HC Deb 17 May 1984 vol 60 cc518-35

'Schedule (Special constables) contains provisions about special constables. '.—[Mr. Pattie.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.2 pm

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Geoffrey Pattie)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 12 and 14.

Mr. Pattie

I recognise that on the face of it the new clause has not a great deal in it to debate as it merely introduces the new schedule which we propose to include at a later point in the Bill. However, I trust that we will not stray from the rules of debate by talking in general terms about the policy to which the new clause and the new schedule give legislative effect.

At the final meeting of Standing Committee D on 1 May, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State said that we had been re-examining the question of the physical security of the royal ordnance factories after incorporation. The Committee conducted a serious debate on the subject, and rightly so, because we are dealing with a serious subject.

I am also aware of the concern expressed by the Select Committee on Defence, and of the representations made by the trade unions representing members in the ROFs. I recognise that this was a legitimate concern, and the Ministry of Defence has taken it into account during its reexamination of the future security arrangements proposed for the ROFs.

I received a delegation from the trade unions which made representations on this matter some time ago, and I am aware that a Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Defence has been examining the security question of the ROFs in conjunction with security issues at other MOD establishments.

We have reached the conclusion that the company should recruit and train suitable personnel to form its own guard force. The company guard force must be brought into the position of an operating force on which the company and the Government can rely with confidence. This guard force would eventually take over the reponsibilities of the MOD police when we are satisfied that it is able to provide, in conjunction with other measures of physical security, an effective protection for important and sensitive ROF sites.

The consequence of the review which we have now completed is that it would be sensible to provide MOD police guards for the premises of the new ROF company for so long at each factory as the situation requires. This in turn requires legislative cover to provide for the MOD police to retain their existing powers and responsibilities in respect of ROF property. The new clause and its accompanying schedule have been tabled for this purpose.

The new clause merely introduces the new schedule which contains the provisions extending MOD police powers. The new schedule is essentially in two parts. Paragraph 1 extends the application of the Special Constables Act 1923 to ROF sites after they have ceased to be Crown property. The Special Constables Act is the primary piece of legislation which allows the appointment of a police force by the Defence Council with the powers of the metropolitan police to protect property in the possession, or under the control, of the Defence Council. ROF premises are defined in sub-paragraph (2) of paragraph 1. The definition includes premises which have been transferred from the Ministry of Defence by a scheme under the Bill, as long as those premises are used by the ROF company for making or developing ordnance.

Paragraph 2 of the new schedule defines the property over which MOD police have responsibility. It covers the sorts of movable property which may be stolen from an ROF, and which, therefore, the MOD police need to be empowered to recover. This power is granted by deeming the property as Crown property for this purpose alone, but the property will include anything acquired by the company after incorporation, because, of course, ROF plc will continue to be making ordnance.

Paragraph 3 of the new schedule applies the provisions of another Act which relates to the powers of MOD police. MOD police—who are, for the purposes of the whole schedule and the previous Acts relating to them, special constables—are authorised under the Public Stores Act 1875 to stop, search and detain any vessel, boat or vehicle which they suspect of containing stolen Crown property. This paragraph extends that provision to the property of ROF plc.

Finally, paragraph 4 of the new schedule has been included to avoid the need, which could arise, to re-swear MOD policemen in their new duties. This is to cover a possibility, not a certainty, which could arise because we are granting powers to the MOD police to guard sites which are not within the definition of Crown property, and this might be seen as a new duty requiring special constables to be especially sworn in for the purpose of guarding those premises.

The provisions I have outlined may look fairly complicated, but the new schedule has to deal with several previous enactments, and to define very carefully the extended limits within which the MOD police can operate lawfully. In essence, these provisions allow the MOD police to guard all the existing sites which are being transferred for as long as we consider necessary. The threat of theft or terrorist attack at particular factories will, of course, vary considerably between the ROF sites. As hon. Members have recognised, small arms, for example, are a more attractive target for certain criminal acts than heavy armoured vehicles or tanks. We shall, therefore, be keeping the appropriate security arrangements under continuous review, as the company guard force develops and takes over at certain sites, and also into the longer term. The schedule as drafted gives us the flexibility to retain MOD police at any particular site for as long as we consider necessary, even indefinitely, should that prove to be the only viable alternative. But I must emphasise that our aim is eventually to withdraw MOD police once we are assured that a company guard force can take on security responsibilities efficiently and effectively, raking into account physical restraints on theft and trespass.

It follows from what I have said about the company guard force and the MOD police that we shall not be proceeding with contracts for any private security firms.

In the light of the amendment and of what I have said today, I hope that the Opposition will feel that we should write these provisions into the Bill. I trust that they are also reassured that the Government take matters of security most seriously, and have been prepared to review their policy in the light of representations received and of our own perception of the developing circumstances. I commend the clause and its accompanying schedule to the House.

Mr. Kevin MacNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

There will be joy among the angels in heaven about one sinner doing penance. When all the Ministers of the Ministry of Defence are doing the same thing in the House, the angels must be intoxicated with joy.

This is a significant change of mind, and offers at least a glimmer of recognition of the Government's ideology of privatisation for privatisation's sake. If it were pursued to the conclusion that they were seeking to pursue it with the Ministry of Defence police, we would have been considering privatising the Brigade of Guards, and, possibly, the SAS. The Government have had a major change of mind because their proposals were heavily criticised by the Select Committee on Defence and by the Standing Committee.

The House should recall the stupidity of the Government's position. They announced their intention to put the security of some of our most sensitive defence establishments out to tender with firms whose employees had the minimum of security training. It has been pointed out that in some cases the principals of those security firms have had criminal records or careers. The Government were going to say that if they could not find one security firm to cover all the ROFs they would put contracts out to tender, bit by bit. Just to show how rigorously and seriously they had considered the matter, the Government were going to demand that those firms met the criteria of the British Security Industries Association.

In Committee, we found that those criteria included an explanation of the training programme and company rules, particularly in relation to dishonesty. That was pretty good. A security firm was to take the matter so seriously that it was to talk to its trainees about dishonesty. Some of the trainees were to have a minimum of two days' training, at least one of which was to be allotted before they went on the job. That was nonsense and was seen to be so by both the House and the Committee. It was ideology gone mad.

After pressure from the unions and the Select Committee, the Government were forced to change their minds. But there are still some strange questions hanging over the issue. The way in which the schedule is drawn up is interesting. Under it, is it possible for the Ministry of Defence to take over responsibility for factories from the new guard force at any time? We still need to know some positive things about the new guard force—if it ever comes into existence. However, despite the Minister's fine words, I do not think that that guard force will materialise. Other reasons apart, it will not do so because in 1980 a committee set up within the Department considered security within the various establishments. When discussing private protection staff, it concluded: We therefore find no merit in this option, even as a solution to a part of the problem. The Government's own working party came down against altering the role of the Ministry of Defence police in relation to ROFs.

The Bill has largely been amended because common sense has eventually triumphed. However, if we assume that the Minister's fine words come to fruition and that the factory guard system goes ahead we need some answers to our questions. How will the people be trained? In a letter that the Minister kindly sent me and other members of the Committee, he said: I should make clear that it has never been the intention to license security guards, whether engaged by contract or recruited as a company guard force, to bear firearms for security duties.

I am grateful to the Minister for having sent that letter, although it was sent rather belatedly on 15 May, and we had been asking him about the Government's intentions almost from Second Reading. However, the Government now say—although whether it was their intention before is another matter—that they will not allow the company guard force to bear firearms for security duty. Nevertheless, further down the page the Minister wrote: As you will know, the MOD Police do have access to firearms in certain circumstances, and authority to use them to protect Crown property, although they do not carry firearms as a matter of course. What would the position be if the new guard force took over from Ministry of Defence police in those circumstances? Are the outside district police to be called in? What would the command structure and relationship be between the two, if necessary? Alternatively, would an institution's sensitivity determine whether the guard force was used? If a non-sensitive institution was protected by the guard force, what would be the relationship between the guard force and the Ministry of Defence police? Who would have control and who would be the final arbiter? What would the relationship be between the Ministry of Defence police who are being retained and the new directors for security for all the factories and their divisions, which were announced in Committee?

In what circumstances would the guard force be armed? In the letter, we were told that it would not be armed, but at some point it must take over responsibility from the Ministry of Defence police and the latter have recourse to arms. We do not know what will happen and we need answers to those questions.

Eight companies were asked to tender. Will any compensation be given to those that have tendered? Obviously, I am against the idea of outside security firms, but if those firms have gone to considerable expense and were invited to tender we must know whether they will get any brass out of it, given that the situation has suddenly changed.

We welcome the new clause and schedule, but some questions still need to be answered. The provisions demonstrate a welcome change of mind. There would, of course, have been no need for them if the Government had not been pursuing their foolish policy of de-nationalising the ROFs despite the weight of argument against them, just because they had the weight of votes on their side. Nevertheless, we welcome this important change and we believe that it is vital, in the national interest, that the Ministry of Defence police should stay in the ROFs for as long as possible. Although the Minister piously says that he is looking for an in-service company, we hope that he will not find any such company operating.

4.15 pm
Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble)

I recall saying on Second Reading and in Committee that the Government cannot win in such a situation. If they present the House or the Committee with a hard and fast detailed policy as to what they want to do, the Opposition and others accuse them of being too stubborn and of not being prepared to listen to the representations made by those who have an expert or other interest in what is being discussed. Yet if in the latter stages of the Bill's progress they say that after considering the matter in depth and listening to the concerns and representations made they are prepared to change their mind, they are also subject to criticism. The Opposition are crowing too much. It is rather a case of "damn it, they've shot my fox," as a former Member of Parliament is reported to have said in this Chamber.

I welcome the change and was party to the representations made about it. When my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement spoke about this issue in Committee, I told him that I was delighted with the change, and I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Minister has introduced this new clause. It is good news, and many people will recognise it as such. However, I should like to ask a few questions just to satisfy myself.

In Committee, I raised a technical question under the Firearms Act 1968 to which I have not as yet received a detailed reply. On the whole, I understand that, because Ministers have been thinking about the changes that have now resulted in the new clause, I explained that under section 19 of the Firearms Act 1968 a police constable in the execution of his duty, by virtue of lawful authority or reasonable excuse", may use a firearm if he believes that there will be or has been an act that necessitates him doing so. Will members of the proposed guard service be subject to that section? Will they be police constables, and what will be their position if faced with the problem that I have mentioned?

What will happen to the Ministry of Defence police? How long will they operate concurrently with the guard service? Will they be allowed to join that service? What will happen in relation to housing and other matters if they choose not to join?

In broad terms, I am delighted that the Government have recognised the strength of feeling about private security firms. I am glad that on this occasion, as on others, they have listened to the views expressed. I shall certainly be pleased to support the new clause.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

I was delighted that after 23 abortive sittings of the Bill, during which our influence was zero, bingo, the Government appeared to make a concession. I am not convinced that the concession is as great as it appears to be. Despite the Minister's words in Committee and today, I need convincing that what they have conceded is significantly different from their original inane proposal.

What the Government proposed to inflict upon the ordnance factories is beyond belief. As a member of the Select Committee on Defence, I know how near the Government were to awarding contracts. The hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) may say that the Government made a small mistake and have now put it right. A Department capable of making such a stupid decision cannot be relied upon a few weeks later after it has seen the light. The Government were going to give the contract for guarding the ordnance factories to a private contractor.

Some may say that I am a critic of the private security industry. I have the greatest respect for the majority of men and women who work for contract security firms. In many ways the risks that they take are greater and graver than those taken by the police. The death rate among security guards is much higher than it is among policemen. I do not make a blanket condemnation of contract security industry personnel, but I do criticise the system within which they operate. They work in a viciously competitive market, where high standards are costly. It is expensive to provide a good training scheme, a good selection procedure, a good ratio of supervisors to guards, all the available technology and holiday pay and to insist that only a certain number of hours are worked per week. A firm may bid in competition with other firms which are prepared to drop standards and it may lose the contract. The spiral downwards in that industry is dramatic. Firms cut costs to the bone in order to sell their services. The companies bidding for the ordnance factories contract would have tried to cut as many corners as possible.

The private security industry is probably one of the most incompetent industries in the country and the Government almost unleashed it on the ordnance factories. We are talking about an industry which has shown itself to be incapable in many respects. Many people working in the industry—a minority, but a worrying minority—have serious criminal records. One company in the home counties was established on the basis of an armed robbery. I could spend hours relating tales about the activities of security guards. I could tell the burning down of factories, of the security guard who admitted that he was frightened of the dark and of guards who have supplied information to criminals so that they could commit robberies or attack security vehicles.

Training is rare in the industry. I attended a training session at which a security guard admitted that that was the first time he had undertaken a training programme although he had worked for 20 firms. Even the big companies provide minimal training.

The Ministry of Defence police force comprises men whose terms, conditions, experience and salaries are comparable with those of Home Office police officers. The men have rigorous training, they are vetted and undertake firearms training. If they fail to meet the firearms qualification they are busted. The men are competent at their jobs. The Government planned to boot them out, deny them their role at the ordnance factories and replace them with contract security men. That is beyond belief.

When the Defence Committee realised what was happening, it literally went bananas. The most vociferous opponents of the Government's proposals were Conservative Members. Even in the Standing Committee Tory Members broke their Trappist vows to speak, because even they realised that their silence would endorse Government policy. They had to get up and make at least a short speech, although they already knew that the Government were about to make a concession.

The Government made the concession for a number of reasons. The first was that the logic of their argument was totally destroyed.

Mr. Robert Atkins

I must correct the hon. Gentleman. At least two Conservative Members on the Committee contributed regularly to discussions. None of us took Trappist vows. I certainly participated.

Mr. George

Perhaps we should go through the Official Report with a slide rule to discover not only the inches contributed by Tory Members, but the quality of their contributions. I remember occasional bursts of indifference from Conservatives, but on this issue they were as aggravated as we were. Their loyalty to the Front Bench team remained, but they expressed their opposition.

It is important to remember that opposition to the Government's policy came not only from Labour Members on the Standing Committee and the Select Committee, but from the trade union movement and others. I advise hon. Members to read the evidence given by Jack Dromey of the Transport and General Workers Union to the Select Committee. I thought it good evidence, expressing his concern about what might happen if the Government's proposals went ahead.

I am certain that opposition came from the police. If it did not, the police deserve to be severely criticised. The police have responsibility for monitoring security at ordnance factories and they could not have stood by in indifference while the incompetent were given the responsibility of guarding precious national assets.

It may be difficult to steal a Challenger tank from the ordnance factory at Leeds, but I visited the Enfield ordnance factory this morning with the Defence Committee. It is a veritable Aladdin's cave of machine guns and rifles of all descriptions. I pointed out—the point may have been a little over the top, but it was made with a degree of seriousness — that if the security operations at Enfield had been given to a private security firm, Enfield would have been seen as a soft touch for every terrorist and arms trader wishing to enter the illegal market.

I was worried that, because of their dogma, the Government would inflict on the ordnance factories private security firms that were not up to the job. Ministry of Defence police were aggrieved, not because they would lose their jobs—they would be transferred elsewhere—but because they feared that, with privatisation as originally envisaged, the arms stolen from the new soft touch targets would be used against them at the places to which they were transferred.

4.30 pm

Make no mistake. Ministry of Defence police, because of their close liaison with the police, their access to arms and training and experience going back institutionally many years, act as a deterrent to terrorists or those wishing to steal arms and ammunition. Had private security firms been given the job at Enfield that deterrent would have evaporated. The soft touches would have been a disaster.

The Government have said, "We have now seen the light." As a result of persuasion the Government are now saying, "We shall abandon the concept of contract security and establish a royal ordnance factory police force." That police force will be a private security operation. It may not be a contract security operation. It will be designated as in-house private security. Unless the Government are careful, many of the criticisms that could legitimately be levelled against contract security will be made against in-house private security, which the royal ordnance factory police force is likely to be.

A security officer is not created simply by putting a man into uniform. A special constable is not created merely by giving him constabulary powers. I am worried about what will happen. Ministry of Defence police have the power to make searches. Trade unionists to whom I have spoken say that they are prepared to submit to searches by Ministry of Defence police but not to searches by members of private security operations. A degree of respect has emerged between the work forces in the ordnance factories and the Ministry of Defence police. It takes a long time to create a degree of amity between a police force and a work force.

Ministry of Defence police have built up experience over many years. They know the factories that they guard and every worker within the enterprises. How long will it take, if those police are transferred, to create the same level of knowledge among a scratch police force? I am fairly certain that no member of the Ministry of Defence police force will obtain a job in the royal ordnance factory police, because the wages and conditions will not be as good and pension schemes may be jeopardised. Overwhelming numbers of MOD police will probably go elsewhere. Will the necesary expertise be available to the scratch force?

What powers will the new police force have? Will the private in-house security police force have the power of arrest? Will it have the power to search? Will it have the power—I hope that it will not—to bear arms? MOD police have access to arms and the expertise to use them, and that is a potent deterrent. Members of a private security firm, rightly, cannot carry firearms or even a truncheon. What will be the deterrent effect of an in-house security firm with respect to perimeter fences? We must be honest and realise that a fence is not meant to be a Berlin wall. A perimeter fence delineates Ministry of Defence property and it does not require a great deal of expertise, as the Greenham common peace women have shown, to enter MOD premises with the use of wire cutters and a little imagination.

In the new ordnance factory set-up, as the Minister said, the eventual aim is to remove Ministry of Defence police. When the private security enterprises are left on their own, will they have access to arms? I doubt that they will. Will they have the necessary expertise? Will they be vetted in the same way as MOD police? Information on an applicant to the MOD police who submits himself for investigation goes through the police computer. It is easy, with fingerprinting and investigation, to ascertain whether a member of the Ministry of Defence police force has a criminal record. It is easy to find out whether he is an arsonist or a murderer or has a serious criminal record which should disqualify him from membership of the force.

Will a private security firm have access to criminal records? Will the director of a private security force that is guarding the royal ordnance factories be able to go to the police to say, "Run a check on Fred Bloggs through the police computer and tell me whether he has a serious criminal record"? Such firms should not be permitted to do so, because they do not have the legislative power to make those inquiries.

When one examines closely the enterprise that is meant to be the new great form of security to guard the ordnance factories, one finds that that great force dissolves. It will be a scratch force. It will not have close liaison with the police and the virtue of the current Ministry of Defence police force of integration with different elements. The ability to transfer personnel from other factories to a factory short of the required manpower will be lacking.

Will the necessary training be given? Will the Minister guarantee that the training of the new royal ordnance factory police force will be at least as rigorous as that undergone by the Ministry of Defence police? If it is less, I shall be even more critical of the scheme concocted by the Minister.

The new royal ordnance factory police force should have proper manning levels. I do not believe that the existing manning levels of MOD police are remotely adequate, and I can express my views privately on that score. In the past few years the level of supervision of the MOD police has been inadequate because of the cuts undertaken by the Government. Supervision must be examined carefully. The new force must prove that it has proper manning, training and supervision levels and that it has the necessary amount of high quality equipment. What powers will the new force have? How will its officers be selected? I regret that the Minister has not yet answered those questions.

The Minister is wrong if he believes that, by tabling this clause which says the Government have now listened to the objections, we shall accept the schedule. The Minister — perhaps he is unaware of what he is doing — is creating a private security force with a different name. Others might be reassured by the Minister's message, but I am not. My questions need to be answered. I deplore the privatisation of the ordnance factories, but the purpose of my speech is to condemn not privatisation of the ordnance factories but the privatisation of security. When the ordnance factories are privatised and we are in the twilight zone post-vesting day, we must be given a guarantee that the security standards of the new force will be at least as good as they are now. There is ample scope to improve security within the existing establishments. No doubt in the not-too-distant future the House will approve the schedule. Anyone who thinks that our criticisms are being met is being sadly deluded.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

It is a matter of great rejoicing when any person comes to his senses. It is a matter of double rejoicing when a Government do so. It is perhaps a matter of quadruple rejoicing when this Government, who have shown themselves so resistant to changing their policy, come to their senses.

I went through the 23 sittings in Committee with a sinking heart. It was my first Committee and I had been told before I entered the House that Standing Committees provided a quiet and serene atmosphere and the chance to make important changes to legislation. However, the Government set their face obdurately against making any changes irrespective of the quality of the argument advanced from the Opposition Benches.

It was a matter of great rejoicing to me personally, to those who work in royal ordnance factories, to local pollee forces throughout the country, which made clear their opposition to the Government's original intention, and perhaps most of all to the members of the Ministry of Defence police force when it was announced that the Government had had second thoughts.

My faith in the parliamentary democratic system was reassured when the Government decided to make a considerable change to their original intention—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), who is speaking as usual from a sedentary position — he did so throughout the sittings in Committee — is putting a brave face on the Government's decision to amend their original proposal. I do not intend to deprive the Government of a small fig leaf behind which to shelter. It is not my aim to rub salt in their wounds. However, the new clause represents the Committee's greatest achievement because the Government's original intention, if enacted, would have been their greatest folly. I am opposed to the privatisation of the royal ordnance factories and the Government's greatest folly has been averted. I congratulate the Minister and his team on having recognised their folly, albeit at the last moment. The new clause represents a significant change.

I make no apology for repeating something that I said in Committee, when we heard splendid speeches from the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and others about what goes on in private security firms. As I said in Committee, I have had experiences on the other side of the fence. I was in the Royal Marines in a previous incarnation and I had the task of testing security. It is a matter of grave concern to me that a determined terrorist who is prepared to show courage and to plan effectively can break into practically any organisation should he put his mind to it.

The organisations which are the most at threat are those which cover the largest geographical areas. A royal ordnance factory must be such an organisation per se. It would not be easy to break through the perimeter fence and to penetrate the heart of the organisation, but it would be possible for a determined man to do so if he were prepared to take risks.

Terrorism is escalating and the capacity and ability of terrorists to conduct sophisticated operations against increasing threat-assessment targets is increasing. The hon. Member for Walsall, South has described the nature of royal ordnance factories. They contain tonnes of explosives, hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition and hundreds if not thousands of small arms.

As the hon. Gentleman said, we cannot conceive of a terrorist breaking into one of the royal ordnance factories and lifting a Chieftain tank. That is true, but in Italy during the second world war, and during the Palestine campaign, there were occasions when tanks were stolen. However, I would not expect a tank to be stolen from the royal ordnance factory at Enfield, for example. The nature of the target is tempting for terrorists, and it is the nature of the target and the threat assessment which must make us concerned.

4.45 pm

I reinforce the argument of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and others of the necessity to achieve an appropriate level of training. It is the level of training and the nature of the command structure that determine and control the organisation, and both are vital. I make the assumption that the Government have recognised that because that recognition appears to emerge from some of the things which they have written and said. They have talked about unified systems and it seems that they recognise the importance of training and a proper command structure.

Let us assume that the worst aspects of private security firms, which the hon. Member for Walsall, South discussed, do not materialise and that we manage to set up an organisation in which the training is appropriate and in which there is a single command structure to control the security force. That will leave one massive loophole, and consideration will have to be given to protecting the organisation against attack. Firearms have been used on many occasions in the past and terrorists in Britain and elsewhere are prepared to use them. We must assume that they will use them if they choose to work against a target such as a royal ordnance factory.

Will the security forces that the Government propose have access to firearms in the last analysis? I think that the hon. Member for South Ribble missed the point. Does he think—I note that he is no longer in his place—that private security firms would have the necessary protection? Would they be subject to protecting clauses of the nature of those that extend to the police force and special constables? Does he recognise that it is the Government's intention that they should not have firearms? I have posed a question that perhaps does not have to be answered. I shall quote from the letter which the Minister of State wrote to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, which is dated 15 May. Part of it states: I should make it clear that it has never been the intention to license security guards, whether engaged by contract or recruited as a company guard force, to bear firearms for security duties. Was the hon. Member for Walsall, South aware of that when he addressed the House?

I ask the Government most seriously to think again. I am not a legal expert and sometimes when I look around the Chamber and read newspapers I think that the public must believe that half the Members of this place are lawyers and that the other half need them. I hope that I do not come into either category. As I am not a legal expert I cannot comment on whether it would be legally possible to set up a private security force that has the right to bear arms.

Terrorists have the capacity to be ruthless in pursuit of their aims. They have the capacity to use firearms and terrorist acts are becoming more frequent. It would be an act of folly if the Government were to permit the protection of our royal ordnance factories to forces which would not have access to firearms. If the Government can set up a system in which private security firms may have access to firearms, I shall find these provisions less worrying and less damaging than I do now. However, I have a strong suspicion that the security force that is proposed will not have access to firearms, and I ask the Government to recognise that only the Ministry of Defence police can do the job properly and effectively. They are in that position because they have access ultimately to firearms.

I welcome the new clause as a move towards a more sensible system for providing protection, but there is a significant hole in the Government's proposals. That will remain in the absence of the access ultimately to firearms, and the Government's proposals will not assure either the present levels of security for the royal ordnance factories or the increased level of security that many of us would welcome in the light of outside events.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

I welcome the fact that the Government changed their mind very late in the Committee stage, and I welcome also the amendments that they have tabled.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) expressed concern about arming the defence and security forces at royal ordnance factories. For the reasons that they gave, I believe that the Ministry of Defence police force will continue to maintain security. I do not believe the view that was expressed earlier in the debate from the Government Front Bench that security of some installations and factories may become an in-house matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South is an expert on security firms. He raised some important questions and I shall await the Minister's replies with interest. I shall not waste the time of the House, because other important amendments remain to be discussed.

I hope that the Minister will answer this question. The Bill originally proposed that security should be put out to tender to private security firms. Some bright boy must have thought that that option was feasible and sensible. Many employees feel that if the Bill is passed the amendments and provisions proposed today will not preclude that option from being taken up in future. I am sure the Minister recognises that if the Government, for good reasons, have accepted that the option is not sensible now, it will not be sensible in a few years' time. I hope that the Minister will assure us that the amendments will preclude the ordnance factories from putting security out to tender in a few years' time.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

The Government's new clause and amendment No. 12 certainly looked good when I skimmed through them. Some hon. Members on both sides of the House have, with reservations, welcomed them. With reservations, I join in that welcome in so far as it is undoubtedly an improvement on a thoroughly inadequate and lax provision. However, once the new clause and the amendment are seen through the eyes of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George)— I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House regard him as the authority in the Chamber on the subject—they look far less substantial and secure.

Without wishing to rehearse the problems again, I believe that the Minister must give us more details when he replies to the debate about the special constables, especially their training and powers, the standards to which they must operate and their manning levels, including how those compare with the present Ministry of Defence arrangements. The Government should also take into account the important consideration that they will need to make a good start in setting up the force to give it credibility and the confidence of those working at the factories. It is vitally important that employees at the royal ordnance factories have confidence in the form of policing that the Government will leave when the factories are privatised. What assistance will the Government give in hard financial terms to make sure that special constables are specially trained initially, adequately recruited, and screened? We need to know what sort of grants and assistance the Government will give.

It is not solely a matter of policing. Just to concentrate on the powers and training of special constables is to consider only a part of the problem. We must consider wider problems of security. In Standing Committee on 1 May I asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to report to the Committee on the whole problem of fraud and loss of equipment, and on the drift of security in the royal ordnance factories. As I said to him then, and as he knows well, one of the men to whom he spoke when he visited ROF Radway Green was arrested a few days later on very serious charges. It became apparent that huge quantities of equipment had gone missing. The House deserves and demands from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, the Minister of State and preferably from the Home Secretary a clear statement of what equipment has gone missing in the past few years; its type, source and value. Unless we know the scale of security leaks in the recent past it is difficult for the House to determine whether the security and policing provisions that the Government intend to introduce are adequate.

On 1 May, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary replied: The ROFs management is looking very carefully at the whole question of controls"— [Official Report, Standing Committee D, 1 May 1984; c. 814.] That is fine, but we must know what those reports say. What evidence does the Secretary of State have of the loss, and will he share that evidence with the House, so that hon. Members know what sort of policing and security arrangements will be adequate? Is the reason why the Home Office does not make a statement that Ministers are frightened that it would horrify, shock and scandalise the House? If the Home Secretary gave the facts about the security arrangements in previous months and years at the royal ordnance factories, his answer might lead ordinary, sensible people to think that only Ministry of Defence police, greatly strengthened and better equipped and with a much tougher stance, could possibly do the job and that it would be wholly inadequate for special constables as proposed in the arrangements. Is that why the Home Secretary has not made and possibly does not intend' to make a statement on these grave and important thefts, frauds and security leaks?

The Minister of State should recognise that this is not only a local problem for local police, and the appropriate royal ordnance management to deal with, but a national problem. It is the Government's responsibility to convince the House and the people that these factories manufacture extremely dangerous arms that would be a delight for any terrorist organisation to get its hands on. In view of the Libyan situation and the problems in Northern Ireland, it is essential that the Government assure the House that they are taking the matter seriously as a matter of national security, and not purely as one of local policing.

Mr. Pattie

The House has had a full debate on the matter, so I should like to come straight to the points raised.

Several hon. Members have asked about the training of the guard force. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) was the first hon. Member who asked about that. The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) asked many questions, as did the hon. Members for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher). I must make it clear to the House that the intention, as I hoped I had made clear in my opening remarks, is that the legislative cover will provide for a continuation in post of the Ministry of Defence police, so that on the first day after the transfer the security position will be the same as it is now.

The responsibility for generating and developing the new ROF guard force will be a joint matter for the directors of security at the various ROF factories and the Ministry of Defence police. They will be responsible for developing the training programme in situ and ensuring that it is long enough and of a satisfactory standard and that the manning levels are comparable, or perhaps an improvement on, the existing ones. These recommendations will be made in the new context by the MOD police, whose responsibility it will be. In the final analysis the Ministry of Defence must be satisfied that security will be sufficient, and the people to whom we shall have recourse for confirmation of that will be the MOD police. In other words, we shall ask them how the training and recruitment programmes are proceeding.

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We shall also ask whether any existing MOD police have said that they would like to transfer. I have no particular feel about that. The hon. Member for Walsall, South suggested that that was unlikely. I respect the hon. Gentleman's opinion in these matters, but if that assumption is based on the belief that pay and conditions will be less attractive in ROF plc there is no evidence for that. Indeed, among guard forces operating for private companies terms and conditions and pay seem on the whole to be better than those enjoyed by the MOD police. In addition, many MOD policemen are settled in particular areas and may not wish to move. That, too, may be a factor in some cases.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

The Minister has made an important statement. As I understand it, he said that the director of security in what would eventually be the private firm and the MOD police would consider the situation and that there might be a recommendation for an increase in manning levels if that was considered necessary. If the private firm says that it cannot afford such an increase, will the MOD police be able to insist on an increase, or will it be left to the commercial judgment of the company?

Mr. Pattie

The final assessment must be made by the MOD, because we must be satisfied that the security arrangements are adequate, as is the case with any company with which we have contractual arrangements. Clearly we should have to take account of reports put to us by the MOD police describing how training was developing and what arrangements had been made. The hon. Member for Walsall, South referred to the possibility of personnel being transferred between factories. It is axiomatic in the concept of an ROF guard force that personnel could be transferred from one factory to another, because it will be a corporate entity.

Mr. George

We should be delighted to hear that from vesting day the royal ordnance factories are to remain a corporate entity, but the Minister and I both know that the purpose of privatisation is to create a package that will then be offered to private contractors. Perhaps he will confirm—or deny—a rumour that I have heard that a German firm is already seeking to put in a bid for ROF Enfield. If it does so and the bid is accepted—I hope to God that that will not happen — will the Minister insist that security arrangements in any part of the ROFs flogged off to the private sector meet the standards laid down by MOD as a base line? That is crucial. It is vital that the Minister should give a commitment to the House that once the factories are sold off-let us be honest about it, that is the intention of the legislation on which we have spent 24 Committee sittings—minimum MOD standards will be maintained even in the private sector.

Mr. Pattie

In a word, yes, because that is exactly what we now insist on in dealing with people who manufacture guided weapons for us, the difference being that until now they have not been a Government Department. A number of companies are involved, not just in highly sensitive work in terms of classification levels, but in the manufacture of highly lethal items. They must satisfy us that they have adequate security arrangements, or they will not get the business. Therefore, I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. I have no knowledge of the rumour to which he referred, but he may care to raise that matter if we have the opportunity to debate the subject of foreign control. I shall then be able to tell him that the Government hold clear views about the possibility of foreign control of any part of the ordnance factories.

Hon. Members have asked about the possibility of the guard force being able to bear arms. As I said in my letter to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, which was circulated to members of the Standing Committee and quoted by the hon. Member for Yeovil, we do not intend to license the guard force to carry arms. I should make it clear that in the interim situation the MOD police will be withdrawn establishment by establishment as the Ministry of Defence is satisfied about the arrangements, on the basis of reports that we receive and consultations that we have with the local police and assessments of the threat.

I believe that too much is made of the present ability of MOD police to carry arms. I am advised that they have actually been authorised to draw arms on only one occasion. I am aware of the opinion of the hon. Member for Yeovil as a former Royal Marines officer that a determined and well-planned assault would be likely to succeed, but I believe that it would be equally likely to succeed whether or not weapons were being carried by the guard force at the time. The key question is whether there is an adequate level of physical security at the factory in question, coupled with proper surveillance. By that I do not mean having large numbers of people wandering around the perimeters. I am talking about devices to detect intruders. A rapid response arrangement is also needed with the local police force, with an ability to arrive on the scene within minutes according to their judgment of the nature of the threat.

Mr. Ashdown

On this key point, does the Minister appreciate the deep contradiction in the two statements that he has made? He said that he did not wish the standard and quality of security to be diminished, but that the people concerned would not bear arms. If he cannot see that not having access to arms seriously diminishes security in the final analysis, I am very surprised. I ask him to reconsider this and to recognise that the important point is not so much the number of occasions on which arms have been issued, but whether ready access to arms by the guard force would be a deterrent to a determined terrorist. I am surprised that I have to tell a Conservative Minister about the value of deterrence, but he must realise that if there is no access to arms in the final analysis many terrorists will rightly view these valuable, prime targets as a soft touch.

Mr. Pattie

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not agree with him. What the terrorists will want to know is the difference between the present situation, in which MOD police do not carry arms, and the situation in the future.

Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)

The MOD police have access to arms.

Mr. Pattie

The right hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that the MOD police have access to arms.

Dr. Gilbert

I shall stand up if the Minister wishes.

Mr. Pattie

In that case, I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment. I hope he will accept that access to arms is not the same as carrying arms. The MOD police force, as a matter of custom, is not an armed guard force. The fact that its members can on certain special occasions draw arms—and have done once in the past 10 or 11 years—does not, in our view, affect the final outcome of the situation. We recognised the strength of feeling on that subject, and so we made certain that security would be reviewed step by step and factory by factory. The schedule and new clause will ensure that the Ministry of Defence police will retain their current powers and remain at each establishment for as long as the Ministry of Defence deems it necessary.

Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme)

We accept that there are many ways in which the physical security of such installations can be assured. My hon. Friend referred to different sensors, devices and security systems. However, he must go further than either he or his ministerial colleagues have gone in making his case that an armed presence at these establishments has been unnecessary until now, and will be unnecessary, despite what many hon. Members feel is a growing, not diminishing, terrorist threat, whether from Ireland or Libya. Successive Governments have believed that an armed presence is necessary, but my hon. Friend has told the House that it will not be necessary in future. The House is entitled to know the full information behind his reasons.

Mr. Pattie

The Government believe that if we ask the intelligence authority and local police what the threat to an individual establishment will be, and they tell us that the Ministry of Defence police should remain and retain their existing powers, they will remain. The clause and schedule provide for that.

Dr. Gilbert

I apologise for not being present to hear the Minister's opening remarks. I was visiting the royal ordnance factory at Enfield, where small arms are made. Although there is a technical difference between carrying and drawing arms, wherever the Ministry of Defence police have arms, they are in a guard room. A man is locked in the guard room with the arms and has authority to issue them when he thinks that is necessary. I echo the view of the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) that it is unbelievable—I listened with growing incredulity to the Minister, for whom I have great respect—that the Minister should argue in defence of not having armed police at ordnance factories. It passes belief. It is equivalent to giving terrorists the same sort of signal as we gave Argentina when we withdrew HMS Endurance—it is an open invitation. If the hon. Gentleman does not see that, I am amazed.

Mr. Pattie

Perhaps I should have restricted my remarks and said nothing about the future. I was attempting to assist the House and have a short debate.

The new clause and the schedule empower ROF plc to have Ministry of Defence police. That is a nice, short speech. I should move that and sit down. [Interruption.] Until the Ministry of Defence is satisfied, it reserves the right to regard the ordnance factories in the same way as any factory that is producing highly sensitive or lethal material. Decisions may not be taken on an ROF-wide basis. Some factories may be deemed to be more sensitive than others. The right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) visited the small arms factory at Enfield. He will accept that that factory is a different sort of terrorist target from Leeds, Bishopston, Bridgwater—

Dr. Gilbert

Radway Green.

Mr. Pattie

—or Radway Green. The factory at Enfield is not a greater of lesser target, but a different sort of target. Its products are more readily usable and marketable.

It is a question of degree. The nature of the threat will vary either with the physical position of the factory or the nature of the product being handled. The House need not be as worried as it seems to be, in view of the assurances that I have given.

We have had what some hon. Members have unkindly described as a deathbed repentance. I am glad that we have been given credit for being, as it were, big enough to change our minds. The provision ensures that ROF plc will have Ministry of Defence police after vesting day until the Ministry of Defence is satisfied that the security arrangements are adequate. I assure the House that everything that is said today and that is being prepared by the Select Committee will be considered carefully.

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The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central asked about Radway Green on 1 May. He will not expect me to comment on a matter that is sub judice. It would not be appropriate to make a general statement about security in the ROFs until that case is disposed of. The theft and pilferage rate is assessed as being extremely low in relation to the size of the turnover, which is more than £400 million. With the conspicuous exception of the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred, the pilferage rate is extremely low. He will not expect me to comment in detail on that matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) asked whether Ministry of Defence police could transfer to the guard force. They can apply to transfer. I was attempting to help the hon. Member for Walsall, South when I said earlier that many of them might choose to do so for domestic reasons.

When I met the trade unions, they made strong representations about the ease of infiltration. We had the famous Dromey-Burns Securities story—which was very interesting and entertaining — about the ability to infiltrate a security firm. They also made a valid point about the resistance of the work force to being stopped and searched by an outside body.

I hope that the hon. Member for Walsall, South will appreciate that both those points are taken care of by the fact that the body will be recruited in-house. It will be supervised, trained, recruited and brought into being by Ministry of Defence police. The work force will therefore have access to and be familiar with the people who will be recruited into that body. Thus, it will not be an external body, and will be in exactly the same position as the guard force. Many hon. Members on their visits to factories, such as British Aerospace, Marconi and Dowty Electronics Ltd., will have been stopped, asked for their identity passes and given little tags to wear. They know that security arrangements are as tight as they need to be.

I shall not detain the House further on this point. I hope that hon. Members believe that the new clause and schedule are necessary and that we can look forward to their support.

Mr. McNamara

With the leave of the House, may I immediately say that the Minister has made heavy weather of a proposal that most of us wished to welcome. However, the more he tried to explain it, the greater became our worries about the formation of the in-house security guard. It was tremendously naive for the Minister to say that the withdrawal of the Ministry of Defence police force would depend upon the assessment of a threat at any time. Will that mean that the MOD police will be in and out of factories if there are different threats in different areas at different times? We must think not only about Libya and the IRA, because threats might arise from other sources and in different circumstances. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) mentioned the straight gangster threat from someone who wishes to make a great deal of money on the illegal arms market.

The Minister said that, in relation to turnover, the amount of pilfering is extremely low and not something about which we should be too worried. However, what matters in this case is what is likely to be pilfered. If a revolver, pistol or rifle is pilfered it might have no relevance in terms of the percentage of turnover, but it could cause considerable danger. The Minister does not seem to take the point that this is not a party matter. It affects national security, and we are all anxious about it. They are unique factories and the items that can be stolen and used by terrorist forces must be considered separately.

We shall not force a Division on this new clause because we welcome it as far as it goes. However, the Minister has not satisfied the House about many matters, and I hope that before the first withdrawal of MOD police at a factory occurs he will return to the House and justify his decision.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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