Select Committee on Defence First Report



CO-OPERATION WITH LOCAL POLICE FORCES

43. Arrangements for co-operation and co-ordination between the MDP and Home Department and Scottish police forces are set out in two Protocols agreed between the parties.[87] The first assertion of the Protocols is that the primary responsibility for the maintenance and enforcement of criminal law rests with the Chief Constable of the local police force. Had the MDP clauses in the Armed Forces Bill become law, these Protocols would have been revised to take account of the extension in the MDP's jurisdiction.[88] The Armed Forces Bill Committee said in its report—

It is clear to us that the detailed arrangements reached in the revised Protocols between Home Department police forces and the MDP will be the determining factor in how well the extension of the MDP's powers work in practice. We are reassured to some extent by the previous success of the Protocols; by the obvious conviction of those on the ground that these proposals can be made to work; and their determination to achieve this ... Continued effective co-operation and co-ordination of activities between the MDP and local police forces is a matter fundamental to public confidence in policing.

The Committee also believed that it would contribute to accountability and clarity if the Protocols were more obviously public documents: their present status is that they are departmental circulars. The Secretary of State assured the Committee in evidence that the revised Protocols would be published and made readily available to the general public.[89]

44. If the provisions in the current Bill are implemented, the Protocols will similarly need to be revised to take account of the extension of the MDP's jurisdiction.[90] The MDP witnesses agreed that the Protocols were crucial to an effective working relationship with local police forces.[91] The Assistant Chief Constable assured us that work was in progress to produce a first draft by the end of November and the ACPO representative was confident that agreement on revised Protocols could be reached by the relevant parties 'fairly quickly'.[92] In the meantime, MDP officers will receive instructions about how to implement their new powers, as soon as the legislation is passed.[93] We believe, as did the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, that the Protocols are fundamental to effective co-operation between the MDP and local police forces. We want to see revised Protocols agreed and published promptly, and certainly within three months of Royal Assent to the Bill.

45. Another important element in proper co-ordination between the MDP and local police forces is the availability of effective communications systems. MDP witnesses told us that acquiring the national radio communication system used by local police forces (known as PSRCS or Airwaves) was the MDP's biggest procurement project at present. Some officers already have the new system but full provision will take four years. The interim measures were described as 'a little sporadic'.[94] The Bill's provisions mean that co-ordination between the MDP and other forces will become even more important than at present. Indeed, the Minister said during the Committee stage of the Bill that radio communications would play an important part in ensuring MDP officers only used their new powers under Clause 97 to intervene in 'circumstances of genuine emergency'.[95] It would therefore seem sensible to have effective common radio communications in place sooner rather than later and we therefore recommend that additional funding be provided to ensure this is achieved before a further four years have elapsed.


87  For England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Protocol is set out in Home Office Circular 17/1999, 25 March 1999; for Scotland, the Protocol is set out in Police Circular 14/1999, 23 November 1999.  Back

88  HC 154-I, Session 2000-01, op cit, paragraph 44 Back

89  ibid, paragraph 46 Back

90  Q 33 Back

91  Q 33 Back

92  QQ 35, 95 Back

93  Q 36 Back

94  QQ 44-45 Back

95  HC Deb, 26 November 2001, c 775 Back


 
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Prepared 6 December 2001