Examination of witnesses (Questions 1120
WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 2001
MP, MR MICHAEL
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
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
(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 beingand what we are dealing with here is relatively
exceptional powersan 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.
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 futureit
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
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.
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 sayingand
we all know in Kosovo there was great difficulty in NATO countries
supplying the policemen they had undertaken to dothat 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.
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?
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 methat
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.
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
1134. Over four and a half years ago this instigation
(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
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
(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
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.