Examination of Witnesses (Questions 807
TUESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2001
807. Can I welcome you all this morning to the
Armed Forces Bill Select Committee and, in particular, welcome
Mr Gopsill, Mr Geraghty and Ms Linscott. Thank you very much for
coming along to give us evidence this morning. Can I, before we
launch into some questions, ask you if there is any opening statement
you would like to make to add to some of the written evidence
we have already received?
(Mr Gopsill) I would, thank you very
much. My name is Tim Gopsill, I am the editor of The Journalist
magazine, which is published by the National Union of Journalists,
which always concerns itself with matters particularly of legislation
affecting not just the way journalists work but the way journalists
function for democracy with the responsibilities that we have.
I must, first, apologise for the absence of our General Secretary,
Mr Foster, who was to have come today but who could not come because
of a family emergency. As I say, our concern with some sections
of this Bill is the concern that we always feel when a little
alarm bell goes off in our heads because we see some possible
prejudice to journalists' duty fully to inform society about what
is going on, which I think everybody understands and accepts.
Obviously, the matters covered by this Bill are often sensitive
matters and it is, as we all know, when matters are sensitive
that the need to establish the freedom to work is the most important.
It is most important to defend freedom at the margins, and we
looked at some sections of this Bill and thought there may be,
perhaps, inadvertently, included some powers given to the Ministry
of Defence Police and, possibly, to the military police, taking
on the powers of the civilian police that could actually have
quite a serious effect on the whole of society and on our responsibility
of freedom to report. I think our main concerns are about Section
IV, the powers of the MoD Police, where there are three or four
extensions to their powers, the first concerning the policing
of "the vicinity" of military installations and establishments,
where there is power to establish permanent rights to police.
The reasons this concerns us, particularly, is because when there
are public order events at such places journalists are always,
necessarily because of their work, in the front line, particularly
photographers and camera operators. I can tell you that if we
were talking about demonstrations at military establishments (and
there was a big one at Faslane yesterday) quite regularly photographers,
particularly, find themselves arrested. I would not say they are
necessarily targeted by the police but when the police decide
to move everybody on and a journalist is standing in the front
line, quite often they get lifted. Normally, they do not get prosecuted
because we are able to intervene with the police force concerned,
explain that the personwho was probably showing a press
cardwas doing their job and charges are very, very rarely
brought. We are not so confident about the Ministry of Defence
Police. The civilian police forces, which are accountable and
which only have local powers and are used to dealing with the
forces of civil society such as ourselves, are responsive when
they have made a mistake. We are worried that if the national
military establishment makes a mistake it is, shall I say, much
harder for them to admit it. We see that there could be trouble
that way. The second concern and, perhaps, our major concern is
Section 31(4), where the Ministry of Defence Police can exercise
the power of a constable. We would like to know if there is a
definition here of what are the functions of the Ministry of Defence
Police in this respect; the powers of a constable are considerable
powers and it does worry us if the Ministry of Defence Police
were actually to become a national police force with the powers
of the civilian police. We cannot see any reason for this at all.
If there are any shortcomings in our local police forces, strengthen
the local police forces; we have a structure for that in this
country. In all the great reforms that there have been over the
last 20 years in this country, I have never heard anybody call
for a national police force. Our police structure is considered
ramshackle by some people but it is also part of our society.
It seems to us that what appears to be the introduction of a national
police force by the back door, stuck in at the end of a Bill about
discipline in the armed forces, does raise a question in our minds.
That is what we would like to say to start with. I would like
to introduce our other representatives: Tony Geraghty is a very
senior and well-known journalist, formerly on The Sunday Times
and, incidentally, also a squadron leader in the RAF Volunteer
Reserve and has seen service in several theatres. Tony has the
distinction of having been arrested by the Ministry of Defence
Police, though I do not think he wants to say too much about his
particular case today. Gill Linscott is a journalist and book
writer who has made a special study of military policing and was
herself a journalist for 20 years, including a Parliamentary journalist
for the BBC reporting on Parliamentary committees. So I think
we have a couple of people here with us today who know what they
are talking about. First I would like to ask Tony to expand on
what I have said.
(Mr Geraghty) I will keep it brief, Chairman. My colleague,
Mr Gopsill, has expressed the anxiety of a national police force,
and of course we know from previous hearings and the testimonies
given by MDP representatives that they deny that is any kind of
agenda. It is a fact, nevertheless, that the former chief constable,
Mr Boreham, in an address of which I think you have taken note,
used the word "poignant"; saying he regarded it as a
"poignant" matter that he could not answer a request
from HMG to provide a mobile police force to assist in the control
of demonstrations attaching to the last fuel crisis. The significance
of that action, if I may say, to my mind, as somebody who in his
days as a reporter had the interesting experience of being arrested
by the French riot policethe Compagnie Republicaine de
Securite (CRS) in Paris in 1968 during Les Evenementswas
to observe the difference of style between a mobile police nationally
controlled force of that kind and the behaviour of a local, accountable
police force. Our Home Department forces police by consentthat
is their mantraand they police by consent in many ways,
at many levels (subject to the formal consent of committees and
so on) but in addition to that there is the feeling that this
is "our" police force. For that reason, indeed, the
Armed Services say "We prefer to retain the structure of
a the RAF Police or the Royal Military Police because it is a
force to which we can relate." If you have a force being
introduced in a situation which is already inflamed, dangerous
and affecting public order, then one has the likelihood of a lack
of sensitivity to understate the case. The flying gendarmerie
can be summoned by the government and the local police force can
then stand back and say "Well, I am sorry, this was taken
out of our hands and we really are not responsible for what happened."
I think there were some signs of this during the miners' strike.
Home Department forces were in some numbers moved into areas where
they had no connection. That is one, I think, very serious issue
for concern. One may say "But of course", as the MDP
representatives have said, "there are protocols and promises
which we have yet to put down in writing, but trust us."
The experience of 1987 and the passage of the 1987 Act through
Parliament, you will recall, resulted in undertakings being given
in good faith by the then Mr Archienow Sir ArchieHamilton
that any serious crime would continue to remain under the jurisdiction
of the home department forces, and serious crimes such as rape
were specifically mentioned. We now know that up to 30 rapes a
year are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence Police,
and when that is questioned the MDP answer appears to be "evolution;
the world changes, we have reduced the numbers, we need more mobility,
we are getting around more and the barriers are breaking down."
If the MDP is a dynamic force in that sense, I find no comfort
in promises that may now be made at this stage of this legislation
to accept that that is the situation as it would continue to be
for very long once this clause is added to the Bill. There is
one other point I would make, and this is that given standing
powers in the vicinity of military basesand that is a separate
scenario from that which I have just been discussingthe
MDP officer would be enabled to stop, say, a member of the public
who is driving slowly past a military base or he would have an
opportunity to, perhaps, ask a journalist "What are you doing
here? Identify yourself." The man identifies himself as a
journalist; journalists collect information, sometimes it is information
which the government would not wish a journalist to possess and
whether that information be damaging or not damaging the MDP are
not going to make a distinction, and the next step can be, under
the powers granted through the Official Secrets Act, that it is
unlawful to possess information which is classified, being security
sensitive. Therefore, we have a scenario through which the MDP
use their new power to make an initial challenge to a member of
the public, particularly if that person is a journalist. Thereafter,
we have a rolling programme, in my view, through what I call "bolt-on"
or force multiplier legislationwhether it be PACE, whether
it be anti-terrorist legislation, whether OSAthrough which
an MDP officer would be empowered to look at anything from a bald
tyre to an out-of-date tax disc to possession of cannabisany
one of a number of matters which he could then start to use by
means of either genuine prosecution or for the purposes of harassment.
There are certain journalists (I do not need to mention names)
who are notorious for having caused discomfiture by their ability,
particularly in one case, to "read" the aerial arrays
at a certain base. These people are identified by the military
security authorities. I myself, I now know thanks to the Data
Protection Act, came to the notice of military counter-intelligence
in 1995, and so the information is exchanged. MDP is not a stand-alone
force, it is part of the military community and it would be, in
my view, part of a process of containing, controlling, keeping
under surveillance and, if necessary, harassing journalists or
other people who are regarded as being awkward or objectionable
in the eyes of the MoD and its compliant culture. That is all
I have to say.
808. I am just aware that time is moving on
rapidly. However, Ms Linscott, I certainly should give you, at
least, the opportunity to make a few remarks.
(Ms Linscott) Thank you, Madam Chairman, and I will
keep it very short because there are only two points I wanted
to add to what Tony Geraghty has told you. The first is simply
to say that I believe the Committee has seen the speech made by
the then chief constable Walter Boreham to the Defence Police
Federation Conference in October last year. I am thinking, in
particular, of two paragraphs which concern a request to provide
people to help police the fuel crisis, both civilian convoys and
at the depots. If you thought it helpful I could make available
this copy of the speech afterwards, and we can regard it as read
into the minutes. Would that help?
809. Yes, please.
(Ms Linscott) The other point I wish to make is about
what I think we might call "jurisdiction creep". Tony
has made the point that certain assurances were given after the
1987 Act was passed about limitations and controls on the activities
of Ministry of Defence Police which have, in some circumstances,
been broken, and I will not go any further into that here. One
of the important assurances given when the 1987 Act was passed
was that relations between MDP and the Home Office forces would
be governed by protocols updated every year by the Home Office.
The first protocol was, indeed, issued in 1987, the year of the
Act. The second protocol, which I have here and will happily make
available to you for the sake of the date, was 25 March 1999,
in other words 11 or 12 years have passed between the protocol
and its updating in this key area of the relations between MDP
and Home Office forces. Again, Madam Chairman, rather than take
the Committee's time, if you wish me to make that available to
the Clerk afterwards I will very happily do that.
810. Thank you. We have actually seen that protocol.
(Ms Linscott) That is all I wish to say, thank you.
Chairman: Thank you very much. I know
that Members of the Committee are certainly interested in pursuing
further matters of the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence
Police. We are also interested in hearing your views on Clause
6, particularly, of the Bill. But as you have opened up on the
MoD Police and we have, as you have gathered, already taken some
fairly extensive evidence on that, I will open up with that. I
will start by calling on Mr Randall.
811. Do you have concerns about the existing
jurisdiction of the MDP?
(Mr Gopsill) If you were talking about the jurisdiction
as established in the 1987 Act I would not, but I do not know
whether Gill Linscott, who has greater authority on these matters
than me, has.
(Ms Linscott) I think we come back, Mr Randall and
Madam Chairman, to jurisdiction creep. The powers conferred in
the Act are what the MDP is governed by, obviously. It disturbs
me very much that, for instance, in December 1998 the offices
in London of a major civilian publisher were raided by MDP with
no Metropolitan officers present. Just as it concerns me, of course,
that we were raided by MDP as civilians with no West Mercia officers
present. The jurisdiction in the Bill is one matter. What has
been done under that jurisdictionthis question of jurisdiction
creepconcerns me very much.
812. In the case of these two raids, what would
have been added by having the presence of the local Home Office
(Ms Linscott) In one word, sir, accountabilitydirect
813. You are concerned about the powers of the
constable in Section IV. We have heard evidence that one of the
problems the MDP have is where they are travelling past, in uniform,
a crime is being committed and members of the public would feel
uncomfortable if, effectively, they just carried travelling on,
because they are in the position of making a citizen's arrest.
As journalists, how would you deal with a story like that, if
somebody said "Somebody was being attacked and we saw two
police officers coming past but they carried on", and the
reason was because they were MDP? How would you treat that as
a journalistic story?
(Mr Gopsill) I am sure it does happen, once in a long
shot, that an MDP officer happens to see a crime being committed.
I do not know how often, but walking around as a member of the
public you see a crime committed not that often, I would think.
This also happens, of course, with members of the public. Members
of the public see things that are newsworthy events, and when
a member of the public sees a newsworthy event they do not write
the article for the newspaper themselves, they telephone the newspaper
and the newspaper sends a journalist to write the article. If
an MDP police officer, in a one-in-a-million chance, sees a crime
being committed then they should alert the police. It is completely
wrong, it seems to me, to have a force which is not accountable
to the area to be policing that area.
(Ms Linscott) I think I would like to add to that,
if I may, Madam Chairman, that that is a very precise definition
"travelling between bases and seeing something". Part
IV, of course, as drafted, would give much wider powers than are
required to deal with that eventuality.
814. Is it actually the powers of arrest and
the powers of investigation, or would you be happier if they were
allowed to just arrest and then hand it over? If you like, instead
of just having what we have heard in evidence at the current time
is only (away from, admittedly, a rather strange definition of
"the vicinity") the same rights as you and I have as
citizens, it is the investigation following that which would be
of more concern than the particular arrest of a wrong-doer?
(Mr Gopsill) I can see where you are heading and certainly
we would be concerned if there were any question of doing an investigation.
It would have to be in the hands of the local police. If it is
moving in that direction that is a positive move, but we would
say that is not far enough. I think we challenge the whole idea
of the MoD Police having a power of arrest. The phrase in the
Bill is "the powers of a constable", which are many.
That would concern us and we cannot see any need for that.
815. Finally, from my point of view, would it
be fair to say that you do not really have great faith and trust
in assurances from the MDP, bearing in mind the experiences you
(Mr Gopsill) I think the Honourable Member is trying
to put words into our mouths!
816. I admit I have tended to look largely at
this issue from the point of view of a Member of Parliament representating
an area heavily dominated by defence, near the Rosyth Dockyard
and former naval base. I think all of us, with defence-related
constituencies, have seen the size of the estate, the personnel
involved and the numbers shrink over the last number of years,
and one of the points the MDP have made to many others and to
this Committee is that they are far more mobile now than they
used to be because of the number of bases and other facilities
that have been shut. I also now represent an area where you have
mixed housing, in somewhere like Rosyth, where you have MoD property
alongside ("pepper-potted" is one of the expressions)
privately owned property. So, really, to follow up your response
saying clearly the jurisdiction should not be extended, if an
MoD Police officer patrolling through one side of the street in
somewhere like Rosyth with MoD property, perhaps, hears the screams
of a woman the other side of the street, you seem to be suggesting
that he should, effectively, not have any powers to intervene
but should simply call up the local police constabulary? I am
thinking about the realities of life in many of the areas we represent.
The other thing I would ask you about is the public pressure;
that they see somebody in some kind of uniform and say "Why
did they walk on by and do nothing?" That is something that
has been highlighted to us. I am really asking you how you see
the realities of life being dealt with by the local, accountable
constabulary and the MoD Police in the far more mixed up, jumbled
up, civilian and defence estate that we now have?
(Mr Geraghty) Madam Chairman, may I respond to that?
With profound respect, you speak of the realities, but in practice
I think we are dealing with a series of hypotheses. The only example
of this sort of extra jurisdictional power being exercised by
MDP was one you commended yourself, I think, here last week, and
it concerned the use of citizen's arrest powers. Far from having
anything to do with people screaming in the night, it had to do
with inspired recognition of a child abductor and his victim,
and a citizen's arrest being made with the acknowledgement that
had this gone wrong then the outcome would have been unfortunate.
These, I believe, are singular cases, but I would draw an analogy
here with the position of the soldier serving in a more dangerous,
mixed civilian/military scene in Northern Ireland. We know, from
the case of Corporal Clegg, which went to appeal, that the doctrine
of superior orders, for example, does not protect the soldier
in that situation. I think one's view has to be that there is
no perfect prescription to the manifold realities which an officer
might face. He should use his own initiative, he should perhaps
exercise, yet again, the powers of citizen's arrest if
he is in that situation, and he should be prepared, if it goes
wrong, to take the rough with the smoothor the rough with
the rough. That is life.
(Ms Linscott) If I may briefly add something to that,
Madam Chairman, the question of travelling between various Ministry
of Defence properties is, obviously, a very valid one indeed.
However, may I say that when it comes to what will actually be
made of the powers given in this part of the Act, we need to ask
ourselves, how visible will the travelling be? Will, in fact,
the travelling between bases in marked cars in uniform be, effectively,
a back-door way of adding to the numbers of the local police services?
In other words, locals like to see police cars around because
they feel safer; is it going to be a fact than an MDP police car
travelling from A to B will be used in that way to reassure people
about the prevalence of police on the beat? If that is the case,
and if that is the intention of the Bill in Parliament, should
there not then be some accountability to the local police authority
written into Part IV?
817. For the record, and I have discussed this
with the Committee before, I personally know both Tony Geraghty
and Gill Linscott. They live in Herefordshire, although they are
not constituents of mine, but I do personally know them. I want
to move away from this idea of Ministry of Defence Police happening
to see something. I personally think, as citizens, if we see a
crime we should intervene, but I would look at what they do beyond
that, particularly in relation to what they do beyond that in
terms of serious crimes. Mention has been made of the quote by
the then Minister, Archie Hamilton. His exact quote was: "There
is an absolute requirement for the Ministry of Defence Police
to pass serious crimes, such as murder or rape, to the home department
force." Ms Linscott, you mentioned two examples, under the
current jurisdiction, that you knew of, one in West Mercia and
one in the Metropolitan area, where the Ministry of Defence had
carried out raids, in answer to a question from Mr Randall. Can
you tell us, in those raids, what crimes those raids were concerned
with? Were they serious crimes, or were they other crimes?
(Ms Linscott) In both cases, Mr Keetch, they were
under the Official Secrets Act. In the part of the case I am most
familiar with, it would have carried a sentence of two years'
imprisonment, had the person been later found guilty. I think
most Members of the Committee would regard Official Secrets offences
818. So those were clearly serious acts?
(Ms Linscott) Yes.
819. As a matter of interest, on either of those
raids were the MDP officers concerned armed?
(Ms Linscott) I do not know. To the best of my knowledge,
in the one in which I was directly involved, the answer is no.
(Mr Geraghty) It was rumoured during the raid on the
publisher in West London that some MDP officers were armed, but
I personally question that. I think it was probably corporate