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Fri, 7 August 2020

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Defence Select Committee chair: Julian Lewis' elevator pitch

Defence Select Committee chair: Julian Lewis' elevator pitch
3 min read

Conservative MP Julian Lewis is standing to be re-elected chair of the Defence Select Committee against his colleague, Johnny Mercer. He outlines below why he's the right person for the job.

Although Select Committees should be flexible and fleet-of-foot, reacting rapidly to the unexpected, it is vital to work to an overall programme. Under my chairmanship the Defence Committee has been tackling six key questions:

  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?

So far, the full Defence Committee has completed:

  1. A checklist of potential threats and vulnerabilities against which to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our national strategy and Armed Forces.
  2. A rigorous examination of whether we are spending the NATO minimum of 2 per cent of GDP on Defence, with extensive data on our declining emphasis on Defence since the mid-1950s, compared with Education, Health and Welfare.
  3. An assessment of our clashing interests with Russia in Europe, and of our similar interests elsewhere in opposing revolutionary Islamism.
  4. A meticulous comparison of the UK’s air campaigns in Iraq and Syria, contrasting substantial efforts in one theatre with minimal airstrike totals in the other.
  5. A critique of the distribution of the anti-malaria drug Lariam to our Service personnel, in breach of strict safeguards set out by its manufacturers.
  6. A disturbing study of the relentless decline in the numbers of Royal Navy frigates and destroyers, and of the risks of further reductions if the new shipbuilding strategy is mishandled.
  7. A brief but supportive examination of Gareth Johnson’s Private Member’s Bill, sadly currently stalled, to restore criminal penalties for imposters wearing gallantry medals they were never awarded.
  8. A strong denunciation of devastating cuts to the BBC Monitoring Service, in a Report entitled “Open Source Stupidity” – a reference to the impending loss of Open Source Intelligence from its Caversham Park headquarters.
  9. A recommendation for a Statute of Limitations to protect Service personnel from being pursued through the Northern Irish courts, whilst paramilitary mass-murderers serve derisory sentences or no sentences at all.
  10. An examination of the Army’s problems in meeting recruitment targets and fulfilling equipment programmes, at our present level of Defence expenditure.
  11. A survey of the Government’s record on the Military Covenant, recommending the appointment of a dedicated Minister for the Covenant, supported by a delivery office, and based at the heart of Government in the Cabinet Office. 

Four political parties are represented on the Committee, and – under a system I initiated – every member should eventually have the chance to chair the Defence Sub-Committee and conduct an inquiry autonomously.

So far, Madeleine Moon has produced a Report on military exercises and the duty of care, Johnny Mercer has exposed the sick farce of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, and James Gray has been developing his specialism of Defence in the Arctic.

Making sense of Defence while chairing the Committee requires logic, knowledge and strategic good sense. Party politics should enter into it as little as possible, and every member should feel valued and involved. Above all, constructive challenge to the Government of the day should yield benefits both for the Armed Forces and for the security of the United Kingdom.  

Julian Lewis is Conservative MP for New Forest East and was chair of the Defence Committee, 2015-2017