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Parliamentary and Political Monitoring Report w/c 02nd January 2017

By DPF Admin6th January 2017August 6th, 2019Area Updates, Latest News, Northern Updates, Southern Updates

This week’s main UK security and defence news has been the death of a British Soldier in Iraq. The Guardian reports that he is believed to have been shot after another member of the UK force accidentally discharged a weapon at the Taji base, north of Baghdad. The MoD named the dead soldier as L/Cpl Scott Hetherington, 22, of 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment. It has launched an investigation into his death.

The UK contingent based at Taji is training the Iraqi Army for combat against Islamic State. L/Cpl Hetherington, who was from Manchester and nicknamed Snowball, was the vehicle commander of a platoon providing protection for the trainers. Lt Col Rob Singleton, the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion, said: “L/Cpl Scott Hetherington was a superb soldier and a first-class leader. Utterly professional and talented, he was full of character, fun, and his enthusiasm was infectious.”

The death comes after the MoD had been quietly expressing thanks to the military for getting through 2016 without any deaths to its personnel in combat zones for the first year since 1968.

  • Labour hints at defence spending increase
  • MDP Chief Constable awarded CBE
  • Online voting could leave UK elections vulnerable to hacking, former head of MI6 warns
  • Man shot dead in police operation ‘had been cleared of murder’
  • Increase planned in maximum sentence for stalking
  • Call for terrorism 'first-aid training needed'
  • Royal Navy facing £500m shortfall

Labour hints at defence spending increase

The Daily Mirror reports that Labour has suggested it would boost military spending if it wins power, to counter allegations it is “soft” on the issue. Nia Griffith, the Shadow Defence Secretary, said she would end the Government’s “smoke and mirrors” approach, which exaggerated the scale of investment. Ms Griffith noted that “When Labour was in government we consistently spent well above the two per cent (of GDP) commitment…But, since 2010, the Tories have hammered the defence budget with major cuts.” Ms Griffith said she was determined that Labour offers a “really strong voice” on defence issues – which was backed by the “vast majority of Labour party activists”.

The apparent commitment to increase spending comes after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn abandoned his attempt to make scrapping Trident party policy. Ms Griffith said she had backtracked on her opposition to Trident renewal because the Party had made a “democratic decision” which must be respected. “Our policy is absolutely, firmly committed to renewing Trident,” she added

The DPF Met with Nia Griffiths in December as part of our parliamentary engagement programme. We briefed her on the role and importance of the MDP, as well as our concerns surrounding potential reductions in force strength and pensions arrangements. Given her role as one of the media’s main sources of comment on matters that involve the MoD, we will ensure that both she and the wider Labour defence team are updated on relevant developments.

MDP Chief Constable granted CBE

Police Professional reports that only one police chief officer has received a ‘major’ award in a New Year Honours’ dominated by frontline, volunteers and police staff. MDP Chief Constable Alf Hitchcock has been appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in recognition of almost 40 years of public service. However, while he is the recipient of the highest honour, volunteers, lower ranks and police staff will receive all the other major awards – OBEs, MBEs and BEMs.

Mr Hitchcock told Police Professional he was delighted with his award, having first joined Lancashire Constabulary just before his 19th birthday in 1977. Mr Hitchcock also served the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) as Commander for Specialist Operations, and as Deputy Assistant Commissioner in charge of territorial policing. He took on his current role in 2013.

The DPF would like to extend its congratulations to the Chief Constable on his award.

Online voting could leave UK elections vulnerable to hacking, former head of MI6 warns

The Belfast Telegraph reports that adopting electronic voting systems could leave British elections vulnerable to cyber-attack by other countries, the former head of MI6 has said. Sir John Sawers said traditional pencil and paper approaches to voting were “actually much more secure” – following allegations that the recent US presidential election was subject to hacking. “The more things that go online, the more susceptible you are to cyber-attacks,” the former spy, who stepped down in 2014, told the BBC. “We need to have systems which are robust,” he said in an interview for the documentary The New World: Axis of Power.

The Electoral Commission has called for “radical changes” to the voting system, while the House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said secure online voting should be an option for all voters by the 2020 general election. A 2014 report by the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee called for pilots on online voting to be conducting during this Parliament.

The allegation of hacking surrounding the US election focus on the accessing of the emails of Hillary Clinton’s advisors and one of the Democratic Party’s servers, not the voting process itself. However, a vote conducted online would likely be vulnerable to manipulations, and even an unsubstantiated claim that the vote had been tampered with could cause controversy.

Man shot dead in police operation ‘had been cleared of murder’

The Daily Telegraph reports that father-of-two shot dead by police on the M62 because he was suspected of being armed was once cleared of attempted murder. Mohammed Yasser Yaqub, 27, was killed as he was driving amongst a fleet of expensive cars near junction 24 of the M62 in Huddersfield at around 6pm on Monday. Five other people were arrested as armed officers closed in on a number of suspects during a pre-planned operation across the region. Mr Yaqub's vehicle appeared to have been heading off the M62 towards Huddersfield when it was stopped by at least one unmarked police car that was following it.

In May 2010 Mr Yaqub was found not guilty of attempting to murder two men in Huddersfield after a judge threw out the prosecution case against him. In a statement West Yorkshire Police said: “We can confirm the operation related to information received about criminal possession of a firearm, as a result of which vehicles were stopped at two separate locations. The five men arrested are currently in custody.”

Increase planned in maximum sentence for stalking

The Guardian reports that the maximum prison sentence for stalking is to be doubled to 10 years, the Ministry of Justice has announced. Under Government amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill, the maximum sentence for racially or religiously aggravated harassment will also double to 14 years. The decision to increase punishments for stalking follows cross-party political pressure in Parliament. Two Conservative backbenchers, Alex Chalk and Richard Graham, introduced a private member’s bill last year calling for the limit to be doubled.  Their initiative was adopted by the Labour peer Janet Royall in the House of Lords where it was passed by a majority last month.

In 2015, a total of 194 people were convicted of stalking offences and 835 were convicted of the related offence of putting people in fear of violence. The average custodial sentence for stalking was 14.1 months

Call for terrorism 'first-aid training needed'

The BBC reports that people need to learn lifesaving skills in case they are caught up in a terror attack in the UK, a team of senior military and civilian medics has said. They say people need to know how to help each other because it could take some time before it is deemed safe for paramedics to arrive on the scene. Their app, called CitizenAID, offers step-by-step advice. Although an individual's chance of being caught up in an incident is small, Brig Tim Hodgetts and Prof Sir Keith Porter, co-developers of CitizenAID, say it is a good idea for people to have a plan and the knowledge and skills to help each other.

The idea is supported by counter-terrorism police. Ch Insp Richard Harding, head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, told the BBC: “One of the challenges we have is that when a serious incident, particularly a terrorist incident occurs, the first responders from a police perspective to a terrorist incident will inevitably be trying to deal with the people causing the threat… So we are really interested in the concept of CitizenAID. It allows the public and people involved in very rare incidents like this to help themselves and help others and their loved ones survive the situation.”

Royal Navy facing £500m shortfall

The Times reports that the Royal Navy is scrambling to save an extra £500 million over the next two months after wasting money on ships it did not need because of a bungled procurement deal. Contracts with BAE Systems for five offshore patrol vessels are the legacy of poor negotiations by the MoD and mean that navy chiefs must find new savings to balance the books, defence sources said. Options include cutting the size of the Royal Marines, mothballing one of two new aircraft carriers and even asking the Army to pay for “soldier-like” jobs performed by Marines, such as guarding naval sites. The article also notes that pressure on the Navy’s budget means that Royal Marines are being asked to perform sailor roles, such as general duties on ships, because there are too few sailors to man the fleet following cuts imposed since 2010. 

Three of the five offshore patrol vessels were ordered in 2014, with an updated order last year, because the MoD is committed to spending £230 million a year on protecting shipbuilding capability by helping BAE Systems keep shipyards in Scotland open regardless whether ships are built. The Royal Navy already has four such vessels, which are likely to be brought out of service early to make way for the new variants.

The Royal Navy asking the Army to pay for “soldier-like” jobs performed by Marines is likely to be a non-starter with the MoD, as the Army is facing its own financial challenges. The increased role of Royal Marines onboard vessels is largely the result of the 2013 disbanding of P Squadron Royal Navy, a unit formed in 2010 to provide protection for ships.

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