Strip Met Police of counter-terror duties, say MPs

Armed police at Heathrow Airport Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption MPs say counter-terrorism operations should form part of the new "landscape of policing"

MPs have called for sweeping changes to counter-terrorism policing, including stripping Scotland Yard of its role in overseeing and leading investigations.

The Home Affairs Select Committee said responsibility for counter-terrorism should move from the Met Police to the six-month-old National Crime Agency.

It said intelligence agencies required better oversight and accountability.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said MPs had misunderstood the Met's role.

The UK's Counter-Terrorism Command currently sits within the Metropolitan Police, with the force working with both the security and intelligence agencies as well as regional police units.

'Transfer of responsibility'

The government has already considered and dropped a proposal to move counter-terrorism to the National Crime Agency (NCA) - although it has not ruled out making the switch once the new agency is bedded in.

In the report, MPs said the Met had argued there needed to be a link between neighbourhood and counter-terrorism policing because of the role police officers had in both detecting plots and seeking to win the trust of communities.

However, MPs said it was now time for a major change, adding that the current system belonged in the "pre-internet age".

"The current difficulties faced by the [Metropolitan Police] lead us to believe that the responsibility for counter-terrorism ought to be moved to the NCA in order to allow the Met to focus on the basics of policing London," said the MPs.

"The work to transfer the command ought to begin immediately with a view to a full transfer of responsibility for counter-terrorism operations taking place, for example within five years after the NCA became operational, in 2018.

"When this takes place, it should finally complete the jigsaw of the new landscape of policing."

New oversight urged

The report comes in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks about mass surveillance capabilities which, in turn, prompted a debate among MPs over who is best placed to scrutinise the UK's agencies.

The committee had asked for MI5's director general Andrew Parker to give evidence, but Home Secretary Theresa May blocked the request.

The MPs attacked the "weak nature" of oversight of the intelligence and security agencies and said it was "hyperbole" to suggest that public engagement risked national security.

Image caption Police chiefs say the Met is not solely responsible for anti-terror operations

Members of the Intelligence and Security Committee - which is appointed to oversee the work of the intelligence agencies in the UK - should be elected, said the MPs.

They also said in future the chair should always be a member of the opposition party in the House of Commons and should be subject to a vote.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "The current system of oversight is designed to scrutinise the work of George Smiley not the 21st Century reality of the security and intelligence services.

"The agencies are at the cutting edge of sophistication and are owed an equally refined system of democratic scrutiny."

"It is an embarrassing indictment of our system that some in the media felt compelled to publish leaked information to ensure that matters were heard in Parliament.

"The Intelligence and Security Committee should be given a democratic mandate in the same way as other select committees. We will then be able to robustly defend our methods of scrutiny and better serve those who protect us, and the public."

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Media captionCounter-terror changes urged by MPs

'Critical links'

However, in a statement, Acpo said it was "concerned" at the prospect of the move, which was "a decision that does not appear to supported by the evidence and is based on an apparent misunderstanding of the role played by the Metropolitan Police Service".

"Counter-terrorism policing is not directed through a single lead force but rather has responsibility vested in nine chief constables across the UK in areas where the threat is considered to be the greatest.

"These chief constables act collaboratively and effectively on behalf of all forces, while at the same time maintaining close and critical links into local policing."

It said the current system was "admired and respected by other countries".

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