Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 520 - 539)

TUESDAY 30 JANUARY 2001

MR COLIN MCKERRACHER

  520. I suppose those sensitivities can easily lead to a position where there is a certain degree of professional rivalry between the two forces operating two given areas?
  (Mr McKerracher) I do not know whether I agree with `professional rivalry', unless you are in competition. I do not think what is being proposed is in competition. I think what is being proposed is that a police force which just now has very strict limits on its jurisdiction is given slightly more by way of jurisdiction, in order that it can serve the public at times when it is called to do so. I do not think we in Scotland see the Bill putting us into competition with Ministry of Defence Police. In fact, when we do work with each other, for example at a demonstration at Faslane, there is certainly no competition. It is about producing an action plan that meets the needs of both organisations and the public.

  521. What you are really saying to us this morning though is that you do not want competition. You want to make sure there is no competition between the two; that the Ministry of Defence Police's role is quite clearly demarcated so there can be no dispute between you as to what your relevant jurisdictions are?
  (Mr McKerracher) I do not think I am talking about competition.

  522. You are saying you do not want competition?
  (Mr McKerracher) I am saying there should not be any competition. What we should be there to do is provide a level of service to the public which is appropriate in every circumstance. If that means a Ministry of Defence Police officer comes across an incident that they should be able to deal with that within the bounds of the law, and feel confident and secure in doing so.

  523. Yes, indeed. You feel very sensitive about the aspect of this Bill which does increase the scope and the rights of the Ministry of Defence Police, because that could lead to what you have described as `competition', which you do not think would be a good idea?
  (Mr McKerracher) I think, at the end of the day, whatever comes out from the Bill has to be that which ensures we both are able to co-exist within areas that we work. The Ministry of Defence Police will still have specific duties which we will not get involved in.

  524. You have already said you do feel sensitive on this issue. You have already said you do not want competition, so it is a reasonable inference to draw that you are concerned this Bill could lead to competition; and you are not very sympathetic, are you, to the desire of the Ministry of Defence Police to extend their jurisdiction in this way?
  (Mr McKerracher) I do not think I am saying that at all.

  525. You have been very careful not to say it explicitly, Mr McKerracher, but I think it is a reasonable inference from what you actually have said, and indeed from the letter we have before us from Sir Roy Cameron addressed to my colleague, Mr Key. At the top of page 2 in a rather large paragraph, not always very felicitously expressed, what he is saying is he thinks the power of citizen's arrest ought to be perfectly adequate to accommodate a lot of the concerns which the Ministry of Defence Police have about their right to operate outside their own bases.
  (Mr McKerracher) That paragraph talks about moral duty to take action. I think there is more than moral duty when you are in a police uniform to take action. Citizen's arrest is appropriate just now, and the Ministry of Defence Police use that power when they do intervene—because they do intervene just now. They do not, in our experience, pass by an incident where a member of the public is looking for help; so they will stop and deal with it. They stop and deal with it and call us quickly to then add legal support to that situation. I think what we are saying (and certainly not being defensive about it) is if the Bill gives them the opportunity, and gives them the power to deal with that incident from the start—the same power as one of my own officers—then I do not have a concern about that at all, provided there is a protocol in place which very clearly lets everyone know where we go from there. It is not only about arrest in the street, or dealing with something in a particular location; it is what follows from there; and that has to fit into the criminal justice system seamlessly in order that we do not lessen our efficiency and effectiveness.

  526. Would you describe your relationship with the Ministry of Defence Police in Scotland at the present time as being good?
  (Mr McKerracher) Excellent.

  527. So you are happy with the status quo basically?
  (Mr McKerracher) I am not saying that.

  528. You are not happy with the status quo?
  (Mr McKerracher) I am saying currently the situation we have—

  Mr Davies: Mr McKerracher, I think I have asked a question which is susceptible of a simple answer: yes or no. Are you happy with the status quo?

  Chairman: I think you may be in danger of asking what could be described as leading questions.

Mr Davies

  529. No, I am not trying to put words into the mouth of our witness at all. I am not trying to influence him towards answering yes or no; but I would be grateful if he could give one of those two answers to my simple question: are you happy with the status quo?
  (Mr McKerracher) We are happy with the status quo, yes.

  530. You would not have taken the initiative in wanting to change the status quo. The initiative has been taken by the Ministry of Defence Police, as we know.
  (Mr McKerracher) We have a Protocol in place that allows us to work and to extend the working relationship we have with Ministry of Defence Police at this time, and we have done that—because they will patrol housing estates within the Helensburgh area with our blessing and with our agreement.

  Mr Davies: Exactly, Mr McKerracher. You have just used two key words: with your `blessing' and with your `agreement'. At the present time the status quo provides for no explicit powers for the Ministry of Defence Police outside their own bases; but you do have this protocol, this ad hoc arrangement between you and them, which you will completely control, because you will decide yourselves what you are going to accede to in a protocol, and that is a satisfactory situation. Now we have the position in which the statutory law is going to give additional powers to the Ministry of Defence Police, that means any powers they exercise outside their bases will no longer be simply subject to the protocol you can agree or not agree to, and thence the natural sensitivity of the existing Scottish constabulary. That is correct, is it not?

Chairman

  531. Could I ask you to keep your questions shorter. I do have at least one other member of the Committee who wants to come in. Do you want to make any response to that question?
  (Mr McKerracher) I think I have already responded to that.

  Mr Davies: I think Mr McKerracher has responded. I think my summary, which was not that long, seems to be a fair one. What I detect—

  Chairman: Could I ask you to give Mr Watts an opportunity to come in. If there is time available then other members of the Committee can come back. Is there one final question you have to ask?

  Mr Davies: Perhaps I can come in later.

Mr Watts

  532. Firstly, assuming at the moment you are working to strict guidelines for when the military police can intercede in a civil matter, that they are using arrest powers—citizen's arrest rather than police powers—do you think that limits their response? Do you think if you were in that position you would be uneasy, or perhaps not 100 per cent. sure of where their powers started and where they stopped? Secondly, you must at the moment have joint planning between your force and the defence force. If this Bill is enacted will that change the relationship, and will that change the planning? Finally, would you agree with me that perhaps having two forces operating in the same area, unless you are careful, could be a waste of resource?
  (Mr McKerracher) When Ministry of Defence Police officers deal with a situation just now I think, firstly, they deal with it with a degree of goodwill; because there is no absolute need for them to do that, but they do so and we are grateful for that. The limitations they have in terms of arrest do not, in our experience, stop them being able to deal with the majority of incidents they come across very confidently and very adequately. Currently, all they are really doing is doing what another member of the public can do; and we are happy that they do what they do. We then come along as a police force and pick up the pieces and complete the inquiry or the incident and bring it to a conclusion. We currently are living with that situation. We have a very close partnership with the Ministry of Defence Police, so we work together. When they are not on the base and are travelling between bases and they are on the public thoroughfare they obviously are alert to incidents which most police officers would be, and if they come across them would do something. That is the situation we are in. I think the point here is about their protection more than our efficiency. Currently, if they do something I would imagine they could find themselves open to some sort of legal challenge: for example, if they lay hands on someone or the force they use to detain someone is seen as being more than they should use. My understanding of the extension to the jurisdiction is to safeguard them in that situation. In Scotland we do not envisage Ministry of Defence Police taking over and patrolling our areas and getting involved in usurping the local community constable—nothing like that at all. We see them working in partnership with us up to a certain point; because the very success of our partnership until now has been joint planning and protocol and very close working, and we see that continuing in the future. Where there are two police forces side by side I do not think it is a waste of resources, in that the Ministry of Defence Police have, and will continue to have, a role within the Ministry of Defence establishments and military establishments which we will not get involved in, because that is not our role. They will continue to police it. However, where there is joint interest i.e. the Ministry of Defence policeman or policewoman comes across an incident in the public domain which they feel duty-bound to deal with that is terrific. Where there is a demonstration at Faslane gates that we are duty-bound to deal with then we come together and work with each other very closely. Partnership working in all aspects of police work is the way to achieve effective policing.

  533. Take, for example, a garrison town on a Friday night when all the troops are out in the local community and having a drink and there is a problem that needs to be policed both by the civil police and by the military police—
  (Mr McKerracher) It is the civil police.

  534. —could that be a situation where partnership arrangements could be developed if the powers were changed?
  (Mr McKerracher) I think the answer has to be, yes. If the civil police found they had a problem, they would look to solve it in the best way possible. If that meant going to a local council and asking for one of their services—social services or whatever—to help solve a problem they would do that. If they could call on another body which would be the Ministry of Defence Police to come and help solve a particular problem they may do that, but I do not think we would be running to each other. If there is a specific problem and the solution is for both of us to work together to solve the problem, it would be useful, I think, were the Ministry of Defence Police able to respond and help us because they had the legitimacy to deal with it.

Chairman

  535. When we are talking about Armed Services personnel, for instance, out on the town on a Friday night and maybe (and I am sure it happens rarely) one or two have a bit too much to drink and an argument develops, am I right in saying that is clearly the responsibility first and foremost of the civilian police, but also the military police who are a very clear and distinctive force who are responsible for Service discipline. Do you have a separate liaison protocol arrangement with them when you are having to deal with disturbances affecting Armed Forces personnel outwith the MoD site area?
  (Mr McKerracher) We have a guideline for our officers, and that would be that they would deal with that situation and take the military personnel to be arrested back to our office and they would be processed as per the norm; and then there would be contact with the military police to let them know of that situation. There is then liaison with the Procurator Fiscal, who is the chief prosecutor in Scotland, to decide what then happens; whether that situation is dealt with by the military police under their own protocol, or by ourselves going through a civil court.

  536. It is not a matter that is at all relevant for Ministry of Defence Police to deal with, unless they happen to be passing that particular pub and see something?
  (Mr McKerracher) Yes. For example, if there was a fight that spilled out of the doors of a pub as they were passing then I think they would deal with it anyway just now and then we would get involved.

Ms Taylor

  537. I am concerned to listen to how you are responding to some fairly detailed questions here. I think I heard you say that at the moment the relationship between civil police and Ministry of Defence Police could be defined as untidy; that not in all situations is there a clear, careful definition of relationship. I think you also said at some stage you saw this as requiring tightening up. I am not of the belief I heard you say that the changes proposed in this Bill would be problematic. Would you look at that again because the Bill is defining changes in relationship. I would like to hear your comments about whether or not the changes are problematic; and, if they are, why are they problematic? I am asking that clearly from the perspective that the Ministry of Defence Police is seen as a very professional organisation, and I would have hoped an effective relationship could have been achieved. Could you go through that area for me. I think this is an area of serious concern for me.
  (Mr McKerracher) I think the comment `untidiness' was not in relation to any difficulties we have with the Ministry of Defence Police. It was, if they deal with a situation before we arrive then they are unable to take that particular incident to a conclusion: that would be, to eventually arrest an offender and take them to a police office and take them through the process. I said that situations can be quite untidy at times. I am not suggesting by the comment that it is anything other than effective, because it is. Secondly, my comment about tidying up would be, if the role of each was clarified, which quite rightly, as you say, the Bill would, then that would give those officers from the Ministry of Defence Police who attend such incidents the ability to take that process through to an end conclusion. It would be legitimate and very effective in doing that. Problems come because we then go into the wider realm of policing, which is not as simple as dealing with isolated situations of disorder or street nuisance. There is a whole range of issues, from child abuse through to murder, drug offences and the whole range of policing issues. Behind that for the civil police force lies a tremendous amount of intelligence, a tremendous amount of experience and a tremendous number of partnership links that have to be continually pursued. What we may have is a situation where Ministry of Defence Police officers, with the ability to deal with an emergency situation, do that. Where people maybe think things could become problematic is if they step beyond that into a more regular patrolling situation, or trying to address drug issues or specific issues without the background of what the civil police are doing, what their protocols are, what their policies are and what their strategies are for dealing with it. That is where the problem would arise; not with the officers being able to deal with those street-type of offences which I think they would more readily come across.

  538. You are not saying to the Committee that this Bill is essentially problematic. You are saying that tightening up of the relationship could be very constructive, and that co-operation could be very effective. I would like to hear you making that statement, as long as we are talking about specified areas. My colleague quite rightly was asking very, very important questions. I am taking up his words now, and I would like you to respond to me in those terms. If I am saying it wrong I expect you to tell me.
  (Mr McKerracher) I agree with what you are saying.

Mr Randall

  539. In your area would the uniforms be different? Would the MoD policeman and one of your own officers be immediately identifiable that somebody being picked up by one of them would know who it was?
  (Mr McKerracher) They would not be immediately recognisable as being different; they would be seen as being police officers, even down to the livery on the vehicles, which is not that dissimilar. There is a different badge but not one that a member of the public would readily identify.


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 19 March 2001