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Ministry of Defence Police (Conduct) Regulations 2009

Volume 714: debated on Monday 9 November 2009

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Ministry of Defence Police (Conduct) Regulations 2009.

Relevant Document: 22nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, in moving the Ministry of Defence Police (Conduct) Regulations 2009, I shall also speak to the Ministry of Defence Police Appeals Tribunals Regulations 2009. These are defence regulations, and it would be wrong of me to say anything about the Armed Forces, especially this week and after Remembrance Sunday, without paying tribute to those who have died in recent operations and to their families and friends. We will, of course, pay tribute in the Chamber to individuals at a suitable point.

The Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987, as amended by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, contains powers for the Secretary of State for Defence to make regulations on disciplinary matters, including the conduct of members of the Ministry of Defence Police. There are currently some 3,500 Ministry of Defence Police officers throughout the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State for Defence has the option of deploying them to any location owned or run by the MoD to maintain the safety and security of Armed Forces civilian personnel and the public.

In recent years, the role of the Ministry of Defence Police has evolved significantly and continues to do so. The force is operating in increasingly challenging and sophisticated roles that go beyond the demands of day-to-day policing in the wider community. Examples include: marine policing; firearms duty, including specialist duties using special weapons and tactics; operating with CBRN protective equipment; dealing with public disorder; and officers working overseas in Afghanistan. MoD police officers possess the full range of constabulary powers and the skills to interact with personnel and the general public: with a view to protecting life and property, maintaining the peace, detecting and preventing crime, and prosecuting offenders. They can work both inside and outside defence establishments.

Today, in an effort to improve further the arrangements for dealing with the misconduct of MDP officers, we are seeking to introduce two statutory instruments that will bring the MoD Police into line with their colleagues in Home Department police forces in issues of conduct and appeals. The Home Office regulations have been in place for almost a year and continue to enjoy the full support of all major stakeholders, including the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales and the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

In response to the recommendations of the Taylor review, the two statutory instruments establish a new set of procedures that govern police disciplinary matters. The Ministry of Defence Police (Conduct) Regulations 2009 establish procedures for taking action against the misconduct of police officers. The Ministry of Defence Police Appeals Tribunals Regulations 2009 provide for appeals to a police appeals tribunal against the findings and specific outcomes of the MDP conduct regulations.

The Ministry of Defence Police is a national police force. It is therefore our policy that all members of the force—whether in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland—operate under the same conduct regulations, policies and procedures wherever they serve in the United Kingdom. We have therefore kept in close contact with the devolved authorities, the Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, and informed them all of our legislative proposals on the new MDP conduct procedures and of our intention to enter into agreements with the respective ombudsmen to extend their jurisdiction over MDP officers in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as outlined in the new regulations.

It may be helpful if I set out the background to the regulations. The Taylor Review of Police Disciplinary Arrangements was a review conducted by William Taylor, CBE, OBE, QPM, a former Commissioner of the City of London Police, a former HM Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland and also a former police adviser to the MoD Police Committee. The programme board that guided and informed the Taylor review consisted of the main police stakeholders and other invited organisations—the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Police Federation of England and Wales, the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales, the Chief Police Officers Association, the National Black Police Association, representatives of the Special Constabulary, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, UNISON, Liberty and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. The MoD was also involved in the consultative process.

The Taylor report made 19 recommendations, some of which I shall highlight. They include: police officers disciplinary arrangements are most appropriately determined by Parliament after extensive consultation; a new single code should be produced to be a touchstone for individual behaviours and a clear indication of organisation and peer expectations; although regulated by Parliament, the new procedures should be based on the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service’s code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures; conduct issues should be separated into two distinct groups—misconduct and gross misconduct—to promote proportional handling, clarify the available outcomes and provide a better understanding of the policing environment; and the police service must manage the disciplinary arrangements dynamically to drive through the changes to the internal culture of the organisation and promote the acceptance of responsibility at all levels. The recommendations were accepted by the programme board and the Home Office Minister. That led to the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales being asked to take forward the process for implementation.

I have a few points to emphasise about the Ministry of Defence Police (Conduct) Regulations 2009. First, the Taylor review found that the current system of dealing with police misconduct can be slow and disproportionate. It gives little or no encouragement to managers to deal swiftly and proportionately with low-level misconduct matters. Discipline hearings were seen as being more akin to criminal court hearings and even low-level misconduct matters were decided by a three-person panel of senior officers.

The new system will ensure that police managers are given the responsibility and ability to deal with misconduct fairly and proportionately at local level. Timescales are also built into the process to ensure time limits on all misconduct and gross misconduct cases. An independent member appointed by the MoD Police Committee will also sit on misconduct hearing panels to bring a public perspective to holding MDP officers to account. The Taylor report recommended a new single code, which should be the touchstone for individual behaviour, and a clear indication of organisational and peer expectation. The Home Office together with other stakeholders produced the new standard of professional behaviour for Home Department police officers that form part of their conduct regulations. These standards set out clear expectations of the behaviour that the public and colleagues expect of all police officers. The same standards will therefore form part of the Ministry of Defence Police (Conduct) Regulations and replace the existing MDP code of conduct.

The Taylor review also proposed that the new misconduct procedures should be based on the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service principles which will modernise the system and make it easier for individual officers and the police service generally to learn lessons and improve their service to the public. One of the key points to emerge was the need to shift the emphasis and culture in police misconduct from blame and punishment towards a focus on development and improvement. The review also stressed the importance of carrying out a full assessment of the alleged misconduct at an early stage with a view to implementing a proportionate response. The new procedures have incorporated the requirement for this objective assessment to take place at an early stage.

A further recommendation by William Taylor was that the procedures for dealing with the unsatisfactory performance of a police officer should be reviewed. While new regulations on performance were therefore introduced for Home Department police forces on 1 December 2008, there are no equivalent regulations for the MDP. Instead, MoD Police officers will continue to fall under existing MoD restoring efficiency procedures in any case in which a police officer’s performance or attendance falls short of the required standard.

The Ministry of Defence Appeals Tribunals Regulations 2009 provide for appeals against findings or certain outcomes relating to cases considered under the new conduct regulations. Appeals should be dealt with in a timely and proportionate manner, so timescales are built into the new regulations to ensure that this is the case. The police appeals tribunal chair will have the power to dismiss appeals at an early stage where there is no real prospect of success and no other compelling reason for the appeal to proceed.

The tribunal will have the power to overturn the findings of the original panel that considered the conduct case and to amend the sanction imposed. The composition of police appeals tribunals differs according to whether the officer is senior or non-senior and whether the officer serves in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. The police appeals tribunal is a three-person panel for senior officers and a four-person panel for non-senior officers. For senior and non-senior officers serving in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, the chair is selected through the Judicial Appointments Commission and must have five years’ legal standing. For officers serving in Scotland, the chair is selected from a list that is nominated by the Lord President of the Court of Session. The chair has the casting vote and there is no appeal against the decision of the tribunal or of the chair; the only challenge is through a judicial review.

Our proposals for the Ministry of Defence Police enable the force to follow in the footsteps of its Home Department police force colleagues in implementing the new conduct and appeals regulations. The new procedures provide a fair, open and proportionate method for dealing with alleged misconduct, and will hold MoD Police officers to account appropriately and in the same manner as their colleagues from other police forces throughout England and Wales. This will create a conduct environment for police officers that more closely reflects civilian employment practice. The regulations are intended to encourage a culture of personal responsibility among police officers and of learning and development for both individuals and the organisation.

It remains the case that, where circumstances require, there must be appropriate sanctions for misconduct. However, we must also ensure that improvement is an integral part of any outcome. Even when the individual is dismissed, there are learning opportunities for the force. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining these statutory instruments in great detail. We on these Benches share his tribute to members of the Armed Forces who have been killed and to their families, and his view that the main tribute should be paid on the Floor of the House.

These new regulations are uncontroversial, and I have just three short questions for the Minister. First, what distinct conclusions and recommendations resulted from the MoD’s consultation with the Defence Police Federation and the Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association? The Minister may have covered the second question in his opening speech, but I will ask it anyway in case he wants to add to his original point. What strategy have the Government devised to ensure that the new regulations are understood and are being fairly and consistently applied? Finally, how much do the Government envisage spending on retraining their officers in the light of these new regulations?

My Lords, first, I enjoin these Benches and my party in the earlier tribute to our Armed Forces. Twenty-five years ago, I had ministerial responsibility for the Ministry of Defence Police and came to form a very high regard for it. I have particular sympathy with the conditions in which the officers have to work at many MoD facilities, bases and sites. I remember working very hard to try to get adequate winter clothing for the MoD police who were guarding the cruise missile site at Greenham. Despite the size of the MoD budget at that stage, I had the greatest difficulty in managing to get resources for adequate clothing, and I hope that they have it today.

In more recent years, on a golfing trip to Loch Lomond, I met one of the former officials of the MoD Police, who seemed very pleased to see me. He is in charge of the locker room at Loch Lomond and he gave my golf shoes an extra clean. I do not know whether I need to refer that to the Register of Members’ Interests, but I happily declare it to the Committee.

In a rather more serious vein, we, too, have no fundamental queries with regard to the use of the regulations, but I should like to ask the Minister three specific questions. First, given that the related Home Office orders—the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008, the Police (Performance) Regulations 2008 and the Police Appeals Tribunals Rules 2008—all came into force on 1 December 2008, why has it taken the MoD effectively a whole year to bring these orders into force, in November 2009?

Secondly, the Explanatory Memorandum talks of the orders being monitored and reviewed and says that the Ministry of Defence Police Committee will provide a quarterly external review and offer advice and guidance where necessary. That is welcome, but can the Minister confirm under what mechanism reviews and guidance will be made available to parliamentarians? Will copies be placed in the House of Lords Library or will they be restricted to being online on the MoD website? Linked to that, can the Minister give me an indication of the make-up or composition of the Ministry of Defence Police Committee? Thirdly, what discussions have there been between the MoD and the Home Office in devising these regulations? Specifically, has the MoD monitored and incorporated issues that have arisen out of the Home Office orders in the past 10 months, or are these regulations simply a like-for-like duplication of the Home Office orders?

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords. I turn, first, to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Astor. Consultation took place with the Defence Police Federation and the Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association. No specific issues of concern were raised and they were broadly supportive of the new procedures and the new standards of professional behaviour.

I turn to the strategy for bringing the procedures into effect. I can specifically respond on the matter of training, and I think and hope that this will be a full enough answer. As part of the implementation programme, a comprehensive package of training has been developed and delivered, based on Home Office police training. All ranks of chief inspector and above have received or will receive a mandatory two-day hearing or meetings course delivered by an external approved training provider. The cost is in the region of £50,000, although clearly the full cost will be greater when the time of the staff attending the courses is taken into account. Improvements from the procedures will pay back very rapidly in terms of efficiency. Constables, sergeants and inspectors will receive mandatory awareness training via the MoD Police e-learning package, which is based on the Home Office police model developed by the National Policing Improvement Agency. In addition, the force has implemented a comprehensive awareness package of posters, leaflets, articles in magazines, presentations and monthly bulletins.

The MoD Police regulations needed to be drafted separately. They are under separate primary legislation and require a further additional consultation process with the Defence Police Federation and the Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association. The devolved authorities and others in Scotland had to be consulted. Copies of the guidance and, I believe, the outcome of any review—I will write to the noble Lord if that is not accurate—will be placed in the Library of the House.

I was asked: who is on the MoD Police Committee? This committee was established under the Ministry of Defence Police Act. It is appointed to deal with the governance of the Ministry of Defence Police. It consists of one independent chair, three independent members, two police advisers and two senior MoD officials. Its role is to provide assurance to the Secretary of State for Defence on the Ministry of Defence Police and the use of constabulary powers, and confirm that they meet the standards required for a police force. The police committee formally meets quarterly.

There were continued discussions with the Home Office. The MoD has maintained a dialogue with Home Office officials in preparation of the regulations and procedures, and since the police conduct and appeals regulations were implemented. We understand that the Police Advisory Board sub-committee, which is responsible for overseeing the reforms, is pleased with the progress and there is every indication of their success. We are informed that there is still a requirement for cultural changes, as would be anticipated at this stage. There are also indications of signification savings being accrued. Like the Home Office, we also intend to keep the regulations under review. Any changes will be subject to further regulations being laid in Parliament.

Motion agreed.