HC Deb 27 January 1987 vol 109 cc285-309

Ordered, That at this day's sitting, the Ministry of Defence Police Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Portillo.]

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Mr. O'Neill

It is just over 300 years since Samuel Pepys advised the Special Commissioners of the Navy to guard the naval dockyards. I shall not deal with all the functions of the porters, rounders, warders and so on. It is significant that, despite the sterling efforts of those men and their successors, the danger of embezzlement of stores from Ministry of Defence establishments is still as great a problem as it ever was. In many respects it is probably even greater than it was in days gone by. Certainly it is true to say that the categories of policemen involved have extended far beyond the porters, rounders, warders and watchmen. We now have some 150 establishments in Britain and Northern Ireland with a complement, in 1984, of about 4,220 men and women.

This is not a controversial Bill. We do not intend to seek to divide the House. We can probably tidy up any of the difficulties in Committee, I hope fairly briefly. But we have the opportunity this evening to explore some of the difficulties and issues which have been brought to my attention by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Ministry of Defence police. However, the latter group seems to be a great deal more satisfied with the proposals than the chief constables. Nevertheless, their misgivings can probably be met in the course of our deliberations.

There is always an anxiety, especially with a highly professional, somewhat self-conscious group such as the chief constables, that someone will muscle in on their patch, for want of a better expression. However, there is little appreciable difference in terms of the skills, training and rewards between the Ministry of Defence police and their civilian counterparts, the Home Department police.

The questions which the chief constables have raised with me are evidence of their anxiety about the question of jurisdiction. That could be resolved and I hope that we can look at some of the problems this evening and in Committee. I am sure that compromises and guidelines can be established which will be to everyone's satisfaction.

Other issues have been raised. The question of the creation of special constables is still exercising the Government. I can see the danger in allowing the MOD police to have special constables, because only a certain number of people would be prepared to volunteer their services. The Government must judge whether those individuals should be encouraged to join the civil police or the Ministry of Defence police. I hope that the Minister will be forthcoming about that. My hon. Friends and I have no hard and fast feelings about it and would be willing to take judgment and to listen to the Minister's view on it. I hope that a view will be forthcoming before the Bill leaves the House.

Of course, there are other areas in which the MOD police and the civil police are drawn together. That obviously applies to terrorism and the threat of it, when close co-operation must be secured at the earliest possible moment. I know that contingency plans have been drawn up as a result of wide-ranging discussions between Home Department police and the Ministry of Defence police. I hope that the new status that the legislation will afford to the MOD police will not result in any additional barriers being erected where, at the moment, I am satisfied that there is useful co-operation.

We have heard about convoys of nuclear loads almost by implication, and I appreciate the Minister's reluctance to discuss that. I say that partly because of recent publicity, although my own inclination is that the Government are far too secretive. Some of the people near to whose property the loads travel would be better off if they were fully aware of what was taking place and the circumstances in which those convoys were being organised.

The fire and ambulance emergency services are obviously involved. In the recent case in Wiltshire, it is clear that a fire tender was present. If there had been a fire, I am certain that it could have been dealt with speedily.

However, at the moment, movement of nuclear loads is still the prerogative of the Home Department chief officers. Once a convoy leaves the base, it is the responsibility of the chief constable, through whose areas it travels. I have asked the Minister of State for the Armed Forces questions about this, but his response was characteristically reticent. I am not saying that he is being economical with the truth, but he is being reticent about some of the circumstances surrounding the incident in Wiltshire. I see the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) in his place—I understand that he is the local Member of Parliament, and he may wish to raise that point.

One is never too clear about the point at which the local constabulary is actively involved. When sensitive loads—regardless of what those loads are—are discussed, the local police should be informed so that they have a fair idea and can move into an incident at the earliest possible moment. In that situation, we must avoid any difficulties that the legislation could create by putting barriers between local police and Ministry of Defence police.

I recognise also that there are sensitive issues regarding personnel for convoys and who should carry arms. Ministers ought at least to recognise that. Perhaps some probing amendments in Committee will provoke a response.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that, when the Atomic Energy Authority police were established and given powers to safeguard the movement of nuclear fuel, they were given power to be armed? They are armed. Does he remember that the Secretary of State who pushed that legislation through the House was the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who is now so strongly opposed to arming the police on any occasion?

Mr. O'Neill

I was able to indulge in the luxury of watching proceedings in the House from a position somewhat removed from that which I now enjoy. I recognise that difficult decisions about arming the police have occasionally to be made. I am not suggesting that there are no circumstances in which the police should be armed. The interesting thing about moving nuclear waste is that the civil police have a far more open approach than the military authorities. As we have to consider the removal of waste from craft such as nuclear submarines, we are entitled to greater frankness.

I have noted that the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman), prompted I think by a report in last week's New Scientist, has said three times that he is concerned about the transportation and, ultimately, dumping of nuclear waste from nuclear-powered ships in the Chatham area. A variety of issues are involved, not just the mischievous point raised by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths). There are circumstances in which the police have to be armed for their own safety and for the safety of people around them.

We do not want to find that, because we have considered the Bill with a somewhat dewy-eyed view, we have not got it right the first time, as we do not often get a second chance.

The Ministry of Defence police force, which comprises some 4,200 people, is one of the largest in the country. The Secretary of State is a one-man police authority. I do not represent a London constituency, but I am aware that there are a variety of views about police accountability. Local chief constables through whose territory Ministry of Defence police may travel in the course of their duties are subject to the limited accountability that present legislation provides. There is a feeling—it was expressed to me by a chief constable—that the chief constable of the MOD police will be subject to far less accountability than his civil counterpart. We should consider that in Committee to see whether accountability can be more clearly defined.

If public confidence in the police is to be restored, or maintained—depending on people's attitude—they must be entitled to more accountability from chief constables, especially in the MOD force, as we are unlikely to legislate again for some considerable time.

We also have the problems of the Police Committee, which I understand will be a kind of advisory board for the MOD police. I understand that on this committee there will be representatives of the Scottish Office, the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office, and that there will be civil chief constables' representatives, but not the MOD chief constable himself. This could well put the MOD chief constable at a disadvantage. The valid point was made to me by the MOD Police Federation today that they want their man involved in all the discussions. Perhaps the Minister will comment on what seems to be an omission here. Perhaps I have misunderstood, but if the Minister could check on this it would save my trying to construct an amendment for the Committee stage. It would be helpful if we could have this point cleared up.

I have referred to the question of jurisdiction in clause 2. This problem might be overcome if, perhaps by way of a statutory instrument, guidelines could be laid down for relationships between the MOD police and local constabularies. I suggest that it might be by way of statutory instrument not because I have tremendous enthusiasm for secondary legislation — invariably it is taken either on an inconvenient Wednesday morning or late at night when one would rather be doing other things, especially on Thursday evening when Scotsmen like to be on sleepers, getting back to their families—but because in this particular area it would be useful for us to have some form of secondary legislation. It is not a vital matter, but it would give us an opportunity to review jurisdiction at regular intervals and ensure that a balance such as I have been trying to look for could be achieved and sustained between the two forces.

As regards the provisions for the Police Federation, not too many trade unions are enshrined in legislation. I recognise that the federation's rights and responsibilities are quite clearly defined. Nothing in the representations made to us suggests that its members would like the power to go on strike or to withdraw their labour. My own belief is that this is a fundamental right in a free society and should not be given up at any price, but I respect the wishes of the individuals both in the Ministry and, more important, in the Police Federation. It is not something that they have been clamouring for.

There is, however, one matter on which I should like to have the views of the Minister. That is the question of representation in disciplinary cases. I am led to believe that, when disciplinary cases arise, within the service, the federation will invariably provide legal representation for the MOD police—some form of assistance in the shape of solicitors. It seems that there is some lack of clarity about the regulations in clause 3. Perhaps the Minister would give us his view on this, whether it is appropriate for the MOD Police Federation to provide, as it were, legal aid in the shape of solicitors or barristers and for it to be able to do so not in a kind of "one stage removed" arrangement, as I believe happens at present.

From what I can gather, clause 3 is not a bone of contention with the men and women involved. They are reasonably happy with it. On the question of impersonation, the only problem, suggested to me by a chief constable, is that of identification, in that people could be confused between MOD police and civil police. I have an open mind on this issue. The Police Federation forcibly put it to me that it would see any attempt to make its members appear different from the civil police as perhaps the thin edge of a wedge which might try to reduce their status and authority. MOD police find some consolation and comfort in looking the same as civil police because they consider themselves to be similarly motivated.

It had been put to me, however, that where there are major MOD establishments there are perhaps more police behind the wire than outside it, and confusion and difficulty could arise. I am merely rehearsing arguments advanced to me. I have no particular view on the matter, but I would be interested in the Minister's response. There is a plethora of organisations, financed both publicly and privately, all whom aspire to police-style uniforms. There are difficulties here. Perhaps we should look to these paramilitary security organisations and try to get their house in order rather than picking on a section of our own police force, the MOD police force. I have an open mind, but since the matter has been raised and this is a Second Reading debate, it would be useful for the Minister to give some idea of his views on the matter.

On the question of disaffection, my limited researches, which tended to involve discussions with one or two colleagues, suggest that relationships between the MOD police and the demonstrators at Greenham Common are very good. I would not say necessarily that the demonstrators get on with everybody else who is engaged there, but it seems that in that area disaffection does not arise. Although I have heard it said that some of the men may sympathise with the objectives of the demonstrators, it is not for me to draw any conclusions from that. The question of disaffection is not significant, but it has to be covered in the Bill. Otherwise, there would be difficulties. The loyalty and commitment of the MOD police are sufficient to withstand any of the inducements that are suggested here.

We give the Bill a qualified welcome. We are not wildly enthusiastic about it. We recognise, as suggested by Broadbent and the Select Committee, that there is a need for this consolidating measure. When we think about Samuel Pepys's recommendation 300 years ago, we have to say that over the years the MOD police have not suffered greatly and we, as the British public, have not suffered from the absence of consolidated legislation. On the other hand, this legislation provides us with an opportunity to review MOD police functions and to take advantage of the work of the Select Committee.

I notice that there are members of the Select Committee who are ready and willing to participate. It is useful that we benefit from their experience and that we take advantage of the reflections of Broadbent and his colleagues.

Therefore, I am happy that the Bill should come before us. No doubt we shall have a constructive and useful debate. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply. If he can answer some of my problems, it will expedite the Bill's progress in Standing Committee.

10.25 pm
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Minister on two scores. The first is on his excellent introduction and potted history of the Ministry of Defence police. Had I known that he was going to be so wide ranging and deep in his analysis, I would have saved myself many hours of research. He has done a great service to many future generations of hon. Members.

Secondly, I congratulate my hon. Friend because, in the long history of the police force, and more especially the Ministry of Defence police, he is the first Minister of the Crown to introduce a debate in either Chamber on the subject. When the Metropolitan Police Act 1860 was put through Parliament, neither in the House of Lords nor in the House of Commons was there a debate at any stage. The measure went through the whole process on the nod.

When introducing the Bill in another place my noble Friend Lord Trefgarne said: The simple aim of the Bill is to provide the force with clear powers appropriate to its current responsibilities. … The Government are convinced of the need for a clear statutory basis for MDP which will incorporate a single unambiguous set of provisions defining their powers and jurisdiction." — [Official Report, House of Lords, 4 December 1986; Vol. 482, c. 947–48] I must start by saying that the Bill is very welcome. I congratulate the Ministry of Defence police, who have a difficult and stressful job. There is also the burden that is borne by the wives and families, particularly when their husbands are on duty at difficult demonstrations. As a Member with a heavily militarised constituency, however, I believe that I have a duty to ask some searching questions.

The first question relates to the primacy of Home Department forces and a single unambiguous set of provisions. There was, as we know, an accident with a military convoy in West Dean in my constituency on 10 January. There was very speedy attendance by the Wiltshire police. I believe that they were there in about four minutes. The local police had primacy in dealing with the public, in the sense that they dealt with the public, but they were side by side with armed marines who stopped, detained and interrogated my constituents. The county police did not know the instructions or rules under which the soldiers were operating. What happened to the information gathered by the military personnel? Was it passed to the Wiltshire constabulary? What happened to it then? It is not reasonable for the Wiltshire police to assume primacy in these circumstances when they do not know the rule under which their colleagues are operating at the scene of the incident. Where in the Bill is this unambiguity laid down? I cannot find it.

Similarly, residents of the villages of Shrewton, Tilshead, Orcheston and Chitterne are shortly to have a FIBUA—fighting in built-up areas—village built close by them unless the Ministry of Defence agrees to resite it. It is to be a 90-building military complex surrounded by villages. Who will have primacy in policing that area?

Before the Ministry of Defence police were constituted in 1973 there would have been no problem, because the former separate forces operated within clearly defined boundaries and premises, usually inside a security fence. However, since that time the Ministry of Defence police have interpreted their jurisdiction to include any persons, including civilians, who happen to be on Ministry of Defence land or premises, or passing through on public roads. For instance, Ministry of Defence police have taken breath tests for drink driving offences on public roads.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

From civilians?

Mr. Key

Yes, From civilians. Some commanding officers have issued instructions that all matters of crime should be reported first to Ministry of Defence police.

Mr. Douglas

In view of the important point that the hon. Gentleman has made, does he agree that one of the prime absences from the Bill is a complaints procedure against Ministry of Defence police?

Mr. Key

We must address that and other important points in Committee.

Many commanding officers have issued an instruction that all criminal matters must be reported first to the MOD police, and they have distributed circulars throughout married quarters in my constituency stating that that should happen. Before 1973, areas such as the mixed civilian MOD villages near Salisbury Plain, where the public have unrestricted access, were policed exclusively by the civil police. Today the policing depends on to whom the victim chooses to report the crime and whether the MOD police choose to deal with it exclusively. There is no tight definition of what is meant by petty crime. Where do we draw the line?

The anomalies are obvious. Two agencies may pursue the same offender. The opportunities for duplication and misunderstanding are legion. Greater liaison is not the perfect solution, although it is highly desirable. Functional division of responsibilities is confusing to police and the public, and it is most unsatisfactory that some person other than the chief constable of the county should police and decide the prosecution policy when that involves victims and offenders who have nothing to do with the MOD except that they happen to be passing through an MOD area or happen to be relatives of serving soldiers.

I hope that the Bill will address such problems. I still remain to be convinced on those details. In reply to my question on 24 July 1986 the former Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee), gave the Government's response to the Broadbent report. In recommendation (ix) the Broadbent committee stated that an MOD police committee should be appointed, supported by outside professional representation. That was accepted by the Government and the committee is proposed in clause 1(5). However, can my hon. Friend assure us that his regulations will ensure representations from county constabularies? Will draft regulations be available for instance to the Standing Committee that will consider the Bill if it receives its Second Reading?

The Broadbent report also stated in recommendation (xvii) that each base should draw up orders concerning the responsibilities of the commanding officer and civil police on the lines of directives in force at the Clyde submarine base. That recommendation was also accepted by the Government, but where does that commitment appear in the Bill? Will it be a regulation excercisable by statutory instrument? As the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said, that may well be a way forward.

Even more important, following the West Dean accident, in relation to escorting convoys the Broadbent report was clear that liaison with the local police force was good and must be maintained. The report stated that the area of concurrent jurisdiction should be reduced to a minimum through local agreements. The Government also accepted that recommendation, but where is it in the Bill? We will need to consider that point later.

The Broadbent report was also clear about CID operations. In recommendation (v) the report states that the scale and division of CID activity should be agreed between each civil police force and the MOD bases in its area. The Government did not accept that recommendation, which is very important for my constituents and to my county constabulary. We must pursue the question of CID investigations further.

The introduction of special constables is welcome, but I must sound a note of warning. All special constables must be of a high quality. In a county such as Wiltshire, with a comparatively small population, there is a limited pool of talent on which to draw. The MOD police specials will further reduce that pool. Civil specials are unpaid. Will MOD police specials be paid or unpaid? The MOD police already receive higher salaries than their civil counterparts, largely because more overtime is available. I shall not want to see financial divisions aggravated in any way.

Will my hon. Friend let me know at some stage—it would be unreasonable to expect a firm response tonight—the implications for this Bill of the private Member's Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) to abolish section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947, with particular regard to county coroners? At present coroners carry out inquests relating to violent deaths of service personnel. They are assisted in that by civilian police. There is extremely good liaison with the Ministry of Defence, and coroners have a sight of the court of inquiry papers. It is important that the private Member's Bill should protect the rights of coroners to be assisted by civilian police and that a curtain of silence should not drop because possible proceedings for negligence are pending.

This is a sensible and necessary Bill and I look forward to my hon. Friend allaying my fears over the small print. The Bill will be good for my constituents and good for the nation. In these days of violent extra-parliamentary and undemocratic acts by certain groups in society, I can do not better than echo the words quoted by the then Minister, Mr. Bridgeman, when he introduced the Special Constables Bill in the House on 9 April 1923. He said: the maintenance of public order and the suppression of all forms of violence are matters in which every member of the community is deeply concerned. From the earliest times the citizen has been and still is required to take his part in the preservation of the peace and the suppression of disorder. We consider that if the obligation of the citizen to the community in this respect were more widely recognised, the duties of the police would be materially lightened, their relations with the law-abiding portions of the community would be improved, and the burden of the maintenance of the police would be lightened."—[Official Report, 9 April 1923; Vol. 162, c. 944.]

10.31 pm
Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

I, too, should like to add my congratulations to the Minister on the clear way in which he explained the proposals in the Bill and on the fascinating picture that he painted for us. This appears to be a rare moment of all-party consensus on defence, because I also welcome the Bill. It has taken a little time to implement the recommendations of the Broadbent committee and to follow the advice of the Select Committee on Defence. The action before us in the Bill is welcome.

The Minister said that the measure was long overdue. For some time, there has been a clear need to bring up to date and to clarify the legal powers of the Ministry of Defence police. I have a good deal of constituency experience in dealing with Ministry of Defence police. I hasten to add that it is in a totally friendly way and in a non-professional capacity. The Minister mentioned Woolwich and the part that it played in the early years. Woolwich arsenal is still policed and protected by Ministry of Defence police.

In the heyday of the arsenal, 50,000 people worked in the royal ordnance factory and no doubt at that time a large number of Ministry of Defence police officers looked to the various activities on the site. Sadly, on the Woolwich arsenal site today there are just over 2,000 Ministry of Defence jobs and, as Ministers will know, as the Member for the area, I fight a continuing rearguard action to take other people's thieving hands off my defence jobs in Woolwich.

As a result of considerable rationalisation of activities in Woolwich, there are far fewer Ministry of Defence police in the area than there used to be. That causes the occasional problem. A number of houses in my constituency have been deliberately earmarked for MOD police. Unfortunately, some of those houses stand empty for much longer than they ought to. That is because they are no longer required, as the MOD police are not there in the numbers necessary to make use of them. The Ministry of Defence police play an important part in the community life in my constituency and I am certainly glad to pay my tribute to the important work that they do. In that sense, I am glad to add my welcome to the general support that the Bill has received.

There are some detailed matters that I should like to raise. The first concerns the Ministry of Defence Police Committee, which is provided for in clause 1(5). The committee is to advise the Secretary of State on Ministry of Defence policing, but as the Bill is drafted, the relationship between the Secretary of State, who appoints the committee, and the committee itself appears to be somewhat unequal. For example, the committee is required to report as the Secretary of State may from time to time require". That seems to make the committee the poodle of the Secretary of State. If there is a case for an advisory committee of this sort, as surely there must be, it should have the powers to report at somewhat more frequent intervals and to draw the Secretary of State's attention to issues which it considers to be important. I cannot see the logic of creating an advisory committee, only to require it to operate only when the Secretary of State considers appropriate. In the spirit of workers' participation and industrial democracy, which I am glad to see is spreading through the Ministry of Defence, I should like to see the committee given more freedom and more power in its own right. It is important to involve the Ministry of Defence Police Federation in the membership and work of the committee.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) referred briefly to the complaints procedure. It is clear that the Ministry of Defence police will come into contact with members of the public; that is the nature of their job. They may well have to deal with members of the public when they are guarding defence establishments. They may have to deal with civilian employees who are working within the establishments. They will face the problem of dealing with demonstrations outside the establishments. In all these activities, there is always the risk that a member of the public will feel that he has been unreasonably or unfairly treated. In those circumstances, he may wish to exercise some right of complaint.

It seems that no provision is made in the Bill for complaints to be made against the Ministry of Defence police, and it would be helpful if the Minister were to explain whether the police force is to be covered by the ordinary Police Complaints Authority or whether some special machinery will have to he introduced. In the interests of natural justice, there must be some provision to deal with the sadly likely possibility that complaints will be made.

What procedures will be followed when members of the Ministry of Defence police have apprehended someone? In the Home Office department police, there are clear procedures governing methods of interrogation that are to be used, and the taking of fingerprints, for example. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us whether the MOD police will be responsible themselves for interrogating someone whom they have apprehended and for taking fingerprints, or whether these matters will be referred to the civil police. If the MOD police will be exercising such powers, it is important to ensure that they will be following the same sort of procedures as those that are laid down clearly for members of the civil police force.

It seems self-evident that the Ministry of Defence police will have to be armed on occasions. They will be guarding extremely sensitive facilities and material. They may have to contend with many different types of threat. They will certainly have to contend with the threat of terrorism. It seems obvious that they will have to be armed from time to time. Again, it would be helpful if the Minister would tell us what the procedures for issuing firearms to members of the police force are, at what level that power will be excercised, what procedures are to be followed, and what sort of training in firearms will be available to members of the MOD police force. Is it to be given to every member, or will only a select team be given such training?

Jurisdiction has already been mentioned. The Minister explained that the original 15-mile limit around MOD establishments is being removed, and MOD police will have constabulary powers throughout the United Kingdom. In most cases, those powers will be exercised in relation to stated facilities in establishments, or in clearly defined circumstances. In most cases, that is clear and straightforward.

There are two exceptions. One comes in clause 2(3)(c), already referred to in the debate. Under this, the powers can be exercised in relation to matters connected with anything done under a contract entered into by the Secretary of State". I strongly support the view that that is an open-ended commitment, and an extremely wide power, not only in terms of the multiplicity of contracts into which the Secretary of State may enter, but also in the sense that a contract may involve a number of different operations in different parts of the country. That is a sweeping power.

If I heard him correctly, the Minister was saying that that power would be exercised in a limited number of specialised cases. That may be so, but, if that is the case, it would be better if the power were drawn rather more narrowly. However, even if it is to be exercised in that narrow way, there are difficulties, referred to by the hon. Member for Salisbury, in the relationships between MOD police and the ordinary, Home Department police forces. We hope that there will be good liaison, and that people will keep each other informed about what is going on. However, we know that, even in an individual police force, there are occasionally problems of communication, for example between specialist groups dealing with narcotics or serious crime, and ordinary members who may not be privy to all those considerations. If that can happen within one police force, there is at least the risk of difficulties between MOD police and ordinary police with such a wide power.

Under clause 2(3)(d), the powers are to be exercised for the purpose of securing the unimpeded passage of Ministry of Defence property. I take that to mean that MOD police will be involved in guarding convoys as they travel. That will make sense, but it may mean that a convoy will be passing through more than one jurisdiction, and again there will be difficulties in liaison between MOD police and Home Department police.

These are all important issues. I hope that the Minister can satisfy us on them, if not tonight, in Committee. I want to give the Bill a rather more enthusiastic response than it received from the Labour party Front Bench spokesman, whose support was rather grudging. This is a sensible Bill, which is overdue. It will receive our support, but I hope that we can tidy up some of its awkwardnesses.

10.45 pm
Mr. John Watts (Slough)

I do not wish to detain the House for long. I am seeking information on a fairly narrow point which I would normally pursue by means of a parliamentary question. This morning when I attempted to table a question I was advised by the Table Office that it was out of order because it appeared to be related to business set down in the Orders of the Day, namely, this Bill.

I wish to know the circumstances in which Ministry of Defence police are required to investigate an allegation of assault by one civilian employee upon another at a Ministry of Defence establishment. I hasten to add that at this stage in the debate I do not expect a full reply from my hon. Friend the Minister and that I would be happy to receive a letter about the matter.

My interest arises from the unfortunate experience of one of my constituents who, in 1982, while working in an Ministry of Defence industrial establishment, was the victim of a severe assault by a fellow workman. Regrettably, the management of the establishment did not at the time consider it necessary to invite the Ministry of Defence police to investigate, but subsequent medical reports suggested that the man had sustained fairly substantial injuries — broken bones in the face and damage to the sinuses. The assault also had an unfortunate effect on the man's mental health and subsequently led to his early retirement on medical grounds.

That man did not appear to have the same access to the protection of the police as is available to a civilian in a civilian workplace. If someone was assaulted by a fellow worker in a factory on the Slough industrial estate, he would have little difficulty in calling in the Thames Valley police to investigate. In this instance, the man had no access to police by his volition and, because of a management misjudgment, the Ministry of Defence police were not involved, despite the fact that it had jurisdiction to investigate.

What are the precise instructions under which the management of Ministry of Defence industrial establishments operate? What are the circumstances and the internal procedures that require those managements to ask the Ministry of Defence police to investigate such an assault by one worker upon another?

10.53 pm
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

We have had a very interesting debate. The Minister has been very courteous in presenting the Bill and has allowed a number of interventions.

I do not want to appear grudging about the codification that is before the House. The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) suggested that he was more warmly disposed to the Bill than members of the Labour party, but I do not think that that is the case. We have given a guarded welcome to the Bill, but it is, an important measure. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) has already said that we do not have many bites at this cherry and we must try to get the matter right.

In his introductory remarks, the Minister prayed in aid the report of the Select Committee on Defence on the security of military establishments and the Broadbent report. I asked him to state where the Bill was and was not in harmony with the Broadbent report. An important consideration is that of jurisdiction. In paragraph 51, in examining the historical view of the 15-mile radius around Crown property, the Broadbent report says: We regard it as preferable to relate MDP responsibilities outside a base solely to the pursuit of specific enquiries relating to Crown property, as permitted by legislation or practice, and in consultation with the civil police. In this case a geographical limit becomes irrelevant. There is some indication that, while we might concede the removal of the 15-mile limit, what is not being conceded is any ability of the MOD police to interfere in or in any way pursue matters outside the perimeter fence that might normally be the responsibility of the Home Department police. The Minister placed great stress on the fact that the Bill does not do that.

The Bill confuses the issue. It is not clear who will be responsible, in certain cases, not for matters of physical security or police services for the MOD inside the perimeter fence, but outside the fence dealing with such matters as disputes in married quarters. I heard of a horrific incident in Rosyth — it is only hearsay — involving the MOD police and a motor car. Certain activities were embarked upon on that motor car. There was no consultation with the Fife constabulary on that matter. There are other events in relation to Coulport in the west of Scotland. I hesitate to mention what happens in another Member's constituency, but the Ministry of Defence police put certain demonstrators, quarantined them so to speak, on land that they thought belonged to the Ministry of Defence; but subsequently I am told that the procurator fiscal in the Strathclyde area refused to prosecute.

We are dealing with fairly delicate matters. As I said to the Minister, the previous procedures have been followed reasonably easily because there has been little dispute. The Minister stressed the fact that there has been a good relationship between the MOD police and the Home Department police and it has been clear who has been the boss in certain areas.

Tangentially, I want to mention the bad drafting of the Bill. Clause 1(3) states: The Secretary of State shall appoint a chief constable for the Ministry of Defence Police, and they shall operate under the chief constable's direction and control. I am a long way from Govan high school or Hill Trust school, but it seems that the object has no relationship with the subject. Who are "they"? Surely it should say something such as "the membership shall". I suggest that as a drafting amendment. The Bill is loosely and badly drafted. In that key area of responsibility we are not clear as to the role of the chief constable or what is meant by "direction and control."

My hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan said that, where the Secretary of State appoints the chief constable, who is responsible, I assume, to the Secretary of State, there is a dangerous precedent. The Secretary of State—I know that this has been sanctified by previous practice—has at his disposal a police force with, if I read it properly, fairly extensive powers outside the perimeter fence.

One of the matters that the Minister raised was the MOD police having responsibility for traffic control. I return to paragraph 53 of the Broadbent report, which says: With regard to special road convoys, it has been represented to us that MDP escorts should be conferred with powers to control traffic which they do not have at present. We question this requirement for the MDP. Taking into account the evidence from the Associations of Chief Police Officers of Scotland and of England and Wales we recommend that the civil police should provide a pilot for each convoy as the local force alone is aware of all movement factors through its area. This would avoid the need for the MDP to be involved in directing road traffic outside MOD Bases. I shall not burden the House with further commentary from the Broadbent report, but the Bill specifically extends the MOD police powers in that regard. It is important that powers, such as the control of road traffic and the routeing of dangerous, sensitive cargo, should be under the firm direction and control—I speak only for Fife—of the chief constable of Fife. He alone will have the relevant intelligence on such things as demonstrations, peaceful protests and marches, and thus will be able to say, "Do not take that route. Do not take the Valley Field bypass. Go on the low road." That is an important consideration, to which the Minister should have regard.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, in his wise remarks, said that he thought that the committee established under the Bill should report fairly frequently. I suggest that, when the Bill becomes an Act, the Secretary of State be required to give an annual report on the MOD police to the House. That is the least that we can expect from a consolidation measure.

Dr. Godman

I want to ask my hon. Friend a question on the subject of the annual report in the light of his earlier remarks concerning traffic control powers. Would he expect, in such a report, some details concerning traffic movements and traffic control? That would raise all sorts of issues, one of which is the quality of training in traffic control procedures undertaken by MOD police officers.

Mr. Douglas

My hon. Friend kindly wants to lead me into those matters. I made it clear that I want to restrict the MOD police's role in relation to traffic control.

It would be wrong for me, at this juncture, to lay down what would be embraced in an annual report—that would be for the Committee to determine—but will the Minister concede that it is reasonable, given the nature of the consolidation measure, to try to introduce within the ambit of the Bill some form of annual report to the House?

My last point relates to what we might loosely call "mutual aid". Subsection (2)(a) states the places to which the subsection applies. Subsection (e) refers to land where the Secretary of State has agreed to provide the services of the Ministry of Defence Police under an agreement notice of which has been published in the appropriate Gazette. Paragraph (d) lists land which is in the vicinity of land mentioned in any of paragraphs (a) to (c) above and on which a constable of the police force for the police area in which the first-mentioned land is situated … has asked the Ministry of Defence Police to assist him in the execution of his duties". That is, loosely, mutual aid.

I do not want to mention the mining dispute, but in Scotland we saw mutual aid being used, and I have no doubt that that happened elsewhere. It was always clear that the chief constable requesting mutual aid would be in charge. There is no sign of that here. Paragraph (d) says that the initiative would come perhaps from the Ministry of Defence police and that is wrong. The Minister is giving me some comfort by nodding. I do not know what the nods mean, but I hope that he will bear what I say in mind when he replies.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

When it comes to aid being given to the Home Department police forces, there is no question but that that would have to be requested by them and the request would not come from the Ministry of Defence police.

Mr. Douglas

Can I press the Minister further? Will he clarify the fact that there will be no question about who will be in charge in the chief police constable's area?

Mr. Hamilton

I am happy to say that there will he no question about that either. The chief constable of the Home Department police force will have jurisdiction.

Mr. Douglas

I am grateful. We shall consider how to embody that in the Bill in Committee.

I give the Bill a guarded welcome. There are particular difficulties in modern times in policing defence establishments. As a member of the Select Committee on Defence, I saw some of the difficulties in relation to the royal ordnance factory at Enfield. Happily, the Ministry of Defence took up our recommendations and improvements were made.

When the Bill has been improved in Committee, it will give status to the Ministry of Defence police and make it clear that their role is restricted to activities strictly related to MOD property and to areas within the perimeter fence and that when they come outside the perimeter fence their responsibility and duties are devolved to the Home Department police of the particular area in which the bases reside.

11.7 pm

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I approach the Bill very much in the spirit of the concluding sentences of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas). I have two interests to declare. First, in my part of East Anglia I probably have more military power than in any other part of the country. There are the United States air force bases at Mildenhall and Lakenheath, the Royal Air Force base at Honington and I share with my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) the Thetford battle area. So we have quite a lot of military and military police in my area.

My concern is that the bases should be properly protected against intruders of any kind, against thieves, and, above all, against the occasional demonstrators who turn up for no useful purpose and do unnecessary damage to the Ministry of Defence's property. I want to see the Ministry of Defence police effective and therefore they must have the proper statutory powers. It is amazing that, as my hon. Friend the Minister implied, we have gone on for so long without a Bill of this kind.

My second interest is well known to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have represented the Police Federation in the House for many years and there has been no Bill touching on police powers to which I have not made some contribution.

Therefore, I welcome the Bill. It is overdue, but it is a good piece of legislation. I am concerned only about the interface between the activities of the military police and those of the civilian police. In congratulating Sir Ewen Broadbent who, with his committee did a first class job, I have to say that their consideration of the matter seems to have been a good deal more profound than the Bill implies when one reads it for the first time.

The Bill sets out clearly the powers and privileges that the Ministry of Defence constables will henceforth exercise, and that is good. However, it does not define their duties or their responsibilities. It does not, for example, state in any place that they are subject to the codes of conduct that are placed upon all of our civilian police, in respect of the way in which they treat citizens, whom they arrest, detain, hold in custody, stop, search or question. Those codes of conduct should apply if the military police are to exercise jurisdiction against civilians outside Ministry of Defence property. However, nothing in the Bill suggests that those codes of conduct would apply.

There is nothing in the Bill to state that the discipline code of the civilian police applies to the Ministry of Defence police. I am sure that it does, but the Bill does not say so. As has been mentioned, nothing in the Bill deals with the complaints procedure. I suppose that if a civilian wished to complain about the actions of the military police, he would have full access to the Police Complaints Authority. However, that is not made clear in the Bill.

I should like to know more about the powers of the Ministry of Defence police when they are in hot pursuit, because it is not clear how far they may go. I should like to know much more about the arrangements for firearms and the training that goes with that. I should also like to know more about the operations of the CID.

However, my primary concern is that the parameters should be clearly defined, and that does not appear to have been done. I referred in an intervention to the extensive powers of anything to do with contracts that have been entered into by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That power goes too wide and should be defined more closely in Committee.

Finally, I am delighted that the military police are to have the statutory right to establish a Defence Police Federation and I hope that that federation will enter into the closest of relations with the police federations in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland. I am sure that both bodies will wish that to happen. However, it is important that similar arrangements as exist for the police federations as set up by their own Acts of Parliament should apply to the Defence Police Federation also. It is especially important that we are clear as to whether the voluntary funds of the Defence Federation may be used to engage legal counsel to defend its members when they are had up on disciplinary charges, if those charges involve the risk of dismissal or demotion. That should not relate to any other circumstances because that would not apply to the Police Federation either, but in the cases to which I have referred, the powers should be the same.

I welcome the Bill and regret that I shall not have the opportunity to take part in the Committee stage, all being well. Hon. Members have raised several questions to which my hon. Friend the Minister will wish to respond in his usual courteous manner.

11.13 pm
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

We spend a great deal of our time in this Chamber scrutinising the police. It appears that their every action is the subject of parliamentary questions or debates. Their activities are seen on television and, if they make mistakes, as they very often do, those mistakes are paraded in the courts, in front of television cameras and in television studios.

I do not wish to be seen to be anti-police, far from it, because any political party that is perceived as being anti-police will, rightly, incur the wrath of their electors. However, my hon. Friends and I are very concerned about the work of the police, and rightly so.

How much time do we spend in this House talking about the work of the military police and the Ministry of Defence police which appear to be somewhat confused in this debate, as though they were elements of the same organisation? Of course, they are distinct.

How much time is spent debating the private security industry, which is of great interest to me? All are important in crime prevention and, sometimes, in crime detection, yet we seem to have a top heavy interest in the Home Department police to the detriment of a large body of people — perhaps 250,000 — who are engaged in the private security industry in some form. I wish that our interest was a little more even handed.

I welcome the Bill as it gives us a brief opportunity—I hope that the Committee experience will be brief too—

Mr. Douglas


Mr. George

I willingly volunteer to serve. There are no Whips present, but no doubt they will eagerly accept my offer to serve.

The MOD police involves just under 5,000 men and women who perform a difficult task. In some ways, it is more stressful work than that of the Home Department police, but it is done in the midst of great ignorance, suspicion and, in some cases, hostility.

The debate has revealed our ignorance. I am not an expert, but I have taken the trouble to talk to people, so I can shed some light on some of the misapprehensions that have been paraded. The MOD police and its Police Federation do not withhold information from us—we are simply unwilling to ask questions. To listen to some hon. Members, one would think that the MOD police operate as some sort of snatch squad who crouch behind barbed wire fences waiting for an opportunity to pounce on some innocent bystander and subject them to the authoritarian disciplinary code of the MOD police.

Others appear to argue that our constitutional rights can best be preserved if the MOD police know their duty and stay behind their line as we are obliged to when we speak. That would be appallingly inefficient.

I ask the Minister to resist pressures that may come from the police who want to preserve their pitch and keep the MOD police behind their barriers. There is enough work for all forces of law and order. Demarcation disputes should be decided by the MOD. I hope that it will be reasonable and not be bounced by some police officers who may want to perpetuate the image of the MOD police as a second-class force.

If anybody is asking, I have no connection with the MOD police.

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)

I have no financial interest save for the fact that I represent a garrison town. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what matters here is close co-operation between the civilian police and the MOD police at what might be described as grass-roots level? In my constituency, that seems to be working pretty well. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that that is what we should concentrate on.

Mr. George

I am grateful for that intervention. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) talked about an interface. It is vital that the different arms of crime prevention are co-ordinated as efficiently as possible.

This is the debate that they tried to ban. What was to be an innocuous debate suddenly assumed greater importance. We heard from the Prime Minister this afternoon that the affairs of the MOD police were not the concern of this House. Perhaps the right hon. Lady had not seen the Order Paper. No doubt she was subsequently enlightened.

I am delighted to say that we occasionally have the responsibility to legislate. That does not happen often with defence issues; perhaps only twice a year do we come across a Bill dealing with defence matters. It is therefore important that we are allowed to debate the affairs, including the deployment, of the MOD police.

Were the Prime Minister right, we would be undertaking an illicit activity, and no doubt the doors to the Chamber would be pushed in as ferociously as was Duncan Campbell's door at the weekend, and we should be duly admonished for entering an area outside our responsibilities. It is clear that we are discussing a matter that is within our responsibilities, and I trust that we shall be able to assist the Ministry of Defence in improving this modest but important measure.

I had intended to embark on an historic analysis of this issue, but in view of the mickey-taking indulged in by hon. Members speaking following the Minister, it would be unwise of me to pontificate on historical matters. [Interruption.] It is regrettable that those of us with an historical bent are treated with derision.

Suffice it to say that when the MOD was unified—at least, unified in theory—it took seven years before the forces of the separate services were brought within the orbit of the MOD police. Despite the important contribution that another place has made to the deliberations on this legislation, there has emerged a series of contradictions and anomalies. We are now endeavouring to bring some order into the legislation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) pointed out, using his Scots logic, at the same time rightly admonishing the draftsmen for their misdemeanours. The Bill will tidy up the statute book to a degree, and the end product of our labours will, I believe, be beneficial.

I am delighted to say that in the last couple of years the MOD police, now 4,800 strong, has increased in numbers. When the House of Commons Defence Committee in 1983 made two inquiries into the MOD police, the numbers were much lower, I would like to think that that Committee was instrumental in bringing to the attention of all concerned the degree of overstretch that was then suffered by the MOD police.

Recruitment is proceeding well, with about 700 personnel being recruited annually. The personnel serving in establishments work sometimes singly and sometimes in groups of up to 250. They are deployed at 150 MOD bases, including at Royal Ordnance factories, in public limited companies, at the Royal Mint at the headquarters of bodies such as MI5 and M16, but more of that later.

The MOD police perform a wide range of demanding tasks, including deterring terrorists. Consider their role at the Royal Ordnance factories, which could be targets for terrorists. The Defence Committee, I recall, visited Enfield and saw a vast array of guns and armaments of all kinds. I am pleased to say that such establishments are better guarded now than they were when we paid our visits in 1983.

The MOD police have many mundane tasks to perform, such as checking the entries and exits to buildings. They also perform sensitive tasks such as patrolling MOD property which could be visited by those whose political persuasions might not be four square with those of the MOD. There is a criminal investigation department and a marine department; and it is a wide array of powers and responsibilities and functions that we are addressing.

When the Select Committee on Defence made its two important reports some four years ago, we looked at how the Ministry of Defence police were operating, because we had focussed our attention on one specific area, namely, the Royal Ordnance factories. We brought the attention of the MOD to a number of areas that concerned us very much. We said in our report: The MDP have argued for many years that the complicated body of legislation from which their present powers derive should be consolidated into a single measure. With the added legal complication of the residual MDP presence at the privatised ROFs, such an act could clarify and, where necessary, redefine the MDP's powers; we believe that the case for it is stronger than ever and we recommend that the Government introduce the necessary legislation within the present Parliament. They were not quite that quick—1983–84—but what the Government did they did quite typically: they set up a committee of inquiry, the Broadbent committee, which duly reported and 17 of those 24 recommendations were approved. I hope that the Minister, if not now then in Committee, following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West, will tell us which were not accepted and why. It would be very helpful.

So the Broadbent committee reported, the Ministry of Defence took a little time, and this legislation was produced, which virtually everyone present this evening has endorsed and which the Ministry of Defence police have certainly endorsed. There appear to be some potential disputes with certain senior police officers over matters of jurisdiction and identification, but no doubt these will be resolved in Committee.

Mr. O'Neill

The impression seems to have been created that Members on the Opposition Front Bench are somewhat grudging in our welcome. The word I would prefer to use is "guarded". We are never very sure what we are letting ourselves in for until we look at the Bill rather more closely than we do on Second Reading. Perhaps my hon. Friend will accept that our welcome is guarded rather than grudging.

Mr. George

I must read Hansard tomorrow. if I used the word "grudging", I shall humbly apologise.

I would like to return to the question of the MOD police and the royal ordnance factories, because it is very important and comes within the scope of the legislation. Anyone who is interested in seeing Ministers and senior civil servants undergoing the equivalent of the rack, as most of us surely are, should read with interest the report of the Select Committee on Defence on physical security of military installations in the United Kingdom. This report contains a devastating critique of one decision, namely the decision to privatise security in the royal ordnance factories. The committee said that the first proposal crystallised in late 1983 and, in our view, was extremely ill-considered". The Ministry of Defence had the good grace to withdraw the proposal to privatise security at the ordnance factories. Instead, it established a temporary regime to cover the transitional period between the old-style royal ordnance factories and the soon-to-be-flogged-off and privatised Royal Ordnance plc which, I understand, currently has four companies sniffing around, with the object of purchasing: the Ministry of Defence police were to be retained. The MOD police are still subject to threat. The MOD, perhaps as a result of pressure from the royal ordnance factories, are considering reneging on what I thought was their initial commitment, and perhaps the MOD police will be phased out from the guarding of factories that will eventually be privatised. I hope that the Government will enshrine in this legislation, in Committee, what I thought they had given as an assurance to the Defence Select Committee, that the MOD police will remain. After all, the MOD police will operate in the privatised dockyards. Even when those companies are privatised, the MOD police will still be operating. If they are operating under a private regime, what they will be guarding will be the same.

The Royal Ordnance factories, with their range of arms, explosives and ammunition, offer immense attractions to terrorists and extremist organisations. I want the Minister to say, in Committee or in this Chamber this evening, that he will not permit, if not privatisation of security, that the hammering that the contract security industry secured in the initial decision will result in the MOD resuscitating the lunacy of handing over the guarding of the Royal Ordnance factories to contract security. But it is clear that the Royal Ordnance factories will probably lack their own guard force. That would be totally wrong for a number of reasons. Despite their relatively small numbers, the MOD police are uniquely suited to guard the Royal Ordnance factories at the present time. How?

The MOD police possess constabulary powers, which any in-house security force will not possess. They enjoy the confidence of the work force. I am not saying that there is no in-house security force that does not have the confidence of the working people they are operating with, but I say without any fear of contradiction that the reputation of the MOD police in the premises they guard is high. MOD police are empowered to use firearms. They do not carry them, but they have access to them and they are trained in using them. Therefore, their possession of and access to arms is a deterrent to any terrorist or extremist who wants to break into an ordnance factory.

The Minister can well argue that companies like British Aerospace have their own guarding force. Nevertheless, while it is very difficult to seize a tank or an aircraft, it is very desirable to seize what is contained within the premises of an ordnance factory. The MOD police are disciplined. There is a complaints procedure that can be activated against them, they have the deterrent value of having arms, they are well-trained by an 11-week training programme, which is almost as long as the police training programme, and they come from the same pool of recruitment as the police.

There are many arguments why the MOD police should remain in the privatised Royal Ordnance factories. If the Minister does not wish to believe me, I suggest that he consults paragraph 81 and onwards of Volume 1 of the second report from the Defence Select Committee, which uses the phraseology that, if it is in the MOD's mind to establish an in-house security force, certain criteria must be used. I suggest that the Defence Committee, in putting down these stringent criteria, realised that only the MOD police would be able to satisfy them. The Minister should consult with his colleagues and enshrine within this legislation the survival of the MOD police within Royal Ordnance factories. This Bill will consolidate previous dispersed legislation into a single Act. It will confer upon the MOD police powers to operate outside MOD establishments but only in specified places. This is not in any way the threat that some people see. Allowing the Ministry of Defence police to move outside the perimeter is sensible and efficient so long as it is clearly defined where they may operate outside their own establishments. It seems a nonsense if a crime committed within a Ministry of Defence establishment cannot be investigated by the CID branch of the MOD police because the person who they wish to interview lives two miles outside the perimeter fence. It is logical and sensible for this to happen.

After all, for some 125 years the Ministry of Defence police and their predecessors have been allowed to operate within 15 miles of the establishment that they have been guarding under the Metropolitan Police Act 1860. So this is not being brought in suddenly by the Ministry of Defence to allow these men to wander around the countryside arresting innocent people. They will be constrained. I do not think that there will be the slightest threat about which fears have been expressed from both sides of the House this evening.

There will be a police committee under the Secretary of State for Defence. It will contain Ministry of Defence personnel and outsiders and will be responsible for efficiency, complaints and discipline. Will there be a representative of the Defence Police Federation on the committee? In another place the spokesman for the Labour party, Lord Graham, asked if the new committee would have a relationship analogous to the relationship between the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Police Federation. If there is to be equality, and if the MOD police are to be held in the same high respect and esteem as their fellow police officers, there should be an analogous relationship. I hope that the Minister will clarify that.

The similarity of uniforms was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill). Yes, the Ministry of Defence police look remarkably like ordinary police, but in many ways they are ordinary police operating within certain premises. I do not see why they should be expected to wear yellow epaulettes like traffic wardens. I speak in no way disparagingly of traffic wardens, who are pursuing a different career pattern with different responsibilities. But the MOD police are recruited from the same source as civilian police, they have an 11-week training programme, they have training in firearms, they have a CID department, they have a marine department, they have an excellent communications centre and in many ways they do the same job as the civilian police. I cannot see why they should be expected to dress up like private security guards simply because some police officers feel that there should be a distinction. I do not think that anyone has complained for many years about the uniforms of the MOD police. It would be detrimental to their morale if they were perceived somehow as being second class and different. That needs to be clarified.

The complaints procedure also needs to be clarified. From listening to the debate one might get the impression that the MOD police operate as a force immune from public criticism. Several hon. Members have received from the Defence Police Federation a brief; I did not intend to read from it, but, because of the confusion, it may help if I quote from the section on discipline, complaints and administration: Members of MDP, as well as being subject to the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984, and the Crown Prosecution Service, are governed by the same discipline and complaints regulations (with some very minor amendments) as other police officers with assistant chief constables presiding at disciplinary hearings relating to the less serious charges. The more serious cases are presided over by the chief constable. The MDP is accountable to the Secretary of State for Defence in the same way as the Metropolitan Police force is accountable to the Home Secretary. There is an MOD administrative back-up which is also, in some ways, similar to that provided by the receiver for the Metropolitan Police, namely dealing with administration, aspects of personnel management, finance, logistics, and relations with the Ministry of Defence and Members of Parliament. Like other chief constables, CCMDP is independent of political or civil service control in operational matters including crime investigations. The MOD police would be wise to amplify upon that section of the brief in Committee so that Committee members are in no doubt about the complaints procedure involving MOD police. That would be very helpful.

Further to what was said earlier, I must explain that there were no MOD police involved in the convoy incident in Wiltshire. Perhaps the MOD police were confused with the Marines or whoever else was present.

Another issue was also raised about MOD police breathalysing ordinary citizens on public highways. I advise hon. Members who may believe that to accept that there are many roads that may appear to be public roads but which are owned by the MOD. The MOD maintain, clean and light those roads. I am advised that Queen's Avenue in Aldershot is such a road. Roads may run through MOD premises which come within the control of the MOD police. Therefore, if someone is under the influence of excessive amounts of alchohol or believed to be so and committing an offence, he may be breathalysed and apprehended. That is not an example of MOD police somehow usurping the functions of the civilian police and causing constitutional anxieties.

In conclusion, I want to raise an issue upon which I seek the Minister's advice. I referred to this point at Prime Minister's Question Time this afternoon. It has come to our attention that within the MOD there are proposals to eliminate MOD police from the guarding and policing of blocks housing MI5 and MI6 offices. If that is so, I must tell the MOD that that would be inadvisable. Perhaps those policing functions are to be devolved upon a contract security firm. I do not believe that the MOD would be silly enough to do that. However, that is possible. It is more likely that the MOD or the Home Office would state that the Property Services Agency security guards could do the job in place of the MOD police. That may be cheaper, because that security force already comprises security guards. They have no constabulary powers. If a crisis threatens, their job is to get behind a barrier and wait for the Metropolitan police to arrive to do the job. That is in no way an imputation of their bravery, that is their job. I argue that buildings as sensitive as MI5 and MI6 officestare qualitatively different from any other premises guarded by MOD police at the present time. Security of this order cannot be compromised. A couple of weeks ago the Prime Minister said that two things were above party politics. One was national security and the other was defence.

If the object is to save money, how much money will be saved by moving out the Ministry of Defence police? Their criticism of this prospective decision is not that they will lose jobs, because I understand that officers will be redeployed. It is made for reasons of national security. It is far more desirable to have men with training, expertise, discipline, a complaints procedure and all the other attributes of the Ministry of Defence police guarding these premises than to change the arrangements. I hope that this decision will be reconsidered and reversed.

We are debating a matter of great importance and I am pleased that, judged by the standards of attendance for late night debates, attendance is reasonably good. This issue affects more than the Ministry of Defence police. I am delighted that the affairs of this dedicated group of men and women are being debated in the House. Committee proceedings and further proceedings in the House will facilitate greater understanding of the work of the force and that is surely to everyone's advantage.

11.46 pm
Mr. Archie Hamilton

May I start by appologising to the House? I have been told by people not a million miles from my private office and the Dispatch Box that I said in my speech: Obviously, it is not the responsibility of the Home Department police to pursue serious threats which materialise, but the MDP will often make the initial, immediate reaction to good effect. I should have said that it is the responsibility of Home Department police, and I should like to put the record straight on that.

The hon. Members for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) and for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) mentioned the difficult problem of traffic control on the public highway. Broadbent recommended in paragraph 111 that convoy procedures should be reviewed, and this is being done. He qualified this by adding: If the local police provide escorts for road traffic duty the MDP would not need powers to control road traffic". At the moment, when the MDP are deployed on convoy duties they are usually accompanied by Home Department police force constables, who direct the traffic as required. Because the convoy may cross many boundaries, the continuous assistance of Home Department police forces cannot be guaranteed at all times. Therefore, the Ministry of Defence police need to be able to direct traffic, if necessary, pending the arrival of local police forces.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan also spoke about the Police Committee and the fact that the chief constable was not a member of that committee. I can assure him that the chief constable will be in attendance at committees, playing the same role as chief constables in Home Department police forces. The hon. Gentleman also spoke about accountability. The Ministry of Defence police force is responsible to a Cabinet Minister, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, via the Ministry of Defence Police Committee, which will have outside members. Therefore, it is accountable to Parliament. Moreover, the members of the force are on oath to administer the law in the community in which they serve, and they have the same duties and responsibilities for administering the law within Ministry of Defence establishments as their Home Department police force colleagues in the community.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan also mentioned discipline. The Defence Police Federation has asked us to amend the Bill to allow it to represent MDP members at disciplinary proceedings and to allow legal representation in disciplinary proceedings in the same way as in the Home Department police forces. I think that that also answers the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths). The appropriate amendment is being drafted and will be proposed in Committee by the Government. This will bring the MDP into line with Home Department police forces.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke about uniforms and I think that this was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). The Ministry of Defence police is a civil police force with full constabulary powers. It is correct that its officers should wear recognisable police uniform for the benefit of the public. Their uniform, is distinguished by cap badges.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) reminded us of the recent convoy accident. As the hon. Member for Walsall, South observed, armed marines were at the scene of the accident. He said—I must take his word for it—that they did not understand the rules of local police primacy. That may or may not be the case, but I would argue that if the Ministry of Defence police had been present they would probably have understood the rules. Before we become too carried away by all the complications, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury would do well to talk to some of the more junior police officers in Wiltshire and ask them about co-operation with the Ministry of Defence police. Our evidence—this was mentioned by the hon. Member for Walsall, South—is that co-operation is much better at grass-roots level than above. It seems that chief constables are likely to feel that co-operation is less good.

It has been said that chief constables are not represented on the Police Committee. The chief of Her Majesty's inspectorate and Her Majesty's Inspector of Police in Scotland will both be on the committee. They were both former chief constables. Although existing chief constables will not be represented, it should help that former chief constables will be members of it.

The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds spoke about complaints against the police. The Ministry of Defence Police Committee will not be responsible for public complaints against the Ministry of Defence police, although it will take account of any that are substantiated and recommend changes in its methods. An independent complaints procedure is operated, under which the Police Complaints Authority is advised of all complaints and is obliged to supervise the more serious inquiries.

The hon. Member for Woolwich suggested that the Ministry of Defence Police Committee would be a poodle of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I think that it has been proved that there will be some high-powered people on the committee, and I do not think that it will be anyone's poodle.

The hon. Member referred to the Defence Police Federation attending the meetings of the Police Committee and asked whether it would have any voting rights. The Department and the Ministry of Defence police staff associations have agreed that there may be occasions when the associations, including the Defence Police Federation, should have access to meetings of the Ministry of Defence Police Committee. The associations may also make written representations to the Committee. No vote will be taken at these proceedings.

The hon. Member for Woolwich and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds talked about firearms. The use of firearms is always a serious matter because of the possibility of injury, or even death, that arises from their use. This includes innocent people who are not involved in the offence to which the use of firearms is related. Firearms are issued to Ministry of Defence police officers only if they are fully qualified to use the types of weapon that are to be carried and only when the order for their issue has been given by the chief constable after authorisation by the Secretary of State.

Reference has been made to special constables within the Ministry of Defence police. The requirement for a special constable scheme is being reviewed. If it is decided to adopt such a scheme, the Bill will provide for it in clause 1(1) without the need for an amendment.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West spoke about the Broadbent report and said — I think that this is a summary of the report's recommendations—that it was preferable to limit the activities of the Ministry of Defence police to Crown property. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the Bill confuses the issue of responsibility outside the perimeter fence. Let us suppose that someone who lived in a married quarter close to a Ministry of Defence establishment was assaulted and telephoned the Ministry of Defence police in the knowledge that its officers were nearer and likely to come to him or her rather sooner than would the nearest police force of the Home Department. In those circumstances, it would be only right if the Ministry of Defence policeman responded to the call and went to the aid of the caller. It is obviously critical that he communicates with the local Home Department police force and it would be wrong if he said, "No, put down your telephone, I am not going to help, although I can be round quickly. Ring up the Home Department police force, which may take longer." That would be irresponsible, and it would be in such circumstances that people would look to the MOD police to come to their aid.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Walsall, South shares my love of history. He made the same point about whether the Police Federation would attend Police Committee meetings, and I hope that I have cleared up that point. He asked whether the MOD police would continue to operate in Royal Ordnance factories. The Government agreed that the MOD police would be retained for a minimum period of three years and that their retention would be reviewed after 18 months. The arrangements for this review have commenced, and it would be premature to anticipate the outcome. The security threat, the present physical security arrangements and the views of the civil police will be considered before a decision is taken, as naturally will be the wishes of Royal Ordnance plc, and any comments made by the Police Federation, other trade unions concerned, the Chief Police Officers Association, and the Select Committee on Defence.

The hon. Member for Walsall, South also raised the difficult question of the MDP guarding Security Service buildings. I am not responsible for answering questions on the Security Service. However. I can say that Ministry of Defence property may be guarded either by the MOD police or by the guard force. The criteria for the type of protection essentially depends on the neccessity for constabulary powers. For obvious security reasons, I am not prepared to say which type of guards are used at any of our properties, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand.

This has been a constructive debate. I thank all hon. Members for their contribution and I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).