In a government reshuffle this week, Philip Hammond was appointed Secretary of State for the Foreign Office. Taking over the role of Secretary of State for Defence is Michael Fallon, who has previously served as a Minister for Energy and Minister for Business and Enterprise. Mr Fallon is the MP for Sevenoaks and briefly served as a Government Whip under the Thatcher Government of the late 1980s. He is regarded as one of the more right-leaning Conservative MPs currently in Government.
Dr Andrew Murrison has left the MOD as the new Minister for International Development while former Defence Select Committee member Julian Brazier has been appointed as a Parliamentary-Under Secretary of State to the Department. Anna Soubry has been promoted to Minister of State from her junior position as Parliamentary-Under Secretary. The portfolios of Ms Soubry and Mr Brazier are still to be confirmed, although Ms Soubry’s job title has been confirmed as Minister of State for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, indicating that she may well remain the Minister with responsibility for the MDP. We will be keeping the DPF informed of any further developments on this issue.
· Answers to oral questions on defence
· Answers to written questions on defence
· MOD to invest more than £1 billion in Special Forces to help fight terrorism
· MoD report details problems with reserve force expansion plans
· Former lawyers and military officers warns that new ombudsman will be powerless over MOD
· FT says the MOD is likely to face more cuts following General Election
· New Deepcut barracks inquest announced
· NATO ‘shaken’ by effectiveness of Russia’s propaganda campaign over Ukraine conflict
· Concerns over F35 jets after engine fire grounds first order batch
Answers to oral questions on defence
· During an oral defence questions session, Sir Bob Russell asked the Secretary of State for Defence when the relevant Minister expects to announce a decision on the normal pension age for workers in the defence fire and rescue service.
Defence Minister Anna Soubry said the situation was a long running problem. She said that those in the defence fire and rescue service are actually employed as civil servants, so it is a difficult decision which the MOD hopes to make as soon as possible.
The DPF is currently following up with the Minister’s office to confirm a meeting with her officials to discuss the pension age for MDP officers, following the Minister’s confirmation at the DPF’s annual conference that she had instructed officials to meet with the Federation to resolve the issue as a matter of urgency
· Conservative MP Henry Smith asked what assessment the Defence Secretary had made of the recommendation of the concluding report of the Trident commission set up by the British American Security Information Council.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said he welcomes the Commission’s conclusion that, while there remains the possibility of a direct nuclear threat to the UK, we should retain our nuclear deterrent. He said the Department is clear that for this to be effective the UK should retain a continuous at-sea deterrent posture.
Answers to written questions on defence
· Shadow Defence Secretary Vernon Coaker asked the Secretary of State for Defence, with reference to the Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2013, what steps his Department has taken to improve the sharing of service facilities with civilians.
Defence Minister Dr Andrew Murrison said the Department shares facilities with civilians where feasible (with defence needs taking priority) and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
MOD to invest more than £1 billion in Special Forces to help fight terrorism
The Times reports that the power of the SAS and Special boat Service (SBS) to fight terrorism and free hostages will receive a surprise boost in a plan to invest more than £1 billion in hi-tech military equipment and cyber warfare. Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Williams, a former SAS commander, welcomed the announcement which comes as British officials grow increasingly concerned about the rise of Islamist extremism under ISIS and al-Qaeda.
The Times says British security officials are worried about the threat posed by hundreds of British jihadists who have travelled to Syria and into Iraq to fight with ISIS, but could return to the UK skilled in insurgency warfare. Colonel Williams said that a Defence Review due next year could focus more on Britain’s intelligence-gathering and Special Forces capabilities, at the expense of the regular forces. Under the plans announced this week, an extra £800 million will be invested in surveillance and special operations countered global threats better than the conventional military. It has been argued that the investment would make more sense than traditional forces investment because surveillance and special operations counter global threats better than the conventional military.
MoD report details problems with reserve force expansion plans
The Daily Telegraph says that a Ministry of Defence plan to boost the Army Reserve while cutting regular soldiers has been described in a report as having made an “extremely poor start to recruiting”. The report was prepared by an independent group of largely retired Armed Forces officers.
The document outlines how early attempts to grow the Army Reserve were “lamentable”, chiefly due to IT problems and a bungled contract to outsource large parts of the recruitment process. The independent scrutiny report said there was a willing pool of people who wanted to sign up, but the plan was being undermined by poor marketing and badly processed applications. The analysis goes on to state that, “it likely that the Army ought to be able to man to required strength by 2018 or shortly thereafter, but we judge that full trained strength and operational capability will take longer”.
Former lawyers and military officers warns that new ombudsman will be powerless over MOD
The Times reports that a group of lawyers and former officers has warned that the ombudsman to protect soldiers from abuse in the military will be powerless to force the MOD to produce documents that could incriminate the Department. In evidence to the Defence Select Committee, former Army lawyer and Lieutenant Colonel Reverend Nicholas Mercer and Fiona Edington, lawyer and Lieutenant Colonel, said that the draft legislation to create the post, which was announced earlier this year to reinforce the military justice system, will not change the way complaints about bullying and harassment are handled. They also warned that military personnel who experience abuse will continue to remain at risk of committing suicide out of desperation if the bill is passed into law as it stands.
A key concern is the lack of power given to the ombudsman to demand the MOD to produce documents. The MOD is considered to have a poor track record for releasing files in lawsuits and other disputes documentation might reveal wrong-doing or embarrassing failures by the MOD or individual officers. Regulations published by the MOD to accompany the Bill state that the ombudsman should continue with an investigation and the preparation of a report even if information is withheld by the MOD. Madeleine Moon, a member of the Defence Select Committee who campaigned vociferously on the subject of abuse within the Armed Forces, said she had grave concerns about the ability of the MOD to continue to withhold pertinent files.
In response, the MOD has dismissed claims that the new post would be powerless. It said that the ombudsman will have the power to request all the information and evidence required, as well as the ability to certify a potential act of contempt to the High Court, if the ombudsman is not provided with material that has been asked for and there is no lawful reason for it to be withheld.
FT says the MOD is likely to face more cuts following General Election
An editorial by the Financial Times says that the MOD is likely to face more cuts following the General Election. The newspaper says that the Prime Minister has given the impression that the Mod still enjoys a privileged status, by announcing boosts for specialist spending such as the £1.1 billion for surveillance and intelligence assets. However, the FT points as that this is simply money the Department failed to spend in previous years.
The FT says that such announcements distract from the bigger threat facing the MOD. Conservatives and Labour are committed to further reduction of the UK’s overall budget deficit after 2015 and while both parties will protect the budgets for health, education and international development, the FT says the MOD will not be ring-fenced. The FT says that Britain’s party leaders “know they can cut the MOD because it is an easy political target”.
The FT advocates that Britain needs to maintain a strong global military presence in an increasingly turbulent world and says that this is vital given the problems facing the Middle East, Eastern Europe and continuing uncertainty over climate change. The FT says that if ministers opt to continue cutting MOD spending then the UK should limit itself to a more discreet international role. It concludes by saying that at the next election there must be a proper debate about UK defence policy and if not, “Britain will carry on sleepwalking towards a diminished position on the world stage”.
New Deepcut barracks inquest announced
The BBC reports that a new inquest has been ordered into the death of soldier Pte Cheryl James at Deepcut barracks in Surrey. The 18-year-old from Denbighshire died in November 1995. The High Court ordered a fresh inquest after a challenge by her family. She was one of four soldiers who died at the barracks between 1995 and 2002, sparking allegations of bullying and abuse. Mr Justice Mitting and Judge Peter Thornton QC agreed that there was “an insufficiency of inquiry” at the 1995 inquest and quashed the open verdict recorded at the inquest into Pte James's death. Judge Thornton said “the discovery of new facts or evidence” made “a fresh investigation including a fresh inquest necessary or desirable in the interests of justice”.
NATO ‘shaken’ by effectiveness of Russia’s propaganda campaign over Ukraine conflict
Financial Times says that NATO has been shaken by the effectiveness of Russia’s online information war during the Ukraine conflict and is looking for ways to counter the country’s aggressive propaganda campaigns. The UK ambassador to the Alliance said that the annexation in Crimea was a “real wake-up call” for NATO and said the issue of how to combat this media offensive would be one of the several topics on the agenda at the NATO summit this September. The FT says Pro-NATO think tanks, military organisations linked to member states and the alliance itself have been the target of internet trolling campaigns, traditional media disinformation and cyber-attacks.
Concerns over F35 jets after engine fire grounds first order batch
The Times reports that concerns have been raised that Britain will be left without a plane to fly from its new warship for longer than expected after a delay in the arrival of the F35 jump jet to the UK. The £100 million aircraft was stopped from departing on its virgin flight across the Atlantic after the US placed flight restrictions on the plane due to an unexplained engine fire on one of the jets. Former Royal Marine Commander Major General Julian Thomson said he was worried about the F35’s failure to make its international debut this week. A spokesman for the Pentagon acknowledged that the development did not look good to critics, but highlighted that investigators had not found anything pointing to a systemic problem with the engines.