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Parliamentary and Political Monitoring Report w/c 29th February 2016

By DPF Admin4th March 2016August 6th, 2019Area Updates, Latest News, Northern Updates, Southern Updates

This week's UK security and defence has once again centred upon Trident. The Evening Standard reports that tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of London last weekend to show their opposition to the renewal of the nuclear weapons system. The group were joined on the march by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and her Plaid Cymru counterpart Leanne Wood. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also accompanied the protestors and was one of more than twenty speakers – including senior union members and actress Vanessa Redgrave – to address the crowd. Mr Corbyn said: “Today's demonstration is an expression of many people's opinions and views. I'm here because I believe in a nuclear-free Britain and a nuclear-free future.”

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that former Labour leader Neil Kinnock has issued a stark warning to Jeremy Corbyn that if he continues to oppose the renewal of the Trident missile system, Labour will lose the next election. Former cabinet minister Peter Mandelson also claimed that for Labour to switch back to a unilateral disarmament policy would be electoral suicide.

Against this backdrop, The Guardian reports that the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has announced £642m in further spending on a replacement for Trident nuclear submarines. The £642m will bring money already spent on the Trident replacement programme to £3.9bn. Further funding will come only after the Main Gate decision to procure the system, which will require a parliamentary vote.

Labour's present multilateral policy goes back nearly thirty years. The Party lost to Margret Thatcher's  Conservatives in two landslide elections in 1983 and 1987 supporting a non-nuclear policy, which many believe contributed to its defeat. It was only after this stance was abandoned in 1989 that the Party's political fortunes began to turn around.

Contents

Questions on MDP asked in the House of Commons

This week has seen a defence questions session take place in the House of Commons, during which Defence Select Committee member Madeleine Moon MP asked the a pair of questions on the future of the MDP.

Mrs Moon's first question, asking the Defence Secretary what plans he has to change the number of MDP officers, was answered by Defence Minister Mark Lancaster MP. Mr Lancaster said that as part of the defence efficiencies programme, the Government was reviewing a series of options that are expected to change the way the MoD police or guard some establishments. He added that it was too early to say what the impact will be on the numbers of the MDP officers.

In a follow-up question, Mrs Moon asked what legal advice the Minister had sought or received in relation potentially to removing MDP officers from guard duty at civilian establishments and replacing them with Armed Forces personnel. Mr Lancaster responded by saying that the Government is looking at a number of options on how to make the best use of the MDP and to move officers away from simply static guarding towards taking a more proactive role in communities. He added that a number of discussions have taken place, but these options are yet to be fully explored.

The questions tabled by Madeleine Moon were asked on behalf of the DPF following a briefing to the Defence Select Committee earlier in the year. The first answer confirms that, as expected, the details regarding the future of MDP officer numbers are still under discussion. The second answer did not respond to the question directly. However, the news that a shift in the role of the MDP away from guarding and towards a more pro-active stance is one which we shall seek further information on.

MDP probe over 200 serious crimes at Faslane nuclear base

The Sunday Post reports that hundreds of crimes, including serious fraud and sex assaults, have been investigated at Scotland’s naval base on the Clyde. Since 2013, the MDP has looked into 211 crimes at the base, including counterfeiting, taking indecent pictures of children and possession of drugs. There have also been reports of sexual assault and handling of obscene material. The MDP has also investigated 108 apparent thefts at the base, some of which involved breaking into secure compounds. The Force also looked into 28 cases of vandalism, four of trespassing and one case of someone communicating indecently with a child. The figures were revealed under Freedom of Information laws.

There is of course nothing unusual in a certain level of crime taking place within a base upon which thousands of people work, and it should be assumed that this story was only published due to the controversial place Faslane holds in the Scottish politics. We are currently in contact with the journalist who wrote the article in order to convey the importance of the role of the MDP in policing the defence estate.

Ban on women in frontline units to be lifted

The Times reports that a ban on women fighting in frontline combat roles is expected to be lifted this summer. David Cameron has spoken out in support of allowing female soldiers to take on combat roles within infantry units, such as the Parachute Regiment. The United States has already changed its rules on women in ground combat roles following a series of assessments.

The anticipated change in the rules will be a historic moment for the Armed Forces. Less than 25 years ago women were only able to serve in female-only branches of the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. Opening up all combat arms to women, however, is particularly controversial, with a number of soldiers and veterans warning against it.

British troops sent to Tunisia to bolster Libyan border

Yahoo News reports that Britain is sending a training team of around twenty soldiers to Tunisia to help stop people illegally entering from neighbouring Libya, Defence Minister Michael Fallon has told Parliament. “A training team of some twenty troops from the 4th Infantry Brigade is now moving to Tunisia to help counter illegal cross-border movement from Libya in support of the Tunisian authorities,” he said. British forces should not have a “combat role” in Libya but would be ready to provide military advice and training for the Libyan government if asked to do so and only with the prior consent of British MPs.

Libya has had rival parliaments and governments since 2014, after an Islamist-led militia alliance overran Tripoli and forced the internationally recognised administration to flee to the remote east of the oil-rich nation. Extremists including the Islamic State group have exploited the chaos, raising fears of jihadists using the Libyan coast as a launchpad to infiltrate Europe and carry out attacks.

State pension review raises questions over retirement age

The BBC reports that a review of the state pension age could mean people joining the workforce today will have to wait until their mid-70s before they retire. Former CBI leader John Cridland has been appointed to lead the review, the first of regular five-year assessments.

Currently, the state pension age is set to be 67 for both men and women by 2028. “It's not just about raising it [state pension age], it's about considering the best way to manage the state pension age policy,” Pensions Minister Baroness Roz Altmann told the BBC. But Tom McPhail, head of retirement policy at financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown, said the review meant state retirement age would increase faster than currently expected. “We fully expect state pension ages to go up faster than currently planned, and those joining the workforce today are likely to find themselves waiting until their mid-70s to get a payout from the state system,” he said.

The current MoD position over the future of the MDP pensions system is that officers will be able to receive payments three years below the state pension age. As a result, were the state pensions age to go up, there would be a commiserate rise in the retirement age of MDP officers. We will be briefing parliamentary supporters to guard against this possibility.

MoD to be censured over SAS Brecon Beacons deaths

The Guardian reports that the MoD is to be censured over the deaths of three soldiers on an SAS training exercise in the Brecon Beacons in 2013. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said it would issue a so-called Crown Censure following the tragedy on one of the hottest days of 2013. The MoD would have faced prosecution for failings identified, said the HSE, were it not for crown immunity. The HSE said its investigation found a failure to plan, assess, and manage risks associated with climatic illness. These failings resulted in the deaths of the three men and heat illness suffered by ten others on the march. L/Cpl Craig Roberts died during the march and L/Cpl Edward Maher and Cpl James Dunsby collapsed and died later.

Police question ex-paras over Bloody Sunday shootings

The Daily Telegraph reports that more than a dozen retired British soldiers are likely to be questioned by Northern Irish police this month over the Bloody Sunday shootings. The interviews will take place in England after lawyers acting for the soldiers won a judicial review last year that argued that it would be illegal to arrest any of the men at their homes without notice and remove them to custody in Northern Ireland.

An independent inquiry into the incident, conducted by Lord Saville, began in 1998 concluded in 2010. It found that by “firing by soldiers of 1 Para on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury”.

Veterans dying from asbestos-related cancer win battle for compensation

The Independent reports that scores of veterans dying from asbestos-related cancer caused by their time in the military are to receive a lump sum in compensation. The announcement is a victory for the Royal British Legion and others whose concerns over the unfair treatment of veterans – who had been denied the six-figure compensation given to civilians with the same condition. Former service personnel suffering illness or injury caused before 1987 cannot sue the MoD for compensation, under current laws. The MoD recently changed the law to allow dying veterans who would previously only have qualified for a weekly pension to opt for a large lump sum. But for reasons which remain unclear, the policy change only applied to those diagnosed with mesothelioma on or after 16 December 2015. Now, it has been announced that those diagnosed prior to this date will also be eligible for the lump sum.

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