Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 672 - 679)




  672. Can I say good morning to everyone, and particularly a very warm welcome to Mr Scott-Lee, the Chief Constable for Suffolk Police and representative of ACPO for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We are very pleased indeed that you have been able to attend this morning and give us an opportunity to raise key issues with you directly and for you to, obviously, raise with us your views and those of your Association. Can I, first of all, begin by asking, before we launch into questions, are there any particular opening points that you would like to make, Mr Scott-Lee?

  (Mr Scott-Lee) I think the only thing I would like to say is that the police service has a very good and very professional relationship with the Ministry of Defence Police, and it is on that basis that any discussion or description goes forward.

  673. Thank you very much. Can I open up by asking you whether you are satisfied (and your answer seems to indicate that you are) with the way the protocol between the Ministry of Defence Police and the Home Office police forces operates at present? Does it work at a practical level as well as look good on paper, and are there any particular problems or issues that have arisen in the last five years which you now feel this Committee should try and address?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) I think, in real terms, the protocol has worked exceptionally well, both at a political (with a small `p') level and at a practical level. Both sides invested a great deal of time and effort in ensuring that that protocol did capture the reality of the situation that it was going to have to deal with, and as a result of that there are no fundamental flaws or issues within it at all. What has become clear, as is evidenced by some of the submissions which have already been made to this Committee, is that there are some areas where there is some greyness, particularly over the powers and accountability of Ministry of Defence Police officers. In order to ensure that where possible we can work in as clear a way as possible, there is an opportunity, we think, to use this to good effect to make those clarifications.

Mr Key

  674. Good morning, Chief Constable.
  (Mr Scott-Lee) Good morning.

  675. Can I turn straight to the evidence that ACPO gave to the Home Office in the preparation of this Bill and the paper entitled General Policing Committee, dated September 2000, which is a letter to Mrs Byrne in the Home Office Police Resources Unit. I was very interested that ACPO thought that you were keen, as it says here, that the Ministry of Defence Police powers should be qualified. The submission says: "It does seem nonsensical for their officers to have only a citizen's power of arrest (although that is what some of my colleagues would wish to see them retain) . . ." What did that really mean? How divided was ACPO?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) `Divided' is not a term I would use at all. In reality, ACPO represents every force in the country. Because of the very geography and nature of this country some forces, by their proximity to Ministry of Defence establishments, have far more dealings with the Ministry of Defence Police in day-to-day terms than others. I think that underpinning the comment is a recognition that policing needs to be accountable and seen to be accountable, and, therefore, wherever possible, jurisdiction for the policing of an area should be transparent to all concerned, including the community. However, I would not put it any stronger than that.

  676. The whole basis of the Ministry of Defence Police Act, which is now being reviewed and revised is that the Ministry of Defence Police should act on the request of Home Office forces outside Ministry of Defence jurisdiction. That has been repeated to us time and time again. Indeed, in this particular letter ACPO says: "We would point out, however, that many more mobile patrols seem to be undertaken by the MDP officers and in doing so we would be determined to make sure that the officers were not leaving their bases and patrolling in order to find incidents to attend." Then, referring to the same paragraph of the consultation paper, paragraph 32, Mr Giffard goes on to say: "Whilst I cannot immediately recall that ever having taken place" (this is a request for assistance) "and there is no evidence in the papers that this is a particular problem, I consider that if we ever were to call on their assistance it would be under our control and that therefore they would need to have statutory powers." This is very different. On the one hand we have a Bill saying that the whole purpose of the MDP is to be there and respond to requests for assistance, and here is the Association of Chief Constables saying that you have no evidence that this has ever taken place.
  (Mr Scott-Lee) I think, sir, there are two elements which are quite distinct in the issues that you raise there. If I could deal with them separately, the first, in terms of the comments that you quote from the letter—we are determined to make sure that officers from the MoD are not leaving their bases to go on patrol in order to find incidents—comes back to my first point of transparency. I think that everybody, the community and, I am sure, the Ministry of Defence Police themselves and the Home Office forces, would want to reassure people that the Ministry of Defence Police in carrying out their duties are not going on routine patrol in search of day-to-day business. I think all that is saying is not that it is something that we are aware of but in order to keep that transparency that needs to be articulated so the public can be reassured.

  677. Would that be articulated in the protocols that would follow from the passage of this legislation? We have seen the difference in the protocol between ACPO England, Wales and Northern Ireland and MDP and ACPO Scotland and the MDP, but those protocols, in turn, have a number of subservient protocols. Do you envisage them being revised in the future, for example, to address the point that has been put to us that there would be standing arrangements at a high level between the MDP and the local chief constable?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) I think the concordat would certainly need to be revisited in the light of whatever legislative changes have been made, and I know that Mr Giffard has already had meetings with the MoD and the Home Office to agree that as soon as the legislation is in place that concordat will be renegotiated. So that is a very important part of the way we do our business.

Ms Taylor

  678. I think the issue that really strikes home here is accountability. I can hear that. I am very interested in finding out how and who you believe would command in all situations. Do you believe that we can establish clear protocols for all situations? In the Bill the notion is it is going to be an emergency situation that you are going to be responding to, and it is defining that emergency situation that is crucially important, because that clearly defines who commands, who requests and what the relationship is between the forces. Do you believe that we can get a protocol that adequately satisfies those concerns?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) Yes, I do, and I actually think that the changes that are being suggested will make accountability clearer than it is at the moment. You will have seen in some of the submissions the suggestion that Ministry of Defence Police officers could be seen to be working in a grey area in terms of whether or not they have police powers or are relying on the powers of a member of the public. I think that by clarifying where they fit into the situation and their powers the chain of command becomes even more transparent.

  679. That is very valuable. I want you, then, to again respond to, for example, an emergency situation—it has come out of the blue. Is there any doubt in your mind that in this emergency situation, which people have not anticipated and there is not a clear experience of previously, you will not be in any position of doubt as to who and when you will be responding?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) Experience indicates that there has never been any problems of that nature with the existing arrangements. As I have said, I think that the proposals actually clarify things and make that even more transparent. The reality is that in those emergency situations that occur, to use your words `out of the blue', primacy in terms of resolving the there-and-then will fall to whoever is in situ at the time. If that is going to be a Ministry of Defence Police officer we have no difficulty with that in the circumstances that are outlined there. As things take a longer course and run over time then the formal chains of command come in and, again, that is where the Protocol becomes very helpful because both sides start with an understanding of who will be leading on matters.

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