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Archive for the ‘Defence’ Category

Mar 7,2010

Liam Fox’s office has been in touch with journalists complaining about Gordon Brown’s visit to British troops.  In an interesting insight into the Tory mindset the troops are described as “political props”.

It is the most cynical of political games to suggest that it is wrong for the Prime Minister to visit now.  Even Liam Fox must know that there will be a General Election in the next few months – for all anyone knows it could be called this month.  Once the Election is announced it will, of course, be difficult for politicians to visit without their motives being misinterpreted.  But what the Tories seem to be arguing is that any visit at any time by the Prime Minister uses the troops as “political props”.

But just imagine the Tories’ complaints if the Prime Minister didn’t visit.

The Prime Minister is right to have gone to Afghanistan to visit British troops – something he has done regularly since he took office.

And it is Liam Fox and Cameron’s Conservatives who are playing politics.

Cynical is hardly an adequate description of their games.

Mar 6,2010

The Guardian this morning produces new evidence of the Conservative Party organisation using surrogates and deniability.  Apparently, a shadowy organisation, called the Young Britons’ Foundation has trained 2,500 Conservative activists including eleven Parliamentary candidates.  The “training” has involved exercises with assault rifles on a shooting range in Virginia and the organisation’s leader has called for the NHS to be scrapped, environmental protestors to be shot and for US-style laws on firearms.  He has also defended waterboarding techniques in interrogation.

Naturally, despite the group’s close links to leading Conservatives, like Daniel Hannan, Eric Pickles, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Ed Vaizey, David Davis and John Redwood, Conservative Central Office denies that it has official links with the YBF, even though it strongly recommends activists attend Blaney’s courses.

There they go again …..

Feb 2,2010

There is to be a new Joint Committee to consider the National Security Strategy.

The first National Security Strategy was published in March 2008 and looks beyond the traditional areas of foreign, defence and security policies to include transnational crime, pandemics and flooding.

The Strategy was updated in June 2009 with further updates to be produced every year.  It has always been the intention that there would be a Joint Parliamentary Committee with members drawn from both Houses to help monitor the implementation and development of the Strategy.

The Committee is to consist of twelve Commons members, including the Chairmen of the Departmental Select Committees on Foreign Affairs, Defence, Home Affairs, International Development, Business and Enterprise, Energy and Climate Change, and Justice, and also the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and ten Lords members (and I have been asked to be one of these).

Jan 3,2010

I did enjoy the Riddell cartoon in today’s Observer:

Back in the saddle

Chris Riddell 03.01.10

© Chris Riddell 2010

I had just read the front-page lead, “David Cameron to pledge NHS cash boost for most deprived areas“.  This reports that David Cameron is going to announce tomorrow that in the (unlikely) event that he wins this year’s General Election billions of pounds of NHS resources will be diverted to the most deprived parts of the country- apparently in an attempt to defuse the “class war” attacks on his Party.

Interesting, if true.

So where would this money come from?  Even bigger cuts elsewhere in the public sector?  The King’s Fund has demonstrated that even maintaining current cash spending on the NHS would lead to devastating reductions elsewhere.  So what will suffer?  Defence?  Police??  International Development???

Or is it going to come from elsewhere in the NHS?  So does this mean that middle-class areas will have their NHS resources cut?  Will Tory candidates in those areas come clean with their electorates??  And is the plan that the middle classes are to be forced into private health insurance???

So is this the vision for “Modern Conservatism”?

I think Tom Harris (no relation – he’s Scottish) seems to have got it right.

Dec 18,2009

Two recent articles demonstrate how seriously more and more countries are taking the possibility of war in cyberspace, either by developing their own offensive capability or by strengthening internet security and resilience.  There are even talks about a new international treaty to “demilitarise” cyberspace.

According to Reuters, Major-General Amos Yadlin, Israel’s chief of military intelligence, has placed vulnerability to hacking in the same list of security threats to the State of Israel as the Iranian nuclear project and Syrian and Islamist guerrillas attacking across Israel’s borders.

He also made it clear that Israeli armed forces had the means to provide network security and launch cyber attacks of their own, pointing out that:

The cyberwarfare field fits well with the state of Israel’s defense doctrine  …. This is an enterprise that is entirely blue and white (ie. Israeli) and does not rely on foreign assistance or technology. It is a field that is very well known to young Israelis, in a country that was recently crowned a ‘start-up nation’.”

Reuters says that:

“Cyberwarfare teams nestle deep within Israel’s spy agencies, which have extensive experience in traditional sabotage techniques and are cloaked in official secrecy and censorship.

They can draw on the know-how of Israeli commercial firms that are among the world’s hi-tech leaders and whose staff are often veterans of elite computer units in the conscript army.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the United States has begun talks with Russia and a United Nations arms control committee about strengthening Internet security and limiting military use of cyberspace.  According to the New York Times:

“Many countries, including the United States, are developing weapons for use on computer networks that are ever more integral to the operations of everything from banks to electrical power systems to government offices. They include “logic bombs” that can be hidden in computers to halt them at crucial times or damage circuitry; “botnets” that can disable or spy on Web sites and networks; or microwave radiation devices that can burn out computer circuits miles away.”

The Russians are apparently arguing that the increasing challenges posed by military activities to civilian computer networks can be best dealt with by an international treaty, similar to treaties that have limited the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

So where is the UK on all of this?

Well according to Major-General Yadlin, Britain is setting up a cyberwarfare command, and this demonstrates why Israel needs to have its own “soldiers and officers” dedicated to this field.

I have to admit that the existence of a UK cyberwarfare command is new to me – not that I (or many other people either – apart presumably from Major-General Yadlin) would necessarily know if it did exist.

My concern has usually been the opposite and that until recently at least the UK has seemed naively complacent about the scale of the cyber-threats faced.

The publication of a national cyber security strategy has been a welcome first step in the right direction (as I have commented before) and there are also signs of increasing Parliamentary interest in the matter (although when I sat in on the last part of the latest House of Lords hearing on internet security in Europe the main preoccupation seemed to be that Heraklion – where the relevant EU agency is based – is awfully difficult to get to from London).

Nevertheless, these two articles do show that the rest of the world recognises the problem, so the UK probably ought to be doing more as well (unless we really do have a cutting edge cyberwarfare command based in a bunker underneath Cheltenham).

Dec 16,2009

The Parliamentary Information Technology Committee (PITCOM), of which I am the Honorary Treasurer, has produced a useful briefing summarising the key issues about the increasing reliance of the critical national infrastructure (CNI) on technology and the crucial importance of ensuring that that technology is resilient and adequately protected.

The potential vulnerability of the CNI to a variety of threats and the need to raise the level of protection and readiness of the UK to respond to attacks are highlighted.  The briefing also emphasises the importance of partnership between the Government and the private sector to mitigate risks, particularly given the extent to which major parts of the CNI are under private ownership and may not automatically prioritise the national interest above short-term commercial interests.

The briefing should be essential reading for all Parliamentary candidates and anyone else interested in national security.

Nov 9,2009

Those who doubt the clarity of purpose of the mission in Afghanistan should listen to the interview on Radio 4’s “Today” programme this morning with Captain Andrew Tiernan of the Grenadier Guards.  He is on leave and about to return to Afghanistan.   This is his thrid tour of duty and he is clear about the progress that has been made and the importance of the role that British troops are fulfilling.

At the beginning of the interview it was made clear that his appearance on the programme was not at the behest of the Ministery of Defence, but was a consequence of his expressing his frustration to his mother about the way in which the work that he and his colleagues are doing in Afghanistan is being portrayed in the news media.

He emphasised that talk about a pull-out is undermining the work that they are doing and demonstrates a failure to support the troops out there.

I hope his message is taken to heart by those in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties who are sniping at the clarity of the mission or are toying with calling for our troops to be pulled out as some sort of  pre-election stunt.

Nov 2,2009

I have been becoming increasingly irritated at the way in which the Ministry of Defence have appeared to be engaging with veterans about their pensions and compensation.  I recently tabled three questions on the subject and have now had the response to the first of these.

The question was:

“Lord Harris of Haringey to ask Her Majesty’s Government what were the total administrative and legal costs incurred by the Ministry of Defence in contesting war pension claims in each of the last five years. HL5842?

The answer I have had tells me:

“The Service personnel and Veterans Agency administers the War Pensions Scheme.  The external legal costs incurred by them in contesting war pension claims in each of the last five years are as follows:

2004/5          £405,284

2005/6          £415,269

2006/7         £491,054

2007/8         £436,924

2008/9         £483,901

TOTAL      £2,232,432

It is not often that I am lost for words, but as we approach Remembrance Day I have to admit to being dumb-founded.  I know lawyers are expensive, but I just hope that those who approved this expenditure thought about the human consequences of the legal quibbling in which they were engaged ……

Oct 22,2009

I have tabled three questions for written answer about how much the Ministry of Defence has spent in contesting the war pensions claimed by former military personnel (strictly speaking the third is not about this, but is a comparison with the costs of the new MoD headquarters.

The questions are as follows:

Lord Harris of Haringey to ask Her Majesty’s Government what were the total administrative and legal costs incurred by the Ministry of Defence in contesting war pension claims in each of the last five years. HL5842

Lord Harris of Haringey to ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Baroness Taylor of Bolton on 14 December 2008 (HL Deb, col 222), what were the total costs incurred by the Ministry of Defence in contesting the case of the late Terry Walker before his war pension was cut from 100 per cent to 40 per cent shortly before he died; and whether they will be represented when the inquest on his death is resumed. HL5843

Lord Harris of Haringey to ask Her Majesty’s Government what was their original estimate of the cost of reconstructing the headquarters of the Ministry of Defence; how much has so far been spent on the project; and what they now estimate will be the ultimate cost. HL5844

Oct 15,2009

The third Lords Question this afternoon related to what Lord Alf Morris described as the haggling going on over the payment of compensation to some Gulf War veterans.  This is a subject I feel quite strongly about.  It was down to Baroness Ann Taylor to defend the Ministry of Defence stance.

This is the full exchange (in which I intervened – not having intended to when I entered the Chamber):

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what was the total cost in the last five years of the Ministry of Defence contesting war pensions tribunal awards which were later confirmed on appeal.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I declare an interest as honorary parliamentary adviser to the Royal British Legion.

The Minister for International Defence and Security (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, data on costs in closed cases are not held centrally in respect of war pension scheme and Armed Forces compensation scheme cases where we have appealed first-tier tribunal decisions to the upper-tier tribunal, and which were later confirmed on appeal. Therefore, it is not possible to separate out the costs of cases where our challenge was unsuccessful without examining each individual case and incurring disproportionate costs. A first-tier tribunal decision is challenged only in cases where it is considered that there has been an error of law.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, as ever, but is it not disquieting that, while haggling with Gulf War veterans and bereaved families over pensions still drags on, Parliament cannot yet be told even how much the MoD spent contesting the case of the late Terry Walker who, as my noble friend knows, had his war pension cut from 100 per cent to 40 per cent shortly before he died, leaving his two orphaned children in poverty? Again, how much has been spent on trying to reduce the compensation awarded to Corporal Andrew Duncan of the Light Dragoons from £46,000 to £9,250? Will the MoD continue to contest the award to this brave young soldier, who has undergone 11 operations since being hit in the leg by a bullet in Iraq?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I am afraid that I must disagree with my noble friend’s use of the word “haggling” in regard to these cases. We do not wish to take money away from any individual, we are trying to make a system which is robust and fair and gives most compensation to those who are most severely injured. My noble friend takes issue with the case of Corporal Duncan and Marine McWilliams that on Monday was adjudicated on. I point out to him that the judge in that case, Lord Justice Carnwath, said in his judgment:

“The Secretary of State was, in my view, entirely justified in bringing the appeal … It seeks to clarify some important and difficult issues relating to construction of the scheme”.

Therefore, I think that the case was worth bringing. It is important that in all these things we ensure that those who are most severely injured and most need help get the most benefit.

Lord Addington: My Lords, when many of these cases are brought to public attention it always appears that the law is, at least to some extent, an ass. Will the Government undertake to ensure that everybody knows exactly why these decisions have been made, and that this is put into the general media so that we can at least understand what the Government say, even if we still disagree with it?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I agree that there is a great deal of misconception and misunderstanding about the nature of those cases and, indeed, about the Armed Forces compensation scheme itself. Whatever its deficiencies, it is a new scheme introduced only in 2005. For the first time it gives tax-free lump-sum payments to serving servicemen. We have doubled the basic lump sums. For the first time there is a guaranteed income for those who are most severely injured, so we have made significant progress. There will always be complex and difficult individual cases but the basic principle behind what we are doing—namely, that those who are most severely injured should get the most help—is one on which the whole House should agree.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, in the case cited by my noble friend, is not the issue at stake the complications that arose during medical treatment? While I understand why there is an important argument to be had about whether that is properly the liability of the compensation scheme, is there not also an issue about the duty of care of the Government towards Armed Forces personnel? Was it not possible to separate out the two issues in this case?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, that is exactly what the judge was referring to when he said that there was a need for clarification. This was a complex case and additional factors came in at a later stage which were not part of the original decision. That is why it was right to seek further clarification. The case will now be remitted back to the independent tribunal, which I hope will come to a decision very quickly. Of course, whatever the decision of that tribunal, the MoD will pay whatever funds and whatever money is recommended.”

I do understand the principle at stake here: the MoD argument is that it should only pay compensation for the injuries received, rather than for any complications that arise during treatment.  However, it is not right that the appearance is given that the MoD is quibbling about paying compensation.  The MoD has a duty of care towards members of the armed forces.  In cases like this, that fact seems to be being forgotten.

The only other contribution on this matter was from Lord Addington, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Chief Whip.  The Conservative benches remained silent.