The Houses of Commons returned from May Day recess on 6 May. However, Parliament is expected to prorogue next week until the Queen’s Speech and State Opening on 4 June which will mark the start of the 2014/15 Parliamentary year.
The Times reports that the final brigade of troops is being prepared to deploy to Afghanistan in June, in a handover that will see the number of British forces at Camp Bastion shrink from about 5,000 to between 2,000 and 3,000. The newspaper says the focus for 20th Armoured Brigade will be on the ‘mammoth task’ of packing Camp Bastion and withdrawing safely – a job that must be completed by the end of the year. Britain still plans to retain a few hundred soldiers at an officer training academy outside Kabul beyond 2014 and there is also expected to be long-term counter-terrorism role for the British Special Forces.
Earlier this week a group of 12 of the country's most senior defence and intelligence veterans warned that Nato's nuclear powers, in particular France and America, would be concerned by the “unacceptable” move of ejecting Trident from Scotland.
The Daily Telegraph reports that the American Defence Secretary has warned that European countries must increase defence spending in the wake of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Chuck Hagel said Russia’s actions in Ukraine should remind NATO of its founding purpose and shatter the myth that the prospect of conflict had reduced since the end of the Cold War. The newspaper says the comments follow concern from Washington that European nations including Britain have cut their Armed Forces too far.
- Answer to written question on re-basing of armed forces
- Hammond expedites review on women in close combat roles
- Home Affairs Committee calls for Met Police to be stripped of counter-terror duties
Answer to written question on re-basing of armed forces
- Labour MP Bob Ainsworth asked the Secretary of State for Defence what progress he has made in re-basing the elements of the Armed Forces based in Germany; and what recent discussions he has had with German federal and regional authorities on the practical logistics involved in such a withdrawal.
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Andrew Murrison said that significant progress has been made on the withdrawal of British troops from Germany. He said that having closed Celle Station in 2012, the closures of the Rheindahlen Military Complex and Munster Station were completed in 2013, and Hameln Station will close by December 2014. Dr Murrison said the programme remains on track to deliver, enabling the MOD to close and release Elmpt and Herford Stations by December 2015, followed by the closure of Hohne and Fallingbostel Stations before March 2016.
Murrison said that the UK has already reduced its military numbers in Germany by 33% through the programme of preliminary moves and unit disbandments, and the first tranche of major unit moves and re-rolling from Germany will occur in 2015. Murrison said these moves will result in a reduction of up to 70% of troops by the end of 2015, exceeding the Strategic Defence and Security Review target of bringing back half of those personnel based in Germany by 2015. The remaining troops will relocate by 2019, as part of the Government’s intent to base the three high readiness Reaction Forces Brigades on Salisbury Plain.
Hammond expedites review on women in close combat roles
The BBC reports that the Defence Secretary has announced that a review into the possibility of women taking “close combat” roles in the UK armed forces will be brought forward. Currently women can serve on the front line but not where the primary aim is to “close with and kill the enemy”. The rules were due to be reviewed in 2018, the MOD said, but Philip Hammond said that the Head of the Army, Chief of General Staff Sir Peter Wall, will report back on the issue by the end of the year. Hammond said he wanted to send a signal that the military is open “to all who can meet the necessary standards” to carry out demanding roles. The review has been welcomed by Labour's shadow Defence Secretary, Vernon Coaker, who said the UK “should be proud of the role played by women in our armed forces”.
Home Affairs Committee calls for Met Police to be stripped of counter-terror duties
The Home Affairs Select Committee has reported on its inquiry into counter-terrorism. The Committee has concluded that the Government must encompass a programme to dissuade and prevent those attempting to fight in foreign theatres of conflict such as Syria. It says that parliamentary oversight of security and intelligence agencies needs to be made more rigorous and not limited to the Intelligence and Security Committee. Most significantly, the Committee said that responsibility for counter-terrorism policing should be moved from the Metropolitan Police to the National Crime Agency.
This move would mean that Scotland Yard would no longer oversee and lead counter-terror investigations. The BBC says that the Government has already considered and dropped a proposal to move counter-terrorism to the NCA – although it did not rule out making the switch once the new agency was bedded in. It also highlights that the report comes in the wake of the Edward Snowden leak about mass surveillance capabilities. In reaction to the report, the Association of Chief Police Officers said that MPs had misunderstood the role of the Metropolitan Police.But the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) said a previous proposal to move Trident to the US, in 1981, foundered because of a range of potential problems.Kate Hudson, CND General Secretary, said: “The principal obstacle is that moving nuclear weapons to another state is in contravention of Article I of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which obligates states to not transfer nuclear weapons to 'any recipient whatsoever'.She added that housing the UK's nuclear deterrent in the US would end “the myth that Trident is in any sense independent”.