HL Deb 27 May 1976 vol 371 cc407-36

2.19 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Shepherd.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Lord DOUGLAS of BARLOCH in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Extension of property in respect of which special constables may exercise their powers]:

Lord AVEBURY moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 32, at end insert— (4) The manner in which an Authority constable may exercise the powers and privileges conferred on him by this Act outside any nuclear installations belonging to the Authority, shall be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State; and any such regulations shall be made by statutory instrument and be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

The noble Lord said: I beg to move this Amendment which stands in my name and that of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. By giving to the Secretary of State the power to make regulations as to the manner in which the Authority Constables may exercise the powers and privileges—" privileges ", by the way, is the wording of the Bill, not mine—conferred on him by the Bill, we are making sure that the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary is fully accountable to Parliament—as I am sure all noble Lords would wish. As we have seen in the course of the debates on the Bill, the chain of responsibility is from the constables to the chief constable of the Authority, from the Authority to the Secretary of State and from the Secretary of State to another place.

Considering that here we are dealing with a major innovation—what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, on Second Reading called a departure from British traditions in respect of police forces—if another place had a fresh opportunity to consider this aspect of the Bill more fully, being properly seized of the discussion that we are now about to have, they would prefer to arm themselves, if I may use that phrase, with the right to put questions directly to the Secretary of State in another place about the manner in which an Authority constable exercises these powers and privileges. Of course, another place could not do that at the moment because the Secretary of State has no direct responsibility but only the indirect one, through the channels I have described, for the way in which they carry out their functions.

The Linder-Secretary of State gave what I thought was a most remarkable assurance to my honourable friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed in a letter which he wrote to him on 20th April. After saying that the Authority's standing orders relating to the use of firearms would be agreed between the Authority and the Secretary of State, he went on to say: The Secretary of State would be ready to answer in the House in relation to any incident in which weapons were fired by the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary other than for training purposes

Mr. Eadie then went on to repeat the substance of that assurance at the Report stage of the Bill on 4th May, at col. 1235 of Hansard.

Two major questions arise from that undertaking. First, what possible force can an assurance have which is given by a junior Minister to an honourable Member, even though it may have been repeated in the columns of Hansard? As we all know, Ministerial statements have no legislative force whatsoever. Certainly there is nothing in the Bill itself which would oblige the Secretary of State to answer a question about the use of firearms by a constable. I have always been under the impression that it was entirely a matter for the Table Office in another place to decide, quite independently of Ministers, whether or not any particular question is valid according to this test of Ministerial responsibility: can one find some phraseology in the Statutes which would allow that Question to be put and to be fully attached to the responsibility of a particular Minister? In this case I would say, from fairly considerable experience of dealing with the Table Office in another place and, I hope, a clear understanding of the principles that they follow, that the Clerks would have to tell the Member, with the greatest possible courtesy, which they always employ, that they did not regard any promises made by an Under-Secretary of State in private correspondence, or assurances given in the course of debates at Committee or Report stage of a Bill, as requiring them to accept that particular question.

The second point that arises is that even if this undertaking could be made to stick on the Government, it would not take into account all the circumstances in which an honourable Member might reasonably wish to put down a question concerning the conduct of a constable. First of all, the Under-Secretary specifically excluded from the assurance any incidents in which the weapon had been fired for training purposes. If, therefore, a member of the public was accidentally killed or injured by a weapon fired by a constable during training, that could not be raised in another place, nor could any incident which involved the presentation of firearms by one of the constables if the weapon was not actually fired. If I may take an extreme and, I hope, theoretical example, if one of these constables were stationed at the Atomic Energy Authority's head office in Charles II Street and he went berserk and threatened members of the public in the centre of London, that would not be a matter about which the honourable Member for the Cities of London and Westminster could table a Private Notice Question to the Secretary of State.

On several occasions during the proceedings upon this Bill the Government have maintained that all that we are doing is to return to the situation which existed before the creation of the Atomic Energy Authority when these constables were employed by the Ministry of Defence. Therefore it is important to look at whether the Bill restores that situation and whether the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary is treated in the same way as the Ministry of Defence constabulary so far as the tabling of questions in the House is concerned. As I see it, they are not treated in the same way. On 21st May my honourable friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed asked a question in general terms about the rules governing the carrying of firearms by Ministry of Defence police and he had no difficulty in getting it past the Table Office.

Since then I have been investigating the matter a little further and find that the Standing Orders which determine the conduct of the constables employed by the Ministry of Defence are laid down by the Defence Council and that this Council is a body which is constituted by Letters Patent and is, therefore, a matter of Royal Prerogative. However, the important point is that under the Letters Patent the Secretary of State for Defence is automatically the Chairman of the Defence Council. lf, therefore, an honourable Member were to put down a question to the Secretary of State concerning the application of these Standing Orders—in particular about the use that was made by a Ministry of Defence constable of a firearm—certainly it would be accepted by the Table Office. Therefore I say there is a difference between the Ministry of Defence constables and those who are employed by the Atomic Energy Authority and that this Amendment would restore the position, which the Government say they are trying to do, which operated prior to the creation of that Authority.

In conclusion, it seems to me that this Amendment would be a very good example of the way in which co-operation between the two Houses of Parliament ought ideally to work. This Bill passed through another place so fast that it was hardly possible for any of the important issues adequately to be considered. It is true that my honourable friend put down an Amendment in similar although not identical terms to this one, but it was discussed after midnight on an occasion when only 131 Members were present. If the matter were to be considered at a more reasonable hour of the day, with a full House to go into the points that I have raised, it is quite possible that a different conclusion would be reached. Therefore it is only right that by passing this Amendment your Lordships should give that opportunity to another place. I beg to move.


It may be helpful if 1 make my few remarks now because the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal can then, with one bite at the cherry, give a compendious answer to both the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. and myself. I added my name to the noble Lord's Amendment because in many ways I agreed—and. indeed, do agree—with the spirit in which he tabled it. I shall not follow him in all his remarks, mostly because I agree with what he says and to repeat them would he tedious to your Lordships, hut also because I want to touch on one or two aspects which mieht he considered a little different.

So far as accountability is concerned. I agree with the noble Lord that there may he room for the Government to have some further thoughts about this matter. We are discussing a situation which, as I understand it, is wholly new in our history. For the first time we are giving citizens who are not members of the Armed Forces the right to bear arms. Unlike the police, who do so only in certain very unusual circumstances, as I understand it many of these special constables, either guarding installations or fissile materials on their way from one installation to another, will, in the ordinary course of events, hear arms with ammunition in public and will, if the need arises, be in a position to fire them.

Let us just consider that these people will—so one can glean from the Official Report in another place —have received a period of training in Dorset, I think, and I have no doubt that that training will he as complete as can he devised. Nobody has yet said what " refreshers they are going to have and to my mind that is an important matter in the public interest. Neither has it been said who will see that the standard remains as high as it obviously should be.

Here I think it is less than satisfactory if Members of Parliament cannot inquire, if they so wish, as to what is going on. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in regard to tabling Questions in the other place, but I confine myself to your Lordships' House, which his the only one I know. To my mind it would be intolerable if a situation of an unsatisfactory nature were to arise and noble Lords wished to put Questions (as for instance, they have recently on the subject of the Post Office) and some unfortunate—and I say that in a spirit of charity—Minister was supposed to answer the Questions in the manner, according to the circumstances and with the briefing material that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, answered such Questions.

I know it will he rightly said that this is not likely to happen, but of course, nothing is likely to happen until it does happen. If there is an occurrence and it then transpires that it has happened through inadequate training, under-preparation, muddle or confusion, and above all a sense of complacency on the part of the Atomic Energy Authority, it would he quite intolerable if in either House of Parliament the proper Questions could not be addressed to the proper Minister.

I complained on Second Reading that in the other place many Members' points of anxieties had been answered by letter. I think this is one such point. When it came to Report stage, the Minister enlarged somewhat on what he had said in a letter to a private Member, but suggest that this is hardly a satisfactory way of going about seeing legislation through two Houses of Parliament. There is the wider point that in this Bill the powers and privileges are set out, but there is no way in which we can see from the Bill how they are to be carried out by the constables. Various assertions were made in the other place. For instance, it was said that there would be some sort of standing orders. I suppose there will; but who is to draw them up and who is to see to it that they are properly drawn up and are comprehensive and envisage everything that should be envisaged? Who will lay down the manner in which these arms will be carried and used and is it satisfactory that in this very special case Parliament should not keep an eye on that process?

I am aware it will be said that tactically it is wrong for all the plans which may be made to deal with this situation to be revealed for all to read. I quite agree that they do not have to be, but I think some noble Lords would feel happier if the Government had thought through this whole process and were in a position to say precisely what is to happen over this new and rather unwelcome power which has been given to these special constables.

2.36 p.m.


I have given this matter most careful consideration over a period of some months and it was only with the greatest reluctance that I came to the conclusion that we should provide arms for the constabulary at those stations where fissile material was either being processed or stored. I think the Committee will remember that certainly at this stage we only intend to arm the constabulary at four sites, although I believe the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, thought that perhaps we ought to he doing more in regard to some of the atomic power stations: but as I explained on Second Reading, in my view that is not required at the present moment.

I am quite sure, too, that the House should spare a little time to see whether we have got it right, whether we should make amendments to the Bill, particularly in regard to what one might call the accountability of the Secretary of State to Parliament. I should like to make it clear at the outset that this is a highly disciplined force. The position is that the AEA constabulary is a force of civil police. sworn in by two justices of the peace under the Special Constables Act 1923. They are sworn in on the nomination of the Authority and are then, in accordance with Section 3 of the 1923 Act, under the exclusive control of the department on whose nomination they are appointed: namely, the AEA.

But, on the other hand, the Secretary of State has the ultimate responsibility to Parliament for that authority. He also has powers under the Atomic Energy Authority Act to give directions to the authority, subject to his being satisfied that there are overriding national interests requiring him to intervene. I should have thought that, in the setting up of this new force, all those requirements are present and he not only has the powers but he intends to exercise those powers in giving directions to the Authority in the manner in which this force will be armed and the manner in which it will act.

Clearly standing orders will be necessary not only for the carrying or the weapons but above all else—and nearly as important—the storage of the weapons. This is a matter to which I attach particular importance. I should also make it clear that it is not our intention that the whole force shall he armed: it is really only those officers who are in positions where they are providing safeguards for that particular fissile material, whether it is in store or in transit. The standing orders will he made by the Authority, but the Secretary of State will see them and will approve them. I have no doubt at all that those standing orders will be no different from the standing orders which already exist for other services, particularly the police.

In regard to training, this is important. I am grateful to the chief constable of Dorset and his officers who have cooperated very well indeed in training the constabulary. The training is up to a very high standard, and it is certainly our intention that the officers will attend retraining or re-testing approximately every three or four months. I should have thought that would he a reasonable time, bearing in mind that most of these officers were in the Armed Forces before they came to the constabulary—not all. but quite a number of them. So they have received a high standard of training, and they will receive retraining.

It seemed to me that the maw problem or worry of both the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, was not so much about the standing orders, but the accountability of the Secretary of State. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that since our conversation earlier I have gone into this matter with the greatest care and I am satisfied, and I can assure the House, that there is no reason for any Question put to the Secretary of State for Energy on matters relating to this constabulary not to be accepted by the Table and answered by the Secretary of State.

If the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has any doubts, I would refer him to the Notice of Question). and Motions for 26th May 1976: The honourable Member for South-West Hertfordshire to ask the Secretary of State for Energy how often nuclear material is transported along the MI motorway to Windscale and and other nuclear establishments". There are another five Questions, all of the same sort, all seeking information with regard to the movement of this material. These Questions are clearly matters which I would have regarded, and I should have thought most people would have regarded, as coming within the everyday responsibility of the Atomic Energy Authority; but clearly this is information which a Member of the House wanted and the Table has accepted the Question. So with that sort of Question on the Order Paper, I am reinforced in my belief, to which I have come as a consequence of advice received, that if any Member of another place and certainly of this House wished to inquire of a Minister about the position of these policemen, their methods of arming, and so on, their Questions would be accepted and answered by the Minister.


While accepting the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, I must say that the Question he gave as an example is one that I do not think ought to have been asked publicly. It could well have been dealt with privately, and I hope that people will show some restraint in getting information, because otherwise they cause more trouble than they are trying to prevent.


That may be. I was merely using this as an indication that the matter that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, have in mind does not arise. I am not opposing the Amendment by saying it is undesirable, or in that particular sense unnecessary. I am going to ask the noble Lord and the noble Earl to appreciate that this is a new force—at least, it is an old force but is being given a new task—which is operating in a particular period of anxiety and threat. That is the only reason why it is being set up. There are a number of other forces in similar positions. None of these forces has ever been asked to disclose to the public what the standing orders are in relation to their duty, and what actions they can and cannot take. I would not imagine any noble Lord opposite would say that the public should know what are the standing orders of the police in Northern Ireland, because that is information which could only be of assistance to the troublemaker.

So I say to the noble Lord and the noble Earl that if this Amendment were passed and it was required that regulations ought to be made and approved by Parliament, then the standing orders of this force would be known. Your Lordships may say that that is not all that important, but we have kept other standing orders secure in the interests of those forces. If we were to publish these standing orders, the standing orders of the various other forces would be quickly and easily construed. At this of all times I should have thought that that was not desirable.

I have sought to ease the feeling of the Committee that the Secretary of State will be responsible for the standing orders, will be responsible through the Authority and through the chief constable for the discipline and the training, of this force, and will be answerable to Parliament. I should have thought that sufficient, but I hope that here the Committee would not put in a measure which may disclose information that could only be of use to the troublemaker, and of very little use, I think, to the general public.


Before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he could help me over one matter. What other civilian forces are there, the members of which will be expected to bear arms in the ordinary course of their duties, who are liable on suspicion under Clause 3 of this Bill to pursue suspected malefactors, for want of a better phrase, in public places, and presumably, if necessary, use all reasonable means to arrest them or place them in the custody of the police?


Certainly there is no other force other than the ordinary constabulary, if they were involved in a particular incident. I think that the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, is really exaggerating the dangers and the risks. This material is moved under very strict precautions. One seeks to move it in such a way that it would be very difficult indeed to break in and obtain the material. That does not mean that one should not take these extra precautions of having armed constables present, if only to delay, in order that the regular police and the Regular Army could come to their assistance.

There is no question, in my view, of constables chasing all over the country looking for somebody who may have broken in and collected this material. Clearly you have got to have it in the legislation that if one of these vehicles had been broken into and people were escaping with material the constables should under the law be permitted to go after it and bring it hack into safe custody. But it would be quite wrong to imagine that these constables, under their standing orders, would be moving around places like Manchester or Birmingham on the off-chance of finding these chaps who may have broken in and stolen some of this material.

I can understand the noble Lord's anxiety, but I hope he will appreciate, first, that the force is a responsible force and, secondly, that the responsibility is clearly that of the Secretary of State, that he is answerable to Parliament. Whatever fears we may have, we have the choice of either arming the force, providing this protection. or having standing orders which we immediately disclose to the general public, which puts those forces at a great disadvantage, and, as I said earlier, will create an even greater threat for some of our forces who may be acting and working under similar standing orders but in much more dangerous circumstances than any of these constables are ever likely to face.


I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for his comprehensive and courteous reply, but I am afraid I shall have to try to convince your Lordships that it does not satisfy the case which I put forward. First, I must emphasise that nothing I have said—and I am sure this goes for the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield—should be taken as criticism of the way in which the Atomic Energy Authority have carried out their responsibilities in the past, or of the high standards of training and efficiency which they have achieved, with the assistance, as the noble Lord mentioned, of the chief constable of Dorset, to whom we all must be extremely grateful. But even in a highly disciplined force, as the noble Lord will be aware, things can go wrong. We have a highly disciplined Army serving in Northern Ireland, and yet complaints are from time to time, rightly or wrongly, made against that force, and the Secretary of State is fully responsible for answering questions in Parliament which may be addressed to him on that subject. So while ac- cepting everything the noble Lord has said about the efficiency and discipline of the force, that of itself is not a sufficient argument for undermining the accountability of the Secretary of State to the House for their activities.

The noble Lord mentioned—I do not think this is terribly important, but I deal with it in passing—that we are confining our attention to those stations where fissile material is processed or stored. It has been said on several occasions that there -are four named sites where these constables will he stationed. But there is nothing in the Bill to prevent constables being stationed on any premises owned either by the Authority or British Nuclear Fuels Limited. That was why I picked Charles II Street as one of the examples that I gave.

The noble Lord said that the Secretary of State may give directions to the Atomic Energy Authority, and among other things it was quite probable that he would give directions not only as to the manner in which the force is to be armed but how it will act. If that is so, I cannot see why these powers of the Secretary of State to give the directions which he is thinking of exercising, which the noble Lord says he is likely to exercise, should not be formally placed on him by the regulation, making machinery which I am asking for in this Amendment. He said that the standing orders would be no different from other services and particularly the police, but, as I tried to show in moving the Amendment, there will be a difference between the way in which these standing orders are promulgated and the way in which those for the Ministry of Defence have been made by the Defence Council under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State for Defence. That was one part of the case that I myself felt to be of some considerable importance, if only because of the emphasis laid by the Government all through the proceedings of the Bill that we were merely returning to the status quo when these constables were employed by the Ministry of Defence. I felt that that argument was not properly covered by the Minister in his reply.

In order to show that questions have in fact been answered by the Secretary of State for Energy and were in fact being answered by the Secretary of State, the noble Lord referred to a particular Question which was tabled on 24th May about nuclear material being transported along the M.1 motorway. This, if I may say so, is a different matter entirely, because at the moment these nuclear materials are transported along the M.1 motorway, accompanied, no doubt, by the constables, but the constables are not armed. The honourable Member was only seeking to Lind out how often this occurred, and not what rules had been made for the conduct of the constables who might be accompanying these loads. But, in any case, that would be a different set of rules from those which presumably will apply once these constables are armed. I hope that it is not an everyday occurrence that nuclear materials are transported along the M.1 motorway; it certainly is not an everyday occurrence in the sense of commonplace, even if it is happening at such frequent intervals of time.

The noble Lord said that if my Amendment were accepted the Secretary of State would be obliged to publish the standing orders. With great respect, I do not think that is so. I also enquired of the Ministry of Defence whether the standing orders that the Defence Council make for the regulation and conduct of the MOD constables have to be published, and I am told they are not. An individual member of the public has no access to a copy of those standing orders, although, as I have explained, because of the power of the Secretary of State as chairman of the Defence Council, it would be possible for a Member of Parliament to put a particular question to the Secretary of State in the House.


Could I ask the noble Lord how is it possible for Parliament to approve, as is required in his Amendment, without those regulations being laid in the House and available to the general public? The regulations he is talking about in the MOD may not be regulations requiring Parliamentary approval. I am sure the noble Lord will agree that the moment you have a provision that they are to be approved, or are open to be annulled, by Parliament, that requires these regulations to be laid on the Table.


Then they would, but what I was going on to suggest to the noble Lord was that if that was the only objection to the Amendment then the right way to approach it would be to use the letters patent procedure, as is done in the Ministry of Defence, if the Minister was prepared to accept that. But the only way it could be done would be for the Amendment first of all to be passed through this House; otherwise, the other place will have no further opportunity of looking into the matter. If it was decided that the letters patent procedure used by the Ministry of Defence was appropriate because of the security problems involved in publishing the standing orders, then I would be quite happy to accept that.

Finally, the noble Lord said that any question whatsoever would be answered by the Secretary of State; he was prepared to give this undertaking on behalf of his right honourable friend. That goes very much further than what was said by the Under-Secretary, Mr. Eadie, in another place, who only gave the undertaking that where the firearms were actually fired other than during training exercises questions would be answered. But my point still remains that no assurance, even given by such a distinguished figure as the noble Lord himself, can be taken as binding on the Table Office, and the assurance also would not be capable of being pinned on any future Secretary of State who did not feel inclined to follow the practice set by the present Government.

I conclude with this thought. Principally, the matters which I have raised are ones for a democratic assembly to decide, and what we are doing in seeking to put this Amendment into the Bill is, as I have explained, to give another place a fresh opportunity of looking at the arguments rehearsed this afternoon. If we do not pass this Amendment, then that opportunity will be missed, and it may be many years before a return can be made to it and fresh thought be given to it.

3 p.m.


If one of the noble Lord's arguments is that we should put this Amendment in to allow another place to consider it, the noble Lord must be aware that, first, there was a good deal of discussion behind the Chair, one might say, in regard to the Bill; there was a general recognition that it ought to be placed on the Statute Book as quickly as possible, and that it did have a Committee stage; secondly, there was a Liberal Amendment on the Marshalled List, but the noble Lord will know that it was not moved. Why it was not moved, I do not know, but certainly the opportunity was there for this matter to be considered. It then had its remaining processes. I cannot believe that another place, if it had so wished to take this matter up, did not have the opportunity of considering it.

I could not ask the Committee to accept the Amendment for the reasons I have already given. I think it would he quite wrong to put sonic of our forces at risk as a consequence of standing orders relating to this force being made available, and therefore easily to he construed as to what the standing orders are of those other forces. Therefore I could not accept that. However, I see that there is a feeling that there is an element of doubt, shall I say, about whether the Secretary of State is accountable in another place and whether the Table will accept it. My great difficulty of course is that we are in this House; we have no real cognisance of what the rules are of another place. I have given my best assurances as a consequence of my own inquiries in the matter. The noble Lord said that maybe there is the question of Letters Patent. I shall look at that. I shall certainly have another look at it to see whether there is a way in which, if there is doubt, we can secure the accountability of the Secretary of State. I am willing to do that, but I would beg the Committee not to prejudice the position of all our security forces by insisting in this Amendment that the details of those standing orders should be made public.


Could the noble Lord confirm that he will have an opportunity of looking at this before Third Reading? I know that we are in a cosiderable rush to get the Bill through, and I understand that Third Reading is to be taken next week. It does not give the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, very much of an opportunity of having a look at the points which have been raised. If he thinks that that time would allow him fully to consider the points discussed this afternoon, perhaps we could have his comment on that.


We shall not be here next week: we shall be in Parliamentary Recess. The Report stage is to be taken the week after next. That gives me at least ten days, if not longer. to examine this matter, and to decide what to do. I have the time. if the noble Lord will give me the opportunity, to look at it again.


While considering this I think that the noble Lord ought to have in mind that I do not think that the noble Lord. Lord Avebury, has made out a strong enough case to go to too much trouble. Some of us are getting a little tired of the word " democracy " being used in order to do what they call " put all the cards on the table face upwards ", when, in a quite unnecessary way, you are giving information to people who want to injure you. I should have thought that if we have passed the stage where we have rot enough confidence in the interchange on matters of security between an elected Government and all the procedures that are possible in Parliament, quite apart from putting it on the Order Paper in public. then it is time that we ought to look at the whole of our Parliamentary procedures. There is an element of common sense in matters of this sort in the view that in giving information in the supposed democratic way you are also giving ammunition to people who are doing all they can to injure you on every possible occasion.


It seems to me that there are two. parts to this matter. First of all there is the part to which my noble friend has referred. I do not think that any noble Lord on these Benches would expect any Secretary of State of whatever Government to do anything which might prejudice either the safety or the efficient working of the system we are now trying to set up, or of those who are engaged in it. That is one side of it. I think what some of my noble friends (and indeed perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Avebury) would welcome is a re-examination of the system by the Government so that if something goes wrong—and I do not wish particularly to speculate at this moment on the various things that can go wrong, and the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal did not quite answer the situation that I postulated to him—we can be certain that this new force is going to have a Minister who will answer, so that we do not have the absurd situation that we presently have in the Post Office.


I thought I had explained to the noble Earl that the Secretary of State for Energy is the Minister directly responsible for the Atomic Energy Authority, for all the duties it is required to perform, and the way in which they are done. It is the Secretary of State for Energy who will be responsible, completely and entirely, for the AEA staff. There is no question of doubt at all about that. I have suggested by the examples that I have here that the Secretary of State is answerable to Parliament. I should have thought that that is as watertight a position for Parliament, and for the general public, as one is likely to be able to legislate for.

The way in which you ensure that things do not go wrong is by the quality of the officers you recruit, the discipline of the force, and its training. I have given indications of training. I know the force myself, and I gave on Second Reading my own assessment of it. I have complete confidence in this matter, but clearly Parliament ought to exercise caution here. I say that the Secretary of State is directly responsible, and is accountable to Parliament.


We are in a difficulty here because we do not see at this moment how the Secretary of State could give any binding force to the undertakings which he has given to your Lordships' House that these questions would be answered in another place.


This is nonsense.


Wait a minute. Nor do we see how he would be able to do that within the space of a few days. Certainly in view of the assurances that the noble Lord has given, I should like to help to find a way out of the problem and to leave it until we come to Report when the noble Lord has kindly undertaken to come back to the House and see what can be arranged. I beg him to remember that while the matter was looked at, as he reminded us, on Report in another place, that was done an hour after midnight when only 131 Members were there. Several other Members in another place have since told me that they did not think that adequate consideration had been given to it by the House as a whole, and it is possible that another conclusion would have been reached if there had been a better opportunity to examine the matter at that time.

However, the noble Lord has done his best to give assurances and we are grateful to him for the undertaking he has provided. If he can see a way of attaching binding force to what he has said and can perhaps come forward with a solution on Report, we shall be very grateful. In view of the assurances he has given, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Extension of places where special constables may exercise their powers]:

3.9 p.m.

Lord AVEBURY moved Amendment No 2:

Page 2, line 35, after (" place ") insert (" in Great Britain ").

The noble Lord said: On Second Reading I intervened in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, to ask whether the constables would cross St. George's Channel if it was suspected that criminals or terrorists in possession of stolen nuclear material had taken it to Northern Ireland, and he replied that it was not the intention of the Government that they should do so. He went on to say that under the circumstances envisaged other authorities would take charge, and I suppose they would be the military forces stationed in that Province. However, Clause 3 (1) says: An Authority constable may exercise the powers and privileges … in any place where it appears to him expedient to go ".

Thus, he is not even limited to the United Kingdom, let alone to Great Britain, as I am proposing. If we are considering simply the Northern Ireland point, then the Amendment merely gives statutory force to the statement made by Lord Shepherd. There is however another matter which the Amendment allows us to consider, and that is who is to guard the shipments of special nuclear materials in transit between the United Kingdom and places overseas where the customers for our re-processing facilities are located.

It is our policy to expand the reprocessing facilities at Windscale, which means that in future substantially increased quantities of these materials will be passing over the oceans, perhaps even being transported by aircraft; I do not know whether that is under consideration. The operations of terrorists are international and it is possible they might turn their attention to the hijacking of vessels and aircraft outside our territorial jurisdiction. I understand that we already send back plutonium on a small scale which arises from reprocessing undertaken at Windscale, and this is likely to he a much larger volume of traffic if the contracts which we have been negotiating with the Japanese come into effect. As your Lordships, know, much of the criticism of the Japanese 'contract has focused on the problem of the disposal of waste from Windscale, and so far as I am aware no attention has been given to the question of guarding plutonium shipments in transit between the United Kingdom and Japan or between the United Kingdom and any of the other overseas customers we have, such as the Italians. If it is the Government's intention that Clause 3(1) should permit armed constables to travel overseas accompanying these shipments we should be clear about that at this stage, otherwise we should he told how these shipments are to be protected.

Perhaps the noble Lord will deal at the same time with the question of what will happen if the vessels or aircraft concerned are not under the British flag. I hope that the Minister will accept the Amendment, which simply clarifies what he said at an earlier stage, and I hope that it will he possible for him to deal with the important question of how we are to protect shipments overseas. I beg to move.


I am happy to assure the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that his Amendment is unnecessary. The Bill as drafted provides these privileges—I think that was the word that was used—only within Great Britain. Northern Ireland has been excluded. Therefore the area within which they can operate is solely within Great Britain. The noble Lord also spoke about the movement of this material overseas and I suppose one must anticipate that it will grow in scale. These constables will not be able to operate outside Great Britain. Therefore, if they were to go on a boat they would cease to be constables: they would become ordinary civilians, and so they would not be covered by this legislation. They would not have an authority to carry a weapon. It may be that if one were using them, authority could perhaps be given by the captain of the ship, but the authority for carrying weapons would not come from under this legislation.

Certainly, at present we do not anticipate the use of this force for this particular task. Their responsibility will be for the sites themselves and for the transit of material within Great Britain. I hope the noble Lord will feel that what I have said meets the point he was making, certainly in regard to the limitation of the area in which this force can operate.


Obviously, notwithstanding the apparently broad terms of Clause 3(1) which allows a constable to go anywhere where it appears to him expedient to go ", if the noble Lord assures me that technically that is modified by the operation of Clause 4(5), limiting the Bill to Great Britain, then I accept that. But I think I have uncovered a point of some substance: that is, if constables are not to be with the shipments of plutonium returning to Japan, Italy or other overseas customers of reprocessing facilities, then it appears that we have made no arrangements whatsoever for the protection of these shipments, unless the captain of the vessel, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, gave authority for somebody to carry weapons on board.

This is an extremely important matter, because as the noble Lord agreed with me in his reply there would be a growing volume of these shipments. Obviously we have to be satisfied—perhaps not during the course of proceedings on this Bill, but on sonic other occasion —that proper steps have been taken not only by our own Government but, I suggest, also in co-operation with other owners of reprocessing facilities to make sure that international agreement has been made to safeguard these shipments against hijacking. I do not know whether the noble Lord wanted to add anything—


I do not want to be offensive, but I think that the noble Lord is not acting in the best interests of the country in the kind of statement he has just made. It is quite wrong of him, because of the mere fact that I did not go into what arrangements are made for the movement of this material, to let it he known that it is his opinion (which could have wide circulation) these materials w ere being moved around without any form of guard or protection. If they allowed that, any Government, any authority, would have been acting with complete irresponsibility hut I do not intend to match that irresponsibility by disclosing to the Committee what steps are taken to protect this material, except to tell the Committee that it is protected.


I can only say that we are in a dilemma which clearly is not going to he resolved this afternoon. But if we are not told about the measures that are taken to protect special nuclear material when, after all, the Government agree that we are entitled to know something about them as far as the internal affairs of the United Kingdom are concerned, then there is always the possibility (I put it no higher) that the public will have some anxiety as to whether these arrangements are adequate. We shall have to return to this matter on some other occasion and discuss what arrangements the United Kingdom has made with our allies overseas who operate reprocessing facilities to see that shipments of this nature are properly protected against the activities of international terrorists. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

3.19 p.m.

Lord AVEBURY moved Amendment No. 3:

After Clause 3 insert the following new clause:

Complaints against Authority constables.

. Any complaints by members of the public against Authority constables in respect of the powers conferred on them under this Act shall he subject to the same complaints procedure as is for the time being in force for police forces maintained by police authorities.

The noble Lord said: I preface my remarks by saying that nothing that I am about to say should be construed as any criticism of the Atomic Energy Constabulary as it is at present or the way it has been operating, and I am fully aware that there have been practically no complaints made against the constabulary whatsoever during the past 10 years. I return to this subject not because of any anxiety about how the constables have carried out their responsibilities in the past, or how they might do so in the near future, but simply as a matter of legislative necessity we must take into consideration a much longer period of time than even the lifetime of office of a particular Parliament or Government.

This matter has been dealt with rather more thoroughly than others arising from the Bill, but I have to say that after very thorough consideration of what has been said by Ministers we are still not entirely satisfied. For instance, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said in another place on the 4th May, at col. 1213 of the Official Report, that the Government were, if anything, even more anxious than certain Members of the Opposition to ensure that the complaints procedures which apply to civilian police forces should also apply to the AEA constabulary. That is what my honourable friend the Member for Berwick was trying to achieve on Report stage in another place, yet it is not what is accomplished in the Bill as it stands at the moment. Nor would it he if the undertakings which have been given by Ministers were implemented.

The position we have today is that a Police Bill containing an improved complaints machinery and applying to England and Wales is slowly grinding its way through another place; and, of course, we can have no absolute guarantee that it will complete all its remaining stages by the end of this Session, particularly now that the whole of the business programme in another place appears to have been thrown into confusion by other events. But if the Bill does get on to the Statute Book then, as I understand it, the Atomic Energy Authority constables in England and Wales will be subject to exactly the same complaints procedure as that which applies to civilian police forces. and I think my honourable friend the Member for Berwick is to be congratulated on having achieved that much during Report stage in another place.

However, as I say, this Police Bill applies only to England and Wales, and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said—and this is in col. 1213, on 4th May —that it was the Government's intention to introduce an independent clement into the machinery for complaints against the police in Scotland at some future date, although it would not necessarily be identical with that in England and Wales. But this is not a Bill which is coming forward in this Session. For all we know it may not appear even in the Queen's Speech this autumn, and therefore it might be not until 1978 that anything is done about it. In the meanwhile—I hope I have this correctly—the AEA constables in Scotland will he dealt with only under the existing internal AEA procedures, which I do not understand to be the same as those which apply to the civilian police in Scotland.

There are two possible solutions to this problem. One is to extend the England and Wales Police Bill to Scotland for this particular purpose alone, as the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has proposed in another Amendment. On that, I would say that, while it would certainly be a very much tidier arrangement so far as the AEA itself is concerned, I very much doubt whether it would be an acceptable solution for Scottish opinion bearing in mind the very different legal situation under which police forces in Scotland have always operated. It would also mean that every time an Amendment was made to the Police Bill complaints procedure there would have to be a corresponding change in this legislation.

The alternative, which I am putting forward in this Amendment, is the same as that which was advocated by my honourable friend the Member for Berwick and which was argued by him in another place with his usual force and cogency. It is that, whatever the complaints procedure may be applying to civilian police forces either in England and Wales or in Scotland, respectively, for the time being, then those same arrangements will apply automatically to the AEA constabulary. That was always the situation so far as Scotland is concerned, and it avoids the need for any further altera- tion in this Bill when changes are made in the machinery for complaints against civilian police forces. I beg to move.


As a general principle, there is nothing between the noble Lord and the noble Earl who is to move the next Amendment. which is for a similar purpose although it is drafted differently. Therefore, with the permission of the Committee I should like to speak, if I may, to both Amendments, although that will not in any way prevent the noble Earl from speaking to his Amendment either separately or alongside the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Avehury. This is an important issue and I am glad that the noble Lord has acknowledged the discipline of this force which I have spoken about earlier and that there has only been one complaint during the last 10 years.

Clause 6 of the Bill provides that forces like the AEA police, usually known as employers' forces, may opt voluntarily to be covered by the hoards. So far as the AEA police are concerned, the Authority are ready to have their force covered by the provisions of the Police Bill when and if it becomes law. However, since the Police Bill will not apply to England and Wales, the AEA police when in Scotland may be subject to different procedures.


It may have been a slip of the tongue, but the noble Lord said that the Bill will not apply to England and Wales.


The Police Bill will apply to England and Wales. In Scotland, there is a different situation. It is intended to introduce legislation to establish a Police Complaints Panel for Scotland and it is intended that this should be available for the officers of the AEA constabulary. I appreciate that no one can anticipate when that legislation will come forward, but in the interim period before legislation for Scotland can be brought into force, the Authority's constables serving in Scotland will be subject to an adequate complaints procedure as close as possible to what will be provided for England and Wales.

Noble Lords will appreciate that complaints involving a criminal allegation would he dealt with by t he procurator fiscal as with officers serving in the regular Scottish police forces. Other complaints would be handled by procedure certainly no less rigorous than that applied to officers serving in the regular police force. We intend to find a way to ensure that any complaints arising in Scotland will be treated in a manner similar in spirit and form to that provided by the Police Bill. What I have said, I hope will convince noble Lords that we are dealing with the substance of the issues raised and that the interim period before Scottish legislation could be in force will certainly be adequately covered.

Turning to the terms of the Amendments, I have grave doubt whether they will achieve the effect desired.The Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would force the constabulary to remain subject to the existing complaints procedure in Scotland until legislation to establish a police complaints panel for all regular police is enacted. As I have said, we intend to go one better and to find a way to make the AEA police subject to similar procedures to those contained in the Police Bill for England and Wales in advance of the enactment of similar legislation for Scotland. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would wish to frustrate that intention.

The Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, refers to a Police Bill which has not yet been enacted. I think that we ought to give careful thought to whether it is right to put into (shall we say?) current legislation a requirement to act and comply with other legislation which has not yet been seen in your Lordships' House. I conclude by saying that there is nothing between us at all; that it is our firm intention to see that the spirit and form of Clause 6 of the Police Bill shall be operated for the AEA constabulary throughout Great Britain.

3.30 p.m.


I should also like to emphasise that these Amendments deal with a hypothetical situation in the sense that, as has been said, complaints against the Atomic Energy Authority as an employer have, mercifully, been almost unique. One hopes that that happy situation will be continued. But we are dealing with a situation which the Government regard as grave. There is apparently to be an increasing use of fissile materials. There will be an increasing traffic in fissile materials and therefore it would be idle to say that because there has only been one complaint in the past 10 years that does not force us to consider what may happen in the future.

So far as my Amendment is concerned, I was aware that the Police Bill is still a Bill and in a somewhat unsatisfactory state in the other place, if the Government do not mind me saying so. So far as the Public Bill Office were concerned, they were perfectly happy for that situation regarding my Amendment. Naturally, the Lord Privy Seal will know this was merely a device to get the Government thinking and, hopefully, produce those thoughts to your Lordships for discussion.

So far as complaints against police officers of all kinds are concerned, we are approaching what I regard as a somewhat unsatisfactory situation. We are going to have one system of complaints for regular police officers in England; we are going to have a residuary complaint system for police officers in Scotland. Then we are going to have what I might call " Mr. Benn's irregulars ". They are going to have one system of complaints in England and there will be a second—or perhaps I should say a fourth—type of complaint for Scotland. It should be noted that the Dorset-trained " irregular " stationed in England will find an entirely different procedure when he is on duty in Scotland. As Clause 6(4) of the Police Bill says, it does not extend to Scotland. If we are unionists—and most of us are in this small island—it is absurd to set up a new framework for an armed police force and not have the same system of complaints from one end of the United Kingdom to the other. I think that in this day and age we ought to do better than that.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, says that the Police Complaints Board can apparently take on the AEA Constabulary voluntarily. That was the word he used. I should like to ask: what does the word " voluntarily " mean? It means somebody has to be willing, but who? Is it the Police Board, the constabulary, or both?


The Police Board.


The noble Lord says that it is the Police Board. Supposing the constabulary are not willing, can they be directed? If so, by whom and under what power? To be voluntary it has to be willing. So far as Scotland is concerned, we understand that the Scottish Office intend to introduce similar legislation to establish a police complaints panel for Scotland. May I say in parenthesis that denotes to me at any rate that the Government acknowledge the present system in relation to regular police forces is less than satisfactory. Until that happens, it is said that there will he some interim measure for the AEA police in Scotland. Again I ask: who is going to lay down this measure? Is it a matter for the Department of Energy? If so, can they dictate in this way? How does it become voluntary and who has to consent?

There is some confusion over the duty and scope of the procurator fiscal. As I understand the position, the procurator fiscal is an officer of court and he comes in at a fairly late stage to consider first of all whether he thinks an offence against the criminal law has been committed. If—and only if—he thinks it has, and he thinks that is should be ventilated before a criminal court, he then brings the matter before the Sheriff. Before some legislation is introduced which would cover Scotland, one asks: what is going to take the place of this system? Is there to he a chief constable's inquiry? I am not now distinguishing between a complaint which may be in relation to a criminal offence, or may not, according to how the inquiry turns out.

I hope from what I have said it will be seen that the situation is less than happy. I should have thought that, though there seems to be what I might call a rush to get this Bill on the Statute Book, surely there would be time to get the complaints procedure right. I should have thought that the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal could take this matter away and look at it again.

I know my Amendment does not meet the bill, if only because of the fact that if the Atomic Energy Authority (Special Constables) Bill goes on the Statute Book before the Police Bill—which at the present rate of progress appears to be extremely probable—my Amendment falls to the ground. Nevertheless, I would ask the noble Lord to look at this again and see whether he cannot come up with something a little more logical and rather more comprehensive.


May I intervene over the logical fault I noticed in the noble Earl's comment. He said that if the appeals body he mentioned (I have forgotten the word) agreed voluntarily to take on the business of dealing with complaints about the AEA constabulary then you could not regret that the AEA constabulary should be forced to use it. That is a logical fault because if one body says that they are prepared to deal with these matters then you can direct the extent to which the constabulary should use it. The noble Earl seemed to think there was some inconsistency there. I do not think there is any inconsistency at all.


I always like to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Brown, especially when he gives me advice, which is frequently. I did not make any point. I merely asked for elucidation and I asked who was going to give the orders. If it is voluntary, that is one thing. If it is less than voluntary, that is another.


If the noble Earl reads Hansard tomorrow, he will find my comments are correct.


Who would dare to stand between two Scots? The Police Bill says in Clause 6 that: The Police Complaints Board may, with the approval of the Secretary of State, make arrangements for any authority maintaining a body of constables, not being a police authority … for the discharge by the Board in relation to those constables of functions corresponding to any of those conferred on the Board by the foregoing provisions of this Part of the Act; and any such arrangement may, with the like approval, be varied and terminated. I have already indicated to the Committee and to the House on Second Reading that it is the intention of the AEA and the chief constable concerned that this force should be subject to the provisions of Section 6. Once it has entered into this arrangement with the Police Complaints Board, it is not possible for any force, voluntary or otherwise, to withdraw from these procedures without the consent of the Secretary of State. I recognise that on the face of it there is this difference between England and Scotland, with their different structures: but so far as the AEA police are concerned. they will be covered by exactly the same procedures in the interim, until the Scottish Bill comes into force, as the force is in England, which will be subject to the procedures laid down in the Police Bill.

The procedure if there is a complaint will not he that of a Chief Constable's inquiry, as I think the noble Earl suggested. What we have in mind is that when it has been created the Board will look into any of these complaints. But since the Bill which will set it up Will not apply to Scotland, it is expected that it will operate on an ad hoc basis so far as the AEA police are concerned. It is certainly desirable that the Scottish legislation should he introduced as quickly as possible. I suspect that it w ill be broadly similar to the Police Bill that is now in another place. When that is done. many of the difficulties to which the noble Earl. Lord Mansfield, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, have referred will clearly disappear.

I can give this very firm assurance that the AEA constabulary are only too anxious to participate in Clause 6 of the Police Bill. that we will set up the administrative arrangements and that the Secretary of State w ill ensure that the spirit of Clause 6, and of the Police Bill as a whole, is complied with by the AEA constabulary throughout Great Britain.


The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has certainly gone further. if I understood him correctly, than Members of the Commons managed to go, in clarifying the complaints machinery which will operate in Scotland between the passing of this Bill and the coming into force of any future legislation which may set up new machinery for civilian police there. I must say that the noble Lord astonished me, not for the first time this afternoon, in saying that under a Bill which applies only to England and Wales it is possible to have what he called ad hoc procedures to deal with the situation in Scotland. I should have thought that was yet another innovation among many which are being introduced under this Bill, hut I am perfectly happy to accept the noble Lord's assurances that that is so. Also, I do not want to become involved in a technical argument between two Scotsmen on the exactitudes of the work of the procurator fiscal.

I want to make only one point. In the first of his interventions. the noble Lord. Lord Shepherd, said that the machinery which applied in Scotland would he similar in spirit and form to that in England and Wales. I thought he had chosen his words rather carefully, so as to take into account the differences which exist because of the judicial background, particularly the role of the procurator fiscal. As I have understood it. in the case of any complaint against civilian police in England and Wales. if there is evidence showing that a criminal offence has been committed the complaint must go straight to the Director of Public Prosecutions: whereas in Scotland the investigation can he pursued further down the line by the police themselves before the procurator fiscal cones into it. Therefore, I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that the machinery which is to be introduced as a temporary measure in Scotland will have to he similar and not identical to that in England and Wales. I do not know whether or not it was a slip of the tongue, hut in his last speech he used the term " exactly the same I see that the noble Lord is nodding his head to indicate that he meant " similar ".

This is probably the best solution that we can devise. As I said, if we exactly applied to Scotland the Police Bill procedure in England and Wales. we should not only step on Scottish susceptibilities but we might run into some legal difficulties there. We merely have to accept the fact that this rather unsatisfactory interim procedure is necessary, by reason of the fact that the Scotland and the England and Wales Police Bills are not absolutely in parallel, which would have been a much better solution. But in the light of the assurances that have been given by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. I beg leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without Amendment.