Chapter Seven

Reporting to Parliament

701. The Department has been seeking to improve the timeliness and quality of its reporting to Parliament by rationalising and simplifying the presentation of information previously contained in a range of annual publications. Details of our forward financial plans and assumptions are now set out in the annual Statement on the Defence Estimates. Historic data on the Department's performance against financial and management targets will in future be set out in a new Departmental Performance Report published in the autumn, several months earlier than previously; the Report for 1994-95 was published in December. Data on our forward cash plans were set out in a short report published, together with those of other Government Departments, in March; these figures are also set out in Table 4. Further information is also set out in Annex E to this Statement.

The Citizen's Charter and Open Government

702. The Department is committed to applying the principles set out in the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information and the Citizen's Charter. We aim to raise the quality of service offered to the public by increasing openness, accountability and the standards of service delivered. Since the start of the Open Government Initiative, 7,711 records previously held under extended closure have been made available before their originally-scheduled release date. Unrestricted access to a total of 83,550 World War II diaries has also now been agreed.

703. Where the Department provides a service directly to the public, it is continuing to meet or better the targets it has set itself under the Citizen's Charter. In 1994-95, the Departmental target of paying 96% of all bills within 11 days of being invoiced was exceeded, and the Meteorological Office achieved its target of 84% accuracy for weather forecasting. These targets are reviewed annually. The performance of the Service Children's School (North West Europe) under the Citizen's Charter was highly commended by the judges of the Charter Mark competition.


704. Although not a regulator of business, the Department continues to play a full role in the Government's Deregulation Initiative. Attention has focused on relieving unnecessary burdens on our suppliers through the streamlining of procurement procedures and through improved communication with industry. For example, the Defence Contractors' list has been discontinued, since much of the information on it is available from the Department of Trade and Industry register of quality-assessed companies. This has reduced administrative effort for our suppliers. In addition, work is increasingly being placed as a package of development, production and initial in-service support, to provide more attractive, longer-term opportunities for industry and to reduce the number of contracts we need to manage.

705. The wide spectrum of activities undertaken by the Department results in it being directly affected by a range of new regulations. As it must evaluate the effect of these on its own operations, the Ministry of Defence is in a position to provide useful advice to other Departments on the potential impact of their proposals on many sections of industry, commerce and the general public. We have in any case strengthened our links with regulatory Departments involved in negotiations in the European Union. All new and developing European legislation is now closely monitored for its potential impact, and any potential costs or other implications for the Department are registered with negotiators at the earliest opportunity.

706. The Department also has a substantial programme in hand to adapt its procurement processes to make the best use of new technology. Trials have been carried out with a number of defence companies on the use of Electronic Data Interchange, and further work is in progress. Both the Department and industry see advantage in the use of electronic media to reduce administrative burdens.

707. It is Government policy that all new draft legislation must be accompanied by a Compliance Cost Assessment setting out an estimate of the extra costs that would be placed on business were the legislation to be enacted. Such an Assessment, developed in consultation with employers and Reserve units, was produced to support the Reserve Forces Bill and was published alongside the Bill in November. It estimates the average cost to business of the call-out of a typical Reservist for nine months at 1,900.

Defence Use of Civilian Transport Assets

708. The Department uses civilian transport assets to meet many of its operational and non-operational movements requirements. It is our practice to employ civilian assets wherever it is practical and cost-effective to do so. While it is essential that the armed forces maintain a strategic transport capability to meet core operational requirements, there are many supporting tasks in which civil assets make a vital and cost-effective contribution to meeting our overall requirement for sea- and air-lift. Thus, we seek to meet our needs by both operating our own military transport assets and drawing on the commercial market.

709. In addition to operating its own specialist, civilian-manned ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the Department uses merchant ships to carry out a wide variety of transport operations. These range from the provision of sea-lift to support military tasks (as in the Gulf conflict and operations in the former Yugoslavia) through the movement of equipment and personnel for exercises and training and the maintenance of overseas garrisons, to a number of miscellaneous tasks such as towage, movement of fuel, surveying and equipment trials. Ships are chartered on the worldwide market, thus ensuring value-for-money and the widest possible choice.

710. During 1995, 91 merchant ships were chartered by the Department, of which 17 were under the British flag. The total cost of chartering these vessels was approximately 26 million. In May 1995, for example, following the ditching of a Royal Air Force Nimrod aircraft off the coast of Lossiemouth, a British Offshore Support Vessel was chartered to locate and map the wreckage at a depth of approximately 50 metres as part of the successful recovery operation. More recently, in mid-December, the Department chartered the Yuriy Maksaryov, a Ukrainian flagged roll-on roll-off vessel, for the movement of British forces' equipment to Bosnia in support of Operation RESOLUTE. The vessel loaded at the military port of Marchwood (Southampton) and at Teesport, and completed her discharge in the Croatian port of Split on 10 January. On board were 31 Challenger tanks and 550 armoured and other vehicles, plus ammunition, packed fuel and general stores.

Photo 28: A Challenger tank disembarks from the chartered roll-on roll-off vessel,Yuriy Maksaryov, at Split[40k]

711. In addition, the Department makes considerable use of scheduled commercial air travel, and also charters air-lift, through competitive tender, from the worldwide commercial market to augment the Royal Air Forces's Air Transport Force in meeting operational, training and administrative support requirements. The cost of providing charter air-lift in 1994-95 amounted to 16.5 million. The aircraft chartered were used for tasks such as routine air trooping to Germany and in support of operations worldwide, including those in Angola and the former Yugoslavia. During the same financial year the total cost of scheduled civil aircraft seats purchased was 41.5 million. These were bought at discounted rates from over 40 British and overseas airlines.

712. The Department uses rail services for both passenger travel and the movement of freight. Rail is the preferred method for the bulk movement of ammunition and explosives within the United Kingdom. We are also now examining ways of moving various types of heavy armour by rail between barracks and training areas. The Department also uses the rail link to the continent through the Channel Tunnel, including for the containerised movement of vehicles and equipment.

713. Whilst we use our own movement resources where it is operationally necessary, substantial use is made of civilian vehicles for the movement of freight by road. We have made our use of road transport more effective through the increased use of long-term contracts with civilian freight hauliers. This flexibility of approach enables us to gain the best value-for-money whilst still providing the service necessary to meet our core commitments in both peacetime and in crisis.

The Defence Estate

714. The Defence Estate Organisation was established on 1 April last year. It has drawn together the lands and works aspects of business across the Department to allow a strategic overview to be made of the management of the defence estate as well as providing a fully integrated works projects and property management, procurement and advisory service to budget holders. The beneficial effects of the creation of the Defence Estate Organisation have been reinforced by the creation of a Defence Estate Management Board, under the chairmanship of the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence, whose role is to oversee the management of the estate within the framework of an agreed estate strategy.

715. Rationalisation within the defence estate has continued to lead to major property disposals, including the former Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital at Woolwich, the former Royal Naval Hospital at Stonehouse in Plymouth and a site at RAF Quedgeley in Gloucestershire. Plans are also well-advanced for the sale of RAF Upper Heyford and RAF Greenham Common. Following major decontamination work, it is hoped to pass the site of the former ammunition factory at Waltham Abbey to a trust. The Department continues to work with English Partnerships to secure the future of Woolwich Arsenal. Planned disposals are expected to generate over 100 million in 1996-97.

Text Box: The Procurement Executive move to Abbey Wood

716. The defence estate includes significant holdings of historic buildings. The Department is fully committed to the proper conservation of its heritage sites and substantial progress has been made in further developing and implementing a coherent policy for the care and conservation of our historic buildings. We continue to encourage their appropriate operational use wherever this is possible or, alternatively, where the buildings no longer have an economic use to dispose of them sympathetically, seeking re-use or adaption compatible with their setting. We will continue to pursue the programme of Quadrennial Inspections of our historic buildings to provide professional guidance to Top Level Budget holders responsible for their care and to develop the necessary management information systems to support this work. As well as using our own conservation resources, the Department draws on the valuable expertise of the outside members of the Secretary of State's Historic Buildings Advisory Group and continues to develop closer relations with the Department of National Heritage, English Heritage and other non-Government heritage bodies to assist us in discharging our responsibilities.

717. The Secretary of State for Defence has particular responsibilities towards the Royal Naval College Greenwich since he holds it for the benefit of the Crown charity Greenwich Hospital. The Government is conscious that the Royal Naval College is central to one of the nation's most magnificent architectural ensembles, for which it is seeking World Heritage Site status. We have therefore sought advice from a group of eminent experts chaired by Dame Jennifer Jenkins. Following the group's interim report, the Secretary of State for Defence announced his support for the proposal that the head lease on the Royal Naval College should be held by a trust set up to preserve the architectural and historic integrity of the site and to enhance public access thereto. He also announced that on the evidence so far the University of Greenwich is the most appropriate contender to be the main occupant of the site, and that the National Maritime Museum should enjoy use of certain parts. There is however much work to be done to bring these ideas to fruition.

718. The Department continues to focus on the creation of long-term integrated management plans for the most sensitive areas in its ownership. These are designed to strike a balance between important military requirements and the conservation of the natural and cultural heritage in our stewardship. In recognition of the international status of many defence sites, the Department of the Environment has selected 61 of them, out of a United Kingdom total of 280, for consideration as European Special Areas of Conservation under the European Union Habitats and Species Directive. The public benefits from access to many areas, often unspoilt, subject to the operational, safety and security requirements of the estate. A number of historic buildings were opened to the public for one weekend in September when the Department participated in the 'Heritage Open Days 1995' promoted by the Department of National Heritage and the Civic Trust.

Photo 30: Departmental conservation groups have converted old ammunition boxes into ideal nesting sites for Barn Owls and many other species of birds[66k]

Defence and the Environment

719. A statement of the Department's environmental policy, which reflects the Government's overall environmental policy, is set out at [refer]. The Department's work on environmental issues is concentrated in those areas where defence activities have the potential to harm the environment. We continue, for example, to examine the use of particularly hazardous materials, and are contributing to a NATO scientific study into pollution prevention which is looking at initiatives to reduce or move away from the use of materials such as paints and heavy metals, pesticides, volatile organic compounds and fuels and lubricants.

Text Box: Environmental Policy Statement

720. To ensure compliance with best environmental standards, we are adopting a system of land quality assessment. This will establish the condition of individual sites in the Defence estate and make recommendations where remedial action is necessary. A programme for undertaking land quality assessment work is being prepared which will take account of a number of factors in determining priorities for action, including whether a site is earmarked for disposal or is affected in some other way by the Department's rationalisation plans; its proximity to vulnerable aquifers; the type and extent of known contamination; and past site use.

721. The Department is committed to complying with international conventions. To meet the requirements of the Maritime Pollution 73.78 Convention on preventing pollution at sea, the Royal Navy is examining how it might comply with requirements for reduced engine exhaust emissions from warships, and is introducing equipment programmes to process and manage waste afloat more efficiently. Information exchange programmes and research with other NATO navies are also underway to establish cost-effective solutions to the technological problems of environmental compliance afloat.

722. The Department participates in defence-related environmental pilot studies under the auspices of the NATO Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society. This facilitates the exchange of experiences and information with other NATO nations and with central and eastern European nations who have been invited to share in the scientific and environmental programmes run by the Alliance.

723. We continue to participate fully in the Government's estate campaign to save 15% of energy consumption over a five-year period to 1995-6. We achieved 10% savings in usage by 1993-94 and consumption to date indicates that we should be close to target by the end of the campaign.

724. In accordance with the Environmental Information Regulations 1992, the Department will make available accessible environmental information on the state of water, air, soil, flora, fauna, land and natural sites. Requests for such information should be sent to the Directorate of Defence Environmental Policy, Room 9344, Ministry of Defence, Main Building, Whitehall, London. SW1A 2HB.


725. We have recently undertaken a review of the Department's arrangements for co-ordinating press and public information work, and for monitoring and analysing the effectiveness of the various promotional activities carried out by the Ministry of Defence Head Office and the Services to keep defence in the public eye. The four essential elements of a Defence Information service were judged to be:

726. These elements have been brought together into an overall public information policy framework for the main management areas - the three Services, the Procurement Executive and the Central Staffs. A campaign has also been planned in conjunction with the Department for Education and Employment to promote public awareness of the armed forces, their role, the drive for recruits, and how the Employment Service and Careers Service will help in the recruitment process.

Text Box: The Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team

Disclosure of Information on the Special Forces

727. The United Kingdom's Special Forces have four primary roles: reconnaissance, offensive action, the provision of support to indigenous forces and counter-terrorism. The tasks on which they may be employed are characterised by the need to respond quickly and the ability to deploy worldwide and to conduct sensitive operations covertly and with precision.

728. In wartime, the Special Forces' skills may be required to overcome enemy defences using specialist techniques with the maximum element of surprise. In peacetime, Special Forces personnel may well be able to contribute their specialist skills to peacekeeping operations as part of a broader military deployment.

729. Although the Special Forces have particular capabilities and are tasked accordingly, they are an integral part of the armed forces. They are subject to the same tenets of command, efficiency and discipline as other members of the armed forces, and are accountable in law for their actions. As with the armed forces as a whole, the Special Forces function only as directed by Ministers. But, unlike other units, their activities do not normally lend themselves to public disclosure and promotion.

730. Maintenance of operational security is a fundamental principle applicable across the armed forces as a whole. The sensitive nature of many Special Forces' tasks makes the maintenance of the operational security of their activities even more important. This is particularly true of operations directed against terrorism. These must be based on the best intelligence available. But success also depends crucially on potential adversaries not knowing what capabilities may be used against them and on their remaining unable to identify the source of the intelligence on which an operation is based. Another important consideration is that, given their expertise and success in the fight against terrorism, the Special Forces as a group and as individuals are a target for terrorist attack.

731. The Government's first priority must be the preservation of Special Forces' operational capabilities and the safety of their personnel. Where an official account of a Special Forces operation, past or present, can be given without detriment to their capabilities, we will do so. But, as a general rule, the Government will not comment on matters which are judged to have an unacceptable impact on the successful conduct of operations or on the best interests of Special Forces' personnel. In all cases where a proposed publication concerning the Special Forces is referred to the Department to ensure it threatens no damage, every effort will be made to deal with the matter reasonably and promptly. However, the interests of national security will always come first and, where necessary, the Department will pursue all appropriate legal options to prevent the publication of information about the Special Forces which it considers to be potentially damaging.


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Reviewed 1 October 1996