Defence Questions Round-Up

Defence Questions Round-Up

On Monday 13th March Defence Questions took place in the House of Commons Chamber. Below is a brief overview of some of the issues Labour MP’s raised with the Ministry of Defence in relation to our Armed Forces.

Service Family Accommodation

The Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey 2016 showed a significant drop in satisfaction amongst those living in Service Family Accommodation with a decrease of 7 percentage points to just 50%.

Liz McInnes, Labour MP for Heywood and Middleton asked the Minister ‘What steps his Department was taking to improve standards in service family accommodation’.

Dan Jarivs, LFOF Patron and Labour MP for Barnsley Central asked the Minister what impact the Government’s future accommodation model will have on retention rates. Stating ‘A recent Army Families Federation survey on the future of military housing showed that if SFA were reduced in favour of a rental allowance, 30% of those surveyed would definitely leave the Army and a further 46% would consider leaving.’

Labour is clear, it is vital that in any effort to make savings the MoD does not abandon their duty of care to Service Personnel and their families.

Armed Forces Covenant

While the Covenant is being delivered well in many areas, we know that provision can be patchy. In fact, research published last year by SSAFA found that just 16% of veterans thought that the Covenant was being implemented effectively.

Holly Lynch, Labour MP for Halifax highlighted the amazing work which is undertaken by the British Legion and other charities in her constituency and across the UK, but warned that the head of SSAFA, the Armed Forces Charity, has recently stated that the “Armed Forces Covenant lacks bite”.

Lynch raised the point that ‘many local authorities seem to feel that complying with the covenant is an option rather than an obligation’ and asked the Minister to tell the House what actions the Government is taking ‘to reinforce the message of just how essential the covenant is.’

When in government, Labour did much to pave the way for the Armed Forces Covenant, with the first military covenant published in 2000. Labour will always stand up for our Armed Forces and ensure that they have the best support.

Employment for Veterans

Our veterans have so much to offer potential employers because of their specialist skills, their experience and their dedication. And yet some 20% of service leavers are unemployed six months after leaving the Forces – more than four times the unemployment rate amongst the civilian population.

Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central asked ‘what assessment the MoD has made of the adequacy of support available to veterans entering the civilian workforce.’

At the last election, Labour proposed the creation of a Veterans’ Register to make certain our veterans receive proper support on leaving service. Jim Murphy also piloted a Veterans’ Interview Programme in which companies voluntarily guarantee an interview for job-seeking ex-forces personnel

UK Defence Spending

Shadow Defence Minister, Fabian Hamilton MP asked the Secretary of State ‘Is it not time that we went back to the criteria used for defence spending when the Labour party was in power so that we may give our armed forces the resources they need?

The protection of the British people will always be our first priority and Labour remains committed to Britain’s NATO membership and to spending at least 2% of our GDP on defence. In government, Labour consistently spent well above 2% on defence, it is only under the Tories that we have come close to missing that target.

The Government’s cuts since 2010 have demoralised our Armed Forces and weakened our defence capabilities. As well as making cuts, the Government has changed the way that our 2% of GDP defence spending is calculated

Campaign against Daesh

Ruth Smeeth, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central and LFOF Champion highlighted the positive role our troops are playing in the region stating:

‘we have obviously seen significant success in Mosul in recent months, and I am sure that the whole House joins me in sending our prayers and gratitude to those serving in our forces, but can [the Minister] tell us what lessons we are learning from our success in Mosul, so that we can apply them effectively to the battle in Raqqa?

Labour supports the RAF as they engage in Operation Shader to combat Daesh in Iraq and Syria. The Shadow Defence Team recently visited RAF Akrotiri on Cyprus to meet crews from 903 Expeditionary Airwing who are involved in the operation.

Shadow Defence Secretary, Nia Griffith MP raised concerns that there is currently no specific medal to recognise the dedication and bravery of the servicemen and women on Operation Shader.

Labour are asking the MoD to now commit to recognising their service with a specific Operation Shader medal.

Conditions in Barracks

Lyn Brown, Labour MP for West Ham highlighted the ‘squalid’ conditions in some UK Barracks stating:

‘We continue to hear stories of our service personnel being forced to live without heating and sometimes without being able to take a shower for days, as detailed in recent reports about the Wellington and Baker barracks. Do the Government really think it is acceptable to leave our brave servicemen and women in such squalid conditions?’

It is vital that in any effort to make savings the MoD does not abandon their duty of care to Service Personnel.

Labour Friends of the Forces Re-Launched.

Labour Friends of the Forces Re-Launched.

On Monday 27th February in the Palace of Westminster Labour Friends of the Forces held its Re-Launch Event.

The event took place in the form of a panel discussion on the subject of ‘Defending Britain in an uncertain 21st century’.

This included contributions from Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, former Director of UK Special Forces and former Commander Field Army. Gen Lamb was joined on the panel by Nia Griffith MP, Shadow Defence Secretary and Peter Apps, Reuters Global Affairs Columnist and British Army Reservist.

We were pleased to welcome MPs, Peers, Veterans and Labour Friends of the Forces Supporter from across the country.

This was the start of a series of events in which we aim to build on the support for Labour Friends of the Forces.

We hope to unveil a series of regional events across the length and breadth of the UK in the next few weeks.

Interested in hearing about future Labour Friends of the Forces Events? Sign up to our mailing list here.

Labour Friends of the Forces Re-Launch Event.

On Monday 27th February in the Palace of Westminster at 7pm, Labour Friends of the Forces will host a Re-Launch Event.

The event will take place in the form of a panel discussion on the subject of ‘Defending Britain in an uncertain 21st century’.

The panel will include Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, former Director of UK Special Forces and former Commander Field Army. Gen Lamb will be joined on the panel by Nia Griffith MP, Shadow Defence Secretary and Peter Apps, Reuters Global Affairs Columnist and British Army Reservist.

g-lamb

This will be the start of a series of events in which we aim to build on the support for Labour Friends of the Forces across the country.

Please RSVP to officeoflfof@gmail.com. Places are limited and on a first come first serve basis.

Labour Friends of the Forces Team.

Labour hold the Government to account over the National Shipbuilding Strategy.

Labour hold the Government to account over the National Shipbuilding Strategy.
Yesterday in Parliament, Shadow Labour Defence Minister for Procurement, Wayne David MP, challenged the Government on the lack of strategy for Naval Shipbuilding. Speaking in the 90 minute Westminster Hall Debate, David criticised the delayed delivery of Government plans for the building of future war ships.

You can read the full text of David’s Speech below:

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) on securing this debate; it is on a very important subject and, as has been said, it has given us a first opportunity to discuss Sir John Parker’s important report.

I welcome the contributions of Scottish National party colleagues, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who showed his expertise in this area. However, it is a great shame—a crying shame—that there are no Conservative Members of Parliament present, apart from the Minister and, rather belatedly, somebody else who I think has come in for another debate.

It is a great shame that we have not had a full Chamber and that we have not all been able to debate collectively what is a fundamentally important issue for this country.

I will focus my comments on the situation regarding the strategy from the Ministry of Defence. My starting point, of course, is what the Government themselves declared in 2015 in their strategic defence and security review. They said that they were committed to maintaining a fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers, and that they intended to complement that force with a new class of lighter and flexible general purpose frigates.wayne

At that time, they correctly made the link between the need to develop our national security and the promotion of our domestic prosperity. The Government proudly announced then that a new national shipbuilding strategy
“will lay the foundations for a modern and efficient sector capable of meeting the country’s future defence and security needs.”

In the Budget of 2016, the Government proudly announced that they had appointed the eminent Sir John Parker to lead and write a national shipbuilding strategy, and it was promised that a report would be prepared and presented to this House in 2016.

However, there has been genuine confusion and I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to clarify the situation. On 29 November 2016, we had a report from Sir John Parker, but it was not, as we had been promised, the Government’s national shipbuilding strategy. Many people thought that it was—some Ministers thought that it was—but it was not. Instead, we had an “independent report” on the UK’s national shipbuilding strategy from Sir John Parker.

My questions are quite simple. How did that metamorphosis take place; why did it take place; why is there confusion; what contact was there between the different Departments; and who is taking the lead on this issue? Those are very important questions about something as fundamental as the strategy for our future warships, which is not an issue that can be lightly dismissed. I echo what other Members have said: we would all like answers from the Minister about what on earth has happened and what on earth is going on.

Of course, Sir John’s report is very radical and extremely scathing about how things work, or rather do not work, within the Ministry of Defence regarding Royal Navy programmes. The report has a very interesting, informative and worrying chart about the length of time it takes for projects to develop to fruition. For example, Sir John points out that it was in 1967 that the conceptual start of the Type 21 frigates began and they were delivered nine years later. As for the Type 23 frigates, the conceptual start date was in 1978, but it took 17 years for that project to come to fruition. Goodness knows how long it will take for the Type 26 frigates.

Sir John asks why there have been such long delays. Why has this process taken such a long period of time? In some ways, the demands upon the frigates have changed. The world has changed and defence requirements have changed, but there is still that laborious project time before us. Why has that happened?

Sir John gives a number of reasons why the long delays have occurred. He makes 11 points. I will not go through all of them, but will just pick out some of the reasons he suggests. He says that there has been “A lack of assured Capital budget per RN ship series, subject to annual arbitrary change, with accumulative negative impact on time and cost with accompanying increased risk of obsolescence”.

That is very worrying. He also says that there have been “Poor linkages across the ‘Total Enterprise’ including industrial capability and capacity”.

He goes on to say: “Senior decision-makers have, previously, been engaged too late in the process and not always with high quality information and costing data”.

He adds:“The MOD has lost expertise in both design and project contract management”.

He says that there has been “Inadequate evaluation of risk contingency in each project”.

Those are some of the damning reasons why Sir John says there have been delays. I suggest that they are an indictment of the MOD, which really must sort things out once and for all regarding its procurement and governance strategy for warships.

Once the strategy has been written by the Government, when will it be published? I will not ask for the exact day or week, but will it be published in March, April, May, or whenever? We would like some sort of indication. Once it is published, we would like to know what sort of consultation there will be and how long it will last. I ask that because we want to have a full debate on every dot and comma of that important policy document.

I recognise that the Minister will not say very much about what might or might not be in that report. Nevertheless, I have a number of questions for her. First, will the Government sort out, once and for all, their procurement and governance systems for warship construction in this country?

There really ought to be a masterplan that should be reviewed at each SDSR, and as part of that approach there should be a partnership with both the industry and the trade unions. As Sir John has suggested, a shipyard trade union representative ought to be appointed to attend regular meetings, to enhance the transparency and efficiency of the processes that are under way.

Secondly, will the Government commit to working with their industry partners and trade unions to enhance the training and educational capabilities and facilities, so that there is the correct mix of skills and competence, particularly with regard to the new digital systems that are coming on stream?
Thirdly, will the Government commit to having a small but highly specialised virtual innovation centre to force through, among other things, advances in design, new materials and productivity improvements? As Sir John has argued, such an innovation centre is necessary if we are to oversee the new “global competitiveness plans”, which I believe the Government want to see being created.

Finally, will the Government commit to placing a greater emphasis on the exporting of British-built ships, as well as British project management, design, equipment and sub-systems? Will they not only engage in general rhetoric, but commit to specifics, as part of a great national effort to ensure not just that British-built ships are used for British defence, but that the expertise in this country is sold for the benefit of navies throughout the world?

You can the extracts of the full debate here.

Labour MP Stephen Doughty Secures Debate on Remembrance

On Tuesday 8th November, Stephen Doughty MP has secured a three hour Commons debate on the subject of “Rethink Remembrance” – the theme of this year’s 2016 Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal. The debate aims to raise awareness of the sacrifices made not just by the Armed Forces of the past, but by today’s generation too.

Whilst for many people, Remembrance is associated with the fallen of the First and Second World Wars – and of course we will always remember – the Legion wants to raise awareness of a new generation of veterans and Service personnel that need our support.calais-debate

The debate will be held in the House of Commons Chamber on Tuesday 8th November under the motion that ‘this House has considered raising awareness of a new generation of veterans and Service personnel’.

The application for the debate received more than forty signatures from all sides of the House.

Stephen said: “I am delighted to have secured this cross party debate on raising awareness of a new generation of veterans and Service personnel for next Tuesday.

“I have been deeply moved by this year’s Royal British Legion campaign, which challenges us to rethink the image we have of veterans.

“Whilst we will never forget the sacrifices made by those who served in both World Wars, almost 12,000 British service personnel have died in conflicts since then, with countless more injured or living with life changing physical and mental health conditions”

“I am glad we will have the opportunity to raise awareness in Parliament of issues affecting veterans of more recent conflicts, and challenge others to rethink remembrance.”

Shadow Minister for the Armed Forces Meets Veterans in Plymouth

 

Shadow Minister for the Armed Forces Toby Perkins MP met with Armed Forces Veterans from the Frontline Veterans Support group during a visit to Plymouth last week.

The group raised concerns over lack of Government funding for veteran support services and called for more joined up thinking between Government, Local Government and local organisations.

Toby Perkins MP said,

“Whilst some veterans require specialist support, a number of the issues veterans face are shared more widely with other vulnerable people in society. These include lack of access to mental health support, problems with housing and the bedroom tax.

The reality is that if we fail to intervene early in the rehabilitation of veterans we risk putting further pressures on an NHS which is already at stretched to breaking point.

“Aside from this, let’s remember that our armed forces put their lives on the line for this country. Whatever their situation when they leave the forces we owe our veterans a debt of gratitude. At the very least, one way in which we can repay that debt is to give our veterans the support they need.”IMG_1536

Join us at Labour Party Conference

Labour Friends of the Forces Reception at Party Conference
Sunday 27th September from 5-6:30pm at the Sandringham Room of the Hilton Brighton Metropole Hotel
Our servicemen and women, and our veterans, are the very best of Britain. I am proud that they are joining Labour in growing numbers and that they are helping to shape our future policies, with many standing as candidates in the General Election in May.

We’re planning a big presence at this year’s Party Conference and I would be delighted if you could join us, Labour’s Shadow Defence Ministers and guest speakers at a reception to celebrate our Armed Forces, past and present, and their families.

The event will be held on Sunday 27th September from 5pm at the Sandringham Room of the Hilton Brighton Metropole Hotel.

At the reception we’ll be looking for ideas to grow the organisation and formalise it with an AGM in coming months. It’d be great to hear your views and discuss how we can take LFOF forward.

Please let me office know if you wish to attend by emailing officeoflfof@gmail.com.

Unable to make the reception? Join us throughout the conference at our stall (Stand 68), why not bring along a plus 1 to sign up?