Parliamentary and Political Monitoring Report w/c 09th March 2015
Once again, this week has seen the debate over UK defence spending continue. The week began with the Daily Telegraph reporting a Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) paper which claimed that the defence budget may be reduced by ten per cent during the next parliament, cutting Armed Forces personnel by as many as 42,000. In the most extreme potential outcome outlined by RUSI, the British Army could be reduced to its smallest size in nearly 250 years, taking its overall troop level to just 50,000 soldiers.
Meanwhile, The Times reports that David Cameron has been coming under pressure this week from all sides to commit to maintaining Britain’s defence spending at the NATO target of two per cent of GDP. A senior US ambassador, two retired UK senior officers, the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, and the Prime Minister’s own disgruntled backbenchers – including his former Defence Secretary Liam Fox – all weighed in to warn that the UK needed to pull its weight militarily. However, the Prime Minister has pushed back, with the Daily Telegraph reporting that David Cameron appears to have questioned the motives of senior military figures criticising his failure to commit to protecting defence spending by claiming that some of them are simply trying to sell their books. The Financial Times also reports that the Prime Minster has asked ministers to investigate if the intelligence budget can be counted as “defence spending” in order to create the impression of higher expenditure.
The week concluded with a backbench debate in the House of Commons concerning defence spending. The exchange ended with the forty MPs in attendance voting 37-3 in favour of backing the two per cent spending target. However, the vote is not binding on the Government and its influence was further limited by the level of MP attendance, with many Members have already left Westminster for their constituencies.
Government announces additional investment in new Trident-carrying submarines
The Daily Telegraph reports that BAE Systems has been awarded £257m to fund final design work on a new class of submarine to replace the ageing Vanguard class vessels that carry Britain’s nuclear deterrent. The money is on top of almost £650m of contracts the defence group won three years ago for early design work on the submarines, known as the Successor class. The latest award is part of a wider £285m deal to support the work on the new vessels, with £22m going to Babcock; and £6m to Rolls-Royce – who will build the submarine’s nuclear reactors.
In March last year, BAE was awarded £300m to upgrade facilities at its submarine yard in Barrow in Furness, Cumbria, in order to accommodate the vessels that will carry the UK’s Trident nuclear missiles if the programme gets the green light at the “main gate” decision in 2016. By that time, the Government will have committed more than £3bn to the Successor class, which is now halfway through its five-year assessment phase.
British military healthcare worker contracts Ebola
The Guardian reports that a British military healthcare worker, who has tested positive for Ebola, has been flown back to the UK for specialist treatment. The MoD has confirmed an RAF plane which landed in Sierra Leone subsequently returned to the UK with the unnamed patient on board. She had already been treated in the specialist Ebola treatment centre in Kerry Town. Up to 700 British military personnel have been working in the West African country to aid the Ebola effort. An MoD spokeswoman said: “Despite there being stringent procedures and controls in place to safeguard UK service personnel, there is always a level of risk in deployments on operations of this type.”
UK to supply additional aid to Ukraine
The BBC reports that the UK is to supply Ukraine with £850,000 worth of non-lethal military equipment. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the package would include first aid kits, night-vision goggles, helmets, GPS units and “ruggedised” laptops. In a written statement to the House of Commons, Mr Fallon said that the UK's gift came in response to a request from Kiev for help with basic equipment, supplies of which have been depleted by months of instability caused by Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country. Last month, David Cameron announced 75 British soldiers, divided into four teams, would go to an area in Ukraine away from the conflict zone to provide training in medical, logistics, intelligence and infantry skills.
Memorial held to mark end of Afghan conflict
The Guardian reports that the Queen and David Cameron have led tributes to the 453 British servicemen and women who have been killed in Afghanistan, during a ceremonial end to the 13-year military operation. The Prime Minister sat alongside the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, and Labour leader, Ed Miliband. They joined 2,000 military personnel who gathered to honour the war dead, and veterans who served alongside them. A simultaneous service was held in Afghanistan for the troops who remain, while ceremonies were also held at military bases and churches in the UK, as well as in Germany. Speaking before the service, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani told the BBC the 453 UK troops had“paid the ultimate sacrifice to enable us to live in freedom, in hope for peace, prosperity and dignity”.
Defence lobbying ‘delaying upgrade of Apaches helicopters’
The BBC reports that a £1bn Army contract to replace its Apache attack helicopters has been delayed due to lobbying by the firm AgustaWestland. The BBC has learned the MoD wants to buy a replacement helicopter from the US firm Boeing, which is offering a cheaper deal for a joint order with other countries. But the decision has been delayed until 2016, with the UK firm asking to be allowed to make a new bid for the work. The delay also risks adding to the cost of running the existing Apache fleet. American suppliers will withdraw their support of the equipment carried in the Army's current generation of WAH-64 Apaches in 2017, adding greatly to the costs of maintaining the existing fleet. Even if an order were placed immediately after the election, the new aircraft – fifty AH-64Es – would not enter service before 2020.
MoD Police arrest Havant man over indecent images
The Portsmouth News reports that MoD Police have searched a house in West Leigh, following the arrest of a 58-year-old man on suspicion of possessing indecent images. He was arrested at an Army base in Berkshire on Tuesday. An MoD Police spokesman said: ‘We arrested a 58-year-old male at Arborfield Garrison, near Reading. The arrested man is a contractor to the MoD, not a civil servant or a member of the armed forces.
Soldiers forced to pay back money after salary error
The Daily Mirror reports that thousands of British troops have been overpaid in a multi-million pound salary blunder – and are now being made to pay the money back. Many were encouraged to study technical courses so that they could boost their pay, with those qualifying being told they could claim extra support. But an audit revealed the MoD had wrongly paid out millions to troops who had passed qualifications but were not entitled to the cash because of the complexities of the pay system. The manner in which military pay is calculated – especially in technical areas like signals battalions where many have individual specialisms – means no two soldiers of the same rank and service earn the same salary.
18th March 2015