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During the last month, Parliamentary supporters of the DPF in the House of Lords secured a significant success when the Government chose not to contest an amendment to the Public Service Pensions Bill which would ensure the MDP would be considered part of the ‘uniformed services’ alongside the Home Office constabularies in terms of its retirement age. This came at the same time as the Government was defeated on a similar amendment relating to the Ministry of Defence Fire and Rescue Service.
While the amendment in the House of Lords is a significant step forward and a recognition of the DPF’s concerns, the Bill will now return to the House of Commons and will be voted on by MPs before being passed into law – at which point the Government, given its majority in the Commons, is likely to contest the amendment and attempt to have it overturned. The DPF has met with the Minister, Mark Francois MP, to seek clarification on the Ministry of Defence’s position and make a strong case for retirement age parity with Home Office uniformed services. The Minister has advised that the Department will follow guidance it receives from HM Treasury, so we have been engaging with MPs to highlight our concerns at the Government’s position and the effect that overturning the amendment will have on the Ministry of Defence and MDP.
Outside of the Public Service Pensions Bill, during the last month the Prime Minister has announced plans for money from the UK foreign aid budget to be used for ‘stabilisation operations’ that would essentially fund Armed Forces’ activity prior to humanitarian work. The move has been taken, particularly within sections of the media, as an attempt to placate Conservative backbench MPs unhappy at the ‘ring-fencing’ of the Department for International Development’s budget at a time when the MOD has been expected to make savings. Various journalists have claimed the Chancellor has received representations from Conservative MPs, including Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, in opposition to any further defence spending cuts during this month’s Budget. A separate report from defence think-tank RUSI has also warned that the MOD is likely to have to find up to £17 billion in savings over the next decade if defence spending is not ring-fenced.
The Defence Select Committee has recommended the appointment of an Armed Forces ombudsman to investigate claims of victimisation, following claims by serving and former service personnel that internal procedures were unfit for purpose. The Public Accounts Select Committee has also criticised the MOD for spending billions on equipment it does not need or use.
The political approach
As noted above, the DPF has been extremely active in Westminster over the past month. The focus of much of this engagement has been the Public Service Pensions Bill – but the Federation has also met with and briefed a number of members of the influential Defence Select Committee, outlining our concerns at planned reductions to the MDP and the consultation process being followed by the MOD – and has also briefed a number of MPs ahead of a Westminster Hall debate secured by Madeline Moon MP on the issue of military justice.
We were extremely grateful to members of the Defence Select Committee including Chairman James Arbuthnot MP, Sir Bob Russell MP, and Adam Holloway MP for their time during the past month – which provided a valuable opportunity to set out how reductions to the number of MDP could affect the security of the defence estate; the Federation’s concerns that the MOD could determine the security of establishments on the basis of cost rather than risk; and the practical difficulties to the much-delayed consultation process being undertaken by the Department.
Public Service Pensions Bill
A key focus of the past month has been the Public Service Pensions Bill, and we were delighted that the House of Lords passed an amendment ensuring the MDP would be considered as part of the ‘uniformed services’ alongside Home Office constabularies. While there is the very real possibility that the Government will overturn the amendment when the Bill returns to the House of Commons, the passing of an amendment in the House of Lords is enormously significant in highlighting the flaws in this piece of legislation and in the Government’s position – as well as showing the depth of support and goodwill towards the MDP within the House of Lords.
We are enormously grateful to Lord Eatwell for tabling the amendment, and for all the support of a number of peers including Baroness Harris and Lord Hutton, who very graciously noted during the debate on the amendment that the MDP had been omitted from his report on which the Bill is based, but that the report should have recommended that the MDP be treated the same as colleagues in Home Office constabularies.
We have also briefed the Government’s spokesperson in the House of Lords, Lord Newby, on our concerns regarding the Bill. While we remain opposed to the Government’s position as set out in the Bill, we were grateful for the opportunity to discuss the matter frankly with Lord Newby. The Bill will now return to the House of Commons where it will be voted on by Members before receiving Royal Assent. From our discussions with the Minister, Mark Francois MP, it is apparent that the MOD will follow the guidance of HM Treasury, which is likely to recommend pushing for the overturning of the House of Lords amendment.
Ahead of the Bill’s return to the House of Commons, we will be engaging with MPs to highlight the Federation’s concerns and to make the case for the amendment being retained. With the Government’s numerical advantage and ability to secure votes in the House of Commons, it is likely that the amendment will be overturned. However, we are asking that Branch Representatives contact their local MP as a matter of urgency on this issue.
During the past month we have been in close contact with the national press regarding the Public Service Pensions Bill, and have been very grateful to former colleagues in the Retired Officers Association for submitting an open letter to the press supporting the House of Lords amendment – following which National Chairman Eamon Keating was invited to make a contribution to the Defence Management Journal that can be accessed below:
We have also briefed journalists extensively ahead of a Westminster Hall debate on military justice secured by Madeline Moon MP, and offered comment to national defence correspondents on figures uncovered by Mrs Moon on items lost or stolen from the MOD estate.
We will be continuing to engage with the national press over the coming weeks, both with regards to the Public Service Pensions Bill and planned cuts to the MDP.
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