54. The Liaison Committee recommended in its report
greater use by the government of draft legislation which could
be referred to select committees.
In Session 1999-2000 we examined and reported on the Armed Forces
Bill [Lords] before its second reading.
In our report, we expressed the hope that
... on future occasions the MoD will see the benefits
of introducing legislation in draft form so that we can take up
the opportunity to comment on proposals before they are formally
introduced to the House ...
In the Queen's Speech on 6 December, the intention
of introducing the quinquennial Armed Forces Bill was announced,
and the Bill was introduced on 11 December. By tradition this
Bill is referred to an ad hoc select committee. This tradition
pre-dates the establishment of the departmentally-related select
committees. Now that more than twenty years has passed since the
establishment of the Defence Committee on a permanent basis, and
five Armed Forces Bills have passed under the bridge in that time.
It is perhaps time to look afresh at this tradition.We would see
merit in the use of the draft bill procedure for future Armed
Provision of Information
55. We noted above
the curious tale of the classified evidence relating to the work
of the Defence Geographic Imagery and Intelligence Agency. After
we had specifically encouraged the MoD to review its classification
of the evidence in our own Report,
and the MoD had responded negatively,
it then went on to declassify some of the evidence in response
to an application under the Code of Practice in Open Government
from Mr Richard Norton Taylor of The Guardian.
The sequence of events was disappointing the requirements
of the Code of Practice should be the minimum standard applied
by the MoD when considering whether evidence to this Committee
should be published.
56. More generally, there have not been any particular
examples of disputes between us and the MoD over the provision
of classified information. However, the MoD remains in our view
unnecessarily obdurate in its sweeping application of the convention
against releasing 'advice to Ministers'. It has used this cover
to deny us access to its departmental plan and short term plan
(formerly the long term costings), and to the report of its defence
research committee. We will continue to press for greater openness.
We have some further comments on the form and content of published
information in our comments below on our continuing work on the
MoD's annual reporting cycle documents.
33 First Report from the Liaison Committee, Session
1999-2000, HC 300 Back
Second Report from the Liaison Committee, Session 1999-2000, Independence
or Control?, HC 748 Back
Report from the Procedure Committee, Session 1999-2000, Parliamentary
Scrutiny of Treaties, HC 210 Back
para 31 Back
paras 16 and 17 and 43 and 44 above Back
Special Report from the Procedure Committee, Session 1999-2000,
HC 990 Back
Committee, op cit, paras 61 and 62 Back
paras x and y above Back
Report, Session 1999-2000, op cit, para 32 Back
para 29 above Back
Report, Session 1999-2000, op cit, para 5 Back
Special Report, Session 1999-2000, HC 629 Back
Fourteenth Special Report, Session 1999-2000, HC 928 Back