Select Committee on Defence First Report


46. Unlike local police forces, all uniformed MDP officers are firearms trained and weapons are more routinely carried by MDP officers than by other forces. The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) voiced some concerns at the time of the Armed Forces Bill about the implications of the carrying of firearms if the MDP was to have more direct involvement with the general public. They said then—

... what we jealously guard in Scotland, and I am sure our English and Welsh colleagues do, is the fact that we do not routinely arm our police officers. What we do not want is a situation whereby Ministry of Defence Police officers, who I have already said to all intents and purposes are police officers in the public eye, are seen to be routinely armed and coming out of bases with arms on show to the public ... The overriding principle must be that members of the public and indeed other police officers will not be at risk by the armed intervention of MDP officers.[96]

None of the proposals in the Armed Forces Bill would have altered the arrangements for carrying firearms, and the Select Committee were satisfied that the arrangements worked effectively. They did, however, point to differences in the detail of the Scottish Protocol compared with that for Home Department forces[97] and recommended that the revised Protocols should address the matter of firearms 'specifically and in detail'.[98] The Anti-Terrorism Bill provisions do not directly affect the MDP's use of firearms but, given the likely increased contact with the general public, we were equally concerned to explore the implications with witnesses.

47. The Assistant Chief Constable of the MDP assured us that the force regards the possession of firearms as a serious matter and that its firearms training is rigorous and regular. The amount of training provided depends on the operational requirement : there is a week's course for basic training in handguns; for those officers who need to use rifles, a further two weeks' training is given, with requalification required every three or four months. All officers receive monthly handling and safety training.[99] As regards the transport of firearms, we were told that the MDP never carries firearms in public areas without the prior written agreement of the local police force; the only exception is when MDP officers escort sensitive convoys, when there are well-established procedures for liaising with other forces. If firearms are transported between MDP bases, the weapons and ammunition are carried in separate vehicles, in locked boxes.[100]

48. The ACPO representative was satisfied with the procedures in place to ensure local police forces were aware of and content with the MDP's use and transportation of firearms. He told us—

I am completely convinced that when they move between the sites the ammunition is in a separate vehicle from the weapon ... They travel separately.[101]

And on MDP firearms training, ACPO are—

... sufficiently confident in their firearms instructors that one of them sits as part of our firearms training and advisory group, and at more senior level [the MDP Chief Constable] sits on ACPO's Terrorism Committee.

The MDP has also assisted in the re-writing of the ACPO firearms manual.[102]

49. The effectiveness of the MDP's firearms training and procedures is demonstrated by their safety record. The MDP have had 1.4 million loads and unloads of weapons in the past year without a single negligent discharge:[103] we regard this as highly commendable and an achievement of which the MDP can justifiably be proud.

96  HC 154-I, Session 2000-01, op cit, paragraph 47 Back

97  Home Office circular 17/1999 states: 'The Chief Constable of the MDP will give advance notification to the local Chief Constable whenever it is intended that MDP officers are to be engaged in armed duty on public roads' (paragraph 7). Scottish Police circular 14/1999 states: 'The MDP are legally entitled to possess firearms in the course of their duties. However, where it is necessary for those duties to extend beyond MoD property, the Chief Constable of the MDP will discuss in advance with the local Chief Constable the circumstances of those duties, and the arrangements for deployment, security, method of carriage and rules of engagement in respect of those firearms' (paragraph 7). See also Ev p 26 Back

98  HC 154-I, Session 2000-01, op cit, paragraph 49 Back

99  QQ 58, 66 Back

100  QQ 59, 65 Back

101  Q 103 Back

102  QQ 99, 103 Back

103  QQ 58, 70-73 Back

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Prepared 6 December 2001