Examination of Witnesses (Questions 840
TUESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2001
840. Under the heading: "Political Dimension:
Key Implications for Defence", it says: "Crime, terrorism
and political extremism may increasingly require a military element
to the Government response." We have been told in this Committeeand
I am bound to say I think we have had conflicting evidence from
the Ministry of Defenceabout the independence of action
of the Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police, and
that on the one hand they are completely independent, as with
any Home Office police force, but on the other there is evidence
that they accept instructions. I was particularly interested in
your reference to the fuel disruption last Autumn. You referred
to the Chief Constable of the MDP making a speech to the Defence
Police Federation in which he talked about protocols which have
been worked out with the Home Office police forces. He said: "A
more recent and poignant example was that of a request from the
2nd PUS [Permanent Under Secretary] for us to supply police officers
on a mutual aid basis during the fuel crisis. I wrote back to
the 2nd PUS and told him he could have as many officers as reasonably
practicable but he wouldn't be able to use them for the specific
role the Home Office had intended." He went on to say, "It
has always been a point of great concern that fundamental issues
such as where and when we can exercise the power of Constable
have taken such a long time to be formally recognised. At last
we have the final pieces of the jigsaw in place and, ironically,
it is the Armed Forces Bill 2001 which is the vehicle we are using
to make these final changes. This will give us the recognised
powers . . ." etc. Does this mean, to you, that we do indeed
haveif this law goes througha national police force
not accountable to civilians and not independent in its action
but subject to the instruction of the military?
(Ms Linscott) Yes, I think it does mean precisely
that, that we do have a non-accountable national police force,
technically owned by a senior civil servant at the Department
of Defence, technically an agency, accountable only to the Secretary
of State for Defence with a committee appointed only by the Secretary
of State for Defence, that would quite specifically be used nationally
in things like industrial disputes. If I may say so, sir, in a
part of that quote which you have, for reasons of time, omitted
but which I think is relevant, Chief Constable Boreham said that
the Home Office had intended to use MDP officers for "aiding
fuel convoys or policing picketed oil refineries". That to
mewhether one uses the word "political extremism"
is very clearly a political use of the Ministry of Defence Police
which is envisaged here, and yes, it is disturbing that he refers
to a Bill before this House as a "vehicle".
(Mr Geraghty) I think one would say, sir, not only
as a journalist and a writer but as a citizen, aware of the vulnerability
of the rights in a nation state which enjoys no written constitution
as other nations have, I am appalled at the blurring, the encroachment,
of a military scale of justiceif I may call it thatand
control upon a civilian population. It is Orwellian.
841. My second point, Chairman, is specifically
concerned with Clause 6. In a Parliamentary answer which I had
last Monday, 5 February, from the Minister for the Armed Forces,
the Minister described to me the procedures under which correspondents
are accredited as accompanying British forces in the build-up
to potential conflict or in war. The Minister referred to the
Ministry of Defence's regulations for correspondents accompanying
an operational force. Do those regulations which any journalistwhether
a television journalist or another journalisthas to follow
give you concern that you subject yourself to the military discipline
acts in that way?
(Mr Geraghty) Yes. I have seen this from both sides
of the fence. During the Gulf conflict I was in uniform and for
part of that period I was acting as an advisor to journalists.
It is a situation which creates intense friction. It is one which
creates anger, because, as in the South Atlantic Operation Corporate,
journalists who are accredited, working with what are called the
"ground rules", which they reluctantly sign up to, then
discover that a government back in London is leaking material
which they have been told "You will never be allowed to publish".
That is one source of friction. The other source of friction has
to do with the activities of the correspondent who declines to
go along with the ground rules. Robert Fisk was a case in the
Gulf War; he would go off and do his own thing anyway. Attempts
to control journalists absolutely are doomed absolutely, but what
does happen is that the Armed Forces areand perhaps legitimately
should beable to ensure a fair wind and a fair press as
well as the criticism which will come from some partisan correspondents.
So there is no clear-cut situation here, you put your money on
whichever horse you choose to back and a wise editor will back
842. Am I right that it has been generally understood
by journalists that if they obtain journalistic material, maybe
a film, maybe a notepad, then leave the theatre and go back to
their own private dwelling house, if there is indeed to be any
investigation or search for that material it will be conducted,
everyone thought, by the local Home Office constabulary but maybe
by the Ministry of Defence Police under a protocol with the Chief
Constable of the Home Office force, but that Clause 6 specifically
now gives authority to a Service police forcewhich might
be military police or it might be another Service police forceto
do just that? Is that the perception?
(Mr Gopsill) You are absolutely right, yes.
843. So in Clause 6, we have a Secretary of
State enabling a Service policeman (this is not a judicial officer)
to obtain access to excluded material or special procedure material.
Then it says that this shall apply to "relevant residential
premises". Then it says "relevant residential premises"
has the same meaning as in Section 5. In Section 5 we find that
"relevant residential premises" means either "a
service living accommodation or other premises occupied as a residence
(alone or with other persons)", so it might be a hotel, "by
(i) a person who is subject to service law", which would
certainly apply to a journalist who had signed the relevant agreement
with the Ministry of Defence, "or (ii) a person who is suspected
of having committed while subject to service law an offence in
relation to which the warrant is sought." So a journalist
comes home, into his own home, and finds then that a Service policeman
on the instructions, within the chain of command, from a commanding
officer has the right to enter a private home to remove journalistic
material. Does that give you any concern?
(Mr Gopsill) It does, absolute concern. It also adds
a new dimension to a question from Mr Crausby and the discussion
that we had that surely everything is answerable to the courts,
and it does not really matter who arrests or questions somebody,
they are going to be given fair treatment in the court. There
is the question of the handling of evidence, there is the question
of respecting confidentially held information and the question
of processing evidence. After all, it may not be that in such
a case as Mr Key describes the potential prosecution is of the
journalist, it may be of some contact or somebody he has had information
from and all the journalist would be, in the eyes of the law,
would be a witness. For that you can have Military Police coming
into your home and taking material. Yes, we take it extremely
seriously. It is not just a matter of how it ends up in the court,
it is a matter of the fairness in the process of getting there.
Mr Randall: I was wondering whether you
think that there should be different provisions for journalists
working under, if you like, war conditionsin actionor
not? Do you think that the truth should be out?
844. Can I just come in on that? I am particularly
interested because Mr Geraghty has actually served in military
service and, obviously, has now been a journalist in the front
line. I am particularly interested, backing up Mr Randall's question,
in whether you feel that the balance is about right and is as
good as you can achieve or whether there are aspects of this Bill
that will tip it too far away from the media's interest?
(Mr Geraghty) It is a shifting dynamic process, unfortunately.
The journalist wants a story, his news editor is pressuring the
journalist in the field to produce the maximum degree of excitement,
the journalist might see one small part of a military operation
in which British soldiers throw down their guns and leg it. On
the other hand, elsewhere medalsVCsare being won.
If the journalist files copy only in relation to what he has seen,
regardless, that is clearly a distorted view and it is an unfair
view. So that there has to be some sort of balancing process.
That balancing process, ideally, should attach to field censorship
or censorship back at headquarters, in that sort of orchestrated
armed conflict. The British have been fortunate in the two last
major campaigns we have fought in that the South Atlantic was
hermetically sealed and controllable in terms of the information
flow. Similarly, the Gulf was, to a large extent, sealed off.
When you get into a terrorist/guerilla situationand Sierra
Leone is a recent examplethen you cannot control the process.
You can correct, perhaps, the errors made, and that is why MoD
in its wisdom has a very active and highly professional core of
its own press officers; it has military reservists, of whom I
was one, whose long-standing journalistic expertise is dedicated
to maintaining the right sort of balance. I see nothing wrong
with that. There are going to be mistakes. We always fight the
last war on a fold in the map, as they say, and the next situation
never replicates the last.
845. Much of what we have heard this morning
is the difference between how the MDP and the military police
treat Service personnel, who are, of course, subject to military
law as well as to civilian law, and the difference between how
they are accountable when they are dealing with civilians as opposed
to how Home Office and the Home Department deal with civilians.
If one is trying to improve this, if one was trying to actually
bring in safeguards how would you suggest we do that? Should there,
for example, be a civilian Police Committee for the Ministry of
(Ms Linscott) If I may answer that, I think the answer
is, yes. One always hesitates to recommend another committee,
but it is very hard to see that if there is to be an extended
civilian role for MDP and working more alongside the Home Office
Police how that can otherwise be governed without some form of
standing committee, which would either be in overall control of
whatever exercise is going on, or at least to which complaints
and recommendations could be made. I know there is a possibility
of ad hoc committees, if you have a big operation around
a base, in which you might get Home Office Police and the MDP
acting together. That might be desirable as well. It is very difficult
to see how things could be governed without any form of accountability
or without a new body. Very, very reluctantly I say, yesto
improve Part IV of this Billthat a new body should be added
846. If that body were added would that allay
some of the fears or all of the fears?
(Ms Linscott) Only some.
847. Only some.
(Mr Geraghty) Suck it and see. We would have to see
how accountable the new reorganised Ministry of Defence Police
was. There is another nostrum, which I have already mentioned,
that is the use of special constable status for Ministry of Defence
Police off base, of course by agreement with the local Chief Constable.
That would clearly define the limited MDP powers and place them
directly and constitutionally under the control of the Home Department
(Mr Gopsill) That would be in definite circumstances,
such as civil emergencies, and so on.
848. Can I thank you very much. You certainly
raised some very interesting and important issues for our consideration.
Thank you very much, indeed, for staying longer than the time
proposed. Thank you for your time. I know we will discuss the
issues which you raised this morning.
(Mr Gopsill) We would like to thank you for having
us along to give evidence.