Wednesday saw the State Opening of Parliament, marking the start of the 2014/15 Parliamentary year, the final year before the next General Election. During the State Opening the Queen delivered a speech to both Houses which set out the main items on the legislative agenda for the next Parliamentary year. Included in the announcements were major reforms to the pensions system, greater childcare support for working families, new freedoms for fracking and geothermal companies and a power of recall for constituents of MPs. The latter measure has been criticised by many Parliamentarians and media sources for being unexceptional. David Cameron and Nick Clegg said their agenda for the final year would be “unashamedly pro-business and pro-work”.
· New Service Complaints Ombudsman
· Hundreds of troops not fit enough for service
· NATO increases presence in Eastern Europe
· Britain considers sending more troops to Eastern Europe for NATO exercises
· New Defence Committee Chair says that west may need to establish Eastern European bases
New Service Complaints Ombudsman
It was announced in the Queen’s Speech that members of the Armed Forces across the UK are set to benefit from legislation outlined in the new Service Complaints and Financial Assistance Bill. The new legislation will strengthen the existing service complaints system and enable payments to organisations that support service personnel and their families. The MOD says it will also create the Armed Forces’ first service complaints ombudsman, a new powerful watchdog with the ability to investigate concerns from service personnel that their complaints have not been dealt with properly. This new right will enable all service personnel to appeal directly to the ombudsman and will cut down on what can be a lengthy and anxious appeal period under the current system.
Hundreds of troops not fit enough for service
The Daily Telegraph reports that, according to statistics released under Freedom of Information laws, hundreds of troops were told they were not fit enough for service, sparking fears for the Army’s war-fighting ability. Defence bosses have refused to reveal whether any soldiers have been discharged for being obese in the past 14 months, prompting concerns the numbers could be even higher. Tam Fry, a board member of the National Obesity Forum, described the findings as “deeply worrying” and warned British troops were now facing the same problems as the US military.
A spokeswoman for the MoD said it is a condition of service that all solders are healthy and fitter than the general public. She said: “Overall obesity levels within the army are consistently lower than in civilian life. All individuals are assessed on their ability to carry out military activities rather than on their weight.” She added that information of soldiers released on medical grounds would be published next month.
NATO increases presence in Eastern Europe
The BBC reports that NATO has boosted its presence in Central and Eastern Europe. NATO has pledged to bolster its defence capabilities in response to Russian actions in Ukraine, but said it would stick to a key agreement with Moscow. The announcement was made this week hours after the US President pledged $1 billion to boost military deployments to Europe. NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the Alliance was developing a “readiness action plan” which would involve more joint exercises and a strengthening of NATO’s cyber defence policy. The BBC says that among Alliance officials there is “a real sense that something has changed”, Rasmussen said that NATO was now facing a “new security situation in Europe”.
Britain considers sending more troops to Eastern Europe for NATO exercises
The Times reports that Britain is looking at sending hundreds of troops to Poland and a warship to the Baltic Sea as part of an expansion of NATO exercises to demonstrate to Russia that the Cold War alliance remains strong. The deployment, if approved, would be the largest British contribution to a wave of military activity and enlarged NATO training programmes across Eastern Europe since the beginning of unrest in Ukraine. It is intended to reassure nervous allies close to the Russian border. The newspaper says that larger contributions are under consideration, such as sending up to 1,000 soldiers to western Poland by early autumn. The exercise has yet to be confirmed but it could include tanks, artillery and an air assault, according to defence sources.
New Defence Committee Chair says that West may need to establish Eastern European bases
The Guardian reports that Rory Stewart MP, the new Chair of the Defence Select Committee, has warned the US and Europe to take concerns over Russian military action seriously. Stewart said that the West may need to build military bases in Eastern Europe to deter Russian president Vladimir Putin from invading a Baltic state.
Stewart, who has served in the Army and diplomatic service, said that in Eastern Europe Putin was viewed as very dangerous, with Russian defence spending increasing by 50% as NATO’s drops by 20%. He added that if the Eastern European states were correct about the level of threat, then “we may need to consider pre-positioning supplies and building bases in Eastern Europe, increasing surveillance, redeploying troops, and planning and training to deter Putin”.
Stewart also said that the UK’s poor track record in predicting threats such as the Arab spring and how military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan would turn out partly “reflect the hollowing out of our strategic institutions”. He said that too many Foreign Office officials were tied to their desk rather than spending a significant amount of time focused on the politics of other cultures.