HC Deb 04 May 1976 vol 910 cc1239-58
Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 33 at beginning insert 'Subject to subsection 2'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With it we may also discuss Amendment No. 4, in page 3, line 5, at end insert— '(2) Where an authority constable acts in pursuance of subsection (1) above he shall— should seek to include provisions of this kind in the Bill. It is for that reason that I press my amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 13, Noes 118.

Division No.121 AYES [12.13 a. m.
Bain, Mrs Margaret Mac Cormick, Iain Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Crawford, Douglas Penhaligon, David
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Reid, George TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Henderson, Douglas Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Mr. Cyril Smith and
Hooson, Emlyn Thompson, George Mr. A. J. Beith
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Welsh, Andrew
Armstrong, Ernest Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Radice, Giles
Ashton, Joe Forrester, John Richardson, Miss Jo
Atkinson, Norman George, Bruce Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Bates, Alf Golding, John Roderick, Caerwyn
Bean, R. E. Graham, Ted Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Hunter, Adam Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Bishop, E. S. Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Sandelson, Neville
Blenkinsop, Arthur Jeger, Mrs Lena Sedgemore, Brian
Bray, Dr Jeremy John, Brynmor Selby, Harry
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Johnson, James (Hull West) Silverman, Julius
Buchanan, Richard Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Skinner, Dennis
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Kaufman, Gerald Small, William
Campbell, Ian Kerr, Russell Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Cant, R. B. Kinnock, Neil Snape, Peter
Carmichael, Neil Lomond, James Spearing, Nigel
Carson, John Litterick, Tom Stallard, A. W.
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Loyden, Eddie Stoddart, David
Cohen, Stanley Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Stott, Roger
Coleman, Donald Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Strang, Gavin
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) McElhone, Frank Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Macfarquhar, Roderick Tinn, James
Crawshaw, Richard McGuire, Michael (Ince) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Cryer,Bob Mackenzie, Gregor Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Mackintosh, John P. Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Maclennan, Robert Weitzman, David
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Wellbeloved, James
Deakins, Eric Madden, Max White, Frank R. (Bury)
Dempsey, James Marks, Kenneth White, James (Pollok)
Doig, Peter Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Dormand, J. D. Millan, Bruce Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Dunn, James A. Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Wise, Mrs Audrey
Eadie, Alex Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Woodall, Alec
Edge, Geoff Noble, Mike Woof, Robert
English, Michael Oakes, Gordon Young, David (Bolton E)
Evans, John (Newton) Ovenden, John
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Palmer, Arthur TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Parry, Robert Mr. James. Hamilton and
Flannery, Martin Pendry, Tom Mr. Joseph Harper.
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Price, William (Rugby)

  1. (a ) at all times be subject to the authority of the Chief Officer of Police for the area in which he performs these duties;
  2. (b ) inform the Chief of Police for any area through which fissionable material is to be transported or in which it is to be stored of the authority's intentions in this respect:
  3. (c ) insofar as it is practicable to do so, advise the relevant local Chief Police Officer of any unlawful removal of fissionable material and of the authority's plans for recovering it;
  4. (d ) so far as it is practicable to do so, advise the local police of his intention to pursue and arrest any person he suspects of committing an offence under this Act;
  5. 1241
  6. (e ) produce an identification card issued by the authority and a valid firearms certificate in the event that he is armed when any police officer requires him to do so.'

Mr. Griffiths

Amendment No. 2 is purely a paving amendment for Amendment No. 4. The object is to avoid clashes between Atomic Energy Authority police and the civil police. It is essential that they work together, as I believe they intend to do. It must be made clear that every effort is made to avoid confusion and friction between the civil police and the Atomic Energy Authority police.

The amendments seek to cover five circumstances. The first is that the authority constable shall at all times be subject to the authority of the chief officer of police for the area in which he performs his duties. The Minister will appreciate the point here. Let us assume that an Atomic Energy Authority policeman chases a suspect into Suffolk without advising the local police what he is up to. To avoid any clash it must be made clear who has the ultimate authority, and I take it for granted that this will be the chief officer of the civil police.

The second circumstance is where the Atomic Energy Authority proposes to store fissionable material in or transport it through any area. In that case the local police should be informed in advance.

Thirdly, where there is reason to believe that there has been a theft of fissionable material, it should be the duty of the authority police to advise the local police and to inform them of steps taken to recover the material.

Fourthly, where an armed AEA policeman pursues a suspect and seeks to arrest and detain him, the officer should, as far as practicable—and I understand the possible difficulties here—tell the local police so that he can get their co-operation and avoid any collision with them.

Lastly, where an AEA policeman is seeking, for example, to arrest and detain a suspect, he should be able to identify himself to the local police. I am sure the Minister will accept this suggestion. He need not deal with the point about valid firearms certificates because that was covered by his hon. Friend in the previous debate.

The sole purpose of these important amendments is to ensure that there will be effective co-operation between the authority and the civil police and that friction between them will be avoided.

Mr. Munro

I support the amendments and would like to elicit a little more information from the Minister. I know we have to be careful about what we say, but I hope the Minister can tell me more about Chapelcross in my constituency. I asked on Second Reading whether the plant at Chapelcross would be included in the Bill. I did not get a reply, but I presumed that it would not be covered. However, since Second Reading there has been an important statement by the Secretary of State for Defence about the new tritium plant at Chapelcross. Tritium is a very radioactive substance connected with nuclear weapons and this new development surely puts Chapelcross in the same position as the four plants covered by the Bill, particularly in relation to the possibility of materials or weapons being hijacked while in transit to or from Chapelcross. This is a crucial question and, as it is so topical, the Government must have an answer ready.

My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) raised in Committee the question of the chain of command while materials were en route. The Minister said that dozens of police forces might be involved and that the issue might be very complicated. There are eight forces in Scotland.

Perhaps the Minister will also bear in mind that it is common for wide loads and difficult vehicles to move about in all areas of the United Kingdom. The police forces have no difficulty in informing each other when they are passing through certain areas and handing over at various stages.

12.30 a.m.

The issue of who is in overall command has been raised on Second Reading, in Committee and in the course of discussion on the amendment. Who is in command if an incident takes place somewhere in Central Scotland when material is being moved between Dounreay and Windscale, between Chapelcross and Winfrith or between Chapelcross and a depot where nuclear weapons may be stored?

As reported in column 29, on Second Reading on 26th February, the Minister replied to a question relating to this matter. He said that a chief constable will be in charge of his own men. But the Chief Constable of the AEA constabulary is in control of his men. I presume that he will be stationed at a specific point in the United Kingdom and will not be moving around with the vehicles that carry these dangerous materials. I appreciate that there is bound to be a senior officer in charge of the operation, but surely that officer cannot take precedence over the chief constable of the area concerned in any incident. It is most important that we establish the right chain of command.

In this context, and within the spirit of co-operation lying behind the amendment, is the issue of radio communication. I know that the Minister has had consultations with the Chief Constable and others, but I am not quite sure whether he has obtained an agreement as to who is to be in charge of radio procedure. Is it to be carried out through a police car with its normal radio equipment, are there to be special radio facilities for the Atomic Energy Authority police? I appreciate that these are matters of detail, but we must know the answers before the Bill leaves this place.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Does my hon. Friend accept that a difficulty might arise if a police force is dealing with a complicated matter in its own area—for example, a cup final or a civil liberties demonstration—when a convoy of vehicles carrying fisile material moves through its midst? If a police force's radio networks are fully committed and not able to deal with the convoy, it is all the more important that advance notice is given for operational reasons.

Mr. Monro

That reinforces what I have been saying. My hon. Friend has extended my argument and brought home to the Minister the importance of clarification of the problems involved in using radio networks. Let us remember that there are not all that many radio networks available in this country for day-to-day use. As my hon. Friend says, they may already be entirely committed for a specific purpose and unavailable for emergency use when we are dealing with the transporting of this material. After all, the whole objective of the setting up the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary is so that we may be on the ball in an emergency. If the necessary procedures are not available when that happens, all our work in setting up the force might well come to nought.

I hope that the Minister will answer some of these most important matters within the limits imposed by security. At present there is so much left unsaid and unclarified that we are gravely concerned. I hope that the Minister will appreciate that I supported the Bill on Second Reading. I believe in the principle of the Bill, but I am concerned about the details. I ask the hon. Gentleman to give us more information.

Mr. Harry Ewing

This is an important amendment. I certainly appreciate the reasonable terms in which it has been moved. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is trying to establish a number of points about the relationship between the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary and the regular police. He is right to think that that relationship is very important and I am happy to be able to tell the House that many of the ideas which obviously underlie his thinking are fully acceptable to the Government.

In the first place, for instance, there is a clear need for there to be effective liaison between the AEA constabulary and the regular police. I fully accept that. Secondly—and this is one of the points which the hon. Member clearly has in mind—there is a need for that general idea of liaison to be translated into severely practical terms in relation to such matters as providing information about the plans for the movement of vulnerable material and the use of radio communications.

Then thought is needed for the situation when an incident occurs, which in practice means that a crime will have been committed. I do not disagree with the thought in the hon. Member's mind that we need to consider the situation after such an incident. Since a crime will have been committed, it will in the normal way fall to the regular police to organise the response, and the precise protection role of the AEA constabulary will lapse at that point. It is also right to bear in mind—and this is what paragraph (d )of the hon. Member's amendment is aimed at—that the activities of the AEA police in pursuit or attempted arrest of persons who have committed offences have to be understood in the context, as the Bill already indicates, that the custody into which the arrested persons will be delivered will be the custody of the regular police. As regards paragraph (e ), I do not doubt that the indications that have been given about the arming of the AEA constabulary strengthen the case for ensuring that these constables can readily identify themselves to the regular police.

On all these points that I have mentioned the basic thinking of the hon. Member is entirely acceptable to us and there is no difference of approach between the two sides of the House.

When the honourable Member comes to translate his ideas into material for including in statute he runs into a number of difficulties. I believe that he has not succeeded in overcoming these difficulties—for reasons which I shall explain —and I accordingly have to advise the House that the amendment should be rejected. I shall deal with the hon. Member's points in turn.

In relation to paragraph (a )of his amendment, it would simply not be workable to cut across the existing chain of responsibility for the actions of AEA constables by writing in a provision of this kind. The AEA constables are already responsible through their Chief Constable to the Atomic Energy Authority, which employs them. The Authority, in its turn, is responsible to my right honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Energy who has power to give both general and particular directives to it. He, of course, is accountable to this House. It would not be possible to provide for this kind of veto by local chief constables without destroying the chain of command to which the AEA constables are accustomed, being a chain of command which provides, as I have indicated, its own form of accountability to this House.

To help the House I will explain the exact position for the two basic situations which are likely to arise. The first situation is the normal position when a convoy is in transit, and the second is what would happen in the event of a terrorist or criminal attack on the convoy. Dealing with the first situation, convoys will be escorted by the AEA constables and will have radio communications for contact with a control centre of the regular police. Local police forces will, of course, be notified of the passage of convoys through their areas. This clears up the point of information being conveyed to the chief constables and the knowledge that the chief constables will have of all the movements of that material through their particular police area.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, is the question of what happens in the event of a terrorist or criminal attack. Here I must be careful to define exactly what would happen, because I know that it is important to both the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary and to the civilian police force. It would be the responsibility of the Atomic Energy Authority police to summon help from the local police immediately by radio. Their duty would then be to contain the attackers until the regular police reached the scene. As soon as the regular police became involved, responsibility for control of the incident would rest with the local chief constable, as it does in any criminal or terrorist incident of this kind.

The command structure would be absolutely clear. The local chief constable would be in charge. This is clearly understood and appropriate instructions have been given to the Atomic Energy Authority constables by their chief constable that the Atomic Energy Authority police on the spot would be at the disposal of the local chief constable and would follow his instructions. In practice, they would probably work alongside the regular police officers, but if the chief constable did not require their services he would tell them so and they would, at once. withdraw.

The position is well understood by both the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary and the regular police force. The command structure, in the event of an attack, is quite clear and I am certain that, against the background of what I have said, there can be no cause for confusion.

As regards paragraph (b )of the amendment it is, of course, desirable and necessary that information should be exchanged between the AEA constabulary and the police force of any area through which vulnerable material is to be transported but it is not possible to define in statute precisely the amounts of information that have to be passed and the amendment would not have a clear effect in relation, for instance, to the word "stored" or in relation to the word "intention". I think the House will accept that there ought to be co-operation. If, in the event, any measure of cooperation was thought by anyone to be lacking, I do not believe that a statutory provision of this kind would be any real help in achieving the fullest measure of co-operation.

Paragraph (c )is not, as a matter of drafting, satisfactory. It is hard to see who is to judge what the effect of the proviso in the first few words would be and, since the situation with which this paragraph is trying to deal is the situation where a crime has been committed, there is no doubt about the responsibilities of the regular police for responding, and it is most undesirable that we should try to put specific words in statute to cover this particular kind of crime. To do so would cast doubt on the role of the police in relation to all the other kinds of crime in relation to which the statutes are silent.

In relation to paragraph (d ), it is already clear from the drafting of the clause that the powers of the AEA constabulary have to take account of the need to look forward to the delivery of any person arrested into the custody of the police. In many cases the AEA constables, I have no doubt, will at the point with which this paragraph tries to deal, be informing the local police. But again there is difficulty as to the practical effect of the proviso. There is doubtful value in actually specifying the point in statute and to do so might cast doubt on the co-operation that the AEA constabulary would provide in the large range of circumstances with which this paragraph does not happen to deal.

12.45 a.m.

As for paragraph (e ), AEA constables are all issued with warrant cards. They would certainly show them to constables of the regular police in all appropriate circumstances on request and it would be misleading if specific statutory requirements were introduced in this respect. There would also be drafting difficulties about requirements for a firearms certifi- cate, since Clause 1 dispenses with the need for such certificates.

I have tried to explain that difficulties arise which the hon. Member has not succeeded in overcoming. In advising the House not to accept the amendment, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider withdrawing it against the background of the clear indication that I have given of the defined responsibilities of the AEA constabulary, as distinct from the civilian police.

On the constituency points raised by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), I am advised that Chapelcross may need armed guards, provided either by the Ministry of Defence police or by the AEA police. It is a site for which both British Nuclear Fuels and the Ministry of Defence have responsibility. There are no armed AEA police on the site at present and the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to answer for the Ministry of Defence.

However, the hon. Gentleman raised important points in a fair manner. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will note what he said and will certainly consider it.

Mr. Biffen

I am interested that the Under-Secretary should say that Chapel-cross may be included. He will recollect that, on Second Reading, as reported in column 701, the Secretary of State referred specifically to Harwell, Dounreay, Winfrith and Windscale. The House is bound to be left wondering what circumstances have changed. Since my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) mentioned the possibility of the production of tritium, it would be helpful if the Minister could say whether that was one of the factors which caused what is seemingly a revised judgment.

Mr. Ewing

It would be less than honest not to admit that one of the factors which has caused consideration to be given recently to the position of Chapelcross is the factor that the hon. Gentleman mentions. I was deliberately not specific about the future of Chapel-cross. What I said was that there was a possibility that the Secretary of State for Energy would no doubt consider the position of Chapelcross and that, against the background of his own judgment, the House would no doubt be advised of the future requirements in respect of Chapelcross. If the hon. Member would permit me, I should like to leave it at that for the time being.

I hope that I have convinced the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds that the responsibilities are clearly defined and that he will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I am grateful to the Minister and his civil servants, who have evidently taken this matter seriously and produced a full reply, which I shall study carefully in Hansard. I am sorry—this is in no sense a criticism of the Minister—that the matter which he has now put before the House was not made available to the Committee. I did not serve on the Committee, though I read its proceedings with interest. I believe that it would have been right and would have made for a more effective Committee stage if what the Minister has said now had been said then, so that the Committee could have probed him, as is the duty of Committees.

The second point I put to the Minister is that I hope that he will understand that I feel no sense of embarrassment if my amendments are not precisely drafted in a fashion that would admit them at once to legislation. It is not the duty of Opposition or Back Benchers to do that. It is their duty to bring forward, as clearly as they can, suggestions for the improvement of legislation. It is for the Government and parliamentary draftsmen to translate those thoughts, if they commend themselves, into the precise language required. Therefore, I feel no sense of chagrin if my amendments are not precisely drawn. I have had the doubtful pleasure, on all sorts of occasions, of reading the sort of brief that the Minister has just read.

However, I hope that in all their operations, and in the spirit of what the Minister has said, the Atomic Energy Authority police will go out of their way to work with the civil police. For example, if they have reason to suspect that there has been a theft of fissionable material and on suspicion they pursue and arrest, I hope that if they get it wrong there will be, to put it plainly, hell to pay. Equally, if they get in touch with the civil police, they will find help from the intelligence network of the civil police about the kind of places in which things may be hidden and about the kind of people who may engage in theft. There is a network of information and good will within the police service that I am sure it would be the wish of Ministers and the Atomic Energy Authority to tap. They can do this only if they get into a habit, right from the start, of working together in the common interest. I know that that is the spirit behind what the Minister has said.

In conclusion, I can only carp a little bit. Things would have got off to a very much better start if there had been consultation in the first instance—which there was not—with the Police Federation and, secondly, if the points that the Minister has fairly made tonight had been brought out in Committee, so that we should not have come right up to the finishing gate and first heard about them only at that point.

In the circumstances, I am happy to say that I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

12.53 a.m.

Mr. Eadie

The Bill arises directly from the growing threat posed by acts of terrorists and other violent criminals both in this country and elsewhere in the world. Conscious of this threat, the Government have kept questions of security under continual review, and last year we examined the security of fissile materials used in the civil nuclear programme. We did this because plutonium and other fissile materials, notably highly enriched uranium, are toxic and potentially dangerous substances. If they fell into terrorist or criminal hands in significant quantities, they could be used to cause grave danger to the community.

Hon. Members will not expect me to go into details, but apart from the possibility that such materials might be used to make a primitive explosive device, the dispersal of plutonium in particular into the environment can create a serious radiological and toxic hazard over a wide area. Equally, terrorists who had seized fissile materials could hold a Government to ransom by threatening to create hazards of this kind. Such a threat would be of much greater proportions than any we have experienced so far, threatening not a few but perhaps many hundreds of innocent lives.

This risk is not merely a domestic one. It has international dimensions. Material stolen in this country might be in a readily portable form and could be used as the basis of a threat to cause damage in the United States, Europe, the Middle East or, indeed, anywhere in the world. Nuclear materials might, therefore, be subject to attack by international terrorists as well as by those operating in the United Kingdom.

In the light of this threat, the Government concluded that the security of fissile materials should be strengthened. In practice, these materials are at present held in significant quantities at only four sites—the Atomic Energy Authority establishments at Harwell, Dounreay and Winfrith and the British Nuclear Fuels Limited site at Windscale. Fissile materials are also moved about the country at intervals in the ordinary course of AEA and BNFL business.

In considering the security of fissile materials we had to take account of two kinds of risk. The first is straightforward theft, against which there has always been stringent precautions. Secondly, we must now face the possibility of a terrorist attack of the kind that I have spoken about.

Of course, armed guards are only part of improved security. The physical security of sites holding fissile materials has been heavily strengthened. Some £2 million is being spent on this. Again, the House will not expect me to go into detail, but the measures include arrangements for the strengthening of perimeter fences and of the buildings in which these materials are held; the improvement of alarm and detection systems; the use of guard dogs; and the improvement of communications. Measures are also being taken to increase the security of materials in transit. These include the provision of much stronger vehicles and better communications.

But these measures are not enough. Unhappily, the background to this problem is one of possible violence. A terrorist attack directed at taking possession of these materials is likely to be a heavily armed attack. After the most careful consideration the Government were forced to conclude that physical improvements alone would not meet the situation. We saw the need for a measure of armed protection and we decided that it was necessary to provide armed guards where such materials are stored or when they are in transit.

It has been suggested that the armed guards—which I think we all agree are needed—might be provided by the regular police or the military. I hope it is clear that neither regular police nor military guards could appropriately be stationed full-time on nuclear sites.

So far as the safeguarding of nuclear materials in transit is concerned, I hope it is now clear that the regular police and, if necessary, the military do have a rôle in the event of an attack on a convoy. I mentioned this matter in some detail on Second Reading and in Committee. I am now trying to do it in shorthand, as it were.

I repeat that this is a Bill which the Government have introduced with reluctance, but in the circumstances of the time we have no doubt that its provisions are essential. Fissile material is a source of danger if it falls into ill-intentioned hands. That must not be allowed to happen. We would be failing in our duty to the country if we did not make provision for armed protection.

12.59 a.m.

Mr. Hannam

The Opposition obviously do not like this Bill. The arming of a special police force, however well intentioned, is a step which we would have liked to avoid. However, the reality of modern-day terrorism, as the Minister pointed out, has necessitated that these unpleasant defensive measures should be taken. In that context, we reluctantly support the Bill.

The limitation of police powers to the four nuclear power stations at Harwell, Winfrith, Windscale and Dounreay is probably wise, although the threat of a takeover—a hijack—of other nuclear power stations in future might require an extension of these powers relating to armed guards. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) has already suggested the arming of guards at Chapel-cross, which implies an extension of this measure in its early stages.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) raised some vitally important questions and I join in his regret at the lack of consultation with the Police Federation. I find it odd that a Government who make such a fetish of consultation with the unions should fail to consult the body which will be affected by the legislation. I also regret the lack of detail available earlier in proceedings. Questions were asked on Second Reading but we had the answers only in the last two days. If answers had been given earlier much of today's debate would have been unnecessary.

I hope that the new civil armed police force will not be permanent because we hope for a reduction in world terrorism as people come to their senses. In the meantime, we reluctantly support the Bill.

1.2 a.m.

Mr. Beith

Those of us who have reservations about the form of the Bill do not question the need to provide for terrorist threats. That is bound to involve the use of armed police and I do not question that. The difficulty is that we are considering a Bill which entrusts that rôle to a police force which is different from our regular police forces; it is unusual in that no other force of its kind carries arms, although it is relevant that the force already has some experience of using arms.

In giving the Bill a Third Reading we have carried the discussion further and obtained more information from the Government. We have had indications about the willingness of Ministers and the the Atomic Energy Authority to recognise some of the concern expressed. I would have wished to take a different course, to use the civil police forces or have a new form of accountability for the authority's police. However, the Bill in its present form, despite its shortcomings, must be interpreted and acted upon by all those concerned in the light of anxieties which have been raised. There is reason to suppose and hope that that will be done.

We have a right to expect the Atomic Energy Authority police force to behave as closely as possible to the way in which the regular forces behave and to be subject to the same restraints, controls and conditions as the regular forces, that they should co-operate with the civil police and that they should be answerable to the House on important questions. We have been reassured on some of those matters and perhaps our further consideration at this late hour has been of value in getting those assurances on record. I am not happy about taking this course, but we have gone so far that I think we must accept it.

1.4 a.m.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

My party and I objected to the Bill on Second Reading because we did not like the principle of an Atomic Energy Authority police force able to bear arms while escorting materials in transit. The objections remain, and we still see many weaknesses in the Bill. We think it a retrograde step that the problem succinctly outlined by the Minister has been tackled in this way.

But the question of the principle of the Bill was decided on Second Reading, and in view of the hour and the attendance we should keep to that decision. It is to be hoped, however, that this will be the only example of arms and an armoury being kept with a national remit.

1.5 a.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

The Bill results from the convergence of two awesome facts in our national life—our increasing dependence on nuclear power for civil and military purposes and the arrival of terror as a political instrument. Those developments have made the Bill unpleasantly necessary.

I supported the Bill on Second Reading and I support its Third Reading, but, like the Secretary of State, I do so with no satisfaction. I support it because it is unavoidable in all the circumstances.

The police service does not like the Bill, for specific reasons. It does not like the proliferation of special police forces. We already have transport police, docks police, railway police and airports police, and now we shall have armed Atomic Energy Authority police. The right answer is to strengthen the regular civil police and make sure that they have the men, equipment and resources, and the backing of Parliament, to do the entire job. Unfortunately, for various reasons, they do not have the resources. Therefore, we are driven to make the best job we can of special forces.

In particular, the police do not like anything that adds to the numbers of weapons outside their control and spread around the country. One reason is that many civil policemen have been killed and wounded by guns in the course of their duties. The numbers rise year by year. The police also have to deal in the first instance with increasing numbers of our fellow citizens who are gunned down. Therefore, it is understandable and right that the police should look with grave doubts on any legislation that brings about a greater spread of weapons, no matter in whose hands they may be. Nevertheless, we face the fact that if nuclear power stations and fissile material in transit are to be adequately protected the only way is to arm the special police with the necessary weapons.

I am glad that the debate has at least elicited from the Minister some information that was not known before. It is valuable to know that the AEA police on duty will be in uniform, and therefore identifiable. This has some drawbacks from their point of view, but it is right for the public. Secondly, we have learned that the weapons will not be concealed when carried. That is an important undertaking. Thirdly, I accept both the letter and the spirit of the Minister's assurances that the Government intend that the civil police and the AEA police shall work together in the same general duty of protecting our country and its people from the dangers that can arise. I cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of the AEA police working with and through the civil police, advising them in advance of what they are doing, co-operating with them, making use of their intelligence and, above all, learning the job. There will be a learning curve here.

I do not welcome the Bill any more than any other hon. Member does, but I regret that I have to accept that it is necessary.

1.10 a.m.

Mr. Eadie

I am grateful to the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken. Without exception, they have said that they believe we have to have this Bill, whatever reservations they have about it.

I make it clear, once and for all, that the Bill is not setting up an Atomic Energy Authority police force. That was established by the Atomic Energy Authority Act 1954 and it has functioned effectively in safeguarding several nuclear sites and materials for 20 years. It has worked in easy co-operation with the regular police forces. It has a good record in its relations with the public and with authority employees. As was brought out by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, there has been only one complaint against the AEA Constabulary in 10 years.

I raise the issue of consultation because it was raised in the debate, when it was regretted that there had been no consultation with the Police Federation. They are not the only body to be consulted. People who work within the sites are entitled to be consulted, and we consulted them. We also consulted the AEA Constabulary. This is not a semi-official force; it is an official one, as I have said. I was in correspondence with the Secretary of the Police Federation. On the question of consultation, the House must accept that there was consultation with the bodies involved. It makes no difference to the powers of the police.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

The House has arrived at a harmonious conclusion and the Minister would be wise to leave it at that. If he insists on raising this matter I must tell him plainly that there was no consultation whatever with the Police Federation, and the federation resents it.

Let me tell the Minister only one other thing. On second thoughts, perhaps I should not go further. We want to come to a conclusion.

Mr. Eadie

The time of morning is beginning to irritate the hon. Member, but he must learn that if he wants to make points it is legitimate for me to make points in return. I am not trying to irritate him, and I do not want him to start threatening me. I am making valid and fair points. I have corresepondence from the Secretary of the Police Federation.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I have the whole lot here. Does the Minister deny it?

Mr. Eadie

I am telling the hon. Gentleman what I have got. He raised the issue of consultation, and I put a fair point to him.

There are other people to be consulted. I explained to the hon. Member that no powers have been taken away from the Police Federation. I leave it at that, because obviously he does not want me to reply with factual knowledge when I reply on consultation. It was his hon. Friend who dealt with consultation. I am entitled to tell the House that there was consultation in relation to this Bill and there were other bodies which had a legitimate right to be consulted. We will leave it at that.

Mr. Biffen

We will not. I do not want to raise the temperature of the House, but we should have on record the question whether it is the Under-Secretary's judgment that consultation took place before publication of the Bill.

Mr. Eadie

If the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) is putting it in that sense, there was no consultation with the Police Federation, as such, but there was communication between me and the Secretary of the Police Federation. In my reply to the letter, which the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has, I outlined what was happening on this Bill and the other bodies that were being consulted. I am replying to the assertion that consultation had not taken place. I am saying that there was consultation with bodies involved. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that.

I should not like the House to gain the impression that the Government are happy about the Bill. As a whole, it is designed to improve the security of dangerous nuclear materials, and thus to improve the protection of the community against their hostile use. The most significant provision is giving the AEA Constabulary the same access to firearms as other police forces have.

I agree with the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that it is a sad comment on the state of the world that this Bill should be necessary, but we must recognise the existence of terrorism and take whatever steps we can to safeguard the community against it. It would be an irresponsible Government and an irresponsible Parliament that did not note the potential threat to nuclear materials and do all that they humanly could to resist it. This is the purpose of the Bill.

I hope that no member of the AEA police will ever be called on to use firearms except on a range, for his own training, but in the present security conditions it is clear that the constabulary must have the power to bear firearms when necessary, and the other complementary powers provided in this Bill. The fact that they have such powers should be, in itself, a serious deterrent to the would-be terrorist.

As has been said, we have brought this Bill forward with some reluctance. but, after the most exhaustive considerations, we are convinced that it is necessary. It is better for the AEA police to possess the power to use firearms and —hopefully—never have to use it than not to have it and find themselves one day, unarmed, in the face of a terrorist or criminal attack.

I trust that the Bill will now be read the Third time.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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