Select Committee on Defence First Report



5. The Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) was formed in 1971 from the unification of a number of Service constabularies. The MDP are completely separate from the specialist police forces of each of the Armed Forces and fulfil a different role. The force's present role and jurisdiction were defined in the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987: it has formal responsibility for the investigation and prevention of crime on the defence estate in the United Kingdom. The MDP became a Ministry of Defence agency in 1996 and the force is headed by a Chief Constable who is also the chief executive of the agency. All MDP officers are firearms trained and carry firearms more frequently than officers of local forces.

6. The MDP currently has jurisdiction in relation to defence land, property and personnel within the UK and its territorial waters. MDP officers are also able to operate 'in the vicinity of defence land' when requested to by a constable of a local police force. What constitutes 'in the vicinity' has never been specified and has therefore been open to interpretation.

Other defence-related police and guarding services

7. In addition to the MDP, there are a number of policing and security organisations operating in the Service environment—

    (b)  The Ministry of Defence Guard Service (MGS) undertakes a range of unarmed guarding tasks including access control and patrols

    (d)  Armed Forces personnel carry out armed and unarmed guarding and patrol duties within military establishments as part of their normal duties

    (e)  Private security firms are also used on the defence estate.

The changing role of the MDP

8. The table below contains a breakdown of the MDP's complement at January 2001 relative to its strength in 1987.

Complement of the Ministry of Defence Police

  (Figures in brackets show actual strengths)



Jan 2001

Chief Constable

1 (1)

1 (1)

Deputy Chief Constable

1 (1)

1 (1)

Assistant Chief Constable

5 (5)

3 (3)

Chief Superintendent

10 (9)

4 (4)


26 (25)

24 (28)

Chief Inspector

52 (49)

58 (59)


180 (173)

123 (112)


707 (698)

585 (557)


4,019 (3,880)

2,830 (2,678)


5,001 (4,841)

3,629 (3,443)

Source:   Special Report from the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Session 2000-2001, HC 145-II, Ev p 234

By October 2001, the complement had fallen further to 3,437 (and the strength to 3,354); it is planned that it will continue to reduce, to about 3,000 by 2005.[12] The reduction in numbers has occurred as a result of a decision to replace some of the armed guarding posts filled by MDP officers with the new Military Provost Guard Service. The grounds for this decision were that police officers with full constabulary powers were over-qualified for a straightforward guarding role and that using personnel specifically engaged for guarding duties would provide a more appropriate and cheaper option.[13] This reduction has meant that the MDP has had to change from a largely static force to a highly mobile one, which includes area policing teams, each covering a number of MoD establishments, and travelling between them as necessary. The change in deployment patterns is cited as one of the reasons for the changes in the MDP's jurisdiction proposed in the Anti-Terrorism Bill.[14]

9. The way in which the MDP fulfils its role has also changed since the force was established. At the time of the consideration of the Ministry of Defence Police Bill in 1987, the Minister responsible said that—

... Serious crime, like all crime, is the responsibility of the Home Department forces ... The Ministry of Defence police would hand over responsibility for such crimes at once. If the case involved murder, rape or any such thing there would be no question, and the investigation would be handed, straight away, to the Home Department forces, although, conceivably, the MDP may be first on the scene of the crime.[15]

The MoD's view is that these principles remain valid but that the experience and expertise of the MDP has developed since the 1987 Act, leading to a 'shift of emphasis in the handling of cases' in which both the MDP and local police forces have an interest, resulting in the MDP taking responsibility for investigating a greater range of crimes.[16] The Chief Constable of the MDP describes this as an 'evolution' of the MDP's role, in response to the expectation of the people whom the force serves.[17]

10. This evolution has been accompanied by an increasing professionalism. The MDP now has a Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of 167 officers and over 10,000 allegations of crime were investigated in the 1999-2000 reporting year, including 30 cases of rape. The MDP achieved a 38 per cent success rate in solving crimes in that year, which compares favourably with other police forces.[18] ACPO's representative told us that the transfer, since 1992, to the Ministry of Defence Guard Service of much of the basic unarmed guarding duties on the defence estate, which the MDP used to undertake, has contributed to other police forces increasingly coming to regard the MDP as equals.[19] The growing reputation for professionalism which the MDP is developing is further reflected in the deployment, since mid-2000, of around 55 MDP officers to assist the UN International Police in Kosovo with law enforcement, on 12-month tours of duty.[20]

Quinquennial Review of the MDP Agency

11. MoD agencies are required to undergo regular review of how they deliver services. These are expected to take place every five years and are therefore known as quinquennial reviews. The MDP has now been established as an agency for five years and a review is currently under way. As a first stage, the review is assessing:

    (b)  To what extent other organisations could contribute to meeting those requirements

    (c)  If a continuing need for the MDP's services is established, how these should be configured.

The first stage of the review is expected to be completed shortly. If agency status is confirmed by this first stage, the second stage of the review process will then develop detailed proposals for improvements in service delivery by examining such areas as: aims, objectives and outputs; deployment of personnel; relationship with customers, other police forces and others; effective use of technology; cost structures; organisation and management structures; and personnel policies.[21]

11  The MPGS was initially established in 1997, as a two-year pilot scheme with 118 personnel. At the end of the pilot in 1999, the intention was to increase the force to 600, with plans for a further increase to 1,400. The strength in 2001 is however only 329, with a target of 817 by 2005. See HC Deb, 23 June 1999 , c 398w and 1 July 1999, c 469; and Special Report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Session 2000-01, HC 154-II, Ev p 231 Back

12  HC Deb, 22 November 2001, c 380w; HC 154-II, Session 2000-01, op cit, Ev p 231 Back

13  See Eighth Report from the Defence Committee, Session 1995-96, HC 189, op cit, paragraphs 68-83 Back

14  Explanatory Notes to the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, paragraph 237 Back

15  HC Deb, 27 January 1987, c 279 Back

16  See Special Report from the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Session 2000-01, HC 154-II, Ev p 234 Back

17  ibid, Q 725 Back

18  MDP Chief Constable's Annual Report and Accounts 1999-2000, HC 609, Session 1999-2000, p 12 Back

19  Q 99 Back

20  HC Deb, 18 April 2000, c 429w Back

21  MoD Contracts Bulletin, 6 June 2001, p 15 Back

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Prepared 6 December 2001