During the last month, Prime Minister David Cameron undertook the widest ministerial reshuffle of his premiership to date, which included the appointment of Philip Hammond as Foreign Secretary, succeeding William Hague, who became Leader of the House of Commons and announced that he would stand down as a Member of Parliament at next year’s General Election.
With Mr Hammond moving to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Michael Fallon MP has been appointed by the Prime Minister as the new Secretary of State for Defence. Mr Fallon is considered to be one of more right-leaning Conservatives on the government benches and is a former Minister for Energy and Minister for Business and Enterprise. The MOD’s ministerial team was also shaken up, with former Defence Select Committee member Julian Brazier being appointed as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, joining Anna Soubry, Mark Francois, Lord Astor of Hever and Philip Dunne. Dr Andrew Murrison was moved from the MOD to become the new Minister for International Development.
Anna Soubry, who attended the Federation’s annual conference in June, was promoted to the rank of Minister of State, but retains responsibility for the MDP within her brief. The Federation believes this to be a positive announcement given our constructive meetings with Ms Soubry since her appointment to the MOD ministerial team last year. The expectation amongst the national press and political commentators is that this will be the last ministerial reshuffle before the General Election in May 2015 – and the reshuffle has been interpreted as an effort by the Prime Minister to put his Cabinet on an ‘election footing’.
Separate to the ministerial reshuffle, there has been renewed speculation that the MOD might face pressure for further budget cuts following the General Election, with the department likely to be one of those vulnerable to reduced spending while departments such as health and international development are likely to continue having their budgets ring-fenced. The MOD has also faced further criticism over its plans to expand the reserve force following significant cuts to Army personnel.
The Federation has continued its engagement with the MOD on the subject of pensions during the last month, while also undertaking an outreach programme with parliamentarians that we will be carrying forward during the summer in anticipation of the return of MPs to Westminster in September, following the summer recess. We have also secured confirmation that the new Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, Rory Stewart MP, would be happy to meet with the Federation following the recess.
The political approach
The Federation wrote to Anna Soubry to congratulate her on her promotion to the rank of Minister of State, also using the opportunity to reference the issues of officers’ pensions and retirement ages following the Minister’s comments at the annual conference. We have also written directly to the officials advising the Minister on this issue and are working to confirm a meeting with them in September.
We have written to the new Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, Rory Stewart MP, to request a meeting with him as an opportunity to introduce him to the work of the Federation and the MDP, discuss the issue of security of the MOD estate, and to continue the constructive relationship we have had with the Select Committee under the chairmanship of James Arbuthnot MP. Mr Stewart has confirmed that he is happy to meet with the Federation following the parliamentary summer recess and we will be liaising with the Committee clerk to confirm a date for the meeting. Further meetings are being arranged with former Defence Minister Derek Twigg and Caroline Dinenage MP.
We have briefed those MPs and Peers who have been highly supportive of our efforts to confirm a Normal Pension Age for officers currently subject to the State Pension Age. Alongside these contacts, we are communicating with a wider group of MPs to ensure widespread parliamentary awareness and knowledge of, as well as support for, the MDP in advance of the General Election and next year’s Defence Review.
We are in the process of confirming meetings with the defence correspondents of national broadsheet newspapers as a means of briefing them on issues affecting the Federation and its members, and to ensure continued good relations with the national media ahead of next year’s Defence Review.
We have similarly confirmed a meeting with a new member of the Police Oracle team, who has responsibility for reporting on matters relating to the MOD.
We would recommend that members refrain from contacting their local MPs at present while dialogue with the MOD and Cabinet Office on the subjects of terms and conditions of service and pension provisions is on-going, but would remind any member wishing to contact their MP that any correspondence is subject to MDP regulations.