HC Deb 24 February 1987 vol 111 cc169-89

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

5.18 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Archie Hamilton)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The House will now know that the aim of the Bill is to tidy up the statutory basis of the operations of the Ministry of Defence police. However, it should not be assumed that, because the Government are introducing legislation, they must wish to confer new powers on the MDP.

By introducing this Bill, the Government are responding to the recommendations of the Select Committee on Defence made in 1984 and of the Broadbent report published in July 1986. The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) commented in Committee on the speed with which the Government were moved to bring in legislation. He described it as what appears, in the history of bureaucratic reform, to be indecent haste."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 10 February 1987; c. 18.] In the circumstances, I take that as a compliment.

May I take this opportunity to clarify again the powers of the Ministry of Defence police? There is a distinction between the position when MDP are within the establishments which they may be called upon to protect and the position when they are outside those places. Inside the establishments, which, broadly speaking, are those in the possession or under the control of the Ministry of Defence, visiting forces, ordnance factories or dockyards, the powers of MDP will not change. When in those establishments they have the full powers of a constable covering all types of crime in the same manner as for a Home Department police constable.

When outside those establishments MDP powers are more restricted. Under existing statutes they have constabulary powers in Great Britain in relation to Crown property and service personnel, including the property and personnel of visiting forces and international military headquarters, and the property of ordnance factories and dockyards. Such powers may be exercised only up to 15 miles from any of the establishments. Under this Bill the I 5-mile limit will no longer apply; instead the MDP will have constabulary powers throughout the United Kingdom but they will be able to exercise them only in relation to Crown property and the property of those I have mentioned, the personnel of MOD and visiting forces and matters connected with defence contracts. The Bill also contains some minor provisions which enable the MDP to assist their Home Department police colleagues in the vicinity of a defence establishment and to exercise constabulary powers in United Kingdom territorial waters and and in certain places, such as the Royal Mint, which will be published in gazettes.

The main effect of the Bill on MDP's jurisdiction will be to remove the uncertainties caused by the 15-mile limit when MDP are outside defence establishments. It will not affect their present responsibilities or the way in which these are discharged. The very few other changes to MDP's jurisdiction concern the extension of their powers, when outside establishments, to MOD civilians and defence contracts, and the power to assist Home Department forces in the vicinity of defence establishments

In Committee we explored in detail the relationship between the MDP and the Home Department police forces. Nothing in the Bill changes the primacy which the Home Department chief constables have throughout the United Kingdom, including "within the wire" at defence establishments. As for the working relationships between the forces, I agree entirely with the point made repeatedly by hon. Members in Committee that the effective operation of both MDP and Home Department forces requires, in the words of the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), sensible co-operation with local police forces."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 12 February 1987; c. 58.]

Officials are making progress in discussions with the Associations of Chief Police Officers for England and Wales and for Scotland and interested Departments about the arrangements to be followed in certain situations where the Home Department forces and the MDP have concurrent jurisdiction. I expect the discussions to lead to guidelines covering such subjects as the policing of married quarters estates, public order policy, major crime and terrorism and control of traffic.

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

What will he the status of the guidelines? Are they to be laid before the House as a statutory instrument? Will they be advisory? How will they be enforced on the respective police services?

Mr. Hamilton

They will be advisory.

I have already acknowledged the prime responsibility which the chief constables of Home Department forces have for all crime and I propose to leave the arrangements concerning the interface between the MDP and Home Department police forces to these discussions on the broad principles and also to more specialised local arrangements in particular areas. But there will be advisory guidelines put out because, as we know, the status of chief constables is such that they take advice from the Home Department.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

That would mean that if, for example, the chief constable of the MOD police chose not to follow those guidelines he would not be required to do so.

Mr. Hamilton

As I understand it, such is the primacy of the chief constable that he can only be advised and in practice he cannot be instructed on what he is supposed to do.

The Government do not believe it is proper to embody such administrative matters in legislation, but in Committee I accepted that the guidelines should be public. I intend, therefore, to have them placed in the Library of the House when they have been agreed and issued.

In Committee, a number of hon. Members raised questions about the Police Committee and its procedures. Its terms of reference are: To determine policy for the operation, management and the administration of the Ministry of Defence police, including the identification of the overall money, manpower and equipment resources necessary to achieve that policy.

The chief constable and deputy chief constable of the Ministry of Defence Police will normally attend meetings.

When necessary, the police staff associations will have access to the meetings of the committee, and they will also be able to make written representations.

We expect the committee to meet four times a year. Some hon. Members in Committee queried the terms of clause 1(5) of the Bill because they interpreted it to mean that the Ministry of Defence Police Committee would be inhibited in carrying out its terms of reference. I repeat my assurance that this clause does not restrict in any way the freedom of the Ministry of Defence Police Committee to advise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on its own initiative.

Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)

My hon. Friend will remember that in Committee I asked particularly whether he would reconsider the membership of the Police Committee and whether he would be prepared to broaden that membership to reflect something less than the rather cosy arrangement for membership indicated by my hon. and noble Friend in another place. Has my hon. Friend had time to reconsider that point?

Mr. Hamilton

We have thought about the membership of the committee. Of course, it includes an ex-chief constable from an English constabulary and also one from Scotland, so we feel that the interests of police constables have been reflected in the composition of the committee. I do not think there is anything inflexible about the composition: it could be changed.

There are two areas of management in which other bodies complement the Police Committee. The first is industrial relations. The existence of the Defence Police Federation is established in the Bill, just as the Police Act 1964 established the police federations.

The chairman, vice chairman and other Police Committee members will meet the Defence Police Federation and the senior officers twice a year in meetings of the joint consultative committee, which is the forum for dealing with MDP industrial relations problems.

The second is complaints against the MDP. The force is subject to the Police Complaints Authority, just as the Home Department's police forces are. It is not the MOD Police Committee which is responsible for investigating complaints.

Thus the public have an entirely satisfactory means of protection against any misuse of the MDP's power. More widely, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is answerable to the House.

5.28 pm
Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan)

When the Bill was published, I gave it a cautious welcome on behalf of Opposition Members. We had anxieties on Second Reading and in Committee over questions of primacy, jurisdiction, the complaints procedure and relationships with the Home Department police forces. We also expressed anxiety about the Police Federation's concern about rights to finance for legal representation, if necessary, for its members on disciplinary matters. We ventilated most of the areas of concern in Committee.

On primacy, we welcome the Minister's clarification of the position. Certainly it is reassuring to know that the Home Department police forces will still be in the lead in any matters outwith the Ministry of Defence and other related establishments. In regard to jurisdiction, we all recognise that the 15-mile rule was somewhat old-fashioned and outdated. It related more to the distance that any thieves of cannonballs could be expected to carry their loot than to anything else. We have now probably got a more sensible arrangement and the concerns of Members on all sides of the Committee about the relationship between the home police forces and the MOD police force have been to some extent reduced.

I think it is fair to say that some of us would probably have preferred some form of statutory instrument to consolidate the relationship between the two bodies. However, the Department's lack of enthusiasm for such a proposal is understandable, even though it is not acceptable. The compromise put forward by the Minister was offered in a spirit of good intent and the publication of the guidelines should be an opportunity for all who are concerned to see whether they are working properly. If they are not, I would imagine that the kind of pressure that was building up on all sides of the Committee will be brought to bear. The biggest source of concern was the uncertainty of those Members with constituencies near which there are major defence establishments. They and their chief constables required some reassurance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) referred to the spectacular haste—I would not think that he would want to use the word "indecent"—of the MOD in bringing forward this legislation. Perhaps it would have been better if it had been delayed a little longer until we had reached the end of the negotiations between the Home Department police forces, the MOD and the respective Ministries. But the Minister has given us assurances and I do not believe that it would be tolerated either by the House or by those who take an interest in matters relating to law and order and civil liberties if a set of guidelines were established which did not afford the kind of provisions and facilities available to the home police forces at the moment. We shall obviously have to wait and see what happens. We are not in a position to change the guidelines but the fact that they will be open for public scrutiny is in itself an advance and should be of assistance to those hon. Members who might want to make representations at some future stage.

I am not completely satisfied with what the Minister has said with regard to the complaints procedure, but I think that any change would probably require legislation to take care of the home police forces as well, because many people on the Opposition side are not at all satisfied with the nature of the complaints procedure. There is always the lingering doubt that it is merely the police force looking after its own and that, even if justice is done, it is not seen to be done. However, that is a problem beyond the terms and objectives of this legislation and if we were to seek to make the complaints procedure more open it would require legislation of a good deal more controversial nature than the kind that we have before us this evening.

With regard to industrial relations aspects, the Minister, as I recall, has met the observations of the MOD Police Federation as distinct from the Home Department Police Federation. There are two organisations, one of which the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) represents in the House, and another which many of us, having been exposed to its activities, view with some affection. If the MOD Police Federation is to be put on an equal footing with the Home Department Police Federation one hopes that the facilities which the Home Office makes available to its Police Federation will be made available on the same generous lines to the MOD Police Federation, because the membership base of the organisation is somewhat restricted and the need for some degree of support from the Ministry of Defence has already been recognised. I think it is fair to say that the membership of the MODPF would be grateful for more resources being made available and I know that the Minister did not rule this out. He is too old a hand to be forthcoming in making promises about increased assistance for pretty well anybody — apart, perhaps, from Vickers Shipbuilders, but that is another story.

This Bill has certain problem areas, but we do not think that they are major ones. We would have liked to have the opportunity of debating this later rather than earlier. Having said that, however, this is a Bill which is long overdue. The Select Committee on Defence made recommendations which have been acted upon. They are not to any great extent contentious. We would like to think that recent incidents involving convoys and the like would be taken care of in the guidelines and that the anxieties that have been expressed by local Members of Parliament concerning the activities in sensitive areas of all the security services would be ironed out. If they are not, I am sure that we shall be coming back to the subject. I very much doubt that it will be in the form of amendments, but there will certainly be close scrutiny of the guidelines. In fact, the scrutiny may be so close that the Minister will come to regret that he ever conceded the point in the first place. I will he generous, because this is not a partisan issue, and we are satisfied that this Bill should be given a Third Reading. I know that some of my hon. Friends have observations to make, but I do not think that any of them are of a kind likely to obstruct the progress of this modest, but at the same time important, piece of legislation.

5.38 pm
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

This is a very unusual and in some ways a very difficult Bill. It is unusual in that there has been scarcely any party political disagreement about the need for the Bill and it is probable that it will pass through all its stages in this and the other place without Divisions. But it has at least been debated; it is the first time since 1860 that the question of Ministry of Defence police has been debated.

I inadvertently did an injustice to my noble Friend Lord Trefgarne at column 289 of the Second Reading debate when I said that my hon. Friend was the first Minister of the Crown to introduce a debate in either Chamber on the subject. Of course, I was wrong, but I was seeking to compliment my hon. Friend.

The Bill is also unusual because the official Opposition have raised many quite fundamental objections to aspects of it, only to have been almost instantly reassured by my hon. Friend the Minister. This is a great compliment to his powers of persuasion. It is also a very genuine compliment when I say how patient he has been with his hon. Friends, including me, who have felt it important to make a number of probing comments on his thinking. We have no wish to look in later years at events which may take place and say "We told you so."

Perhaps what is most unusual in this Bill is the degree to which we have been legislating in the dark, and this worries me. On point after point we have been told that consultations will take place, agreements will be reached, guidelines will be established, and we have taken it all on trust.

I said that in some ways this was a difficult Bill. It has been particularly difficult to probe the Government's intentions without giving the totally misleading and unworthy impression that some of us are in some way opposed to the MOD police. I certainly am not. The present position is as unsatisfactory for the MODPF as it is for the Home Department police force.

I have been anxious to ensure that the new arrangements will be better. Perhaps I have been particularly sensitive, because in the county of Wiltshire and in my constituency of Salisbury the county constabulary and the MODPF have worked side by side for many years and because the Wiltshire county constabulary was the first in the country, which is why its motto is "Primus et optimus".

We must not be in any doubt that with this Bill we have for the first time created a national police force, which, against all the traditions, is accountable only indirectly through the Secretary of State to Parliament. It is not true that the Docks police, the Transport police or the Atomic Energy Authority police are in the same category. Their jurisdiction is severely and precisely limited geographically and functionally. Nor is it true that the Metropolitan police are in the same category because they are answerable to the Home Secretary. It is true that the Home Secretary is the police authority for the Metropolitan police, but his jurisdiction is geographically limited and is not national. Like the chairman of every other police authority, he often is heard to protest that operational matters are not for him, but for the chief officer of police.

Yet, today, we shall create a police force with a national jurisdiction under the direct operational control of a Minister of the Crown. Throughout our nation's history we have resisted this sort of arrangement and I am astonished that Parliament has allowed it to happen so easily. I know that I am just one Back Bencher and that not even the Opposition Whips are worried about this, so I recognise reality when it stares me in the face. However, I am certain that we have not heard the last of the Bill.

Clause 1 sets up the machinery for MOD special constables. We were told in Committee that the need for the scheme is being reviewed and that consideration will be given to whether MOD police specials should be paid or unpaid. The Minister could not say how long the inquiry would take or when its findings would be available. Yet, if he decides to adopt such a scheme, clause 1(1) provides for it without the need for further amendment or discussion. Yet to pay MOD police specials would seriously upset the traditional position in the Home Department forces and create anomalies which I would not welcome.

Many of the points of disagreement that were discussed in Committee are capable of resolution only under the guidelines which are to be agreed in future between the Ministry of Defence and chief constables of Home Department police forces. The guidelines are to be established by ministerial direction and my hon. Friend the Minister has told us that he is nowhere near formulating them.

It is in the national interest that those guidelines should have the unqualified support of Home Department police forces and I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that that is the case. It is also in the national interest that the guidelines should be in the public domain. They should not be secret and I welcome my hon. Friend's assurances on that.

In Committee the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) said that any decisions reached on the guidelines should be brought to the House in one form or another and added: Very often, decisions are made almost regardless of the operation of a Standing Committee or of the House itself." —[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 10 February 1987; c. 30.] That is a problem which I echo. My hon. Friend the Minister said that he genuinely did not know what form the guidelines would take and that it was difficult to know what classification to put on them. I am delighted that that has now been resolved. We look forward to reading the guidelines as soon as possible and practicable.

I hope that in considering firearms in the guidelines my hon. Friend the Minister will exercise the closest possible co-operation with Home Department chief constables. When firearms are taken outside military establishments, for example, accompanying a convoy or policing a base, it is not enough for the local chief constable to be told that that is happening. Home Department forces should be consulted in advance because sensitive community policing is involved. Moreover, since we have established by probing in Committee that Home Department police forces have primacy both inside and outside the wire, it is logical that the chief constables should know what they are to be responsible for. A situation, however remote, could arise when firearms are drawn. Parliament must legislate to cover the worst scenario. If something goes wrong and shots are fired by the Ministry of Defence police, the county chief constable will have primacy and must restore law and order. Therefore, it is a principle of good policing that he should be aware of the possibilities, however remote, before they arise.

I lament the fact that the legislation is necessary, but I do not dwell on the past. I look to the future and to the fundamental importance of maximum consultation in establishing those crucial guidelines. That must be in the best interests of both the Ministry of Defence police and Home Department forces. It is also in the best interests of communities, such as mine in south Wiltshire, and, indeed, of policing the nation.

5.45 pm
Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

I welcome the Bill perhaps because of the long association of the Ministry of Defence with the Woolwich arsenal, but also because it provides much needed clarification of the powers and duties of the MDP and much needed recognition of the important work that the MDP does on all our behalfs in the difficult jobs which it undertakes.

Three areas worry me, all of which we explored in depth in Committee. First, the powers of the MDP committee seemed to make it a somewhat toothless tiger. I have explored that in depth with the Minister and I accept his assurances that, although we may argue about the membership of the committee, it will have rather greater powers and be more effective than it appears to be on the face of the Bill. I am happy to accept that assurance.

The second area of concern was reflected in all parts of the House and is the question of relationships with civilian police forces. We all understand the need to achieve what I called "sensible co-operation" between the MDP and the Home Department police forces. In Committee the Minister went a long way to reassure us on that matter. As other hon. Members said, we shall examine the guidelines in depth when they are published. Nevertheless, this is an important step in the right direction. The commitment to consult on and publish the guidelines and to be as open as possible about those relationships is welcome and removes some of our anxiety about the original implications of the Bill.

The third area of concern relates to the complaints machinery. There is no doubt that the MDP will be subject to the same complaints procedures as the civilian police forces. I wish that that general procedure were a little stronger, but the Bill is not the vehicle to deal with that matter. It is absolutely right that the MDP should be subject to the same arrangements as the civilian police and I welcome that.

I do not intend to delay the House. I compliment the Minister on his careful handling of the Bill through all its stages. Its passage has been a model of good-tempered parliamentary scrutiny, and I am happy to support its Third Reading.

5.48 pm
Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)

Like hon. Members on both sides who have spoken, I welcome the principle of the Bill and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), I draw the attention of the House to the fact that we are creating a national police force for the first time. It is as well that hon. Members should consider what the implications are.

That national police force may be hedged around in clause 2(2)(d) by the restriction that the M DP can operate only on land in the vicinity of land mentioned in any of the other paragraphs of that clause. As we found out in Committee, only one part of the United Kingdom is excluded from that definition and it happens to be the constituency of the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who distinguished our debates in Committee.

The hon. Member for Walsall, South, perhaps with more ribaldry than is his wont, tried to dismiss my pointing out to him that the area also includes land in the vicinity of the United Kingdom. That was not an entirely frivolous remark because, of course, the existing Ministry of Defence establishments, together with the definition of the vicinity, means that we are giving jurisdiction to the Ministry of Defence police that covers virtually the whole of this country, especially when one considers how indented is our coast line.

Therefore, it behoves us to consider what we are creating in the way of jurisdiction. That is something that we would do well to take more than merely on trust, however much we are wont to trust everything that my hon. Friend says. Therefore, I hope that he will not only publish the deliberations of the committee, which we understand is considering the issue of jurisdiction, but will find a way of embodying its conclusions—so long as we agree with them — in the proceedings of the House. Perhaps some form of order would be an appropriate way of dealing with it, as the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) suggested.

My remarks in Committee about the composition of the Ministry of Defence Police Committee were not wholly frivolous. On 10 February, at column 24, my hon. Friend suggested that the membership of the committee which came from the Home Office represented an outside element. I know that my hon. Friend is not so parochial as to expect us to believe that Home Office membership of such a committee would effectively represent the concerns of the general public over and above the concerns of the Home Office, as against those of the Ministry of Defence.

In view of the strong constitutional implications of the Bill, I urge my hon. Friend to consider that there would be a great deal of merit, if only to appease the worries of my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury and myself, in the suggestion that some member of the great and good on that list, who is also a member of the public and not a civil servant, might be included as a member of that committee. 1 understand that there are still one or two people on the list who are not civil servants.

Like other hon. Members, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the extraordinary persuasiveness that he has displayed. He certainly persuaded us not to seek to press these matters to a Division. I hope that during our debates in the coming months he will reassure us on the worries that we have expressed.

5.52 pm
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

I have suffered several grievous blows in these proceedings by being quoted approvingly by three Conservative Members. It would be most helpful if the Minister would denounce me, lest I return to my party in even greater difficulties.

The proceedings in Committee were unique. I did not think that it was possible to find an area of defence where there would be no divisions, and the Minister must be complimented on finding at least a tiny area of consensus about defence security policy and for building upon it as fast and as far as possible. The proceedings in Committee were notable partly for their brevity—there were only two sittings—partly for establishing a sort of consensus, and partly because several myths were discussed and eliminated.

We heard earlier that the Government were legislating in the dark, and that is partly true. However, we must distinguish between the darkness for which the Ministry of Defence is responsible, having turned off the lights, and the darkness which is our responsibility. If information is not there and if we do not seek to find it, that is our responsibility and we cannot completely blame the Ministry of Defence for that. However, the criticism that things have been unfolding in and since the Committee stage is absolutely valid.

The Committee was notable for enlightening us all on defence matters and for taking us along the highways and byways of Salisbury on a veritable "Down Your Way" with Franklin Engelmann. I must say to the hon. Gentleman, who managed — I do not say this too harshly — to create almost a "Guinness Book of Records" in terms of mistakes per paragraph in Hansard, that most of the alleys turned out to be blind.

A couple of new areas have been introduced that I did not catch in Committee, and one is the establishment of a national police force. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) talked about his unhappiness — I am not quite sure whether that is the correct word— that the Bill had to be introduced. I do not feel that, somehow, we are creating a gendamerie, a KGB, a unit of black or brown shirts, or a national police force that would somehow be unleashed on an unsuspecting public. We have managed to avoid that during more than a century of policing in this country. For a start, there are only just under 5,000 Ministry of Defence police officers. If a national police force were created, it could hardly be of a magnitude such as to threaten civil liberties. It is far more important and inevitable that a police force that would be attached to the Ministry of Defence should be a part of national operations, because crime does not confine itself to neat geographical or policing boundaries. Despite the constraints upon the Ministry of Defence police, that force clearly must operate not only within the national framework but, in some cases, within an international framework. It is not right at this late stage to introduce a new concept and suggest that we are opening a Pandora's box and establishing a national police force. Some of the myths have been eliminated, but some have been recreated.

In Committee we were informed about the "rubber-stamp" police committee. I understand that, since then, the composition of that committee has been announced. However, I am not entirely placated by the Minister telling us that two ex-chief constables have been added to it. I mean no disrespect to the Minister in saying that hon. Members of all parties said that it might be better to appoint from those outside the normal policing framework. I am disappointed that my volunteering to serve on such a committee was so swiftly dismissed. However, there must be a broader basis of experience on that committee. I hope that when the Minister provides us with the necessary information, we shall be reassured that the committee will not simply do the Minister's bidding, but will have a wider basis of representation.

The Minister was silent about the suggestion of publishing an annual report to Parliament on the activities of the Ministry of Defence police. Until this Bill, its activities went largely unnoticed by this place, but it has now emerged as an interesting issue. Although we are obsessed by the Home Office police forces, we should also not be indifferent to the Ministry of Defence police. Therefore, the publication of an annual report to this House would give us the opportunity to scrutinise the activities of that important force, and a report by the chief constable to the Secretary of State would not be an adequate substitute.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) reiterated an issue that was raised in Committee about the Defence Police Federation. Unlike the Police Federation, that federation is very small, with a membership of less than 5,000. That gives it an inadequate financial base upon which to mount its activities. The Defence Police Federation is inadequately funded because of its lack of membership and it is unable to mount the range of activities that it should mount. Therefore, I hope it will be possible to establish a degree of parity with the Police Federation. I understand that there is some financial contribution to the Police Federation from the Home Office — or the provision of certain facilities. I would like to see that replicated within the Ministry of Defence relationship with the Defence Police Federation. I hope that something will emerge from our deliberations.

An issue that was not raised in Committee, which is of critical importance, is the use of firearms. Clearly, the attractiveness of the Ministry of Defence police over contract security is the access that they have to firearms.

They do not carry firearms, but they have access to them. Surely that is a deterrent to any potential terrorist if he or she is considering raiding the royal ordnance factory at Enfield or anywhere where there are arms or small arms that could be used for illegal and terrorist activities.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned that the police, the Ministry of Defence police and anyone else who has access to firearms are properly trained. I am not in any way criticising the Ministry of Defence police, its method of training or the amount of time spent in training, but I ask the Minister in all seriousness—he is being as helpful as possible—whether he will review the training given to the Ministry of Defence police. I should like to see the system of training sufficiently refined so as to give people with an interest in policing the proper reassurance that the degree of training given is adequate to meet the tasks. I hope that it is not just a question of examining that aspect. I understand that a working party involving the Home Office police forces has been examining that aspect. I would at some stage like to have reassurances that the Ministry of Defence police weapons training is adequate to meet the growing threat that it faces.

I understand that something that I brought up on Second Reading is proceeding, I might add detrimentally. I now believe that the central London detachment of the Ministry of Defence police is to be moved from guarding the headquarters of MI5. I should have thought that this was not the right time to do that. The argument that £250,000 might be saved by moving the Ministry of Defence police and inserting a civilian grade, the Property Services Agency security guard, is questionable. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to give the House, or the Defence Select Committee representing the House, adequate opportunity to examine that decision because, obviously, everyone here is interested in national security. While efficiency and cost saving is to be elevated to the highest order, national security is much more important than the saving of £250,000. I hope that the Minister is prepared to argue his case in the House, or before a Select Committee, to justify the decision that his Department has taken.

What the Select Committee on Defence, the Standing Committee and the House have done is to debate an important police force that we tend to forget about, and an important police force that, as a result of this legislation, has justification for saying that it is not a second-class police force. It is not some ramshackle security outfit that happens to be given the privilege of guarding sensitive property, but is a force whose history goes back many years. It has a history of 300 years of policing military establishments. The legislation gives that police force the statutory recognition that it deserves. I hope that the people who read and listen to these proceedings will recognise that here is a police force of competence, one that needs to be taken seriously and not just dealt with on sporadic occasions by the House.

It is important that the activities of this police force are constantly brought to our attention. I do not mean that they should always be brought to our attention in a critical way. I hope that the Minister will give serious thought to presenting an annual report to Parliament. Even though these proceedings have been dealt with rather swiftly and there has been little fundamental disagreement—despite what the hon. Member for Salisbury said—this modest Bill is one that needs to be passed. I am pleased to participate, in my own way, in the passage through the House of an important though small piece of legislation.

6.4 pm

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Some Standing Committees tend to polarise the divisions of the House while others create an atmosphere of brotherly love. I did not have the pleasure of serving on the Standing Committee, but it is clear that the charm and blandishments of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement have brought about a quite unaccustomed unity of view on both sides of the House, and I congratulate him on that. In those circumstances, it may be indelicate on my part to intrude a few questions about the wisdom of what we are about to do.

By instinct, I favour defence and I support the police, so I have no choice but to support the Bill. I also read with great interest the report of Sir Ewen Broadbent and I congratulate him and his committee on the thoroughness of their work. I also congratulate the Select Committee on its thoroughness. With that sort of authority, how dare one raise one's voice about some aspects of the Bill? As I am also in favour of my hon. Friend the Minister, it is with the greatest reluctance that I must point to certain defects in the Bill.

It is common ground that the Ministry of Defence police need a statutory framework, and we are all for that. I think that we all agreed, too, that at a time of increasing attacks on British and American defence installations in this country and of increasing demonstrations and thefts of MOD property, there should be a stronger and clearer arrangement to provide the necessary support and protection for those agencies. However, having examined the Bill in detail with representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers and with the Police Federation, I must say that I am unhappy about it, and so are they.

My hon. Friend the Minister has succeeded in convincing the Committee that the powers that the Ministry of Defence police will exercise will not be increased, but I am advised that the Bill changes their powers substantially. Broadly speaking, their jurisdiction is extended in area in the sense that, henceforth, they will have responsibility and powers across the entire country. Their powers are also extended by function in that, for the first time, the MOD police may exercise the powers of a constable on any matter that has been the subject of a contract between the Secretary of State for Defence and any other person. A contract can mean virtually anything from the procurement of food for the American forces, right the way through to the complexities of modern weapons procurement. It is therefore a broad extension of powers by function.

The status of the Ministry of Defence police is materially altered and strengthened. Henceforth, instead of being special constables its members will be full constables. I have no objection to that, but it is important that the House should recognise that nearly all legislation touching upon the criminal law starts out with the words "that constable may". The term "constable" has a special status in this country. Now that we are conferring that status on Ministry of Defence police it is incumbent on the House to ensure that the powers of the constable are balanced in every way by the same accountabilities that the Home Department's police constables are required to observe. At present, the Bill confers the powers of the constable on the Ministry of Defence police, but it does not require the same degree of accountability as for the civilian police. I will try to illustrate that.

Mr. George

If the powers to confer accountability on Ministry of Defence police already exist in other legislation, it would be superfluous to introduce them into this legislation.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

This legislation clearly goes further because legislation to date gives the Ministry of Defence police only the powers of special constables, which are very different from those of the constable under the criminal law.

One of the central differences that will continue to exist between the two types of constable is illustrated by clause 1 of the Bill, which states that the MOD police shall consist of persons nominated by the Secretary of State". Moreover, The Secretary of State shall appoint a chief constable" and shall have power—

  1. (a) to suspend a member of the Ministry of Defence Police from duty; and
  2. (b) to terminate a person's membership."
In other words, the Secretary of State hires and fires every member of the MOD police. That is entirely different from the Home Department police. No Minister of the Crown has ever sought to arrogate to himself the power to hire and fire police officers, and it is central to the separation of the powers of the police from the political management of our country that the Home Secretary, who is the only Minister who has anything directly to do with the police, does not have that power. The House should therefore recognise that the Bill will create not only a national police force but a one-man political police force under the control of the Secretary of State for Defence. That has never happened before. The House should be clear about what it is doing.

My next point concerns jurisdiction. The MOD police will henceforth have power to go into virtually any area of Britain provided that they are carrying out the functions laid down in the Bill. I am advised that unless clear and mandatory guidelines are laid down — I emphasise the word "mandatory" — there could be unnecessary collisions between two groups of officers who in general work well together. I give just three examples. I hope that I can attract my hon. Friend the Minister's attention in offering them to him as they arise not from my imagination but from the advice of those who have perhaps rather more experience than he or I in practical policing.

My first example concerns a surveillance operation conducted by the Metropolitan police, or indeed by any other police force, through the CID or the special branch in respect of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984. When such a surveillance is being conducted, the police must be sensitive to the situation in the local community. They may have to operate, as from time to time they do, under cover without there being much knowledge of their presence. That is implicit in the nature of counter-terrorist activity. In those circumstances, what will happen if members of the new MOD police move in—in pursuance of one of their operations in plain clothes, and armed because they are conducting the CID or detective side of their work — without advance notice being given to the police conducting the counter-terrorist operation? Without elaborating too much, the possibilities of collision or worse are grave.

I hope that we shall overcome that problem by establishing beyond peradventure, wherever the MOD police are to operate outside their installations and within the area of another police force, not merely that it ought to be their duty but that it shall be their obligation to inform the chief officer of police of the county force in question of what they are doing and why. If they fail to do that, they may run the risk of arrest and of a collision between the two forces.

Mr. Key

Does that not also reinforce my earlier point that in those circumstances, having established that the Home Department force has primacy, the chief constable of the county constabulary would be responsible for clearing up the ensuing mess although he did not know that it was likely to happen?

Sir Eldon Griffiths

He would indeed. That is another example of the Bill's asymmetry.

Secondly, the House and the country now expect the police to deal with the problem of drugs. It is the common experience of police officers in big city areas that if they seek to enforce the criminal law in respect of drug trafficking by stopping, searching and even arresting two or three young people, perhaps in an ethnic minority area, before they know it, they are confronted with a threat to the Queen's peace — in other words, a race riot. The delicate area between the enforcement of the criminal law and the maintenance of the Queen's peace requires the greatest sensitivity, which, I concede, the police do not always achieve with the greatest efficiency. But if, in that situation, without the knowledge of the officer in charge of, say, the Metropolitan police operation, members of the MOD police then come lumbering in — [Interruption.] Tiptoeing in, shall we say — I do not need to use pejorative language. If the MOD police insert themselves into the area, pursuing their obligations to look into some contract with a defence producer or in respect of some particular member of the Armed Forces whom they are seeking—an extremely sensitive situation—and if they do so without giving advance notice of what they are doing, who is doing it, and why, the situation will be replete with difficulties.

My third example has been mentioned on several occasions and relates to convoys. Of course, I am in favour of ensuring that convoys of sensitive materials through Britain are properly protected. I want to see the MOD police active in that difficult duty. But it must be completely understood that where a convoy goes into a civil police area there must be proper advance warning of what it is doing and where it is going. It was put to me by a senior member of the Association of Chief Police Officers only this morning that if the police have determined that a demonstration is likely to take place, for example, near a defence establishment in my own or any other constituency and they decide for a variety of reasons that it is important to route traffic away from a particular area, it is critical that the MOD police should advise the chief police officer and, through him, his traffic department of what they are about to do.

In mentioning those possible difficulties to the House, I understand full well that my hon. Friend the Minister will! say that the primacy of the civil police is not in doubt and that it is certainly the intention that the chief constable of the MOD police should do his duty and inform the local chief constable in advance. I am sure that in most circumstances that would happen as between practical men, but nothing in the Bill requires it. There is only, with respect, my hon. Friend's assurance and the circular that he has yet to produce. That circular should be mandatory in respect of the chief constable of the MOD police. I appreciate that it can only be advisory in respect of the other chief constables, but in respect of a man who is hired by and can be fired by the Secretary of State, that instruction should be mandatory and binding upon him.

Mr. O'Neill

As the hon. Gentleman has just been in consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers, can he enlighten us as to what progress has been made in the establishment of the guidelines and whether the association is satisfied with the present position, given the length of the discussions?

Sir Eldon Griffiths

It is much more for my hon. Friend the Minister to satisfy the House on that than me. The ACPO committee put forward its views on the initial draft offered by MOD and there was a wide divergence of views. As I am advised, MOD has returned with a further draft and ACPO is not satisfied with it. It may be that in the course of the consultations, and I have been involved in this kind of thing over many years, a sensible conclusion will be reached. I certainly hope so. But the important point remains. The ordinary chief officer of police is, in a sense, his own man under the law. His police authority can give him general instructions, but he is his own man with regard to operations. The chief constable of the Ministry of Defence is a different creature. He is a servant, an employee, a man to whom the Secretary of State can say, "Do this or be sacked". The circular should be advisory in relation to the chief police officers who do not come under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State, but in relation to the Secretary of State's own man the circular should instruct that chief constable to inform the chief officers of police into whose jurisdiction his force may go. There can be no compromise — no question of asking the MOD police politely to advise the police force into whose jurisdiction they may go. They must advise the chief police officers, and it is for the Secretary of State to ensure that they do so.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He may recall that a few months ago I spoke about some misdemeanours occurring on a London housing estate. The charges were denied by the local police, but months later when people were sent down at the Old Bailey it was discovered that the estate and certain people living on it had been under surveillance by Scotland Yard. That illustrates a lack of information as it is clear that the local police did not know about the Scotland Yard operations. How does my hon. Friend expect cross-communication between the military and the police to work if it does not always work within the police force?

Sir Eldon Griffiths

My hon. Friend is correct. From time to time there is a lack of co-ordination between individual forces or branches of the same force. I am not proud of that. I deplore it. But the House should not institutionalise the likelihood of its happening. I therefore make a plea to the Minister, who has still to determine the guidance to be given, to ensure that it is binding upon the MOD police, before going into a chief constable's area, to tell that chief constable what they are about, what they are seeking to do, and why.

I should like to examine further the difference in status between the two types of constable. The constables that for some 17 years I have had the privilege to represent are unique citizens under the law. A police constable is given, through legislation, certain powers that are not available to other citizens. In return, special duties and accountability procedures are laid upon him. The constable is accountable, first, under his oath of office; secondly, to his discipline code; thirdly, to the law of the land; fourthly, in general terms, to his chief officer and the police authority; and, finally, to the independent Police Complaints Authority.

The Minister should make it clear that every constable in the MOD police is as accountable in those specific ways as any other constable in the country. That accountability is not clear in the Bill. Nor is it clear from the various byelaws that the Bill pulls together. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister can find a way of attaching some code or schedule to the Bill to make that accountability clear beyond peradventure.

My final point is a political one. Throughout my life in the House, in my connection with the police services and on behalf of my party, I have always held one thing dear — that we must at all costs separate the police from politics. No Minister controls a civil police force in Britain, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would be the first to agree. The police authority in Manchester, Merseyside or the west midlands is not the operational controller of the police in that area. Similarly, the Home Secretary is not the controller of the Metropolitan police, nor should he be. But with this Bill we are creating for the first time, by statute, a police force which is the creature of the Secretary of State for Defence. He gives the orders. He can hire or fire members of that force. It is he who defines where that force will go. Ultimately, the Secretary of State is responsible to the House. That is the only safeguard on Ministry of Defence police actions. But what has happened to the separation between the police and the politician? The Bill destroys it. That question should have been examined by the Opposition in Committee. It is the job of the loyal Opposition to try such issues before a Committee of Parliament.

I wish to end my speech with a quote from the chairman of the legislation sub-committee of the Police Federation. Inspector Mannion and his experienced colleagues have examined every major piece of legislation that has come through the House in the past 10 years. They have examined every clause and every amendment to test legislation against the background of practical experience. Inspector Mannion writes of this Bill: Amongst a host of sloppily drafted, abstract, inconsistent and vague legislation this Bill ranks supreme. It says very little. It leaves much up in the air and if I were a member of the Defence Police Federation I would regard it with the utmost dismay. That is the considered judgment of the chairman of the legislation sub-committee of the statutory Police Federation of England and Wales. My hon. Friend should take that judgment seriously. I have sent my hon. Friend a copy of the letter from the Police Federation, which has objected to a number of points in the Bill. I hope that there is still time for some discussion before the circular is agreed and sent out to police forces.

I hope that this Bill is passed. Overall it is a sensible Bill, as it is high time that the Ministry of Defence police were placed under proper statutory jurisdiction and that they performed their job of protecting our defence establishments more effectively. But while I respect my hon. Friend the Minister's intentions, the Bill is defective. It has moved in other directions than the House has previously recognised. The circular, when it emanates, must tidy up those problems. Otherwise, there will be nothing but trouble ahead.

6.27 pm
Mr. O'Neill

I did not intend to intervene at this stage, but I must tell the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) that a number of the points that he raised were ventilated in Committee.

The hon. Gentleman takes his money from the Police Federation and he is entitled to do so. However, he did not participate in the Committee proceedings, nor did he seek to participate. He made one or two superficial interventions on Second Reading—

Sir Eldon Griffiths


Mr. O'Neill

As far as the Labour party is concerned — other parties can speak for themselves — any representations that were made either from the Association of Chief Police Officers or, for that matter, the Ministry of Defence police force were subjected to discussion. The fact that we did not put such matters to the vote is, frankly, of no consequence because—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I was misled by the hon. Gentleman. I believed that he wished to make an intervention. However, if he wishes to make another speech he must have the leave of the House. Does the hon. Gentleman have the leave of the House to speak again?

Hon. Members


Mr. O'Neill

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It had not originally been my intention to speak again. However, I waited until the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds had finished his speech.

It is only fair to reply to the hon. Gentleman's speech because his remarks were tantamount to a slight on all hon. Members and the manner in which we discussed the Bill in Committee. It was open to the hon. Gentleman to put any complaints or grievances to the Committee about how it had dealt with the Bill. The hon. Gentleman could have approached the Committee when it sat for two days. Indeed, there were certain critics on the Conservative side of the Committee who attracted media attention and who were capable of putting forward the amendments that the hon. Gentleman sought to discuss. Frankly, I believe that it is a disgrace for an experienced Member to make on Third Reading, a Second Reading speech—I imagine to save face with his paymasters. That is unacceptable.

Important points were made constructively in Committee by a number of Conservative Members. We should have taken on board some of the points which the hon. Gentleman made had they been brought to our attention by him or by the individuals and organisations with which he associates. We are not prepared to take that kind of criticism because it is totally unfounded. We raised points on many matters and the fact that we did not detain the Committee unnecessarily with Divisions which would not achieve anything reflects hon. Members' good sense and is to their credit. Too often we are accused, correctly, of using adversarial tactics in Committee. We had no intention of doing so on that occasion.

6.30 pm
Mr. Archie Hamilton

I seek the leave of the House to speak again.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. In the particular circumstances the hon. Member does not need the leave of the House.

Mr. Hamilton

That is reassuring, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

This has been a constructive debate with good contributions by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It has been a good, non-partisan Bill.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) was not happy with the complaints procedure, but I think that he recognised that the complaints procedure provided for in the Bill follows that of the Home Department police forces. If we wanted to change this complaints procedure, it would be sensible to change the Home Department's complaints procedure. I should be surprised if, in practice, Ministry of Defence police did not follow suit in any changes made in the Home Department police forces.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) said that the Ministry of Defence police were a national force under the operational control of a Minister of the Crown. The Secretary of State is directly accountable to Parliament for the actions of the Ministry of Defence police who, in common with other police, are accountable to the courts and to the independent Police Complaints Authority. Direction and control of the force are exercised by the chief constable, who is under oath to administer the law in the same way as other members of police or any other police force. That is an important point. There has been much talk about us having a political police force. That is not true.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I must point out that no other Minister can sack a chief constable in the fashion that the Secretary of State for Defence can in this case. The chief constable of the Ministry of Defence police is the creature of the Secretary of State for Defence, and no other chief constable is put in that position.

Mr. Hamilton

I take my hon. Friend's point about hiring and firing, but I should like to come to that problem when I deal with his speech.

The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) raised three points which I think were covered reasonably well in Committee. I thank him for his general welcome for the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) mentioned, once again, his concern that the definition of "Crown property" covers the foreshore. I am sorry that he thought that I was deriding him in Committee. I am afaid that I still cannot conceive of a large number of circumstances in which the Ministry of Defence police will want to operate on the foreshore, even though they may be free to do so. I think that my hon. Friend was slightly misled.

The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) does not mislead us often, but he gave the slight impression that his was the only area that was not covered under the 15-mile limit. I have a map with some black areas on it which I should be happy to show to the House. It shows that extensive areas of, for instance, Scotland are not covered under the 15-mile limit. [Interruption.] I shall certainly ensure that a copy is placed in the Library. I might even send one to my hon. Friend so that he can see that there are incomplete areas which are not covered under the 15-mile limit. This causes embarrassment if there are convoys going to nuclear areas in Scotland. That is one of our difficulties.

The hon. Member for Walsall, South made a strong point about the national police force. At the end of the day, we are talking about crime, which happens all over the country and knows no boundaries. It is important that the police should have the capacity to deal with crime wherever it happens on Ministry of Defence property.

The hon. Gentleman was concerned about publication of reports. There is, of course, the chief constable's report. I have a copy of the report for the year ending 30 September 1985 which, as the hon. Gentleman can see, is restricted. It is quite a document. We have agreed that future reports may be placed in the Library. Last year's report ran to 19 pages and eight additional annexes. It is not altogether fair to dismiss that as inadequate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would have to draw extensively on the report if he was to write another report for the House. We might agree therefore that, if the report is placed in the Library, we can discuss whether we should go further and whether the Police Committee should produce its own report.

The hon. Member for Walsall, South raised the problem of firearms and training and expressed concern about whether people were being properly trained. I repeat what I have said because it is extremely important. The use of firearms is always a serious matter because of the possibility of injury or even death arising from their use. That, of course, includes innocent people not in any way involved in the offence to which the firearms are related. Firearms are therefore issued only to Ministry of Defence police officers who are fully qualified to use the types of weapon to be carried and only when the order for their issue has been given by the chief constable after the authorisation by the Secretary of State.

Training in the use of firearms is undertaken regularly and the senior police officer at each establishment is responsible for ensuring that all ranks are fully conversant with the MDP's safety precautions and general instructions on the use and carrying of firearms. I shall consider this training aspect because the hon. Member for Walsall, South is clearly concerned about it. We should not dismiss it lightly because it is sensitive. We must have total confidence in police training. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman to tell him of my findings.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) is worried about the role of the Secretary of State towards the Ministry of Defence police and the degree to which he is able to hire and fire. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is responsible for hiring and firing a large number of people. I suppose that he is responsible for most of the civilian work force in the Ministry of Defence which, according to the last figures I saw, numbered 160,000 people. I do not envisage my right hon. Friend spending a lot of time worrying himself too much about who is hired and who is not.

I agree that there is concern about the firing of people within the Ministry of Defence police, but I do not think that my right hon. Friend has quite the freedom of action suggested by my hon. Friend in terms of firing a member of the Ministry of Defence police with whom he does not agree. There would be a fantastic furore if my right hon. Friend were to take what could be seen as very arbitrary action in firing a member of the Ministry of Defence police. I should have thought that, in those circumstances, there would be a serious row if it were not seen to be a reasonable action of getting rid of someone who was not doing his job properly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds raised a number of questions and gave a number of hypothetical examples of what might go wrong in terms of the inter-relationship between Home Department police forces and the Ministry of Defence police. He mentioned surveillance operations under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984 with Home Department police forces acting under cover. He saw armed plain clothes Ministry of Defence key people moving in without giving any notice and without saying that they were there. That conflicts with practice in almost every way. In practice, when it comes to armed people moving about, the MDP makes certain that the local Home Department police forces are informed about what is happening. The CID of the Ministry of Defence police spends most of its time investigating fraud. To deal with fraud that body wants the greatest freedom of action. It always communicates with the local police forces to say what it is doing and what lines of inquiry are being pursued.

It is in those respects that the police are likely to range widest across the country when tracking down contracts which have gone wrong and cases in which people have cheated the Ministry of Defence. That is not a likely hypothesis, nor indeed is the hypothesis on the drugs investigation and the sensitive policing that is going on. I cannot imagine the Ministry of Defence police going into an area such as that. As I have said, most of the matters in which they are involved concern fraud. They would be unlikely to end up in some difficult part of Brixton, for example.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

I am quite sure that the Minister means what he says, but how does he know? How can he say that he does not think that it is likely that the Ministry of Defence police would go into a particular area? He is not prepared to give them an instruction that they should not go into such an area without telling the civilian police beforehand. That is the issue.

Mr. Hamilton

It is better, rather than to deal with hypotheses, to see what has happened under the existing practice. Under the existing practice there is close cooperation between the Home Department police forces and the Ministry of Defence police. Indeed, at a low level, they work extremely well together. On the whole, when crimes are investigated, the Home Department police forces are likely to contact the Ministry of Defence police and say, "Will you deal with this one for us?"

The practice now is for Ministry of Defence police always to notify the Home Department police forces and tell them where their convoys will go and the routes that they will follow. They will not find themselves going into a demonstration or anything of that sort, because the local Home Department police forces will already have been informed of the route that they intended to take. Obviously, if there were demonstrations and such matters going on, and the chief constable were concerned that they might get mixed up in them, he would come back to them on that matter.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Walsall, South. I have been trying to dream up some basis on which I could denounce him. I have his political interests at heart. He has made my job extremely difficult. I echo his words to the House. The Ministry of Defence police are not a second-class police force. They are doing a useful and valuable job in protecting Ministry of Defence property. They are available also to back up the Home Department police forces, and regularly do so, when their resources run low. They are playing a magnificent role in maintaining law and order.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

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