Examination of witnesses (Questions 1100
WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 2001
MP, MR MICHAEL
1100. Secretary of State, you have made several
references to the 1987 Act and the changes which have occurred
since that Act and I want to highlight a number which you have
not mentioned. To put those into context, a previous Minister
of the Armed Forces, Sir Archie Hamilton, made quite clear to
the previous Committee that he did not envisage that the MDP would
be involved in the investigation of serious crimes such as, and
I use the word, rape. We now know the MDP are regularly involved
in such investigations. We have had since 1987 the case of Tony
Geraghty, where a member of the public, a journalist, had his
house raided by MDP officers without the knowledge of the local
constabulary, where he was detained and questioned and no subsequent
cases brought against him. We spoke to an MDP officer in Kosovo
who said he enjoyed being in circumstances where he could work
with no rules and where he admitted for the first time he was
able to work in the way he wanted to work. We have heard from
military policemen in Cyprus who told us they were worried the
MDP wanted to get involved in their work, that they were scared
about turf wars. We have also heard from national police officers
in the UK that they are concerned about all of this, and you have
rightly said today that you want MDP officers to assist us if
we are leaving bases. Of course we want that but my question to
you, Secretary of State, is, why tag these changes on to the end
of the quinquennial Bill? Why did you not bring before Parliament
a new and up-dated 1987 Act where we would have had time to look
at these changes properly, where we could put them into context
with the other service police which exist and actually do a thorough
job? At the moment all members of this Committee have grave concerns
about what you are suggestingyou look to your Minister,
he may not have grave concerns
(Mr Hoon) It is not quite "all" then! I
am sure the representative of the Whips' Office does not have
grave concerns either!
1101. Perhaps he does not either but a lot of
us do. I understand why you want these powers and I support the
reasoning behind them, I support the role of the MDP in doing
that, but I just do not know why it is coming in this Bill and
not a separate Act.
(Mr Hoon) You started with what I can only describe
as anecdotal rhetoric which might have been more appropriate for
a Second Reading debate than a careful consideration
1102. Do you challenge any of that rhetoric?
Is any of it wrong?
(Mr Hoon) Yes, I do actually.
1103. In what way?
(Mr Hoon) If we go through those illustrations one
by one, I will deal with them individually, but the purpose of
this Committee, as I understand it, is to consider specifically
the proposals. You have asked me a direct question in relation
to why it is the Government is bringing forward proposals at this
stage. It has always been the case that the quinquennial legislation
dealing with Armed Forces' discipline has been used to deal with
a wider range of issues. This is nothing new. It has always happened
in this way. There are limited opportunities, unfortunately, because
of shortage of parliamentary time to deal with vitally important
matters affecting the Armed Forces and in this case the police,
and in those circumstances I can see no reason why, given it has
happened routinely in the past, this should be an issue today.
1104. But why no separate Act as there was in
1987? You have described yourself that society has moved on, there
have been changes, surely we should have the opportunity to look
at the MDP in total and not just simply in very short order.
(Mr Hoon) I have actually answered your question but
I will answer it again for you. The two clauses you are concerned
about are two clauses which make what I have described as, and
no one challenges this, modest changes in the operation of the
Ministry of Defence Police. The 1987 Act was a very significant
piece of consolidating legislation which brought together a wide
range of different powers and responsibilities and therefore clearly
was appropriate as a stand-alone Act of Parliament. These are
modest amendments to those powers in the light of the experience
we have had since 1987. They are no more than modest amendments
and therefore it does not require, every time Government proposes
modest amendments to Parliament, we should have a stand-alone
Act of Parliament. The legislation we have has been used regularly
to deal with ancillary matters and these changes are no more than
ancillary to the powers established in 1987. They are not significant
changes in the powers and responsibilities of the Ministry of
1105. Mr Hoon, are you aware that the evidence
we have taken from the Ministry of Defence Police, from Home Office
chief constables and from others, has revealed, firstly, considerable
doubts and uncertainties about exactly what the demarcation of
responsibility between the Ministry of Defence Police and the
Home Office police would be in several situations including, for
example, serious criminal investigations such as mentioned by
Mr Keetch, and, secondly, some anxieties and concerns, particularly
on the part of the Scottish chief constables, about the idea of
the Ministry of Defence Police extending its jurisdiction and
acting in the areas covered by Home Office constabulary? Are you
aware those two things have emerged from the evidence we have
(Mr Hoon) I think you have somewhat overstated the
position, not least because the arrangements as far as the interface
between what I might call Home Office police forces and Ministry
of Defence Police are subject to agreements, to protocols, made
between the relevant forces, and therefore it is entirely a matter
for a chief constable to agree with the Ministry of Defence Police
the arrangements that he would expect to see as far as any overlap
of jurisdiction is concerned. But this is not a new problem. This
is not something which arises because of these proposals, this
is something which has been part of the scenery for the Ministry
of Defence Police certainly since 1987 and arguably before that,
because part of the 1987 Act was designed to determine the extent
of the jurisdiction, part of an issue of course which arises in
any event in relation to Home Office police as well, an issue
addressed as long ago as 1964. As you will know, before 1964 a
police constable only had legal powers as a police constable within
the county jurisdiction in which he was sworn. That was changed
in 1964 and in many respects what happened in 1987 and what we
are proposing now is part of the process of recognising that it
is important to give those who are perceived by the community
as being police officers the legal justification for acting as
1106. I think if you read, or if you get your
officials to draw your attention to, the relevant part of the
testimony we have had
(Mr Hoon) Perhaps you would like to be specific.
1107. you will see my description of
the doubts and difficulties which have been expressed is not an
exaggerated one in any way. If the solution, or part of the solution,
is these protocols which you have mentioned, would you be prepared,
in order to make the matter absolutely clear, so that the public
can see what these lines of demarkation are, to publish the relevant
(Mr Hoon) I see no difficulty about that at all.
1108. That is very reassuring, thank you.
(Mr Comben) They are published at present in the sense
that they are Home Office circulars and they are available as
public information, but we can always look to make the general
public better informed. Because they are already in the public
domain, that presents us with no problems at all.
1109. Secretary of State, I think I recognise,
having been on the Committee of the 1987 Ministry of Defence Police
Bill, that organisations evolve and I do not quarrel with that.
I think what has taken us all by surprise is the way in which
the clauses have been tagged on to this Bill, though that should
not be a surprise, as you quite rightly suggest, because every
Armed Forces Bill tends to be a bit of a Christmas tree, and this
is indeed far less of a Christmas tree than the last one was.
However, what you describe as modest changes I would describe
as incremental changes and a lot is happening. For example, we
have seen the Ministry of Defence Police being deployed in Kosovo
where they are de facto an armed gendarmerie, which is
something we have not had. There may be nothing wrong with that.
We have also seen
(Mr Hoon) Sorry to interrupt you, but alongside members
of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
1110. Indeed, yes. We have also seen last week
your other private police force on the sovereign base areas in
(Mr Comben) I do not think
1111. There are no Ministry of Defence Police
there but we have seen the police on the sovereign bases, and
I suspect in the next Bill they might be tagged on with some changes.
I do not have any quarrel with that either. We have also heard
compelling evidence from the Ministry of Defence Police that they
want to be more like regular Home Department police services.
One area in particular I am interested in is the inspection of
the Ministry of Defence Police by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of
Constabulary. Would it be welcomed if Her Majesty's Inspectors
were able to inspect the Ministry of Defence Police not on an
ad hoc basis but on exactly the same basis as they inspect
Home Office forces at the moment?
(Mr Hoon) There is very little difference. They already
do inspect the Ministry of Defence Police. I am surprised that
you see that as a problem. It is already part of the normal process
of accountability that they are inspected by HMI.
1112. Yes, except that under the Police Acts,
the Home Office police are statutorily required to be inspected,
whereas there is nothing in statute law and nothing in the Ministry
of Defence Police Act, and I am merely suggesting it might be
helpful if there was.
(Mr Hoon) You could table an amendment and I suspect
the Government might look kindly on that.
1113. Thank you very much. I said that there
may be an incremental development as a more gendarmerie approach
is taken, but I wonder if you could explain something in the Future
Strategic Context of Defence which your Department published last
monthand I am not trying to catch you out here, Secretary
of State; not that I wouldand I know it is not Government
policy but it is quite an interesting point that we have here,
under the Political Dimensions on page 17, the comment is that
"crime, terrorism and political extremism may increasingly
require a military element to the Government response". I
accept that, that is a wholly sensible proposition, and I wonder
if there is in the longer term any vision that you have or the
Department has about extending the Ministry of Defence Police
in that way to cope with that sort of threat to our society.
(Mr Hoon) I do not think it is a question of longer
term vision. Part of the reason for improving co-ordination between
Home Office police forces and the Ministry of Defence Police undoubtedly
is to ensure that when we are faced with heightened tension as
a result of terrorist incidentsand we are in that situation
today and you only have to go out on Whitehall to be much more
aware of the level of police presence today than it has been in
recent times, quite rightly given the threat that we facewe
should have available appropriately trained people to deal with
that heightened threat. Part of the reason for encouraging the
kind of co-operation that these modest proposals make is in order
to ensure that we have appropriate numbers of personnel to fulfil
those responsibilities. Given that defence bases are a most likely
target for terrorist attack, it is absolutely right that we should
enhance that co-operation between Home Office police forces and
Ministry of Defence Police, again because if there was a shortage
of police officers to carry out those functions, I anticipate
that you might be amongst the first to complain about it.
1114. Secretary of State, I think we understand
the point entirely about providing MDP officers with the legal
status in the sort of situation you described, if any member of
the public were in a situation and they saw a uniformed police
officer, superficially exactly the same but without that legal
status, they would be disappointed if they did not come to their
aid. Given that, that probably means after the passing of this
Act, MDP officers are probably more likely to be in contact with
the general public, or potentially. Given that MDP officers themselves
want this legal status to be clarified, do you think there should
be more public accountability for them for their own sake?
(Mr Hoon) I do not accept the premise because Ministry
of Defence Police are dealing with the defence estate and large
numbers of members of the public, certainly large numbers of civilians,
are routinely on defence bases, and they are trained in exactly
the way that Home Office police officers are trained to deal with
the public. Nothing we are proposing here is going to change that.
The specific technical reason for extending their responsibilities
and their jurisdiction to apprehending emergencies between bases
is for the reason I have described, which is to ensure they are
not in any doubt as to their legal power to intervene if a member
of the public were subject to an attack in their presence.
1115. I understand from that you do not think
there should be any more public accountability of the force?
(Mr Hoon) I think you would have to persuade me in
the first place that there was any lack of public accountability.
I have explained already in answer to an earlier question that
the Ministry of Defence Police are accountable through me to Parliament;
Members of Parliament routinely write about the police force for
which I am responsible. I am certainly interested in any concerns
that you might have about the lack of accountability but I am
not clear in my own mind as to where the criticism lies.
1116. Could you take me through the complaints
procedure I would have? Does the MDP come under the Police Complaints
(Mr Hoon) Yes.
1117. Under the full jurisdiction?
(Mr Hoon) Yes.
1118. So that if something happened, I, as a
civilian away from a base at some incident, would go through exactly
the same complaints procedure as I would with my local Met police?
(Mr Comben) You would go through exactly the same
procedure whether the Ministry of Defence Police officer was on
MoD land, outside of it, on duty or off duty. The arrangements
are absolutely identical. We have our PCA member the same as any
other force. There is regular contact certainly on a weekly contact
basis with the PCA, and with the CPS and the Procurator Fiscal
in respect of criminal allegations of course.
(Mr Hoon) And bear in mind in most of the circumstances,
I think all but two, of the extension of jurisdiction as proposed
in these modest clauses, the Ministry of Defence Police officer
would be subject to the responsibility of the chief constable
of the area in question with whom he had made an agreement. In
those circumstances, that police officer would be subject and
accountable in precisely the same way as a police officer in the
Metropolitan area is currently subject.
1119. So the public need have no fears that
somewhere it will get lost in the Ministry?
(Mr Hoon) No.
(Mr Comben) It does not go to the Ministry.
(Mr Hoon) Most of the circumstances we are dealing
with would be where, as a result of an agreement between, say,
the Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire, where my constituency
is located, and the Ministry of Defence Police, that Ministry
of Defence Police officer was in effect allocated to the responsibility
of the Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire. Therefore, whatever
actions he or she undertook about which you were concerned would
be subject to the authority of the Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire
and subject obviously, as has been said, to the Police Complaints
Authority and the other processes by which police officers generally
are held accountable.