Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (1-19)




  1. Welcome, gentlemen. We must apologise for the short notice of your invitation or summoning here. As you know, the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Bill is speeding its way through the House of Commons, then the Lords and then no doubt back to the Commons. The purpose of this session is not so much that we are going to have an enormous influence on the course of the debate because if that was the case we have been rather slow off the mark. The main reason for this short examination on the MDP is that the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill when it met had a number of relevant parts of that Bill taken out just before the calling of the general election. It seems therefore right and appropriate for us, having taken an agreement some years ago that this Committee would examine any legislation relating to Ministry of Defence Police or the Ministry of Defence in general, to consider this. What we are going to do is to in a way re-examine some of the principles and content that took five sessions of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill to reach a lack of conclusion on and produce a report shortly on our views relating to the maybe contentious clauses, namely clause 97, jurisdiction of the MoD Police, clause 98, provision of assistance by the MoD Police and clause 100, further provisions. Is there anything you would like to say by way of introduction?

  (Mr Crowther) Thank you. Two very short points to set the scene. The first is that the provisions in this Bill on the MoD Police are part of a wider policy scenario being pursued by ministers to enhance cooperation between the territorial and the national police forces. The provisions of the Bill bring in the British Transport Police and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Constabulary as well. The provisions have to be seen in that context. Secondly, they are not about the MoD Police doing more, about the MoD Police widening its remit; they are about doing its existing remit better, on a more secure legal foundation. That is the background to what we are talking about today.

  Chairman: The MoD Police have been more examined than any police force in the country. I was saying to my colleagues earlier I have almost a complete filing cabinet full of reports. The Defence Committee has done about four; this will be the fifth and we will be looking at policing and security within the Ministry of Defence possibly next session so the ordeal is not over. When people argue that the MoD Police are operating behind closed doors, I would ask them to go through all of our select committee reports from 1983 onwards to indicate that you have been very heavily scrutinised and that is likely to continue. I would like to ask Rachel Squire, who chaired the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill and who is therefore quite knowledgeable, having been exposed to all the arguments for and against, if she will start the general introduction to our inquiry.

Rachel Squire

  2. Indeed I did have the opportunity and experience of being a member of the Armed Forces Bill Committee and being present at the extensive discussions we had on the extension of the Ministry of Defence Police which as we know the Committee did eventually consider was justified but with certain caveats in terms of accountability, protocols and other areas. I have to say to Mr Crowther I am not sure I would entirely agree with your statement just now that the extension of jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence Police that is contained in the Anti-terrorist Bill does not involve them doing any more than they currently do; nor doing any more than their existing remit contains. Do you agree that the Anti-terrorist Bill, if anything, extends the proposed jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence Police further than the Armed Forces Bill did and do you consider or would you say what changes have occurred since that detailed consideration earlier in the year, particularly in the light of 11 September, which justifies the extension of jurisdiction that the Anti-terrorist Bill proposed? Why are the new powers that it proposes to give to the Ministry of Defence Police and others not strictly confined to potential terrorist activities?
  (Mr Crowther) The powers sought in the present legislation are in some respects wider and in some respects narrower than those which were in the Armed Forces Bill. Principally, they are narrower in the sense that this legislation does not seek the power to make standing agreements in land adjacent to defence installations. This was an area of the proposals on the Armed Forces Bill that aroused a good deal of discussion and soul searching. We decided not to pursue that, believing that the same ends can be achieved in different ways. It does go further than the proposals in the Armed Forces Bill in the sense that the emergency power is somewhat widened, so there are pluses and minuses.
  (Mr Ray) Since the tragic and terrible events of 11 September, there has been a general increase in the threat from terrorism. We can all understand that. It is now much wider but also much more unpredictable in nature than it was before. Prior to this, in discussions even before the Armed Forces Bill, we were aware of some gaps in our powers for dealing with such offences and some uncertainties. The Armed Forces Bill looked to correct these. Now, it has become even more apparent with this uncertain and heightened threat that we do need to focus down on the few areas where, in particular, we do need to have a clear power of jurisdiction to deal with terrorist offences. One of the effects is that terrorism is now an international threat, perhaps more than it was before when previously it was perhaps more focused on Irish Republican terrorism. The other factor is that American bases are now far more vulnerable in this country than they were before that date, bearing in mind that we do cover American bases which are on MoD property in this country. We have had to look at the range of powers we have. We also have to look at dealing with a rather unconventional form of terrorism. Firstly, we saw the suicide attacks. Secondly, we heard of a real risk of biochemical terrorism. The one thing we have to consider now is that if a terrorist reaches the establishment that we are protecting he has probably succeeded. Where previously there was a view that we could defend it from the wire and from the gate with some surveillance outside of preparatory approach, now we have to think that a terrorist might launch an unprovoked, unwarned attack, without notice, from an area some way off the base itself. I will give an example of a petrol tanker hijacked, a similar scenario to the airliner. If it reaches the base, we have lost the war because they have hit us. We now have to take our activities to counter terrorist measures further out than we have before. This takes us into the realms of Home Office policing areas and clearly it requires a lot more joint working with Home Office forces. This we are already achieving in a number of areas. For example, in North Yorkshire and Suffolk, around American bases. Our activities therefore take us further out, bring us more into the public arena and dealing more with preparatory acts of terrorism rather than the actual offences themselves. We have to look at what we call base plate patrols, the footprint from where someone could launch a mortar, and, within that area, start looking for suspects and suspect behaviour and activity and be more proactive in the measures we take. For example, we now have to look at offences, not necessarily full terrorism offences where there is clear violence like possessing explosives, but the sort of preparatory behaviour like the stolen car containing suspects with stolen documents, stolen passports, using our intelligence—and we are very much intelligence led—to identify known or suspected terrorists further out. If we see them in the vicinity, even carrying out surveillance and reconnaissance activity, we need to be able to deal with that. The Terrorism Act allows us to do that but only if we have jurisdiction. That means we have to be able to act outside the normal MoD property and currently we are doing some joint operations with the two forces I mentioned, under written protocols and full agreements. It is working very well but we are hampered to the extent that the MDP can participate by the need for this jurisdiction.


  3. That is a very helpful set of introductions. In terms of distance, to what extent have you been hampered by your limitations in distances you can operate from without transgressing any protocols with the Home Department police forces?
  (Mr Ray) First was the uncertainty about "in the vicinity". What did that actually mean in the old legislation and that is why we have agreed that it should be dropped. It is too vague and imprecise and that uncertainty leads to hesitation perhaps at a time when officers are required to take immediate decisions. It also exposes them to some vulnerability because if they have got it wrong they could be liable in law for simply carrying out what they think is the reasonable job of fighting terrorism. Those are the two areas where we want it to be more precise and concise in the powers we have. The effect is, working with the Home Office forces, perhaps because of the situation, an even closer working relationship has been established.

  4. I was thinking of the kind of attack that the IRA mounted in Heathrow Airport ten years ago from a hotel car park outside the perimeter. In terms of missile technology, how far do you think you would need to go outside your appointed area in order to minimise the risk of some form of missile attack?
  (Mr Ray) We have made some inquiries, as has North Yorkshire, because when we were drawing up our protocol with North Yorkshire they wanted to know how far the area should extend. Their advice from experts is that the modern RPG, rocket propelled grenade, technology could take you out as far as five or even seven kilometres. People coming towards their base plate could take it even further, so it could extend considerably further than we have in the past. Having said that, we tend to work outwards anyway because the greater priority is the nearer you get to the premises.

Mr Jones

  5. Can I pursue this point about what has changed since 11 September and how wide this area extends? You give the example of a petrol tanker running into a US military base. Say, for example, in North Yorkshire, Fylingdale, how wide would you consider your area of responsibility would go—right up to Jarrow in Tyneside where that tanker started off from its Shell oil terminal? Where does your area of responsibility extend its limit to?
  (Mr Ray) It really only extends as far as we are likely to come into physical terrorist activity. For the preparatory stage of getting the tanker we would use intelligence and support from other forces, various special branches with whom we have a good exchange. We would not go that far. It is simply where is the real, physical threat to the base we are protecting.

  6. Let us say it starts from the Shell oil terminal in Jarrow and gets hijacked just outside Jarrow on the bypass and is heading for Fylingdale. Does it not mean that your responsibility has to go right up to the gates of that oil terminal?
  (Mr Ray) I think we would rather leave that to the force in the area in which it is.

  7. Is it not very blurred then where your responsibility is going to be, whether it is a mile or two miles away from the gates of the MoD or US facility?
  (Mr Ray) That is why we have looked for legislation that enables us with the local force to define a request on a specific operation which will give us clear indication, according to the information and the operation we are dealing with, as to exactly what parameters will be set.

  8. You said you have good joint working with local forces. Is that falling down in some way? Is that one of the reasons why you need these new powers?
  (Mr Ray) There is no breakdown at all. The relationship is cemented strongly.

  9. Why do you need these new powers then?
  (Mr Ray) For us to do our deterrent activity and our detection activity within that force area, in conjunction with that force.

Rachel Squire

  10. I would be interested to know what consultations took place with representatives of the Ministry of Defence Police prior to the drafting and presentation of this Bill to the House. It seems to me that you accept, as we accept, that the lines of suspicious civilian activity and suspicious potential terrorist activity have become even more blurred since 11 September, which in effect seems to be the kind of operational activity you are describing almost makes you an addition to the local police force. If somebody is seen with a set of binoculars, for instance, apparently looking in the direction of a defence establishment, off your previous territory, what you seem to be suggesting and what we all recognise to an extent is that terrorists do not go round with a label hanging round their neck. They go round as apparently peaceful members of the local community, often for many months, before they act. You seem to be suggesting that you will be extending your jurisdiction to be able to apprehend apparent civilians off MoD territory as well.
  (Mr Ray) Let me refute that straight away. That is not our intention at all. We are specifically focusing at real terrorist threat, very much intelligence led. Someone with a pair of binoculars does not qualify, in my book, as a terrorist, unless we have already had intelligence to say that person is known to be involved in terrorist activity. Although we need the ability to go there, it does not mean we are going to do it all the time. It is that ability—intelligence, for example, and heightened risk that we are looking for, not an overall wider extension of our operation.

  Rachel Squire: I was originally asking about the consultation that took place with you prior to the Bill being presented to the House on this whole area of extension of jurisdiction.

  Chairman: When important parts of the Bill were deleted, what was then the feeling? "Oh God, we have to go through all this again?" How quickly were meetings called? What process was undertaken up to this point of reintroducing the clauses, if not in entirety, substantially?

Rachel Squire

  11. Were there discussions prior to 11 September and have these taken place subsequently?
  (Mr Crowther) Both. As Members of the Committee will recall, there was a very widespread consultation on the Ministry of Defence Police provisions that were in the Armed Forces Bill and these are quite similar to those. There are areas of consultation we did not feel we needed to go through again, especially bearing in mind the considerable haste with which the proposals had to be formulated. Since then, we have had a most fruitful consultation with representatives of the Home Office and with the Department of Transport in relation to the British Transport Police. The Association of Chief Police Officers, ACPO, has been consulted and also Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary are represented on our Police Committee.

  12. Can I ask Mr Ray about training which was an issue which was discussed during the Armed Forces Bill? Do you consider that the Ministry of Defence Police have currently sufficient training in the skills required to deal directly with potential terrorism and the terrorist threat? Do they need to have any specialist skills in the area and are you planning any additional training to meet the new demands that would be placed on you if this Bill is passed as it is?
  (Mr Ray) We are already involved in dealing with terrorism and therefore we have developed a number of skills and specialisms in dealing with that exact problem. There is a great deal of experience already within the force. Our core activity is focused at counter terrorist security patrolling and policing. If I can give an example of experiences and my own personal experience, I have only recently come from the Metropolitan Police where I was for 34 years. While I was there I dealt with a number of incidents personally. I am the representative of our new chief officer team who are nearly all from outside the MDP. I was in charge of security at Heathrow Airport. I dealt with the terminal two terrorist bomb incident. I dealt with the Libyan Embassy siege as one of the senior police negotiators. That was the same week as the terrorist bomb. With the motorway bomb campaign from the IRA, I was the personal coordinator of the national response to deal with that and I was active in setting up the national coordination cell to coordinate police activities. I participated in numerous counter terrorist exercises, both as an officer, an umpire and even as a terrorist, so I am able to see the other side of the coin. We do have a lot of expertise in this field and therefore the training as well. We have a great deal of specialism skills as well which are often called upon from other forces. We have a rope access team who can deal with people who are chaining or locking themselves either together but, more particularly, in places of difficult access, where they present a danger not only to the community but to themselves as well. We have a specially trained, accredited team who can deal with this and have dealt with a number of incidents very safely. They have actually been thanked by the people they were dealing with. We also have a number of people in key roles. The National Anti-terrorist Advisory Team is run by an officer from our force. The National Terrorist Crime Prevention Unit, which gives advice to Home Office forces on counter terrorist measures, has one of our sergeants on it. We have a number of officers seconded in the anti-terrorist branch and the national intelligence unit at Scotland Yard, dealing with terrorism. We have a number of people trained in specialist search, who deal with terrorism. We have probably the second highest number of officers trained in dealing with chemical, biological, nuclear and radiation threats. We have a great deal of experience. We have some specialist skills. That training is ongoing. We have even had experience of live examples. There was the Mill Hill Barracks bomb and the mortar at Downing Street. Our officers were on the scene at those as well. We have been deployed for real as well. The chief constable is a member of the ACPO Anti-terrorist Committee. I think I can show that we are fully versed in counter terrorist measures and counter terrorist activity. Our training is thorough, to a high standard and that is reflected in the views expressed by other forces who come to us for some of that training. Finally, we have a plan for training on the awareness of our officers on the likely effects of this Bill if it is passed and that is most important. That is already in hand. A working group is developing policy guidelines and procedures, training packages and awareness packages, that will make sure that all our officers, our stakeholders and partners are fully aware of what our powers might be and how we will be exercising them. We are concerned to be able to manage those powers because we do not want uncontrolled, unlimited use of those powers by officers. We want to make sure they are focused on the very purpose for which we seek them.


  13. Does the training extend to the MoD Guard Service, for which you are responsible in training?
  (Mr Ray) We have the responsibility for their training and some of that is obviously counter terrorist in the sense that they are stopping and searching people coming in. The awareness training that we are developing will include the Guard Service.

Mr Jones

  14. You mentioned the change since 11 September. Is it not the fact that this legislation is being used to try to get in powers that were deleted from the last Bill? Would it not have been better to have a specific Bill covering the extension of these powers that I personally think are needed, rather than to tag it on to a piece of emergency legislation like this?
  (Mr Ray) The Bill is an opportunity for us to get the powers we need to deal with terrorism. Much of those powers is contained in the extension that we are looking for. That is why it is very appropriate for us to seek those particular powers that were in the Armed Forces Bill but are directed towards our fight against terrorism and dealing with suspect terrorism.

  15. It is taken off the shelf from the previous Bill?
  (Mr Ray) The previous Bill laid the guidelines and we were aware of all the consultation, discussion and debate that went through. Having had that fully aired, we felt it was appropriate to continue along that path.

  16. If we are going to do it properly, would it not have been better to have more interface with the general public rather than military personnel, rather than tacking it on to what is emergency legislation being rushed through the Commons and Lords quite quickly?
  (Mr Ray) I am quite content that this is focused on terrorism and therefore it is quite appropriate to have it there. There is other legislation being drafted which is going to deal with some of the other issues in the Armed Forces Bill about inspection of the force and dealing with complaints and discipline, which will be contained in that Bill. That deals with the accountability of the force and I think it is very appropriate that the two Bills together combine to create the effect of what was originally in the previous Bill.

Mr Howarth

  17. Mr Ray, you have made a very strong case that you and your men are well equipped to deal with terrorism but if this Bill goes through you will recognise that it confers upon your men powers to deal with the public. I wonder if you could tell us whether you think that your people are well qualified and well trained to deal with the public, bearing in mind that the select committee in its report said, "Our concern centres on the range of experience of MDP officers, particularly in dealing with the general public. The MDP deal with a more restricted public in a more restricted number of situations."; and bearing in mind you will have power to set up cordons that will bring you directly into contact with the public who are perhaps less amenable to taking orders than service personnel?
  (Mr Crowther) There are several points to be made here. The first is that the initial training of MoD police officers is substantially the same as that of our Home Department police officers and their continuation training during their career is very like. On the training side, there is a complete match. As to experience, plainly the experience of MoD police officers is somewhat different from that of Home Department officers, but I would expect that they would all have some experience of dealing with the public because, to be frank, there are cheaper ways of guarding military establishments than employing MoD police officers if contact with the public is unlikely.

  18. I think we accept that the training is very similar. That is what the select committee concluded but I wonder how far Mr Ray, with all his experience in the Metropolitan Police, where he understands the sensitivities about dealing with the public and now having experience of dealing with MoD police officers, thinks that they are aware of the sensitivity and practise that kind of sensitivity? They are dealing with a very different type of personality than the range of personalities in the general public.
  (Mr Ray) If we were just talking about service personnel, I think I would agree with you but part of the changing environment of MoD establishments is greater contractualisation, more civilian employees, more contractors working on the estate, who come from outside. They are just members of the public who happen to have a contract with the MoD. We are policing that sort of community on a daily basis. We also already police public events like the Farnborough Air Show, like the DSEI (Defence Systems Exhibition International) Exhibition, where we are working with the public. We police the garrison areas of Colchester, Bicester, Salisbury Plain, Aldershot, Catterick. We police the whole area to which the public have free access. It is difficult to know who are police, who are public and who are MoD personnel.

  19. As Member of Parliament for Aldershot, I know when the police are doing their speed checks that they are not your boys. It is the other lot who are causing the public great distress.
  (Mr Ray) I will look carefully at the amount of traffic enforcement they are doing. I take the point. We have now already trespassers on MoD land either innocently on Salisbury Plain or not so innocently in places like Aldermaston and Faslane. We deal with these on a regular basis and we have very little difficulty with that and very few complaints—in fact we are complimented on the way we deal with them. Our officers, if anything, are more thorough, more exact and courteous when they deal with the public than with some others.

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