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Parliamentary and Political Monitoring Report w/c 12th October 2015

Published: 19/10/2015

Last week’s main UK security and defence news is that the future of Britain’s nuclear weapons is set to be decided within weeks, as ministers plan to call an early House of Commons vote on Trident. The Daily Telegraph reports that senior sources have told them that the Government wants the question to be settled “by Christmas” to stop Nicola Sturgeon and Jeremy Corbyn turning next year’s Scottish Parliamentary elections into a referendum on Britain’s nuclear deterrent. Senior figures fear that a divisive debate over national defence would weaken Britain's image abroad at a time of increased threat to national security. Last week, Britain proposed that NATO should restart nuclear weapons exercises for the first time since the end of the Cold War in order to ensure that Western military commanders are ready for any scenario.

Three separate senior Government sources have reportedly told The Daily Telegraph that a vote could take place before Christmas this year, or in January 2016, on the principle of whether to go ahead with a “like for like” replacement. The vote had been expected by the end of 2016, which would allow enough time for the first of the new submarines to be built before the existing fleet is taken out of service in the late 2020s. However, the critical decision on whether to proceed with replacing Trident now looks likely to be brought forward.

Contents

  • Royal Navy warns it faces shortfall of 4,000 sailors
  • Intelligence Select Committee chairman issues warning on defence spending
  • British diplomat summoned by Russia over 'missile' reports
  • Afghanistan helicopter crash: RAF fatalities named
  • RAF Sea King ends search and rescue role in UK
  • GCHQ can spy on MPs, say tribunal
  • Met chief warns London at risk as Scotland Yard faces £1bn budget cuts
  • Crime rate in England and Wales soars as cybercrime included for first time

Royal Navy warns it faces shortfall of 4,000 sailors

The Daily Telegraph reports that former military leaders have warned that the Royal Navy needs up to 4,000 more sailors, or it will be unable to man the fleet when Britain’s new aircraft carriers arrive. The UK National Defence Association has said the Royal Navy faces a “serious looming manpower problem” after defence cuts, while RAF shortages mean air chiefs may have to lure back airmen who have left. Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham, a vice president of the lobby group of former officers, said: “From a naval point of view there is a serious problem, said to be, when I last spoke to the Fleet Commander, in the order of 3,500 to 4,000 people in order to man the fleet correctly.” But Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, has reportedly told them he wants to limit the increase to around 600 and demanded that in return the Navy get rid of around 300 officers, having referenced such a change at the Conservative Party conference last week.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, former Chief of the Air Staff, said the RAF had its own serious manpower problems. Defence cuts and competition from industry are blamed for an exodus of skilled engineers and mechanics. Sir Michael also said the defence review was likely to consider saving ageing Tornado squadrons from the axe and extending the life of older Typhoon Eurofighters because of a serious shortage of fighter jets.

Subsequent to the publication of this article, the MoD released a statement regarding Royal Navy manpower, which stated that in addition to the measures announced by Michael Fallon at the Conservative Party Conference, the forthcoming Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) would also examine personnel levels.

Intelligence Select Committee chairman issues warning on defence spending

BT News reports that Britain risks spending too little on defence, according to the chairman of Parliament's powerful Intelligence and Security Committee. Conservative former attorney general Dominic Grieve said the Government has put "quite a lot" of investment into the intelligence services in recent years. But he noted there are some defence areas which he worries are "well below" what he would like to see for the country.

Mr Grieve told Pienaar's Politics on BBC Radio 5 Live: "Do I have views about whether we're spending enough money on defence as a Conservative Member of Parliament? I worry very much that our defence budget overall is in danger of becoming too low.” He later added: "This is an extremely difficult problem for this Government, and indeed for any government that would be in power… But the truth is we are in a time when all budgets are constrained and clearly the Strategic Defence and Security Review is going to be a very important document in trying to plot what the United Kingdom should be doing about its overall defence position, and there are some areas where I worry very much as a Conservative Member of Parliament that we are well below where I would wish to see us in terms of our defence position."

British diplomat summoned by Russia over 'missile' reports

The BBC reports that the Foreign Office has said that Russia has summoned Britain's defence attaché in Moscow to explain reports that RAF pilots had been authorised to shoot down Russian aircraft in the Middle East. Newspapers had earlier reported that RAF Tornados in Iraq had been fitted with heat-seeking missiles designed for aerial combat. But the MoD said there was "absolutely no truth" in this. The Foreign Office said concern about Russian military action in Syria had been reiterated by the attaché.

The reports, which appeared in The Sunday Times, amongst other newspapers, claimed that RAF Tornados bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq are to be armed with air-to-air missiles to protect them from attack by Russian aircraft, and that a senior cabinet minister had warned that Britain was prepared to shoot down Vladimir Putin’s jets.

Afghanistan helicopter crash: RAF fatalities named

The Independent reports that two British RAF pilots who were among five people to be killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan have been named as Flight Lieutenants Alan Scott and Geraint Roberts. The air force members died alongside three other unnamed NATO-linked personnel after a Puma Mk 2 aircraft landed at NATO’s Resolute Support mission headquarters in the Afghan capital of Kabul, at around 4.15 pm on Sunday.

The MoD has said that the crash was an accident, mirroring the account of an Afghan security guard who said the aircraft had appeared to strike an observational balloon as it landed. Paying tribute to the RAF staff members, group captain Simon Paterson, station commander at the Benson airbase, said in a statement that the men were “exceptional “ and “two of our most capable and dedicated colleagues and friends”.

RAF Sea King ends search and rescue role in UK

Jane's 360 reports that the RAF has ceased conducting search and rescue (SAR) operations in the mainland UK after nearly 75 years. The last of the famous yellow painted Sea King helicopters flew its final operational sortie out of Royal Marines Base Chivenor in Devon on 4 October. While RAF SAR air missions in the UK have come to an end, a small number of Sea King crews will continue to train at Chivenor to prepare them to provide cover for aircrew stationed in the Falkland Islands, a task that will itself end in March 2016.

With the RAF Sea Kings now no longer flying, SAR cover for the UK mainland will be provided by Royal Navy Sea Kings through to 2016, after which time the civilian Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Bristow Helicopters Limited will assume sole responsibility for the service.

GCHQ can spy on MPs, say tribunal

The Daily Telegraph reports that a tribunal has ruled that MPs do not have special protection from having their communications monitored by Britain’s spy agencies. The Investigatory Powers Tribunal said the so-called Wilson Doctrine, designed to stop intelligence agencies tapping MPs, was not enforceable in law. It reveals MI5, MI6 and GCHQ have always had the power to monitor parliamentarians' communications in “exceptional” circumstances.

The Wilson Doctrine was introduced in 1966 under Harold Wilson, the then Labour prime minister, to ban the tapping of MPs' and peers' phones and was later extended to cover emails. But following a challenge by Green MP Caroline Lucas and others, the IPT has ruled that is has no legal basis. Ms Lucas said the ruling was a “body blow for democracy” while a leading civil rights lawyer said it meant the doctrine was “not worth the paper it was written on”. The tribunal panel, headed by Mr Justice Burton, also ruled the doctrine only applies to targeted, and not incidental, interception of Parliamentary communications. But even in cases of direct, targeted surveillance, the panel said the doctrine had no legal effect, save that in practice the Security and Intelligence Agencies must comply with their own guidance.

Met chief warns London at risk as Scotland Yard faces £1bn budget cuts

The Evening Standard reports that the head of Scotland Yard has said that the safety of London is at risk from budget cuts which could mean the loss of up to 8,000 police officers in the capital. Met chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said his force was faced with massive spending curbs of around £1 billion over the next four years. He declared the savings would mean huge cuts to front line officers and warned they could damage the Met’s ability to prevent and respond to a major terrorist attack.

The Met’s policing budget is expected to be reduced by £800 million or more over the next four years in a spending review to be announced next month.  A new funding formula for police forces could also mean a further £180 million cutback in its annual budgets over that period.

Crime rate in England and Wales soars as cybercrime included for first time

The Guardian reports that the crime rate for England and Wales has doubled to more than 11.6m offences, according to the latest figures. The sharp rise in the headline figures is due to the inclusion of an estimated 5.1m online fraud incidents and 2.5m cybercrime offences for the first time. The crime survey for England and Wales, which is based on people’s experience of crime, shows that the underlying crime rate, excluding cybercrime, continued to fall by eight per cent to an estimated 6.5m offences in the 12 months to June this year. Separate police-recorded figures show a five per cent increase in crime, including a 25 per cent increase in violence against the person. Sexual offences including rape rose by 41 per cent over the past year, which police say is indicative of a greater willingness of victims to report such crimes.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the publication of an official estimate of fraud and cybercrime alongside the crime survey of England and Wales follows growing concern that the rise in cybercrime “makes up” for the long-term fall in crime from a peak of 19m offences in 1995 to 6.5m offences by June.

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