Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400 - 419)



  400. I do not think we would have an objection to this but you have widened it a lot. This is potentially taking power away from social services.
  (Mr Morrison) In an emergency case, which is under Section 19, it is not possible to make a protection order without giving the parents of the children, and various other people specified in the section, an opportunity to make representations as to how the matter should be handled. There is a sort of judicial process, if you like, to be gone through by the person making the decision.
  (Mr Miller) All of which does mean that it is very unlikely that such a case would not be referred to the relevant authority.

  Mr Randall: I am just concerned, as I am sure we all are, in these sorts of issues that something that is tucked away there for very good reasons, it is just widening it ever so slightly, may have wider implications that are not being looked at.

Mr Key

  401. I have one particular question on this. I suspect that there is a growing problem here affecting forces families and it is, therefore, worth informing the debate by relating that in my own county the Social Services Department spends approaching half a million pounds a year on social services specifically directed at forces families in the garrison towns in the County of Wiltshire. It is a very specific loading and it is a growing problem. I am slightly concerned if we are changing the rules about children in respect of whom protection orders may be made that we should not forget there is a financial consequence both for the Services and for County Council Social Services Departments.
  (Mr Miller) Indeed.

Mr Randall

  402. In paragraph 152 of the Explanatory Notes, I do not have a problem with the provision of "Sentence where penalty fixed by law as life imprisonment", but I was interested to read "The current provisions in the SDAs provide that persons convicted by courts-martial of Service offences corresponding to murder or genocide . . .". I just wonder whether genocide is a new term that has come in or whether it is laid down somewhere in statute? It seems slightly strange to see "genocide" down in this context as if somebody convicted of genocide previously would not get a life sentence.
  (Mr Morrison) No, it is not introducing something in respect of genocide. Genocide is a crime that is already referred to in the Service Discipline Acts. I do not know the history of its introduction but it must have come in in comparatively recent years. All this is doing is dealing with the technical point that the references in the SDAs to those offences use the wording referring to the person convicted being liable to imprisonment for life. It has been considered, looking at the development of case law over the years, that simply this does not make it clear that the sentence is a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.

  403. I understand that. The point I was making, and really you have answered it, was does genocide exist?
  (Mr Morrison) Yes.


  404. Thank you very much. Can we now then return to Part IV, Clauses 31 and 32. I know, Mr Davies, you wanted to raise again some of the particular issues that we raised in our previous meetings and requests for further information and clarification.
  (Mr Miller) I wonder, Chairman, if I might change my line-up here to pick up these Clauses which deal with the Ministry of Defence Police. If I may I would like to re-introduce Mr Crowther and, in view of the areas which were attracting the interests of the Committee on the last occasion, I thought it appropriate to bring Mr Comben along, the Deputy Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police, because he is far better placed than any of the rest of us to answer questions which bear directly on the operational aspects of the police force's work.

  Chairman: Can I once again thank the Service personnel at the top table for their time and their responses. Can I welcome the Deputy Chief Constable and Mr Crowther.

Mr Davies

  405. I am glad to see Mr Crowther back again because one of the matters that was left over from last time was the issue of the number of occasions when in practice it has been found that the existing powers of the Ministry of Defence Police are inadequate. At that time Mr Crowther did not recall such things but undertook to examine his memory and let us know this morning.
  (Mr Crowther) What we have done is put together a dossier of ten illustrative cases.


  406. Excellent.
  (Mr Crowther) Which, with your permission, we would like to submit as a note for the Committee.[4]

  Mr Davies: I am very happy with that.

  Chairman: That would be very welcome.

Mr Davies

  407. I am grateful, thank you for taking the time and trouble to do that.
  (Mr Crowther) These cases are not meant to be exhaustive but simply to be illustrative of the circumstances that could arise.

  Mr Davies: I think this will help us to decide whether we should be changing the law in this direction. I am sure we will come back if we have any questions on that. Thank you very much. The other request that was slightly left over from our previous examination of the first 30 Clauses of the Bill which I recall was that Mr Miller kindly said he would try his hand at redrafting on the matter of a warrant officer's eligibility to serve on courts-martial when promoted to sub-lieutenant. I do not know whether he has got a text for us to look at but I take this opportunity of reminding him that we look forward to seeing that. The other one was a definitional issue, which Mr Morrison was vexing on, of journalistic materials which we discussed before. I have in mind that we were expecting answers on this. I do not know, Chairman, if you want us to pursue these matters now or on another occasion?


  408. Can I find out from Mr Miller and Mr Morrison what progress has been made?
  (Mr Miller) On the second point, it was our intention to offer a note to the Committee, if that is acceptable. On the first point, I undertook to note the strength of feeling on this issue of the position of warrant officer promoted to sub-lieutenant. I am sure that as the Bill proceeds Ministers will, indeed, reflect on the points that have been made.

  Chairman: It seems appropriate then to delay further consideration until we have had those notes and hopefully, indeed, in some of our visits the opportunity will arise to raise issues like warrant officers and sub-lieutenants directly with Armed Forces personnel.

  Mr Davies: I take the hint. There is no personal ego invested in this. If the Ministers are reconsidering the matters with their advisers and if any amendments come forward later on we will look at those very open-mindedly. I have no desire to impose my own formulation on those matters.

Mr Key

  409. Pursuing the same line, can I just confirm that Mr Miller said he will give me a note on what had changed in the Ministry of Defence Police carrying out criminal investigations?
  (Mr Miller) Yes. We agreed that we would let the Committee have a note on that.[5]

  Mr Key: Very good.

  Mr Davies: Are we on Clause 31, Chairman?

  Chairman: Yes. Can we now move back to Clause 31, which I know you introduced in a previous session, Mr Miller. Mr Davies, you want to come in on that. Are there any other Committee Members? Mr Key, Mr Keetch, Mr Randall. Clearly this is of considerable interest.

Mr Davies

  410. Let me start with a very general question, if I may, based on a lack of detailed knowledge and experience in this field. I do not have the experience of my colleague, Robert Key, in this matter, I have not served in the forces, and I have had my front bench responsibilities for less than a year. I have to say coming to it in that way one comes with a fresh mind with all the advantages and disadvantages of that. I am amazed at the proliferation of police forces that one finds in the military. There is the Ministry of Defence Police that we are discussing in this Clause, there are the individual Service police forces and there is something, the existence of which I have only recently learned, called the Ministry of Defence Guard Service which seemed to me to have started off as a sort of sub-division of the Ministry of Defence Police to carry out guard duties and now seems to have taken on an institutional life of its own. Then there is the Military Provost Guard Service and, again, they are a sort of sub-department of the individual Service police that have been set up to carry out guard duties. Then there is, of course, an increasing use of private security firms in policing in the military field, and that may be part of a contracting out exercise, which means a lot more of the routine jobs of guarding bases and controlling access points are no longer in the hands of servicemen or service women. Can I first ask you what is the implication for this proliferation of police or para-police institutions within the MoD on your budget? Is there not scope for some rationalisation there?
  (Mr Miller) I think the first point to be made is that there is a clear division of those various bodies into two groups, those with police powers of any kind, Service policemen in relation to their Services and the Ministry of Defence Police, as described, and those bodies that do not have police powers and whose function is much more akin to that of the night watchmen employed by many companies to secure their property.

  411. You are referring to the Provost?
  (Mr Miller) The Guard Force primarily. The Provost Force is a local service, if I can use that term, armed force for use in those circumstances where armed guards are needed but where the full requirements of the Regular Service would be excessive. We have created that particular force so that we can provide the armed guards but without, as I say, applying the full rigours of the Regular Service recruiting standards. The three Service police forces and MDP police force exist because the Services are separate bodies. The police play a key role in the maintenance of discipline, which is very much a single Service issue. The point I made when the possibility of harmonisation or rationalisation was raised quite early on in the evidence sessions was there is no doubt at all that it is more acceptable to the average soldier to be arrested by a military policeman rather than a naval policeman. Whether the arrest is actually acceptable in the first place is a matter of judgment but there is clearly strong identification with the Services and, therefore, there is a feeling that discipline should be looked after by, if I can use the phrase "their own". The Ministry of Defence Police force exists in those areas where civil police powers are needed and they, as you know, are involved in guarding a number of the more critical establishments. They undertake criminal investigations in certain areas, as has already come up, and they cover a number of related areas. I think it would be broadly true to envisage them as operating in the margins between the services and the civilian community and the Home Office police forces.

  412. We are going to explore in some detail, I am sure, the powers of the MDP and how they relate to civilian constabularies in a moment. Before we leave the issue of the structure of policing in the military and this proliferation of bodies, and I am a great respecter of the need to maintain individual Service identities and culture and ways of doing things, would there be economies of scale to be achieved if you did merge the Service police with the MDP? Have you ever looked at that?
  (Mr Miller) To my knowledge we have never looked at the issue of combining the Service police with the MDP. I just do not know.

  413. Thus, combining the three Service police.
  (Mr Miller) The issue of combining the three Service police has not been looked at in recent years, because single Service identity is regarded as more important.

  414. Okay. In fact if on 4th May I asked you to undertake such a study you would have to start from scratch, would you?

  Mr Keetch: Why 4th May?

  Mr Davies: If you do not want to answer that question I will not embarrass you.


  415. Has any preparation been done on examining a combined service?
  (Mr Miller) We have done no work on it in recent years. I have no personal knowledge of what was done before that.

Mr Davies

  416. Is Mr Comben going to answer for the Ministry of Defence police or, Mr Miller, are you going to answer for that? I have one or two questions about the Ministry of Defence Police. Who they report to and how do they operate? Perhaps I can address them to you.
  (Mr Miller) Mr Comben is better placed than I am to talk about the operational details.

  417. Mr Comben, when you are engaged in your investigative role and when you are carrying out the kind of functions in pursuit of crime, and so forth, which civil police do in their constabularies, to whom do you report?
  (Mr Comben) The Ministry of Defence Police are a civilian police force, set up departmentally slightly differently from county police forces. In terms of legal responsibilities and legal powers it operates entirely in the same way as county police forces and the Metropolitan Police and it applies the same rules and has much the same structure, but not exactly the same structure. The Chief Constable has operational independence. Just as in any other civilian police force in the United Kingdom no one can direct him or her to start an investigation or to stop an investigation or take an investigation in a particular direction. We are accountable to a number of bodies and a number of organisations. The work we do is accountable to the law in the first instance. We have to comply with the law. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act is a good example.

  418. You have to comply with the law. You are subject to the law, as we all are, but you do not account to the law, you account to a human body. The Chief Constable accounts to their police committee, the chief of the Metropolitan Police accounts to the Home Secretary, in that sense to whom do you report? To whom do you account to, that was my question?
  (Mr Comben) In that sense we have a police committee and we have a Secretary of State.

  419. You report to the Secretary of State.
  (Mr Comben) Precisely. In much the same way as the Metropolitan Police or any other civilian police force in this country are accountable to the Police Authority, ultimately the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

4   See Appendix 6. Back

5   See Appendix . Back

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