'MPs INQUIRY OVER MOD "SHIFTING GOALPOSTS" TO HIT NATO DEFENCE SPENDING TARGET'

The Defence Select Committee also says the Government is undermining its defence review with a “derisory” 1,500 character limit for experts and think-tanks wanting to make suggestions

By Ben Farmer, Defence Correspondent

Telegraph Online -- 9 September 2015

Ministers will be quizzed over suggestions the Government has resorted to creative accountancy and “shifting the goalposts” to meet the UK’s NATO defence spending pledge, in a new Parliamentary inquiry into the military budget. MPs said they will launch an investigation into the Government’s pledge to spend two per cent of GDP on defence. The Defence Select Committee will look at how the Government will meet the target, after the MoD has faced accusations of cooking the books by including money previously counted as aid and intelligence spending.

David Cameron in July bowed to pressure from Washington and backbench Conservatives not to drop below the NATO benchmark, amid fears the Armed Forces would be hit with more austerity cuts in this year’s spending review. But an analysis by the Royal United Services Institute found that the MoD had been forced to make significant “accounting rule changes” to hit the target, while UKIP said the new plans were

“little more than creative accounting”.

Julian Lewis MP, Chairman of the Committee, said:

“We will be starting out with an open mind, but we will be asking the question whether we think the goalposts have been shifted.”

The inquiry will also look at whether the 2 per cent figure is enough to protect the UK. He said:

“We don’t want to get into the situation where everyone thinks that because we are spending the minimum all our defence problems are over.”

The Committee also warned the Government was undermining its own defence review with a “derisory” 1,500 character limit for experts and think tanks wanting to make suggestions. In a letter to the Cabinet Office, it has asked who decided to restrict online submissions to the equivalent of 200 to 300 words.

The letter to Oliver Letwin MP says:

“Restricting the length of submissions to the equivalent of a dozen tweets fundamentally undermines the Government’s claim to be consulting widely on the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

“This derisory word-limit will gravely inhibit the ability of experts and interested parties to provide worthwhile evidence and argument on the direction and content of the review.”

A Government spokesperson responded saying the limit had recently been removed because of outcry from military experts.

The Defence Committee also said it was “deeply disturbed” by the number of military personnel suffering from mental illness after taking the anti-malaria drug Lariam. Official figures show nearly 1,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen needed psychiatric treatment after taking the drug in the past seven years.

The Committee demanded answers on how the MoD plans to reassess the safety of the drug.