THE ARMED FORCES BILL 2001
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
(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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Clauses were withdrawn from the Bill before it completed its progress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
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
154-I, Session 2000-01, op cit, paragraph 38 Back
HC 154-I and -II, Session 2000-01, op cit Back
154-II, Session 2000-01, op cit, QQ 321, 487. See also
Explanatory Notes to the Armed Forces Bill, paragraph 107 Back
154-II, Session 2000-01, op cit, Q 321 Back
HC 154-I, Session 2000-01, paragraphs 32-52. Some of these concerns
are explored further below: see paragraphs 24-53 Back