Select Committee on Defence Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Mr Roy Large (November 2001)



  I refer to my written submission made before the Select Committee for the Armed Forces Bill in which I raised concerns on the validity of much of MDP's accountability in particular with reference to Handling of Complaints and Conduct Regulations for the Force.

  Here we go again, with provisions to extend MDP's jurisdiction but without any of the necessary provisions to provide the same checks and balances of accountability that apply to Home Department Police Forces (HDPFs).

  The recent announcement by the Home Secretary to include provisions for Handling of Complaints in the forthcoming Police Reform Bill is one step towards accountability but it simply does not go far enough.

  The reasoning for MDP's revision of jurisdiction this time is as lacking in clarity as it was for the Armed Forces Bill. Then, it was so that MDP could be used to back-up HDPFs for demonstrations (were it not that MDP abandoned its public order training for recruits long ago) and now, under the cover of this Bill, purporting to be for anti-terrorism measures.

  But MDP does not have primacy for Terrorist offences and neither will it have. It does not have primacy on its own "patch".

  In respect to responding to acts of terrorism, MDP has sufficient powers under existing legislation.

  Great emphasis was placed the last time on MDP's increased contact with members of the public as a result of its extended patrolling with APTs (Area Policing Teams).

  Did the witnesses who gave evidence before you on Thursday 22 November 2001, advise that, during the past few months, three APTs have been disbanded (with the possibility of more) and the rest are currently being used to deploy resources to other stations during the present increased state of security?


  Since the 1980's and the advent of high profile demonstrations by Anti Nuclear and other activists, Ministry of Defence Police have been brought further into contact with the general public than ever before in their long history. Inevitably, such policing operations resulted in large numbers of arrests and prosecutions, with MDP officers of all ranks embarking on a steep learning curve in roles and procedures thought inconceivable just a few years earlier. A learning curve that many are still on. Throughout the 1980's and 90's the force underwent root and branch reforms in respect of its jurisdiction, organisation, training and operating procedures. Much of this change was supported by the Ministry of Defence Police Act in 1987 which provided a coherent, statutory basis for the exercising of constabulary powers. Despite a plethora of reviews and inspections the force remained (and remains) generally unaccountable to the public as a whole. MDP Complaints and Discipline procedures predate the 1987 MDP Act and are, in the main, a farrago of civil service procedures and photocopied guidelines intended for Home Department police forces. Recent Legal Opinions have called them "these wretched regulations" and considered them to have "no basis in law whatsoever."

  Further advances in Home Department Police conduct regulations and the advent of the Human Rights Acts 1998 have left MDP even further behind in these matters and prompted serious concerns from various organisations, including the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.


  In a report published as recently as 2 weeks ago, they reported: ". . . The ordinary constabularies are subject to elaborate mechanisms designed to provide safeguards for those rights, including subjection to various Codes of Practice, recording requirements, complaints procedures, and training programmes. . . ." ". . . Until the extent to which the safeguards surrounding the procedures of Home Office police forces will apply to the Ministry of Defence Police, the British Transport Police, and the Atomic Energy Authority special constables in their new functions is clarified, we are unable to be confident that the Bill provides adequate safeguards against abuse of or interference in human rights. We draw these matters to the attention of each House. . . ." In spite of these concerns, MDP continue to seek even further extensions of their powers, the achievement of which would significantly increase their growing contact with the general public. (The withdrawal of APTs notwithstanding).


  Even more disconcerting is the apparent operational control over police investigations exercised by the so called Ministry of Defence Police Committee.

  This "committee" is appointed directly by the Secretary of State for Defence, its remit and procedures are not open to public scrutiny, it produces no annual reports or records of meetings.

  Yet, it frequently instructs and manages criminal investigations independent of the Chief Constable or other public authority.

  For example, I am aware of one particular case, recently (October 2001) referred to the MoD Police Committee, but delayed for the purposes of appointing a Sub-Committee to "look into the matters" surrounding a number of serious criminal complaints made by a serving member of the force against the former Deputy Chief Constable and other senior officers of the force.


  In the final analysis, there can be no dissension to a measured Government response to the tragic events of 11 September. Inevitably, this will include revisions to police jurisdiction and powers in order to further protect the citizens of this country. In doing so, cognisance will also be given to civil liberties and Home Department Police forces will remain transparent and publicly accountable in exercising their new powers. What must be remembered, however, is that unlike their Home Office counterparts, MDP currently have no such transparency or public accountability. For 30 years, MDP have continued to seek and secure extensions to its powers with little or no attempt from within the organisation to reform its public accountability.

  Clauses 97-100 of the current Bill are a further attempt (an attempt conceived long before 11 September) to secure a leap in powers and jurisdiction. But, what of their accountability?

  Are we to believe their promises of powers first, accountability reforms later?

  Should we accede to the plea, implied by the former Deputy Chief Constable during his evidence before the last Select Committee, "Give us the power but don't worry about the accountability. . . trust me, I'm a policeman!"


  The DTLR recently published reform proposals for the British Transport Police, "Modernising the British Transport Police, A Consultation Paper".

  This paper addresses most, if not all, the issues of accountability for this Non Home Department Police Force and might be used as a template for reforming MDP and UKAEA (who could shortly be merged with MDP)

  Clearly, if further extensions to the powers of MDP are required, they should come after accountability reforms—not before them.

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Prepared 6 December 2001