The news at the end of March has inevitably been dominated by horrific terrorist attacks in Brussels that killed more than 30 people and injured more than 200.
The terrorist atrocities have sparked further questions about the extent to which the UK is at risk of similar attacks, and how the police, Armed Forces (if necessary) and other emergency services can respond to or guard against such attacks. The immediate aftermath of the Brussels attacks has seen numerous meetings of the Government’s emergency COBRA committee, and the tightening of security at major population centres and transport hubs.
The Federation of course extends its deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of those killed in the atrocities and to those wounded and their families.
In domestic defence news, Trident has continued to be a focus ahead of the parliamentary vote on the renewal of the nuclear deterrent later in the year. There have been suggestions that external experts – similar to those employed for the London Olympics – could be used to ensure a renewal is kept on budget, although the Defence Secretary has admitted in recent weeks to a lack of certainty about the total cost of renewing the deterrent.
It has also emerged that Trident is to be updated to better protect it from cyber-attack.
Separately, Labour has sought assurances that the Government will keep to its commitment of spending two percent of GDP on defence (the NATO target) following the Chancellor’s Budget. While Labour is yet to make such a commitment itself, the Budget included little on defence spending beyond a reiteration of the Government’s previous plans – although some experts have suggested the MoD could be subject to a real-terms decrease in funding.
During the past month, the Federation has continued to arrange and meet with senior parliamentarians in order to build additional awareness of the role played by the MDP in securing the MoD’s estate and assets. These meetings are vital in ensuring parliamentary awareness of decisions that will be taken on security following the publication of the Strategic Defence and Security Review.
The Federation has also maintained contact with the Defence Select Committee, whose Chairman – Dr Julian Lewis MP – recently wrote to the Minister regarding the future role of the MDP. Another member of the Committee, Madeleine Moon MP, has also tabled a series of questions regarding MoD security and the MDP in the past month.
The political approach
As noted above, members of the Defence Select Committee have taken forward a series of parliamentary questions and correspondence with the Minister during the past month. We remain, of course, very grateful to these parliamentarians for their continued interest in the security of the defence estate and assets – and in how the SDSR might affect the role of the MDP.
From these interventions, it is possible to determine that consideration is being given by the MoD to the future security of establishments and assets – and that this includes the role of the MDP. However, responses from the Department indicate that final decisions are yet to be taken.
The significance of these interventions is that they demonstrate two important points. Firstly, that there is support within Parliament and amongst defence experts in both Houses for a continued civilian policing capacity within the MoD. Secondly, that any significant changes to MoD security – including changes to the role of civilian policing – will be subject to rigorous scrutiny.
The latter point is highly valuable in ensuring levels of security are, at minimum, maintained.
Outside of the Federation’s engagement with the Select Committee, we have met with former Defence Minister Lord Touhig, who briefly had responsibility for the MDP. We have additionally scheduled meetings with both Emily Thornberry MP, the Shadow Defence Minister, and John Woodcock MP, who is chairing a backbench Labour defence committee.
As with our engagement with the Select Committee, these meetings are vital in articulating the value of the MDP and in making sure that any changes to MoD security are subject to scrutiny.
Given the Federation’s ongoing discussions with the Department over the SDSR, in the past month we have not proactively engaged with the media – save for contacting two journalists who wrote about the number of offences reported around the Faslane area, as means of ensuring they were able to seek comment from the Federation for any follow-up news stories.
We will, as appropriate, be continuing to brief journalists over the coming month.
As with previous newsletters, we would like to take the opportunity to remind all members that any correspondence they may wish to send to their local MP is subject to MDP regulations.