Select Committee on Defence Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Gillian Linscott and Tony Geraghty (22 November 2001)


  Clauses 97 to 100 of the Bill, extending the jurisdiction of MDP over civilians, are on the same lines as the proposals contained in Section IV of the Armed Forces Bill considered at some length by the Committee in the last Parliament. We gave evidence to that Committee, and are grateful for the opportunity to give written evidence to this one.


  There are some welcome improvements in the present proposals, which are probably due to the hard work of the previous Committee, notably the clear statement (in 98. 2A (2)(a)) that MDP officers assisting a Home Office force at the request of its chief officer will be under the direction and control of that chief officer.

  In spite of this, the central problem of the legislation remains:

  The proposals in the Bill will greatly extend the powers of MDP over civilians, without any increase in MDP's accountability to the public.

  This is an even greater problem in the current bill, because of the proposed links with the British Transport Police Force and the Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary. At worst, a situation could develop in which these three forces are all calling each other in aid, effectively forming an armed national police body with insufficient public or parliamentary control or scrutiny.

  The ways in which the proposals would extend MDP authority over civilians were dealt with thoroughly in discussions on Section IV of the Armed Forces Bill and do not need rehearsing in detail here. Members of MDP would be empowered to act in a wide range of civilian circumstances, as individuals (under Section 2 (3A, 3B, 3C and 3D)) or collectively (under 2A (1) (2)).


  In this context, the unique status of MDP cannot be too strongly emphasised.

  It is an agency, with the Chief Constable of the MDP as its head.

  It is not accountable to an elected police authority.

  It was set up to police Ministry of Defence property and personnel.

  The agency operates under the Secretary of State for Defence who has ultimate responsibility for determining the size, policy and resources of the force. These responsibilities are delegated to the Second Permanent Under Secretary of State at the MoD. He is also the owner of the agency. The chief constable has direct access to the Secretary of State for Defence, to whom he is ultimately responsible. The MDP police committee is administered by the Ministry of Defence and chaired by the Second Permanent Under Secretary of State at the MoD (the owner of the agency). It has only three civilian members and those are appointed by the MoD.


  The Defence Committee, in its Special Report on the Armed Forces Bill, (13 March 2001) was concerned about the lack of accountability outside the MoD. It recommended that at least a third of the members of the MDP police committee should be drawn from outside the civil service, the police service or the armed services.

  Even more importantly in our view, the Committee made this recommendation:

    "if the MDP is to come into more frequent contact with the general public, we believe that this should be accompanied by a form of external accountability comparable to the role performed by police authorities and police consultative committees in Home Department police forces." (Paragraph 41.)

  In our view, this is even more necessary in relation to the current Bill. If it is allowed to pass into law without some provision on those lines written into it, civilians will find themselves policed by a force which is not accountable to any elected police authority and only accountable to Parliament through the Secretary of State for Defence. We find it hard to believe that this is a state of affairs which anybody outside the Ministry of Defence would find satisfactory.


  We have serious concerns about the wide extension of MDP powers over civilians contained in the Bill. But if these extended powers are to become law, we believe it is essential that MDP should be made more accountable to the public, on the lines laid down by the Defence Committee in paragraph 41 of the Special Report on the Armed Forces Bill, as quoted above.

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