Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (40-59)

THURSDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2001

MR DAVID RAY AND MR PAUL CROWTHER

  40. Could you be a bit more specific about the areas where there will be changes in these protocols?
  (Mr Ray) The first one that was mentioned by Mr Crowther about the primary and secondary crime definitions emanating from the quinquennial review is a slower time issue because it is going to take some time to work through. The more urgent need for a protocol revision is to deal with these new powers and how those are going to be effected between us and the other force. That particular part of the protocol I would think we could get on with very quickly because we know what is in the Bill and we are working on the assumption that it will pass along those lines. If it does not, we can modify it obviously, but there are basically over-arching protocols in policing in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and then there are individual protocols with particular forces for particular operations if that is necessary.

  41. Under the Anti-terrorism Bill it is my understanding that the chief constable of your force will be able to provide manpower and so on to meet special demands on resources and all the rest of it. Do you see a limit to that? Do you see a limit to what you can provide where chief constables of the home forces ask?
  (Mr Crowther) Yes, I do. The limit is set in the first place by the limit on our available resources. The Ministry of Defence Police are resourced to protect the defence estate and operations. They are not resourced to do other things. There is a quite marked limit on the resources that will be available for this sort of operation. The important thing to remember about this power is that any MoD police that were made available under it would be under the command and control of the receiving police force, who would therefore be responsible for what they did.

  42. Could you give us any examples of the provisions under which the chief constable would provide?
  (Mr Ray) Yes, I can. The chief constable "may" provide; it does not say "will" provide. He has that discretion. The sorts of things are some specialist skills particularly possessed within the Ministry of Defence Police: the rope access team I have already described; our marine policing unit, probably the biggest in the country, our CBRN capability. Those are specialisms. The other one is a civil emergency—for example, flooding in an area where a force is simply overwhelmed with the demand for policing activity on a short term basis in an extreme emergency; or a major terrorist incident, where the sheer size of the incident overwhelms local resources and for a short time they want support from us under their command and control. A chemical, biological incident is very resource intensive. Again, we have trained officers who would deal with that. Those are the sorts of areas where we might be deployed but I emphasise that the resources available in our surge capacity to deal with such requests are extremely limited. We are not talking very large numbers unless it would have to deplete our policing of the MoD and we are not prepared to do that.

  43. In those circumstances where the resource is not there, it goes back to the chief constable of the home force to use such resources as he may have?
  (Mr Ray) Yes. We would have to say, "I am sorry. We cannot help you."
  (Mr Crowther) I think it is much more likely to be specialised resources than the idea that we might have masses of police officers standing around waiting to be called for. The force is quite stretched at the moment and we simply do not have surplus resources.

Chairman

  44. With 44 Home Department forces, how will they communicate with each other? Will you be able to communicate with them quite easily? Have the MoD and the Home Office been smart enough to have radio sets or computers that are compatible?
  (Mr Crowther) Yes. Our biggest procurement project which we have ongoing at the moment is what is variously known as PSRCS or BT Airwaves. It is the national radio communication system for the police which is being rolled out progressively throughout the county forces and we are in that process.

  45. How long will it take?
  (Mr Ray) I can advise you because I am the project director for this. We are following the national roll out of the system for Home Office forces. That has already started. We are already using those radios in parts of the country. That is accelerating from now for the next four years. As Home Office forces acquire the radio systems, we will be hopefully acquiring our own so that we can maintain contact. The interim arrangement is that we rely on the old VHF radio, a system of mobile phones and locally provided Home Office force radios. The interim measures are a little sporadic, but the Airwaves solution will certainly cure the problem.

  Chairman: I would advise the Home Office not to use any radio communications the Ministry of Defence was prepared to offer because we have endless complaints. Every time we see a soldier, they complain about the appalling communications.

Mr Jones

  46. Is it not vital that protocols are in place from day one, for two reasons? One, you would get perhaps turf wars between MoD jurisdiction and local forces and not clarity over what their two roles are. Secondly, if you are going to get maximum benefit out of these extended powers, joined up thinking and working between the MoD Police and the local police at local level is going to be vitally important. Are not the protocols vitally important to have from when the legislation hits the ground?
  (Mr Ray) You are quite right. That is why I have given them this deadline to produce the first draft by the end of the month, knowing that obviously the Bill will not be coming in by then but it is to put pressure on them and to start getting drafts so that we can start consulting. We are fully aware of the pressure and the need to have our own draft guidelines, policies and procedures drafted and confirmed before we have these powers.
  (Mr Crowther) I do not honestly see the prospect of turf wars because, in the one power, the Home Department officer is in the driving seat anyway. He is the one who makes the request. The emergency power is extremely tightly circumscribed as to the circumstances in which it can be used.
  (Mr Ray) I have no evidence of turf wars. The relationship is working extremely well now really because we have been pushed together. It varies from force to force, depending on the degree of contact.

  47. Under these circumstances you are gaining new powers infringing on the Home Department or the home police forces' territory and therefore you are in a new set of circumstances.
  (Mr Ray) We are not looking to take over their jobs. We are simply there to support them if they want us to or we come across things in an emergency. We are not looking to be proactively deploying our officers to do their work for them. The Police Federation who initially expressed reservations are now quite happy with this because they recognise that there is an officer safety benefit. Where a police officer can come to their aid if required, therefore it is to their benefit and value that we have the jurisdiction to come and do that for them.

Mr Howarth

  48. When the Bill is further considered on Monday, we will be dealing with this business about the MoD Police and clause 98 is the relevant clause which would confer upon the chief constable of the MDP to provide assistance to the local relevant force "to meet any special demands on its resources." You have indicated some examples as to where that might apply—for example, flooding and so on—but this is the very general power that is being conferred. It is permissive, not mandatory, I accept, but can you confirm to us that you would resist an application by a local force to supplement its routine activities because it was simply under pressure by being unable to recruit enough people? As an ancillary point, are you not yourselves going to be under pressure if your numbers are reduced from 3,600 to the proposed 3,000?
  (Mr Ray) You are quite right. We are already under pressure in staff resources. We really do not have much spare capacity to go and do other people's work. I have had absolute support from the Chief Constable very recently (we discussed it yesterday). He said, "I do not want our officers going off and doing other people's work when our core activity is MoD estates. Security policing, uniformed policing and crime investigation: these are our core activities that the Quinquennial review has identified and that is what we are going to do. We are not going to be deterred from that by demands for support from elsewhere."
  (Mr Crowther) Could I add that this power is modelled on the existing power in section 24 of the Police Act 1996 which enables similar arrangements to be made between home department police forces. It was drafted so as to leave the MoD police out and this remedies that deficiency.

Syd Rapson

  49. I have two areas of questions, the first is on inspection and the second is about complaints. May I first of all declare an interest. I did have in my previous career the trust of the MoD Police Service and then I represented their members when they felt they were being threatened by the MoD Guard Service, and I was a member of the Hampshire Police Authority as well, so it is very even-handed. As far as inspection goes, as I understand it the MoD Police do not have a statutory obligation to have the police inspection system although there is an unofficial way of having these inspections done, and the inspector was legally trained. The Secretary of State did indicate during discussions that he would look favourably at an amendment to the Armed Forces Bill which would put the MDP on the same footing with regard to inspection by the HMI as other police forces. Unfortunately I do not think that happened. I did say he was legally trained and the words are very specific. What is the current position of the Ministry of Defence police in relation to inspections by HMI of the constabulary, and will this change as a result of the Anti-Terrorism Bill and should the MDP be placed on the same footing as the other police forces in relation to the HMI, ie, on a statutory basis, regularising what is going on?
  (Mr Crowther) The answer to all those questions is yes. The MoD Police at the moment is inspected by HMIC very formally but on a non-statutory basis. There was agreement during the passage of the Armed Forces Bill that an amendment should be added to the provisions in order to place this on a statutory basis. Unfortunately that fell with the rest of the legislation. I anticipate that a home will be found for that very shortly in other legislation.

  50. So you are quite happy that it will be put on an equal footing and it would be regularised and there would be a statute backing that up?
  (Mr Crowther) I believe that is Ministers' intention.

Chairman

  51. When was the last inspection?
  (Mr Crowther) It is just about to happen.
  (Mr Ray) The reason the Chief Constable is not here is that this is the pre-inspection day by the HMI himself.

Syd Rapson

  52. Voluntary?
  (Mr Ray) It is by invitation. It is basically every two or three years.

  Chairman: That is pretty good timing in the light of this legislation going through. Somebody is thinking in the MoD.

Syd Rapson

  53. Can we go on to complaints? I recall that in my local government time any complaints against police officers were able to be read by me as a member of the authority and they were quite trivial and silly. I am interested in how the MoD Police would get involved in this. During the Second Reading debate on the Anti-Terrorism Bill the Home Secretary said that the police reform legislation would be introduced in the new year and it would be used to bring the MDP within the normal procedures for police complaints. At the moment MDP complaints regulations are described by the MoD as being comparable to those of the home department police forces. Can you clarify for us what this means in practice? Are complaints against your own police officers currently dealt with by the Police Complaints Authority and, if so, what would be the procedure?
  (Mr Crowther) They are dealt with by the Police Complaints Authority in exactly the same circumstances as they would be if they were made against an officer of the home department force. The legal route by which you get there is slightly different but the procedure is just the same.

  54. Can I delve into that legal route? I am not legally trained but I am sure there is some convoluted way of making sure it is most difficult. Are you protected against a complaints procedure by this legal maze?
  (Mr Crowther) Complaints are handled by regulations made in 1985 which reflect an agreement reached with the Police Complaints Authority. This is an agreement made under a provision in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. It is a statutory provision that allows such agreements to be made.

  55. As I said, I am sceptical about police complaints because I tend to find that some of the complaints made are absolutely stupid and if I were dealing with them I would throw most of them away. Are you going to be happy if you are brought into the exact same procedure as there has been for the outside police forces? There are certain worries no doubt that you are changing things. I am trying to find out if you would find yourselves more exposed to an investigation or more complaints perhaps if it was aligned?
  (Mr Crowther) I think the position is likely to remain just the same, that the legal route may be slightly different but the end result will be exactly the same as for the home department forces.
  (Mr Ray) I would emphasise that we have nothing to fear from having thorough investigation of our complaints procedure and the way that the complaints are investigated. The PCA does carry out a similar function with us. We have further investigational review, if you would like, because our police adviser happens to be Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary and he regularly, every 12 weeks, reviews all our complaints and disciplinary papers. Following him, a further member of our Police Committee who is an ex-PCA member carries out a further review of the disciplinary papers, so they are thoroughly reviewed, far more perhaps than most home police forces.

  56. Your police committee is going to be reviewed, is it not? Can you tell me what the current composition of the MoD Police Committee is and do you think this makes your police sufficiently accountable to those whom it serves, and will the composition need to be reviewed in the likely extension of your powers? I do not even know who these people are. Perhaps you could shed a little light on what the Police Committee is made up of.
  (Mr Crowther) The MoD Police Committee is a committee of the Ministry of Defence and it is responsible to the Secretary of State for Defence who is in charge of the whole defence operation. It is normally chaired by the Second Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, although from time to time also by a minister. Also, the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff sits on it. In addition to those the three services—the Army, Navy and Air Force—are represented, as also is the Defence Logistics Organisation. The Defence Police Federation attend meetings and there is also a representative from the defence trade unions more widely. He is one of three additional independent members that were added to the committee quite recently. The other two are a representative of the defence families organisations and an independent independent member. We have already heard about the HMIC representation on the committee, so it is a fairly wide range of people.

  Chairman: Frankly I think that Mr Rapson is thinking that he should be on it and it might be worth considering having a member of our Committee to be genuinely independent on that committee.

Syd Rapson

  57. The people are selected and appointed by the Secretary of State, so there is no election procedure. He or she is chosen because of the requirement and they are put on and taken off presumably at the behest of the Secretary of State when he or she thinks fit.
  (Mr Crowther) That is correct, except that some of the members of course are there ex officio. I could add though that as part of the Quinquennial review of the agency which is going on one of the subordinate studies to that will be to look at the role, membership and functions of the committee.

  Chairman: It might be an idea if you arranged for 11 copies of your last annual report to be sent to the Committee. I have a copy and the Clerk has a copy but it might be helpful if you could send those further 11 copies.

Mr Crausby

  58. Can you tell us something about your procedures for the safe use and transportation of firearms, particularly between MoD sites? Are you satisfied, in the light of changing circumstances with this Bill, that those procedures will be adequate, particularly as you come into more contact with the public?
  (Mr Ray) Yes, I am satisfied, and that is not being complacent. We view the possession and use of firearms for official purposes as a most serious incident and must be taken most responsibly. We have what is possibly one of the largest numbers of armed officers of any force in the country on a regular basis and therefore we have to be extra careful. The use of firearms is of course governed by The Criminal Law Act and now Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights which imposes a number of constraints and conditions before we can justify the use of firearms, for example, the test of reasonableness of the use of force. You now have to show that it was necessary, absolutely the last resort, and there was no other means possible by which to resolve the situation in any other way. The use of firearms should be legal and it should be proportionate, in other words you cannot shoot someone who is simply waving their fist at you or waving a stick. You have to show that the use of a firearm itself is necessary. We have a range of escalating options to deal with such incidents, ranging from physical presence, physical force, use of batons, possible use of police dogs, before you finally get down to the use of firearms. Our training is some of the most rigorous and regular. Every month all our officers are given dry weapons training. This is handling and safety training. That is carried out on a regular basis, probably unlike any other force in the country, but it is necessary because of the number of occasions they do handle firearms as part of their job. Most of this of course is within the MoD estate. I could give you some figures. The number of times we load and unload weapons every day or every year is staggering. We have one and a half million loads and unloads of weapons a year in the course of duties within the MoD estate. We have never had a negligent discharge this year and I have to say we have never had to shoot anyone either.

  59. Can you tell us where firearms are kept when travelling between sites? Are they kept in a locked box?
  (Mr Ray) There is a locked box in the vehicles that may be required to carry firearms. We do not carry firearms in public areas as a matter of course ever without the prior written agreement of the force through which we pass. The only exception to this is our escorting duties of special materials, where there is a well-established procedure in agreement with other forces and regular contacts throughout the movement. Then they are not carried in locked boxes. But even in the transference of weapons around the country for administrative or training purposes, the weapons are carried separate from the ammunition in separate vehicles. They are carried in locked boxes and that is done under strict written protocols.


 
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