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Defence Minister Andrew Robathan MP has warned against the UK maintaining an only part-time nuclear deterrent, claiming that this would leave the UK open to a pre-emptive strike. His intervention comes after Liberal Democrat and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander MP, who is leading the Government’s review of alternatives to Trident, has said that the UK does not need to replace Trident “like-for-like”. This followed calls from former Labour Defence Secretary Des Browne, who said the UK should consider the option of stepping down from a continuous at-sea deterrent and building fewer submarines.
The following developments are covered in this week’s monitoring:
Update on the Public Service Pensions Bill
The Third Reading of the Public Service Pensions Bill took place in the House of Lords this week. In what is largely a procedural measure providing an overview of the contents of the Bill, Lord Newby confirmed that the Bill has been passed in the House of Lords, and will now be returned to the House of Commons for consideration of amendments made in the upper house.
Questions tabled on the MDP on pension schemes and MDP presence at United States bases in the UK
Liberal Democrat MP Sir Bob Russell has tabled a question on the MDP amendment to the Public Service Pensions Bill. As you will recall, Russell has been a long-term advocate of defence issues, given his interest in the Colchester Garrison as the MP for the town, as well as being a member of the Defence Select Committee. His question was as follows:
Labour’s Fabian Hamilton MP, who as you will recall tabled a question last month on MDP presence on United States bases on UK soil, has tabled two further written questions regarding the MDP as part of his on-going campaign on the issue. The MP has also asked questions in the past about the number of employees at RAF Menwith Hill, which is located close to his Leeds North East constituency. Hamilton’s questions were as follows:
EDM tabled on MOD Fire and Rescue Service and Police Service pensions
An Early Day Motion has been tabled on the pensions of the MOD Fire and Rescue and Police Services. The EDM was tabled by Respect member George Galloway MP, and has been signed by Liberal Democrat and Defence Select Committee member Sir Bob Russell, and Labour Party members Jeremy Corbyn MP, Alan Meale MP and David Anderson MP. The EDM advocates ensuring that the MOD Fire and Rescue Service and Police Service have the same retirement age as other uniformed services, and notes Lord Hutton’s oversight in not including these services in his initial report.
Defence Oral Questions
Defence Oral Questions took place this week, with questions broadly focusing on the equipment budget post-2015, the National Audit Office report that relates to this, the use of Territorial Army units, alternatives to Trident, and steps the Government is taking to achieve NATO’s objective of 2% of GDP being spent for defence purposes.
Of specific interest to the DPF, Labour’s Andy Sawford MP, the newly elected member for the Corby constituency, asked a topical question regarding the MOD Fire and Rescue service amendment to the Public Service Pensions Bill, asking if the MOD intended to recognise the nature of the work they undertake, and to distinguish between their roles, and that of civil servants. Defence Minister Mark Francois MP responded that the MOD were working with HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office to assess the impact the amendment would have, and that it would consider how to respond in due course.
Defence Select Committee publishes report on "The work of the Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces"
The Defence Select Committee has published its report into the work of the Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces. The report found that members of the Armed Forces are not reporting grievances due to a lack of confidence in the current system and because of fears over redundancies. The Committee went onto call for the creation of an Armed Forces ombudsman to deal with bullying, harassment, improper behaviour and victimisation, adding that they were “disappointed" that the MOD continued to be opposed to replacing the service complaints commissioner with a new ombudsman. The report added that this was despite regular reports from the existing commissioner that the current service complaints system was not “efficient, effective or fair”.
The Committee commented that whilst sexual harassment allegations and reports of other sexual offences to the commissioner remained low, there was evidence of a much higher number of such offences, urging that new research be carried out into the level of sexual offences in the Armed Forces. The report went onto conclude that actions were needed to be taken to encourage possible victims to report allegations.
Committee Chair, Conservative James Arbuthnot MP, said that there are too many reports of Service personnel being reluctant to raise complaints and grievances, as well as instances of delay and inefficiency.
Defence think-tank RUSI publishes briefing paper on Defence and the 2013 Spending Review
Defence think-tank RUSI has published its briefing paper on Defence and the 2013 Spending Review. RUSI said that the Government, after announcing further reductions in defence spending for 2013/14 and 2014/15, have reduced the baseline from which future budgets will be calculated. RUSI added that the MOD may need to find around £11 billion in savings over the next decade as a result of the decisions taken in Autumn Statement 2012 and in the Spending Review 2013. The report went onto warn that the Armed Forces may need to find up to £17 billion of savings over the next decade unless Ministers ring-fence the defence budget from further cuts.
The RUSI report says that cuts are likely to fall across several areas. These include the future growth of personnel pay, with RUSI acknowledging that this has continued to rise at an above inflation rate of 1.7%. The report goes onto say that in the absence of having to compensate with cuts to the equipment and support budgets, service personnel numbers would have to fall to around 130,000, from 145,000 currently. It adds that a 1% cap on pay increases for an additional year would save £300 million from the 205/16 budget. The report however recognises that cuts to service personnel numbers in particular may pose on-going political and logistical challenges.
Regarding civilian personnel numbers, RUSI acknowledges that cuts in this area would be less politically sensitive, and is a likely target for further cuts. RUSI note that there have already been sharp cuts in this area, with the number of civilian staff expected to fall below 60,000 by 2015. They add that because the budget for civilian personnel is “relatively small”, any reductions in the area would only make a modest contribution to meeting savings targets.
Other areas of possible cuts include expenditure on equipment support, which is due to increase by 5.6%, and which RUSI claims has been unaffected by the reductions stipulated in the SDSR. On a broader level, RUSI also acknowledge mounting costs in spending on estate management, transport and fuel, and citing these as additional areas for cuts to take place.
Whilst the report does not focus on the particular security implications of the cuts, it does acknowledge that there could be significant change in the global security environment between 2013 and 2015, and as such, the spending cuts are likely to be dictated by the next Government following the 2015 General Election. RUSI concludes that because of this, it is too early to decide what will happen in defence budgets after 2015/16.