HC Deb 27 January 1987 vol 109 cc276-85

Order for Second Reading read

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

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

First, I should like to remind the House of the main purposes of the Ministry of Defence Police and the reasons for its existence as a separate police force. As early as 1686 the Admiralty became aware of the need for an organisation to prevent crime within its dockyards. The Secretary for the affairs of the Admiralty of England was then Samuel Pepys, who instructed that a force of porters, rounders, warders and watchmen be formed to guard the naval yards". The porters escorted visitors, the rounders patrolled the yards and did the rounds, the warders had charge of the keys, and the watchmen guarded at night. This force continued until it was disbanded in 1834, when the first of the dockyard police forces was formed. The Admiralty introduced these forces, consisting of special constables, at dockyards and some other establishments, having had the benefit of the advice of a superintendent of the new Metropolitan force. Members of the dockyard police forces had full police powers and there were even incentive schemes to encourage members to detect embezzlers.

Sir Robert Peel's Act of 1829 for improving the police in and near the metropolis created the Metropolitan police force and in 1860 it took over from the dockyard police the job of guarding naval dockyards. The Metropolitan Police Act 1860 authorised the employment of Metropolitan police constables in Her Majesty's yards. This was later amended to include principal military and air force stations, and up to 15 miles outside such stations in respect of Crown property or persons subject to naval, military or air force discipline.

The Metropolitan police took over the policing of Portsmouth and Devonport dockyards initially, and other establishments soon afterwards. To give some idea of numbers, 128 members of the force were employed at Deptford and Woolwich, and about 400 in other Admiralty establishments. The Metropolitan police also formed a water police branch and at Devonport dockyard the whole of that branch lived in an old hulk once commissioned as HMS Leda.

The 1860 Act applied only to England and Wales, although it was extended to Scotland in 1914. After that year, the Metropolitan police were progressively withdrawn from the dockyards because of the all too familiar strain on their resources. The Special Constables Act 1923 allowed special constables to be employed permanently by public departments to protect such establishments. The Act had effect in Scotland but not in Northern Ireland.

The period up to the end of the second world war saw the establishment of the Admiralty, Army Department and Air Force constabularies. By 1949, the Admiralty constabulary comprised some 3,500 men policing 150 separate establishments, and had its own training school. The Army Department constabulary initially numbered 2,100 when it was formed in 1925 as the War Office constabulary. Police protection at civilian manned stations under former Air Ministry aegis was originally provided by Metropolitan and county constabularies, but members of these forces were gradually withdrawn after the formation of the Air Ministry constabulary, later renamed the Air Force Department constabulary. During the second world war this force's strength rose to a peak of 3,530.

In 1947, the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act extended the 1923 Act to cover any premises in the United Kingdom used by the Admiralty, Army or Air councils for military purposes, including those in Northern Ireland, although there was no provision there for powers outside an establishment.

The Visiting Forces and International Headquarters Order 1965—SI 1536/1965—further extended the 1860 Act to include the property of visiting forces and international heaquarters and the persons subject to the service law of such forces. In 1971 the three single service constabularies were amalgamated into the present Ministry of Defence police. In one form or another, that force has been doing its present job since 1860, when it was a branch of the Metropolitan police.

The Home Department police forces are no less stretched now than before and at the same time the policing of MOD property has developed in ways which themselves place heavy demands on police resources. The MDP is itself now some 5,000 strong.

The force provides a high level of physical security on sensitive defence property through its special knowledge of MOD's establishments and the Department's many complex systems. It also provides, for example, a specialised CID resource which has knowledge of the internal accountancy of MOD and which is able to investigate fraud, which can be nationwide, in conjunction with its Home Department police colleagues. It was because the special needs of such large organisations are so demanding of manpower that separate police forces with constabulary powers, such as the British Transport police and the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary, were created.

Not only do these forces make a considerable contribution to keeping the peace, but in doing so, they provide relief for the Home Department forces. The MDP is by far the largest of the police forces outside the Home Departments but is among the last to have its powers defined in a single Act. In drafting this long overdue measure every effort has been made to avoid any overlapping with the duties of the Home Department police. I make it absolutely clear that the Home Department police have prime responsibility for the enforcement of the law, and nothing in the Bill changes that. Indeed, the Bill sets out to be supportive of the Home Department police forces wherever MDP assistance is called upon in matters affecting the security of MOD establishments.

To give a flavour of the type of duties the MDP perform, I should first mention the operations to contain demonstrations, which are undoubtedly the most public of the MDP's activities. In the past year alone, there have been over 700 demonstrations, many associated with antinuclear protests or with the introduction of byelaws at defence establishments. Some of the demonstrations were on a major scale which called for a considerable commitment of both MDP and Home Department police forces. A recent demonstration at Rosyth involved 1,000 demonstrators, and another at Molesworth resulted in some 3,500 people attending. It may be necessary on occasion to deploy up to 600 MDP constables at such demonstrations.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I was trying to catch the Minister's eye earlier. He just mentioned Rosyth. Of the 5,000 members of the force, how many are employed in Scotland? When the Minister talks about the Home Department police forces, is he also talking about the Scottish police force rules?

Mr. Hamilton

Yes. When I refer to the Home Department police forces, I mean the Scottish ones under their chief constables as well as the English ones under theirs. On the number of MOD police employed in Scotland, I am afraid that I do not know the split of the 5,000 between England and Wales and Scotland, but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about that.

In addition to these exceptional protection tasks and the MDP's normal duties protecting and patrolling MOD sites, there are more specialised roles such as CID duties and VIP protection duties. During the past year, some 25,000 offences have been reported to CID. The detection rate is some 60 per cent. — a very gratifying result, although it reflects the relatively closed society within which the MDP operates. Offences range from thefts, assaults, smuggling, fraud, burglary and forgery —indeed, almost the full range of crime found in our society. There is an absolute requirement for the MDP to pass serious crimes such as murder and rape to the Home Department forces.

The MDP is formally responsible for policing MOD establishments in the United Kingdom, as required by the Defence Council, its three service boards and the Procurement Executive Management Board. It also provides police services for military forces of other Governments based in the United Kingdom.

In addition, while at Army and RAF stations and establishments, service police are primarily responsible for investigating crime by service personnel, the Royal Navy has no service police branch, and the MDP may be called upon to investigate crime committed by service personnel in Her Majesty's ships and at Royal Navy establishments. Similarly, the Procurement Executive has no service police resources, and where constabulary powers are required, MOD police are employed at Procurement Executive establishments.

Dr. Godman

The Minister talks about the Royal Navy not having a service police force, and I think that he said that the MOD police could investigate alleged crimes committed by Naval personnel. Under the terms of the Armed Forces Act, would these personnel have the right to investigate allegations of crimes committed by families of the Naval personnel? I do not want this to be answered by Conservative Back Benchers but by the Minister.

Mr. Hamilton

MOD police are able to investigate crime on MOD property, so if the crime is committed in family quarters, they would be in a position to investigate it, but this has to be done in the closest conjunction and co-operation with the Home Department forces, and it has to be cleared by them.

Dr. Godman

I have no wish to take up the time of the House, but there are some important issues here. Is the Minister telling the House that in the case of an alleged sexual assault or child abuse committed in the married quarters of sailors or officers, the MOD police would investigate the matter? Surely that is not so.

Mr. Hamilton

Much depends on who was on the scene of the crime first, and to whom the call was made. If the call were made to the MOD police, and they were the first on the scene of the crime, they might be the people to start the investigation. However, they would be obliged to get in touch with the Home Department police forces and to co-ordinate with them. On serious crimes, we would expect the Home Department police forces to take over the investigation.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

I apologise for intervening so early in his speech, because the Minister has yet to get on to deal with the substance of the Bill. Is not one of the complications of the measure that MOD police coming on to married quarters in, say, Rosyth have been in contact with the Fife constabulary, but the Bill makes such relationships unclear?

Mr. Hamilton

The position has always been clear. The Bill does not change the role of MOD police. It merely brings activities in which they have been involved under the same legislation. The MOD police are entitled to investigate crimes on MOD property.

Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan)

I am led to believe, by the Association of Chief Police Officers for both Scotland and for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, that the Home Department forces would claim responsibility for the investigation of all serious offences, and particularly those against the person. One of the problems into which we have to look in Committee would be the lack of co-ordination in this sector. We should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) for raising this point. Serious offences against a person, which would cover the tragic crimes to which my hon. Friend referred, should be the responsibility of the Home Department police forces in the final analysis.

Mr. Hamilton

I accept that. Serious crime, like all crime, is the responsibility of the Home Department forces. It is a question of the inter-relationship with the Home Department forces regarding serious crimes. The Ministry of Defence police would hand over responsibility for such crimes at once. If the case involved murder, rape or any such thing there would be no question and the investigation of such crime would be handed, straight away, to the Home Department forces, although, conceivably, the MDP may be first on the scene of the crime.

When it comes to minor crimes there is often an agreement within the Home Department forces that it might be better if the MDP investigated it. It all depends on the resources and expertise of the MDP.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

In the initial investigations have the MOD police got the same powers as a police constable investigating a similar offence?

Mr. Hamilton

The purpose of the Bill is to give the MDP constabulary powers. At the moment the MDP have the power of special constables, but under the Bill they would have the power of constable and would be in a better position to investigate crime.

An awful lot is made of the difference between the Home Department police forces and the MDP. In practice there is close co-operation and the MDP police get on extremely well with the Home Department police. We should not imagine that there is enormous friction between the MDP and the Home Department forces.

The security threats to the Ministry's establishments range from innocent trespass, theft and fraud to espionage, sabotage and terrorist attack. In reviewing these threats, the Defence Select Committee and the MOD police review committee — known as the Broadbent committee— placed high value on the contribution the MDP could make to dealing with them. 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. Both committees concluded that it would be highly desirable to have a Bill such as this to draw together all relevant existing enactments in a way that reflected the MDP's present duties and clarified its powers.

There is at present no single Act of Parliament from which the MDP derives its powers. In fact there is no Act which provides specifically for the MDP at all. The separate police forces to which I have already referred are authorised by Acts which confer appropriate powers directly. In contrast, the MDP derives its powers from a Metropolitan Police Act passed in 1860 to permit the use of Metropolitan constables in royal dockyards and military stations. Although this early legislation has been amended and extended many times down the years, it was not conceived with the duties of a modern force in mind and it cannot be appropriate for duties which could not be foreseen in Victorian times. Not surprisingly, there are gaps and ambiguities which were detected by the Select Committee on Defence and confirmed by the MOD police review committee in the Broadbent report.

The main clauses in the Bill, therefore, set out to codify and clarify the powers of MDP and to realign them with their present duties and responsibilities. The Bill will make few changes of substance to the MDP's jurisdiction and it is not intended to make major changes in the way in which its duties are carried out.

Mr. Douglas

The Minister has mentioned the Broadbent report several times. In his exposition of the Bill would he care to state where the proposals in the Bill are in line with the Broadbent report and where they exceed the proposals in the Broadbent report?

Mr. Hamilton

That is a difficult question and I shall reply to the hon. Gentleman in writing.

Mr. O'Neill

May I assist the Minister? On 24 July 1986 his predecessor, the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee), answered a very substantial question, which covered many of the points at issue, put by his hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who is present in the Chamber.

Mr. Hamilton

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill).

The MDP and the defence police federation have long sought the unambiguous mandate for their duties which this Bill attempts to provide. The House will, I think, be sympathetic to such modest aims and will, I know, put their very useful knowledge of this topic to good effect as I briefly run through the clauses in the Bill.

The intention of the first clause is to provide the force with a statutory basis in its own right instead of its rather curious status as a body of special constables with the powers of constables of the Metropolitan police under the 1860 Act. The force will consist of the existing body of members and any members who shall be nominated by the Secretary of State. Such persons as are appointed will need to be attested, or sworn in, before a justice to carry out the law of the area in which they shall serve. The clause allows the Secretary of State to exercise administrative control of the force through the police committee. The chief constable has control of police operations and responsibility for the application of the law.

Clause 2 provides constabulary powers in the United Kingdom for land and property under the control of the MOD, visiting forces, international headquarters, ordnance factories and dockyard contractors. It will enable the MDP to police non-MOD sites such as the Royal Mint, where they have historic responsibilities, when suitable notice has been published by gazette. It will also enable MDP to assist local police forces who request assistance in carrying out their duties in the vicinity of MOD land.

Elsewhere in the United Kingdom MDP powers will be limited under this clause principally to Crown property and to persons serving the defence interests of the Crown either directly or as contractors. MDP will continue to be able to exercise their powers in relation to visiting forces and to ordnance companies' and dockyard contractors' property. These limitations will apply throughout the United Kingdom and replace the outdated provision in the 1860 Act which was intended to enable a dockyard constable to act up to 15 miles outside his establishment.

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

As a supporter of the Bill I do not wish to pursue a clause point. However, in clause 2 there is the provision that the Ministry of Defence police shall have the powers and privileges of constables. in any area of the United Kingdom outside those defined in the early part of the clause. The clause goes on to say that that is in relation to matters connected with anything done under a contract entered into by the Secretary of State for Defence". That is too wide. The Secretary of State might be buying lettuces or blankets, or the American forces might be buying a wide range of things. I cannot believe that the Ministry of Defence police would want to be involved, or could properly be involved, in anything that touched upon contracts entered into by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Hamilton

I understand my hon. Friend's point. However, we might be talking about a very sensitive piece of defence equipment being manufactured by a contractor. It would be possible in those circumstances to have Ministry of Defence police on the premises of a private defence contractor making sensitive equipment for the Ministry of Defence. That is the prime reason why that has been put into the Bill. It gives us the freedom to be able to put Ministry of Defence police on the premises of private contractors and manufacturers who are manufacturing defence equipment.

Although most of the United Kingdom is within 15 miles of MOD property, the 1860 limit is no longer relevant to the MDP's important dujties, for example when protecting MOD property in transit. Under clause 2 the constabulary powers which the MDP need to protect Crown property in transit will no longer be arbitrarily affected by the 15 mile limit. On some occasions MOD vehicles are provided with an additional escort by the Home Department police force through whose area the vehicles are passing, but on occasions the Home Department police are hard pressed elsewhere and are therefore unable to assist with traffic control. In such circumstances, or in an emergency, it is necessary to provide the MDP with the powers of a constable because the traffic directions issued by a private citizen are riot binding upon other members of the public. However, MDP keep closely in touch with their Home Department colleagues concerning vehicle movements and they would need to use these traffic powers only when it was known that members of the local police were unable to attend a traffic blockage near to an MOD vehicle in transit.

Clause 2 also empowers the MDP to act in relation to Ministry of Defence or contractors' property or personnel where an investigation may need to be followed up outside the bounds of an MOD establishment. That was the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths). That could extend to fraud involved in the purchase of clothing or something of a relatively unspectactular form.

In practice, the MDP criminal investigation department usually acts with the Home Department CID in such inquiries.

Mr. Douglas

Has the Minister or one of his hon. Friends had the Broadbent report? How does what he said in relation to traffic control conform with paragraph 53 of Broadbent?

Mr. Hamilton

I cannot comment on each individual paragraph of the Broadbent report, but the Bill broadly ties in with Broadbent.

The MDP may, however, find itself in a position where it has to act quickly—for example, to prevent stolen goods from being removed before the arrival of Home Department forces. Clause 2 covers such situations to safeguard the occasions when or any reason the MDP CID find themselves unable to summon the immediate support. of their Home Office colleagues.

Members of the MDP regularly patrol dockyard waters. Clause 2 covers the occasional requirement to act in respect of MOD vessels lying outside a dockyard but within territorial waters—for example, when taking a prisoner off a vessel about to enter harbour or to assist in protecting sensitive supplies for a vessel anchored just offshore. In such situations the Home Department forces are not always able to act, because they do not have the resources or right equipment.

The remainder of clause 2 defines the terms used in the Bill.

Clause 3 gives effect to a recommendation in the Broadbent report that the MDP staff associations should be recognised by any future legislation. By such recognition the Department acknowledges the Defence Police Federation as the sole negotiating body for all ranks up to chief superintendent who would otherwise lack representation and who are prohibited by their contract from withdrawing their labour. The clause describes the subjects on which the DPF will be able to make its representations, and the role of the Secretary of State in regulating the conduct of the federation. The clause confirms an existing agreement with the department which the federation has long sought to codify in an MDP Bill.

Clause 4 makes it an offence to impersonate any members of the MDP by wearing or possessing an article of uniform, or by using a badge or document which conveys a false impression or MDP membership. Similar legislation protects members of the Home Office forces, and it is particularly important that such protection is extended to those whose task can involve guarding highly classified equipment and property.

Clause 5 deals with the offence of causing disaffection amongst MDP which could lead to strike action or breaches of discipline in the force. Again, the provision mirrors that found in the Police Act 1964. Although, as with the previous clause, that Act does not cover the MDP, it is clearly necessary to prevent acts of a seditious nature taking place within the ranks of a security force, whose task is to protect sensitive material and installations.

Clause 6 consist of amendments to existing legislation.

The final clause gives the short title and date of commencement and extends the Bill to Northern Ireland, where MDP have a very small presence.

The aim of the Bill is to clarify the existing powers of the Ministry of Defence police and to enable it to carry out its duties without risking infractions of the law and without interfering with the activities of other forces. Home Department chief constables have primary responsibility for the application of the law generally, and, as before, theirs will normally be the leading role in dealing with major offences. There is scope, where jurisdictions are concurrent, for potential conflict between the responsibilities of the MDP, Home Department and other forces. But, in practice, relations with other police forces are very good and all concerned in the MOD are determined that they should remain so.

It is against that background that the Government are persuaded of the need for a clear statutory basis for the MDP. It cannot be satisfactory to base such an important and comendable service affecting national security on a series of enactments dating from the last century. Previous debates in the House have indicated that there is a considerable awareness of, and sympathy for the MOD police. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House will wish to support the Bill, which seeks to clarify the statutory basis of the operations of this loyal and professional force.

I commend the Bill to the House.

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

I had some misgivings earlier today about whether we would reach the Bill. The Prime Minister seemed, in the course of the afternoon, to display an ignorance of the fact that the Bill was coming before us. In areas where she is ignorant, we are often not allowed to pass comment, but those matters seem to have been resolved and we now have an opportunity to deal with the Bill. It has been suggested that the Prime Minister's lapse was attributable to the rather sloppy attitude that the Government have at the moment towards security.

However, there is certainly no reflection on the work of the MOD police. As we were treated to a brief history lesson by the Minister, I shall not go into that. Suffice it to say that in the—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.