HL Deb 04 December 1986 vol 482 cc946-54

4.5 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Ministry of Defence police force was created early this century to take the strain off the Home Department police forces in what was becoming a specialised, manpower intensive, area of police work. Since the last century, the constabulary powers of those who police naval and military establishments have derived from a series of Acts of Parliament designed for the Metropolitan Police Force. Clearly, they were not conceived for the duties of the modern Ministry of Defence police, a fact which impressed the Defence Committee of another place when it recommended this legislation in its report of July 1984.

The main source of the Ministry of Defence police constabulary powers is the Metropolitan Police Act 1860 and the Special Constables Act 1923. At present there is no Act which gives full statutory recognition or appropriate jurisdiction to what is by far the largest of the non-Home Department police forces.

In drafting this long overdue measure every effort has been made to avoid any overlapping with the duties of other police forces. The MDP has a detailed knowledge of the working of MoD establishments and the special threats they face, ranging from espionage and terrorism through common theft and fraud to the actions of intruders bent on demonstration. Its blend of constabulary powers and MoD experience makes it more suitable in its present role than either military or other police forces. The aim of this Bill is to clarify the powers of the MDP and bring them into line with its present duties. It will propose few changes of substance in its jurisdiction and it will not result in changes in the way the MDP carries out its responsibilities. Your Lordships will, I trust, be sympathetic to such modest aims and, as I briefly run through its clauses, come to see the Bill as a simple clarification measure.

The first clause seeks to provide the force with a fresh statutory basis. The force will consist of its existing members and others, nominated by the Secretary of State, who shall be sworn in before a Justice to carry out the law of the area in which they serve. The Secretary of State will appoint a chief constable and a police committee to advise him.

Clause 2 preserves MDP's present constabulary powers in the United Kingdom on land and property under the control of the Ministry of Defence, visiting forces, ordnance factories and dockyard contractors. It will enable the MDP to police non-MoD sites such as the Royal Mint, where it has historic responsibilities, after suitable notice has been published. It will also enable MDP to assist local police forces in the vicinity of MoD land when defence matters are involved.

Outside these places MDP powers will, broadly speaking, be limited to Crown property, servicemen and others involved in defence matters. As before, the property and personnel of visiting forces, international military headquarters, ordnance factories and dockyards are included. These powers will apply throughout the United Kingdom and will replace the outdated proviso in the Metropolitan Police Act 1860, which was intended to enable a dockyard constable to act up to 15 miles outside his establishment. Although most of the UK is within 15 miles of an MoD site, the 1860 rule is scarcely relevant to MDP's important duties safeguarding MoD property when in transit. Road convoys of sensitive materials are provided with additional escorts by Home Department forces where available but constabulary powers, which are not affected by an arbitrary 15-mile limit, are required in situations where Home Department forces are too hard pressed to attend.

Clause 3 gives effect to a recommendation of the Ministry's Police Review Committee chaired by Sir Ewen Broadbent. It recognises 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.

Clauses 4 and 5 make it an offence to impersonate a member of the force or to cause disaffection in its ranks. The provisions are the same as those found in the Police Act 1964 for the protection of Home Department police forces. Clause 6 deals with consequential amendments and associated legislation.

Your Lordships will wish to join me in paying tribute to the essential duties carried out by the MDP in all weathers and often in trying circumstances.

The simple aim of the Bill is to provide the force with clear powers appropriate to its current responsibilities. Not only are its present powers unclear but it cannot be satisfactory to base such an important service affecting national security on a series of general enactments, some of which date from the last century.

Moreover, although relations with other police forces are excellent and the MDP is in no doubt about the primacy of Home Department police forces in administering the law generally, such co-operation can best be achieved where lines of responsibility in respect of MDP are clearly drawn. The Government are convinced of the need for a clear statutory basis for MDP which will incorporate a single unambiguous set of provisions defining their powers and jurisdiction.

I commend the Bill as a suitable measure to achieve that aim, and I beg to move that it now be read a second time.

Moved, that the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Trefgarne.)

4.12 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am very grateful not only for what the Minister has said but for the sincerity with which he said it. Those who are directly concerned will look not only on the presentation of the Bill but particularly on the words that will appear in the Official Report with an immense amount of satisfaction. They have not always been—as I believe they are entitled to be—as satisfied by the Minister and the Ministry as doubtless they will be today. I refer to the situation just over two years ago when there were grave threats indeed to the recognition of their availability to do the work in the ordnance factory field.

The Minister is absolutely right that what we have today is virtually an agreed Bill by, so to speak, those in management and those on the other side. The Minister was kind enough to point out to the House the very tenuous legal basis for the defence police, but to all intents and purposes the basis upon which the Police Federation existed and operated was ambiguous, obscure and often inoperable.

The Minister calls this a simple clarification measure, doing very little in the way of change but making absolutely clear what is expected of these people. To some extent I think it does this—as I have been told by those who have read the Bill—because it has been written in simple language that can be understood by the ordinary man in the street. Very often people with deep knowledge complain that a Bill is not easy to understand. I am told that the Bill does not suffer that defect. Whatever status the MDP had before in terms of the opposite of legitimate, they will certainly feel now that they have been made legitimate. There was a feeling—indeed, phrases were used—which gave rise to the federation often being likened to a tennis club or social club, but it has now been given an important role by the provisions of the Bill. It did not have that status, but it now has that status, which is important.

The Minister rests, as he must, on two documents. One is the report of the Defence Committee of 13th July 1984; the other is what is known as the Broadbent Committee report. I am pleased to tell the Minister that the advice I have received is that, almost without exception and with no quibble, the recommendations that have been made have been accepted by the Minister and understood and accepted by the Police Federation.

The Broadbent Committee report, at paragraph 111 on page 39, recommends on MDP powers that, The origin of the M DP's legal powers is remote and it would be highly desirable to have legislation to codify all relevant enactments. That is what the Minister has now brought before us. Another recommendation states that, Legislation should cover disciplinary and complaints procedures and recognise the two staff associations. I understand that that too has been done.

I hope that the Minister can help with regard to one or two questions. I draw his attention first to Clause 1(5), which says: The Secretary of State shall appoint a committee, to be known as the Ministry of Defence Police Committee, to advise him with respect to such matters concerning the Ministry of Defence Police as he may from time to time require". Can the Minister tell us who the members of that committee are likely to be? I ask the Minister to consider and comment on the desirability of some representatives of the Defence Police Federation being members of that committee. While we understand that the Secretary of State will always be the man or the woman who carries the can in these matters, we know that below the Secretary of State it is the management committee; it is the board of directors that will look after this aspect of defence.

In the context of 1986, when workers have representation on boards or shares in the business, can the Minister say whether there is anything wrong in considering the possibility of representatives of the workers—that is, the Defence Police Federation—becoming members of the committee? If not members, they could be invited to attend. If not invited to attend, they could be given access, in the strict way that these matters are dealt with, to copies of the procedure and minutes. I know that the Minister may not have anticipated these questions—although normally he anticipates all my questions. If he is not able to reply now, I hope that he will look into the point that has been made to me.

Clause 3(3) says: The Secretary of State may, after consultation with the management committee of the Federation, by regulations prescribe the constitution and proceedings.". That, I am delighted to say, has a remarkable similarity to that which the Police Federation wanted and that which Broadbent outlined.

Bearing in mind that the Secretary of State will be in the same relationship to the Defence Police Federation as is the Home Secretary to the Police Federation, can the Minister tell us whether he and his colleagues have it in mind to treat the Defence Police Federation in the same way that the Home Secretary treats the Police Federation; that is, to be covered by the terms and conditions of Edmund-Davies, whose name of course is deeply respected as a raison d'être and a background? Without pressing the matter, perhaps I may hope to hear from the Minister some sympathetic words of reassurance.

I want also to place on record the point I made earlier. What had seemed likely to be a harmonious period was not always so. When the role of the Defence Police Federation was last a matter for parliamentary scrutiny, there resulted the report, to which the Minister has referred, on 13th July 1984. We were then looking at whether there was a role for the Defence Police Federation at all in respect of the ordnance factories. Paragraph 26 on page 25 contained the rather sad and very disagreeable news that at that stage—when the very future of the DPF was being considered—the Minister and his colleagues had not seen fit to consult with the Defence Police Federation on its very life. Some very severe strictures were made about the consultation processes which at that time were held to be adequate and satisfactory.

I am satisfied, as the Minister said today, that those bad days of consultation are behind us. We shall do nothing to impede the Bill. In fact we are pleased to welcome it.

4.22 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, we also welcome this Bill. It is high time that the matter was cleared up. It seems to have been cleared up in a very straightforward manner which I could more or less understand when I read the Bill. That is not always the case. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Graham.

I should like first to say that we support the proper arrangements for a Ministry of Defence police. We must have the police. They are extremely important. The arrangements should be watertight. I think that as a result of this Bill, that will be the case. I should like to ask one or two questions for clarification. It is very likely that I ought to know the answers but I do not.

My first query is on Clause 1(4)(b), which gives the Defence Secretary the power to terminate a person's membership. Obviously this is quite right. But in the case of the police force of England and Wales an officer who has pleaded not guilty to a disciplinary offence and who has been sentenced to dismissal has the right to require the appointment of a tribunal to re-hear the evidence and make a decision. I wonder whether that applies, because the Bill does not say so. I also wonder whether, if it does not apply, it ought not to? That is a matter that we can discuss in Committee, but I should like a preliminary view from the noble Lord if he can give it.

The second query relates to firearms. It is very important that police of whatever denomination should have perfectly clear directives on firearms. In the police forces in England and Wales—the rules of the Metropolitan Police are slightly different—an officer of at least assistant chief constable rank has to approve the issuing of firearms. Will that be the case here? If not, who is the correct authority? It is an important matter because the Ministry of Defence police, dealing with very sensitive material, terrorists, and other such people, will from time to time need to carry firearms. I should therefore like an answer to that question.

My other question is this. The Ministry of Defence Police Federation is in no way connected with the Police Federation. Would it not be a good idea to have some connection, such as a common membership. As the years go by, these federations may drift apart and develop different rules. It is a point on which I should like to have the Minister's opinion.

Those are my only questions. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, was able to say that the Bill is satisfactory to the workforce as well as to management. That is useful to know. We wish the Bill a successful passage.

4.27 p.m.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I should like to support the Bill. I feel that it has come before us at a very timely moment. The times through which we have lived over the last two years show the need for many of the non-Home Office police forces to be re-organised. We have had the authority for individual constables to be brought into these forces but I am not sure where we have the authority to bring the force up to date. We now have in this Bill the position made very much clearer than before.

The most important point that we have to bear in mind is this. We must not overlook the fact that police always have difficult situations where they cannot give all the information away. However, at the same time, we must try to give the general public as much information as we possibly can. Over the last few years there has been a tendency among all police to keep information to themselves. It would be better for us all if that situation could be improved.

One now comes to the question of the MoD police force being interchangeable with other police forces. The noble Lord has referred to interchangeability. I have had close contacts with at least one non-Home Office force and I have seen every kind of overlapping occur during the last few years. Although we may be told that this is happening, it will be some time before such interchangeability works through.

Chief constables are mentioned specifically in the Bill. We have different conditions and different age limits. It seems to me that one ought to have the same conditions and the same age limits as in the county forces.

We come then to the question of training. We have initial training to consider. There is a big difference between the Ministry of Defence police and the county forces. Their organisation is on different bases which I consider a pity. Beyond that, one finds that at the next stage, the technical training is the same. I believe that it is now possible for senior officers of Ministry of Defence police to be accepted at Bramshill. I am not sure about the question of weapons, which were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. There are entirely different rules governing their use and training on weapons, particularly pistols. It may not be possible to have all the details but more information would be helpful.

Finally—a subject which has not yet been mentioned—I think that we ought to hear something on the matter of complaints against the police. We have been in trouble over the last few years and there has been amendment after amendment of the procedures and the law on this point.

Yet, we still have the position where there are differences between this force and the Home Office forces.

On command and control, staff duties in the other armed services are given much more importance than those in regard to the police. Last winter we heard of the technical words "mutual support". There was nothing of the kind previously. We now have mutual support. Is there any difficulty in this respect between the non-Home Office forces and the Home Office forces? We have a long way to go before the police are as clever as the army with regard to their staff duties developing along those lines.

I have possibly talked too much. Your Lordships may say that these are a series of Committee points. However, on the other hand, the general impression that I have tried to give is of a police picture. It is most important that we bring forward certain amendments. It would be a great advance if we could provide for what is now in our minds, given that we can get over the difficulties.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am grateful to every noble Lord for his welcome to this measure. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, asked me first about the composition of the police committee. I can tell him that the chairman will be the second permanent Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, and the vice-chairman will be the vice-chief of the Defence Staff, Ministry of Defence. There will be a number of other Ministry of Defence officers and officials on the committee. In addition, there will be members nominated by the Home Office and the Scottish Office. The chief constable and deputy chief constable of the Ministry of Defence Police will be in attendance.

As to whether the Defence Police Federation will be involved, they will certainly attend meetings of the police committee and on certain occasions when it is appropriate they will be present but not necessarily as a matter of course. They may also make written representations to the committee. It may be of interest to the noble Lord to know that no vote is taken at such police committee meetings, however, I am certain that the views of the Defence Police Federation will be taken fully into account by the other members.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can help me on one important point. I understand the no voting and the confidentiality and security aspects completely. I can also understand that it may be felt that there is no necessity for Police Federation members to be present on all occasions. The Minister was kind enough to say that there would be occasions when they would be invited to appear. Will the Minister indicate whether or not members of the Police Federation can make a written request to attend certain meetings which they believe it important to all sides for them to attend?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am sure it will be open to the Defence Police Federation to make a request in writing such as the noble Lord suggests. I think it would then be a matter for the permanent members of the committee to decide how to proceed.

I should like to refer also to the question raised by the noble Lord about the attitude of the Secretary of State for Defence to the Defence Police Federation. I know that my right honourable friend would wish to treat the DPF no less favourably as regards their legal standing than the Home Secretary has treated the Police Federation of England and Wales. As regards their facilities for representation and management of funds, the Bill makes it clear that these matters will be discussed with the management committee of the federation before any regulations are made.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, asked me first of all about the position of the MDP with regard to firearms, and this was also in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. The use of firearms is always a serious matter because of the possibility of injury or even death arising from their use. That includes innocent people not in any way involved in the offence to which the use of the firearms is related. Therefore, firearms are issued to those MDP officers who are fully qualified to use the types of weapon to be carried and only when the order for their issue has been given by the chief constable after authorisation by the Secretary of State. In an emergency an assistant chief constable or the senior police officer at a defence establishment may authorise the issue of firearms if the chief constable is not available. However, the chief constable is required to be informed with the minimum delay so that he may obtain the necessary authorisation.

Training in the use of firearms is undertaken on a regular basis and the senior police officer at each establishment is responsible for ensuring that all ranks are fully conversant with MDP safety precautions and general instructions on the use and carrying of firearms.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, asked me also about appeals with regard to the termination of membership. I understand that the arrangements for this have now been implemented under Section 96(1) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and that an appropriate agreement has been signed.

My noble friend Lord Inglewood did ask me about the possibility of the MDP coming into line with other police and also about the possibilities of interchange. As regards the Home Department police forces, the MDP now has legislation which is based on the Metropolitan Police Act 1860 as I said earlier. This Bill will contain provisions which are based on the Police Act 1964—more than 100 years more recent.

As regards non-Home Department police forces such as the British Transport Police and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary, the legislation I am proposing is broadly similar to their legislation, allowing for the different responsibilities of those forces.

This Bill will provide for the MDP to assist their Home Department colleagues in the vicinity of MoD land when called upon by the local police force to do so. However, as I said in my opening speech the MDP must respect the primacy of Home Department police forces.

The proposals in the Bill are designed to clear up some areas of doubt arising from some very old statutes on which MDP's powers rest. Your Lordships will have realised that this essential force may at present find itself in considerable doubt about what precisely are its powers in certain critical situations. This unenviable position cannot be beneficial for the morale of the force or for its effectiveness when carrying out duties which bear upon the security of the country as a whole.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, perhaps my noble friend would allow me to ask one question. Can the Minister make it clear whether or not the oath taken by all constables is now uniform throughout the whole country or must we go back to limited jurisdiction in many forces?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I do not know the answer to that question. Perhaps I may ascertain the position and let my noble friend know.

I believe this Bill should help to resolve the doubts I have mentioned and I commend it to your Lordships. I beg to move.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.