Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 1020 - 1039)

TUESDAY 6 MARCH 2001 Afternoon sitting


  1020. If I can interrupt you, we do not have any exemptions at the moment, either from the Human Rights Convention or from the ICC.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have from the Disability Bill.

  1021. Solely that.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) There are other areas where we have had exemptions as well. I think we need to look at each of these Bills as they come forward, in good time, as you say, before they start being put before Parliament, so that we have an opportunity to influence the drafting in the early stages.

  1022. It would be very useful for us in that context if you would mention now specifically the areas where you would like to see exemptions.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) There is nothing in the pipeline at the moment.

  1023. So apart from the disability issue, you have no concerns at all?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am not concerned about the disability issue, because that has been decided. There is nothing new. We have dealt with exceptions over the last couple of years, and disability is one of them. There is nothing in the pipeline that I am aware of at the moment which gives me cause for concern.

Mr Keetch

  1024. Can I ask you about women in the Services—not so much in terms of the comments you have made recently, which many of us understand, about their combat role, but we have had women serving at sea in the Royal Navy now for about ten years, we have had them serving in other aspects as well, and we have seen them in Kosovo and other places. On the discipline side, having women around on board ship, in barracks, etc, have there been any problems with discipline related to their presence there that you have noticed, either as First Sea Lord or now as CDS?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No, not so far as discipline is concerned. In fact, if there has been any impact on discipline at all having women serving alongside men, I would say if anything it has improved the nature of discipline. It has caused the men to be more aware of their social attitudes and so forth when they are not in an all-male environment. Generally the style and way people conduct themselves tends to be slightly more civilised, so if anything it has had a beneficial effect.

  1025. As you say, a much more natural atmosphere exists on board ships because of the presence of women, which can actually enhance military capability, and certainly there has been no detriment to discipline.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) There has been no detriment to discipline, no.

Mr Randall

  1026. Do you think it is realistic to have a discipline system or code which is expected to operate both in peace time and war time?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, I do, because I am not sure how one defines war. We did not declare war when we went to the Falklands, we did not declare war in the Gulf, and we certainly did not declare war in Sierra Leone when one of our people got killed the other day. We find the nature of operations today is such that we slide from what appears to be set out to be a peace operation, and before you know where you are you are actually in a fire fight or some fighting situation. So I think we certainly cannot afford to have one set of disciplinary rules for peace and one for war, because there is no distinction between peace and war for us now. You slide from one to the other very quickly.

  1027. So the existing discipline would be equally applicable—I perhaps used rather old-fashioned terms in saying war—in peace operations and under fire in conflict?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think so. As I say, sometimes—and I will use the word "operations" rather than "war", but I understand exactly what you mean—you can be on deployment somewhere, say, on an exercise, which is in an entirely peaceful setting, and before you know where you are some crisis has occurred and you have to go and deal with that, and you are into an operational situation. There is no clean break between what you were doing before in the peace-time exercise and what you are being required to do in operations. It would be very disruptive suddenly to close one book and open another one.

  1028. Do you think there is enough latitude within, for example, punishment, to reflect the different situations? Obviously, one offence might be less serious back at Catterick than it might be under fire in Sierra Leone.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think the way the guidance is set out allows us to cope with those situations.

  1029. The Chairman asked you if there was anything in the current Bill that you thought might make discipline harder. Is there anything that is not in the Bill that you would have liked to have seen in there?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No. I am thinking hard because I have not thought about it from that angle before. There is nothing which I can recall in my particular time, both as a commanding officer and in more recent years as a senior officer, where I have hankered after some particular amendment which I thought would have made my life easier, at least, not one which was entirely reasonable! Nothing comes to mind.

  Chairman: Certainly during our visit last week to Kosovo and then to Cyprus we found the importance of very definite rules interesting, but with some flexibility to deal with the particular circumstances. I think it struck us in Kosovo, quite rightly, given recent events, that there was an additional rule in that the town of Pristina was out of bounds for those serving with the UN forces there, whereas obviously in Cyprus it was possible to go into the local towns, but then that had particular problems associated with it, or potential problems. I think we all found it very useful to be able to listen directly to those who were having to deal with the realities of the very flexible, insecure global world that our armed forces have to deal with.

Mr Key

  1030. Sir Michael, one of the many strengths of the constitutional arrangements under which our military have operated for centuries has been that they derive their authority from the Crown rather than from Parliament, and it is certainly true that over my time in Parliament we have seen an erosion of that tradition. This Bill is just the latest step. We have seen that the last Government and the present Government have abandoned attempts to consolidate the three Service Discipline Acts, but instead, the Government anticipates that within five years there will be a new tri-Service Act. Given the very different traditions of the three Services—which is a very good thing, in my view—but also given the increasingly "purple" operation, joint operation of the three Services, is it realistic to suppose that we can see a single tri-Service discipline Act within five years?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You have covered both points that I would want to expand on. It is certainly true that we need to recognise the fact that the three Services operate in three very different environments for much of the time. When they come together in joint organisation, it may be they will still be operating as individual units in their own single environments, so it is very important to recognise that in the way we apply our discipline. With the sort of disciplinary Act you need to deal with a person on board a submarine, for example, which is employed for two months without any form of communication, as opposed to a soldier in a garrison or an airman on an airfield, you need to recognise that there are very different circumstances there. On the other hand, as you have pointed out, we now have more joint organisations in operations where people do work together in headquarters and so forth, and where you do have inconsistencies between the three Service Acts, and three people committing the same offence may find themselves being dealt with in three different ways. That is not good for getting sensible team-work going in the actual organisation concerned, let alone somebody seeing himself compared with somebody else when they are disciplined for a particular offence they have committed. I think it is sensible for us to look at a tri-Service Act, but what I would also want to do very carefully is to make sure that we did not lose the baby with the bathwater, and that we recognise the tolerable variation that needs to exist between the three Service environments.

  1031. I am also very conscious that our three Services have to look over their shoulders the whole time in a way they did not before, in a litigious age, with Human Rights legislation and with the threat that third parties or third countries might decide that something we are doing is illegal. Mr Davies has referred to some international legislation which is going to be incorporated into British law. If we are operating increasingly in a multinational theatre, as in Kosovo now, where a large number of different forces, not just NATO forces, are operating together to fulfil a United Nations mission, the legality is something which I have found quite depressing to track down. Looking at, for example, Resolution 1244/99, which set up amongst other things the UNMIK police force, but also put together the whole of the Kosovo operation, it is a nightmare to consider that we have young soldiers going out there doing their duty, and all they have to rely on legally to support them is a United Nations resolution at the moment, until a proper military system is constructed. Furthermore, each of those forces is operating under their own military law in those countries. We have at least the Visiting Forces Act and the Status of Forces Agreement in Europe. NATO partners have worked very successfully with that, and that framework works, but it is getting more and more complicated. Do you think that when we have this tri-Service discipline Act it will need to take on board an international dimension and perhaps have incorporated into it some of the aspects of the Visiting Forces Act, for example, that we take for granted?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I would not have thought so. It is quite a technical question. I do not see us ever having a common multinational Act, for example, for discipline for servicemen. I think that would be complicated beyond all imagination. I feel comfortable about the fact that when our servicemen are operating abroad, they are covered by a SOFA or the equivalent, and that they will be dealt with by their own disciplinary system if they get into some sort of trouble, and they are not going to be dealt with by some multinational court in those circumstances. So I do not feel uncomfortable with the fact that we should remain separate. There is no suggestion that there should be some multinational Act for all armed forces. It does not bear contemplation how complicated that would be.

  1032. It is very helpful to have that response. Coming back directly to the Armed Forces Bill, it is pretty narrow, and in its only really controversial part it deals with the Ministry of Defence Police, and it is a great irony that there are 57 Ministry of Defence policemen operating in Kosovo at the moment under UNMIK and of course under this UN law. They are not subject to the Armed Forces Acts as we know them, which is an interesting position. Indeed, my colleagues might remember that last week in Kosovo we were told by one Ministry of Defence policeman what a challenge it was to be operating in a country where there were no rules—a rather dangerous precedent, I thought. I wonder if I could get down to this serious business of how we are going to incorporate Ministry of Defence Police into the other police forces that are operated within the Ministry of Defence. There are six police forces that operate within the Ministry of Defence at the moment, if we count the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Military Police, Ministry of Defence Police, Military Provost Guard Service, and Ministry of Defence Guard Service. There are some who say it is really time we sorted this out and had one Service police force as well as one Home Office police force, the MDP. Do you think that would be helpful, or is it a pipe dream?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I do not think it would be helpful, and it is not a pipe dream of mine, certainly, so far as the Service police are concerned. The need to have individual Service policemen I believe to be extremely important. The way that the naval service policeman on board a ship operates depends an awful lot on the confidence that the people on board have in him and him being a sailor first—because, of course, in the Navy's case you are a sailor first and a policeman second; you do not join as a policeman. He has duties at sea which he needs to understand. This is completely different to an Air Force or Army policeman, who in their own terms have their own special Air Force and Army specialist roles to play within their own police duties. So I do not think there is any question of having a common Service policeman. As to binding in the powers which are held by the Ministry of Defence Police, again, I think their constabulary duties are not ones which the Service policeman should have to be involved with because he has his own duties to do as a Service policeman. So I do not see that bringing together the Ministry of Defence Police with the Service policemen either. The other two are really not in the same league as police. They are more of a guard than a police service, and they perform a service which is very important: they help us with our guarding duties, but they are not in a constabulary or authority position at all.

Mr Keetch

  1033. As a supplementary, we saw in Cyprus that there is not in fact the military police and the RAF police acting separately. They work under one organisation called the Joint Cyprus Police Force. There you have RAF police going out on patrol with Royal Military Police, policing our servicemen in the bars—and we are all aware that there have been some problems in Cyprus relating to Service discipline. They told us that it works very well.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I have no problem with that at all; in fact, I thoroughly endorse the idea of having a joint police unit where you have an Air Force and an Army policeman working together in an environment on the ground where you have Army people and Air Force people. That is extremely good. What I am suggesting we do not want is a person who is a Service policeman and who does not belong to the Navy, the Army or the Air Force. I am very happy with the idea of them working jointly together. I thoroughly approve of that. When trying to deal with a situation where you have Army and Air Force people together, to have one from each colour uniform going in will solve the situation much more quickly than just an Army person going to sort out an RAF problem.

  Chairman: Certainly the views we obtained from Service personnel themselves were that they do prefer to have their own distinct police force, whilst also accepting in Cyprus that the joint Army and RAF police force had worked very well, and was obviously a very sensible approach.

Mr Randall

  1034. There was a view expressed to me—I do not know whether this is reflected in your own experience—by some Army personnel that they might prefer to be picked up by the RAF police. There is a different perception of the particular traditions.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) All I can say is that my impression, particularly from my own career, is that a sailor would much rather be picked up by a naval policeman than by a "red hat" or by an RAF policeman. I would have thought that applies generally, although I am sure every now and then there is a perception by one colour uniform that the other colour is easier or whatever.

  1035. Do you think it is down to uniforms rather than a joint Service police unit? They must wear their own uniforms; that is the important thing.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes, very much so.

Mr Key

  1036. Admiral, last month the Ministry of Defence published the Future Strategic Context for Defence, which was an update of the analysis which underpinned the Strategic Defence Review, and a very interesting document it is. It is unique, because it is not government policy; this is what the Ministry of Defence says as opposed to ministers, and it says so. There is one section, called "Political Dimension—Key Implications for Defence," and it says "Crime, terrorism and political extremism may increasingly require a military element to the government response." What does that really mean?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) As far as the homeland is concerned, it is the job of the police to deal with crime, terrorism and so forth, but the armed forces stand ready where required to assist the police in carrying out those duties. The classic example of that, of course, is Northern Ireland. I think what the paper is trying to suggest is that if crime and terrorism continue to burgeon in such a way that the police find themselves overwhelmed in terms of the right numbers or the right techniques, from time to time the military may be required to come along and help them, but it will always be in support; we will never be out in front.

  1037. We also had a controversial session of the Committee when we were referred to a speech by the former Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police where he had related, "A more recent and poignant example was that of a request from 2nd PUS for us to supply police officers on a mutual aid basis during the fuel crisis." If you are having troops driving fuel tankers, it makes a certain amount of sense to have the Ministry of Defence Police rather than Home Office Police looking after the interests of the soldiers driving the tankers. I think that we need to be quite open about this if we are going to see that sort of a more national policing operation carried out by the Ministry of Defence Police. Are you concerned that perhaps the Ministry of Defence is ahead of public opinion on this? I think a lot of people are quite surprised to hear that the Ministry of Defence Police had been asked to do that.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am afraid I am not familiar with that statement by the previous Chief Constable. I strongly believe that it is the job of the regular police force, not the Ministry of Defence Police Force, to deal with situations such as crime and terrorism, and it is our job to support them. I would not want to be seen out in front at all, and I should have thought the same would apply to the Ministry of Defence Police as well. The lead should be taken by the home police.

  1038. Would that extend to serious crime like murder and rape?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) It does. I am sorry?

  1039. Under the provisions in the Bill to extend the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence Police, the Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police will be able to sign a protocol with a Home Office constabulary which will establish arrangements at a high level on policing, and the Ministry of Defence Police will have the jurisdiction and the power to investigate serious crime. The question is really, was that what they were set up to do, and is it a good thing?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The degree of seriousness of crime which they are going to be empowered to investigate under the new Act is something which I am afraid I am not familiar with. We can come back to you. My understanding is that they are really operating in a reasonably confined area, in other words, where there is Service property or Service practice outside an establishment, but what their powers are within that against the degree of crime that may be committed, I am afraid I do not know.

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