Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 1100 - 1119)



Mr Keetch

  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 suggesting—you 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 Defence Police.

Mr Davies

  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 taken?
  (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 police officers.

  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 protocols?
  (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.

Mr Key

  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 Cyprus—
  (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 month—and I am not trying to catch you out here, Secretary of State; not that I would—and 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 incidents—and 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 face—we 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.

Mr Randall

  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 Authority?
  (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.

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