Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460 - 479)




  460. Can I give an example, for instance. I frequently go into Rosyth Dockyard and I have certainly gone into areas where radioactive material is stored. If I came away with a pass which gave me access to something like the intermeteor storage site or something, who would come to visit my home, would it be an MoD policeman or would be a civilian policeman, to take the pass away?
  (Mr Comben) I think I can deal with these instances. If property is stolen, Crown property or whatever, and passed to someone else knowingly, that person can be suspected of receiving or handling stolen goods. The jurisdiction of the MDP is in relation to that property. So we do, as a normal practice, investigate both the theft and the handling. It would be, I think, actually very impractical for one force to deal with the theft and then another force to deal with the handling. There would be difficulties of evidence. Let me stress that in those kinds of circumstances it is not a procedure that we do without informing our colleagues that we are doing it. It is common sense policing these days that if any police officer is going from his or her jurisdiction into another jurisdiction, it could be Metropolitan police officers going into Essex, Essex police officers going into Suffolk or down to Devon or Cornwall, it matters not, we always contact the local force and say: "We are investigating this crime. We need to do a search, say, or make an arrest at the house". We liaise with the local force to get intelligence about what we might be walking into. Very often the local force says "Well, will it be helpful if a local officer comes with you?" and we say "Yes" and we work in co-operation with each other in that way.

Mr Randall

  461. Would you say there is a difference between informing and consultation?
  (Mr Comben) No.

  462. You are going to do it anyway? They are not going to put you off. The local police force say: "Do not do that. This does not sound right. We would like to do that. It sounds appropriate for us".
  (Mr Comben) No, no.

  463. Are you just going to say, as a matter of courtesy, "We are going to knock on the door".
  (Mr Comben) No. When I was in the Metropolitan Police Force, one of my areas was Broadwater Farm in Tottenham. I have personal experience of that kind of thing. If MDP officers wanted to search premises in Broadwater Farm where there is a sensitive, cultural community situation, we would not only immediately consult the local force, talk to them about it, and if they said "It is best not to search that house at this time for this reason" or "It is better for us to do it for the following reasons" we would go along with that because in one sense it matters not, provided the search or whatever action is to be taken. Take an example like that, it might well be that we would say to the local force: "Yes, by all means, you please take the lead in this because of these special circumstances but could a couple of our investigating officers go with you for the knowledge that they have got about the investigation." It is not just informing, it is active consultation.

  Chairman: Can I just say to Mr Randall and Mr Key, it is now 12.29. I want to deal also with Clause 32.

Mr Randall

  464. It is quite an important area. I think it is very crucial. Now, you say it is practice to always consult the local force?
  (Mr Comben) Yes.

  465. There was a circular in March 1999 from the Home Office about consultation on these things.
  (Mr Comben) Yes, somewhere around that time.

  466. You are aware of it?
  (Mr Comben) Dealing with the issues I have just described.

  467. Before that, what happened?
  (Mr Comben) I think that circular was in the light of modern policing developments ever since Lord Scarman's report. It has always been good practice to consult when you are going into somebody else's police area.

  468. You would not be able to categorically say, whereas now it would be, not exactly mandatory, legal.
  (Mr Comben) Good practice.

  469. Before it might have been good practice but it would not necessarily have happened every time?
  (Mr Comben) I cannot speak for the MoD, I have been there six years, I cannot speak before then. Certainly in the whole of my six years it has been mandatory good practice.

  470. Consultation would have happened, should have happened and may well have happened before that date?
  (Mr Comben) Yes.

  Mr Randall: Okay.

  Chairman: Can we move on to Clause 32.

  Mr Key: No, Madam Chairman, I have quite a lot more I wish to pursue on this. I am very happy to do Clause 32 and then revert.


  471. Can we deal with Clause 32 then please.
  (Mr Miller) Certainly, Chairman. Clause 32 introduces Schedule 5 which deals with a number of matters relevant to the Ministry of Defence Police, mainly making amendments to the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987. There are three key points. First, new provisions concerning disciplinary procedures for the Ministry of Defence Police. The intention in the Bill is to enable the Ministry of Defence Police procedures to be brought as closely in line with the civilian practices as possible. Accordingly, paragraph 1 of the Schedule extends the powers of the Ministry of Defence Police Committee so that it may be appointed to take certain decisions in the process. At present it only has an advisory role as far as discipline is concerned. Paragraph 3 of the Schedule enables regulations to be made establishing disciplinary procedures for the MDP. These will allow the disciplinary decisions to be made by persons outside the Ministry of Defence and the MDP. By using subordinate legislation we can keep our procedures more in line with those of the Home Office police forces and then keep track of changes in their procedures. Paragraph 4 of the Schedule inserts a new Section 4A into the 1987 Act. This gives members of the Ministry of Defence Police who have been subject to disciplinary proceedings the right of appeal to a tribunal. This new section also enables orders to be made detailing the composition and procedures of the Appeals Tribunal. The second of the key points is paragraph 2 of the Schedule which deals with the situation where another police force requires extra resources to meet a special burden. It inserts two new sections in the 1987 Act. New Section 2A enabling assistance to be given by the Ministry of Defence Police to a force which has to cope with any special demand on its resources. This assistance may be given when requested by a chief police officer in the Section. Section 2B deals with the detail of Ministry of Defence police officers serving with other forces either on secondment or under the new Section 2A. It provides that these officers will come under the direction of the chief officer of that force and that they have the full powers of a constable of that force. This is the change that the Deputy Chief Constable alluded to earlier in his evidence. Finally, the Schedule amends the Firearms Legislation applicable in Great Britain and Northern Ireland to exempt potential recruits from the Ministry of Defence Police from the requirement to hold a firearms certificate before using a weapon.

  Chairman: Thank you, Mr Miller. Any points on Clause 32 from Committee Members? Thank you. In that case we will return to Clause 31. I am happy to go on unadjourned for as long as you wish.

  Mr Key: Thank you very much. I have said a lot. I am happy for anyone else to have a go first.

  Chairman: This is a crucial area, especially for all of us who have had contact with the Ministry of Defence Police. The Committee has already decided that it will wish to take further evidence including from the Chief Constable on these items. I am just anxious we use all our available time as well as we can. I would like to suggest if we can, we spend another 25 minutes on this before we thank Mr Miller and his officials for coming along this morning. Back to you, Mr Key.

Mr Key

  472. I do wish to reassure you, Madam Chairman, that I have a whole host of questions for the Chief Constable and the Assistant Under Secretary. I am seeking to establish why these powers are to be extended and the jurisdiction is to be extended. Just following on from something that Mr Randall said when he was trying to find out what you might search for in somebody's house which was Crown property, and we looked at intellectual property. Could I ask you whether the Act currently allows you to seek out journalists' notes which are excluded material and whether there is any difference between the Act provisions under the 1987 provisions and the current provisions? Will this make any difference, this legislation?
  (Mr Comben) No.

  473. You have no power to seek journalists' notes?
  (Mr Comben) No. I said we have the same powers as civilian police forces under PACE for special and excluded material.

  474. So the Ministry of Defence Police would receive journalists' notes if they thought it was necessary to do so?
  (Mr Comben) If it was necessary to do so and within the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

  475. Which, of course, under Clause 6 is being incorporated into this specifically?
  (Mr Miller) No. Clause 6 has no relevance at all to the position of the Ministry of Defence Police. Clause 6 is dealing with the position of Service Police in relation to these materials.

  476. So the situation has not changed. The Ministry of Defence Police have always had the power to seek journalists' notes?
  (Mr Morrison) They have always had, since 1984, the same powers as other constables and from the introduction of PACE, PACE has applied to them as it has applied to other constables. I think there was a great deal of confusion in the discussion about Clause 6, if I may just mention this. I think some Members of the Committee were assuming that Clause 6 was something to do with the Ministry of Defence Police; it is only about Service Police.

  477. Right. Earlier, I referred to the case of Mr Geraghty and it was rather, if I may say so, Mr Comben, brushed aside. It is actually crucial to deciding whether Parliament should grant the Ministry of Defence any further powers at all or any further jurisdiction because that particular notorious case is not, of course, alone, there have been others.
  (Mr Comben) Sorry, I thought I gave a response to Stankovic—

  478. To Stankovic, you are absolutely right, and I apologise to the Committee for that. That was the case of Mr Stankovic. That is a particular case which has been widely explored by Mr Bell and others in the House. In the case of Mr Geraghty, which was another example here where there were two years taken to investigate that case by the Ministry of Defence Police, and again the case fell, a very great deal of damage was done to the gentleman in question. In that particular case of Mr Geraghty, was the Mercia Police Force actually consulted before Mr Geraghty's home was raided? You must have been very familiar with this case, after all it went to a very high level. Were all the conditions we have been describing this morning conformed with? Was there consultation, prior arrangement and the Chief Constable of Mercia said to the Ministry of Defence Police: "Please, you carry on and raid Mr Geraghty's home"?
  (Mr Comben) Certainly there was consultation about the search of Mr Geraghty's home. It was not a question of consulting with the Chief Constable about the initial stages of the investigation. I cannot say any more than that.

  479. What I am now seeking to establish is the independence of the Ministry of Defence Police. My colleague, Mr Davies, went through this and we established that you are accountable to the Secretary of State. This is very important because if the Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police is completely operationally independent, I think you suggested that he would not get instructions from anybody, he would not even take instructions from the Secretary of State or officials in the Ministry of Defence, is that correct?
  (Mr Comben) That is absolutely so. The situation of the Chief Constable in the Ministry of Defence Police in law is no different from the Chief Constable of any other civilian force.

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