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Parliamentary and Political Monitoring Report w/c 14th May 2018

By DPF Admin18th May 2018August 6th, 2019Area Updates, Latest News, Northern Updates, Southern Updates

With the Royal Wedding between Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle dominating the national media, a number of newspapers have reported on the planned deployment of armed police for the event, alongside the use of anti-terror barriers.

Defence funding has again been a focus of media attention this week, with the American Ambassador advocating for increases in MoD funding; while the Public Accounts Select Committee has this week warned it considers the Department’s equipment plan “unrealistic,” and questions whether the Modernising Defence Programme will be able to address financial shortfalls. The National Police Chiefs’ Council has also been revealed to be considering proposals to routinely arm officers in selected constabularies to improve response rates in particularly rural areas.

Overview 

·      MoD answers questions on the nuclear deterrent

·      Police considering arming rural officers 

·      Chief reveals MI5 thwarts terror attack every week

·      Defence minister supports US’s call for UK to spend as much on defence as NHS

·      UK police use of facial recognition technology a failure, says report

·      MPs find MoD is billions short of fulfilling Defence Equipment Plan 

·     Defence Secretary re-announces £2.5bn investment in UK nuclear submarines

MoD answers questions on the nuclear deterrent

SNP MP for Edinburgh North and Leith Deidre Brock has tabled written parliamentary questions to the MoD on the Trident nuclear deterrent, one of which has been answered this week. Ms Brock asked, “How many incidents excluding trivial incidents involving the nuclear weapons convoys between Coulport and Berkshire there have been in each of the last ten years which were classified as (a) engineering incidents to nuclear convoy vehicles and (b) operational incidents.” Defence Minister Guto Bebb responded on behalf of the MoD. He said that “the transportation of Defence Nuclear Material, including warheads, is carried out to the highest standard in accordance with stringent safety regulations.” He listed the number of incidents that occurred to any convoy involving over 20 vehicles “regardless of how minor” and asserted that “none pose any risk to the public.”

Questions Ms Brock has asked that have not yet been answered include, “What the protected nuclear safety baseline staff complement numbers are for each of the nuclear authorities within his Department; and how many authorisees were in post as of 31 December 2017.” She also asked, “How many nuclear safety events have occurred on submarines docked at Faslane in each year since 2006 by (a) class of submarine and (b) type of incident” and “how many leaks of radioactive coolant there have been from submarines berthed at Faslane in each of the last ten years,” both of which have been given a holding reply by ministers and are likely to be answered in more detail in the coming days.  

Police considering arming rural officers 

The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead on armed policing, Civil Nuclear Constabulary Deputy Chief Constable Simon Chesterman, has said discussions are “ongoing” about the prospect of arming police officers in a “handful” of forces to improve response rates, The Independent has reported.  In 2015 the Government pledged £143m to national armed policing capability, but the number of counter-terror specialist firearms officers remains approximately 130 officers short of the target. Because the government recruitment targets have not been met, police are considering arming police in rural areas which cannot be reached promptly by dedicated armed response vehicles. Deputy Chief Constable Chesterman commended the response rates found in major cities but said that “as you get out of the major cities into the more sparsely populated areas, then depending on patrol patterns and numbers the response times will take longer.”

Armed response vehicles are on 24-hour patrol and have at least two firearms officers equipped with semi-automatic rifles, handguns, tasers and other weapons. The number of armed response vehicles in the UK has increased 25 percent in England and Wales over recent years but they are still unable to sufficiently cover remote areas. Devon and Cornwall Police, the force covering the largest geographical area in the country, has been confirmed as one of the constabularies under ongoing consultation although there is no intelligence on a specific threat to the region. 

The Independenthas noted that, as well as Home Office police forces having nearly 6,500 officers, there is an additional complement of 3,300 across the MDP, the British Transport Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. Approximately 90 percent of British police officers are currently unarmed and results from a recent survey suggests that only a third of officers support the idea of arming police and only 55 percent are willing to carry a gun if instructed to.

The challenges in increasing armed policing capacity within the Home Office are in part due to broader issues of recruitment and retention; but also the additional professional requirements on armed officers and documented reluctance among many officers to be armed. The Federation has highlighted in parliamentary engagement how MDP officers can provide armed capacity in rural areas to support Home Office colleagues, and we will be engaging with relevant journalists as appropriate ahead of the Federation’s annual conference in June.

Chief reveals MI5 thwarts terror attack every week

The BBC has reported on MI5 Director-General Andrew Parker has spoken out about the “intense and unrelenting” threats currently facing the UK and EU more widely while addressing the Counter Terrorism Group. The Group consists of 30 representatives from domestic European intelligence agencies and met in Berlin this week. Mr Parker said that the intelligence services in the UK have been thwarting planned attacks at the rate of one a month since the Westminster terror attacks, referring to “lethal and active” Islamist terrorists as well as “aggressive and pernicious actions” by state actors such as Russia, including the chemical attack in Salisbury.

Mr Parker called on the UK and EU to continue to work together to tackle common threats and commended EU states and allies for supporting the UK and expelling Russian diplomats in response to the Salisbury attack. He said: “I don’t do politics but it is of course political arrangements, laws and treaties that permit or constrain what we can do together as agencies protecting our countries and Europe.”

A recent report published by the Home Affairs Select Committee said that “The government risks sleepwalking into a crisis by appearing to assume that the shared UK-EU interest in security cooperation will lead to swift and easy agreement of complex legal and constitutional problems.” However, the Prime Minister has previously committed to maintaining close cooperation and intelligence sharing with European partners post-Brexit.

Defence minister supports US’s call for UK to spend as much on defence as NHS

The Defence Minister with responsibility for the MDP, Rt Hon Tobias Ellwood MP, has suggested to theDaily Telegraph that Britain should spend as much on defence as it does on the NHS. Mr Ellwood said that while the UK is “fully appreciative of our armed forces but takes our security for granted,” as he called for defence spending to be on par with health spending.  He highlighted that the world is getting more dangerous and that “you never get it back” when you allow military capability to deplete.

Mr Ellwood said that “there was parity between defence spending compared with health and education” in the 1970s and 1980s but that recently defence spending has been reduced to two percent of GDP while healthcare spending stands at 9.8 percent. He said that “the Government does what the people call for,” and the public needs to be informed of the “dangers of reducing our defence posture,” noting actors such as Russia and China who he considers to be “rewriting the rule book.”

Mr Ellwood’s suggestion came after US Ambassador to the UK Woody Johnson said that defence spending should be prioritised above the NHS, as reported in The Times. Mr Johnson said that the Trump administration in the US did not want to “bankroll the security of Europe” as he called on NATO members to increasing defence spending in order to remain a strong ally to the US. Mr Johnson said that “you really can’t have prosperity unless you have security.”

Mr Ellwood’s comments follow a number of previous remarks on the need for additional defence spending and are likely to be part of efforts to secure further funding from the Treasury ahead of the recommendations of the Modernising Defence Programme in July.

UK police use of facial recognition technology a failure, says report

Privacy think tank Big Brother Watch has published a report suggesting that the police use of facial recognition technology is “staggeringly inaccurate.” The think tank issued its conclusion following research from Freedom of Information requests sent to every police force in the UK. Big Brother Watch has using the findings to call for an end to police using facial recognition technology altogether.

The audit found that the Metropolitan Police’s use of the facial recognition technology across Notting Hill Carnival in 2016 and 2017 and a Remembrance Sunday event resulted in 102 incorrect identifications of potential suspects which led to no arrests. It also found that the use of the technology by South Wales Police resulted in 2,685 “matches” between May 2017 and March 2018 but 2,451 were incorrect. A spokesperson for the Force said that the system had improved over time. 

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said police had to demonstrate that facial recognition was “effective,” and that no less intrusive methods were available. She also noted that otherwise she “will consider what legal action is needed to ensure the right protections are in place for the public.” Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Home Office said that “When trialling facial recognition technologies, forces must show regard to relevant policies, including the Surveillance Camera Code of Practices and the Information Commissioner's guide.” 

MPs find MoD is billions short of fulfilling Defence Equipment Plan 

The Public Accounts Committee has published a review of the MoD’s Defence Equipment Plan 2017-2027, in which the Committee says that it is “highly sceptical” that the Modernising Defence Programme will be able to solve the Department’s funding gap of £21bn over the next ten years. The Committee suggested it considers the MoD’s equipment plan “unrealistic” and expressed doubt at the MoD’s commitment to make £16bn in efficiency savings. The report is informed by spending watchdog the National Audit Office’s findings that the MoD had a funding hole of between £4.9bn and £20.8bn in a £180bn plan. 

The Committee criticised the MoD for its lack of transparency over its financial position, including refusing to state the cost of key equipment (officials declined to provide details when giving evidence to the Defence Select Committee earlier in the year). The plan includes the purchase of the 48 of the most expensive and technologically advanced warplanes in history, F-35 jets. The Committee said that it received more information on the cost of the F-35 programme from the F-35 Joint Programme Office in the US than it did from the MoD. The purchase of the planes is estimated at £9.1bn. 

A spokesman for the MoD said: “We are on track to meet our £16 billion savings target and will also review these recommendations as part of our Modernising Defence Programme.” Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has been vocal about the MoD’s need for more money. Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith respondedto the report saying that it “paints a damning picture of a department in complete chaos.” She said that “our defences require proper investment.”

The DPF has engaged with the Modernising Defence Programme by submitting evidence to the Defence Select Committee’s inquiry and the MoD’s consultation. The MoD is expected to announce recommendations ahead of the NATO summer in July. 

Defence Secretary re-announces £2.5bn investment in UK nuclear submarines

Following the Government’s release of MoD contingency funding for its nuclear submarine programme, the MoD has announced that the Government is investing £2.5bn in British nuclear submarines; with £1.5bn of the money allocated to building the Royal Navy’s seventh Astute hunter-killer submarine, and another £960m to the second phase of construction for the UK’s four nuclear-armed Dreadnought submarines, complemented by the opening of a £100m submarine construction building. 

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Not only is this a massive boost for our armed forces, but it’s huge for Barrow, the heart of sub-building in this country. Today’s news supports 8,000 BAE Systems’ submarine jobs, as well as thousands more in the supply chain, protecting prosperity and providing opportunity right across the country.”

Chief Executive Officer of the Submarine Delivery Agency, which is tasked with project managing the construction of future Royal Navy submarines, Ian Booth said: “The incredibly complex Astute and Dreadnought programmes maximise the tremendously skilled and experienced workforce we have across the UK submarine business. Both programmes require commitment and close collaboration with our industrial partners across the supply chain and in the newly formed Dreadnought Alliance, which will deliver a step change in how we will work together to efficiently and effectively deliver nuclear submarines for the Royal Navy.”

The DPF will continue to highlight to parliamentarians the importance of sufficiently protecting its assets especially considering their cost and the threats posed by the UK’s adversaries. 

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