Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 1120 - 1139)



Mr Crausby

  1120. You cited an example of a member of the Ministry of Defence Police not being able to assist a member of the public under attack, and we all sympathise with that.
  (Mr Hoon) I am not saying that even at the moment they would necessarily walk on by. What I am saying is that they do not have the legal powers which would be available to a police officer, they would be in no different position from any other member of the public, which I think is unfortunate given that to that member of the public they would appear to be a police officer because they would be wearing a uniform and would behave very much like a police officer. I can see no good reason why they should not enjoy the same legal rights as any other police officer in that situation.

  1121. Have there been any complaints about Ministry of Defence police officers in those circumstances not assisting a member of the public? I rather think probably not. I am sure if that had been the case, we would all immediately know about it. Is this not more about the strategic use of the Ministry of Defence Police? The example which has been cited is the fuel protests, but I am sure there are other, quite reasonable political protests of all kinds, and that may well be an appropriate use of the MoD Police, but is that not the main motivation? To what extent would the Chief Constable of the MDP have jurisdiction over that? Would the Chief Constable of the MDP be able to say no to a request from another chief constable?
  (Mr Hoon) I have explained to you the motivation and I do not accept there is any different or ulterior motive, I have set that out clearly in answer to the very first question I faced. There has been one specific incident where a colonel in the USAF was attacked and a Ministry of Defence Police officer came to his assistance and it was not clear that the Ministry of Defence Police officer had the range of legal powers which would have been available to a police officer otherwise. There is no ulterior purpose. I think you have to answer the question very clearly in your own mind whether you are happy for people who look like police officers to be given exacting responsibilities on behalf of the community but yet not have the appropriate legal protection in the event of those police officers carrying out those exacting responsibilities to the best of their abilities. If we were discussing a police officer in your constituency, I doubt you would be asking that question.

Mr Keetch

  1122. Of course I want that police officer to be able to act and work as a normal police officer would, but I also want him to be accountable. You have explained accountability in terms of local protocols, but the fact of the matter is that at national level the MDP are accountable to a Ministry of Defence committee comprising simply of service people and police officers, there is no civilian input on that committee.
  (Mr Comben) That is not right, there are some.

  1123. Perhaps you could detail exactly what that is. Could you also answer, if that officer going from one base to another intervenes to save somebody, at that point is he accountable to the chief constable of the MDP or is he, as was alluded to earlier, accountable to the chief constable of the Home Department force he happens to be in?
  (Mr Hoon) With great respect, I think you are mixing up a number of different issues here. Accountability in the sense that we would normally use it is political accountability, that is the ability of Parliament, Members of Parliament, to determine for example policy questions, to deal with issues relating to, say, overall organisation. Your example also concerns a particular judgment made by a police officer and what would happen in the event of that judgment being proved to be wrong. The two things are different and it is important to distinguish them and not to confuse them in the way you have done. As far as political accountability is concerned, and we have dealt with this to some extent already, I cannot see there is any reason why the Ministry of Defence Police should not be politically accountable through the Secretary of State for Defence. I do not see any difficulty about that, subject to the committee which exists which has, I think off the top of my head, three lay members plus a representative of non-industrial trade unions and a representative of families I think.
  (Mr Legge) The three external members include the last two. It is a mixture of Ministry of Defence civilians, chaired by the Second Permanent Under-Secretary if the Minister is not chairing, plus service officers, plus external police advisers who are nothing to do with the Ministry of Defence Police, plus three external members.

  1124. But accountability also refers to the community they serve and local police forces have community consultative committees, for example. Where is the accountability to the people they will be coming across on their duties? Where is the accountability to the civilian they go to assist? I understand the accountability to you as Secretary of State, but where is the accountability to the community?
  (Mr Hoon) The community that the Ministry of Defence Police by and large serves is the community on the defence estate, which is why, for example, there is a representative of the families who live very often on those estates. So to that extent accountability is dealt with by their presence on the committee. In the event of there being—and what we are dealing with here is relatively exceptional powers—an emergency arising between bases where a Ministry of Defence Police officer was travelling from one base to another and an incident occurred in which he intervened, I am not wholly persuaded there needs to be any additional accountability other than through the committee and ultimately to the Secretary of State for Defence.

  1125. So that police officer is not accountable to the local Home Department chief constable? He still remains accountable to the Ministry of Defence chief constable?
  (Mr Hoon) What is set out is that ultimately, and as quickly as possible once the incident had been resolved, there would be a presence on the scene of a police officer from the Herefordshire or whatever county police force or other police force as appropriate, and at that point they would assume responsibility for resolving the incident, they would take responsibility for charging anyone, for any further proceedings which were required, and at that point it would pass to their responsibility and therefore to the traditional accountability of our Home Office police forces. I do want to emphasise that this is a relatively exceptional circumstance, which is why I am entirely comfortable in describing it as a modest change, because it is to deal with the kind of situation I have described, where a Ministry of Defence Police officer apprehends an incident in the course of travelling from one base to another.

Mr Davies

  1126. I wonder if we could look at the longer term role and rationale for having this rather special police force as you envisage them. The humanitarian peace-making, peace-keeping, Petersberg-type operations, in which our Armed Forces seem increasingly to be involved, often involve a policing role and need for policemen, and we saw that quite dramatically the other day when we visited Kosovo and we were grateful for that opportunity. Do you see the Ministry of Defence Police increasingly playing that kind of role in such situations and are you making arrangements, for example, by way of training or otherwise to ensure it can play that role if necessary on a more regular basis?
  (Mr Hoon) I think that is a very fair question and one that we certainly need to address, subject to resources and the availability of people. I say it is a fair question because one of the clear lessons we had to learn from Kosovo was not only the purely military lesson that we require certain kinds of forces to intervene when a crisis of that kind arises, one of the other and I think possibly in the longer term more significant lessons we had to learn is that when an area like Kosovo suffers the devastation it had suffered, not only under its previous Government but also as a result of intense civilian disorder, all of its traditional administration structures are shattered, and what we found ourselves doing in the aftermath of British forces going into Kosovo was not actually a military judgment, although that was very important, it was how do we find people from, frankly, around the world who can go in and replace the previous civil administration in order to make that area function. One of the key requests, as you have rightly referred to, was for police officers. One of the difficulties which the United Kingdom had at that point was that the kind of police officers they required were armed police officers, and we simply, stating the obvious, do not have many people who have appropriate training in order to go to a place like Kosovo where they expected to see armed police officers on the street, which is why the Ministry of Defence Police officers have gone and have been doing a magnificent job alongside members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. What I cannot do in answer to your question, which is as I say a very fair question, is commit ourselves to a long-term situation where we would be sending either RUC officers or Ministry of Defence Police officers into those kind of situations, but it is clearly my view an issue which is going to arise in the future because, as your question very fairly indicates, it is not simply a military response that we need in order to rebuild a place like Kosovo.

  1127. Clearly you cannot commit the Ministry of Defence Police or indeed any part of the Armed Services to any operation in the future because we do not know what is going to happen, but we are both agreed that these humanitarian or peace-keeping, Petersberg-type missions are likely to occur in the future—it would be very nice if the world was more stable but it probably will not be. Insofar as you have to prepare to deploy our Armed Forces in this new role and you have made arrangements for that in terms of training, equipment and preparing them for this expeditionary role, I just wondered whether in parallel to that you were looking to see whether or not the Ministry of Defence Police might need additional types of training, might need to take into account different criteria to recruit people, indeed warning them or letting them know they might have an opportunity to serve in such situations. It seems to me it might change the profile of those whom you recruit. There may also be issues about equipment and communications and so forth and I wondered to what extent you are taking concrete measures to address this possibility in parallel with the changes we have made, rightly I think, in the Armed Forces to make them more readily deployable?
  (Mr Comben) Perhaps I can offer something in response to that.

  1128. Of course, but I would like the Secretary of State to comment, if I might, Chief Constable, because it is very important we get a political steer here as to where the Government is looking in policy terms.
  (Mr Comben) Certainly, but if I could come in on some of the specifics about training, and the Secretary of State could pick it up after me, I am sure. All police forces in the United Kingdom have been consulted about what assistance they can contribute to the United Kingdom response to the needs which the Secretary of State has said, and the amount of assistance that the wider police service is giving to Kosovo and to eastern bloc countries is enormous. When it came to the particular requirements of Kosovo, it was clear that the RUC were a force able to respond and they went first, but no force in Britain, including the MDP, can supply resources to another country in a way which neglects their core business back home. So the MDP were second in line and we have given assistance. The officers had their basic police training, they were all trained to the same national standard, so the Foreign Office and the United Nations had no problem with the basic training they had. They had fire arms training, there was no problem with that, they underwent medical inspections and that kind of thing, the same as everybody else, and we gave them some additional training for the kind of things they might come across in Kosovo which they would not come across in England. For example, I have some experience of mass exhumations and that kind of thing from my time in the Metropolitan Police, so I personally gave them some instruction on what they might come across if they came across mass burials and what we might call terrorist burials and that kind of thing. But we have been asked to give that training to other Home Office forces which might go out there. So we have this strength of the basic abilities of our officers, on top of that there was the fire arms training which was absolutely needed, but all police officers might need some small amount of additional training depending on the environment they are going to go into.
  (Mr Hoon) You will be aware that we maintain lists of the availability of different kinds of Armed Forces which might be used in particular kinds of crises, either at the request of the United Nations or any other international organisation. This work is not yet particularly advanced but it has struck me that one of the consequences of Kosovo which we need to recognise is that the international community will need to start thinking about not only what kind of Armed Forces are available to deal with crises but what happens after that. Because one of the practical difficulties of deploying Armed Forces into the Balkans, undoubtedly, and no doubt you will comment on this in due course, is that there is a risk those Armed Forces are stuck there, and if the commitment of the SDR is about rapidly deployable forces, they need to be rapidly deployable out as well as into a crisis. It is not appropriate to abandon countries once they have had military intervention without ensuring there is policing, a legal system and administration which is at least capable of functioning. So it does seem to me that one of the areas where I would like to see more work in the United Nations is looking around the world at who might make those kinds of people available and in what circumstances and at what sort of notice. We were very fortunate as a country when the request came for armed police officers to go to Kosovo that we had the Ministry of Defence Police and we had the Royal Ulster Constabulary with the appropriate training because, frankly, otherwise we would not have been able to participate.

Mr Davies

  1129. I think we are making some interesting progress in this interchange, Mr Hoon, and we probably do not see things very differently. I conclude from what you are saying—and we all know in Kosovo there was great difficulty in NATO countries supplying the policemen they had undertaken to do—that first of all you think it is not right (and it is very expensive of course to use) armed service personnel when policemen could be used and often it is better to use trained policemen in a trained police role. However, that role is sometimes necessary to support the role of the armed services in order to restore stability in a part of the world and then to take over from them when you move away from a shooting war or the danger of one and therefore it would be sensible to incorporate this particular resource which is under your control, as we know, in your general plan for these Petersberg tasks. Although of course the police personnel it might be drawn from might not be limited to the MDP, it might be sensible to have the MDP as the kernel of any force to be deployed. Is that a reasonable inference from what you have just said?
  (Mr Hoon) I do not think that is unreasonable but I will look at it as another spending commitment by the Opposition!

  Chairman: It is an extremely crucial and topical area. I attended a two and a half day seminar last year debating very much this issue of where does the military role cease and the police role come in in the sort of situation you are talking about.

Mr Davies

  1130. Can I in one sentence say that the whole logic of what I have just said is that in many cases it might be much cheaper to carry out a given role if you could call on trained police officers rather than to keep the military somewhere longer which you otherwise need do.
  (Mr Hoon) I do not know whether that remark was addressed to me, Chairman, but if it was we could perhaps hear from the Opposition as to where they would like to withdraw British forces.

  Chairman: We could have a full day debate on this issue alone. Mr Key?

Mr Key

  1131. Secretary of State, just to make the point that we have not spent our time exclusively discussing Ministry of Defence Police may I broaden the discussion a little. Concerning Parts II and III of the Bill we were told by forces law and civilian solicitors that one of the problems they have is that only a part of the law governing service personnel is statute law, quite a lot of it is derived from other sources whether it is Queen's Regulations or Defence Council. I specifically tabled a question on this asking for a number of documents to be placed in the Library, the Unit Folder entitled Military Custody: a Summary Dealing with Systems, the Provost Manual, the Army Commissioning Regulations, and a further list, and the Minister of State very kindly replied a few days later to say that, "Yes these will be placed in Library of the House", but he did say these were "dynamic documents which were subject to frequent updates". Since that time, and I tabled the question on 2nd February and the Minister of State answered on the 7th, the Library of the House has three times requested the parliamentary branch of the Ministry of Defence to put those papers in the House and three times they have been refused. It makes my point for me—that if solicitors are finding it difficult to represent their clients because documentation is not available to solicitors, and if your Department is not willing to place papers in the Library that the Minister has said will be placed in the Library, then I feel that we are entirely justified in pointing out there is a problem. This is a request to you not to suddenly produce them out of a hat but to please look into this because it makes the point about some of the bits of grit that have got into the system somewhere.
  (Mr Hoon) I will.

  Mr Key: Thank you.

Mr Randall

  1132. If I could just return to the motivation, the reasoning behind it—
  (Mr Hoon) We are back to the Ministry of Defence Police?

  1133. The Ministry of Defence Police. Could I just ask you whether you would know who instigated it, whether it was the Ministry itself or the MDP who came to you and said this situation was really not on?
  (Mr Hoon) Mr Legge, here is your chance!
  (Mr Legge) Since I have lived with this for the last four and a half years, the proposals came from the former Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police. As the Secretary of State has said, on the basis of experience of practical operating with the Ministry of Defence Police officers over a period of time, he discovered, the force discovered a number of difficulties. These very limited and specific amendments are designed to overcome those difficulties.

  1134. Over four and a half years ago this instigation came?
  (Mr Hoon) Could I add to that there is also a political, government process in all departments that take ideas of that kind, refines them, looks at whether there are deficiencies and brings forward recommendations, but that would not be unusual in any department.
  (Mr Legge) And quite a lot of the delay, which comes back to an earlier question, was finding a legislative vehicle that we could use to put these amendments before the House. Parliamentary time is very limited, as you know.
  (Mr Comben) If I could add to that just so that the picture is fully appreciated, and I was there in those earliest days and witnessed it, the difficulties that we experienced on the ground, that individual officers experienced on the ground obviously came to the attention of senior officers of the force first in a number of ways, but they then came to the attention of the Police Committee because we report quarterly to the Police Committee on operational matters, on operational successes, but also on operational difficulties. The case that we have mentioned earlier on about the United States' Airforce colonel was presented to the Police Committee in the very earliest days. We had some of it on video and they were shown the video and saw the difficulties and saw the way that the police officer wanted to do something and was prevented because of the restrictions of the jurisdiction, so from the earliest days the MDP Chief Constable and his senior colleagues brought it to the Police Committee and from that moment it went into the departmental and ultimately political chain that brought it here.

  1135. Finally, again to show we are not obsessed with the MDP, a question that has come up is the tri-service aspect and bringing forward a Tri-Service Act within five years. How much priority does the Ministry put on that?
  (Mr Hoon) The Ministry puts a great deal of priority on it, but obviously this is an enormous process in trying to reconcile a long history of three different services with very different cultures and traditions which have produced over very many years different approaches to discipline. We would very much like to be able to bring forward legislation to reconcile those differences and that is a stated aim of the Department in the Strategic Defence Review. It also strikes me as being good common sense. I cannot see any reason in principle why someone in the RAF should be dealt with in discipline terms significantly differently from someone in the Navy or Army. It is important we achieve that, but it first of all will require a good deal of detailed work to get to that stage.

  1136. I appreciate that.
  (Mr Hoon) Secondly, it will require a significant piece of parliamentary legislation to achieve that. It will be one of the more exciting Bills on which you will be able to serve in the future as you deal with a great mass of legal technicalities affecting the different services! Obviously whilst it is a priority for the Department we have to find appropriate legislative time in Parliament in order to bring that forward and, frankly, we take a judgment that it is much better to do that properly rather than rush it through and we recognise there are difficulties in the way.

  1137. I do understand that and thank you for the hint on that one.
  (Mr Hoon) I am sure your Whips' Office could propose you for that.

  1138. What I would ask on that is is it being worked on now in a committed way or is it working to deadlines so that two years before the Quinquennial comes up for a renewal again suddenly there will be a scurry of activity and people will say, "Oh my goodness, the Tri-Service Act, how far have we got?"
  (Mr Hoon) Can you answer that?
  (Mr Legge) No, I am afraid I cannot, I am not involved on that side of things.
  (Mr Hoon) It is being worked on but it is a long process. We are not talking about weeks or months, we are talking about years.

  1139. Five years or less?
  (Mr Hoon) I do not want to give you a deadline because it is subject to trying to find appropriate mechanisms for achieving it, and they are not all that obvious. I made the point lightly that there is no reason in principle why someone from the RAF should be treated differently but there are cultural and practical differences that have to be taken account of, so it is a very time-consuming and difficult process.

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