Select Committee on Defence First Report



EXPANSION OF MDP POWERS: IS THIS CREATING A NATIONAL POLICE FORCE?

37. The role of the MDP has certainly changed since the force took its present form in 1987; we have described the nature and reason for these changes above (see paragraphs 8 to 10). Some witnesses before the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill regarded this as a negative development: a representative of the National Union of Journalists described it as 'jurisdiction creep' and feared the introduction of a national police force 'by the back door'.[72] The Secretary of State for Defence told the Armed Forces Bill Committee that the MDP is already a national police force in that the MoD estate, for which it is responsible, is organised nationally: the MDP is comparable to the British Transport Police in this respect.[73]

38. Some of the same witnesses have submitted memoranda to our current inquiry.[74] Mr Nigel Wylde,[75] who objected to the proposals in the Armed Forces Bill, regards the current proposals as 'sensible and proportionate to the role of the MDP in relation to other police forces'.[76] Gillian Linscott and Tony Geraghty,[77] who appeared before the Armed Forces Bill Committee, believe that there are some 'welcome improvements' in the Anti-Terrorism Bill compared with the Armed Forces Bill.[78] However, these witnesses remain concerned about what they regard as the MDP's lack of accountability and the implications of the expansion of its jurisdiction.

39. This is not the place to discuss whether there should be a national police force, nor have we set out to provide a history of policing the defence estate.[79] Our view, based on the specific proposals which we have examined, is that, even if the MDP did have ambitions to widen its remit beyond the defence estate, which we have no grounds to believe, it simply does not have the numbers available to undertake large-scale, long-term policing operations without neglecting the core role of policing the defence estate. The force is numerically small and decreasing, indeed the MDP witnesses believed that what they would be able to do to assist local police force under the terms of the current Bill would itself be limited by their available resources—

The Ministry of Defence Police are resourced to protect the defence estate and operations. They are not resourced to do other things.[80]

The Assistant Chief Constable assured us that the MDP would have a supportive role, rather than a proactive one: he told us that the MDP themselves do not want 'uncontrolled, unlimited use' of new powers by their officers.[81] When requests for assistance are made by local police forces, it is much more likely to be the MDP's specialist skills which are called upon. In addition to its long experience in counter-terrorism, the skills which the MDP can offer include: rope access teams (for example, to deal with demonstrators who chain themselves to inaccessible places); and chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological incident teams.[82]

40. ACPO is in favour of the provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Bill relating to the MDP: it supported the clarification of the MDP's powers contained in the Armed Forces Bill and its view is now 'the sooner the better'. Mr Giffard told us he believed that the increased threat from terrorism justifies the provisions for the MDP to 'expand outwards, outside the wire'. A 'lacuna' had been left by the Terrorism Act 2000, which did not include non-Home Department forces in its provisions, and—

... we think it would be helpful to the overall counter-terrorist battle ... if that were sorted out as part of this legislation.[83]

41. On the question of emergency powers, ACPO were keen, when the Armed Forces Bill was considered, to establish that MDP officers would not use this new power to increase their involvement outside the defence estate by 'leaving their bases and patrolling in order to find incidents to attend'. But ACPO nonetheless believed that clarification of the MDP's powers to act in such circumstances was justified and necessary.[84] Mr Giffard reiterated to us his organisation's determination that the MDP should not use the emergency power to embark on 'fishing exercises', which might involve them inappropriately 'doing ordinary policing duties in ordinary policing areas away from the defence estate'. He believed, however, that there was a public expectation that a uniformed officer would intervene if they came across incidents and that the MDP should have constabulary powers in those circumstances.[85] The Minister assured the House during Committee stage of the Bill that the new emergency powers were limited, and went on to say—

Standing instructions within the Ministry of Defence police will amplify the limitation to genuine emergencies. It does not give officers authority to go around checking tax discs or carrying out any other routine tasks on behalf of a local constabulary.[86]

42. We acknowledge that fears about the consequences of the changed jurisdiction of the MDP exist in some quarters and that they are genuinely held. We are, however, confident that the Bill's provisions do not represent a wholesale expansion of the MDP's powers and that concerns about the creation of a national police force in the sinister sense implied by some commentators are unfounded. In all cases apart from the exercise of their emergency power, MDP officers will be responding to requests from local police forces when they act outside the defence estate. We do not wish to see 'mission creep' whereby MDP officers would be used to cover for tasks which the local force cannot undertake. We believe that the emergency power to intervene is itself adequately circumscribed in that it can only be used in circumstances where it is impossible because of the urgency of the situation to obtain prior approval from the local force before intervening. We have noted the assurance that the MDP will not undertake 'fishing expeditions' in areas for which the local constabulary is responsible, and we shall monitor the way in which they exercise their increased powers.


72  HC 154-I, Session 2000-01, op cit, paragraphs 33-35 Back

73  HC 154-I, Session 2000-01, op cit, paragraph 35 Back

74  Ev pp 19-26 Back

75  For background information about Mr Wylde, see HC 154-II, Session 2000-01, op cit, Ev p 255 Back

76  Ev p 22 Back

77  For background information about Mr Geraghty, see HC 154-II, Session 2000-01, op cit, Ev p 108 Back

78  Ev p 20 Back

79  This is discussed in detail in Private Security, B George and M Button: see particularly Chapter 16, Ministry of Defence Security Back

80  Q 41 Back

81  QQ 12, 47 Back

82  QQ 12, 42 Back

83  QQ 88-89 Back

84  HC 154-I, Session 2000-01, op cit, paragraph 37 Back

85  Q 94; see also Q 84 Back

86  HC Deb, 26 November 2001, cc 775-6 Back


 
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Prepared 6 December 2001