By Julian Lewis
The House Magazine Select Committee Guide – Spring 2018
Our 2017 Defence Committee Guide listed the overall questions we aim to address:
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?
During the “Short Parliament” of 2015–17, we examined a newly assertive Russia and explored our strategic interests in Iraq and Syria. We initiated a debate on Defence expenditure – setting a benchmark target of 3 per cent of GDP to eliminate the “black hole” in the budget and to reflect the traditional place of Defence in our national priorities. As late as 1995–96, we never spent less than 3 per cent on Defence, and it is right that this target is gaining credibility (including with former Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, who is now demanding 2.5 per cent by the end of this parliament).
After previously concentrating on air campaigns in the Middle East, and on restoring the numbers of frigates and destroyers, we turned our attention to Army recruitment problems despite significant reductions in troop strength targets. We continue to advocate a Statute of Limitation to prevent former Service personnel who served in Northern Ireland being repeatedly reinvestigated about events prior to the signing of the Belfast Agreement, despite the absence of new evidence. We are satisfied that the enactment of such a Statute, coupled with a “truth-recovery” process, would meet our legal obligations whilst maximising the prospect of bereaved families finding out what really happened to those whom they lost.
Our first Report in the new Parliament continued to emphasise inadequate Defence funding, by criticising over-dependence on theoretical “efficiency savings”. Our second Report, investigated a catalogue of doubts about the F-35B combat aircraft, drawn up by The Times largely on the basis of US experience. This hugely expensive and ambitious project requires ongoing scrutiny, and we have requested six-monthly updates in future.
Current Inquiries include the threat from North Korea, our Defence relationships with the USA and with the post-Brexit EU, the MoD’s Modernising Defence Programme, mental health support for Service personnel and veterans, and the strategic significance of the Arctic region – the last of these being undertaken by our Sub-Committee, chaired previously by James Gray and now by Madeleine Moon.
Above all, our third Report, denouncing plans to delete the UK’s Amphibious Assault Ships, dominated the entire 24-hour news cycle on 4 February. Just insert the phrase “militarily illiterate” into an online search engine and you will quickly see exactly what I mean.
[For Press Notices and Summaries of all these Reports, click here.]