Keith Simpson on the warpath: Frontrunner for Defence Committee job vows to ensure 'real accountability' at MoD

The Government department has been criticised for budget overruns in recent years

The frontrunner to chair the House of Commons' influential Defence Select Committee has vowed to ramp up pressure on ministers by frequently hauling them before inquiry hearings to explain their actions.

Keith Simpson, a key adviser to William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, promises in a letter to arrive on MPs' desks on Tuesday he will ensure "real accountability" by the Ministry of Defence if elected chairman later this month. He would demand regular updates on how ministers are implementing committee recommendations on everything from buying weapons to taking care of armed forces' personnel.

The MoD has been criticised for budget overruns in recent years, while austerity-driven cuts could undermine Britain's ability to make military interventions and properly equip the troops.

In an election that has gripped the Westminster bubble, Mr Simpson is one of eight Conservative MPs expected to submit their nomination papers this week, as the current chairman, James Arbuthnot, steps down ahead of retiring from Parliament next year. A cross-party vote will be held on 14 May.

"Despite Herculean efforts, they [select committees] are frequently frustrated in holding their department to account," Mr Simpson will say. "I would want to see what more we could do to have the committee's work taken seriously... with more recall of witnesses and real accountability by the MoD and defence industry."

In an odd twist, Mr Simpson is up against three former pupils from his teaching days at Sandhurst military college in Surrey. He taught rivals Tobias Ellwood, Crispin Blunt and Bob Stewart military history.

Mr Simpson insisted that he "wouldn't feel upset at all" if one of his former students beat him, but the 65-year-old added that his experience would be beneficial on such a prominent committee.

Others expected to confirm their candidacies this week are Rory Stewart, a former diplomat; the long-serving Canterbury and Whitstable MP Julian Brazier; the former shadow Defence minister Julian Lewis; and James Gray, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Armed Forces' Group.

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