RESPONDING TO REQUESTS FROM LOCAL
18. The MDP gave two reasons for the proposal to
replace the present power of MDP constables to act 'in the vicinity'
of defence land with one of responding to requests from local
forces for assistance in a specific investigation or operation.
First, there has always been uncertainty about precisely what
'in the vicinity' means; the Assistant Chief Constable of the
MDP, Mr David Ray, told us
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 carrying out what they think is the reasonable job of fighting
The proposal in the Anti-Terrorism Bill is more precisely
drawn than the one it has replaced in the Armed Forces Bill, which
would have allowed 'standing arrangements at a high level under
which the MDP may take on the performance of agreed policing duties
in areas close to defence land'.
Mr Paul Crowther, Head of the MDP Secretariat, told us that that
proposal in the Armed Forces Bill had 'aroused a good deal of
discussion and soul searching' and the Minister confirmed during
consideration of the current Bill in the House that a decision
had been taken not to pursue the proposal because of expressions
The present Bill sets out a narrower and more clearly defined
proposal, which is much less susceptible to differences of interpretation
than either the present situation or what was proposed in the
Armed Forces Bill. We therefore regard it as an improvement.
19. The changed security environment since 11 September
provides a further and more urgent justification for amending
the MDP's powers in this way. The heightened terrorist threat
and the possibility that suicide attacks might be used mean that,
in the words of the Assistant Chief Constable, 'if a terrorist
reaches the establishment that we are protecting he has probably
succeeded' and therefore the MDP's jurisdiction needs to be capable
of extending out from the bases which they cover.
American military bases in the UK are now regarded as more vulnerable
to terrorist attack than previously. The MDP believe this changed
situation puts an onus on them to respond in a different way and
to be more 'proactive' in the way they carry out their role
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 .. Our activities ... take us further out,
bring us more into the public arena, and dealing with more preparatory
acts of terrorism rather than the actual offences themselves ...
That means we have to be able to act outside the normal MoD property
The MDP are already carrying out joint operations
with local police forces to promote the security of military bases;
examples were given of such activity in North Yorkshire and Suffolk.
These currently rely on specific written agreements between local
forces and the MDP. Mr Ray told us that: 'It is working very well
but we are hampered to the extent that the MDP can participate
by the need for this jurisdiction'.
Representing the Association of Chief Police Officers of England,
Wales and Northern Ireland (ACPO), Mr John Giffard, Chief Constable
of Staffordshire Police and Chairman of ACPO's General Policing
Business Area, told us that his organisation firmly supported
the Bill's proposals in the context of counter-terrorism.
POWER TO INTERVENE IN EMERGENCY SITUATIONS
20. The Bill proposes that MDP officers should have
the full power of a constable to deal with incidents which they
come across outside the defence estate, which can be defined as
emergencies, where there is no time for the MDP constable to request
authority to deal with the incident. At present, MDP officers
only have the power of citizen's arrest to deal with such incidents.
We were told that this creates uncertainty and has the potential
to make officers reluctant to act. Without a firm legal justification,
they may find themselves vulnerable to subsequent legal challenge
in cases where the intervention later proves to have been outside
the rules. Yet there is a public expectation that someone wearing
a police uniform will provide assistance.
The ACPO representative told us 'it is a nonsense' that the MDP,
coming across a road accident outside a military base, currently
have no power to stop traffic to prevent further injury or pursue
the driver if he is running away.
21. The Armed Forces Bill proposed remedying this
by giving officers the power to act where they had reasonable
grounds for believing that an offence involving violence had been
committed and where action was necessary to save life or prevent
In the present Bill, this has been broadened to any offence, not
just one involving violence, and extends the power to an offence
which 'is about to be committed, is being committed or has been
22. The MDP regard the current proposals on emergency
powers as an improvement on the Armed Forces Bill. The previous
proposal's requirement that violence would have to be involved
before MDP officers could act would still have left them in a
difficult position in relation to the public, who may not understand
the distinction of having their wallet stolen with or without
MDP witnesses explained that the current increased threat from
terrorism also meant that the power to act in an emergency needed
to be a broader one: terrorist offences may not necessarily involve
violence or a risk to life in the preparatory stages at which
the MDP would hope to intercept suspects. As the Assistant Chief
The sort of offences that we envisage do not necessarily
involve violence ... For example, just being a terrorist or supporting
terrorism or supplying information to terrorists ... reconnaissance
by terrorist-related people ... who are known to us. If we come
across those people ... we still need to deal with them. Otherwise,
they have a free rein to do all their preparations for terrorist
activity without any intervention from us. More likely than not,
you are going to come across those people very quickly and there
is not much time to seek the authority of a local force.
23. We believe that the powers to intervene in
an emergency situation as drafted in the current Bill are more
sensible and practical than the proposal in the Armed Forces Bill.
The heightened threat from terrorism and the corresponding need
for the MDP to take swift action when dealing with suspected terrorist
activities convinces us that this aspect of the Bill's proposals
is fully justified.
Notes to the Armed Forces Bill 2001, paragraph 107 Back
37 Q 2;
HC Deb, 26 November 2001, c 777 Back
38 Q 2 Back
39 Q 2 Back
40 Q 2 Back
41 Q 81 Back
42 Q 30 Back
43 Q 92 Back
Notes to the Armed Forces Bill, paragraph 110 Back
Notes to the Anti-Terrorism Bill, Crime and Security Bill, paragraph
46 Q 30 Back
47 Q 26 Back