HC Deb 03 November 2003 vol 412 cc516-8
2. Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

For what reason Ministry of Defence Police area policing teams are being disbanded. [135544]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin)

Following recommendations made during the quinquennial review process and as a result of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary's inspection in April 2002, two internal reports were produced. The Ministry of Defence Police Agency management board concluded that the existing area policing team structure should be withdrawn and that divisional support groups should be created.

Mr. Key

The arrangements described by the Under-Secretary have been introduced by only one working group in consultation with the Ministry of Defence police. There was no consultation with the Home Office constabulary. The interface between the Ministry of Defence police and the Home Office county constabularies is crucial given the new stress on homeland security. There will again be job losses for the Ministry of Defence police just when we need it more. Can the hon. Gentleman explain why, apart from cutting the Army's budget, the Labour Government are doing that?

Mr. Caplin

The formation of the divisional support groups will enable the force to implement the Home Office national intelligence model—I thought the hon. Gentleman would welcome that—which will mean a more focused defence intelligence-led approach to crime against the defence estate. It is absolutely nothing to do with cuts because no budgetary issues arise at the moment.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Does the Minister's brief explain to him what the difference is between the divisional support group and the existing arrangements, because it is not too clear to me or, more important, to officers in the Ministry of Defence police and their federation? Is there not a case for the Minister to have a word with the board, those very important people, to tell them to communicate with their officers and perhaps with Members of Parliament and Ministers to explain what the qualitative difference is? Discuss.

Mr. Caplin

I can assure my hon. Friend, who takes the matter very seriously, that the chief constable and his board are in discussion with the Defence Police Federation, and I spoke recently at its conference in Manchester. I will certainly take note of his comments.

Patrick Mercer (Newark)

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. I wonder whether he could explain why under the divisional support groups the Ministry of Defence police will no longer be capable of looking after and supervising married quarters establishments? At a time when the threat to married quarters and indeed the whole defence establishment is rising, surely it is time for some fresh thinking from the Government about how our defence establishment should be properly protected, especially when homeland security is in such a parlous state?

Mr. Caplin

I should have thought that the decision taken by the Ministry of Defence Police Agency management board was innovative and an example of fresh thinking. The security of service families' accommodation will be a matter for local commanders to resolve.

Hugh Bayley (City of York)

Given the important role that civilian police forces increasingly play in providing support for the policing of military bases, does it not make sense for the MOD police and their civilian counterparts to work more closely together and to use whichever force, civilian or military, is best placed to provide the particular policing service that is required?

Mr. Caplin

My hon. Friend is right, of course, because, unlike the Conservative party, he understands the flexibility that is needed to manage the urgent requirements in the defence estate. I am disappointed at the way in which Opposition Front Benchers have debated this matter.