June 24: What is the UK’s defence policy?

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THE dysfunctional state of British defence policy has been exposed by the extent to which the Government is having to manipulate the figures in order to comply with the requirement of Nato states to spend two per cent of GDP on the Armed Forces – and ensuring that they have the necessary equipment at their disposal. A peace-keeping fund used to support fragile and war-torn states has now been included for the first time.

It does not end here. Even though this country is building two new aircraft carriers to rule the waves, the last Strategic Defence and Security Review (SSDR) discarded those few fighter jets that have the capability to taken off and land on the deck of an ocean-going vessels. It is one of the many challenges that will be central to the forthcoming SSDR and explains why the respected think-tank Civitas says a more effective procurement policy is required.

Its intervention is a timely one. For, while the Tories and Labour are united on the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent, the grandstanding of politicians on the acquisition of new equipment has seen costs soar at a time when the defence budget is being streamlined, and when the military need to the wherewithal to respond to rapidly changing threats and challenges that are very different in their dimension to, for example, the Falklands mission of 1982.

This does, in part, stem from Britain being unsure of its own role in the world following the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts – and the collective impact of unforeseen troop deaths on a war-weary public. Yet this is the fundamental question that goes to the core of defence policy. Until the Government offers some clarity, and can make an assessment on how best to respond to the Islamic State and other extremists in the Middle East, the wasteful and costly mistakes of the past are likely to be repeated when it comes to the procurement of new weaponry.

Guilty as charged

Courts let down victims of crime

MICHAEL GOVE is not the first Justice Secretary to promise to put victims first while also improving the efficiency of the courts system. Yet, if the top Tory

is true to his word, there

is no reason why he cannot be last.

For too long, magistrates’ courts have been allowed to work for the convenience of lawyers, and others, rather than the interests of justice. Antiquated procedures and jargon-jammed legalese have created a culture where the most minor of cases become convoluted – and delayed incessantly – for no good reason.

Not only does this frustrate victims of crime, but it also sets a deplorable example to defendants. If solicitors, and others, can’t keep to time, how can criminals be persuaded to become more respectful of society and officialdom?

Of course the legal services industry will blame Tory cuts and it didn’t take long for Lord Falconer – who served as Lord Chancellor in Tony Blair’s government – to make this accusation.

However, the inefficiencies highlighted by Mr Gove pre-date the Government’s efficiency drive by some years and the Cabinet Minister deserves credit for standing up to the judiciary and speaking out on behalf of those vulnerable people, like domestic violence and assault and rape victims, who now despair of a dysfunctional system which seems incapable of putting the public interest first.

Of course, some cases will take longer to resolve because of the particular circumstances. But these should not become the norm, the point that Mr Gove was making with characteristic bluntness as he convicted the magistracy and judiciary of betraying victims of crime.

Path to progress

Upholding county’s rights of way

THANKS to the passage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, rural Yorkshire is now far more accessible to ramblers and others enjoying the great outdoors. It is now open to all thanks to this pioneering “right to roam” legislation.

The drawback, however, is the maintenance of footpaths and bridleways, and how this has fallen by the proverbial wayside because of spending cuts and a lack of clarity about who is responsible for footing the bill.

This state of affairs is now so bad in Ryedale that 83 rights of way, clearly marked on Ordnance Survey maps, are not immediately clear on the ground because of inadequate maintenance and so on. Yet, given the challenges facing the Government on a range of complex policy issues, this is one instance where parish councils should be taking the lead and working with local stakeholders to maintain paths to an acceptable standard.

On this path to progress, Ministerial intervention can only go so far.