Select Committee on Defence Third Special Report


1. The Government welcomes the Report of the Committee. Since its publication the changes to MOD Police jurisdiction proposed in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill have been enacted into law. The Government has the following comments on the Report's conclusions and recommendations.

2. (Paragraph 18) The present Bill sets out a narrower and more clearly defined proposal for the MDP to respond to requests for assistance from local forces, 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.

The Government concurs in this conclusion.

3. (Paragraph 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.

The Government concurs in this conclusion.

4. (Paragraph 28) We accept the argument that greater powers for the MDP must be accompanied by greater accountability. We intend to monitor developments to ensure that Ministers' undertakings in this respect are followed through.

Three independent members have recently been added to the MOD Police Committee. Its role and composition are currently being reviewed as part of the on-going Quinquennial Review of the MOD Police Agency.

5. (Paragraph 34) We welcome the assurance that new legislation will be introduced to address the apparently anomalous position of the MDP's relationship with the Police Complaints Authority. We would have preferred the legislation to reform the current complaints procedure to have been in place at the same time as the new powers are conferred on the MDP but, given the urgency to introduce measures to combat terrorism, we do not believe that, at this stage, this should stand in the way of the passage of the provision of the present Bill. However, we would expect the police reform legislation to be brought forward as a matter of priority early in the New Year.

The Police Reform Bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 24th January 2002. Clause 24(3) requires the Secretary of State to ensure that procedures are established and maintained for handling complaints against the MOD Police which are 'corresponding or similar' to those applying under the Bill to Home Department Police Forces. Complaints are currently investigated under regulations which reflect an agreement made with the Police Complaints Authority.

6. (Paragraph 36) We believe that inspections of the MDP by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary should be carried out on a statutory basis and expect to see provisions to this effect in the police reform legislation which the Government has indicated will be introduced in the New Year.

The Police Reform Bill contains provisions to place HMIC Inspection of the MOD Police on a statutory basis.

7. (Paragraph 42) We acknowledge that fears about the consequences of the changed jurisdiction of the MDP exist in some quarters and that they are genuinely held. We are, however, confident that the Bill's provisions do not represent a wholesale expansion of the MDP's powers and that concerns about the creation of a national police force in the sinister sense implied by some commentators are unfounded. In all cases apart from the exercise of their emergency power, MDP officers will be responding to requests from local police forces when they act outside the defence estate. We do not wish to see 'mission creep' whereby MDP officers would be used to cover for tasks which the local force cannot undertake. We believe that the emergency power to intervene is itself adequately circumscribed in that it can only be used in circumstances where it is impossible because of the urgency of the situation to obtain prior approval from the local force before intervening. We have noted the assurance that the MDP will not undertake 'fishing expeditions' in areas for which the local constabulary is responsible, and we shall monitor the way in which they exercise their increased powers.

The future role of the MOD Police is being defined as part of the on-going Quinquennial Review, but the Review has already confirmed that the core role of the Force is to provide specialist police support to the MOD. Use of the new powers will be governed by Protocols to be negotiated with representatives of the Home Department Police Forces. Force Orders to MOD Police re-emphasise that the emergency power may be used only in cases of genuine emergency.

8. (Paragraph 44) We believe that Protocols are fundamental to effective co-operation between the MDP and local police forces. We want to see revised Protocols agreed and published promptly, and certainly within three months of Royal Assent to the Bill.

Proposed revisions to the extant Policing Protocols were issued for comment to interested parties on 16th January 2002. The Government aims to finalise them as soon as agreement is reached.

9. (Paragraph 45) It would seem sensible to have effective common radio communications between the MDP and local police forces in place sooner rather than later and we therefore recommend that additional funding be provided to ensure this is achieved before a further four years have elapsed.

The MOD Police plan to join the BT Airwave network on a rolling basis aligned to its adoption by the Home Department Police Force for the area concerned. Funding is kept under annual review.

10. (Paragraph 49) We regard the MDP's safety record in handling firearms as highly commendable and an achievement of which they can justifiably be proud.

The Government agrees with this conclusion.

11. (Paragraph 53) We welcome the training and guidance which is being provided to MDP officers on the provisions of the Bill and expect the MDP Chief Constable to ensure that appropriate additional training is provided to his officers if it becomes apparent that this is necessary.

The Government accepts this conclusion. Use of the new powers will be carefully monitored and the need for any additional training considered in that light.

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Prepared 14 February 2002