07 Aug 19. Report says UK MPs suffer from a “widespread lack of knowledge” about the military. A report from the UK Parliament Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) says MPs have a “widespread lack of knowledge and education” on military affairs. The report calls for MPs to have greater access to sensitive information so they can make better decisions on military matters.
The Chair of the Committee, Sir Bernard Jenkin MP, said: “The decision to embark upon military action is the most serious that a country can take, and the ability to do so rapidly and with discretion when our national security is judged to be under threat should never be compromised.”
In the report, PACAC said: “In order to carry out good scrutiny, members of parliament need to have sufficient knowledge and understanding of defence and foreign affairs issues. They also require access to the information necessary to carry out effective scrutiny.”
PACAC also expressed its concerns over the “lousy” quality of debate on military matters caused by MPs’ lack of expertise. The report said: “One of the most striking and concerning issues raised in our inquiry was the view expressed by the former leaders of the armed forces that politicians, both in government and in Parliament, were uninformed, under-educated and under-prepared to debate the issues surrounding international conflict.”
Jenkin added: “For their part, every member of parliament must keep themselves fully informed of defence and foreign affairs matters with the utmost seriousness. It should be viewed a central part of the job we were elected to do.”
The report also reaffirms Parliament’s place in authorising the use of the UK’s Armed Forces, a convention that has stood since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The UK solidified the convention with a 2013 vote on military action in Syria.
In 2018, then Prime Minister Theresa May authorised air strikes against the Islamic State without seeking the approval of Parliament, sparking a debate on the relationship between the government and Parliament on the use of military force.
In the report, PACAC said: “Parliament’s role should be strengthened, but the government’s ability to act should not be compromised.”
The government’s ability to make swift decisions is crucial to national security, as prolonged debates can delay action. The report, therefore, makes clear that the government must make decisions that Parliament can support.
The committee added: “Where military action is taken under an exception to the post-2003 convention of prior consultation with the House of Commons, the government should, at the earliest feasible moment, make a statement to the House and, where necessary, seek retrospective approval.”
A spokesperson for the government said: “We thank PACAC for their work on this report and agree that the decision to embark upon military action is the most serious that a country can take.
“PACAC themselves have specified that it is absolutely critical for the government to make rapid, discreet decisions when our national security is judged to be under threat – it is for this very reason that we believe our current constitutional balance is correct.”
The power to deploy the UK’s Armed Forces derives from royal prerogative, technically giving the monarch charge of the armed forces, but the government exercises this power on the monarch’s behalf.
PACAC launched the inquiry into how military force is authorised in January this year as part of a wider investigation into Parliament’s place in the UK constitution.
Their inquiry did not consider Trident, the UK’s nuclear deterrent. The decision to authorise Trident lies with the Prime Minister and not Parliament. PACAC is an all-parliamentary group set up to scrutinise the workings of the government. (Source: army-technology.com)
06 Aug 19. MoD ‘Has Not Come To Terms With The Creation Of The Service Complaints Ombudsman.’ Says Defence Committee. Neither the individual Armed Forces, nor the system for their independent oversight headed by the Service Complaints Ombudsman, Nicola Williams, has yet succeeded in establishing an effective and efficient system for handling grievances by serving personnel, according to a Defence Committee report published today. Within the Services, the key performance target of resolving 90% of complaints within 24 weeks has never been met, whilst decisions on the admissibility of complaints – supposed to be made within a fortnight – have taken up to 86 weeks to complete.
At the oversight level, the burden on the modestly-sized office of the Service Complaints Ombudsman has been disproportionate to resources ever since it superseded the office of the Service Complaints Commissioner in 2015. This was largely because its role was widened to include ‘the duty of re-examining the substance of complaints – rather than just ruling on the adequacy of procedures followed and time taken by the Services in handling them’. The result has been ‘large backlogs and unacceptable delays’.
The Defence Committee learned that, instead of looking on the Ombudsman as an asset, the Ministry of Defence took almost seven months to produce a 5-page response to her 2017 annual report. It also failed to supply her with the results of internal Service reviews about high levels of complaints by female and ethnic minority personnel. Government Legal Department lawyers were not always available to give advice when required, and delays in clearance by the Security Vetting service led to skilled applicants for posts in the Ombudsman’s office looking elsewhere for employment.
The Committee concludes that the only solution that will have a lasting effect is for the individual Services to improve their own complaints procedures and practices, and not to rely upon the Ombudsman’s office to make up for their own shortcomings. It expresses concern at suggestions that pressure has been put on some complainants not to proceed, and demands a list of the provisions currently in place for each Service to monitor and record withdrawn complaints.
Defence Committee chairman, Dr Julian Lewis MP, says: “It is essential that Service personnel have a fair, effective and efficient complaints system to deal with valid grievances, but the Service Complaints Ombudsman has consistently reported that this does not exist. The burden on her own office stems significantly from the 2015 decision to task her staff with reinvestigating the substance of complaints, and not just maladministration by the individual Services in handling them.
“The whole system risks losing credibility in the absence of a plan to streamline procedures within the Services and to bring the workload of the Ombudsman back into balance with the resources made available to her office to deal with it.”
House of Commons and House of Lords Hansard Written Answers
Asked by Lord Campbell of Pittenweem
Asked on: 24 July 2019
Ministry of Defence
To ask Her Majesty’s Government by how much (1) the Royal Navy, (2) the army, and (3) the Royal Air Force, are under strength.
Answered by: Baroness Goldie
Answered on: 02 August 2019
The current strength of the Armed Forces as at 1 April 2019 is give in the table below:
Trained Strength Workforce Requirement
Royal Navy/Royal Marines 29,224 30,568
Army 75,070 82,000
Royal Air Force 30,010 31,756
Trained Strength comprises military personnel who have completed Phase 1 and 2 training for Royal Navy/Royal Marines, the Army (prior to 1 October 2016) and the Royal Air Force. Following the change in definition of trained strength for Army, from 1 October 2016, trained strength for the Army comprises of personnel who have completed Phase 1 training.
The Ministry of Defence remains committed to maintaining the overall size of the Armed Forces and we have a range of measures under way to improve recruitment and retention. The challenge is kept under constant review.
Importantly the Services continue to meet all their current commitments, keeping the country and its interests safe.
The strength of the Armed Forces is published every three months and can be found in the UK Armed Forces Quarterly Service Personnel Statistics at the following link: