Decision-making in Defence Policy - Defence Contents

5  What more needs to be done?

118. The changes that have been introduced, including the introduction of the National Security Council (NSC) and the Levene reforms, have clarified and improved the structures of decision-making. But they have not yet addressed fundamental problems in the process of decision-making.

119. We are concerned that the Government does not fully recognise the extent of the flaws in past decision-making practice, and therefore needs to make more fundamental changes than have already been effected. We would therefore welcome the Government's views on the analysis in this report, including our assessment of the Helmand and carrier design cases, and our views of more general problems in the past decision-making process.

120. We believe that there is still a crucial lack of authoritative, expert information which can serve as the basis for strong defence decision-making, in particular on the detailed political situation in conflict areas. We do not believe that the existing information-gathering institutionsincluding within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence and intelligence agenciesare currently capable of providing information of sufficient quality and quantity. We urge the Government to explain how it plans to remedy this situation.

121. We ask the Government to outline how it will equip military and civilian advisers with better education and training in thinking strategically.

122. We believe that Ministers may not have the necessary capacity or personal support to be able to reach a well-informed judgement on the issues they are asked to decide, nor to challenge constructively the official advice they are receiving. We recommend that they should be more often provided with the opportunity to reach their own conclusions, including through visits to conflict regions during which they should have wider and unfiltered access to local opinion. We recommend that the Ministry of Defence investigate how to improve induction training for new Ministers in their portfolios, and examine what additional advice and support they need.

123. We believe that the Levene reforms have been helpful in giving the Chiefs of Staff greater authority for the management of their services, and in reducing the potential for Single Service institutional rivalries to distort spending plans and operational policy. But these benefits have also come at the expense of severely limiting the ability of the Chiefs to provide expert strategical advice. We feel that the post-Levene Chiefs of Staff Committee is too detached from the central policy-making process in the MoD and also, crucially, from the NSC. We recommend that the roles of the Chief of Staff should be redefined to give greater weight to their function as strategy advisors. We recommend that the Chiefs of Staff Committee should become the official military sub-committee of the NSC, in order to tender to it joint military advice on strategy. We believe that such a sub-committee will be effective only if its military members do not use its deliberations to pursue Single Service institutional agendas.

124. We note the drastic reduction in recent years of domain competence in the Civil Service, reflected in the civilian representatives on the Defence Board and on other high level decision-making bodies. We also note the deplorable loss of defence scientific expertise from the Defence Board. We recommend that the Civil Service should once again be required to possess specialist defence and technical expertise to improve the quality of decision-making. This will also have the benefit of balancing military input with expert civilian input and of reducing the temptation to pursue Single Service agendas.

125. Furthermore we consider that there are major weaknesses in how the NSC operates. This is particularly important given its dominant role in decision-making.

126. We are concerned that discussion in NSC meetings is too tactical and discursive, and not does not sufficiently draw on authoritative expert opinion.

127. We believe that the creation of the NSC has failed to eliminate the risk of a personal, private and reactive style of decision-making involving only the Prime Minister and his closest advisers.

128. We are concerned that the increased use of the NSC could have the effect of undercutting the principle of Cabinet government. We seek clarification from the Government on the relationship between the NSC and the Cabinet, and further reassurance on how the Cabinet will be involved with national strategy and the formulation of the next SDSR.

129. We therefore conclude that unless the Government makes better use of its decision-making institutions, and draws on higher quality information and advice, there is a significant risk that future decisions on defence and security issues will be as poor as in the past, with consequences which are just as damaging.

130. We urge the Government to take urgent steps to remedy these weaknesses, and to put in place a genuinely strategic, well-informed and properly balanced decision-making machine.

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 26 March 2015