Examination of Witnesses (Questions 152
WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2001
MP, MR KEVIN
TEBBIT CMG, AND
152. Secretary of State, Mr Tebbit, Mr Hatfield,
welcome, although it is rather ironic to welcome you to a room
I have never been in before. We are both playing away today but
hopefully we will not meet in this environment for some considerable
time, while Portcullis House is a rather splendid structure. We
have seen, but did not have much time to closely scrutinise, your
documents published today.
Secretary of State, in your Defence Policy 2001 document,
will the "informed defence community" be able to detect
any nuanced shifts in policy when they have had a chance to study
it? I am not asking you to do our work for us, but is there any
major or minor shift or nuance shift in policy contained in this
(Mr Hoon) I think it is fair to say there
is no major shift, there is no significant and fundamental change
in policy. There is, perhaps, as is always the case, a degree
of emphasis in different areas, and the significance of that might
be only obvious over time. There is greater emphasis on joined-up
conflict prevention, for examplesomething we have discussed
in the pastbut there is certainly a greater emphasis on
that in this document. There is greater emphasis on improving
multinational defence co-operation. Again, that is not new to
any Member of this Committee but something we emphasise more than
previously. It will come as no surprise to the Committee, either,
that we set great store by the importance of learning lessons
from the Kosovo campaignsomething that you have emphasised
to us that we should do. Again, that is emphasised. So there are
a number of points here that certainly will allow the informed
defence community to look thoughtfully at the trends; they are
trends emerging from principles that we have discussed on many
occasions in the past and will not, I suspect, come as any great
surprise to Members of the Committee.
153. You have been in office long enough now
to be able to make a judgment as to whether this "informed
defence community" is increasing or decreasing in size. Do
you detect any greater interest in defence issues from meetings
you attend or press and media reports, or Parliamentary contributions?
Are you trying to move this small community into being rather
enlarged, which is in everybody's interest?
(Mr Hoon) Certainly I have always remarked on the
contrast between discussing defence and security issues in Washington
as opposed to discussing them in London. I think that there is
a need for the kind of detailed consideration given to defence
issues that exists in the United States in the United Kingdom.
So I would certainly welcome more discussion of these issues.
Nevertheless, those that are engaged in this debate in the United
Kingdom do so very seriously and, obviously, part of the purpose
of publishing these papers in this form is to give them more material
and access to more material to inform that debate. You invite
me to comment on the press and the media. I think there is concern
about the extent to which specialist correspondents are given
the opportunity of writing about their specialist subject. I find,
sometimes, I have concerns about the extent to which those that
do know about the subject are given the opportunity of writing
about it. That is probably a matter for the newspapers, but I
suspect sometimes that the copy of defence correspondents who,
perhaps, know both sides of the argument is not always as dramatic
and as interesting to news editors as those who do not know as
much about the subject. Finally, I think it is right that I should
say something about the work that this Committee does, because
I do recognise that the Committee have contributed to improving
the level and the nature of the debate. I thank you for that.
154. You know what we say, Secretary of State.
If the Ministry of Defence was as open as we are, we would be
very, very happy. We are trying very hard to get you in our direction.
In paragraph 7 of the report, Secretary of State, you say "There
is no sign that operational demands are likely to diminish".
Despite the slight rise in defence expenditure, we clearly do
not have the resources to meet every demand. How are you going
to decide which demands are going to be met and which demands
are not going to be met?
(Mr Hoon) I do not think there is a simple formula
for that. Clearly, when you say that there are not resources to
meet every demand I think that is self-evidently true, but we
make what are pragmatic judgments in the light of resources and
in the light of the people that we have available to do the job.
Clearly, those are judgments made across Government and it is,
obviously, my job as Secretary of State for Defence to inform
my colleagues of the state of preparedness and availability of
Britain's armed forces and to do so within the general parameters
set out in the Strategic Defence Review but not to regard the
Strategic Defence Review as a formula. It is not something that
we can apply precisely to every situation. What we have to try
and do is to work within the capabilities that we identify there
and ensure that we are able to satisfy the legitimate demands
of those who expect Britain's armed forces to defend Britain's
vital national interests.
155. It seems patently obvious to us that despite
your endeavours to squeeze more blood out of a stone it is becoming
increasingly difficult. We are producing a report on personnel
issues in a couple of weeks and although finance is not the panacea
to resolve all of the problems it is a very substantial element
of it. I think we have to try even harder to persuade Treasury
that if they expect you to do the tasks that appear to be necessary
it is going to be increasingly difficult to do with the budgetary
constraints within which the Ministry of Defence is operating.
If you decide to cut your commitments then the public have to
be told "We simply cannot afford to do it". However,
to meet pensions, to meet the salaries, to meet training and to
meet commitments to Sierra Leone, the Falklands and everywhere,
it is quite wondrous that you manage to do it with the miserly
sum that you are allocated by the Treasury. I think at least ten
Members of the Committee will agree with what I have said. If
we were in charge, we would happily find 1% of GDP, I think, without
much hesitation and take the consequences from the Treasury.
(Mr Hoon) As I have said to you before, no Defence
Secretary is ever going to turn down support for more resources
for the defence budget, and I am certainly not going to do that.
Having said that, equally, I think it is important we put into
context what we are doing today and actually we are satisfying
the demands on us in a range of different theatres and operations.
Whilst, particularly as far as certain areas of speciality are
concerned, I would certainly like to see more people and more
resources, nevertheless compared toand we have discussed
this beforethe period towards the end of 1999 immediately
after my appointment, when I recognised publicly that there was
a degree of over-stretch, we have been able to make very significant
reductions, certainly as far as the Army is concerned, in terms
of the numbers of personnel actually deployed or on operations.
That I think has improved significantly many of the problems that
I felt we were facing towards the end of 1999. I am not being
complacent about it, but I do not think the picture is quite as
bleak as, perhaps, your observations might tend to suggest.
156. Thank you. In paragraph 11 of this Defence
2001 document, you say: "There is likely to be growing
emphasis on multinational approaches to developing improved capabilities,
especially in relation to filling capability gaps . . .".
Would you care to expand on this statement and, perhaps, give
some concrete examples?
(Mr Hoon) Yes. I hope it is consistent with what you
have said already that even the United States, with the budget
that they have available, recognises that there are limits to
the amount of money they can spend and the amount of capability
that they can generate. That is even more the case for a country
like the United Kingdom. One of the advantages, I perceive, of
multinational co-operation is being able to work with allies and
partners, particularly to develop capabilities that are not readily
available to us today. That is part of the underlying purpose
of the Helsinki headline goal, to encourage countries to recognise
that there is a range of capability that, ideally, is capability
that we would like to have available, but that individually it
would be difficult for them to afford. You ask for an example.
One of the examples that we are looking at is a combat search
and rescue facility which is not something which, traditionally,
other than on an ad hoc basis, the United Kingdom has judged
to be vital to develop. On the other hand, the United States has
certainly developed a very sophisticated ability, the French are
probably ahead of us in having that capability and we would like
to find ways in which we can work with other countries to develop
that. There are a number of other things that we are working on,
not least the suppression of enemy air defences, where co-operation
with a number of countries is now quite well-advancedagain,
to provide a capability that we do not have available to us as
an individual nation but which, working in combination with others,
we can develop.
157. Thank you. Are these documents going to
be annually produced?
(Mr Hoon) In a sense, part of the reason for publishing
these documents in this way is to break out of a deliberate annual
process in order to try and provide documents as and when we judge
them to be necessary. However, I think it is fair to say the policy
document is perhaps something that the Committee might find helpful
on a regular basis. To some extent it is an area where I would
be grateful for your views, because it does seem to me that if
you find this kind of process usefuland it is a change
from what has been done beforethen we could look at the
timing in the light of your feelings. I would have thought publishing
something like this on an annual basis, without being fixed on
particular dates, is sensible.
158. With this mania for contracting out, if
your resources are constrained, Mr Hoon, you can contract out
the task to us, and I am sure we would do a very good job. I am
also sure you would be the first to sign up for what we would
(Mr Hoon) I can see many advantages of contracting
it out to you on that basis, because you would be bound to produce
a statement of Government policy.
Chairman: I do not think it would be
Treasury policy we would produce. The next block of questions
we all fought to ask, but I am afraid Laura Moffatt won the task.
159. I am a lucky girl. Good morning. There
are some issues I would like to raise within the newly published
The Future Strategic Context for Defence. I draw your attention
to the part in purple on page 8 that talks about the revolutionary
changes within procurement and the way in which the MoD would
like to exploit what is happening in civil developments for technical
equipment for the MoD. Our continuing question has to be to you,
Secretary of State, how do you expect to do that if you are just
about to sell DERA?
(Mr Hoon) I am not at all persuaded that there is
any inconsistency between the two propositions that you put forward.
One of the reasons why I was persuaded, having looked at this
afresh, that it was sensible to sell part of DERA was because
of the difficulty of a single, Government-run organisation keeping
pace with technological advances and that what we needed was to
have a way of encouraging those who work for that part of DERA
to be able to have access to both the wider world of technological
change but, equally, for them to find exciting the prospect of
working within that particular organisation. As far as the part
that we judge it is necessary to retain in public ownership is
concerned, one of the essential tests of that was to ensure the
continuation of independent objective advice to Government about
the nature of assessing technology as far as Government procurement
was concerned. That, as I have said to you before and I repeat,
will remain within public ownership and, therefore, public control.
1 Defence Policy 2000 and The Future Strategic
Context for Defence, MoD, February 2001. Back