'THE ART OF SCRUTINY'
The Defence Committee asks key questions on Defence to piece together the bigger picture
By Julian Lewis
The House Magazine guide to the House of Commons Select Committees – Spring 2017
Like pieces in a giant jigsaw, Defence Committee Reports seek to build a clear and coherent overall picture. These are the fundamental questions which confront us:
1. What potential conventional, unconventional and ideological threats are we facing, and what strategy should we adopt to counter them?
2. How large should our Armed Forces be, and how should they be configured?
3. Could we and should we spend more on Defence?
4. What equipment will we need, how should it be procured, and can industry design, develop and manufacture it?
5. How well are Service personnel and veterans treated, in terms of pay and pensions, conditions of service, medical support when injured, and legal protection against inappropriate investigation?
6. How expert, competent and generally fit for purpose, is the machinery of government in the field of Defence?
So far, the full Defence Committee has completed:
1. A checklist of potential threats and vulnerabilities against which to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our national strategy and Armed Forces.
2. A rigorous examination of whether we are spending the NATO minimum of 2 per cent of GDP on Defence, with extensive data on our declining emphasis on Defence since the mid-1950s, compared with Education, Health and Welfare.
3. An assessment of our clashing interests with Russia in Europe, and our similar interests elsewhere in opposing revolutionary Islamism.
4. A meticulous comparison of the UK’s air campaigns in Iraq and Syria, contrasting substantial efforts in one theatre with minimal airstrike totals in the other.
5. A critique of the distribution of the anti-malaria drug Lariam to our Service personnel, in breach of strict safeguards set out by its manufacturers.
6. A disturbing study of the relentless decline in the numbers of Royal Navy frigates and destroyers, and of the risks of further reductions if the new shipbuilding strategy is mishandled.
7. A brief but supportive examination of Gareth Johnson’s Private Member’s Bill, sadly currently stalled, to restore criminal penalties for imposters wearing gallantry medals they were never awarded.
8. A strong denunciation of devastating cuts to the BBC Monitoring Service, in a Report entitled “Open Source Stupidity” – a reference to the impending loss of Open Source Intelligence from its Caversham Park headquarters.
Finally, we take pride in having set up a Defence Sub-Committee, chaired successively by different members of the full Committee. So far, it has completed two Reports – on military exercises and the duty of care (Madeleine Moon), and on the sick farce of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Johnny Mercer) – the latter forcing a widely publicised u-turn by the MoD.
Next to chair the Sub-Committee will be James Gray, examining Defence in the Arctic, whilst the full Committee presses on with Inquiries into procurement, the Army and the SDSR, the Trident missile test failure, the pursuit of Northern Ireland veterans, and a flagship study of the relationship between the UK, USA and NATO.
We shall be fitting many more pieces into the Defence jigsaw during the remaining years of this Parliament.