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Parliamentary Monitoring w/c 3 December

Published: 07/12/2012

Lord West of Spithead, the ex-First Sea Lord and Labour Security Minister, said he had spoken to a number of defence organisations that intended to move their operations to England, should Scotland vote for independence. Lord West made his claim whilst giving evidence to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee’s inquiry on Scottish independence, where he also criticised the MOD’s refusal to plan for separation as a “dereliction of duty”. In his evidence, Lord West said that defence companies he spoke to have said they would leave Scotland if it becomes independent. However, SNP Westminster leader, and Defence Spokesman, Angus Robertson MP, commented that Lord West was “scaremongering”, adding that the peers’ claims had been “dismissed” by experts. Robertson stressed that the skills and expertise of Scotland’s defence sector will enable it to continue to succeed after independence.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that all non-essential military and civilian personnel in Land Forces are being encouraged to take 25 days off between December 14th 2012 and January 7th 2013, including an extra five days of leave as a “thank you” for their efforts this year. A leaked Army document says the shutdown of barracks and other military sites over Christmas will provide "an opportunity for utility savings". The memo from Major-General David Cullen, Chief of Staff for Land Forces, states that personnel who have already used up their annual leave should work from home and bases must be placed on a “frost protection” footing in case temperatures plummet. The Army denied that the plan to offer extended leave over the festive season was a cost-cutting measure.

Finally, it has been reported this week that the MDP are working alongside the Northern Constabulary and Highland Council, in an initiative which has seen a controlled zone introduced in Inverness to minimise the impact of cold callers. It has been reported that the initiative may be rolled out to other areas in the Scottish city. Craig Cooper, from the MDP, said of the scheme, that when service personnel have partners away serving on active duty, it can leave them feeling more vulnerable, and a visit from a cold caller can leave them intimidated and distressed.

The following developments are covered in this week’s monitoring:

  • DPF mentioned in article on MOD thefts
  • Written questions tabled by Madeleine Moon MP on loss and theft
  • Backbench Business debate on Defence Personnel
  • Written answers on the future of the MDP, flexible tasking proposals, theft in the MOD, and meetings between trade unions and the MOD
  • Autumn Statement
  • National Audit Office refuses to sign off on MOD’s annual accounts
  • Written ministerial statement on the UK’s Cyber Security strategy
  • Defence Committee announces programme for remainder of Parliament

DPF mentioned in article on MOD thefts

Following Madeleine Moon MP’s written question on thefts in the MOD, the Daily Mail reported at length some of the findings which Defence Minister Mark Francois MP revealed in his answer. The report focuses on the theft of a £500 pony, £18,000 in cash, and body armour worth £8,000, acknowledging that in the previous six months, MOD thefts have cost £270,000. The report states that the list of stolen goods ranges from uniforms, helmets, flags, tools and silverware, to metal thefts with copper, lead and brass stolen, and bikes, boats and Land Rovers.

Commenting on the thefts, Moon said that the MOD needs to implement more stringent checks on what leaves, as well as what arrives, at military bases. Commenting on the story, the DPF are quoted as saying that  officers are only called in “when the trail has gone cold”, adding that the list was “concerning”, and demonstrates the potential for vital equipment and resources to either be lost or stolen from MOD sites. Furthermore, the DPF are quoted as saying that the MDP should be used proactively as a deterrent, and to investigate losses straight away. Responding to the statistics, the MOD said that there are robust processes in place to raise awareness of the need for vigilance in all aspects of security, and that the department actively encourages individuals to report loss or theft.

Written questions tabled by Madeleine Moon MP on loss and theft

  • To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, which items were listed as (a) lost, (b) lost in transit and (c) missing at (i) COD Donnington and (ii) COD Bicester from 2010 to date; and if he will make a statement.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what the total value was of items (a) lost, (b) lost in transit and (c) missing from Defence Equipment and Support in each year since 2007; and if he will make a statement.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what the total value was of items (a) lost, (b) lost in transit and (c) missing from (i) COD Donnington, (ii) COD Bicester, (iii) HMNB Clyde, (iv) HMNB Portsmouth, (v) ACIO Colchester and (vi) HMNB Devonport; and if he will make a statement.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, how many (a) civilian and (b) military staff have been employed at (i) COD Donnington and (ii) COD Bicester by Defence Equipment and Services in each year since 2005; and if he will make a statement.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, how many detectives have been employed by the Ministry of Defence Police in each year since 2005; and if he will make a statement.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what estimated value of fraud has been the trigger for an investigation by Ministry of Defence Police in each year between 2005 and 2012; and if he will make a statement.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what the investigation responsibilities are of the (a) Ministry of Defence Police and (b) Royal Military Police; and if he will make a statement.

Backbench Business debate on Defence Personnel

This week in Parliament saw a Backbench business debate on Defence Personnel which considered a number of issues such as welfare, the operation of the Armed Forces Covenant, the impact of the planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the morale of troops.

During the debate, Sir Bob Russell MP, the Liberal Democrat member of the Defence Select Committee, challenged the Defence Minister, Mark Francois MP, to outline the future of the MDP and the Ministry of Defence Guard Service. Russell said that the number of MDP officers covering the Colchester garrison was cut during the period of the last Labour Government from 33 to three. He reiterated that where there was once an MDP presence throughout the Army housing areas, which have an estimated 3,000 dependants, the Essex Police constabulary has now had the Army estates added to its workload.

Russell urged the government to reverse the previous Labour administration’s cuts in MDP numbers at the Colchester garrison, and to resist any moves to reduce, or close completely, the MOD Guard Service. He went on to ask Francois if further cuts to the MDP would put at risk the security of important and strategic national assets, noting that the MOD Police provide defensive armed policing. Russell added that MDP officers are authorised to carry arms outside the wire and have full constabulary powers, and the organisation has an investigative capability with its own criminal investigation department. He said  that reducing the number of MDP officers from 3,500 to about 2,600, as set out in the SDSR, is “pure folly”, stating that national security interests must come before such cuts

Defence Minister Mark Francois MP, in a brief response, mentioned that he had met representatives of the Defence Police Federation, and trade union representatives of the Ministry of Defence Guard Service, but further to this, did not address any of Sir Bob’s wider points on the MDP.

Written answers on the future of the MDP, flexible tasking proposals, theft in the MOD, and meetings between trade unions and the MOD

As reported last week, Sir Bob Russell MP, tabled a written question on whether the DPF had been consulted on the future role of the MDP at MOD sites in the UK, which has been answered by Defence Minister Mark Francois MP. Francois confirmed that the formal consultation on proposals that could affect the future requirements for the MDP began on 8th October 2012, and is continuing. Francois added that the DPF is fully engaged with the consultation process, both at official level and with Ministers, acknowledging his recent meeting with the DPF on 27th November 2012 to discuss their position.

Russell also tabled a question asking what consideration has been given to the flexible tasking proposals prepared by the MDP in determining future security provisions at MOD establishments. Defence Minister Mark Francois responded referring Russell to the answer he provided to Katy Clark on 31st October; this confirmed that the process to determine future civil policing and guarding requirements at individual MOD bases would consider the flexible tasking option, where there is a clear requirement for constabulary powers as part of the overall protective security arrangements.

Labour MP Madeleine Moon received a response to her written question inquiring about what thefts there were from MOD establishments in April, May, June, and July 2012, and what the value was of the items taken. Francois, again responding on behalf of the MOD, provided a detailed answer, in which it was revealed that the items worth the greatest amount reported as stolen were aluminium, worth £26,000, outboard engines worth £25,233, and diving helmets worth £20,958. Francois added that the data does not include ongoing investigations, as disclosing this information would jeopardise these investigations, adding that reported theft represents only about 0.0015% of overall Defence assets.

Gemma Doyle MP, Labour Shadow Defence Minister, tabled a question asking how many times Ministers in the MOD had met representatives of Unite, PCS, Prospect, GMB, UCATT, FDA, RMT, and  NUMAST and BMA since May 2010. Mark Francois responded that Ministers and senior officials regularly meet the Department's recognised trade unions, adding that comprehensive details of all meetings between Defence Ministers and trade union representatives are not held centrally, and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

Autumn Statement

During George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, it was announced that there would be a 1% reduction in departmental resource budgets over the next fiscal year, with this increasing to 2% the year after this. Osborne acknowledged that the MOD will be included in these measures, but confirmed that they will be given flexibility on their multi-year budget to ensure that this will not lead to reductions in military manpower, or the core defence equipment programme, over the Parliament. HM Treasury also confirmed that it is working with the MOD on the review of the Private Finance Initiative, as officials finalise the basing strategy and infrastructure investment plans for a more cost effective estate that meets “Future Force 2020” requirements. They will explore how much of this investment, including construction and maintenance activity, can be delivered through “PF2”.

Following the announcement, it has been reported that the MOD  may fall short of at least £2 billion in its plans to overhaul the UK’s Armed Forces by 2020 as a result of the Autumn Statement, according to analysis of its budget. Defence analysts have said that the Chancellor’s plans to reduce the MOD resource budget by 2% in 2014-15 could have “severe consequences” for the Armed Forces. Defence officials have demonstrated that mooted cuts would not affect the MOD over the next two years because they would be absorbed by reserve funds held by the department. However, it is claimed that the 2% cut will create a new baseline for MOD spending after 2015, which is £490 million below current plans. As a result of this, it is expected that the MOD will plan to have £490 million less in its coffers in every year from 2015 to 2020, the date by which it must complete the overhaul of the Armed Forces, as set out in the SDSR. The MOD has acknowledged that the matter needed to be resolved, stating that the budget for 2015-16 and beyond will be set out in the next spending review.

National Audit Office refuses to sign off on MOD’s annual accounts

It has been reported that The National Audit Office has refused for the sixth year running to sign off on the MOD’s annual accounts, citing a lack of evidence to justify the valuation of more than £10 billion in military equipment. The report examines the MOD’s approach to managing its inventory, and considers whether the department is buying and holding the right quantity of stock, if the department has appropriate strategies and structures in place to manage its inventory efficiently and effectively, and whether the department’s improvement plans will be successful going forwards. The report did not make any specific reference to fraud, theft, or loss.

It was also mentioned that another reason that the Government’s spending watchdog gave for the refusal was the absence of approval from HM Treasury for the remuneration package awarded to Bernard Gray, which demonstrated that the Chief of Defence Materiel received a salary worth between £220,000 and £245,000. This is due to regulations which state that any government department that pays a civil servant more than the £142,500 earned each year by the Prime Minister, must receive HM Treasury approval.

Kevan Jones MP, Labour’s Shadow Armed Forces Minister, was critical of the announcement, focusing on Defence Secretary Philip Hammond MP’s claim that the defence budget had been balanced, and drawing attention to potential cuts to Apache helicopters, over £1 billion in further cuts following the Autumn Statement, the impact of the NAO report, in addition to the level of Mr Gray’s salary.

The NAO did confirm that the MOD had improved its recording of the equipment and supplies that are stored in the military’s many warehouses. It was also confirmed that the department is responsible for £38.9 billion of net operating costs, and assets of some £132.6 billion, with gross liabilities of around £21.8 billion.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude MP has announced that the government is to set up a "Cyber Reserve" force to deal with security threats posed by computer crime. Run by the MOD, it will allow the Armed Forces to address issues relating to cyber crime. Maude said help was needed with ongoing work in combating online crime, and confirmed that the scheme's details will be unveiled next year. In the written statement, Maude said 93% of large corporations and 76% of small businesses had reported a cyber breach in the past year. The Cabinet Office Minister also promised efforts to make the UK one of the most secure places in the world to do business in cyber space, as he gave a first year update on the UK's Cyber Security Strategy. Maude said that the government was looking to move towards the establishment of a UK National CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team), to act as a focus point for international sharing of technical information. Finally, it was confirmed by Maude that the MOD is taking forward the development of a “Cyber Reserve”, which will allow the services to draw on the wider talent and skills of the nation in the cyber field.

Defence Committee announces programme for remainder of Parliament

The Defence Committee has announced its outline programme for the remainder of the Parliament. The Committee said that its purpose in doing so is, by setting out its strategy, to encourage comment on and engagement in its general direction and its inquiries. The DSC confirmed that their priority during this Parliament has been, and remains to help to shape, the next SDSR.

In light of this, the DSC confirmed that they are to pursue three enquiries. The first will examine the purpose and future use of the Armed Forces, which would include taking evidence on the strategic balance between deterrence, containment, intervention and influence; the utility of force;  the legitimacy of force, including the political and military interface and lessons learned from current and recent operations; the effect of changes in the interpretation of the law on the prosecution of operations, and the use of remotely piloted aircraft; and the relationship between hard and soft power in terms of influence.

The second enquiry is to focus on “Army 2020” including: recruitment; reserves; redeployment from Germany; re-basing; and availability of training areas, whilst it was announced that the final enquiry will look at “Future Force 2020”, specifically focusing on the regeneration of capacity. The DSC confirmed that it will also maintain its programme of inquiries into current operations, aspects of the Armed Forces Covenant, emerging threats, and the administration and finances of the Ministry of Defence, and that it will continue to follow up previous inquiries.

Eamon Keating

National Chairman

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