UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 740-i

HOUSE OF COMMONS

ORAL EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

DEFENCE COMMITTEE

THE WORK OF THE CHIEF OF DEFENCE STAFF

GENERAL SIR NICK HOUGHTON GCB CBE ADC

Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 52

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Defence Committee

on Wednesday 16 October 2013

Members present:

Mr James Arbuthnot (Chair)

Mr Julian Brazier

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson

Mr Dai Havard

Mr Adam Holloway

Mrs Madeleine Moon

Sir Bob Russell

Ms Gisela Stuart

Derek Twigg

Examination of Witness

Witness: General Sir Nick Houghton GCB CBE ADC, Chief of the Defence Staff, Ministry of Defence, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: CDS, welcome to the Defence Committee. This is not by any means your first appearance in front of us, but it is your first appearance in your current role. We will, if we may, take the opportunity to ask you what you think the challenges facing the armed forces are, and what your priorities are for dealing with them. Would you like to begin with that?

General Sir Nick Houghton: Certainly, and it is a delight to be here.

I would probably categorise them in three different areas. The first and most obvious is the operational challenges that we face, and the most obvious of those is a safe extraction from Afghanistan next year and a residual legacy there-that is all we can hope. We also have some immediate contingent challenges, given the state of the world in which we live at the moment.

The next batch is what you might call the institutional challenges. Under one group heading, I would put implementing the vast array of changes that have been put in train since the time of the last SDSR, and things that are attendant on a wide-ranging reform programme that Defence has embarked on. In that, there is a whole range of things including structural change, matériel strategy, the reserves review, the new employment model, the whole force concept, the DIO, Defence Business Services and particularly the Levene reforms. There is a whole panoply of unfinished work there that needs to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion over the next few years.

Also, under "institutional", I would put the issue of getting ourselves into a position-I see this in the context not of my first few months, dare I say it, but of hoping to be here beyond the next set of elections and the next defence review-where defence is placed on a sustainable and an affordable footing into the future. Again, with an eye perhaps to post elections and SDSR, we should change the capabilities of the armed forces better to match our best predictions of the emerging and future international and domestic security context. Although SDSR 2020 sets us up pretty well, there will inevitably be some changes that we want to have addressed in the next iteration of a full review.

The final thing is perhaps the one that relates to armed forces and defence in a reputational sense. There is an extent to which, as we come out of Afghanistan, we need to revalidate the utility and relevance of the armed forces to the nation and the national interest. I do not know who else in the room shares this view, but at the end of the Iraq campaign and, shortly, the Afghanistan campaign, the armed forces find themselves in a somewhat anomalous position. Certainly, in my 40 years, the armed forces have never been held in higher respect by the nation, but perhaps the purposes towards which we have most recently been put have never been more deeply questioned. In that context, I sometimes feel that rather than being understood, we are sympathised with. I sometimes feel that we are the object of our nation’s charity, rather than its deep sympathetic understanding with what armed forces are about and their relevance.

I am conscious that there is a lot in that to unpack. However, in general terms, those three areas-the operational, the institutional and the reputational which, in many respects, happen over a different time frame-are, as it were, a checklist to myself going forward.

Q2 Chair: That is an impressive checklist. That last item, in particular, suggests that you feel that there should be proactive communication by at the least the Ministry of Defence, but possibly the armed forces as well, to set out what you are for and how you do it. And yet, in my experience in Parliament, there has never been such a tightly held communications strategy. It appears to refuse to allow the armed forces to talk to anybody-certainly not to Members of Parliament and probably not to the press. How do you reconcile that?

General Sir Nick Houghton: I could almost be at a moment of ecstatic breakthrough, in that I had a conversation with the Secretary of State about that very issue this morning. I described to him the picture as I saw it: at the moment, there is a poorly informed debate on defence that happens in the public domain. On the one hand, that debate is informed by politicians who, for all sorts of very understandable reasons, need to have a certain message for the way in which they put things relating to security and defence in the public domain. On the other hand-I think somewhat sadly-the balance of the debate is informed by people who you could describe as talking heads, who tend to be a little older and a little out of date, who perhaps have personal agendas and whose experience is stuck in a time warp when it comes to the sorts of things we face now. What there is not is a truly informed and intelligent debate, because of the vacuum that exists between those two poles.

I have, I hope, convinced the Secretary of State-he actually needed only a certain amount of convincing-that the best communicators of an intelligent debate on defence are actually the Service Chiefs. We have to be careful not to go rogue or go walkabout-we recognise that-or to court the cult of military celebrity, as I think that way danger lies. But certainly as we approach the next election and the next defence review, and in the context of what I sense was your agreement with my depiction of something of an ill-informed debate in which the armed forces are struggling to get the message across about their utility and relevance, it will be a welcome thing if we can have more of a constructive and well-informed debate over the next few years.

Q3 Chair: It would certainly be welcome to us. We are a little apprehensive about this entire process because we have become so angry about it over the past few years, but if you are on track to create a damascene conversion, nobody will be happier than us. We wish you well with that.

General Sir Nick Houghton: I would just add the caveat that I do have some sympathy, dare I say it, with my own Secretary of State. I do think that, historically, a number of my compatriots in arms, as it were, have occasionally drip-fed a soap opera of defence to the media and perhaps have occasionally spoken out in way that was contrary to extant policy-not in a positive way, but in a way that is detrimental to the trust that has to exist. But I absolutely understand-I know that the Secretary of State does-that the way in which we have almost been silent for a while has not helped the quality of the debate that should happen. Therefore I think that he and I are now united and of one in that respect.

Chair: I am delighted that you say that.

Q4 Derek Twigg: You last point was very interesting. Given this new enlightenment that we will hopefully see, could you tell us what you think has not been exposed because you and the other Chiefs have not been allowed to say something?

General Sir Nick Houghton: You can talk about specifics-

Derek Twigg: There must be some specific things that you would particularly like to get out in the open but have not been out in the open. Perhaps you can tell us today.

General Sir Nick Houghton: There was an article in the press over the weekend about defence underspend. There is a raging discussion going on about the future of reserves. There is a discussion about whether it is possible to turn back the watch on reinvesting in regular manpower to save some battalions. In many respects, a more authoritative military voice on those would, I think, quell some of the doubters.

Q5 Derek Twigg: What is that we are not being told that would quell some of the doubts on those issues?

General Sir Nick Houghton: Take the reserves issue, for example. I am aware, although I was in Estonia on the first two days of this week, that the Fusiliers made a march on Downing street or Parliament. I know that one of their battalions has had to go in the context of the last defence cuts. I suppose that, emotionally, I absolutely understand where they are coming from. After all, I was a Green Howard; my regiment went as part of the SDSR reorganisation in 2006, and subsequently the battalion that the Green Howards went into was then also removed-the 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment.

Although emotionally I am 100% understanding about their concern, intellectually I am 180° in a different direction. That is because it is quite clear to me that, on any forecast of defence funding, the size of the British Army at 101,000 or 94,000 was unsustainable. We should not hide behind the fact that we are reducing the size of the Regulars and aspiring to expand the size of the reservists. We should not mask the fact that this is driven by a resourcing situation that means that we have to find different ways of sustaining methods to retain the ability of the Army, if required, to operate at a higher scale.

There are also some other fundamental arguments about the need to expand the size of our reserves, which is nothing to do with trying to equate 30,000 reserves with 20,000 Regulars-I am quite convinced that the Regulars would win out on that battle-but about things that relate to the ability to access some of the skill sets that are best maintained in the civilian environment. I am talking not just about the medics, although clearly the armed forces could not begin to cope with the demands made in terms of Defence Medical Services without a significant resort to reservists, but about the fields of intelligence analysis, of cyber capability and of linguistic capability. Elements of a vibrant reserve are absolutely essential in straightforward capability terms.

Then you might go on to take the historical arguments about the relative size of the Regular and reserve components within the British tradition, as it were. Ever since Cromwell, this country has been concerned about the size of the standing Army and therefore would rather take recourse to a larger reserve component, whatever it might have been called historically. In many respects, the last thing that professionals in the Regular Army want to do is to be on some compass bearing to magnificent professional isolation from the society that generates the armed forces.

Because, if you like, our politicians have been on the back foot by strange arguments that somehow link defence underspends to reservist recruiting to the need to add back regular battalions, it becomes a soap opera of a debate, which I think some more considered senior input to would put in a proper context. There are a number of issues that come to the fore on which I think, dare I say it, there is the steadying knowledge that senior chiefs with accumulated experience who have thought these things through and do so on a professional and regular basis think that this is the right thing for the armed forces and for the country.

Q6 Derek Twigg: You may want to come back to that, because I gather from what you are saying that, basically, what you want to do is to support what the Government are saying.

General Sir Nick Houghton: Absolutely.

Q7 Derek Twigg: There is a view, I think, that the military chiefs have not always told the politicians the facts of the matter in terms of what the Army, the Navy and the Air Force can achieve with the resources they have got. The classic example is our deployment in Afghanistan in 2006, which went from being a specific operation to being spread all around Helmand province, with the brigadier in charge being sent up to Kabul. The advice to the Minister at that time was, in some context, that certain operations can be achieved. Will you be the sort of CDS who says clearly and openly to not just the Secretary of State, but the Prime Minister, "This is how it is, Prime Minister. This can and cannot be done," and put that very strongly, or will you just succumb to their political will?

General Sir Nick Houghton: For a start, I would put the nature of the advice the other way around. I see it as my responsibility, as the principal adviser on the employment of the armed forces to the Government and the Prime Minister, to facilitate the provision of as many military options as possible. Rather than setting out limits, caveats and saying what can’t be done, I will try to say what can be done, while being absolutely honest about the risks involved.

It is a bit like logistics, as it were. The best logisticians are those who give you freedom of operation, rather than constraining your plan. That is the way I seek to do it. On Syria, for example-I will not give you the details because I don’t think it is appropriate-what we attempted to do in briefing the Prime Minister was to explain to him all the things that we could do, accompanying some of them with an assessment of the attendant risks.

Q8 Sir Bob Russell: General, as I understand your answer, are you telling me that the size of the British Army is driven by the financial resource? Is that the thing that has directed where we are with the size of the Army?

General Sir Nick Houghton: It is a balance of things. It is driven in the purity of a strategy by the ambition of the nation to be able to do certain things with its armed force, an amount of money, and then what we can turn that money into in terms of capability. If you range across the amount of money and the ambition that we have, you have to produce a balanced force structure, and that force structure is a balance of its manpower capability and its equipment capability. Within the various prioritisations and the whole landscape of the architecture of defence, in attempting to meet the tasks that are laid upon defence, both in terms of what we need and what we can afford, a smaller Army is both what is sustainably affordable and, with recourse to an element of reserves, also what we need.

That is not to say that with more money and a larger Army you couldn’t do more-you could. But against the constraints of what was asked of us in the SDSR, in terms of what was asked of the things we call defence planning assumptions, a Regular component of 82,000, backed by a reservist component circa 30,000 of trained manpower, is adequate to discharge the defence planning assumptions. There are only resources to deliver that.

Q9 Sir Bob Russell: But surely the defence requirements of the realm must be the starting point, and the military top brass should then report to the Government of the day and say, "This is what we need." You are telling me that the Government are telling you, "This is the amount of money. How can you cut the cake accordingly?" Isn’t the cart before the horse?

General Sir Nick Houghton: I think, actually, there is something other than a cart and a horse, and all those things have to happen in an iterative way. First is the national ambition, second is the amount of money, and the third is the capability that that can buy and the manner in which it is then applied. You should not take any one of those things in isolation. I think that the national ambition should come first, which was why the National Security Strategy preceded the defence review, which preceded the CSR, but all, to an extent, had been harmonised.

The specific outcome of the SDSR postulated an Army that was slightly larger. It was only subsequent to the SDSR that they reduced the size of the Army, but postulated against that an increase in the size of the reserves to meet what had been given as the financial envelope.

Q10 Sir Bob Russell: The challenge I put to the Prime Minister on the Floor of the House was that on his watch the size of the British Army would be reduced to a lower number than it was at the time of the battle of Waterloo. The Prime Minister’s response was, "Well actually, we are not cutting the Army overall because we are going to fill the Regulars with reservists." He is looking at this as one Army; you are the professional soldier. Do you think that that is a fair response?

General Sir Nick Houghton: Yes, I do. Aiming for an 82,000 Regular army with a 30,000 reservist component is absolutely fine. Going back to the question, this is where I think that the debate is so superficial. You attempt to judge the competence and capabilities of an armed force by looking only at input measurements. It is as if 82,000 somehow means something for all time. If you have 82,000 Jedi knights who are network linked to all sorts of surveillance capability, indirect fire capability and fast-jet capability, you have a far more potent capability. Actually, I would argue, as we approach a future SDSR, that in many ways the broadening of the networking of a smaller number of people is more important than clinging to a single totemic figure based on the input measurement of the size of an army.

Q11 Chair: But one of the consequences of that is that the footprint of the armed forces across the country becomes that much smaller because of the power of modern weapons and of satellite communications, so the understanding within the country of what the armed forces do and what they are for is reduced.

General Sir Nick Houghton: Although you could argue that because we are bringing back from Germany 20,000 of the Regulars, the size of the footprint within the UK, given an enhanced reserve list, is actually a larger one.

Chair: Yes, that is a fair point.

Before I call Madeleine Moon, as I am just about to do, I need to draw your attention to the fact that there is about to be a vote in the House of Commons. I am sorry about that, but it is the democratic way of life in this place. We will have to break for about 10 minutes when it comes.

Q12 Mrs Moon: I think we all welcome your commitment to improved communications, and we look forward to that happening. One of the things that happens when you start closing a door is that people throw bigger rocks at it to try and get a chink somewhere. That is what has happened to the Ministry of Defence-the assault on it has become greater because you are almost holding the door closed.

One of the things we raised with the Secretary of State was that a previously redacted report in the US in relation to the attack on Camp Bastion that was headlined secret had been made public. The report claimed within it that the Brits had been embarrassed and that we had screwed up. When it was put to the Secretary of State that a new examination in the light of that report needed to be made public in terms of Britain’s response, he said that it would remain secret. Although the report acknowledged the great bravery of the people on the ground who had saved a bad situation from being a lot worse, there were still statements in that report that were critical of Britain. Is it not right that the British public should have an open response that gives our response to that criticism, because out there in the public domain from the US are very serious allegations about our armed forces that we have a right to know about and to give our response to? Should that be a public document rather than another secret one?

Chair: As the vote is now taking place, I am going to have to ask you to hold that thought, unless you can give an instant soundbite answer.

General Sir Nick Houghton: The first thing I would say is that I am afraid that you are misinformed. The American report contains no criticism of the UK. It is 1,000 pages long and such criticism is not in it. I have read the Secretary of State’s evidence. It is actually one of the American major generals who was sacked-or invited to retire-who has, separately to the report, made some derogatory comment about the Brits having screwed up, but the actual formal investigation conducted by the Americans-the 1,000-page report-does not give any culpability at all to the British.

Chair: That was a helpful soundbite on which to suspend the Committee for the next 10 minutes. We will start again at 10 past 4.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming-

Q13 Chair: CDS, you had started to say that there was no criticism of the British in the formal report.

General Sir Nick Houghton: There was some confusion, and it informs my reading of the Committee’s exchange with the Secretary of State. I think that what had been inferred from a statement from one the US generals was that this had actually been a part of the investigation report that the US had sent us. That is not the case. What is right is to say that one of those US generals had some adverse comment about the Brits in this. It is not that the report necessarily exonerates, but the nature of the subsequent US investigation was what they entitle an accountability review, which had, in the context of the loss of two US lives and a significant amount of US equipment, said, "What individual bears the professional responsibility for this?", as it were. Since I had the redacted report-the unredacted report only came in over the weekend, and the Chief of Joint Operations has been studying it-I have been at pains to ensure that there was no UK person in an analogous situation in terms of command accountability for a force protection risk that was not a tolerable risk and, equally, that there was no UK concern about force protection that had, in a coalition context, been passed up the chain of command for which we had taken no appropriate action. There is, and I can quite understand it, something anomalous about a base for which there is a co-responsibility for the force protection when investigations in it lead to the sacking of two US generals, but no analogous sacking of an individual on the British side.

Q14 Chair: CDS, may I stop you for a moment? The point we were trying to make was not, "Were people in the UK or the US to blame?" but, "If there are lessons to be learned, surely they should be made public and well communicated." That is the point.

General Sir Nick Houghton: I think the issue here is that if the lessons relate to some specific aspects of force protection and putting them in the public domain could be prejudicial to the security of that base, the Secretary of State-I think this was the reason he made the judgment he did-would think that that was inappropriate.

Q15 Mrs Moon: But if the Americans can do a level of report that they redact from secret to open, and documents that are released at the same time imply criticism of the UK and its role in the defence of that base, is it not right that there is a public response in which it is made clear that any criticisms, whether in the formal report or in the papers released with it, are addressed so that the public can know-it does not mean going into secret information about the defence of the base; it simply answers the questions that the public rightly have a desire to know-whether there was something that we did or we did not do that led Major General Sturdevant to say that we had "screwed up"? If we did not, we should be saying so. The fact that we keep it secret makes people think, as always, "You’ve got something to hide."

General Sir Nick Houghton: Let me not commit to putting something in the public space that, clearly, within only the past few days, my Secretary of State has wished not to put in the public domain. Let me refer back to him. I do not think we should necessarily be putting the American report in the public domain, but it might be sensible to do some message of reassurance that the physical lessons in force protection that this incident threw up have now been rectified, whether or not we need to go into the detail about us having nobody in an equivalent position. After all, there can be only one person who is in overall command of a tactical situation who must make the risk-resource judgment.

Q16 Ms Stuart: May I put it even more simply? A basic rebuttal requires: newspaper report says Brits have screwed up; MOD says, "No, that is not what the report says"; and then you go back and say, "No, this is not the case." You do not have to go into great state secrets. If, as you and the Secretary of State have said, the report does not say that the Brits have screwed up, you need to rebut that ASAP because the only thing people will remember is: Brits screwed up.

Chair: It is a communication issue.

General Sir Nick Houghton: Given the fact that we have only just got the unexpurgated, 1,000-page report, it will take a little time to make certain that there is nothing in there that leads us to have a concern that we previously have not had.

Chair: Understood.

Q17 Mr Havard: It is all part of an agreed process-the whole protection of a very big perimeter-and it is a very complex place, and the RAF regiment does damned good work, and all that sort of stuff. The accusation, however, is that the problem came about because the Brits wouldn’t pay enough money to defend a particular part of the fence. Now, either that is right or it is wrong-it probably isn’t quite as simple as that because it is part of something broader or more complicated. But, whatever it is, there is a direct accusation here: the Brits didn’t do it because they wouldn’t pay for it. That is either right or it is wrong, or it needs explanation, because that is what the sting in the tail is. A lot of people are fighting and, probably, dying to look after this damn place, and the accusation is, "Well, the penny-pinching Brits done it." I don’t think that is true, but if it is not true, we should say it is not true.

General Sir Nick Houghton: It is not true. Let us therefore aggregate the nature of the comprehensive rebuttal that we need to make.

Mrs Moon: But that is in the report.

Q18 Derek Twigg: CDS, I want to come back to my second question to you-about how robust you will be in telling senior Ministers and, ultimately, the Prime Minister whether you believe taking a certain course of action is deliverable in military terms, or can deliver the political desire of senior politicians and the Prime Minister. You sort of said that you tend to look at it the other way and actually you will be telling them what we can deliver. I accept that to a point, but I don’t think you answered the question. There will be times when you cannot deliver, or you feel it will be dangerous and will lose more lives and so on, so it will not be the right thing to do. The classic example would be the Afghanistan deployment in 2006. You might want to contrast that in your answer.

General Sir Nick Houghton: When you put it that way, if there is a political insistence on the employment of military capability in way that is contrary to my professional judgment, whether that is in terms of the risk to life or the unachievability of the object, I would be absolutely robust in making that point. Ultimately, if a politician wants to overrule that, he can. It might have to lead to me standing down or whatever, but you can be assured that there will be no lack of robustness.

Q19 Derek Twigg: Okay. You made a big play in your answers to the Chair on speaking to the Secretary of State about being able to speak out on issues. What about if that was the case? We have had the situation with regard to Afghanistan where one lot of politicians have said, "Well, we had the advice of the military that we could do this," but we have heard rumours and accusations within military circles that that was not what they told Ministers. If, at the end of the day, a debate like that happened, in which a politician, of whichever party, tried to say, "We got the advice that we could do this," but that was not the case, would you speak out and say, "That is not true"?

General Sir Nick Houghton: Yes.

Q20 Derek Twigg: You would actually do that.

General Sir Nick Houghton: Yes. The thing that is running through my mind here is about the specifics of Afghanistan. I have appeared at this Committee before to give evidence on that. To me, the balance of the military advice was in favour of going into Afghanistan and saying that certain things could be achieved, but the reality of it turned out to be something different in those early months.

Q21 Derek Twigg: But the Chiefs never then said, "Actually, we can’t do this"?

General Sir Nick Houghton: No.

Q22 Ms Stuart: I want to take you on to the future and what is happening to our preparedness and our operational future. You wrote an interesting article in which you suggested: "We have to recalibrate our expectation of the level of capabilities we can field on new operations from a standing start." Did you really mean that?

General Sir Nick Houghton: Yes, and I will explain what I meant by that. Over the past few years, if you think of Afghanistan, we have now habituated our senses to the capability that is fielded on a very mature operation. Clearly, Afghanistan went through a phase where the levels of capability that we fielded were probably inadequate, and then an awful lot of catch-up work had to be done in the areas of helicopters, ISTAR, force protection, counter-IED, medical support-a whole range of things. What you probably come to, at the point of campaign maturity, is a situation where you have a hugely sophisticated set of capabilities that are optimised for a specific theatre.

If you then come out of that campaign and go back into a contingency posture, where you do not know what the specific demands of an operation are-it is therefore a generic requirement rather than a bespoke requirement-you have to accept that it is not possible to keep every element of defence capability optimised for every contingency and at a high state of readiness. So when you are back into a contingent mindset, you need to have a greater capacity to take early risk.

For instance, the replication of a role 3 hospital, with advanced surgical techniques, brain scanners and all that, you cannot fly in at the point of a bayonet. That is what I mean about recalibration; not just in the public psyche but in the political psyche and, dare I say it, internally, where an expeditionary mindset is one that recognises that in the early months of an intervention operation, before it has the potential or develops into a long-term campaign, you will have to exist and get by on a reduced level of capability across the board.

Q23 Ms Stuart: May I draw that out a little further? Will you explain more of your thinking? If you were to divide this more into operations of choice and operations of necessity, what is your thinking about the kind of operations of necessity-responding to a direct threat-that we will have to build up the resilience for? What is your thinking on operations of choice, which are more to do with our view of our place in the world? How does what you have just said play into that?

General Sir Nick Houghton: It is quite difficult to talk in hard terms about what is absolutely non-discretionary to the national interest, but you could think of a Falkland Islands or an emergent terrorist threat. You could think of one of our sovereign base areas being under an imminent threat of attack. For those things where the imminent life of UK citizens at home or abroad were in peril, to me that becomes non-discretionary and you would act. You would act with a very high level of risk tolerance and I think that you would instantaneously carry the support of Parliament and the country in acting. If, sadly, it led to some loss of life, I do not think there would be an instant interrogation of, "Why didn’t you wait several days until this bank of capability could be built up and deployed?" You would make a deployment in a risk judgment that was about the imperative nature of that, the essential criterion of time and the level of risk that you were about to embrace.

If you then go to something where your involvement from the perspective of national security is more discretionary, and therefore from the perspective of public and political support, your risk tolerance probably ought to be considerably lower than that. It might therefore manifest itself in a far more deliberate operation, where far more attention has been given to all aspects of force protection, understanding, logistic support and those sorts of things. I paint two extremes because it is hard to be definitive about where on a particular range an operation might fall, but there is a risk judgment and a time factor in all that.

Q24 Ms Stuart: Let me take a concrete example. If your analysis is right, the Navy is disproportionately more important to us in terms of our national immediate interest than the Air Force or the Army, in a sense. By the way, I am happy to make parliamentary risk our problem-in the sense of taking people with us-rather than yours. We will take them with us provided that you have the capability, so I am more worried about your capability actually to do anything. In that context, would you say that restoring our full maritime surveillance capability would be something that would be in the pocket of "must have" rather than optional?

General Sir Nick Houghton: Just as an aside, I did not instantaneously make the same mental leap that what I had said made our Navy more important than our Army.

Q25 Ms Stuart: But if we go to essential national interests, probably our essential national interest is the fact that we are an island.

General Sir Nick Houghton: No, but our essential national interest might be the protection of our people who happen to be on land. It’s just that by not mentioning it, I don’t want to be deemed to be subscribing to the view that any particular element of our capability is fundamentally more important than another.

Q26 Ms Stuart: Oh, isn’t it? Are you really saying-

General Sir Nick Houghton: In terms of service level, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to say that one service was more important than another. In a given time and in a given operation, the capabilities that one service brings to bear might be more important than another, but that will change depending on the specifics of a given scenario.

Q27 Ms Stuart: Full capability maritime surveillance-optional or must?

General Sir Nick Houghton: We have currently taken a risk judgment that it is something that we are prepared to do without pro tem. We have done that in the context of the security it provides to one of our strategic assets. Also, in the realm of wider maritime surveillance, although it is important, there are other capabilities that at least mitigate the fact that we do not have MPA. Such things as the Type 45 destroyer have significant radar capability. Increasingly, so do maritime drones, and SKASaC will in a future Crowsnest world. Where I probably sympathise with you is I think that, as we approach the next SDSR, maritime patrol aircraft is a significantly important capability, and we should undoubtedly revisit its priority.

Q28 Mr Havard: Can I press on the same sort of area? This is about the defence planning assumptions. You have these assumptions, which have language about simple, complex, enduring, non-enduring, one-off and stabilisation as opposed to intervention. We could probably spend all day trying to deconstruct some of that and what it would mean in any given event. You then have numbers associated with parts of that. You said that the overall construct of the new force structure 2020 will be able to do these in some combination or another, depending on what the NSC requires at any given time having judged what interests you want to pursue.

You will think about the capability to do that. I understand what you say. There is an important debate about whether we have full capability. We have just heard some of that debate-not having the maritime thing, so we do not have full capability. But the MOD confuses itself as well. In the advert for the new cyber-reserve, it says that in order to have the full capability, we need this. We have already discussed the fact that we do not have full capability; we are arguing about what capability we require for the task we are delineating.

Chair: We need a question.

Mr Havard: The question is: how is that thing reconciled in terms of the debate? Is it the NSC that does that? It is going back to Derek’s question, really, about truth unto power, if you like. It is about scale of participation in certain things at certain times. Is that not really what we are talking about? We may get involved in certain things, but for how we get involved in them, for what scale and for what time, there has to be a real hard judgment, which in the past has been less than a hard judgment, because we have seen creep and people in places for a long time-easy to get in; difficult to get out.

General Sir Nick Houghton: Of course, we are in new territory, because the last SDSR was the first that sort of was conducted under the governance of an NSC and an NSC secretariat. That will happen, I presume, the next time round; the SDSR will not be a wholly MOD-owned product, but one that is run by the NSC secretariat. The major elements of it, in terms of the major capability constructs within defence capability, will have to be sanctioned by the NSC.

If you say that what we need is a maritime capability that does these four major capability areas, whether it is strategic strike, amphibiousity, constabulary policing, formal task groups-those sorts of things-or an Army that can operate at divisional level, can sustain an enduring medium scale of that number of people, or can do these concurrent small-scale operations, those sorts of major constructs in terms of defence planning assumptions and the capabilities that attend them should be signed off by the NSC. That would be based on all sorts of more granular work that the MOD will inform.

Q29 Mr Havard: May I put this short question to you? It seems to me that the strategic focus has moved substantially in the past 18 months. We are not in front of it; we are behind it. In all the terms of this planning, surely you have got a new strategic focus against which to plan. That debate needs to be public, and it isn’t.

General Sir Nick Houghton: In many ways, the force construct within SDSR 2020 was posited against our best guess of the future operating environment. That became a force posture that we plan to acquire, in both manpower and equipment capability terms. What we are attempting to do is to maintain some agility within the defence programme by not committing all our money, so as that force structure comes towards us in time, we can make some agile changes to it. For instance, we might switch money into cyber or we might switch money into C4ISTAR.

But the next defence review will become the major checkpoint against which we posit an operating environment five years beyond that. We will start to posit a force structure for 2025, and work towards that. It is a constantly evolving and dynamic process. I personally welcome the concept of five-yearly reviews, because they mean that too much time does not pass before you have another strategic look at whether your aiming point for defence capability is appropriate in the round. Equally, by adopting a method by which you do not over-commit your defence programme, and by keeping some money back that can be applied in an agile way, you are at least able to make some minor adjustments between SDSRs as a force structure that was a guess for 10 years hence comes towards you in time.

Chair: We will now move on to Afghanistan.

Q30 Derek Twigg: CDS, may I ask what you think are the two or three most important lessons the armed forces have learned, or should learn, from our involvement in Afghanistan?

General Sir Nick Houghton: I think one is the importance of what we now term understanding, which is a combination of cultural understanding, intelligence understanding and an understanding of the utility of military capability to circumstance. That the best possible levels of understanding should attend the commitment of our armed forces is one point. A strategic deficit in the first few months of our commitment to the southern part of Afghanistan was a full and comprehensive understanding of what we were getting involved in. You can reflect on the fact that we could have done a far more comprehensive job in achieving a better level of understanding, and it would have informed better our actions in the early months.

The second one-this is easier to do in retrospect than it is at the time-is to understand the point at which a considered intervention is no longer an intervention and has become a campaign that needs to be resourced at a wholly different level of defence involvement, resource and energy. There is an extent to which, even a long time into that campaign, Defence looked at it as a series of six-month deployments, rather than a deployment over time of what needed to be the far more consistent application of a comprehensive approach, rather than bite-sized chunks. That has come out in some of the early lessons from our involvement in Afghanistan.

There is also the extent to which the UK was-although it was not alone in this-observing a campaign in a country wholly through the straw of its own national equity in a part of that country. Although it is quite difficult, we need to free up some of the perils of our microscopic examination of tactical detail through a national straw to an understanding of what the whole of a combined coalition effort is trying to achieve in a country. You will not succeed in Afghanistan through the micro-management of the British plan for Helmand, but only through an international contribution to an internationally agreed plan for the whole of Afghanistan.

Q31 Derek Twigg: May I press you on a specific point? What about military leadership during the campaign as it became, as you said? Do you feel anything could have been done better to improve military leadership? Was it good enough or was it patchy?

General Sir Nick Houghton: I think military leadership at the tactical level was pretty exemplary. If I have a concern about that, it tended to an extent at the deployed taskforce level and conformed to some of the downsize of this six-month approach. But are you thinking of leadership at a different level in this respect?

Q32 Derek Twigg: There are different levels. Obviously, as you said, there is a tactical level in Afghanistan itself, but there is also the senior military leadership. In terms of tactics, direction, advice to Ministers, how the service personnel were treated and their facilities-a whole range of things-were there any weaknesses in the pure military leadership at different levels, and things you would do differently or change or you felt did not go right? You talked about the politics, but the military have responsibility as well.

General Sir Nick Houghton: The military ourselves-not themselves-were slow to put Afghanistan on a genuinely campaign footing. For quite a long time into the campaign it was a sort of sideshow to Iraq in terms of resourcing. Even when the tactical circumstances demanded uplifts in troops and capability to respond to IED, we could have been quicker to switch the Ministry of Defence on a more industrial scale to recognise that this was not some aberration and that this was part of the purpose for which it all existed, and that therefore we had to lean into this in terms of resource and energy. I would say, and I would park myself as part of that team, that we could have moved quicker in certain ways to bring certain capabilities in and provide certain levels of resources. It did not necessarily feel like that at the time, but if you are asking me for a retrospective lesson-

Q33 Derek Twigg: Although I would like to pursue that, my final question is about the capability of the Afghan army. We hear quite a lot that their soldiers are getting killed on a regular basis. What do you feel are their capabilities? When we leave, unless funding is continued at a significant level, will they just collapse? There are plenty of lessons in Afghanistan where we have left regimes-or the Russians did in one particular case-and once the money ran out, it collapsed.

General Sir Nick Houghton: I think that of the 350,000 ANSF that now exist, in terms of their levels of individual training and their competences at a tactical level, they are highly commendable. In many respects, with this fighting season, if you like, although I do not wholly buy into that phrase, in which the Taliban’s strategic aspirations were completely to undermine the confidence of the ANSF institutionally, the Taliban have not succeeded in that. The ANSF will end this fighting season with their confidence enhanced. However, there are areas of weakness within that. One of them relates to some of their enabling capabilities, of which some of the most obvious relate to the ability to bring down indirect fire, the ability logistically to support themselves and the quality of their own medical care. Considerable work is still going into the degree of enabling activity that we can give them in the residual time.

There are some more institutional concerns about the bread-and-butter things that armies need to have to sustain themselves over time. Much of that is in the simple area of having a cycle that allows them to have some leave and training as well as persistent operations-it is about the personnel and human resource management issues. Some of the institutional capacity within their Ministry of Defence and higher echelons is wanting. There needs to be greater institutional capacity building. However, so long as there is still sustainment on the financial side of things, so that they get paid and get their combat essentials, there is no obvious reason why there should be any catastrophic failure of the Afghan national security forces.

Q34 Derek Twigg: But if that funding was to dry up or be significantly reduced, there would not be that-

General Sir Nick Houghton: If there was some catastrophic reduction in funding before they have the ability to fund themselves, which they do not currently have, that could have a bad outcome.

Q35 Mr Holloway: Congratulations on your new job, by the way.

Would it be fair to characterise the problem as one that the whole international community had, which is that however well our armed forces have done, we have always had the wrong overarching political context? On the one hand you have that, but on the other you have the pressure from the wish of senior military commanders always to tell Ministers, "Yes, we can do it. Yes, we can cope." That created the position we are in now. By the way, where we are now is that the best possible outcome is-guess what-to bring the Taliban into the political process to run the south and the east. It is an extraordinary irony.

General Sir Nick Houghton: I would not demure from that comment about the overall political construct. A couple of people have said that we should have been talking to the Taliban from the outset. That is, of course, huge wisdom way after the event, as it were, and to an extent, that is probably borne out. There is no doubt about it: for a whole range of reasons, too much of what has happened in Afghanistan has been exclusively viewed through the optic of a military struggle between an international force and the Taliban, whereas there was never going to be a satisfactory military outcome.

Again, success to us is an effective transition, a safe homecoming and leaving the Afghan national security forces in circumstances in which they can comfortably deal with the residual security challenge. The big issue in whether Afghanistan turns into a success is whether there is an effective political transfer next year at the time of the presidential elections and whether there is some successful method by which the Taliban are brought into the reconciliation process such that Afghanistan can remain integrated as a state. I would concur with that.

Q36 Chair: Can we get on to the shape the armed forces will take after the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan? When will they be back to an acceptable state of readiness, do you think?

General Sir Nick Houghton: As you are aware, our intention is to bring everyone home by the end of next year, barring a small residual footprint that will primarily be based in Kabul and will run the Afghan national army officers academy. That is the thing the Afghans want us to do, and we can do it on an enduring basis, although there is a plan to taper that out.

We in Defence are not happy about the speed at which our contingent capability will be recuperated if we wait for the current plan to work out, because the nature of the world as it is means that there are too many uncertainties and instabilities to wait too long to generate contingent capability at scale. We have not abandoned our contingent capability and still do have force elements at contingent postures, but we do not actually meet the requirements of defence planning assumptions to reconstitute fully until 2018 according to the heat map, where everything turns green as it is refurbished and recuperated going into the future. We want to increase the quality of our contingent readiness incrementally but as quickly as we can against a prioritised order of force elements and force structure. That might sound a bit emulsified, but what I am attempting to say is that we currently have the ability to service a small-scale operation contingent within the Regular force structure of the Army and can do the same within the Navy. We have the same contingent capability with the Royal Air Force and have an SF capability as well. We want to regenerate the medium-scale capability sooner than the current policy target of 2018, and we hope that we will able to do that by the end of 2016 using the combined joint expeditionary force and the joint expeditionary force. I do not, however, want to make that definitive, because it will always be a qualitative judgment about how much of the capability, across the whole gambit of our capabilities, we can have ready by that time.

Q37 Chair: How, in practice, do you intend to bring forward the improvement of readiness, given that the financial resources do not appear to be going up in any significant way?

General Sir Nick Houghton: In actual fact, what we do have is not significant, but we have a certain amount of in-year headroom every year that we can draw down in order to add in individual bits of capability in a bespoke way on a year-on-year basis. We have done that already in a whole range of areas. For example, our contingent capability in respect of a range of Middle East and North Africa contingencies has been significantly enhanced by the purchase of certain ISTAR capabilities, by improvements in the marinisation of certain maritime platforms and by the purchase of additional weapons systems for fast jets. So we are incrementally improving our contingent capability all the time, and we can do that because we do not have an overcommitted programme, but one on which we have the discretion to spend money on a month-by-month basis.

Q38 Mr Havard: Within the reforms, individual service heads are going to be procuring and there is a new financial flow of money to achieve what you have just discussed. You are talking about it as a coherent central plan. How is that coherence going to be delivered in a more distributed system when those people are not sitting on the board?

General Sir Nick Houghton: The idea, over time, is that the individual single services will have exactly the same incentives to generate their own headroom so that they can reprioritise their own capability requirements at their level. That is not to say that the First Sea Lord can suddenly decide that he wants three more frigates or two more submarines. That is a function of the strategic debate that happens at SDSR times about how many of the major platforms and structures of defence are had. If, however, a Service Chief wants to veer and haul between particular bits of capability or training levels or stockpiles of logistic support, he will be able to do that within certain tolerances and will be encouraged.

Q39 Mr Havard: Some of those will be taken into the joint force structure in any event, but they will have to volunteer their men or be dragged in screaming.

General Sir Nick Houghton: No. The joint force structure has its own areas of capability for which it is the proponent, and it is the proponent for the majority of the areas of command and control information systems-C4ISTAR and all that.

Chair: Moving on to Future Force 2020, Julian Brazier.

Q40 Mr Brazier: Yes. CDS, you will be astonished that I want to kick off on that with the issue of Reserves; you have already brought up the subject. One of the six strands of the commission’s report was on governance. Are you satisfied that the Army Recruiting Group, which clearly has the main challenge of the three services over reserve recruiting, has got its governance right? Are you satisfied that it has enough reserve thinking in there and that it is talking to units about how to organise themselves and all the rest of it?

General Sir Nick Houghton: Julian, you are always an expert on this, so I don’t want to stab at an answer that I cannot instantaneously verify. I think you will be aware, as I am aware, that the early months of the reserve recruiting drive have not got off to the greatest conceivable start. Part of that has been due to the situation whereby Capita, which has taken on the outsourcing of the recruiting requirement, has been forced to use an MOD IT system when it would have preferred to use its own and therefore has not necessarily successfully tracked all the various applications to join the reservist service. There is undoubtedly an early blip in that. I am reassured by the Chief of the General Staff that he has manpower workarounds-that he will put people in the place of machines to make certain that this recruiting blip, born of this IT problem, does not turn into a crisis.

Q41 Mr Brazier: I last heard of an example of a young man who has spent months and months trying to join a unit and who has been lost again and again in the system. Finally, his papers surfaced in the wrong unit-about five or six hours ago. None of the units that I talk to blames Capita. The problems with medicals last year were before the Capita thing started. Could I put it to you that if we continue with a Regular structure, effectively trying to assimilate the reserve plan instead of integrating reserve thinking into the way they organise themselves, testing things with units and talking about how to do it, we are going to go on spending more and more money?

I shall give just one example. While we are taking on extra people at, no doubt, real cost, duplicating things that should be happening anyway, why are the recruiting offices, with the crucial portals for doing this work and the people who understand it, open only 9 to 5, Monday to Friday? The feeling that a lot of people have is that Recruiting Group is not even trying.

General Sir Nick Houghton: I cannot say that that is a message that has got back to me. I have to be quite careful, because in this respect, clearly the Army and the Chief of the General Staff are responsible for delivering. It is not remotely that I have abandoned interest in this-not at all. I was a co-commissioner and I dearly wish that what we recommended will come to pass. But in many respects, although it has been quite a deliberate operation, what the job of the MOD has been most recently has been formally to reset the proposition, which it did over the summer in the White Paper, and now it is for the recruiting organisation and the armed services to deliver against the new proposition. The degree to which they got off to a bit of a wobbly start, whether because of IT, Capita or their own governance, I am not absolutely certain of.

Q42 Mr Brazier: I have just one more question on that. You mentioned cyber. I do not wish this all to appear negative, because there has been huge progress in other areas, but this Committee was refused permission to visit the excellent TA cyber regiment, which was commanded by a reservist who had an industry-based selection process, who had done jobs in 15 or 16 countries and who had established a record of excellence. That unit has been broken up. One squadron has gone into the purple set-up. The other two squadrons are in different parts of the Army. Now we have an announcement that there is going to be a new regiment. Can we at least have an assurance that they will not put a Regular officer in charge of that, having broken up the old structure, which worked so well?

General Sir Nick Houghton: Again, you know that I cannot guarantee whether a Regular or reserve is going to take the next CO slot, because I don’t know what the competition is and all the rest of it, but the point is received.

Mr Brazier: Thank you.

Q43 Chair: How would you assess morale in the armed forces?

General Sir Nick Houghton: I honestly think that it is probably better than I realised. The reason I say that-I don’t say that there are no problems with morale at all-is because in many respects, due to the nature of the place I am in, one tends to be the recipient of the bad news rather than the good news. One sometimes forgets the fact that down at unit level there are all sorts of people having a thoroughly good, rewarding time, who enjoy the challenge of operations, the sport, the recreation, the adventure training and all that. The sorts of things that trouble us-funding and the future-do not concern them.

In many respects, if you look at the scale of the reform agenda that has been handled by defence over the past few years, it is testament to the resilience of defence and the armed forces that we are coming through it. I say that in the context of not mistaking morale with a sort of state of happiness; morale in a military person is the ability to endure in adversity. I actually think, therefore, that our morale has been remarkable. There are points beyond which there will always be the odd miserable person within an organisation that has resilient morale. I think it is quite difficult to generalise.

Q44 Chair: Good. I will move on to the next Strategic Defence and Security Review. What will your role be in contributing to that defence review?

General Sir Nick Houghton: Ultimately, my view is that the role of the Chief of Defence Staff is to be the adviser to the Government not only on the employment of the armed forces, but on the capabilities that the armed forces should have. I therefore think that in a capability context, quite apart from the process of the SDSR, ultimately I should have a closing discussion with the Prime Minister and the NSC to determine whether I think that the outcome of a defence review has given us a coherent capability, in terms of both what the Government are asking defence to do and the amount of resource they are giving us.

However, in reaching that position there are a whole range of things that I would wish to influence, because unless we take certain corrective action in the next defence review we will not necessarily end up with the right suite of capabilities to equip us for the demands of the future security context. One of the most obvious areas to me is that we still have insufficient capability in that generic term C4ISR, in terms of state of the art communication systems, networked capability, intelligence, surveillance and target acquisition. If you do not have those things, in financial terms you fail to monetise the whole of the rest of defence’s capability. It is a bit like the human body-you will have lots of arms and legs, but you will not have the brain or a nervous system. Therefore, unless we increase investment in the brain and the nervous system, all the other bits are just dumb bits of military technology.

Q45 Chair: You may be interested to learn that when your predecessor-but-one was before this Committee about six years ago he was asked what kept him awake at night and said, "Network-enabled capability." Would that be the same with you?

General Sir Nick Houghton: Yes it would. I think we have a far better definition nowadays of what we need to be networked and what we need to prioritise, and all that. Dare I say it, that is one of the reasons that we established within the Levene defence reforms a joint forces command to be the proponent of C4ISR for defence, so that it enjoyed a level of proponency on a par with each service component.

Q46 Chair: In terms of the formulation of strategy, is the division of responsibilities between you and the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Defence correct, in your view?

General Sir Nick Houghton: I think it is correct, inasmuch as the PUS recognises that his is the realm of corporate strategy for defence as a business. In terms of whether an element of defence business services is better kept in-house or outsourced, or the defence infrastructure organisation, or, ultimately, the decision on what the best construct is for the DE&S in terms of the procurement model, those are the things that he would naturally take the lead on.

When it comes to questions about military capability, the best way to spend money on capability, the best way to arraign that capability, the best way to deploy it and the best strategic posture to adopt with it, he would recognise that that is my side of the house. There are occasions, dare I say it, when the corporate strategy and the defence military strategy need to come together, which is why we established, as part of the Levene reforms, a thing called the Defence Strategy Group, the preponderance of whose time at the moment is earmarked on a programme of work that is to lead to the next SDSR.

Q47 Chair: Do you think that you have enough trained personnel within the Ministry of Defence to carry out that work?

General Sir Nick Houghton: Are we talking about the preparation for the SDSR?

Chair: Yes, and the formulation of strategy.

General Sir Nick Houghton: Yes, personally I think we do, because if there is any sort of delta in this, it is not necessarily the number of strategic-thinking individuals in the MOD but an ability of the wider process to harness the strategic thinking within Whitehall, within academia, within defence industry and within a whole range of other equity partners that should be supportive of a genuine strategic review.

Q48 Mr Brazier: In a way, this is a bit of a cheeky question, relating the question and answer we have just had back to my colleague Gisela Stuart’s earlier point, which I will not argue in the round but on which I broadly agree with her, on the primacy of the Navy in terms of the essential as opposed to the discretionary tasks in a country that is an island. There was a lot of controversy around Peter Levene’s recommendation that the three single service chiefs should be excluded from the council. That clearly was not your decision, and the decision has been taken on that. Looked at from the outside, it appears that the Navy is significantly under-represented in the levers of power. Of the seven most senior officers in the armed forces at the moment, only one is a sailor. The crucial job of director tri-service head of capability is held by an airman. If you were talking to a naval audience who would ask you, "Where is the Navy voice in this? Is it just First Sea Lord-a very good First Sea Lord-and isn’t the Navy under-represented in the process in a country that is, after all, an island?" what would you say to them, CDS?

General Sir Nick Houghton: My most obvious retort is that the higher echelons of defence are quite heavily populated by people whose background for 10 or so years has been joint rather than single service. In actual fact, advancement to relatively high office within the Ministry of Defence is now, I think, done more on your merits as a joint officer capable of taking a defence perspective as opposed to a single-service one. The last time I did a job for the Army was when I left Northern Ireland in ’99, and since then I have worked wholly in the joint environment. I think if you looked at someone like the current vice-chief, Stuart Peach-similarly.

In fact, again as part of the Levene recommendations, we manage the top cohort of defence’s talent on a defence basis, and we manage that talent in such a way that although service balance is a factor, it is not a defining factor; it is more to do with what your joint and defence credentials are if you are going to enter critical joint and defence appointments. I do not dismiss the fact that service tribalism has been extinguished at a stroke because of some of the very good recommendations that we have implemented in terms of the Levene group. But I think that it is a far more corporate body at the top end of defence in terms of looking at things through a defence construct, rather than a single-service one.

Q49 Chair: When you have finished your time as CDS, what will you want to have achieved? What will make you think that that was a job well done?

General Sir Nick Houghton: I think it goes back in a way to some of the things I said about my ambition for defence. One of them would be that at the far side of the next defence review we come out of it such that defence capability is better optimised to the emerging and future sense of the international security context, and indeed the domestic security context as well, so that in many respects the utility and relevance of defence has been re-established in terms of the relevance of its capability. That also plays into the reputational point. I do hope that in the eyes of many in the country, we have ceased to be an object of sympathy and charity and that we have an armed forces that people generally respect, support and understand.

On this issue about "sustainably affordable", I think-certainly in four years as VCDS-the habitual uncertainty of the defence funding position seriously imperils our ability to plan sensibly over long time spans for our future capability. That applies not just to the equipment area, but also to the personnel area. If, in the run-up to the next election and post that in the SDSR, we somehow manage to arrive at a situation where there is a sustainable level of resource that is not then in some way moderated, altered, raided or changed, it will enable us to have a far better defence capability as a result of that. Whether that is achievable, I do not know, but it is something that, in my own experience as Vice-Chief, I would say is definitely worth attempting to achieve on some form of across-party basis.

Q50 Derek Twigg: On Syria, there was a recent debate and decision by Parliament. I am not asking you to say anything about how we make political decisions; I am interested in how you think it affects your ability to do your job. If in future any serious intervention and our getting involved in conflict has to go before Parliament for a vote-if it cannot be declared by the Prime Minister-does that hold any difficulties for you in terms of military strategy and ability to do things? For instance, some might argue that the delays in the Syria decision gave the Syrian Government time to do certain things. Do you have any concerns about the way in which that might impact on your ability to do your job?

General Sir Nick Houghton: Much depends on whether that particular vote in the House and the implications of it are deemed to have been just a one-off, because of a bespoke circumstance, or whether we have crossed some sort of Rubicon that never again a Prime Minister can commit armed forces to a task on royal prerogative.

My personal view-it is one that I am pretty confident the Prime Minister shares-is that in circumstances where the essential national interest is engaged, and where the retention of speed and strategic security is important, the Prime Minister must retain the ability to commit the armed forces to action, and then subsequently be made accountable to Parliament. There will be a range of scenarios that you could think through when that would be the appropriate thing. I hope we have not crossed a Rubicon that does not allow that.

Q51 Derek Twigg: Had we done that, it would be a problem?

General Sir Nick Houghton: If we were to have done, I think it would be a problem. But then there will be a range of other times when the commitment of armed forces is on a more deliberative basis, and speed and perhaps operational strategic surprise is not an issue, and then I can quite understand the preferred route would be to get parliamentary support for it.

Q52 Derek Twigg: Has the way that that happened caused any problems with your American counterparts?

General Sir Nick Houghton: To be honest, no, and I am very confident they are not just being nice to me. They could understand the specific context of that vote.

Chair: That is a relief to hear. CDS, that was an extremely helpful and informative session. We are most grateful to you.

Prepared 18th October 2013