Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320-339)



Mr Hancock

  320. How do you see the role of the MoD police?
  (Mr Hoon) They do a wonderful job.

  321. How do you define "vicinity"?
  (Mr Hoon) Is this a quiz game?

  322. The MoD police are only apparently allowed to operate within the vicinity of military establishments. I am told, by one who is responsible for your own security in the building in which you operate at the moment, that that was in the past where the shadow of the building fell at a particular time of day.
  (Mr Hoon) I am sure you are very proud of the fact that one of the great traditions of the United Kingdom constitution and its interpretation of Acts of Parliament is that it is done in a reasonable and sensible way. I am sure that "vicinity" will be applied in a sensible way as far as those particular powers are concerned.

Mr Howarth

  323. Secretary of State, it now falls to me to continue the line of questioning on the line we have been proceeding so far. You slightly disarmed us, in a sense, by posing questions to us that you reckon you face, and we of course accept that you are at the heart of a process of investigating how we need to respond to the events of 11 September. It was a couple of months ago now. I hope you will accept that what we are trying to do is to see how far your initial thinking has gone and, where you have formed some preliminary conclusions, if you can share some of those with us. One of the questions you pose is the question "In the military dimension, is there a role for pre-emption? What is the role of armed forces in dealing with problems upstream? What capabilities do we need?" You did then assert that what we do need are "fast, integrated operations, involving high levels of military skill, improved intelligence gathering capability and a deeper understanding of potential opponents." Can I take the point about improved intelligence gathering capability, because I think there is acceptance that that is one of the areas that we really do need to concentrate on. There have been commentators who have suggested that we need to improve our ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target-Acquisition and Reconnaissance), guarding and security of homeland assets, special forces (for overseas operations) and ballistic missile defences. From the work that you have done so far in this additional chapter, what new capabilities have you identified as being needed, or are existing ones to be given a higher priority?
  (Mr Hoon) I think I am going to take the Fifth on this. I do think, Chairman, that these are not matters that I am particularly enthusiastic about going into in an open session.

  324. Then can I press you a little bit further? Do you agree that the question of intelligence gathering is a high priority, and particularly in the light of the way in which you answered Patrick Mercer earlier?
  (Mr Hoon) I have said already, I repeat and I would emphasise, that these kinds of operations, if they are to be effective, have to be intelligence led. That is an absolutely crucial factor in dealing with terrorist threats both upstream and, once a threat has manifested itself, in dealing with those who are responsible, not least because—back to our discussions earlier about doctrine and strategy—we are dealing with organisations that are not necessarily manifestations of state organisations in a way that conventional warfare might involve.

  325. I understand that you do not want to go too much further than that, but there have been suggestions made to us this morning, from Professor Rogers, for example, that we could be facing possible attacks in the United Kingdom. Therefore can you tell us, in advance of whatever conclusions come out of this review, if work is already in hand to strengthen intelligence gathering?
  (Mr Hoon) A good deal of effort is being made to ensure that we have the right kind of capabilities to deal with potential threats.

  326. Finally, perhaps I can move on to the question of equipment programmes. When will you have a clearer idea of the impact on equipment programmes and the changes in the priority which may result from this review? You have said that you expect to produce a review at the end of the spring next year.
  (Mr Hoon) I think there are a number of processes that have to be gone through. Obviously we have to prepare a report. There is a very important consultation process that we have to engage on. I have to see the conclusions and see whether there are any specific recommendations in relation to particular kinds of equipment. We will then have to make judgements as to the best way of securing that equipment in the light of not only our own requirements within the MoD, but also obviously priorities across Government. You will know from your own experience of Government that these are not necessarily straightforward issues.

  327. Indeed. I was going to ask you a question, and I am sure you may not answer it, but let me put it to you. Which programmes do you think might have to be given a lower priority, can you tell us?
  (Mr Hoon) In the absence of (1) the work, (2) its conclusions, (3) assessing different priorities both within the MoD and (4) across Government, I have some difficulty in answering that question.

  328. I suppose this is directly related to that. Have you had any discussions with the Treasury yet?
  (Mr Hoon) I have regular discussions with the Treasury.

  329. Would you like to share with us any of those?
  (Mr Hoon) As you know, there is a doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility that I adhere to very strongly, but I think it right that the Treasury have taken a very keen interest in the work that we have undertaken. As is well known, the Chancellor has made available £100 million for the Ministry of Defence to deal with the operations that have been conducted so far, he has remained interested and engaged in the work that we have been involved with, and we have had strong support from him.

  330. If Operation Veritas has cost £100 million so far, it is not unreasonable to suppose that unless matters are brought to a very swift conclusion, it is going to be a continuing expense in which we are engaged, possibly an increasing expense. Have you had any indication from the Treasury that they will not inhibit our military manoeuvre by withholding cash from your already strapped budget?
  (Mr Hoon) We do not need that indication, it is implicit in the way in which the Ministry of Defence has always operated that the costs of those kinds of operations are met in full. That has always been the case in the past, and it will be the case in relation to operations in and around Afghanistan.

  331. In respect of Operation Veritas, obviously there have been expenses incurred in terms of more spares and ordnance required. Is that included in the £100 million? Are you satisfied that we have enough spares now from the shelf of across-the-range ordnance equipment and so on, or are you looking for more money for that?
  (Mr Hoon) The amount covers the costs expended over and above routine expenditure. To give you an illustration, it certainly includes ordnance, but it would not include, for example, the routine salaries of members of the armed forces, because they would be paid in times of peace as well as in times of war. There is a perfectly straightforward, acceptable and agreed definition between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury as to what is payable and what is not. Certainly as far as those regular costs of operations are concerned, we are able to secure them without any difficulty whatsoever from the Treasury.

  332. Fine, I think that will be reassuring. In terms of the review that you are carrying out now, though, clearly it is likely that you will come to a conclusion around about the same time as the Budget. If your conclusion were that you needed to add on additional capability—and it does appear that that is what most commentators believe to be necessary—and you are unwilling to sacrifice existing capabilities, in those circumstances the only way you can fund it is by an increase in your budget. The timing is going to be rather difficult, is it not, because you are presumably going to have to agree with the Chancellor the settlement for next year in advance of your having come to your conclusions under this review?
  (Mr Hoon) As I indicated in answer to the same question earlier on, it is for me to judge how best to encourage the Treasury to provide the Ministry of Defence with the resources that it judges that it requires.

  333. I think Parliament has a role in that too, Secretary of State.
  (Mr Hoon) And Parliament has a very important role in that.

  Chairman: We are producing a report before Christmas. I would not be surprised if we express our views, for what it is worth.

Mr Jones

  334. You have already mentioned that the extra money for Operation Veritas is coming outside of the budget. Has any indication been given to what that long-term cost is going to be in terms of continued involvement in Afghanistan and related issues? The second point is in terms of the new chapter. Clearly I accept what you are saying, that it is too early to say what the outcome is going to be in terms of equipment and everything else, but are you also going to be reviewing what the current operations are now? This morning we heard, as has already been said, that it might be a zero sum game in terms that we shall have to absorb some of the cost internally. Are we looking at some strategic things like, for example, the Falklands and other commitments overseas that may well have to come under review to pay for this new chapter or new expenditure that we have to find to fight in this new world?
  (Mr Hoon) It is a very sophisticated way of asking the same question that I have just dealt with, but I shall try and give you—

Mr Cran

  335. The same answer.
  (Mr Hoon)—a more sophisticated answer. As far as your first question is concerned, obviously it will take as long as it takes.

Mr Jones

  336. That was not the question.
  (Mr Hoon) What I would assure you, though, is that financial constraints are not an issue.

  337. So you have got a blank chequebook?
  (Mr Hoon) I think that is a rather emotive way of putting it. We spend whatever is necessary to deliver the objective, and I assure you that we are not under any kind of financial restraint. That is not a factor that I have to take into account. I do not have to judge how many cruise missiles we fire. I do not have to make a judgement about the number of sorties that we use to support the Americans in their campaign over Afghanistan. I do not have to make a judgement financially about how many ships we use. I get military advice, and if the military advice is that we need a certain number of ships, or we require a certain number of sorties or we require a certain number of cruise missiles, financial considerations are totally and utterly irrelevant to that.

  338. Have you actually done some predictions on what that cost is going to be?
  (Mr Hoon) I am sorry to be blunt about that, but you are in as good a position as I am to say what is the likely outcome of the events in Afghanistan as of this afternoon. It will take as long as it takes.

  339. You will scare the Chancellor to death with that type of approach. He must have sleepless nights!
  (Mr Hoon) I am sure a distinguished member of the Select Committee on Defence would have thoughts on that just as much as I, as the Secretary of State for Defence, have. Things have gone extraordinarily well in recent times, and obviously we hope to be able to maintain that pace and progress in further operations, but there are constraints. The weather is one of them in Afghanistan at this time of year. The determination of fanatics in al-Qaeda is another of them. They certainly demonstrated in recent days a degree of fanaticism we might not necessarily have anticipated. Nevertheless, things have gone well, and I hope that they continue to go well.

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