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Parliamentary and Political Monitoring Report w/c 08th February 2016

By DPF Admin12th February 2016August 6th, 2019Area Updates, Latest News, Northern Updates, Southern Updates

This week's security and defence news has seen a return to the subject of Labour’s policy on Trident. The Daily Telegraph reports that Labour MPs have descended into a bitter row over Trident renewal, with one describing Jeremy Corbyn's Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry as being in “La La Land”. Ms Thornberry, who is herself opposing to the renewal of the nuclear deterrent, presented her review of the Party's policy to fellow MPs at the beginning of this week. The rowdy meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party saw Ms Thornberry heckled by her colleagues for suggesting Labour should “consider all options” on Trident.

Former Defence Secretary John Hutton later accused Ms Thornberry of being a “mouthpiece” for the anti-Trident lobby. Andy Burnham, who is pro-renewal, took to the BBC Radio 4's Today programme to declare that the Party's differences were “irreconcilable”.

In a linked development, The Guardian reports that the GMB, which supports the renewal of Trident to protect jobs in the defence industry, has warned it would “not stand idly by” during Labour’s review of its support for replacing the nuclear deterrent. Paul Kenny, GMB General Secretary, said it was “time for the real voice of working people in our defence industries to be heard in this debate”.

Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph reports that a replacement for Britain’s ageing Vanguard-class nuclear submarines – which carry Trident missiles – has come a step closer after the MoD awarded a £201m to BAE Systems to develop the so-called “Successor” vessels. The funding will allow BAE to develop the design of the new submarines, including the layout and systems, and build early prototypes.

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Army may guard Britain's nuclear sites in light of MDP staff shortages

The Independent on Sunday reports that staff shortages at the police force responsible for guarding the UK’s nuclear weapons bases and other key military facilities are now so severe that the MoD is considering whether to use serving soldiers to plug the gaps. Eamon Keating, the National Chairman of the Defence Police Federation, said using soldiers had been discussed by the MoD and senior MDP officials. But he warned that while using military personnel to do the job of police firearms officers sounded superficially sensible, the two roles were very different. Mr Keating said he was “not confident” that security at UK military sites was good enough, due to a lack of police resources. Officers felt “incredibly undervalued”, he added, and were trying to do their jobs “in a very difficult environment”.

Labour has voiced concerns about the apparent change in policy. “It is highly inappropriate for the MoD to expect the military to fill in the gaps left by cuts to its civilian workforce,” said Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Defence Secretary.

The interview with Eamon Keating was secured as a follow up to an article run on the same subject last week by The Independent. Importantly, the MoD was quoted in the Independent on Sunday as noting its policy was to utilise the MDP at establishments where there is “an essential need” for constabulary powers. This comment will form part of our ongoing communications with the media and parliamentarians.

Police and Crime Bill published

This week has seen the publication of the new Policing and Crime Bill. First announced in the Queen's Speech in May 2015, the Home Office has introduced new legislation which – in its words – “will aim to finish the job of police reform.” According to the Department: “The purpose of [the Bill] is to enhance the democratic accountability of police forces… improve the efficiency and effectiveness of emergency services through closer collaboration and build public confidence in policing.” Its provisions include:

  • placing a duty on police, fire and ambulance services to work together and enable police and crime commissioners to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services where a local case is made
  • reforming the police complaints and disciplinary systems
  • enabling chief officers to make the most efficient and effective use of their workforce by giving them the flexibility to confer a wider range of powers on police staff and volunteer
  • amending the Firearms Acts, including to better protect the public by closing loopholes that can be exploited by criminals and terrorists

The Metropolitan Police Federation's news feed reports that the traditional rank structure of the English and Welsh police service could face significant reform under the proposed legislation. Part of the Bill takes on the work of the College of Policing Leadership Review from last summer which stated that the rank structure needs to change because it can “create bureaucracy and inhibit aspiration”.

Whilst the MDP operates under the auspice of the MoD rather than the Home Office, this Bill will have implications for the MDP given both the collaboration between the MoD and Home Office forces, and the tendency of departments to copy 'successful' initiatives of other government bodies. We will monitor the bill's progress in Parliament and the debate surrounding it.

Shortfall of 6,000 personnel reported in Armed Forces

The Daily Mirror reports that Britain’s Armed Forces is short of more than 5,000 regular troops, according to latest government statistics. New Armed Forces figures show how the number of regular trained troops ready to defend the UK is now 141,260 – against a required number of 147,130. MoD papers call the difference between the two figures of 5,870 “… one indicator of the Service’s ability to execute military tasks.”

Deepcut inquiry continues

The Guardian reports that an inquest into the death of a teenage recruit has heard that the atmosphere at Deepcut barracks was “heavily sexualised, misogynistic and toxic”, with senior male instructors seeing young women as a sexual challenge. Pte Cheryl James, 18, from Llangollen, north Wales, died from a single gunshot wound to the head while posted on lone guard duty at the Surrey barracks in 1995.

Alison Foster QC, counsel for Pte James’s parents, told the new inquest into the death that the atmosphere was such that men of senior rank might have thought it “acceptable to try it on with a young female to persuade her to have a relationship”. Giving evidence about policies in place at the time, Brigadier John Donnelly, the Army’s head of personal services, agreed and said it would have been “an abuse of power”. He claimed such an environment would put young women “in a very invidious position” and make training very difficult.

The inquest continues.

Military commanders 'sold insurance for cases against Armed Forces'

The Daily Telegraph reports that military commanders are being sold insurance to protect them against legal action amid concern about battlefield claims from Iraq and Afghanistan, a former defence chief has said. Lord Boyce, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, said he was concerned about the “increasing legal encirclement of our Armed Forces”. The cross-bench peer told the Lords there was growing concern in the Forces about “crown immunity – or the lack of it – in warfare situations”, fuelled by a surge of cases of alleged abuses in the field, or the use of allegedly inappropriate equipment.

One scheme advertised says it is aimed at any commander “who is or may be sued in the UK Courts for negligent acts and or omissions made in the course of his or her military duties.” The Commanders’ Protection scheme from The Military Mutual includes legal advice and representation, as well as help gathering witnesses and evidence. A spokesman for the firm said the scheme was still being piloted and tested.

Labour demand outline of potential UK operations in Libya

The Independent reports that Jeremy Corbyn has demanded that David Cameron reveal the extent of Britain’s growing military preparations for war in Libya, amid concern that British “seek and destroy” drones may already be operating over the country. The opposition leader intervened to demand the Prime Minister give MPs an “unequivocal assurance that no decision has been taken to use drones in support of military operations in Libya”. The Labour leader said that Mr Cameron must also give a “clear commitment” to consult Parliament before “any military intervention” in Libya. This comes in defiance of the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, who last week rejected a demand to keep Parliament informed, sparking concern that drones are being used to gather intelligence for air strikes and a ground campaign later this year.

MoD civil servants criticised over gifts

The Times reports that the Nation Audit Office (NAO) has called for a tightening of the rules after their investigations uncovered that civil servants accepted iPads, Fortnum & Mason hampers and tickets to football matches, movie premieres and studio tours last year. The “over-generous and over-frequent” gifts lavished upon officials by suppliers and foreign governments prompted NAO to call for a crackdown. The existing rules are routinely ignored, according to the report.

Officials at Defence Equipment & Support, the commercial arm of the MoD, reported 5,213 gifts last year, worth some £100,000. Airbus picked up a dinner bill for 26 MoD staff to mark the launch of its Airbus 400M – six years late and £500 million over budget. Hospitality is allowed but it must be proportionate and not present a conflict of interest. The NAO warned of the “reputational risk” of accepting gifts.

1,600 British troops head to Jordan for war game

The Daily Telegraph reports that more than British 1,600 troops will head to the Middle East to practise an Iraq invasion-scale operation for the first time in more than a decade. The logistics war game in Jordan aims to ensure the Army can still deploy a 30,000-strong force of tanks and troops to a crisis zone anywhere in the world, despite sharp defence cuts in the past five years.  Exercise Shamal Storm could be a dry run for one day having to send a large armoured force of British troops to Eastern Europe if there was ever a Russian confrontation with NATO, sources said.

After more than a decade of fighting a long-running counter insurgency campaign in Afghanistan, where no more than 10,000 troops were deployed at any one time, the Army is trying to relearn skills for shorter duration but larger-scale armoured conflict.

Cadets in drug overdose

The BBC reports that nine military cadets have been taken to hospital “following a suspected drug-taking incident” at a training camp, police have said. The cadets “became unwell overnight” at Altcar Training Camp in Hightown, Merseyside, on Saturday. They were taken to two hospitals for treatment. All nine have since been released. A girl, aged 17, arrested on suspicion of possession of drugs with intent to supply, has been bailed. A police spokeswoman said the “exact circumstances” of what happened “cannot be confirmed at this time”, but added it was “believed that no other cadets have been affected”.

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