CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

'THE DEFENCE SELECT COMMITTEE, 2018–19'

By Julian Lewis

Art of Scrutiny: The House Magazine Select Committee Guide Summer 2019

In the year gone by, the Defence Committee can claim three principal successes:

1.    By charting the relentless decline in Defence Expenditure as a proportion of GDP, we have re-framed a debate which previously focused on the dire prospect of falling below the NATO minimum of only 2 per cent. It is increasingly clear that a medium-term target figure of 3 per cent is not only realistic but essential, if we are to maintain a full spectrum of military capability. Present and former Defence Ministers now assert this openly, and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt recently declared it “not sustainable” for the UK to spend just 2 per cent of GDP on Defence. Apparently he favours an increase to 4 per cent over the next decade.

2.    By exposing the “militarily illiterate” proposal to scrap our world-beating amphibious ships, we encouraged the then Defence Secretary’s determination to block such reckless folly. Yet, the stand-off between the Ministry of Defence and what may be termed the “Security bureaucrats” exposed a worrying agenda behind the scenes. People who should know better nearly persuaded the Prime Minister to accept further disastrous cuts in our conventional Armed Forces in order to meet so-called “21st Century threats”, such as fake news and cyber warfare. Such thinking ignores the inconvenient fact that, as new dangers have arisen, conventional hard-power threats have not gone away.

3.    By repeatedly exposing the use of litigation against present and former Service personnel, we have forced the Government to formulate plans offering much greater protection than before. It had promised to include our recommendation for a Statute of Limitations in a scheduled consultation on Northern Ireland, but this promise was broken: hence our decision to start another major inquiry on the subject. The Committee as a whole – and its members individually – will continue exerting maximum pressure for a resolution. We welcomed the MoD’s decision to set up a special unit to grip this problem, and held useful discussions with it.

The past 12 months have seen the production of two major Reports on military mental health, dispelling the myth that most people are harmed rather than strengthened by service in the Armed Forces and recommending the establishment of a world-class centre for those who do suffer mental damage – ideally nearby the new national centre for the physically injured, at Stanford Hall.

On the international front, our study of the North Korean dictatorship warned that, having come so far in his quest for nuclear weapons, Kim Jong-un would be unlikely to abandon them now. We also produced a detailed account of Russia’s systematic violation of its duties under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Our joint Inquiry into future anti-ship missiles, conducted with our counterpart committee in the French National Assembly, was the first such undertaking between a House of Commons Committee and a Committee of a non-UK legislature. We plan a further joint project to build on this success.

Currently in the pipeline, are Reports on the malicious use of drones, on hybrid warfare, and on global Islamist terrorism. An examination of our strategic interests in the Far East is just getting underway, and we are likely increasingly to focus on the UK’s need for a Defence Industrial Strategy – following our role in helping to prevent the relocation of highly sensitive defence manufacturing work by General Electric from Rugby to Nancy. The possible placing of contracts for future Fleet Solid Support Ships outside the UK has also received our close attention and sharp criticism.

By fighting political battles now, we aim to lessen the risk of fighting military battles in the future.

[For Press Notices and Summaries of all these Reports, click here.]