With this it will be convenient to consider that schedule 4 be the Fourth schedule to the Bill.
The service police are members of the armed forces who perform for the armed forces, wherever they are in the world, broadly the same role as their civilian counterparts in police forces across the UK. The recent service justice system review recommended that the MOD set up an independent complaints system to deal with complaints against the service police.
Each of the provost-marshals operates complaints procedures, but there is no legal requirement to do so. Currently, only MOD policy requires that, which leaves those who are unhappy about the actions of the service police without a legal right for their complaint to be dealt with. It also means that there is no one independent of the service police who can investigate serious complaints about them.
The clause therefore amends the Armed Forces Act 2006 to create a new regime for complaints against the service police and related matters. It does so by establishing the service police complaints commissioner and enabling the creation of a regime for complaints, conduct matters, and death or serious injury matters, which is modelled on the regime for the civilian police in England and Wales. That regime is overseen by the director-general of the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
The clause also contains provisions in relation to recent changes to the England and Wales regime that allow for super-complaints and whistleblowing to be made. Those will enable us to replicate the civilian regime here, too. [Interruption.] Sorry, Chair, would you mind putting yourself on mute? I keep thinking someone is trying to intervene, and I do want to let people intervene.
The new independent service police complaints commissioner will oversee the new complaints regime, and in particular will carry out investigations into the most serious allegations against the service police. The commissioner will also have overall responsibility for securing the maintenance of suitable arrangements for making complaints and dealing with other serious matters. The creation of that new oversight regime brings the service police into line with their civilian counterparts.
In making its recommendation, the service justice system review did not set out what the new regime should look like. However, it did suggest some areas for consideration. First, the service justice system review considered who would be able to make a complaint and when. It proposed that people who are able to make a complaint should include all those subject to the Armed Forces Act and all those who have been subject to that Act. Under the new regime, anyone will be able to make a complaint so long as they have been adversely affected by the matter complained of.
With regards to time limits, the service justice review suggested that the MOD should consider a time limit to be set on bringing complaints. The new regime will aim to replicate the civilian one wherever possible, and so there will be no time limit for complaints that occur after the SPCC is established. For historical matters, which will apply to incidents that may happen today, in addition to something that may have occurred in the 1970s, for example, we will look at the Police Reform Act 2002 model, but need to give greater consideration as to how that will work. Parliament will have an opportunity to scrutinise that in detail when we bring forward regulations under new section 340P of the Armed Forces Act, which is proposed in this clause.
Finally, the service justice system review suggested that a clear distinction should be drawn between which complaints fall to the SPCC and which to the service complaints ombudsman. Further details as to how the new regime will operate will be set out in regulations under proposed new section 340P, which will be subject to the affirmative procedure, with full parliamentary scrutiny.
Forgive me if I missed any interventions, Mr Sunderland. You might have had to keep your line open. I do not mean to ignore everyone, and I am sorry if I have.
Thank you, Minister. We are having mute problems here and are just going to bear with it as best we can. Just to reiterate, if any Member wishes to intervene on anybody who is speaking, please do so directly. Can you hear me okay now?
I can hear you okay. It was just that I could hear someone talking and I thought they might have been trying to intervene. I then realised that it was you and asked you to mute, but you were not able to do so. Then I heard the noise again and assumed it was you, so I carried on. If it was someone trying to intervene, I am sorry.
It was probably us here. I think the mute button here is not working, or we have an issue with it. We are doing our best to stay very quiet, but there is lots of movement in the room. Please bear with us.
I welcome this proposal, because I think it is a huge step forward in terms of having oversight of the service police. I support the idea of having a separate ombudsman or complaints procedure, rather than the current police complaints procedure. Obviously, it will be a learning curve for whoever is appointed and for the system.
I want to ask about the way in which it will be formed. Obviously, as the Minister has outlined, it will mirror some of the systems that are already in place for oversight of the civilian police force. It will be helpful in terms of understanding how service personnel can make complaints.
There are two aspects that I would like some clarification on. One is about how this is going to be communicated to service personnel. It will be a new departure, and an important point will be to ensure that service personnel know that this is open to them, in terms of making a complaint if they are dissatisfied with the way in which service personnel deal with a complaint or any other concerns they have regarding issues relating to their service.
I would also like some clarity about complaints from civilians. In many cases, civilian contractors are employed on Army bases, RAF stations and naval facilities. Many civilian personnel also live at armed forces facilities if they are married to or are in a relationship with members of the armed forces. This is about whether or not they will be able to make complaints as well. Clearly, there may be situations involving civilians who are dissatisfied with the way in which service police investigate something or the way they are tret. I would be interested to know what the remit is.
The other area relates to families of service personnel. I accept that much has changed since Lord Justice Blake’s report on Deepcut, but I spoke to the families of the four young people who tragically lost their lives, and one of the issues was their huge criticism of the way in which the service police conducted those investigations. Will there be an option for the families of service personnel, especially in cases where someone loses their life, to make a complaint to the new ombudsman if they are not satisfied?
Overall, I welcome this proposal. I think it is a movement in the right direction. I think it will not only help service personnel, but help drive up standards in terms of the way in which service police operate.
The issue around civilians, in terms of the jurisdiction and families being able to complain. I know you’re just reading the notes out, but it might be worthwhile just thinking, when you’re reading them, that some people might want to scrutinise this, rather than have to listen to you reading what the civil servants have told you.
The reality is that that question around jurisdiction has been answered. I am happy to repeat the answer, but it has been answered already.
Chair, can I make a suggestion to help the Minister? If he does not know the answer to that question now, could he possibly write to Committee members to answer the points that I have raised? They are perfectly legitimate points. We are not hostile in any way; it is just that the Minister is clearly not on top of his brief.
As ever, I am hugely appreciative of the advice from Mr Jones. I am more than happy to write another letter on any of these issues. I am more than happy for him to have a copy of everything I have said today, and if he still has questions, I would be more than happy to sit down with him and go through them.