Examination of witness (Questions 1040
TUESDAY 6 MARCH 2001 Afternoon sitting
1040. We will have the opportunity tomorrow
afternoon of asking the Secretary of State for Defence directly
about some of the issues that Mr Key and other Committee Members
have raised in connection with the Ministry of Defence Police.
Having earlier said that perhaps the views of the American Government
on an issue were not entirely relevant to this Bill, can I ask
you about the realities of enforcing discipline in a multinational
situation? As has already been commented, each national force
has its own distinct set of rules and disciplinary measures. What
came across to us clearly in Kosovo, for instance, was that those
rules apply, even when they are operating under a UN remit. Have
you found that the differences that exist between the way national
forces deal with disciplinary matters has an impact when you are
in a multinational situation, when our forces are able to contrast
and compare how they are dealt with with how someone from a different
country's force is dealt with when it appears that the incident
is very similar?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I have no experience of
that myself. I have no doubt that there have been times when one
of our soldiers and a soldier from another country have committed
some similar offence and been taken away to be dealt with by their
own authorities. What I do not know is how those would have been
dealt with, and indeed, whether the other side would have known
how it was dealt with in any case. I have no personal experience
of that, and I am not even aware of any anecdotal evidence of
that particular point that you are making. There is plenty of
anecdotal evidence of soldiers and sailors drawing comparisons
about conditions of service, etc, as compared with their opposite
numbers from another country, but I am not aware of any anecdotal
evidence of comparisons being drawn about the way they are treated
in the disciplinary sense.
1041. To take you back to the policing role,
you made a distinction, which I think is absolutely correct, between
what you described as the constabulary powers of the MDP and the
more military ethos of the Service policethe red berets,
whatever. Under this Bill the suggestion is being made that the
Ministry of Defence Police would under certain circumstances go
beyond simply policing the outside of military bases and might
get involved in other police operations, and indeed, Mr Key made
reference to the suggestion that they were on standby to be available
in the fuel dispute. Do you think therefore it is logical that,
given what you yourself accept is a distinction between the constabulary
powers of the MDP and the Service ethos of the military police,
it might not be a bad idea actually for the Ministry of Defence
Police to be a normal Home Office Department Police, accountable
to the Home Office, to the Home Secretary, and not necessarily,
as it is at the moment, simply accountable to the Secretary of
State for Defence?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I really have not given
that any thought, Mr Keetch. It is an interesting idea. I do not
frankly have a view about that. I think the Ministry of Defence
Police do a very good job for us in the role that they have. They
operate within our establishments. We get to know them and trust
them. They guard our gates and help us look after ourselves and
so forth. As to their wider role and their future employment and
whether they are with the right Department or not I really do
not think is a question for me to answer. It is probably for ministers.
Mr Keetch: No doubt we will ask the Minister
1042. Can I ask you a question about your naval
experience and present responsibilities? I suppose it would be
generally acknowledged that serving in the Navy brings out and
requires qualities for a high degree of inter-dependence, group
loyalty and discipline, including self-discipline, and absolute
respect for the position and decision of the captain, because
people hang together, and if those values are not sustained, everybody's
lives are put at risk. That is correct, is it not?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Yes.
1043. I just wondered to what extent you feel
that the ever-increasing introduction from civil society of new
rules and procedures which are fundamentally based on individualistic,
contractual, rights-driven concepts may run counter to those essential
military values and may end up eroding that essential culture
within the Navy.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) It is a very good point,
Mr Davies, and it is something we have been watching very carefully
at each iteration of the Armed Forces Bill, for the very reasons
you have mentionedand it is not just the Navy, of course,
but also the Army and Air Force as well. The power of the commanding
officer, or the authority of the commanding officer, must be one
which he can apply without being trammelled by things which are
incidental and peripheral to his delivery of operational effectiveness.
But, as I said earlier on, I very much see at the heart of that
question the authority of the commanding officer. Nothing has
happened so far in the construction of this Bill or previous Bills
which I believe has in any way undermined the authority of the
1044. What I am describing is a process, is
it not? Every year now something comes forward which is based
on these new concepts and which is being imposed on the military.
What I am concerned about is how this process is going to be controlled
or where this process is going to lead.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I suspect the process
is unstoppable. We are going to be continually challenged on a
year on year basis to examine whether what we are doing is right
in law and right in society, and I am confident that we will continue
to maintain our line that we do nothing which actually undermines
our operational effectiveness and the authority of the commanding
1045. If you put that argument to ministers
and they did not accept it, would you be prepared to go public
with your concerns on that matter in the interests of the forces
and indeed the future defence of the country?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) This is absolutely the
opposite of what has happened so far. When ministers have asked
us for our advice on legislative matters coming through, they
have been extremely supportive and understanding about what our
concerns are and represent them very strongly, so it has not been
a situation which has arisen so far, and I would hope it would
not happen in the future.
1046. But if it was necessary, you would not
resile from the necessity or the obligation to go public with
your concerns if they were sufficiently important and you could
not bring those considerations to bear on ministers of the day?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) My job must always be
to serve the government and provide military advice to the government.
When ministers have heard my advice, they weigh that against other
considerations they are taking before they decide their policy,
and they will make their decision. If that decision is something
which I cannot live with because I think it will undermine the
effectiveness of the armed forces, I will have to decide how I
act after that.
1047. You would not exclude, at least in theory,
in terms of your perception of your role, your duty, that a CDS
might in some circumstances correctly decide to go public with
his own reservations?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) This is very speculative,
but I think if those reservations are held so strongly, one would
have to consider one's position and whether one could properly
serve the government.
Chairman: I think there are wider societal
and general concerns about going more and more down the road of
individualism rather than also recognising collective responsibility.
It is a responsibility for us as politicians to look to how we
can deal with that and balance it.
1048. Sir Michael, you said you did not think
there was anything in the Bill which restricts the power, for
want of a better word, of the commanding officer. In clause 7
the power of the commanding officer to authorise entry to search
premises is, I believe, reduced. Do you think that is correct?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I said "power",
but I did correct myself. I said the authority of the commanding
officer, and I would draw a small distinction between the two.
The commanding officer's powers have changed over the years. You
used to be able to hang them as a commanding officer if you were
displeased, or hang, draw and quarter them. That is a power which
has been taken away, and quite rightly so! The power will from
time to time be adjusted in the line of social mores and so forth.
My concern is to make sure the authority of the commanding officer
is never in any way undermined.
1049. Does the commanding officer at the present
time have the authority for a random search?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) As I understand it from
the new Bill, under exceptional circumstances the commanding officer
can order a search.
1050. Is that roughly the status quo?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think he was in a weaker
position. He is in a stronger position now.
1051. Are there any final points you would like
to make, Admiral?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No, thank you very much.
I must say that I believe the rigour with which the Committee
is approaching this is very helpful to the armed forces.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.
It was remiss of me not to formally congratulate you at the beginning
of this meeting. I know that all members of the Committee will
look forward very much to continuing to do whatever we can to
maintain the international reputation for high standards and professionalism
that our armed forces have worldwide. Thank you very much indeed,
and thank you very much for the Service personnel you represent.