This week General Sir David Richards formally handed over his position as Chief of the Defence Staff to his successor General Sir Nicholas Houghton. The handover ceremony was marked at Horse Guards Parade in London and was attended by personnel from all three services and MOD civilian staff. The Government said that in the three years in the post General Richards had presided over “a period of significant achievement” which included supporting the Libyan people in the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi and the large-scale training of Afghan soldiers and police which had enabled Afghanistan’s armed forces to take responsibility for the security of their country. General Houghton, who has experience of serving in Iraq, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan operations, will be in charge of the Armed Forces as the Government implements its Future Army 2020 strategy. According to the Guardian, in 2011 General Houghton supported a share of the budget cuts falling on the armed forces and advocated that a strong economy was vital for a strong military.
Meanwhile, the BBC has reported that HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has warned that budget cuts are damaging neighbourhood policing and could jeopardise crime prevention efforts. The constabulary body said that neighbourhood officers were being put on other duty which was resulting in a less visible street presence. However, forces were praised for generally coping well with the cuts and maintaining standards of service to the public and HMIC acknowledged that crime was falling, with the Office for National Statistics showing an overall decline of 7% in the number of crimes recorded by police in England and Wales in the year to March 2013.
- MDP mention in Home Office oral questions
- Answer to written question on MDP investigation
- Defence Reform Bill Second Reading
- Government considers Trident Alternatives Review
- Former defence secretaries and chiefs of defence warn against downgrading Trident
MDP mention in Home Office oral questions
During oral questions to the Home Secretary on the policing budget, Liberal Democrat MP Sir Bob Russell asked a supplementary question on when the policing Minister last discussed with the MOD the cuts to the MDP and their impact on the civilian communities next door.
Policing Minister Damian Green MP said he has constant meetings with Defence Ministers on a range of subjects. In reference to Sir Bob’s constituency of Colchester, Mr Green said that crime was down 4% in the Essex police area in the 12 months to December 2012.
Answer to written question on MDP investigation
Conservative MP Caroline Dinenage asked the Secretary of State for Defence what his latest estimate of when the latest MDP investigation into the disappearance of Katrice Lee will be concluded; and if he will make a statement.
Defence Minister Mark Francois MP said that the Royal Military Police investigation into the disappearance of Katrice Lee is ongoing and said the investigation is extensive and complex which means it is difficult to estimate when it will conclude. Mr Francois said the military police are speaking to new potential witnesses who have come forward and are working closely with police forces in other countries.
While Caroline Dineage’s questions refers to the MDP, Mark Francois’s answer refers to the Royal Military Police – if there is anything you feel it may be worth clarifying with Caroline Dineage, then please do let us know.
Defence Reform Bill Second Reading
This week, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond MP introduced the second reading of the Defence Reform Bill in the House of Commons. During his introduction, he said that eliminating waste and inefficiency in government procurement systems was at the heart of the plan for sustainable and effective defence. Mr Hammond said that for the areas of defence procurement and the use of reserves primary legislation is required to complete the government’s re-organisation programme.
Mr Hammond detailed those parts 1 and 2 of the bill deal with procurement which is to be remodelled into the Government-Owned Contractor-Operated model. Part 3 of the bill deals with the reserve forces. Mr Hammond said measures were being implemented to revitalise reserve forces and reverse the decline of the recent past.
Speaking on the management of the GoCo system, Mr Hammond said that a number of safeguards were needed to protect Government and taxpayer interests. Mr Hammond said the Bill provided for the MDP to have clear jurisdiction to investigate any offences that may relate to defence work carried out by contractors. Mr Hammond added that the Bill also makes provision to allow the Secretary of State to disclose information that he has received in confidence to a contractor, and to authorise to the use of intellectual property.
Labour Shadow Defence Secretary, Jim Murphy MP, said that the decisions taken by contractors over the handling of multi-billion pound projects should not be free from public oversight. Murphy warned that any enhanced power for a contractor could contradict the increased control over budgetary management and planning given to the service chiefs.
Hammond responded by saying that the Government is in the process of devolving budget responsibility to the front-line commands, including responsibility for equipment procurement and support, starting with the smaller equipment procurement projects.
Minister for Defence Equipment Peter Luff MP said during the debate that the Bill better protected the taxpayer’s interests and said that the £38 billion equipment black hole has been closed. Mr Luff said that since 2013 there has been no record of slipped projects or cuts in equipment numbers to bridge gaps between estimated funding and the forecast cost of the defence budget. Later on, Luff said that that the only change currently being made to the budget was putting new bits of equipment into it and said that at present the defence budget was balanced.
The Defence Reform Bill passed its Second Reading in the House and has now progressed to the Public Bill Committee for examination and scrutiny – discussions will start when the House returns from recess in September. This week the Public Bill Committee has subsequently announced that it will be accepting written evidence submissions from defence stakeholders on the Bill up to Thursday 24th October.
As mentioned earlier this week, the Committee is keen to receive early submissions of written evidence, and if there are issues you are keen to raise then we will look to draft a submission before the first meeting of the Committee on the 3rd September. We can also look to raise any issues of concern as the Bill passes through Parliament.
Government considers Trident Alternatives Review
This week, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander MP announced that the Government has considered the Trident Alternatives Review which was commissioned by the Prime Minister and which he said was the most thorough review of nuclear weapon systems and postures that the UK has undertaken for decades, and the most comprehensive analysis ever made public.
Mr Alexander said the review asked three key questions, firstly, are there credible alternatives to submarine-based deterrence; secondly, are there credible submarine-based alternatives to the current proposal; and, thirdly, are there alternative nuclear postures that could maintain credibility.
Mr Alexander mentioned that during the assessment phase he had made visits to Aldermaston, Faslane and Coulport where he had met submariners of the Royal Navy as well as scientists, engineers and the civilians who support them and said he was confident they could operate effectively if the next Government were to change their mission.
Mr Alexander said the Government’s assessment of the UK’s ability to deliver alternative options showed that the reality is that the UK nuclear warhead programme is highly optimised around producing and maintaining warheads for the Trident missile. Mr Alexander added that the review found that moving towards an alternative would add technical, financial and schedule risk to the programme. Analysis has shown that cruise missile-based options are militarily credible, but because of timescales involved, the replacement nuclear deterrent based on the current Trident system is the most cost-effective option.
The Chief Treasury Secretary said that Government’s policy will remain exactly as set out in the strategic defence and security review. The Government will maintain the deterrent as it is, and preparations for a successor system will continue. But the final main-gate decision on whether to proceed with a like-for-like replacement of Trident will be made in 2016, after the next general election. Mr Alexander said it was therefore up to the different political parties in this House to decide the positions they will take before that time.
Meanwhile, The Times has subsequently reported that the Labour party will consider reducing the size of the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet should it win the next election. The newspaper reported that Labour announced that it remained committed to the continuous-at-sea deterrent (CASD) which the UK has operated more than forty years and ensures one of the four Trident-armed submarines are on patrol. A Labour source told the times that if improvements in boats meant that the continuous deterrent could be maintained with three, then it would be “an open question”.
Former defence secretaries and chiefs of defence warn against downgrading Trident
The Daily Telegraph has published a letter signed by five former defence secretaries who have served in the last three governments and two former chiefs of defence staff who have served between 2001 and 2010. The letter issues a robust warning that Britain is vulnerable to attack if the Trident nuclear deterrent is abandoned. The signatories, who include Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, former Defence Secretary and former NATO Secretary General, say they “firmly believe” that the UK’s strategic deterrent should not be watered down, as it has been “the cornerstone of our national security for the past 45 years”. The letter goes on to say that a continuous at-sea deterrent is vital to ensuring the UK has the “ultimate defence and means to deter any current or potential aggressor”.
The letter further states the paramount importance of maintaining a full-time deterrent in “an uncertain world” where some states were increasing stockpiles of nuclear weapons. The signatories also warn that the UK cannot “possibly foresee” what threats will develop over the next 30 years, and say that British national security will be weakened for the sake of a very small defence budget. The letter concludes that if Britain is to remain a “leading global power with strong defences” then “nothing less than a continuous at-sea deterrent will do”.