Select Committee on Defence First Report


12. The Government used the Armed Forces Bill in the 2000-01 Session to propose changes to the powers of the MDP. The primary purpose of the five-yearly Armed Forces Acts is to renew the three Service Discipline Acts under which military discipline is enforced[22] (although, as the Secretary of State for Defence reminded the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, the quinquennial legislation has frequently been used to deal with a wider range of issues[23]). The proposals contained in Clauses 31 and 32 relating to the MDP were examined in detail by the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, which held nine sessions of oral evidence, five of which were specifically on the MDP clauses.[24]

13. The Bill proposed two main areas in which MDP jurisdiction would change: first, the present power of an MDP constable to act 'in the vicinity' of defence land in response to a specific request from a member of a local police force would be extended to a more general power to take on policing duties in areas 'close to defence land' based on 'standing arrangements agreed at a high level' between the MDP and Home Department police forces. The ability to respond to a request for assistance in a specific case made by a local force would also be available.[25] Second, an MDP officer in uniform (or having proof that he is an officer) would be empowered to act without a request for assistance from a local police force, in emergency situations, where it was not possible to obtain authority to act in advance, and where the MDP officer had reasonable grounds for believing action was necessary to save life or to prevent or minimise injury.[26] An example of where this might arise would be where MDP officers come across a road traffic accident while travelling between MoD establishments. At present, an MDP police officer has only the same jurisdiction as a member of the general public in attempting to deal with incidents which he comes across outside the defence estate: that of citizen's arrest.

14. During the Armed Forces Bill Committee's deliberations, some commentators expressed the view that the proposed changes were undesirable for a number of reasons.[27] In its Report, the Committee itself expressed reservations about some aspects of the proposals and, although it eventually approved the relevant Clauses, it highlighted areas where it believed careful implementation and monitoring were necessary. In the event, the Clauses were withdrawn from the Bill before it completed its progress through the Lords. This was made necessary by the announcement in May of the General Election and the need to ensure the completion of the passage of the Bill through both Houses before the Dissolution, so that the three Service Discipline Acts could be renewed.

15. The proposals relating to the MDP in the current Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill are similar, but not identical, to those made in the Armed Forces Bill and some of the concerns raised by the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill remain relevant.

22  9The three Service Discipline Acts (SDAs) are required to be renewed by primary legislation every five years, and the five-yearly Armed Forces Bills which are the vehicle for this renewal are therefore often called the 'quinquennial Bills'. Amendments to the SDAs are also made during this renewal process. Since 1961 it has been the practice to refer the Armed Forces Bill to a select committee after Second Reading, although committal of a Bill to a select committee is otherwise procedurally unusual these days. The Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill combines the powers of a Standing Committee and a Select Committee in that it both formally considers the Bill clause by clause and amends it if it wishes, and also takes evidence and makes visits before reporting its findings to the House and making recommendations. Back

23  HC 154-I, Session 2000-01, op cit, paragraph 38 Back

24  See HC 154-I and -II, Session 2000-01, op cit Back

25  HC 154-II, Session 2000-01, op cit, QQ 321, 487. See also Explanatory Notes to the Armed Forces Bill, paragraph 107 Back

26  HC 154-II, Session 2000-01, op cit, Q 321 Back

27  See HC 154-I, Session 2000-01, paragraphs 32-52. Some of these concerns are explored further below: see paragraphs 24-53 Back

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Prepared 6 December 2001