Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 724 - 739)




  724. Good morning and welcome. It is good to see some familiar faces again. I would also particularly like to welcome Mr Clarke, the Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police. We are very keen to hear your views and also Mrs Gloria Craig, the director general of security and support. We are very keen to have the opportunity to hear evidence from your good self. Is there anything that you would like to say in opening?
  (Mr Legge) My responsibilities as the Deputy Secretary for Civilian Management include oversight of security and policing policy in the Department. Hence my presence today. You have already mentioned our relatively new Chief Constable. Mr Clarke joined us a couple of months ago. Mrs Craig, who you also mentioned, is director general of security and safety and it is perhaps also worth mentioning that she is the Department's security officer. She is also clerk to the Police Committee on which I also sit, but in case there is any misunderstanding her duties as clerk to the committee are essentially to oversee the smooth administration and running of the committee and, in particular, to deal with any complaints against chief officers. It is not really equivalent to a clerk of the Police Authority for a Home Department force. Finally, we have Ms Frances Nash from our legal advisers.

  Chairman: Can I open up the questioning on the Ministry of Defence Police and accountability?

Mr Key

  725. Good morning, Chief Constable. It is very nice to meet you for the first time. It is a very exciting job that you have and I certainly appreciate the Ministry of Defence's efforts in my own constituency. We start on a very friendly basis because I am glad to have the Ministry of Defence Police on my patch. Could I start by going back to square one and inquiring of your view of the future of the Ministry of Defence Police. It has evolved very fast since the 1987 Act. It clearly is doing much more than was envisaged by ministers at that time. It is taking on more tasks and more responsibility. Is it your vision for the MDP that it will be a standard civilian police force akin to Home Office forces, with all the powers and successes of Home Office police forces, or is it going to be something very specially the creature of the Ministry of Defence, answerable only to ministers?
  (Mr Clarke) Firstly, in respect of my vision, having now been the chief for just some three months—I come from 31 years in Home Department policing—the Ministry of Defence Police have a very specific customer base. In terms of reading and exploring where the Ministry of Defence Police have been over the last 13 or 14 years, you are quite right. It has changed and evolved. It has evolved to the very nature of its customers—in particular, the threat against its customers. That is where I see the change. If the circumstances, the security threats, acts of terrorism etc., were the same, let us say for the last two years, we are in a period of consolidation. We have some very specific roles and responsibilities which I am keen to ensure that the service can deliver to. I do not see an expansion in any way in terms of our roles and responsibilities outwith those which we have at the moment. I am very keen to make sure that, not only as the Chief Constable but as the chief executive of the agency, we deliver to the objectives and targets of the safety and security aspects which we now have. It is not within my vision at all in terms of any expansion of the roles and responsibilities of the service. These changes that are proposed are for three reasons. One, because our role has changed in terms of not always static, not always on particular premises. With the down sizing of the force, there is a need for us to be more mobile, to move from place to place. There are three reasons why I see the need for change. One, a public expectation. We are police officers and it is right that we are police officers for a whole host of reasons. It is to satisfy public expectation that we act as police officers. Secondly, officers need to act in lawful circumstances because we are accountable to the law. The third reason is I think it is essential, from going around my force, talking with the officers, to afford those officers that legal standing and support that they need when they are doing what is very often a demanding and sometimes dangerous job. Those are the reasons why I see the need for change in legislation, but not a change in the role that we are carrying out. It is more about how we might be carrying out that role, not the role specifically.

Mr Davies

  726. I wonder if I could address this question to Mr Legge. As the Chief Constable just said, it is not within his vision at all to increase the powers of the Ministry of Defence Police. All he wants to do by this legislation is to remove the difficulties which have been set out in the note we have had from Mr Crowther which have arisen.[1] Is that the Ministry of Defence's perception, that you do not want to increase the role of the Ministry of Defence Police at all?

  (Mr Legge) Yes, very much so. Indeed, the proposed changes in legislation originated with the Ministry of Defence Police, with the former chief constable. As a result of experience of operating the 1987 Act, there were three specific areas in which practical experience has shown that there were difficulties that Ministry of Defence Police officers were being placed in. It is simply to try and remove those difficulties that we have put forward the proposed changes in the legislation.

  727. I imagine you have seen the press reports which indicate that the purpose of this legislation is indeed to extend the powers and the role of the Ministry of Defence Police, for example, The Observer suggests, to enable the Ministry of Defence Police to take a more active role in dealing with future fuel strikes, demonstrations and so forth. Have you seen the relevant press reports?
  (Mr Legge) I have indeed. That is a very misleading article. Following on from Mr Scott-Lee's evidence, it is perhaps worth emphasising that in all cases where the proposed changes in legislation will take effect, save in the very limited one of the Ministry of Defence Police coming across an emergency situation where they have to act, all the other changes would relate to where they are acting in response to a request from a Home Department force or a Home Department chief constable.

  728. Yes indeed but, in the case for example of lorry strikes or fuel strikes or demonstrations, the local constabulary might well be overwhelmed and want to have your support. At the present time, you would not be able to make the Ministry of Defence Police available. If this legislation goes through, you would be. That is correct, is it not?
  (Mr Legge) It would be a decision for the Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police whether he had the assets available and whether he was able to respond to a request for assistance. In theory at the moment, yes, he could provide assistance but the Ministry of Defence Police officers in those circumstances would not have constabulary powers and therefore they would be put in a very difficult situation. That might cause the Chief Constable to decline such a request.

  729. At the present time, the legislation would be too restrictive, so such a request might not be made or it might be declined. If this legislation goes through, that problem would not arise so that inhibition on either requesting the assistance of the Ministry of Defence Police or any inhibition which currently exists on the Ministry of Defence Police accepting such an invitation would disappear. That is correct, is it not?
  (Mr Legge) That is correct.

  730. Whether or not it was a subjective intention of the Home Office and the Home Secretary and the Ministry of Defence and so forth to go ahead with this legislation so as to be able to use the Ministry of Defence Police in practice in new fields, the objective result of the legislation will be to make such wider use of the Ministry of Defence Police possible.
  (Mr Legge) That is correct, although having led the discussions with the Home Office and the Scottish Executive throughout this process we were not being pushed by the Home Office to incorporate this change in legislation. The initiative came from us and it was for us to persuade them and, through them, ACPO and ACPOS, that these were sensible proposals.

  731. Nevertheless, it would have been very naive of the ministers concerned not to be aware of the additional flexibility in utilising the country's police forces which would arise as a result of this legislation.
  (Mr Legge) That is perfectly correct.

  732. One assumes that the Ministry of Defence Police in practice will be used in a wider role in the future.
  (Mr Legge) The possibility exists of other chief constables making a request to the Chief Constable of the MDP, depending on the circumstances and availability of officers, yes, certainly. You are quite right when you say a potential obstacle would be removed by this change.

  Mr Davies: You are not reluctant to draw the conclusion from what you have just said that, having removed the inhibitions both on invitations being made and invitations being accepted, in practice the Ministry of Defence Police will be used in a wider role in the future?


  733. Are you saying that if the Ministry of Defence Police are asked to intervene in a civilian situation like a fuel protest the Chief Constable would no longer be able to say, "I do not think it is appropriate for us to be involved"? That is my reading of your response to Mr Davies.
  (Mr Legge) No.

  734. The Chief Constable will have lost his independence?
  (Mr Legge) No, absolutely not. In the past, he might have said, "I am very reluctant" or, "I do not want my officers to be involved" because there is a problem over the exact constabulary powers they have or do not have. As Mr Davies has just said, that obstacle would be removed, but it is still entirely within the domain of the Chief Constable to say whether he is able and wishes to release some of his men to assist another force.

  735. Do you want to comment on that at all?
  (Mr Clarke) Yes, if I may. I am very clear about my operational independence, which is well documented, particularly in the framework document in terms of the establishment of the agency. I would have no hesitation in terms of an operational decision of not committing MDP resources. Generally speaking, that would be on the primary basis that I would not in any way, shape or form degrade the service that we provide to the principal customers of the MDP, because that would be both intolerable and untenable in respect of what our function is. The reality of what you are asking is can a demand be made of me of the minister or indeed the Home Secretary and I think we should be frank in terms of the press coverage over the weekend. Would the MDP be used as strike breakers? Absolutely not is my initial response to that, because we have our role and responsibility, which would be different from that of a Home Department forces. I take the point. It takes away that which is a barrier at the moment but this does not in any way, in my opinion, attack the operational independence of the Chief Constable.

Mr Davies

  736. The reason why some people might have doubts about the Ministry of Defence Police being given these greater powers and therefore the likelihood that they will be used in a wider role, which I think we have already established, is that, unlike civilian police forces, you do not report, Chief Constable, to a police committee. There is no civilian counter-check on your activities. You are responsible to the Secretary of State for Defence. If the members of the Cabinet get around the table, the Home Secretary, the Minister of Defence and so forth, they agree on a particular line of action and you are asked to take action or invited to take action in the context of that particular strategy, it is fairly clear there will not be anybody around who could second guess your use of your new powers. That is a legitimate concern, at least theoretically, is it not?
  (Mr Clarke) I think it is. Hopefully it is theoretical and perhaps I can allay your concerns. The Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police is very accountable. My experience in the last three months is that I have been more accountable in this role than I ever was as the deputy chief constable of a Home Department force. It is a different accountability. The accountability for all chief constables, including myself, is to the law. We are held accountable by law, whether that be in investigations, how we conduct ourselves through the Crown Prosecution Service, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney General or through the courts themselves. We are accountable to Parliament. I have seen more tabled parliamentary questions about the MDP even in terms of overtime being worked, so there is an accountability built in there. There are independent members on the police committee and I fully understand the difference because the police committee are advisers to the same PUS, who is for all intents and purposes the owner of the agency. There are very different measures, and I would include in that other chief constables who will hold me to account should I step outside or should individual officers step beyond their remit. It is a very different kind of accountability but there are a lot of levels of accountability, as I see them. I am very comfortable with those levels of accountability.

  737. There are three problems about those three excuses that you have brought forward. Firstly, accountability to the law is again theoretical. It is of course impersonal and can only be enforced by the courts if somebody brings an action before the courts, which is a very expensive, cumbersome and time constraining thing to do. We are all responsible before the law. It does not make you any different to me in that respect. That is again I think somewhat theoretical. The responsibility to other chief constables means that you have a loyalty to the traditions of policing in this country and that there is something of a solidarity among chief constables desiring to maintain the high standards of policing in this country. I think that is a real constraint on people's behaviour and you come out of that with that culture, coming from a Home Department, but nevertheless that also could be read as being accountable very much to yourselves or each to each other. There is an element of cronyism about that, which may not satisfy some people. Thirdly, I am afraid you are constitutionally wrong. You are not constitutionally responsible to Parliament; you are responsible to the Secretary of State for Defence. There are bodies in this country who are directly responsible to Parliament. One thinks of the Auditor General and the NAO. One thinks of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England which sets monetary policy. You are not in that position of being directly responsible to Parliament. Maybe you think it would be a good idea if you were.
  (Mr Clarke) It is interesting because you almost imply that it was an intention to mislead. Not at all.

  738. The only person you misled was yourself, Chief Constable.
  (Mr Clarke) I do not feel I am misled in any way, shape or form. In terms of the accountability of individual officers, you are right. If complaints are made, we are accountable to the Police Complaints Authority. It is exactly the same for Home Department officers as it is for MDP officers. There is an accountability which is talked of in the framework document of the Chief Constable being accountable to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration etc., so when I talk about being accountable to Parliament perhaps it is not Parliament per se but parliamentarians, as it were, in that way. I do not feel at all that what the service has tried to do is anything which is behind closed doors and which is not transparent. The developments with the Police Committee whereby there are three independent members now gives an even greater transparency. That is in an attempt, I believe, to model police authorities in that particular way. It is a very different accountability, but no less accountable.

  739. You obviously accept my view that you should not set very much store on the three types of accountability which you detailed in your earlier answer because you have now proceeded to resort to a whole lot of other arguments.
  (Mr Clarke) I would still resort back to those three in the first instance because I believe they exist on a day to day basis, not only in respect of our activities and our actions, but also in respect of our processes.

1   See Appendix 6. Back

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