownotes
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 strategya Grand Strategyshould
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
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
William Hague: Well hopefully
all of them. Again, I think this is an essential point. The Foreign
Office in the last Governmentyou can ask David to talk
more about our current arrangementshad a strategy unit.
However, I would not sayand I don't want to get into too
much criticism of the last Governmentthat 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 functionand it was pretty largeseparate
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
departmentsvia units like mine, very often, but not just
thatthat 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
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
Q73 Chair: Kevin, can I just interrupt?
How many people do you have in your department?
Mr David Frost: I have 15 or so.
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
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
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 colleaguesthe
Spectator is saying this, not me, Foreign Secretaryand
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 nowor we are certainly developing oneof
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
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
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 discussionof a readiness to listen
to other points of viewwithin 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
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 thatof
course we dobut 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
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 thingsthe relationship with the United States
and the European Unionare, 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 farand
I will give a further speech about other aspects of this tomorrowa
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
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 toand indeed whether
you wouldpublish 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
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
1940which came as news to your Prime Ministerand
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
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
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 madea
splendid report, in my viewwhich 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
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
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.
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
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 utopiathis
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
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 Franceand you will have to wait
for the outcome of the review for any decisions about thatof
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
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
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.