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Parliamentary Report w/c 17th March

Published: 24/03/2014

The MOD has announced that, in an operation spanning more than a month, Main Operating Base (MOD) Lashkar Gah and Patrol Base (PB) Lashkar Gah Durai have been handed over to Afghan control. A third base, MOB Price, has also been closed. This leaves only 2 bases which now accommodate UK personnel, from a peak of 137.

The majority of the former UK bases are now under the charge of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Afghan forces are now leading 97% of all security operations across the country and are carrying out over 90% of their own training.

Contents

  • Written questions on trade union activities and the relocation of Trident
  • Oral questions on defence
  • Adjournment debate – Defence in Scotland after 2014
  • Vice-Admiral warns that UK will lose nuclear capability if Scotland separates
  • Army to boost incentives for reserve recruitment

Written questions on trade union activities and the relocation of Trident

  • Conservative MP Alun Cairns asked the Secretary of State for Defence what funding his Department provided for staff to carry out trade union activities in each of the last three years; and how many days staff spent on those activities in each of those years.

Defence Minister Anna Soubry said that the MOD makes certain facilities available to civilian employees who are accredited representatives, but not paid officials, of trade unions recognised by the Department. Soubry said the amount of time off and the purposes for which is allowed is in accordance with the ACAS Code of Practice Time off for Trade Union duties and activities. She said that this is recorded facility time (FT).

Soubry went on to say that the MOD only began to record centrally the number of days in 2013 and in period 1, from April 2013 to March 2014, the cost of funding trade union personnel for FT was 3,078 days, at a cost of some £377,000. In 2013, 53 departmental staff were recorded as 100% FT; in 2014 this had reduced to 11 departmental staff.

Soubry highlighted that the figures do not include the FT provided to the MOD police, Royal Fleet Auxiliary or trading funds, or non-departmental public bodies that have their own agreements with trade unions. She said that figures collected on the same base for earlier years are not available, but the Department has previously estimated that in the year 2011-12 some 27,060 staff days were spent on FT at the cost of £3.65 million.

  • Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received from the Welsh Government on relocating Trident to the Cleddau in the event of Scottish independence.

Wales Minister David Jones said there have been no official representations from the Welsh Government regarding the basing of the nuclear deterrent fleet in Wales. Mr Jones said the UK Government is not making plans for Scottish independence or to move the nuclear deterrent or other submarines from HMNB Clyde. He said the UK Government’s position is clear: Scotland benefits from being part of the UK and the UK benefits from having Scotland within it.

  • Jonathan Edwards asked the Secretary of State for Defence:
  1. what financial contribution would be requested from the Welsh Government in relocation costs if Trident were moved to Cleddau in the event of Scottish independence;
  2. what estimate he has made of the cost and timescale of relocating Trident to the Cleddau in the event of Scottish independence;
  3. what representations he has received from the Welsh Government on the protocols required between the UK and Welsh Government pertaining to environmental protection in the Cleddau estuary should Trident be moved from its current base in Scotland.
  4. what recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on relocating Trident to the Cleddau in the event of Scottish independence.

Defence Minister Dr Andrew Murrison MP said the UK Government’s position is clear: Scotland benefits from being part of the UK and the UK benefits from having Scotland within it. Dr Murrison said the UK is not making plans for Scottish independence and is not making plans to move the nuclear deterrent or other submarines from HMNB Clyde.

These questions show that the issue of Trident is receiving increasing attention in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum. Jonathan Edward’s questions suggest there may be some interest from the Welsh stakeholders in providing a new base for Trident.

Oral questions on defence

  • During oral questions on defence Labour MP Katy Clark asked what recent progress the Ministry of Defence has made on its response to the internal radiation leak aboard HMS Vanguard.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said it was important to make it clear that there has been no issue with the reactor on HMS Vanguard or, indeed, any of the UK’s submarines. He said that a small fuel element breach in the naval test reactor at Dounreay had not resulted to a leak of radiation from the reactor circuit.

  • Shadow Defence Minister Gemma Doyle MP asked the Defence Secretary whether and when the Commodore at Clyde Naval Base was alerted to a potential issue with the reactors of the Vanguard submarines.

Mr Hammond said that if there had been any health and safety risk or any risk to the environment, he would have expected the relevant local authorities to have been notified, but there were none at any time. He said that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has a written agreement with the MOD that allows it oversight of these matters in military bases in Scotland. He added that if SEPA through there was any risk at any time, it would have notified the necessary civil authorities.

  • Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh asked what effect the Army 2020 review has had on the operational capability of the armed forces.

Armed Forces Minister Mark Francois said that under Army 2020, the army will be equipped to face future threats after more than a decade of enduring operations and will remain capable of operating across the full spectrum of military capability.

Adjournment debate – Defence in Scotland after 2014

Labour MP for Dunfermline and West Fife Thomas Docherty introduced a debate on Defence in Scotland after 2014. No Scottish National Party MPs attended the debate and Mr Docherty and MPs from all three main parties criticised a lack of coherent and clear planning on defence issues.

Speaking on the future of defence industry jobs in Scotland, Mr Docherty highlighted that it was impossible to discuss industrial strategy in Scotland without talking about the future of the Clyde. He said that incredibly difficult decisions had to be made, as part of the terms of business agreement, about the future of Portsmouth and the Clyde. Conservative MP for Portsmouth North, Penny Mordaunt, highlighted that Clyde faces competition from other parts of the UK and would suffer under independence.

MP for South West Wiltshire, Dr Andrew Murrison said that UK defence generates economic benefits for communities throughout Scotland through jobs, contracts and support services, and added that HMNB Clyde was the biggest employment site in Scotland, with about 6,700 military and civilian jobs which are set to increase to 8,200 by 2022.

This adjournment debate reiterates the point about the growing prominence of Trident in the Scottish independence debate. It shows there are particular concerns over the impact on jobs at Clyde if Scotland voted for independence.

Vice-Admiral warns that UK will lose nuclear capability if Scotland separates

Former Commandant of the Royal College of Defence Studies, Vice-Admiral John McAnally has warned that the UK will be forced to abandon its nuclear weapons if Scotland becomes independent. In an article for the Daily Telegraph, Vice-Admiral McAnally said Scottish independence was the “biggest strategic threat” facing the UK’s Armed Forces and said that the UK would lose its seat on the UN Security Council.

Vice-Admiral McAnally explained that the loss of the naval base at Faslane would leave a huge gap in defence infrastructure, with the relocation of Trident costing billions and possibly leading to the loss of the fleet altogether. He said that the separate countries would be reduced to “two struggling nations on Europe’s periphery”, without the means to defend their now separate interests

Army to boost incentives for reserve recruitment

The Times reports that the Army will try to recruit hundreds of regular soldiers into the reserves when they quit or face redundancy by doubling a cash incentive to £10,000. A cash incentive of £300 will also be given to any civilian who goes through the process of enlisting to join the Army Reserve – a sum designed to cover petrol costs for attending recruitment centres and to help keep up an applicant’s interest while waiting to have medical records and other assessments cleared before he or she can start training.

The new sum of £10,000 will be paid over three years in a deal that is effective from 1st April. The Times says the current rewards of £5,000 already appears to have had an effect, with a significant increase in the number of service personnel making the switch. 

Philip Hammond said he wanted to develop a culture where it was increasingly routine for a regular soldier to become a reservist upon leaving full-time service. Hammond said that ex-regulars delivered experience and “robustness”, with many having served in combat operations. Attracting more regular soldiers into the part-time force also saves the MOD money because a former full-time soldier does not need to go through basic training.

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