Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420
THURSDAY 25 JANUARY 2001
420. You report not to the Home Secretary but
to another minister, to the Secretary of State for Defence.
(Mr Comben) My reference to the Home Secretary was
the capacity of the Home Secretary to ask for a report about any
matter or incident.
421. Nevertheless the position is, as I have
just described it, your employer is the Ministry of Defence. What
sort of instructions do you get from your employer, let us say
from the Secretary of State or from his civil servants or junior
ministers as to how you should conduct investigations, because
you made that point clear about how you should develop your particular
role? What sort of emphasis or priorities should you be focusing
on, and so forth?
(Mr Comben) The Ministry of Defence police are also
a Next Steps agency. The police committee's chairman is also the
owner of the agency. Each year there is a process of negotiation
about priorities, about resources, key targets that are established,
non-key targets, ambitions are set down in plans and we try to
achieve those priorities in much the same way as in recent years,
as other civilian police forces are required to do.
422. Do you draft this annual business plan
yourself and submit it to the Ministry of Defence for approval
or do they draft something to you and then you have an opportunity
to argue about it or to make suggestions as to the modifications
(Mr Comben) There is an annual circular, programme
or procedure, where at the end of one year lessons are learned
from that, observations are made on that and are fed into the
new process. At an early stage we submit proposals to the owner
of the agency, which we would pick up from things like environmental
scanning, development in Home Department police forces and other
ways in which priorities for police forces are established. The
Macpherson Report would be a good example of policing priorities.
From another direction there is process of discussion, of negotiation
about those key targets and then key targets are set down in the
spring and are laid before Parliament and are announced in Parliament.
423. I am going to repeat my question because
I am not clear about how that process starts, you describe it
as a circular process, somebody takes an initiative, is it you
who then submits it to the Ministry of Defence or is the initiative
taken by the Ministry of Defence? Do they tell you what is expected
of you and you then respond to that?
(Mr Comben) It is a process of discussion and consultation,
but we start the process in that sense. We would prepare the first
424. You are running your own show, you report
(Mr Comben) I do not think it is fair to say we run
our own show. We are a public service and we consult our customers.
We consult other police forces.
425. How do you define your customers?
(Mr Comben) Anyone we police would be an easy definition.
426. You consult individual servicemen and servicewomen.
(Mr Comben) Yes, we do.
427. You send out questionnaires and you get
answers on the basis of this.
(Mr Comben) Yes.
428. You frame your annual plan and submit it
to the MoD. In practice, since you have had responsibility of
this, since you have been involved in thisthis is my final
questionhow much of your original draft plan has been accepted
by the MoD and how much has been modified or contributed by the
MoD? Is the ultimate plan for the year a basic 80 per cent or
90 per cent as originally drafted by you or is it substantially
and subsequently imposed by the MoD?
(Mr Comben) I think the general areas are because
they are not just our ideas, we are picking up things, and I used
Macpherson as an example.
429. A bad example if you regard that as an
inspiration for effective policing.
(Mr Comben) I would say using that as an example is
regarded as so important by a large number of people that it is
unlikely to disappear out of the plan. It is so important it goes
in. Then there is the process of fine tuning. On matters like
financial targets the Ministry of Defence would have more impact
upon that because they are our paymasters and they are responsible
for delivering our resources. It is a bit of a mixture. I would
say that the major key issues that we put forward we are not putting
them forward because we think it is a good idea, it is because
we are absorbing the views of lots of people in the consultation
process, so they tend to stay. What happens is there is some fine
tuning and, certainly, in terms of financial targets they are,
perhaps, placed upon us with more Ministry of Defence wishes rather
than coming from us.
(Mr Crowther) Might I add, the term "customers"
here is not used in the general or loose sense. We have a definite
list of customers who are customers for particular parts of our
activity, these include the Service commands.
430. I want to come directly to some questions
I asked Mr Crowther in the last session. I want to come back to
the operational circumstances and the practicalities of what is
going to happen if a Ministry of Defence Policeman is going from
one base to another in the wilds of some county and comes across
an incident. Firstly, can you tell us about the carrying of arms?
That is one distinct difference between you and a host of home
department police. You regularly carry arms. What is the current
procedure? Will there be a change to the current procedure of
carrying arms at base or travelling between bases?
(Mr Comben) There is nothing in the Bill that will
impact upon the carrying of arms. It does not make any changes
to the existing situation, other than in the training and assessment
part of it. That is not really what you are talking about, I do
not think. As a general statement Ministry of Defence police officers
who are required to be armed within the MoD estate often, generally,
do not carry firearms outside of the MoD estate. I said "generally"
because there are a very small number of exceptions. We escort
very sensitive loads of material up and down the country and there
are a very small number, one or two other special circumstances.
All those special circumstances are operating today. They are
the subject of ACPO and ACPOS agreements and those arrangements
are in writing and firmly controlled. They are in today and they
will not change under the new legislation.
431. Can you give us an assurance that it is
not the practice of MoD police whilst travelling between bases
to carry arms?
(Mr Comben) I can repeat the absolute assurance I
gave to the Home Office and the absolute assurance to this Committee,
that other than in the special circumstances I have alluded to
today MoD officers cannot carry firearms and ammunition outside
during their duty. If we have to move firearms from one establishment
to another very special arrangements are in hand. Ammunition and
firearms are not transported together, so they cannot be used.
This is very similar to military arrangements or in the civilian
industry when firearms and ammunition have to be moved around
the country by manufacturers. If firearms and ammunition are moved
around the country in those kind of circumstances the ammunition
and firearms do not move together. That is a bit of a side issue.
In terms of controlling or moving between establishments, we do
not patrol outside of the MoD estate generally and our officers
are not armed, that is an absolute assurance.
432. In areas where there are bases of the same
regiment several miles apart it has been suggested that MoD officers
move from one base to another because they are going to do different
duties and during the movement they carry their side arms. You
are saying that is not the case.
(Mr Comben) Absolutely not.
433. What would happen if whilst movingwe
now know unarmedthey come across an incident and they stop
to deal with that incident, would they announce themselves as
being MoD police? You look like a police officer to me. In terms
of announcing your presence on the scene, would you announce you
are an MoD police officer or would you go in and start to break
up the brawl as any other police officer would do?
(Mr Comben) Perhaps I can start with the uniform.
The great strength of the uniformity of the civilian police uniform
in Great Britainwhere there are something like 55 constabularies
or jurisdictionsis the public know they are dealing with
a constable, someone who holds at least the office of constable.
We make it clear whenever an MoD officer approaches anybody they
announce themselves as a Ministry of Defence police officer, they
produce their warrant cardwhich is exactly the same, with
a slightly regional variation, as the warrant card that every
constable in every force carries. If not in uniform you walk up
and you say whatever rank you are, Detective Sergeant Comben,
and produce your warrant card, even produce it if you are in uniform,
if asked for, it and say who you are and announce what you want
434. Could I, once again, start by saying that
any comments I make are not criticisms of the Ministry of Defence
Police per se. The Ministry of Defence is asking us to report
to the House on changes to the Ministry of Defence police and
it is our duty to understand the motive behind this. We are not
a standing Committee going line by line through legislation, we
are meant to investigate. It is increasingly important to get
it on the record if the Ministry of Defence seek to change the
law because court procedure changed a decade ago and now the courts
will look back at standing committees and this Select Committee
to see what ministers and officials said in order to determine
what the purpose was. Could I start with the Home Office circular
17/1999, which is the protocol which I think you are very familiar
with, Mr Comben. Following on from what Mr Keetch just said, paragraph
7 of that is about armed duty on public roads. You have been very
clear. I come at this from a different perspective. We suffered,
I use that word advisedly, the withdrawal of Ministry of Defence
police in large numbers from Land Command Wilton to the detriment
of married quarters. We are just under a new area of patrolling
system for Ministry of Defence police, whose duty it is to patrol
many, many miles from their headquarters on the Salisbury Plain
to various married quarters, including Land Command, Porton Down
and Boscombe Down. I am a bit worried if you are not armed on
those patrols. Are there circumstances under which you would have
an arrangement with the Chief Constable of Wiltshire that on certain
patrols you might carry arms?
(Mr Comben) Generally, no, we are not armed. The arrangements
I have mentioned are very, very special and it would not be translated
into patrolling or moving between establishments, no.
435. Thank you. In the protocol there is just
something I would be grateful if you could clarify, in paragraph
2(2)it is unfair because you do not have it in front of
youI will remind you of what it says, "Recognising
the mutuality of the agreement chief constables will endeavour
to ensure regular consultation", and it refers to the cases
of criminal offences concerning Ministry of Defence property which
come to the notice of local chief constables. Later on in paragraph
four it says, "The chief constable of the MoD police will
ensure prior consultation with the local chief constable".
That is rather different, obviously, from "coming to the
notice". All of the way through the legislation, which we
were dealing with in 1987, it was a question of the imputation
of the Home Office police force to the Ministry of Defence Police
to assist. That was the basic premise in the concordat. How has
this apparent discrepancy arisen that some of the time it might
come to the notice of the chief constables and on other occasion
it is prior consultation?
(Mr Comben) The absolute primacy of geographical constabularies
is not challenged, that has been repeated in the protocols, but
for the run-of-the-mill day-to-day crime and other policing duties
if those offences occur within the Ministry of Defence estate
and community the MDP will deal with them and if they come to
the notice of the Home Office force first they will pass them
over to us. If they are in the MoD estate, say somebody from a
married quarters rang the Home Department police headquarters
and said, "I have been burgled", if it is clearly in
an MoD estate then the Home Office force under the protocol will
inform the MDP and we will take up the investigation and deal
with it. It is always a matter of consultation and agreement.
There are some exceptions. In terms of offences involving sudden
or suspicious death or any offence relating to terrorism then
it is a much more formal procedure of a case-by-case basis and
discussion at senior chief officer level and it is for the Chief
Constable of the Home Office force who should deal with it and
the Chief Constable of the Home Office force has the primacy of
saying, "No MDP, I want my force to deal with it". Although
the actual answer is often, "I want my force to lead on it,
can we undertake this investigation together". It is not
a contest. We are a part of British civilian policing, and in
Northern Ireland as well, and it is a question of working together.
I can imagine circumstances where it would be something that we
would normally want to deal with, but for special reasons, because
it is linked with something else that is going on in the Home
Department Force, a drugs ring or something like that, even though
formally we would investigate it our contact and liaison say,
"No, this is a better one for you to lead on and we will
help you, we will assist you from our knowledge of the MoD community
because this is linked with other things and it is far more effective
and efficient for you to do that".
436. I agree with everything you say, it makes
perfect sense for the Ministry of Defence police to deal with
a burglary in married quarters and the Home Office police to investigate
a murder but in the legislation as it passed through the House
there was a distinction drawn between petty offences and serious
offences. Where does that boundary fall now between petty offences
which would be investigated by you and serious offences that would
automatically go to the Home Office force?
(Mr Comben) "Petty offences" is not a term
that we use because it is a little bit difficult to define. Any
crime or incident can start off small and become very, very serious,
even murder. Under the protocol it is open for us to discuss who
should investigate this murder and for the Home Office force to
say, "You are the most effective, efficient people to deal
437. Has that ever happened?
(Mr Comben) Yes. Though they are tragic, every murder
must be tragic by definition, as an investigation it can be quite
straightforward and simple. If you have somebody who admitted
the offence it is all resolved fairly quickly. You can have a
theft of some fairly low valued property which in a complex investigation
can lead on to bigger things. Everything is done by discussion.
Nothing much has changed in terms of murder and terrorism offences
at all since 1987. What has changed since 1987 is that provided
domestic burglary is clearly within the MoD estate we deal with
those routinely and in terms of sexual offences if they are limited
to the MoD estate and we have the technical ability to support
such an investigation then we will deal with those as well, invariably
cases of that nature are always discussed with the Home Department
force. We cannot deal with them in isolation because you cannot
afford to because offences like that are often not the first offence,
they are not isolated and they are connected with other matters.
438. That all makes perfectly good sense. At
question 216 in the last session Mr Miller told us that the aim
of these changes was to allow standing arrangements to be agreed
at a high level under which the Ministry of Defence police may
take on the performance of agreed policing duties in areas close
to defence land. Can you explain a little more about what these
standing arrangements are going to be and whether it will mean
that the Ministry of Defence police will be patrolling garrison
towns, civilian or not, what does it all mean?
(Mr Comben) I am pleased to get the opportunity to
explain it. It gives the impression that it is a lot more than
it is in some sense. At the moment the main jurisdiction of the
Ministry of Defence police is confined to Ministry of Defence
land. Routinely that involves stepping outside of the Ministry
of Defence land in order to protect and police defence property,
Crown property, as you have heard in discussions. If something
particular happens, like a demonstration or something like that,
then, at the moment, we can only have jurisdiction outside the
wire on a case-by-case basis, from an invitation from the Chief
Constable of the local force. What this will allowit applies
at a senior levelis for someone to say, "Okay for
the next three months within a defined period where we have some
notification of the threat your officers can do this part of the
patrol outside and we in the Home Office will do some other part
of the operation". It is limited to very much in the vicinity
and very close to the MoD estate, or a matter concerning the MoD
estate and MoD personnel. It is not meant to be a long-term agreement.
It was never intended to be any kind of agreement where at senior
level you could have MDP officers patrolling the centre of your
town in support of your general policing. It is not meant for
that. That is that part of it. The other part deals with secondments.
I do not think that is at all controversial, it is where our officers
go for career development and other purposes to other forces to
work and that happens today. At the moment there is some slightly
technical difficulty in making sure that they can only go to the
other force if he or she can have the relevant powers and authorities.
That is what is clearly set up.
439. Thank you very much. I think the bottom
line for me is that the Ministry of Defence Police have been evolving
very successfully over a decade now, that was inevitable. Evolution
has brought quite a substantial change. If we go back to the reason
why constabulary powers were given to the Ministry of Defence
police in the first place we need to go back to the report of
the Ministry of Defence Police Review Committee published in July
1986. That Committee was very, very clear about the role and extent
of involvement of Ministry of Defence police at paragraph 57,
this was the Broadbent Committee, "It was represented to
us that security considerations would preclude the entry of the
civil police into some establishments for the investigation of
crime, but we do not accept this view although an escort may sometimes
be necessary. The professional arguments for relying as far as
possible on the CIDs of civil forces are in our judgment overriding."
They were quite clear about that. They also said in paragraph
112, recommendation (v) "The scale and division of CID operations
should be agreed between each civil police force and the MOD bases
in its area based on the general principle that the MDP's CID
activities should be predominantly related to petty crime on-base
and mainly to that involving Crown property. As cases are opened
by the MDP the local civil police should be advised so as to ensure
that statistics of crime reported nationally are comprehensive".
That was a very clear position of the Broadbent Committee and
it was reiterated by the Minister at Second Reading when Sir Archie
Hamilton said: "MoD police are able to investigate crime
on MoD property, so if the crime is committed in family quarters,
they would be in a position to investigate it, but this has to
be done in the closest conjunction and co-operation with the Home
Department Forces, and it has to be cleared by them." Later
on, the Minister also said that: "The Ministry of Defence
police would hand over responsibility for such crimes . . ."
that was serious crimes ". . . at once". Now that has
quite clearly changed. It may be right that it has changed but
that is what we are now considering, a change in the jurisdiction,
both geographically and in terms of people. I wonder why this
change has come about? It is important to us to consider this
because on a number of occasions where the Ministry of Defence
Police have investigated serious crime it has not worked out for
the best. I wonder, for example, why the Ministry of Defence took
two years of investigation, with the Ministry of Defence Police
and the Royal Military Police, in the case of Major Milos Stankovic,
a case which came to nothing? Why did the Ministry of Defence
Police ever get involved in that?
(Mr Comben) Okay. Perhaps I will deal with issues
like that first and then go back to the issues of why we have
Chairman: Can I remind Members of the
Committee we are looking to conclude taking evidence in general
from MoD officials this morning.
Mr Key: Yes.
Chairman: Mr Randall, I know, has been
patiently waiting for over half an hour to try and come in and
although we are getting into it, we still have not got to Clause
Mr Key: Absolutely.
Chairman: This is an extremely useful
Mr Key: We may need another session this