Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440 - 459)




  440. I think the Committee's general view is that we should try and conclude this overall initial consideration of the Bill by 1300 today. We are clearly looking to spend considerably more time in subsequent weeks with Mr Comben's colleagues, the Chief Constable, ACPO, the Police Federation and others, investigating this area. I am just trying to ensure that all Members of the Committee get an initial chance to investigate points and ask Mr Comben today.
  (Mr Comben) I am grateful, Chairman. I will try and respond to that steer by dealing with the case you mentioned very, very quickly. The decision as to whether we initiate the investigation is very much a matter for the Chief Constable. We would obviously respond thereafter to advice, direction and sometimes guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service and the Attorney-General. I do not think I can add too much to that about specific issues. Now, going back to the general state of things. I warmed very much to your description of how you saw it in 1987 and others saw it and in substance it is not actually much different today. We do not routinely telephone the Home Office force and say "We have had a theft within the MoD estate, we are just telling you". That is what the protocol is, the protocol is to stop that inefficient kind of practice and to say that generally ACPO and ACPOS have accepted that the Chief Constable and the force will get on with its day to day business and lay down the criteria where we will consult. We consult at the general level and, as I say, if it is a serious matter affecting someone's life, serious accidents, terrorism, it is an immediate referral to the Home Office force, immediate.

  441. I am happy to let you come back in but I think in fairness to Mr Randall at this stage I must allow him the opportunity to come in. Can I just say to Mr Comben before he does, my comments about trying to be a little more succinct were directed to Members of the Committee not to your good self.
  (Mr Comben) It is still good guidance, Chairman.

Mr Randall

  442. Just to clarify this. With regard to the offences and the seriousness, it seemed to me that you were saying that if it was an open and shut case you would be able to deal with it but if it was more complex, whether it was burglary, theft or murder, it does not proceed the same. If someone put their hands up to a murder you are allowed to deal with it but if they have not, you cannot. Is that the case?
  (Mr Comben) No, no. I did not wish to give that impression. I was merely saying that though the term "murder" is a tragic thing and must always be very serious, I was just saying that it can be less complicated than other matters, not about whether we should deal with it. Nevertheless even in a simple case of murder, because of the protocols, we would immediately consult the Home Office force and the Home Office force, they have the primacy to say whether we will deal with it or they will. If it is a simple thing they could still say, and we would accept it willingly, "We are going to deal with this matter" and that is it.

  443. You consult every time?
  (Mr Comben) We consult every time.

  444. I am a little bit concerned, and it may be actually for over there, `vicinity of land'. I declare an interest living half a mile outside RAF Uxbridge. I was wondering whether you would be coming and knocking on my door if there was something going on? `Vicinity' would be literally just outside the wire, a grass field or something?
  (Mr Comben) We do not police in the vicinity, other than in the sense backwards under the present law; and the Bill before you only extends the distance, it does not change the principle. Your home, we do not police that and we would not be concerned with any incident unless your local home department officers needed assistance, urgent assistance, and then at their request we can help them.

  445. Your jurisdiction is over MoD property effectively?
  (Mr Comben) Yes.

  446. Does that extend to intellectual property?
  (Mr Comben) That might be a question more for Mr Morrison than me. I think it depends on the circumstances.

  447. Mr Morrison?
  (Mr Morrison) I do not think there have been any cases, indeed the definition of "property" in the Ministry of Defence Police Act is simply in terms of any property in the possession or control of the Crown. I think certainly intellectual property could in certain circumstances, if it was in the possession of the Crown, copyright documents, for example, would be a classic example—

  448. Copyright materials would be a matter for the MoD Police?
  (Mr Morrison) Sorry?

  449. The case you have just quoted, would that be a proper matter for the MoD Police to come well away from the wire?
  (Mr Morrison) Yes. In relation to certain types of property, including within that broad definition, the Ministry of Defence Police powers as constables are not limited to defence land.

  450. It might well be intellectual property. Would that extend to civilians having MoD intellectual property or would it be just Service personnel who may live outside the wire?
  (Mr Morrison) It could only be Crown property.

  451. Crown property?
  (Mr Morrison) Yes. Property in the control or possession of the Crown. This is not to do with the rights of people who do not remotely come within the jurisdiction of the MDP. It is not widening their jurisdiction to other people.

  452. What would I have to have in my possession as a civilian living outside the wire that would merit the MoD Police to be calling on me rather than the Met?
  (Mr Comben) MoD property.

  453. MoD property?
  (Mr Comben) All these terms "Crown", "Defence", it would be property because our jurisdiction is in relation to it.

  454. MoD property could be not just picking up something from the NAAFI but some actual physical thing, it could be intellectual property?
  (Mr Comben) As Mr Morrison said—

  455. If I had something I should not have.
  (Mr Morrison) It would be a difficult legal question. If, for example, you had some information, mere information, as such, I think that it would be part—

  456. Let us say papers. Somebody has passed me some papers.
  (Mr Morrison) Property is not limited so as to exclude documents. If you have a Crown piece of paper, if I can call it that, which belongs to the Crown, let us say you have stolen it.

  457. Yes.
  (Mr Morrison) Then the jurisdiction extends beyond the wire.

  458. If somebody passed me something which should not have gone away, it has been stolen effectively, perhaps, or it has been passed by unauthorised personnel perhaps would be a better way of putting it, and it is in my possession, would I be potentially at risk of lawful investigation by the MoD Police?
  (Mr Morrison) It does not really work like that. It is not a matter of powers over people. It is jurisdiction to investigate certain types of offences and have the powers of constables in respect of certain matters.

  459. I am just a little bit confused because as far as I can see the original concept of the MoD Police looking, I think, at minor offences that Archie Hamilton as Minister of Armed Forces said, we have agreed that has moved on, it has been extended, it could even be, you have said you have dealt, Mr Comben, with matters of murder. So it seems to me that it would be possible for the MoD Police under somebody's guidance to come and investigate the possible possession by me of something that was unauthorised.
  (Mr Crowther) Could I help here perhaps? The point on which the existing Act is quite clear is that—

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