During the past month, much of the focus of the national media, at least with regards to defence, has been on the future of the Trident nuclear deterrent and its possible renewal.
The effects of this debate have been widespread, with the Labour leadership adopting a far more unilateral stance against the deterrent than at any point in recent decades. This has been most profoundly seen in the Party’s reshuffle, which took place in early January, when Maria Eagle was replaced as Shadow Defence Secretary by Emily Thornberry. Ms Thornberry is known to be more sympathetic to the anti-Trident views of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and since her appointment has been overseeing Labour’s defence policy review.
The Labour reshuffle saw the resignations of the Shadow Defence team, notably former Defence Minister Kevan Jones, who has pledged to be vocal on defence matters from the backbenches. Speculation has mounted that the Government could push for an early vote on the renewal of Trident, with the Parliamentary Labour Party split on the issue.
The second major focus of defence news in the past month has been on the prosecution and civil claims launched against members of the Armed Forces deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The issue has attracted considerable controversy and attention, with leading defence experts pushing for changes to the law to protect the Armed Forces from subsequent lawsuits.
The MDP has also been the subject of media attention in recent weeks, with an article in The Independent (accessible via the link below) highlighting concerns that officers are overstretched. The Federation is responding to the concerns, which were expressed in a report by the MoD Police Committee.
During the past month the Federation has been briefing both parliamentarians and journalist contacts following a blog by the Chief Constable highlighting possible changes to the role of the MDP in guarding the nuclear estate following the publication of the Strategic Defence and Security Review.
The DPF remains very firmly of the view that any such changes would not be in the best interests of the Department or national security.
The political approach
The Federation’s activity during the past month has been focused on briefing influential parliamentarians on the potential consequences of the Strategic Defence and Security Review.
Chief amongst our concerns is the potential for MDP officers to be replaced by alternative security providers at some establishments. As noted in previous member circulars, it is our understanding that no final decisions have been taken by the Department – but that decisions taken do include reductions to the MDP budget.
The Federation is extremely concerned by such discussions within the Department. It is our belief that, outside from the immense dislocation and unacceptable difficulties this would cause to MDP officers, any such changes would result in a substantial skills gap that would deteriorate rather than increase security at critical establishments.
To this end, we have met with and briefed a number of senior parliamentarians – including the members of the Defence Select Committee. Members of the Committee, along with parliamentarians including former Shadow Defence Minister Kevan Jones and SNP defence spokesperson Brendan O’Hara, have tabled a number of parliamentary questions in the past month in order to highlight support for the MDP, and to also help gain further insight into Departmental thinking.
We are extremely grateful to all those parliamentarians we have met in the past month for their time and willingness to investigate the Federation’s concerns. Those MPs we have met have shown considerable concern for the effect that Departmental decision making could have on the future security of critical sites.
In the coming weeks we will be continuing to meet with parliamentarians from all parties, in order to ensure that any decisions made by the MoD are subject to rigorous oversight and scrutiny.
During the past month, the Federation has briefed a number of national defence and political correspondents on our concerns regarding the SDSR and its implications for both the MDP and national security.
We have also followed up on the article in The Independent (referenced above) to highlight the continued hard work and dedication of officers, and to express concern at the conclusions of the MoD Police Committee in the context of possible changes to the role of the MDP.
Finally, we have responded to an enquiry from the Daily Mirror into the cost of the Voluntary Early Release Scheme during the period 2009-11 following the publication of Freedom of Information requests by the Department – highlighting that too many officers were released under VERS.
Given recent developments, we fully understand that some members may wish to convey their concerns to their local MP.
We would, however, remind members that any correspondence is subject to MDP regulations.