The Houses of Parliament are currently on recess to accommodate the party conferences. The Labour Party wrapped up its conference on Wednesday; meanwhile the Conservative Party conference will begin on Sunday, concluding on the 2nd October.
The Daily Telegraph reports that military leaders are proposing to keep up to 200 British troops in Helmand after the pull out of NATO combat forces from Afghanistan. The newspaper says the proposal is the first official acknowledgement that Britain could keep forces in the turbulent region after the withdrawal deadline at the end of 2014. Senior officers are concerned that the “fledgling” Afghan army will be unprepared to face the Taliban on its own from 2015 and a say a total pullout from Helmand puts at risk years of hard work.
The proposal would see up to 200 British troops stay at Camp Bastion to work as advisers at the headquarters of the province’s Afghan army corps, senior military sources said. The Telegraph says that troops would be “inside the wire” and would not fight, but advise on planning, intelligence and logistics. The newspaper further says that military leaders have been pushing the plan for several months, but has faced resistance in Downing Street which is “weary of an already costly campaign and fears troops could be sucked back into combat”.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond MP has said that the UK must wait for America to draw up its own post-2014 plans before making any decisions about other troops. The Telegraph says a decision is therefore unlikely before the end of the year.
Attacking service personnel “a specific criminal offence” under Labour proposal
The BBC reports that the Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy MP has said that attacking a member of the armed forces should be “a specific criminal offence”. Mr Murphy said that the Labour party would seek to change the law next month by tabling the measure as an amendment to the Defence Reform Bill. Speaking at the party’s conference this week, Mr Murphy also attacked the government for cutting soldier numbers and Army pay and outlined a number of new proposals which include new legal entitlements to “in-service education and personalised health support for those with life-changing injuries.
Labour could put Trident at stake for coalition agreement
The Daily Telegraph speculates, in a report on its website, whether Labour Leader Ed Miliband MP would scrap the Trident missile system to seal a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition. The newspaper highlights that under plans voted for at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow last week; the four-boat ballistic submarine fleet would be reduced to three or two, making the restoration of a continuous deterrent unlikely.
The Telegraph warns that this strategy is flawed in many ways, partly because it assumes the UK will have plenty of warning before an attack and also partly because it may mean that submarines will have to safely return to Faslane Naval Base to arm and subsequently redeploy. However, the newspaper says that the 2007 vote on Trident renewal, which was supported by both Conservative and Labour front benches, shows mutual support from both main parties.
The newspaper says that if the Liberal Democrats “hold the balance of power in 2015”, Ed Miliband may have to decide whether to commit to a replacement or scrapping of Trident in return for a coalition agreement. However, David Cameron is equally accountable to the same problem and the Telegraph says the only solution is to ensure the “main gate decision” on the continuation or replacement of Trident is taken before 2015.
Public Accounts Committee to examine private contract for Army recruitment
The Times reports that the Public Accounts Committee has said that it intends to examine why a multimillion-pound contract to privatise Army recruitment has run into difficulty. A decade-long contract of the value of £440 million was granted to Capita by the MOD last year. The deal was intended to free 1,000 soldiers from recruitment roles and enable them to return to frontline fighting duties. The Times says that instead, a delay in installing a computer system to handle recruitment means that hundreds of troops have been drafted back in to help process a backlog of people wanting to the join the Regular Army and Territorial Army.
The personnel drafted back are also now assisting with a “critical drive” to expand the Army Reserve. The Public Accounts Committee is planning to look at the way in which a number of large outsourcing companies delivered services for the public sector. Chair of the Committee, Margaret Hodge MP said that the Government “is completely seduced” by the “mythology” that outsourcing to a private company would be “better and cheaper”.
Capita had hoped to install an IT system to deliver savings in Army recruitment and speed up the process of hiring full-time and part-time soldiers when it took charge of the programme in April. The MOD said it needed to use a special, secure IT platform, designed by a consortium of technology and defence companies that provides the military with all of its computer-related solutions. However, the platform has yet to be finalised which means that Capita is still not using the IT system that it had planned to implement. The Times says that an MOD source has previously said that the Capita recruitment contract was drawn up to ensure that payment happened only when the number of required new recruits was delivered.
Defence Committee criticises lack of contingency planning for Scottish independence
The Defence Select Committee has published its report on the implications of Scottish independence for the UK’s national defence. The report says there are a lot of “unanswered questions for Scottish voters” and criticised the Scottish Government for “gaping holes” in its proposals and unsound economics. Meanwhile, the Committee also criticised the UK Government for its lack of contingency planning should a “yes” vote prevail in the referendum poll.
One of the key issues from separation is the future of intelligence sharing, the report says separation would “ostracise” Scotland from the global intelligence-sharing community. However, the Times says that it is the warning for the rest of the UK which “may shock some south of the Border”. The report says that the level of security and defence presently afforded to the people of the UK “is higher than that which could be provided by separate Scottish and UK governments”. Included in the loss to the UK would be “one twelfth of current assets” with an impact on capability “in the short term”. The Committee said it recommended that the UK Government began preparing for the impact of possible Scottish independence.
The MPs also questioned the feasibility of the Scottish government to ditch Trident while seeking to join NATO and warned of the difficulties in, and job cuts associated with, removing it from its Clyde base. The report described the possibility of Scottish independence as a “serious threat to the future operational viability of the UK’s nuclear deterrent”.