HL Deb 16 December 1986 vol 483 cc126-30

4.25 p.m.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Lord Trefgarne)

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 Trefgarne.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [The Ministry of Defence Police]:

Lord Inglewood moved the amendment: Page 1, line 11 at end insert ("; and (c) special constables without remuneration.")

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment and I shall be brief. It is not easy to follow this short Bill, and the drafting is difficult for anyone who has not studied the whole subject of this branch of the service. I had hoped that the noble Lord would agree with me about the drafting and bring forward an amendment on Report, but I rather gather he is hurrying the Bill on for Christmas, which he would prefer. I will oblige the noble Lord as far as I can, but I must make one point on this amendment.

I want to find definitely a way, and there must somewhere be a possibility, of recruiting special constables; a contingency of auxiliaries without pay. This is not clear in the Bill, if it is mentioned in so many words. Two days ago I looked up the word "constable" in Halsbury's Laws of England and I found that it is used so many times in the course of a certain chapter that it is hard to find exactly what is at the back of our heads when we think about special constables. What I think is in our minds, and what we should have in mind, is the police constables whom we have recruited for every force in the Home Office in the counties right across this country.

We in Britain have a certain genius for mixing the professional and the amateur in many branches of our administration. I believe we have a chance in this Bill of putting our Ministry of Defence Police on what looks like being a better basis, particularly if any noble Lord refers to the beginnings of the Bill and finds what uncertainty there has been for some years past. I should like to see this British genius for mixing the professional and the volunteer.

I should like my noble friend the Minister to tell the Committee the position of the individuals, which may be a little different from the contingents such as described in the principal police Acts.

Finally, what is the future of the force? I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

If the Minister will allow me to intervene it would certainly expedite business. The Committee fully recognises the long-standing interest and special knowledge not only of police matters but particularly of matters relating to the special constabulary that are in the possession of the noble Lord. I certainly see the amendment as a probing amendment, and I very much hope that the Minister will use it as an opportunity to state more precisely than was perhaps otherwise thought the role of special constables in respect of defence police matters.

It needs to be clearly understood that there is a distinction between the roles of special constables. There is what one might call the normal run of events. They are often used additionally, at short notice, for special events—for example, those covered in the Bill that will be before this House later this afternoon; sporting and other events—where they can perform a very valuable duty. The last thing that anyone here wants to do is to denigrate the worth of the special constabulary. Nevertheless, I think that we must be very careful not to complicate something which I understand has taken many years to achieve, and the present Bill will give the Defence Police Federation a much firmer legal basis than it has ever had.

I think it is perfectly proper to ask questions and receive the assurances which are sought by the noble Lord, but we need to be very clear about the enormous responsibilities already undertaken by the Ministry of Defence Police and the Defence Police Federation. One needs to think in terms of the areas from which the special defence police constabulary will come. The officers will be either individuals who already work within the defence establishments or persons who come from outside. If they come from within the establishment, one needs to reflect before inflicting upon them the difficulties with which they will have to work within the defence establishment during the day and the knowledge of their workmates that they are part of the extra, para-police activity. That is a possibility.

One also has to envisage possible conflicts at trade union level. The special police, though loyal and patriotic, nevertheless in some instances could be seen as offering an opportunity to deny employment to what one might call full-time policemen.

I hope the Minister will assure the Committee that there is neither a need nor a place for this amendment, which, although it may be very well intentioned, in my view will cause more problems than it seeks to resolve.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Renton

I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Graham, in paying tribute to the interest and concern shown for many years by my noble friend Lord Inglewood in police matters, especially in regard to the special constabulary. There is no doubt that on certain occasions the special constabulary has a very important part to play in the ordinary way.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, raised the question of the trade unions. My own experience many years ago of dealing with the Police Federation over police matters was that the unions were perfectly happy to have the special constabulary help them out on special occasions but they did not wish them to usurp the functions of the regular police force in a general way. I think that is a perfectly proper attitude and it is in that spirit that we should face the questions that arise.

Applying to the particular circumstances of the Ministry of Defence as stated in this Bill, the principle that special constables have a part to play, I wonder whether I may venture an opinion—and perhaps my noble friend Lord Inglewood will not agree with me entirely—and for better or worse put forward the view that, first of all, we must acknowledge that special constables in the Ministry of Defence have a different part to play and, secondly, there is an even greater security element in their work than there is in the work of the normal special constabulary. Therefore, those who are eligible to join the special constabulary may not necessarily be the right kind of people for employment as special constables under the Ministry of Defence.

However, I should have thought that if the Ministry of Defence needs special constables for special occasions and special places, especially in times of emergency—such as a strike, for example, where they are there simply in order to protect defence establishments and with no suggestion of strike-breaking—the question then arises as to what kind of people they should be. In this country there are always large numbers of men who have served as officers, NCOs and other ranks in all three branches of the armed forces and for whom it has been a part of their lives in the forces to have special regard for security. Therefore, if the Ministry of Defence needs a pool of special constables, I should have thought that the best people it could obtain for that purpose would be those who had served in the armed forces and are now retired.

Lord Trefgarne

At the outset, I should like to be associated with the tributes that have been paid to my noble friend Lord Inglewood with regard to his lifelong interest in police matters, for which I know he is held in great esteem and affection by all police forces. I know that his amendment is inspired with the best interests of the MDP at heart, and your Lordships will be interested to know that a recommendation for such a scheme was made by the Ministry's own Police Review Committee under Sir Ewen Broadbent. Indeed, I am happy to be able to reassure my noble friend that the Bill as drafted allows for such a scheme in Clause 1(1)(a).

The proposal for a special constabulary scheme is being studied by a working party. In a reply given in another place in July this year we made it clear that such a scheme raised major issues about the practicability and effective use of the force. Indeed, some of the issues have been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and by my noble friend Lord Renton. This complex subject is still under discussion from many standpoints, including that of remuneration, and I hope that the Committee will agree that I should not prejudice the outcome of the working party's discussion.

As I say, as it stands the Bill already includes provision for a special constable scheme if one is required, and I hope that my noble friend will feel reassured by that and feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Inglewood

I am grateful to my noble friend for giving me that answer, which has met my point. At the same time I should like to say—and I hope that he agrees with me—that over the last few years relations between the professional and the volunteer have improved out of all recognition. I therefore hope that the noble Lord opposite will agree with me and do his best—as I hope to—to help to bring them closer together. I ask leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Jurisdiction]:

On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Inglewood

I should like to add the very briefest word to this discussion. The jurisdiction as defined in Clause 2 should make the position clear not just for the experts to understand but for the ordinary man in the street and every police constable, irrespective of whether he is a member of the Home Office force or the Ministry of Defence Police, because there is a difference between jurisdiction which affects property and jurisdiction which affects persons. I hope that my noble friend will say a word about that now.

There is also a difficulty in that there may be a clash between different forces and different jurisdictions. I believe that this would also apply even to our foreign forces. We now have much of our material on the Continent, although in the first full instance we do not have men there. However, I imagine that with the present situation in Europe, which is quite different from the situation in years gone by, we are in a more difficult position than we were before. I hope that what I have said about the clash will not occur at this time; but does my noble friend agree that in the future we shall have to look very closely at this point? We must not look backwards and assume that the same conditions will always apply.

Lord Trefgarne

I am obliged to my noble friend for raising this point. I shall begin by making a distinction between when the MDP is within the establishment which it may be called upon to protect and when it is outside such a place. Inside the establishments which, broadly speaking, are those in the possession or under the control of the MoD, visiting forces, ordnance factories and dockyards, the powers of the MDP will not change. When in those establishments, its members have full powers of a constable covering all types of crime in the same manner as for a Home Department police constable. When ouside those establishments, MDP powers are more restricted. Under existing statutes it has constabulory powers in Great Britain in relation to Crown property and service personnel, including the property and personnel of visiting forces and international military headquarters, and the property of ordnance factories and dockyards.

Such powers may be exercised only up to 15 miles from any establishment. Under the Bill the 15-mile limit will no longer apply; instead the MDP will have constabulary powers throughout the United Kingdom but it will be able to exercise them only in relation to Crown property and the property of those I have mentioned, Ministry of Defence personnel, visiting forces and matters connected with defence contracts.

The Bill also contains some minor provisions which enable the MDP to assist its Home Department police colleagues in the vicinity of defence establishments and to exercise constabulary powers in United Kingdom territorial waters and in certain places such as the Royal Mint, which will be published in gazettes.

If I understand him aright, I think my noble friend referred to the need to ensure that the boundary between Home Department police forces and the MDP is one that is clearly understood. I am sure that it is, but I am also sure that the best way to resolve the matter is by local agreements among the various police forces concerned. That is the way the matter is handled at present; it is the way that I think it should be handled in the future. I know of no reason to think that that will not happen.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received.