By Matthew Barrett
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Last night an adjournment debate was held on SAS soldier Sergeant Danny Nightingale's court martial and imprisonment after illegally bringing home a pistol given to him by grateful Iraqis. Julian Brazier, himself a former Captain in the SAS, led the debate.
"Military justice was consciously modelled on civilian criminal justice. Originally, 12 officers echoed the 12 householders of repute on a jury, although the number became more commonly five 100 years ago. In the past 20 years, under pressure from the European Court of Human Rights, the system has been turned on its head and today a judge advocate chairs the court with up to five regimental officers who are no longer allowed to ask direct questions."
Mr Brazier outlined the main complaint against the judgement against Sgt Nightingale:
"Danny Nightingale has compelling medical evidence to show that his memory was severely impaired. Do we really believe that the second half of the offence—the transfer of the kit, en masse, to military digs after he had suffered the memory damage and when he was under huge service pressures—passes the service interest test? Is this what the military covenant is about? Does this amount to paying fair regard to the particular pressures of life in special forces and their effect on a man whose memory had been impaired and who had made his way back into action?"
By Matthew Barrett
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Philip Hammond's statement to the House this afternoon announcing cuts to the Army was bound to be a challenging time for the Secretary of State for Defence. The announcement signals the beginning of a long transformation for the Army, and jobs will undoubtedly be lost as a result of the changes. Mr Hammond told the House that the 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, 2nd Battalion the Royal Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire regiment, 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment and the 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh would all be "withdrawn" or disbanded. The Secretary of State said:
"These withdrawals and mergers, unwelcome as I know they will be in the units affected, are fair and balanced, and have been carefully structure to minimise the impact of the regular manpower reduction and optimise the military effectiveness of the Army."
by Paul Goodman
I was the first journalist to write that Quilliam is to close, but the think-tank's doing its best to defy my prediction. For those who haven't followed the story, Quilliam is Britain's sole counter-extremism think-tank. It's funded by government (though it's long been seaching for private and voluntary sector money to replace it). The Home Office is about to end its financing - which mean that, if replacement money isn't found, Quilliam will be no more.
Paul Goggins, a former Labour Minister, led a Westminster Hall debate yesterday. Every speaker supported Quilliam. Julian Lewis spoke from the Conservative backbenches -
As most readers know, the Select Committee Chairmanships have been carved out among the parties, and tomorrow's elections for the posts will be cross-party. So Conservative MPs, for example, can vote for Labour candidates, and vice-versa. Jonathan has a list of those standing here.
A question follows: on what basis will Labour MPs vote for the Conservative candidates? Answer: it depends. Some will support the best candidate. Others will vote for the Conservative candidate seen to be the more left-wing of the two.
Such is the attachment on the Labour benches to climate change orthodoxy, for example, that large number of the Party's MPs are likely to line up behind Tim Yeo, the establishment candidate for the Energy and Climate Change committee.
In other cases, however, Labour MPs will surely ask: who's the candidate more likely to cause David Cameron trouble? Or, if they've a more elevated turn of mind: who's the candidate more likely to stand up for the legislature against the executive?
In some cases, it's hard to tell. For example, both candidates for the Treasury Select Committee Chairmanship, Michael Fallon and Andrew Tyrie, are independent-minded. But in others, it's easier to see who'd be more likely to give Downing Street a fit of the heebie-jeebies.
Step forward, then, Peter Bone - standing for the Chairmanship of the Health Select Committee - John Baron, contesting Foreign Affairs (Baron pursued Ministers energetically about Iraq during the last Parliament) and, in the Defence Select Committee poll, no fewer than three of the candidates: Julian Lewis, Patrick Mercer and, above all, Douglas Carswell (one half of the Carswell-Hannan "Cannon" dynamic duo).
If Carswell in particular wins (an unlikely event, but you never know), expect senior officials in the Ministry of Defence to start screaming and screaming, and be unable to stop...
So if any of the above are elected, take a long, hard look at the Labour benches for those responsible.
Official disclaimer: nothing in this article is to be read as an endorsement of any candidate, in any election, at any time, anywhere...
Defence Questions came around again yesterday. Conservative members dominated the session and exhibited excellent technical knowledge.
James Arbuthnot (MP for North-East Hampshire) chairs the Defence Select Committee. He asked about Pakistan:
"Does the Secretary of State accept that the events in Lahore today show that instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan extends far beyond the border region? While we have troops in Afghanistan, we do not have them in Pakistan. Is the Secretary of State, along with the United States, rethinking his entire strategy for the region? Will he make a statement and perhaps allow a debate and possibly even a vote in this House about that?
Mr. Hutton: Yes, we are looking very carefully at all these matters. I am sure that there will be an opportunity to have a proper debate in this place in the usual way, either on a statement or in another way. It is very important not just for the security of our operation in Afghanistan but for the security of the UK as a whole that we develop an approach that encompasses the security challenge that Afghanistan poses as well as the growing threat of instability and extremism in Pakistan. We very much welcome President Obama’s new strategy, which was published last week. It has the prospect of significantly improving the situation in that very troubled region and we stand ready to play our part."
Former Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind was also concerned:
"Is the Secretary of State aware that the Afghan Taliban have recently been successful in persuading the Pakistani Taliban to defer some of their operations in Pakistan and to join their Afghan colleagues to help to try to deal with the expected American surge? If the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban can get their act together, is it not about time that the Afghan and Pakistani Governments were also able to do so? Will the Secretary of State speak to his Pakistani colleague and impress upon him that the security of Afghanistan is crucial to the security of Pakistan itself?
Mr. Hutton: I agree very strongly with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I have already had those conversations with the Pakistani Minister of Defence, and I have had those conversations regularly with the Afghan Minister of Defence as well. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman 100 per cent., and we are focused very clearly on doing exactly what he has just said."
The House of Commons returned yesterday and got stuck into Defence questions.
Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox asked about Afghanistan:
"The general consensus on Afghanistan in the House has put the United Kingdom in a strong position in NATO. Does the Secretary of State agree that, if there is to be further British deployment in Afghanistan, four criteria must be met? First, there must be a clear and achievable political mission to support the military mission, as was the case with the surge in Iraq, but that does not currently exist in Afghanistan. Secondly, governance in Afghanistan, including widespread corruption, must be tackled because it is undermining our efforts. Thirdly, as has been said, all NATO allies should be asked to take a fairer share because too many are shamefully failing to do that. Fourthly, any increase in troop numbers must be matched by a proportionate and appropriate increase in equipment such as helicopters and armoured vehicles.
Mr. Hutton: I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman has said. We would not deploy additional forces to Afghanistan unless they had the right equipment to do their job properly. He has rightly drawn attention to the low number of helicopters that are available to support ISAF. We are working on that, as are our NATO partners and allies. The French-UK helicopter initiative is a small step in the right direction—it has yet to produce significant new assets but I hope that it will do soon.
Although I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said, I caution him about drawing too many parallels between Iraq and Afghanistan. They are two very different countries, with very different security situations.
Dr. Fox: The Secretary of State will know that, over the weekend, reports in the press gave detailed information about the life-changing injuries that some of our troops in Afghanistan have sustained. Will he take the opportunity, relatively early in his time in office, to review the way in which the Ministry of Defence publishes statistics, so that we can have a full and transparent picture of the sacrifices that are being made on our behalf? The British public, our armed forces and their families deserve no less, and are far more able to deal with unpleasant truth than with what many may perceive as half-truths and evasions.
Mr. Hutton: I agree that transparency in the figures is important. Every fortnight, we publish a series of figures, which show the extent of injuries and wounds to service personnel in active theatres. It is not therefore fair or reasonable to criticise the MOD for failing to provide an accurate scorecard on what is happening. We do not have a category of “life-changing injuries”. Neither the statisticians nor the services have identified that as a meaningful definition. However, we publish comprehensive, fortnightly data, which deal with the extent of injuries and wounds. I am happy to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to that, if he wishes."
Herewith some interesting recent early day motions.
Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff put down EDM 676 to call on the Government to make business rate relief for small businesses automatic:
"That this House notes with concern that business rate relief is not taken up by over half of those small businesses eligible to claim it; further notes that as a result small businesses are losing out on saving up to £2,500 yearly; further notes that across the country around £400 million earmarked for rate relief to be paid to small businesses is returned to the Treasury; and calls on the Government to support the Small Business Rate Relief (Automatic Payment) Bill."
Mr Luff is promoting this Bill, backed by the Federation of Small Businesses. It was presented to Parliament on 21 January (there was no debate). In 2007 the Welsh Assembly made such payments automatic in Wales. This seems like a thoroughly worthwhile move.
Romford MP and Shadow Home Affairs Minister Andrew Rosindell is fan of the EDM medium. Number 705, which he tabled, refers to British relations with the Maori people:
"That this House is proud to join the people of New Zealand in celebrating Waitangi Day, their national day, on 6 February 2009, commemorating the historic signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, that marks the coming together of the Maori people and representatives of the British Crown; notes the importance of maintaining strong links between the United Kingdom and New Zealand; recognises the strong historic bond and shared heritage, longstanding trading relationships and deeply intertwined cultural, educational and military ties between the peoples of these two great allies and Commonwealth members who share Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State and Sovereign; and urges the Government to continue to foster and strengthen the special relationship that binds these two nations together."
Patrick Mercer MP: "Whatever we do and whatever we say, if we extend the period of detention before charge, our enemies—wrongly, in my view—will label it internment. Would it be internment? Would it bear any resemblance to what went on during the war years, when Italians and Germans were held? Would it bear any resemblance to what I saw in the 1970s in Northern Ireland, when it was predominantly Catholics who were held? Of course not. It bears no resemblance whatever. But would that stop our enemies claiming that it was internment? Absolutely not.
If we hand that weapon to Islamist fundamentalists, those who would damage this state not just physically, but morally and politically, we would do ourselves a grave disservice. We would immediately lay ourselves open to further alienating the community from which the majority—although not all—of the problem stems. It is crucially important that the British Muslim community is kept on side in its entirety—or as close to its entirety as we can get. If we consider what happened in the 1970s in Northern Ireland, we see that the one word “internment” would—I believe, having listened to the evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee—alienate good, honest, loyal, properly religious and truthful Muslims.
Secondly, and probably even more damagingly, anything we do to damage the flow of intelligence from the relevant communities will turn off our only important weapon in fighting the people whom I am talking about. We can rely on information, observation and analysis, but none of that equates to proper, hard intelligence. Believe me, anything that we do that damages our touts, informers or resources, or that alienates people who are giving information, will damage the fight against terror."
More from Hansard on this page.