Select Committee on Defence First Report


The Defence Committee has agreed to the following Report:—





We have examined the proposals relating to the Ministry of Defence Police contained in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. We conclude that they are appropriate and sensible. There was a strong case for an extension of the MDP's powers before 11 September but this has been reinforced in the light of the change in the perceived threat from terrorism.

We acknowledge the concerns which have been expressed about the possible adverse effects of extending the MDP's jurisdiction but we are not persuaded that they call into question the case for the proposed measures. We have proposed no amendments to the Clauses in the Bill. However, we expect to see additional legislative changes to improve MDP accountability brought forward as a matter of some urgency as part of the police reform Bill which the Government has undertaken to introduce: wider powers should be accompanied by more robust safeguards.

The detail and practicalities of implementing the measures are as important as the legislation itself. Revised Protocols should be agreed and published as soon after Royal Assent as is realistic and we expect all parties involved to devote the necessary time and effort to ensure this is achieved. The impact on MDP activity of the broadening of their jurisdiction, particularly in relation to emergency powers, should be monitored, which may help to reassure those who have concerns about the expansion of the MDP's powers.[4]

We intend to look, early next year, at the wider picture of the security of the defence estate and military establishments. This will be as a second stage to the work we are currently undertaking on the threat from terrorism. A further examination of the role of the MDP will inevitably form part of that inquiry and will provide an opportunity for a more detailed study of their role and the changes effected by the current legislation.


1. The Government's purpose in bringing forward the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill[5] is 'to strengthen legislation in a number of areas to ensure that the Government, in the light of the new situation arising from the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, have the necessary powers to counter the increased threat to the UK.'[6] The Government has agreed that the Bill is a necessary emergency measure. Its consideration has therefore been compressed: the Second Reading in the Commons was on 19 November; Committee stage was taken on two days: 21 November, and 26 November, with the remaining stages also taken that day. The Bill is now in the House of Lords, where it will have eight days' consideration: Royal Assent is expected on 13 December.

2. Clauses 97, 98, 100 and Schedule 7 of the Bill contain proposals relating to an extension of the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence Police (MDP). They would enable the MDP to assist Home Department and Scottish police forces[7] in a broader range of ways than is possible under their current jurisdiction and would permit the MDP to undertake certain new tasks, specifically linked to anti-terrorism measures.

3. The MDP is a Ministry of Defence (MoD) agency and it falls within our remit to examine such agencies. Similar proposals are made in the Bill in relation to the British Transport Police and the UK Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary: these forces do not fall within our remit. The changes are proposed 'in the light of the threat from terrorism and of the changed deployment patterns of the MDP'.[8] The accelerated timetable for consideration of the Bill presented us with a challenge in finding time properly to examine these Clauses, given our current programme of work, which includes a more comprehensive inquiry into the threat from terrorism. However, we were determined to take evidence, and report our views to the House, as we believe select committees have a key role in scrutinising any important piece of legislation affecting the government department for which they have responsibility. Our colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee and on the Joint Committee on Human Rights have reported their own findings on the Bill but quite properly left detailed examination of the Clauses relevant to the MoD to us.[9] We were able to take evidence from the Ministry of Defence Police and from the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (ACPO) and are grateful to their witnesses for appearing before us at very short notice. Previous Defence Committees have reported on the Ministry of Defence Police[10] and it was our intention during this Parliament to look at the MDP in the broader context of the security of the defence estate. The brief inquiry which we have been able to undertake on the specific provisions of the Bill will help inform a subsequent wider inquiry.

Other issues

4. Part VI of the Anti-Terrorism Bill contains provisions which would strengthen legislation controlling weapons of mass destruction, by making it an offence to aid or abet the use of chemical, nuclear, biological or radiological weapons. Under Part VII, controls on access to pathogens and toxins would be tightened and Part XIII contains further measures relating to the use of noxious substances, including biological agents, toxic chemicals and radioactive material. The Defence Committee clearly has an interest in these issues but we have decided that it would be more appropriate to deal with any issues arising from these proposed new measures as part of our ongoing inquiry into the threat from terrorism.

4  As recommended by the Armed Forces Bill Committee: see HC 154-I, Session 2000-01, op cit, para 39 Back

5  Hereafter referred to as the 'Anti-Terrorism Bill' or 'the Bill' Back

6  Explanatory Notes to the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, paragraph 3 Back

7  Also referred to in this Report as 'local police forces' Back

8  Explanatory Notes, paragraph 237 Back

9  First Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2001-02, The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill 2001, HC 351; Second Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2001-02, Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, HC 372; Fifth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2000-01, Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill: Further Report, HC 420 Back

10  Second Report, Session 1983-84, The Physical Security of Military Installations in the United Kingdom , HC 397-I; Second Report, Session 1984-85, Security at Royal Ordnance Factories and Nuclear Bases, HC 217; Sixth Report, Session 1989-90, Physical Security at Military Installations, HC 171; Eighth Report, Session 1995-96, Ministry of Defence Police and Guarding, HC 189 Back

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Prepared 6 December 2001