The House of Commons and House of Lords returned to Parliament on Tuesday and will sit until the 12th November, before going on a mid-term summer recess.
In the Government reshuffle on Monday, Andrew Robathan MP was moved from his position as Minister of State for Armed Forces to Minister for Northern Ireland. Mark Francois MP has taken over Mr Robathan’s portfolio, which included operational policy and logistical delivery, and in turn Francois has been replaced by former Health Minister Anna Soubry MP, who is now responsible for MoD personnel, including the MDP.
Meanwhile, in the opposition reshuffle, Jim Murphy MP has been replaced by Vernon Coaker MP as Shadow Secretary for Defence. Kevan Jones MP will retain his portfolio as Shadow Armed Forces Minister and Gemma Doyle MP will remain as Shadow Minister for Defence Personnel. Yvonne Forvargue MP has also been appointed as a Shadow Defence Minister; however her portfolio is yet to be confirmed.
Public Bill Committee proceedings
As previously highlighted, this week the Public Bill Committee has continued its scrutiny of the Defence Reform Bill, which has included an examination of Clause 5, which covers the jurisdiction of the MDP.
Whilst no amendments were tabled to Clause 5, the jurisdiction of the MDP was debated in the sixth sitting of the Committee in a discussion led by Shadow Defence Secretary Alison Seabeck MP. Ms Seabeck said that it would be helpful to understand what the MDP’s power would be under the GoCo model and asked for clarification over the MDP’s jurisdiction on sites belonging to companies who form part of GoCo.
In response, Defence Minister Philip Dunne MP said that Clause 5 was essential to ensuring that MDP officers have clear and unambiguous jurisdiction to exercise the full range of their police powers across the full range of sites used by the GoCo contractor to deliver their defence procurement services contract.
Following on from this, Labour MP Kevan Jones asked what the definition of a “utilised site” meant, with regards to the MDP’s jurisdiction. Mr Dunne responded that this could mean the main operational premises of the GoCo, or the offices of a contractor/ subcontractor or even the home address of employees of the contractor/ subcontractor.
Early in the debate, Alison Seabeck also asked if Mr Dunne would allay the MOD’s fears and concerns about cuts to its numbers, highlighting a quote from Eamon Keating which said the cuts “will seriously hamper our ability to meet the security needs of the people we are duty-bound to protect”.
Mr Dunne said that while there had been a recruitment freeze for a “short number of years”, he was not aware that the extension of GoCo jurisdiction has led to concerns about the ability of the MDP to meet their obligations. Responding to questions from Labour MP Thomas Docherty about the sufficiency of MDP resources, Mr Dunne said that the MDP were “very good at their job” and had the “right resources”.
Mr Dunne also elaborated that the jurisdiction under Clause 5 applies to warranted MDP officers and not those or are not warranted. Mr Dunne added that it would be for GoCo to decide whether to seek additional assistance from other warranted forces if it did not feel that it had enough resources within the civilian police to undertake an investigation.
Defence Secretary warns of loss of jobs, opportunity and business with separation
According to the Times, the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond MP has warned that an independent Scotland would have to invest significantly more than the proposed £2.5 billion or be left with “effectively just a territorial homeland defence force”. Mr Hammond also said that separation would cost thousands of defence jobs, force shipyards to close and jeopardise national security. Mr Hammond accused the Scottish National Party of being “culpably silent” on the details of the defence in an independent Scotland and said their plans remain “insultingly vague”.
The Scottish government could not fund the troops it is planning and the proposed budget could not sustain military bases, Mr Hammond said. He also went on to ask what opportunities the Scottish Defence Forces would offer and what calibre of people they would be able to recruit and retain “for what is essentially a home defence force”. The Defence Secretary warned about the threat of separation to Scottish businesses and jobs and singled out shipbuilding, warning that the rest of the UK would not place an order outside its own territory.
In an analysis paper on the defence implications of an independent Scotland, the Government says that as part of the UK, Scotland benefits from the full range of UK defence capabilities and activities, including influence that derives from the UK’s established status as “a key player within the international system”. The paper also says that Scotland plays “an integral part” in all aspects of the UK’s defence and as UK citizens people, from Scotland are employed throughout the MOD and the UK Armed Forces. The paper highlights the point raised by Mr Hammond that the UK defence presence in Scotland generates “economic benefits for communities throughout Scotland”.
The paper also warned that in a globalised world, an independent Scottish state would have to “start from scratch” and points out that European states with “similar sized populations to that of Scotland” do not have their own armed forces.
Professor Malcolm Chambers of the Royal United Services Institute said the paper will “raise the bar” that the Scottish Government’s White Paper, due in November, has to meet. Professor Chambers also said it challenges the Scottish Government to show that the country’s current defence benefits could be maintained in the event of independence. Professor Chambers added that the relationship between the two separate states could become “poisonous” over the resolution of what to do with Trident and says even if this was resolved, Scotland would remain “highly dependent” on the rest of the UK to support its defence capability.
MI5 chief defends intelligence gathering techniques
According to the Guardian, the chief of MI5, Sir Andrew Parker, has defended the techniques used by GCHQ for surveillance and intelligence gathering. Sir Andrew, recently appointed to his role at MI5, said that the techniques used by UK intelligence agencies was necessary to sustain current levels of counter-terrorism work and stay ahead of the threats facing the UK. Sir Andrew acknowledged that technology and internet was “transforming our society” and warned that significant choices had to be made about which capabilities were required to track terrorists in this new and different world.
Sir Andrew went on to says that retaining the capability to access sensitive and personal information is intrinsic to MI5’s ability to protect the UK. He acknowledged there were choices to be made about how and whether communications data is retained. However, Sir Andrew’s strongest criticism was reserved for whistle-blowers and intelligence leaks which revealed the scale of the surveillance programmes being undertaken by GCHQ and its US counterpart the Nationals Security Agency. Sir Andrew said that MI5 did not want an “all-pervasive, oppressive security apparatus” but needed an extensive surveillance programme to provide its leads. Sir Andrew added that making public the existence of programmes such as ‘Prism’, which allowed the agency to harvest and store data of millions of phone calls and emails, causes “enormous damage” and “hands the advantage to the terrorists”.
Sir Andrew finished by saying that he thought that the threat from terrorism had not increased but was “more diffuse, more complicated, more unpredictable”. Sir Andrew added that it would be impossible for MI5 to stop every plot, or prevent every attack but argued that the agencies should have the capabilities they need and that scrutiny of their work was strong enough.