Select Committee on Defence Seventh Special Report


FUTURE WORK OF THE DEFENCE COMMITTEE

57. We now offer some advice to our successors on topics which we hope will form part of their strategic plan of inquiries for the next Parliament.

Continuous Monitoring

THE ANNUAL REPORTING CYCLE

58. Our Seventh Report of this Session was the second in what we intended to be a series of annual Reports examining the component documents of the MoD's series of annual reports to Parliament. These are:

  • The Expenditure Plans and Estimates (published annually in the Spring)
  • The Performance Report (published annually in the Autumn)
  • The Investment Strategy (published biennially)
  • The Defence Statistics (published annually in the Summer)
  • Ad hoc policy papers

59. Our main focus in each of these Reports has been on the implementation of the 1998 Strategic Defence Review.[36] As we commented in the conclusions of our latest Report,[37] although progress has been made, much remains to be done. We trust that our successors will continue this scrutiny through an annual Report, measuring the MoD's achievements against the milestones and targets which have been set. Our successor Committee needs to maintain a strategic view of the MoD budget to ensure that the overall projected programme, as set out in the Strategic Defence Review, of defence spending in the future remains affordable within the proposed budget.

60. One of the outstanding issues from our monitoring of the reporting cycle has been the question of the credibility of the savings claimed by the MoD's Efficiency Programme. As we indicated in our Seventh Report, this is an area which we hope that our successors will examine, picking up from the review of the Programme recently undertaken by the Department.

61. We have engaged in a continuing dialogue with the MoD about the format and content of its reporting documents, urging the release of more information and the provision of better 'read-across' from one document to another, to give a real sense of how the policy framework translates into outputs desired, targets set and resources applied; and showing actual outcomes and achievements against those targets. More needs to be done to achieve this level of coherence and transparency, and we urge our successors to continue to press for improvements.

62. We have tackled the implementation of resource accounting and budgeting (RAB) by the MoD over the life of this Parliament.[38] There have been problems, mainly arising from the complexities of the MoD's asset base and the variety of its activities. The implementation phase is now almost complete. However, we hope our successors will continue to press for more meaningful output performance analyses to be part of the resource accounts, so that the costs of providing defence outputs can be identified in more detail.

63. We have taken issue with the decision to discontinue publication of an annual Defence White Paper. Our most recent thoughts on this question are in our Eighth Report. We hope our successors will pursue our recommendations.

64. The provision of defence-related information to Parliament encompasses more than the annual reporting cycle. It includes, for example, Parliamentary Questions (both oral and written), debates and statements, governmental replies to our Reports, and other material. We hoped in the last Parliament to make a holistic appraisal of the scope and quality of this information, as well as to monitor particular areas, for example, PQs. We have to admit that we have not achieved this ambition. We hope our successors will be able to pick up and develop this idea.

MAJOR PROCUREMENT PROJECTS

65. In each of the two previous Sessions, we have published Reports[39] in what we intended to be an annual series examining progress of a selected 'portfolio' of major defence procurement projects. These were selected by different criteria concerning purpose, stage of development, extent of international collaboration, complexity and cost. We believe there will be particular value in maintaining a consistent series, and we hope therefore our successors will pursue this series of Reports, which are particularly designed to inform the new annual defence equipment debate. We recognise, however, that circumstances are likely to require adjustment to our chosen 'portfolio' of projects over time.

66. We took further evidence from the Chief of Defence Procurement on 12 May 2001. We have published that evidence, together with the MoD's annual memorandum, as our Ninth Report of this Session. We hope our successors may pursue the subject early in the new Parliament.

67. We have used our annual procurement reports, and indeed our reports on the reporting cycle, to monitor progress with the smart procurement initiative (now rebranded as the 'smart acquisition' initiative). In our Eighth Report we raised concerns about the benefits that are being claimed for the initiative. We hope that the claimed achievements of the initiative will continue to be examined critically by our successors.

TREATIES

68. We have made four Reports over the Parliament on treaties relating to defence matters presented to the House—on the enlargement protocols to the North Atlantic Treaty,[40] on the OCCAR Convention,[41] on the Adaptation of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty[42] and on the Six-Nation Framework Agreement.[43] Our work was commended by the Procedure Committee.[44]

69. We believe these have been a valuable contribution to improving parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive's prerogative acts. Not every treaty will demand a full inquiry and Report, but we hope our successors will make this innovation into a tradition.

LEGISLATION

Primary Legislation

70. Little in the way of primary legislation originates from the MoD. We have considered in this Parliament the Armed Forces Discipline Bill and, as one of four committees constituting the joint 'Quadripartite' Committee, the draft legislation proposed on strategic export controls.[45]

71. In accordance with normal practice, the five-yearly Armed Forces Bill was committed to a Select Committee following its Second Reading in the House. In its Report, the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill commented on its own composition and pointed out a departure from previous practice on this occasion, in that its membership included no members from the Defence Committee and concluded that the composition of any future ad hoc committee to consider the renewal of the Service Discipline Acts should be carefully considered.[46] In assessing more broadly the way in which future Armed Forces Bills might be scrutinised, the Select Committee suggested there might be merit in referring such Bills in draft to the Defence Committee.[47] The Liaison Committee also agreed that this would be an appropriate form of scrutiny.[48] We endorse this view and hope that the next major legislation relating to Service discipline, which we hope will be a 'tri-Service' discipline Bill, will be referred to our successors as a draft Bill.

Delegated Legislation

72. The procedures of the House relating to the scrutiny of delegated legislation are woefully inadequate, and we have voiced our support for the reforms proposed by the Procedure Committee on more than one occasion.[49]

73. Even in the relatively low-legislation environment of defence, not every statutory instrument can, or need, be examined in detail. However, we have reported on a number of the more significant ones.[50] Again, we believe this has been a significant contribution of enhancing parliamentary scrutiny of Executive actions, and we hope our successors will continue this practice.

EXECUTIVE AGENCIES

74. We have sought to examine and report on the performance of a significant number of defence executive agencies over the course of this Parliament. Some are so large (the Defence Procurement Agency for example) that they require almost annual examination. Others need to be visited less frequently. We reported on our progress in working down the list of agencies in our last annual report. We hope our successors will continue to work systematically on scrutiny of this area of the MoD's activities. There are some particular groups we identify for attention from the Committee in the next Parliament.

75. Defence Estates recently published its new management strategy. Estate disposals have become a key area of the defence budget since the SDR, and remain an important component of last year's Spending Review settlement. The management of the defence estate more generally is a subject ripe for reassessment and we urge our successors to conduct an inquiry into the work of this agency early in the new Parliament.

76. Following on from our Policy for People Report, we recommend a reasonably early re-examination of the achievements of the recruiting agencies.

77. Ministers recently announced the quinquennial review of the MoD Police.[51] We had hoped to conduct an inquiry into this agency in this Parliament, but it has not proved possible to do so. A number of questions were raised about the MoD Police by the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill.[52] There are other issues concerning the increased use of the MoD Guard Service and the Military Provost Guard Service, and the relationship between the MoD Police and the Service Police. The quinquennial review would provide a good opportunity for a thorough re-examination of these and other matters relating to the MoD Police. We recommend that our successors conduct such an inquiry to coincide with the review.

78. More generally, we commented in our Eighth Report on a need to get a grip on the purpose, direction and achievements of the agencification programme more generally within the MoD, particularly as significant recent changes in the portfolio of defence agencies suggest that an optimal steady-state has yet to be achieved. This is a complex challenge, and one we must leave to our successors to tackle.

Subjects of Inquiry

VETERANS

79. We set ourselves the target at the beginning of this Parliament of monitoring the MoD's implementation of its new deal for Gulf veterans. We believe this should be followed-up, but the point has probably now been reached where a more general annual review of the way in which veterans are looked after by the MoD is appropriate, particularly now that the MoD has refocused its structures for looking after veterans.[53]

80. In this connection, we commissioned from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology a review of the states of scientific opinion on the use of depleted uranium munitions and any associated risks to human health. This was published on 30 March.[54] We believe it is a very useful contribution to the debate, and hope our successors will take it into account in their inquiries. We were also able to take oral evidence from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State on 9 May 2001 and have published this.[55]

PENSIONS AND COMPENSATION

81. The long-awaited results of the reviews of pension and compensation arrangements for Armed Forces personnel were published on 16 March, and put out for consultation. We hope our successors will honour our promise to examine the outcome of these reviews, and will make it one of their first priorities in the new Parliament.

DEFENCE TRAINING AND EDUCATION

82. The outcome of the Defence Training Review was published on 27 March. We identified this as a key area in our Policy for People Report. We urge our successors to pick up on the recommendations of this review and examine its implications in some detail.

SERVICE FAMILIES TASK FORCE

83. In our Report published in February on Policy for People[56] we applauded the establishment of the Service Families Task Force, set up to tackle problems encountered by service families in gaining access to the services provided by other Departments, particularly education, health and welfare benefits. We expressed the hope that the Department for Education and Employment and the Department of Health would be more actively involved, and encouraged our successors to take evidence from Ministers in those Departments.[57]

DEFENCE MEDICAL SERVICES

84. We reported on the state of the Defence Medical Services (DMS) in November 1999.[58] In that Report we examined the serious shortage of personnel in all branches of the DMS, and considered the government's strategy to remedy the problem. We have checked on its progress on a number of occasions.[59] We also examined the arguments for the closure of the Defence Secondary Care Agency's Royal Hospital Haslar and for the establishment of a new Centre for Defence Medicine attached to the University of Birmingham Medical School. That centre has now opened. We hope our successors will take an early opportunity to visit it, and will keep a close watch on the state of the DMS.

DEFENCE RESEARCH

85. We have published four Reports in this Parliament on defence research and the change of status proposed for the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA).[60] We have managed to influence the way the part privatisation of DERA has been conducted, though so far without securing its abandonment that we would like to have seen. There is, we believe, still important work for our successors, in examining the way the ownership of New-DERA (now 'Qinetiq') is transferred to the private sector, and the results of the review of Defence Research by the MoD's Chief Scientific Adviser (due for completion in Summer 2001).[61]

THE FUTURE OF NATO AND THE ESDP

86. We have published two Reports in this Parliament on the future of NATO, and our Report on the lessons of Kosovo considered their implications for the Alliance at some length. Another NATO summit is due to take place in Prague towards the end of 2002. Critical questions, most particularly relating to further enlargement of the Alliance, will be decided there. We would urge our successors to make a Report to Parliament on the agenda for that summit, well in advance, so that these issues may be fully debated before Ministers settle their policy, and go to negotiate with their colleagues there.

87. Closely connected with the future of NATO is the development of the EU's European Security and Defence Policy and the implementation of the 'Helsinki Headline Goal', on which we reported at some length in May 2000.[62] We took further evidence from the Secretary of State on 28 March 2001.[63] We hope our colleagues will continue to review progress in this crucial area of policy closely.

MISSILE DEFENCE

88. On 1 May, President Bush stated his commitment to implementing some form of National Missile Defence System (NMD) to protect the USA from a perceived threat from intercontinental ballistic missile attack, and at the same time the intention of his Administration to negotiate or withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Proposals have also been made by the Russian Government for some form of international co-operation on missile defence systems.[64]

89. Profound questions for the UK are raised by these proposals. We urge our successors to conduct an inquiry into this issue early in the new Parliament.


36  See our Eighth Report, Session 1997-98, The Strategic Defence Review, HC 138-I Back

37  Eighth Report, Session 2000-01, The MoD's Annual Reporting Cycle 2000-01, HC 144 Back

38  ibid, paras 45 to 50 Back

39  Eighth Report, Session 1998-99, Major Procurement Projects Survey: The Common New Generation Frigate, HC 544 and Tenth Report, Session 1999-2000, Major Procurement Projects, HC 528  Back

40  Third Report, Session 1997-98, NATO Enlargement, HC 469 Back

41  First Report, Session 1999-2000, The OCCAR Convention, HC 69 Back

42  Twelfth Report, Session 1999-2000, The Adaptation of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, HC 295 Back

43  First Report, Session 2000-01, The Six-Nation Framework Agreement, HC 115 Back

44  Second Report, Session 1999-2000, Parliamentary Scrutiny of Treaties, HC 210 Back

45  See Seventh Report, above Back

46  Special Report from the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Session 2000-01, HC 154-I, paragraph 5 Back

47  HC 154-I, Session 2000-01, op cit, paragraph 9 Back

48  First Report from the Liaison Committee, Session 2000-01, Shifting the Balance: Unfinished Business, HC 391, paragraph 82 Back

49  First Report from the Procedure Committee, Session 1999-2000, Delegated Legislation, HC 48 Back

50  See eg Second Report, Session 1997-98, Draft Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law)(Amendment) Order 1998, HC 521; Fifth Report, Session 1997-98, The Reserves Call-out Order 1998, HC 868; Fourth Report, Session 1998-99, The Draft visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) Order 1999 and the Draft International Headquarters and Defence Organisations (Designations and Privileges) (Amendment) Order 1999, HC 399; Fourth Report, Session 2000-01, The Draft Defence Aviation Repair Agency Trading Fund Order 2001, HC 261; and Fifth Report, Session 2000-01, The Draft Defence Science and Technology Laboratory Trading Fund Order 2001, HC 289  Back

51  HC Deb, 26 April 2001, cc307-8w Back

52  HC 154-I, Session 2000-01, op cit Back

53  See HC 517-i Back

54  This is available on the website of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) at www.parliament.uk/post/home.htm Back

55  See HC 517-i Back

56  Second Report, Session 2000-01, The Strategic Defence Review: Policy for People, HC 29-I Back

57  ibid, para 147 Back

58  Seventh Report, Session 1998-99, The Strategic Defence Review: Defence Medical Services, HC 447 Back

59  See eg Second Report, Session 2000-01, The Strategic Defence Review: Policy for People, HC 29; Sixth Report, Session 2000-01, The Strategic Defence Review: The Reserves, HC 412; and Eighth Report, Session 2000-01, The MoD's Annual Reporting Cycle 2000-01, HC 144 Back

60  Sixth Report, Session 1997-98, The Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, HC 261; Ninth Report, Session 1998-99, Defence Research, HC 616; Ninth Report, Session 1999-2000, The Future of DERA, HC 462; Fifth Report, Session 2000-01, The Draft Defence Science and Technology Laboratory Trading Fund Order 2001, HC 289 Back

61  See Baroness Symons' letter, 22 March 2001, Ev p 3 Back

62  Eighth Report, Session 1999-2000, European Security and Defence, HC 264 Back

63  HC(2000-01) 390-i Back

64  See Foreign Secretary's answer to a PNQ, HC Deb, 3 May 2001, cc 981-9 Back


 
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