RAB
Text settings
Comments

ABC was the acronym used for meetings of Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger and William Cohen when they all worked for the President Bill Clinton. RAB will hopefully in future be an American-style acronym for the cooperation of the three people voted to chair the parliamentary committees for foreign affairs, defence and international development: Richard Ottaway, James Arbuthnot and Malcolm Bruce. If the government succeeds in welding together the different perspectives of the FCO, DFID and the MoD – a prerequisite of modern crisis management - then the three MPs will have to find new ways of working together too as parliament will have to scrutinise this new dynamic.

They must build on the examples of the cross-departmental Intelligence and Security Committee (established in 1994), and the joint committees for arm exports and human rights (1998), individual Select Committees began scrutinising cross-department work. This began in earnest with the Defence Committee’s Iraq inquiry in 2004 and most recently with its 2010 inquiry into the Comprehensive Approach. A new joint committee (the National Security Committee) met for the first time in March 2010 to scrutinise national security issues more broadly.

But the work is still ad hoc and cooperation between the different committees is in many cases even further behind that of the departments they shadow.  For instance, there is a lot of work to do to ensure that parliamentary oversight scrutinises the government’s cross-departmental efforts in places like Pakistan and Yemen, so that the military are not left abandoned by DFID and so on. Messrs Ottaway, Arbuthnot and Bruce would be well-advised to find ways to improve cooperation, perhaps even having joint meetings if not of their full committees, then by themselves, as well as travelling together to places like Afghanistan as William Hague, Liam Fox and Andrew Mitchell recently did.