Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320 - 339)




  320. Can I say that before the Committee's public meeting started this morning we did have some discussion on this and on hearing some evidence from some of those whom you have just mentioned. I think the Committee has certainly agreed that this is an area where we are hoping next week to hear further evidence and have further witnesses. I am also conscious that the Committee does have a lot to deal with in a particular period of time, so I would like to suggest that we use the remaining half-an-hour at least to start to look at this, given that the Committee has already agreed that we want to look at this matter more intensively in future meetings. Thank you. Mr Miller?
  (Mr Miller) If I may, Madam Chairman, I would like to ask my Service colleagues to retire, and to bring forward Mr Crowther who is the Head of the Ministry of Defence Police Secretariat, and Mr Woodhead who is the Head of my Bill Team.

  Chairman: Can I thank your Service colleagues very much for their very helpful evidence and comments this morning.


  321. Mr Miller?

  (Mr Miller) Madam Chairman, on Clause 31, this clause makes changes to the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence Police. The jurisdiction of the police force is governed by Section 2 of the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987. The intention of the Bill is to extend their jurisdiction by amending that section. At present the Ministry of Defence Police may operate on land which is in the vicinity of defence land, in response to specific requests from a member of the local force. This existing power is to be replaced by a new power to act on such land in furtherance of a request agreed by the Ministry of Defence Police for policing assistance from a chief officer of the local force. The aim is to allow standing arrangements to be agreed at a high level under which the Ministry of Defence Police may take on the performance of agreed policing duties in areas close to defence land. The point here is that this is to enable the chief officer to require the Ministry of Defence Police to exercise powers in this way. The 1987 Act provides for the Ministry of Defence Police to have an additional jurisdiction in the UK in relation to defence personnel. This is currently applied as being limited to offences by defence personnel. Clause 31(3) extends the jurisdiction to offences against defence personnel. For example, it would give the Ministry of Defence Police jurisdiction where there is an attempt to bribe an MoD employee. Clause 31(4) confers additional powers on the Ministry of Defence Police in any case where a request is received from a constable of another force. In this case the present limitation, which restricts action to the vicinity of defence land, will no longer apply—in other words, this is enhancing the Ministry of Defence Police's ability to respond to requests for help from a constable to meet problems. Finally, there may be occasions where Ministry of Defence Police officers face emergencies where their normal jurisdiction would not apply, and where it may not be possible for the Ministry of Defence Police officers to obtain timely authority from the local police force to deal with the emergencies. Clause 31(4) accordingly empowers a Ministry of Defence Police officer to act without a request from a Home Office Department or other police officer in specified circumstances, if he reasonably believes that waiting for such a request would frustrate or jeopardise the purpose of his action. The Ministry of Defence Police officer in those circumstances must either be in uniform or have proof that he is a Ministry of Defence Police officer, and he must either reasonably suspect that there has been an offence involving the use or threat of violence against someone, or where he reasonably believes that action is necessary to save life or to prevent or minimise injury.

  Chairman: Thank you, Mr Miller. I think we have all received representations from various points of view about these clauses. I have Mr Key, Mr Davies and Mr Keetch who have all indicated they wish to ask questions.

Mr Key

  322. May I start by assuring the Ministry of Defence Police that anything that I say—I cannot speak for others, but I suspect it would also cover them—is not a criticism of the Ministry of Defence Police or of any individuals within the Ministry of Defence Police service for whom I have a high regard, they do a very good job in my constituency and I have seen them across the country and indeed elsewhere. So this is not in any sense a vendetta or criticism of the Ministry of Defence Police; it is probing at the reason why the Ministry of Defence, their employers, wish to extend the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence Police. There are very, very fundamental issues here. I served on the Military of Defence Police Bill Standing Committee back in 1987. Too many of the words I spoke on that Bill are coming true. I want to start with the really basic issues about why it is perceived to be necessary to institute such a substantial increase in the jurisdiction of the police, because it is quite clear—and I have taken both legal and judicial advice on this—that what is proposed here, not just in this clause, but if you marry to it Clause 6 and the extension of the PACE, Schedule 1, is that you are effectively introducing a completely new sort of power to this police force not only over its physical jurisdiction, but also over its jurisdiction over people, and that is what I wish to explore. During the passage of the Ministry of Defence Police Bill, it was pointed out by a number of us that we were actually building upon a very much respected civilian police force going right back to Pepys, if you want to go back to the history of the Ministry of Defence Police, but then it gradually evolved and it became in 1987 the very first national police force, and not only that, subject to the operational control of a Minister of the Crown. In the evolution of our police services in this country we had always avoided those two things: first, a national police force, second, a police force under the operational control not just of the chief constable, but the chief constable being answerable to a Minister of the Crown, not to a police authority. So that was a very big change. Here we are seeing further changes. We are seeing powers being sought to give the Ministry of Defence Police really fundamentally new powers here which have been objected to already in the public print and elsewhere, as a result of a number of high-profile cases, including the case of Mr Tony Geraghty, for example. I am sure we are going to come back to that again and again. I must ask first of all, why has the decision been taken now to seek to extend the jurisdiction in this way?
  (Mr Miller) The Ministry of Defence is seeking to increase the jurisdiction in this way broadly to improve the ability of the Ministry of Defence Police to respond to requests for assistance or, in the case of the final element which I referred to, to react in circumstances where immediate action is required in a very specific and closely specified range of circumstances where there is not the opportunity for the civil police to make a request. Again, if I may take the first of the powers, it is quite specifically the case where the intention is that the Ministry of Defence Police powers would enable the constabulary to respond to a request from the local Home Office chief officer of police. It is simply to provide that ability. It obviously would be for his decision, quite properly, as he is policing the area, whether or not to ask for such assistance and to draw up, in consultation with the MoD Police, the details for providing it. That is the theme which flows throughout this.

  323. Chairman, I am of course familiar with the Home Office Circular 17/1999 issued on 25 March 1999, which is headed "Coordinated Policing Protocol between the Ministry of Defence Police and Home Office Police Forces". That is perfectly clear in redefining the primacy of Home Office police forces inside the wire as well as outside the wire, all of which was debated at great length. I will not bore the Committee, but I did re-read the entire proceedings of the Ministry of Defence Police Bill last night, Second Reading right through to the Report Stage and Third Reading. Time after time the then Defence Minister taking the business through made it absolutely clear, as has just been explained by Mr Miller, that the Ministry of Defence Police was always seeking to assist the chief constable of the Home Office police force. This is just not reality. We see, in a number of these cases which I have referred to, the Ministry of Defence Police initiating action against people and in places, without actually seeking first of all to ask the chief constable for assistance or indeed wait to be asked by the chief constable. Let me give a very simple example. Yesterday afternoon a Written Answer was given to Mr Drew by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence about maritime wargraves. Mr Drew asked the Secretary of State for Defence what his Department's policy is towards the policing and protection of maritime wargraves within (a) British and (b) international waters. The Minister replied, "The Ministry of Defence Police will investigate allegations of misappropriation of wreck materials from naval wrecks whenever notified that an offence has been committed either in British or international waters." First of all, under what powers would the Ministry of Defence Police, under the existing legislation, pursue international inquiries about the misappropriation of wrecks or wreck material?
  (Mr Miller) I would need to take that one away. I cannot answer that specific question.

  324. It was a question answered only last night by the Ministry of Defence. Surely this is not an unreasonable request?
  (Mr Crowther) Could I perhaps assist the Committee here. The Ministry of Defence Police has jurisdiction over Crown property under the existing Act, and a naval wreck would, by definition, be Crown property.

  325. So it is as simple as that: Crown property anywhere in the world is subject to investigation by the Ministry of Defence Police?
  (Mr Morrison) I think it is probably a little more complicated than that. I think it is "defence property". There is specific provision in the Ministry of Defence Police Act for extension of those powers into territorial waters. I was not clear from the case you were referring to whether it went beyond territorial waters.

  326. Yes, international waters.
  (Mr Morrison) Then we would have to look at that.[3]

  327. It illustrates the point I am making. There is no question of a nice cosy relationship with the Home Office police department. This is a question of the Ministry of Defence Police undertaking criminal investigations. My next question will need to be answered, I suspect, by letter. Please can you let us have a breakdown of the rank and function of the Ministry of Defence Police, including, for example, the number of officers in the CID branches of the Ministry of Defence Police in 1987 when the Act was introduced and today? I could put down a PQ, but perhaps I could say please can you write to us and tell the Committee next week, so that we know what we are talking about?
  (Mr Crowther) The number of officers in the MDP at the moment is some 3,500—I think it is just a fraction less than that. The number has come down quite substantially over the last few years. I would guess that in 1987 it was significantly more.
  (Mr Miller) Certainly we will provide you with the detail of that.

  328. I think it is important that we understand the ambitions—perhaps that is a loaded word—or we understand the way the numbers have changed, particularly when it comes to criminal investigations, because it was absolutely clear in the passage of the Act in 1987 that criminal investigations would always be handed over to the Home Office police force. It was absolutely clear in statement after statement from the Ministry of Defence, in the Second Reading right through to the Third Reading. What has changed?
  (Mr Crowther) As long as I have been involved with the Ministry of Defence Police it has had a criminal investigation department who have conducted criminal investigations within the scope of the jurisdiction of the MDP.
  (Mr Miller) Again, I am sorry, Mr Key, we will clearly need to give you a note on this point.[4]

  329. But we were told, in the passage of that Bill, that it would be petty crime; that the CID division of the Ministry of Defence Police would be concerned with petty crime either on Ministry of Defence property or in married quarters, and that was it; that anything bigger, particularly where loss of life was concerned like a murder, or anything to do with defence contracts— There was a great deal of discussion about the policing of defence contracts by the Ministry of Defence Police, and the House agreed that that was entirely proper. If you have a big defence contract with a private contractor, the Ministry of Defence can investigate fraud. There were some very famous cases of fraud which were investigated by the Ministry of Defence Police. But even in those cases, the Ministry of Defence Police was assisted by the Metropolitan Police Secretariat, because we were told in the passage of the Bill that the Ministry of Defence Police did not have the capacity or experience. This was not a matter of regret or shame in any sense, it was just that the Ministry of Defence Police had never been designed to carry out this scale of criminal investigation. So I come back to the point, what has changed? It really is up to the Ministry of Defence to justify this change.
  (Mr Miller) As I said, Mr Key, I would need to give you a note on this. I have to say that my understanding is that the Ministry of Defence Police still work in co-operation with the civil police forces in a number of these areas, but clearly we will need to expose this to you in appropriate detail, and I imagine it is an issue you will wish to follow up when you see the Chief Constables.

  330. I would be grateful, and if we could have a note on that it would be helpful. I am also concerned, Chairman, at the reaction of the chief police officers. ACPO in England is broadly content. They have all been consulted, and of course that is right. It is quite clear, though, that the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland has substantial reservations, even after consultation, and that they are concerned about a number of issues, including the use of firearms, for example. That has been echoed by the various police federations, that they are concerned about this. Communications is another area which has not been sorted out between the Ministry of Defence Police and the Ministry of Defence and the civilian police forces. Protocols on command structures have not been sorted out. Agreement to development of a protocol to determine precise roles and responsibilities has not been agreed. As the Chief Constable who is the Chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland has told me, as the Ministry of Defence Police covers England, Wales and Scotland, it is essential their officers are sufficiently trained in police powers in respect of Scots law. This is seen as sufficiently important to require some form of certified formal training. Now we are being asked in this Committee and in this House to recommend changes in the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence Police, when the negotiations have not been concluded with Home Office police forces on the ground, whatever may have been decided by Ministers, and so it simply is not going to work on the ground. What consultation is now going on with chief constables and ACPO in Scotland and in England and Wales, to get the details of the implications that would follow from this in place?
  (Mr Crowther) There are several points there. As regards communications, the Ministry of Defence Police is in the process of acquiring the same radio communication system, which is commonly known as PSRCS or Airways, as the Home Office Constabulary Service, which would put all the forces on net. So far as training is concerned, the Ministry of Defence Police receive the same initial training covering the same syllabus as Home Department constables when they are recruited, and this is maintained during their career. So far as firearms are concerned, no Ministry of Defence Police officers will carry firearms off the defence estate, except in the very limited cases where they do so already, which is guarding particularly sensitive convoys, for instance. That will not be changed. As regards liaison consultation, we have been through a process of consultation with the ACPOs already on this. Finally, I would point out that except for the emergency power, all these powers are subject to initiation by the Home Department force themselves.[5] There is no compulsion on the Home Department force to invoke these provisions; the initiative lies with them.

Mr Davies

  331. Mr Crowther, this power in this Bill represents a very considerable empire-building project on your part, does it not?
  (Mr Crowther) I would say that its primary purpose is to clarify the law in some places where at the moment there is a considerable lack of clarity, and secondly to enable the Ministry of Defence Police to play their part, in collaboration with the Home Department constabularies, in the interests of joined-up policing.

  332. Do these clauses represent long-term aspirations of the Ministry of Defence Police? Is this something you are looking forward to trying to get into the law at some time?
  (Mr Crowther) I think they arise from the experience of using the 1987 Act over the period of time since the 1987 Act. They also reflect changes in the way that the Ministry of Defence Police operates. It is now a more mobile force, making more use of vehicles to travel between one defence site and another. This in particular has created the need for some power for Ministry of Defence Police officers to act in an emergency situation off the defence estate which, prior to 1987, did not happen very frequently.

  333. You say that these clauses reflect the experience you have had in operating since the 1987 Act. Can you give us some specific examples, some concrete examples, of cases where your effectiveness was impaired as a result of not having the powers that you are now seeking?
  (Mr Crowther) I cannot quote particular individual cases. What I can say is that in particular the provision in the 1987 Act which limits the ability of an MDP officer to exercise police powers off the defence estate, when called upon by a Home Department officer to the vicinity of defence land, has proved very difficult to interpret, and certainly it has given individual officers a difficult task of interpretation when they are out and about, because the Act does not provide any guidance on what "vicinity" means.

  Mr Davies: I am not necessarily unsympathetic to this point, but I still think that if you are asking us to change the change, and if you are asking us to change the law on the grounds that since Parliament passed the previous law, which is the 1987 Act, there have been problems or shortcomings or difficulties which could be, and should be, remedied, you should explain to us specifically how you have come to that conclusion. I think we need to have one or two specific cases where the Ministry of Defence Police were inhibited in responding, for example, to appeals from chief constables or from the Home Office constabularies. If such incidents have not arisen, then I think, frankly, the argument you have just given me in justification for this clause largely collapses. If such incidents have indeed occurred, it ought to be possible for you to quote them to the Committee. If they are so insignificant and insubstantial that they have somehow escaped your mind and you have never bothered with them, you have not obtained the details, it seems to be rather a pity, does it not?


  334. I think it would be very useful, Mr Crowther, to have examples. We will certainly look for examples from the Ministry of Defence Police themselves when we ask them to give evidence. I would say that I have certainly had representations in the past from the federations on some of the points which have been made about the present restrictions placed on them, but I must admit, this morning I cannot instantly recall the particular examples that they quoted to me. I think all members of the Committee need to see for themselves the sort of restrictions that have been placed on the Ministry of Defence Police in present circumstances.
  (Mr Miller) I am sure we can, and will, take that point away, Madam Chairman. It is, after all, for the Chief Constables whom you intend to see later and who, frankly, are in a much better position to talk authoritatively about the operation of these restrictions.

Mr Davies

  335. Yes, but, Mr Miller, you take responsibility for drafting this Bill and advising Ministers to bring it forward to Parliament, so you must have vetted this yourself and satisfied yourself about the argument that any chief constable has made to you?
  (Mr Miller) I take responsibility for the drafting of this Bill. Nevertheless, if you want an authoritative comment on the operation of the regulations, it would be better to get it from the Chief Constables, rather than something which is inevitably filtered through me.

  Mr Davies: We heard this morning that the evidence from the chief constables appears to be contradictory, with the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland being opposed to it and the Association in England being broadly in agreement with it. I do have a general question I want to put to Mr Miller on this clause, but perhaps I can come back to that and let Mr Keetch ask his questions.

Mr Keetch

  336. I am grateful to Mr Davies. I wanted to look specifically at how this is going to affect what happens on the ground. I would like to say, as the Member of Parliament for Hereford, that I have placed in my constituency a well-known base, and there are also two bases just outside my constituency, so I have MoD Police travelling all over Herefordshire. I want to know exactly how it is going to affect them and the civilians in the city of Hereford through which they travel. Mr Crowther, you said they would not be carrying arms outside the vicinity of their base, is that right?
  (Mr Crowther) Outside the base, yes.

  337. So if they are moving operationally from one base to another base of the same unit—a distance in my locality of some 18 miles—you are saying they will not be carrying arms in their police cars as they go throughout the area?
  (Mr Crowther) Yes, I am saying that, except for the very limited occasions where they do so already, which are already cleared with the relevant Home Office Department chief constable.

  338. In those exceptional cases where they carry weapons, will they carry them in vehicles which are properly equipped for carrying weapons, with safes in the boot which can contain those weapons, or will they carry weapons at their side?
  (Mr Crowther) I could not answer that question straightaway. What I would say is that in those very limited circumstances, their conduct will be exactly as it is at the moment.

  339. Therefore, could you actually explain to us, or come back to us with the procedure that happens at the moment, and how you are suggesting that it may or may not change, where an armed MoD officer with a weapon at his side, if he stops to deal with an incident, alerts the public to the fact that he is carrying a weapon?
  (Mr Crowther) I think it is unlikely in those very special circumstances that the MDP officer would abandon the special load which he would undoubtedly be guarding at the time, in order to go off and do something else. That would be a very serious state of affairs.

3   See Appendix 6. Back

4   See Appendix 6. Back

5   Note by witness: One of the powers extends the jurisdiction of MDP to deal with offences against defence personnel and does not need the Home Department police to initiate action. Back

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