Special Forces: Independent Oversight

Defence – in the House of Commons on 21st September 2020.

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Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Agriculture and Rural Affairs)

If he will make an assessment of the potential merits of establishing an independent body to oversee the operations of the UK’s Special Forces.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Manufacturing)

If he will make an assessment of the potential merits of establishing an independent body to oversee the operations of the UK’s Special Forces.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

It has been the longstanding position of successive Governments not to comment on the operations activity of the UK special forces, as to do so would put personnel and operations at risk. All military operations are overseen and scrutinised by Ministers, who are accountable to this Parliament.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Agriculture and Rural Affairs)

Special forces deserve the very best technological support. Swedish technology company Saab announced in July that it intends to establish a centre in the UK for forward combat air systems. The optimal location for that facility is in east-central Scotland, where Saab can benefit not only from clustering with leading industrial partners, such as Leonardo, Babcock and Raytheon, but from our world-class universities and more widely with BAE and Thales in Glasgow. What steps will the Secretary of State take to work with Saab to help it establish in Scotland?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

An interesting angle for special forces. I am not sure we are going to put a special forces base in Angus. We absolutely want the best technology. We recognise that international partners can also bring that technology, and when we work together in partnership, recognising that British prosperity is as important as anything else, we can get a good result for our forces, who get the best kit. It is also good for our economy, so that we get the good jobs and skills that we desperately need around the UK and ensure that the science base is strong and able to compete post Brexit.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Manufacturing)

The current Government’s adoption of a “no comment” policy prevents any parliamentary scrutiny of the role of UK special forces in defence and security strategy, even when their involvement in operations becomes the subject of media coverage. Will the Secretary of State commit to a review of the “no comment” policy for UK special forces, and enable parliamentary oversight of their activities, placing them on a similar footing to MI5, MI6 and GCHQ?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

As I say, it is a long-held policy of many Governments not to comment on special forces. They are accountable to me and to the law, and where we see any issues, Ministers will of course intervene. I will not commit to a further review; that is a longstanding policy. Our special forces do an absolutely amazing job saving lives around the world and protecting our citizens. They operate in the covert world to achieve that effect and make sure their lives are not put at risk.