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Orders of the Day — Atomic Energy Authority (Special Constables) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th February 1976.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

7.14 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

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

Without my going into great detail the House will understand that the Bill has been drafted to deal with a problem that has to be taken on board by any modern society, namely, the growing threat of terrorism and the possibility that terrorists will turn their minds to dangerous nuclear materials.

Last year we had a review of the matter and decided to recommend to the House that we should provide a special cover of a kind dealt with in the Bill for fissile materials for the civil programme. This covers plutonium, highly-enriched uranium and toxic substances. If such materials are stolen they are a danger and may be used, under certain circumstances, to create a public hazard. There is always the risk of a ransom being sought by someone who has acquired these materials.

I do not have to remind the House that terrorism is international. A material may be acquired and transported abroad. Therefore, the Government have decided that two things could and should be done. The first does not require legislation. It is to strengthen—I shall deal with the details later—the security at Harwell, Dounreay, Winfrith and Wind-scale. The second is to give further consideration to the way in which the problems of the transit of these materials may be handled. Against the two risks—the first is terrorism and the second cannot entirely exclude theft—we have heavily strengthened the physical security at the establishments, in terms of fences, buildings, alarm systems, communications and vehicles. However, there is a risk of violence, and in the Government's judgment armed guards are needed to safeguard and to store materials as well as for transit purposes.

I should be very surprised if the House, despite its awareness and alertness to the risks I have mentioned, did not look with some reluctance at the possibility of introducing more armed men. Frankly, I feel exactly the same. I think we all do. We have been proud of the fact that we have managed to keep such violence as there is in our society well below the level familiar in other countries, partly because the distribution of weapons has been so much harder for the public, hence for the police. When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary formerly held the post, I remember his visiting America and being asked on television why we did not arm the police in Britain. He said that he was always puzzled why they armed the public in the United States. In my view that was a most sensible answer to the question.

In this instance we are talking about an exceptional risk and danger. We must ensure that these materials do not fall into the wrong hands. I do not have to ask the House to share the anxieties that I might have but I am sure that in the event of some incident occurring and our not having made this basic elementary provision of armed protection, Parliament would feel that the Government had let it down.

There is another aspect which I should mention in the international context. In many other countries these materials are already under armed guard. Some international groups might be interested in terrorist activities and looking around the world to see where these materials could be most easily acquired, and it would be awful if we were considered to be a soft target, because that might invite some form of attack.

In Britain we have, of course, for some time provided for military fissile materials the same sort of protection as I am now describing. Therefore, in a sense it could be argued that the only innovation in the Bill is the extension to civil fissile materials of the same type of protection as we have provided for military fissile materials, because the materials that we are speaking about are much the same, though their end use is very different.

I make clear that armed guards are only the first line of defence in any operation of this kind. They provide a powerful deterrent. They are in a position to sound the alarm. They may hold off an attack. I hope that I shall not be pressed to say more, but I point out that reinforcement arrangements are available, which have existed for a long time. It is a very different order of business from the arming of the constabulary.

I turn to the method recommended in the Bill. It is proposed that we should arm the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary. It has been a police force since 1955. Since 1971, when British Nuclear Fuels Limited became a separate organisation, the coverage that the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary has provided has extended to BNFL. Indeed, until recently the constabulary was unarmed.

The Bill would put these constables in the same position as the regular police—they are a police force—and the Ministry of Defence constabulary from which they at one time issued. The origins of the Atomic Energy Authority police stem from an Act in 1954, when they came out of the Ministry of Supply. The effect of that legislation, curious as it is to look back upon it, was that although the AEA constabulary was born of the Ministry of Defence constabulary, when it broke away it did not enjoy the Ministry of Defence constabulary's right to carry arms. In a sense, therefore, we are correcting a very curious anomaly.

When I say that the AEA constabulary will be put in the same position as the regular police and the Ministry of Defence constabulary, I mean that under the Bill it will have the right to possess firearms without specific authority under the Firearms Act 1968. It is always possible for us to meet an interim situation by the issue of firearms certificates, but that is not a very sensible way of dealing with an ongoing security problem.

The AEA constabulary is not a private police force. I would feel very differently about the Bill if we were not dealing with a disciplined force, established under an Act of Parliament dealing with special constables officered by people with police or Service experience, with a chief constable who is responsible to a statutory body—the Atomic Energy Authority—with the statutory body responsible to a Secretary of State and with a Secretary of State responsible to the House. It is a perfectly regular line of command—proper police under proper control.

If the Bill is passed, constables will carry arms only under proper standing orders, which will be submitted by the chief constable of the AEA constabulary for my approval, and I would follow normal precedents in matters of this kind. The constables would be trained, and some have been trained already, to very high police standards. I have not in any way anticipated the legislation, however. Pending the passage of the Bill, selected constables have had firearms certificates issued by local police authorities, but that, of course, is not the right way to deal with this question in the long run. The training of these constables, however, has begun and it will continue because the Government felt many months ago that it would be wrong to run a hazard between the decision being taken by Ministers and the Bill becoming law. We felt it right to go ahead on the basis of the Firearms Act 1968, and I believe that we were in order in doing so.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

Under the existing arrangements I take it that constables are permitted to take their weapons home, because they are certificated holders. Under the proposed arrangements in the Bill, however, when they assume the authority to hold arms will they have to surrender their weapons when they leave work and collect them when they return, or will they be permitted to take them home?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

That is a very good question, which deserves a precise answer—which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will give when he replies to the debate. From my understanding of the matter my impression is that under the Firearms Act a man has authority to carry firearms, and that is the position in the interim arrangements. Whether the local police have the power to restrict the circumstances in which such a constable may carry a firearm I cannot tell, and I do not know whether the position varies according to the area. Under the new arrangements the constables would be covered by standing orders. I cannot tell whether that would include the provision to enable the weapons to be taken home. The intention is that they should be limited to the areas for which the defensive arrangements are necessary, namely, the sites in question and the transit. This could well give rise to some changes in existing practice.

Given that the firearms certificate arrangement under which constables may hold weapons as individuals is not a satisfactory way of handling the matter, we thought it right to legislate. That is why the Bill was introduced. It is a fairly clear and intelligible Bill. Its main purpose is contained in Clause 1, which is that all Atomic Energy Authority constables shall be deemed to be Crown servants—and that, in a sense, puts them back into the position they would have been in if they had not left the Ministry of Defence constabulary. All weapons that they purchase shall be deemed to be purchased for the public service, on the authority of the chief constable.

Clauses 2 and 3 complement the provision that I have described and try to relate it to the nature of the work for which weapons would be needed, in that they extend the circumstances in which the weapons can be used or carried to cover, wherever necessary, fissile maerials. The present police powers—these arise from the very different nature of normal police work—limit the carriage of arms by the police geographically and to the protection of certain types of property. In the case of the AEA constables, who are anyway already special constables under the Special Constables Act, the existing arrangements for the police would be suitable on the sites owned by the three bodies—that is, the Atomic Energy Authority, British Nuclear Fuels or Urenco—or within 15 miles of the sites, but they would not be valid outside the 15-mile limit. One of the major purposes of the Bill is to provide proper protection in transit. It therefore enables weapons to be carried in transit, wherever that transit may take them, and of course some of the lines of route concerned are long. They would cover property—that is to say, fissile material—owned or in the possession of the Crown or of companies, which would include BNFL and Urenco, or for the purposes of recovering stolen articles in these categories.

Clause 3 defines nuclear materials flexibly, and it would be reasonable for the House to give the Government the power to define what is a fissile material for the purposes of the Act. We want just that bit of flexibility from time to time in producing the Regulations to cover these materials. It clarifies a technical point that arises from the exact definition of what is 15 miles from a particular yard.

Clause 4 contains normal definitions, but also takes the opportunity to clarify a technical legal doubt about the powers of Authority constables outside the sites to which they are appointed. It in no way extends those powers. The point is a complex one, but I shall try to explain it briefly.

The powers of Authority constables derive ultimately from Section 2 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1860. This enabled special constables to be appointed for places referred to as Her Majesty's yards at…and within 15 miles of such yards…".

It went on to say that outside such yards police powers should be used only in respect of the property of the Crown or of persons subject to naval, marine or military discipline". It has always been taken, as is only common sense, that the application of this section to Authority constables means that their 15-mile radius was measured from Authority sites, not from Crown establishments in the country—that derives from the 1954 change—and that they did not have powers in relation to the persons or property or individuals subject to military discipline. There was, however, a lingering doubt, which the subsection removes. I hope that my explanation will have satisfied those who might seek to ask questions arising from the clause.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

The right hon. Gentleman has dealt with the latter part of the clause about definitions, but the machinery of the clause lies in an earlier portion about which he has said comparatively little. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that a special constable who is armed may, if the Bill is enacted, go anywhere where he suspects that an infringement has taken place? In other words, are there no limits to the places that a special constable can go on suspicion with a gun in pursuit of his duties?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I do not suggest for one moment that the hon. Gentleman is raising a Committee point—indeed, it is a matter of importance—but I shall read the passage in my notes that covers his question. If the hon. Gentleman has further queries I shall arrange for them to be dealt with authoritatively.

Clause 3 is concerned with the geographical limitations on the powers of Authority constables. At present their powers apply only within 15 miles of duty, but when constables guard fissile materials in transit they must go outside that range. For example, it is several hundred miles from Dounreay, in the North of Scotland, to Windscale, in Cumbria. The clause enables constables to exercise police powers when more than 15 miles from sites. However, it clearly restricts the use of such powers to occasions when they are on duties directly associated with safeguarding fissile materials.

If there is further anxiety about these matters I may need to ask for them to be dealt with separately. Alternatively, they will be dealt with under standing orders. If there were some suspicion that fissile material had been stolen the Authority constabulary would have a duty to engage upon its duties in seeking to make a recovery. If the hon. Gentleman had in mind that general duties are to be carried out by armed Atomic Energy Authority constables, I can tell him that I do not believe that is intended. Nor do I see how that could arise. If I have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman or if he wants to ask me a special question, I shall see whether arrangements can be made to supply him with the answer that he requires at the end of the debate.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

If an Atomic Energy Authority constable has a reasonable belief, or if it appears to him to be expedient, can he go anywhere he likes with his weapon to try to determine whether his suspicion is correct, under Clause 3? I want to know whether that is the right hon. Gentleman's understanding, because it is certainly mine.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I am reluctant to try to give a precise answer to a question as detailed as that without advice. My understanding is that it being a disciplined police force under a chief constable, and under standing orders, such matters would be submitted to me for approval. The exact circumstances under which action might be taken would be subject to control of a disciplined kind. An examination would take place before the standing orders were approved.

There might well be circumstances when it would be necessary for action to be taken of a precautionary or investigatory nature. I cannot rule that out. I cannot give a precise answer at this stage. As I understand it, such action would not derive from special constable status because that status has been available to the AEA constabulary for a long time. Once the Bill is enacted they will cease to be special constables with weapons; they will become Atomic Energy Authority constables under the discipline that flows from that status. Their status would be changed back from special constables with individual firearms certificates to Atomic Energy Authority constables, deemed to be Crown servants.

At an earlier stage I was asked whether constables take their weapons home. I was not able to give a precise reply when the question was raised. However, I can now say that the answer is "No". They draw their weapons from an armoury when going on duty and they hand them back when going off duty. When they go off duty they have to account for and return every round of ammunition that has been issued. The same will apply to the arrangements under the Bill if it is enacted.

Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East

There is some worry about the extent of the powers that may be provided under the Bill. That worry has been heightened by the doubt which may be bound up in the nature of the standing orders, which the House will not see. As we may be called upon to endorse a general principle, does the right hon. Gentleman consider it appropriate that there should be a schedule in the Bill to incorporate the powers to which he has referred, a schedule which might be incorporated in the standing orders subsequently?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

Not only do I understand the anxiety that is felt, but, as I said when I introduced this part of the Bill, it runs against the grain for anyone with our tradition to see an extension of arms provision. I have given the general reasons and I do not believe that it is necessary to hammer the point home.

To eliminate the idea from the minds of those who may be worried that this may be some great and untried innovation, I make it clear that in practice all we are doing is bringing two practices into line. There is already armed protection for fissile material intended for military purposes. We are bringing the same protective arrangements into force for fissile material that is intended for civil purposes. That is the first change. The Bill provides a harmonisation of practice. It is a practice that is already well understood and established.

The second thing that we are doing is bringing the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary back into line, in a sense, with the Ministry of Defence constabulary, a force which already uses and exercises the powers that are provided for in the Bill. I hope that that explanation will provide some reassurance. The Bill is a perfectly ordinary measure which will go through the ordinary procedures in both Houses of Parliament. Clearly the Government will consider most seriously any amendments that are tabled from any quarter.

Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Bristol North East

Will the powers of the constables extend to the control of fissile materials in operative use in normal nuclear power stations?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

No. The Bill does not extend to nuclear power stations. I know that my hon. Friend not only has an engineering interest but a knowledge of the industry. Partly because he has raised this matter in the past, and partly because of our general review in the summer of last year, we have given these matters careful consideration. We tried to assess carefully the nature of the hazard that might be involved as between the nuclear power stations and, at the moment, Magnox, and, soon to be, the advanced gas-cooled reactor stations. We made that assessment in relation to the four stations to which I have referred, all of which are unique. My hon. Friend knows better than myself that at Dounreay there is fast reactor work involving plutonium. At Windscale there is re- processing. At Harwell and Winfrith there are research reactors.

The nature of the materials that might be stolen in a nuclear power station are quite different. The unused fuel elements are not themselves dangerous if the process is natural uranium. The fuel rods in place in the reactors would be hard to remove without a great deal of technical expertise. Fuel rods that had been removed, once irradiated, would be in ponds. Were they removed they would kill those who removed them.

The problem of nuclear power stations is of a different order of attitude. We do not have the same rigorous protection for nuclear power stations. If there were anxiety that we were extending the armed guards too far I should not feel able to justify the extension of the Bill. We considered whether we should take the power to extend the Bill further by Regulation, but we thought it right to draw a clear line at this stage and to return to Parliament at any time if it was thought right to cover the point that my hon. Friend has made in legislation.

News keeps reaching me from amazing sources. I am amazed at the amount I learn as my speech proceeds. I have been asked about the rôle of constables and I shall read the message which has reached me. I was asked whether a constable can go anywhere with his gun at any time to try to recover fissile material and to make an arrest. It is envisaged that a constable would pursue a criminal or try to recover material only in circumstances of hot pursuit—that is, immediately after an attack had been made. I do not think the hon. Gentleman need fear that armed AEA constables will be marauding, searching for plutonium or other fissile materials.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

In a Bill as important as this, it is important to recognise the difference between the words "envisaged" and "empowered". What the right hon. Gentleman and the Authority envisage may be much narrower than what is empowered by the Bill. We must look at the latter, not the former.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I appreciate that. Indeed, I devoted part of my speech to establishing that the line of accountability between constables and the House of Commons is identical to the line of accountability and responsibility of Ministry of Defence constables, and, for that matter, police constables who may be armed.

Since the AEA constabulary came out of the Ministry of Defence constabulary, those officers lost the right to carry arms. Therefore, in restoring their right to carry arms, they will be subject to the same safeguards that operate in regard to Ministry of Defence constables. The situation is exactly the same.

Let me repeat the line of command. It is a disciplined police force. It has its own chief constable. He has the responsibility for preparing standing orders, which in current parlance are known as guidelines, which differentiate and delimit what may be empowered, envisaged and authorised. Those guidelines will be made available to the Secretary of State, whoever he may be. In other words, the AEA is responsible to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State is responsible to Parliament.

I do not want to give the impression that there is any difference between what we are now recommending and what is a known, trusted and tried system of police authority, even where the police have the power to carry arms. I shall not pursue that matter, although I am glad to have that point on the record.

I apologise for speaking so long, although I do not complain about any of the questions which have been put to me. We have introduced this Bill reluctantly, for the reasons I have given, but the House and the country recognise that there is a real danger. People are entitled to know that the Government, with full parliamentary approval, are providing proper protection against hazards that are now known to be real ones. The Bill has been carefully prepared and considered to embrace all the needs and anxieties which have been in people's minds. The Bill sets up a constabulary in which there will be a clear line of accountability and practice. I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading so that, after due consideration in Committee and on Report, it may be enacted.

7.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Hannam Mr John Hannam , Exeter

The Secretary of State explained in some detail the purpose of the Bill. He made it clear, and most of us would agree with him, that it represents a regrettable but unavoidable development in the battle that is being waged not only in this country but throughout the world against un-,principled terrorism.

The measure in poltical terms is not an earth-shaker of a Bill,if that is the right term to use when talking of nuclear power, and we do not intend to oppose its Second Reading, yet its implications for a nation which hitherto has managed to keep the use of civil arms to a minimum are worrying to us all. However, in the context of world terrorism and the need for the utmost protection for society, this kind of measure seems inevitable.

There appeared in The Times yesterday a report by its Washington correspondent about a secret agreement made between the United States and six other major industrial countries. The agreement concerns the safety of nuclear materials and facilities, especially where they are being transported for export or after importation.

I wish to quote one paragraph from that report which is relevant to this debate: Nuclear importers must have adequate physical security for these nuclear facilities and materials to prevent theft and sabotage, and nuclear importers would not transfer any materials or duplications of equipment to third countries without obtaining identical assurances. If, as implied in that report, an agreement of an international nature is being drawn up between the major industrial countries, including presumably the United Kingdom, the present Bill will play an important part in such international collaboration, which is absolutely necessary.

On Monday evening, when the House debated EEC documents on nuclear safety, concern was expressed about the need to achieve maximum safety in nuclear production techniques and systems. There was a general call for the fullest possible disclosure of information to the public, so that unnecessary fears could be allayed and the whole question of nuclear safety could be put into proper perspective. That need applies equally to this measure. But the present Bill deals with the other side of the nuclear coin—namely, the need for the utmost physical protection for our atomic energy plants and the fissile materials used in them.

In the United Kingdom the security risk is twofold. One risk involves the theft of bomb-making materials, which could happen when goods were in transit. It has been said that radioactive materials are their own protection, but a recent survey by the Atomic Energy Commission in the United States makes rather frightening reading in this respect. To supplement my argument, let me quote from that report: A survey by the Atomic Energy Commission of the United States indicates that a clandestine nuclear bomber with a moderate knowledge of high school chemistry or physics could acquire all the essential ingredients needed for a nuclear bomb which could equal about 100 tons of chemical explosives. Admittedly, such a bomb would be heavy, inefficient and highly unstable. But if the terrorist is dedicated to his mission and the bomb is transportable by car, he is in business. The damage caused by such a bomb would be horrific; a nuclear explosion with a 10-ton yield in the courtyard of a large office building might expose to lethal radiation as many as 1,000 people in the building. A 100-ton bomb in a typical residential area might kill as many as 2,000 people, mainly by fall-out. The same explosion in a car park beneath a skyscraper could kill as many as 50,000 people and destroy the entire building. That amplifies the dangers of the use of stolen fissile materials.

The second danger lies in planned sabotage or threatened sabotage of our nuclear power stations, for either financial or political blackmail, by organised terrorist groups. This matter is not covered in the Bill as it stands, except in the plants named, but I stress the dangers following the escalation of hijacking which has developed since the taking of one political prisoner a few years ago, such as the incident involving the Quebec Liberation Movement, and the kidnapping of Dr. Herrema last year, to the hijacking of cars, aircraft and, recently, the hijacking in Holland of an entire train, culminating in the taking over of the OPEC headquarters in Vienna. We see an inexorable movement towards larger terrorist targets.

What lies ahead? Shall we see the hijacking of a whole town or community or of a source of energy for an entire community? So far in this country, as far as is known—and there has been little information on this matter—we have not experienced a major incident of that nature, although there have been reports of successful bomb hoaxes at Dounreay in 1972 and Windscale in 1975 which have exposed some flaws in our security systems.

Serious incidents in other countries have underlined the dangers. On 15th August last year Breton nationalists caused two explosions at the Mont d'Arree power station in Brittany. On 4th May the Meinhof terrorists caused two explosions in the Fessenheim power station in Germany and in 1973 a band of only 15 guerrillas took a nearly-completed power station in Argentina. There have been many other incidents of terrorist threats and thefts of uranium rods and other materials in transit.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth) and the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) have put down Questions over the past year about security arrangements for nuclear stations and materials, but little information has been released, possibly for security reasons. It is reasonable to suspect that, like the United States, France and Germany, we have been threatened with similar terrorist activities. It is essential that the high level of safety we apply in our nuclear production techniques should be applied to security as well.

It is a horrifying thought, but one which we must face as we move into the nuclear age, that murderous and ruthless bands of terrorists are likely to attempt to develop and use nuclear devices. The strengthening of our defences and security last autumn when the Home Office announced the arming of guards at our four nuclear establishments was a sensible move, particularly because of the need to protect our stocks of enriched uranium. The development of our nuclear processing industry, which I think could become one of our largest overseas currency earners, means that security measures must embrace the transportation of nuclear materials. The derailing or hijacking of a train carrying such materials would make the Great Train Robbery pale into insignificance.

The Bill is inherently right in its objective but the creation of a separate armed police force under the control of the Authority obviously causes some alarm among hon. Members in all parts of the House and among people outside. Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill deal with the mechanics of establishing the separate force and with the properties it can guard.

Clause 3, in extending the geographical limits of the powers of these nuclear constables, appears to give them the right, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has pointed out, to search any building or area while they are pursuing someone involved in the theft or attempted theft of nuclear fissile materials.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised this point. Under Clause 3 the constables do not have to be chasing anyone. It is sufficient for them to suspect and that is a very different matter.

Photo of Mr John Hannam Mr John Hannam , Exeter

I accept my hon. Friend's point. This is a situation in which conflict could occur between the special constables and the civil police who would normally be responsible for investigations outside the boundary fences of power stations.

No one would dispute the need to extend the 15-mile limit to cover the long distances which nuclear materials may have to travel, but a number of my hon. Friends and I are worried about the apparent freedom given to armed special constables to enter other areas and search for suspected offenders. This needs clarification, and I hope that the Under-Secretary who is to reply will go further than the Secretary of State and give more details of these powers and also say whether discussions took place with police authorities and the Police Federation.

We shall need to examine the Bill in much greater detail in Committee to ensure the continuance of the balance we have achieved between issuing arms to policemen for specific duties and an unwelcome extension of gun-carrying to a separate force. We shall also want to be assured that there will be the strictest control and limitation on the use of arms, especially outside the perimeter fences of power stations.

I understand that the present AEA force totals about 400. Is this number expected to increase, and how many will be issued with arms? No doubt other important points will be raised by hon. Members, and I hope that we shall get some answers from the Under-Secretary. Terrorism and hijacking, if extended to nuclear materials, could cause devastating damage. We must make every effort to prevent such action. Prevention, rather than cure, should be the order of the day.

We all admire the way our civil police force carries out its increasing battle against terrorism and crime under great stress and danger. The special circumstances of nuclear protection make it necessary to create this separate force. We have seen such forces in the United States and other countries where, unfortunately, the gun prevails. In supporting the Bill, we express our fears over such developments in the United Kingdom but accept the need for improvements in the regulations surrounding AEA constabulary. With these reservations, and after due and careful regard for the points raised in the debate, we shall offer no opposition to the Second Reading but will want to examine the Bill very carefully in Committee.

7.57 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Bristol North East

I join with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) in regretting the need for the Bill, but as realists we have to accept that a risk of nuclear terrorism exists in our modern industrial society and it is as well to be prepared for it.

I have put down Questions on this matter, as have a number of other hon. Members. I think that there are two principal risks. The Bill covers the possibility of the seizure of fissile materials and their use by terrorists for wrong purposes, with either political or criminal motives. It would be extremely difficult and dangerous to construct a nuclear explosive device from such stolen materials, but there is an extension of nuclear technical knowledge these days and, with the proper precautions in advance, it might be possible for someone with a fair technical knowledge—not an amateur—to do it.

The Bill is necessary in order to cover this regrettable risk. It is no good saying that such terrorists would simply kill themselves. They might do so, but experience shows that fanaticism does not take account of this possibility and we also have to guard against the person with psychopathic tendencies. Fear will not necessarily deter. As I say, the Bill, I think, adequtely covers the need for action against the theft of fissile material.

There is a parallel risk which the Bill does not cover, and I do not suggest that it should. There is the risk of the occupation of a normal electricity supply nuclear power station by terrorists entering by various means. It is not fanciful to suppose that they might do so by helicopter. Terrorists might use their occupation of the station to threaten the release of radio-activity. In practice that might be technically difficult, certainly with our Magnox stations, but not impossible; they might produce guns and tell the technical staff to do it for them. That apart, however, the very fact of occupation of the station by terrorists would give rise to fears on the part of the surrounding population. Even if the terrorists were not prepared to do what they threatened to do, their very presence would be psychologically difficult to deal with. The Government must give earnest thought to that situation possibly arising.

I am putting forward this argument as moderately as I can, because I am well aware that in mentioning a danger I can all too easily be accused of provoking or encouraging it. When I mentioned this risk and it got into public print last summer, one or two people said that I should not have named it because naming a risk puts ideas into people's minds, but I am sure that ideas will creep into minds without aid from me. The reaction from the usual official spokesman was that I was rather over-stretching my imagination. Official spokesmen in general, as is well known, are a menace to rational discussion of any question. I subsequently received acknowledgments from my right hon. Friends that the risk existed and that there might here be a gap in our defences. In a departmental interview with one of the responsible Ministers I was told that investigations would take place and action would follow. That I accepted for the time being as a firm assurance.

With a nuclear power station, the terrorist risk much concerns the staff, particularly technical supervisory staff. My union—the Electrical Power Engineers' Association—has had conversations with the responsible authorities, with the Department and the generating boards, and has been anxious to assist. As the hon. Member for Exeter said, at about the time I raised this question an incident occurred at a nuclear power station in Brittany. Terrorists managed to get into the power station—I think that they were good Breton nationalists. One never knows what may happen within the present United Kingdom—that is not intended to be a hint or an encouragement to any national party or group in the country. The bombs exploded by the Breton nationalists were not large or particularly efficient.

That was perhaps a demonstration only, but it proved that it is possible even with all the normal security to penetrate a nuclear power station—in this case without my helicopter. No great damage was done, but it was not for want of trying. Other terrorists in future may not be so inexpert or so feeble. Next time they may be made of sterner stuff.

In the United States there is a large amount of literature on this subject which can be obtained, and it is openly discussed. I am glad that tonight the subject has been brought into the open and that we are talking about it calmly and unemotionally. I hope that my hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate will avoid using the old cliché that the risk I have canvassed is under constant review. I would prefer to be excused that cliché on this occasion. If the subject is discussed openly and unemotionally the public will not be worried, but if there is concealment and false assurances the public will be properly troubled.

The safety record of nuclear power stations in this country has been extremely good, as was mentioned when we were discussing the European nuclear safety guidelines on Monday. I ask my hon. Friend when he replies to give one or two assurances about the normal electricity supply nuclear power station, remembering that, as the years pass, these installations are bound to increase in number, size and complexity.

I should like to have an assurance that we are not treating this Bill as an isolated police measure but that the whole subject of possible nuclear terrorism is being thoroughly studied. No one wants armed guards at power stations. One of the glories of our electricity supply industry is that parties of schoolchildren go round nuclear stations. I am told that in the United States it is common to have armed guards and guard dogs. We do not want them here, but the staff need to know that in the event of an emergency they will be well supported, though they do not want the measures that will be taken to be given publicity in advance, of course.

For the future, in the design and construction of nuclear power stations, particularly in relation to the concrete containment, it is important that discussion should go on between the generating authorities, the Department and available experts, to ensure that everything is designed not only massively from the point of view of protecting the installations against leakage of radioactivity but additionally against bombs being placed there and exploded. We should not welcome the Bill—that would be the wrong way to put it—but accept the signal necessity for it.

8.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Dodsworth Mr Geoffrey Dodsworth , South West Hertfordshire

We are debating a sensitive and delicate problem. The debate is opportune and well timed. The Bill is narrow in concept and objective but it draws attention to a problem that is growing in size. It is difficult for many of us to understand the technical nature of the subject. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer), an acknowledged expert, has an advantage which I envy.

I rise to express the misgivings of members of the public who are concerned about the enormity of the possibilities facing them. The long-term nature of these installations means that we have a problem with which we must continue to live. We cannot look at the position in terms of expediency—we must do so in terms of principle and of long-term solutions. It is, therefore, doubly important to have public discussion. The enormity is such that the public have the right to know.

In the comparison between the state of the discussion of this subject in the United States and in this country, one realises that there is something left to be desired here. We do not seem to have the fullest possible openness about the threats, particularly from nuclear terrorism. There was a public exercise in January which helped to ventilate the problems, but there has been a marked reluctance by Government to unlock secrets about them.

One can identify simply some of the problems, but it is much more difficult to describe and define the solutions. As the hon. Gentleman has said, we face problems of sabotage, hijacking and hoaxes. I am concerned not so much whether special constables should carry arms as, in general, with whether the ancillary materials attached to nuclear establishments are kept in secure conditions when transported by road and rail. If I use the word "alarm", I should add that I have been surprised to learn that unguarded materials seems to be transported quite freely and, indeed, appear on occasions, if not to have been lost, at least to have been temporarily mislaid.

The question of hoaxes is another aspect. In January, the Minister told me, in reply to a Question about hoaxes, that there had been 23 of them at installations operated by the Atomic Energy Authority or British Nuclear Fuels since 1966. These, by their horrifying nature, are in themselves a threat and add a new dimension to our society. It is that aspect that I am mainly concerned about. I am concerned that the public should be aware of the problems that the Government face, and that we should have proper public discussion of them.

In reply to a Question about the security of materials, there was a curious reluctance to reveal all the information. The Minister told me that collated records of material unaccounted for are not maintained centrally but are kept separately at each installation. Public security could be prejudiced by disclosure of these figures".—[Official Report, 15th December 1975; Vol. 902, c. 454.] He went on, quite properly, to point out that nuclear materials go through a complex series of physical and chemical processes, so that it is difficult to carry out the accounting processes. But that in itself can be a source of lack of security, with which we should be equally concerned.

The solutions are the aspects that give me cause for most concern. The Bill is narrow in its objective—it seeks to provide arms as a defence or deterrent effect. But the other aspect is of a very much larger nature. The true costs of security throughout the country, in all areas of installation and transport, including pipelines, will be enormous. It would be helpful to know the number of personnel likely to be affected in this case and what estimates have been made of the general security provisions for all forms of movement of materials.

There is a need for a continuous review of this matter as it evolves. We have an obligation to alert the public at large about the facts of the situation, and, in particular, the Government's obligation. We have a need to allay the fears, which I believe are most likely to be real, in the light of the ignorance that exists. Earlier this week, my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis) referred to the problems of ignorance about nuclear safety and to the fact that many ordinary people felt that they did not understand those problems. I therefore acknowledge the content of the Bill, limited though it is, but also welcome the fact that it draws attention to the problems. I hope that we shall see a continuing dialogue with the public at large to make sure that they are as fully informed as are the public in other parts of the world.

8.18 p.m.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham , Whitehaven

The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth) will forgive me if I do not follow his argument directly. I want to speak about the Windscale-Calder Hall complex, in my constituency, which is a matter of concern to me and my constituents. I declare an interest, as sponsored member of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers, which represents a large number of people who work in the industry.

Last Sunday on BBC2 there was a programme by one of my constituents, Hugh Falkus, in the "World About Us" series, about living in Eskdale, and the wildlife, flora and fauna and other pursuits that he is able to enjoy as a writer in South-West Cumberland. He managed to get through the programme, dealing with many environmental problems, without mentioning that just over the hills was the Windscale-Calder Hall complex. I congratulate him on that, and look forward to the time when I can make a speech in the Chamber without having to refer to the Windscale-Calder Hall plant, since this is the second occasion this week when that has been necessary.

The programme ignored the brooding presence of this most complex nuclear plant—some would call it a malevolent presence, although I would not associate myself with those sentiments. It is really a massive installation—a split between British Nuclear Fuels Limited and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority—and is, I hope, about to be further extended as a result of new work, although that has not been finally decided.

There has certainly been a great public debate about the issues. I agree with the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West on the need for an even wider and more fully informed debate about the issues. There has not been much, if any, comment about the specific measures that we are discussing this evening—the actual physical security of the sites and of nuclear materials in transit. This is after more than 20 years of the sustained development of the nuclear energy industry in the United Kingdom.

Even in a constituency like mine, this aspect of the matter was hardly discussed at all until comparatively recently. Given that Windscale employs about 3,500 people, and given the association that their families have with the operations of the plant, it is an important issue to them.

One of the important aspects, which opponents and critics of the industry as a whole almost consistently ignore, is that the people who work in the industry are themselves as concerned as anyone about these matters—particularly so since, of necessity, their families are living and growing up in the vicinity of the installations.

The great dilemma that we face in a debate of this character, and in discussing an issue such as this, is that of secrecy. The Official Secrets Act is signed by people who work at Windscale—not just by the scientists but by most, if not all, of the people employed there.

It is genuinely difficult to have a more open debate about an issue of this kind, particularly the transit of nuclear materials, when the whole subject is covered by the Official Secrets Act and will presumably go on being covered by it. We have this dilemma: it is right that the public should be better informed, and that the issue should be more fully debated, but this, in itself, is in some way self-defeating of the object of maintaining the security of the sites and of the materials which are the products of the sites.

I have always argued that we should have more openness in these matters, but this problem is obviously one that we encounter time and time again. The Bill is before us not principally because we have a nuclear energy industry but because of the kind of world we live in.

As other hon. Members have pointed out, terrorism is on the increase. It is regrettable that the activities of terrorists become more and more extreme. Their targets become larger and larger. Their demands, in the form of blackmail on society, become greater and greater. I suppose it is an almost inevitable conclusion that they will begin to look at nuclear installations and nuclear materials.

Like my hon. Friend, I do not welcome the Bill at all. I very much regret the Bill. I deplore the circumstances in which it has to be introduced. I do, however, recognise its necessity.

As Members of this House, I do not think we can lightly consider the introduction of a Bill of this nature. If this were a debate in which people were arguing that our civil police should be armed there would be absolutely no doubt in my mind where I would stand on such an issue. I should be totally opposed to it. But, of course, there are special circumstances in this case—the circumstances of terrorist attack on nuclear installations.

The possibility of the installations themselves being taken over has been discussed. The possibility of nuclear materials being hijacked, and the possibility of specific substances, such as plutonium, used not only in the nuclear sense but in the commercial sense, being stolen, obviously means that the transport of that element would be at growing risk.

One of the problems and one of the contradictions of the situation has been pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in that weapons-grade material, and materials that come under the various Defence Regulations, have always been the subject of guard in this way. There was obviously something of a contradiction, that similar, if not identical, nuclear materials in civil programmes were not so guarded, and in that sense we are only bringing the total handling and transport of nuclear materials under one general line of defence.

The stealing of fissile material by terrorists or by insurgents is entirely different from those terrorists having the facility to create nuclear weapons. There is a great danger that the possibility of this happening has been over-simplified.

If I do nothing else tonight, I want to disabuse not only some of my constituents but some of the people from other constituencies in Britain who have written to me recently on this issue. I do not believe that a few guerrillas in a garret in the hills in Cumbria can steal some fissile material and in no time at all produce a nuclear weapon. That is absolute rubbish. Most informed scientific opinion would agree with that. It would take informed nuclear scientists to produce a weapon from any stolen material—and that is entirely different from an ordinary group of terrorists hijacking nuclear material in transit.

It is also important to point out that there is an obvious difference between weapons-grade material and the material that is used in the civil programmes concerned with the nuclear generation of power. The suggestion that someone who might hijack a railway train carrying 30-ton flasks of irradiated fuel elements would cither be doing something sensible with it or be able to construct from it a nuclear weapon is again nonsense, and an Aunt Sally that we ought to knock down. There is virtually no possibility of that. After all, he would first have to put the stuff through the separation plant at Windscale, so that, again, is a fear of which we should disabuse the general public.

Not only the public, not only terrorists, but most people in this Chamber tonight would, quite simply, have difficulty in deciding between a substance that might be plutonium, or one of its compounds, and Cumbrian rum butter. I do not think that anyone could claim that by looking at the substances he would be able to tell the difference. It is obviously also the case that in the event of a hijacking of fissile materials or, indeed, of installations, few, if any, terrorists finding themselves in that position and even threatening operatives would know whether an operative had released fissile material into the atmosphere. If somebody suddenly released active fissile material into this Chamber we would not see, smell or hear it. We would not drop dead immediately, either, much to the sorrow of some of our crities who may not be a million miles away from us at the moment. There is a grave danger, again, of over-simplifying the task that would face terrorists and the benefit that they would gain if they were to seek to take over a nuclear installation.

Presumably the four sites that have been designated have been designated because they are the most sensitive, in the general sense of our discussion of the Bill. I should like to ask a question about the sites, without going into my reasons for asking it. Why has Capenhurst not been included in the designated sites? I go no further than putting the question in that way for the moment.

Since we are concerned about terrorists, I am also a little worried that the provisions of the Bill do not include Northern Ireland. I know that there are good reasons and technicalities for this, in legislation, but if special constables wanted to pursue stolen nuclear material, that might be a route that they would want to take. I hope that we shall be told why it has not been possible to find some way of covering the territory of Northern Ireland.

The question of access to nuclear installations in this country has been raised in earlier speeches. One or two speakers referred to an incident at Windscale in March of last year, when members of Half-Life were invited to visit the site. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows what it is like to visit Windscale. He is one of the very few Ministers ever to have done so. It is a matter of some regret that although Governments of both complexions have debated issues involving Windscale time without number, very few people have taken the trouble to go to the site. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his visit. As he will know, people are stopped at the gate and asked to identify themselves. The alleged incident involving members of Half-Life was given effect to by the fact that the man concerned was admitted having been recognised as a proper visitor to the site. In no sense could it be claimed to be a serious security incident. I suppose that it shows the danger of inviting half-wits—I am sorry, Half-Life—to the site in the first place.

I hope that terrorism and blackmail and the potential attack on nuclear sites and materials will not become a legitimate argument against the development of the nuclear energy industry. Such a thing would be outrageous. I hope that we can be assured that the Government would never accept this as an argument against the development of the nuclear energy industry. Such an idea must not be allowed to gain currency.

In discussing this issue, we have tremendous responsibilities, but that kind of approach to the development of the industry as a whole must not be accepted. The issue must obviously be taken seriously. I myself take it seriously. I note, like the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), from The Times of yesterday, that the so called Group of 7 nuclear-producing countries obviously take the issue seriously, since the production of security measures of the kind outlined in the Bill is being insisted upon, if we are to believe The Times. by members of the Group.

It is also important, as the Secretary of State has stressed, to remember that we are not talking about a private police force. I would have even more grave misgivings had mat been the case. It is important to stress that again and again. Obviously it may be suggested that in some way this would open the door to the arming of other forces. We would reject that argument out of hand. I know that no one will attempt to use this measure in that way, assuming that it is enacted.

I regret the necessity for this measure. I support the introduction of the proposal with great reluctance, but there is no doubt that the rest of the House should support it too.

8.35 p.m.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

No one questions the need for the strictest security and protection of nuclear material. Although the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. Cunningham) has rightly pointed out that some of the dangers can be exaggerated and can lead to unreasonable fears in the minds of those who live near or work in these undertakings, or to pressures upon them, the fact is that the terrorist threat that we face has to be taken seriously.

We must not underestimate certain features of terrorists which go against normal logical arguments—their ruthlessness, their suicidal willingness in some cases to put their lives totally at risk to achieve their object, and in many cases their sophistication and ability to obtain advice of a high order when they want to carry out some evil undertaking. The dangers are apparent to us all.

Most of us, and I certainly, would be ready to accept that in certain circumstances this threat may require the use of armed police to guard nuclear material, either at particular installations or in transit. I also accept that armed police cannot necessarily be confined to those installations and, because of the very nature of transit, may have to go elsewhere to guard the material.

Having accepted that, we have to ask some fundamental questions about who precisely should do the job and what should be the accountability and the constitutional status of those who carry out the rôle, even though we admit it to be necessary. We have by no means finished the debate when we agree that there is an important and difficult job to do for the protection of the public. That is a matter of general agreement. We go on from there to see who should do the job and to what safeguards they should be subject in the general public interest when they do it.

There are difficulties enough about the use of private police forces, which I shall define later, but they are made almost insuperable by certain of the circumstances of this case. I use the term "private police forces" in no pejorative sense. I use it because, although the Secretary of State does not think so, it is the common parlance in police discussions as a means of distinguishing between police forces which are subject to a police authority, such as the Metropolitan Police or a local police force under the Police Act, and those which are maintained by a body or authority, in many cases a Government body, such as the Ministry of Defence or the Atomic Energy Authority. I hope that no one will mind if I continue to use the term, as many people in the police force certainly use it, to mean nothing other than a body of constables who are not under a police authority as defined by the Police Act. That sense is generally understood, and it is recognised in police circles that there are many difficulties about private police forces.

Those difficulties are made much greater when the forces concerned have to operate outside particular installations and especially when, operating outside those installations, they come extensively into contact with members of the public. The difficulties are further increased and are almost insuperable when we arm a private police force, as will be found to be necessary as long as the installations that we are talking about tonight are guarded by such a force.

The whole issue of private police forces is under consideration at present as a matter for widespread discussion. It has been considered in the Police Bill. It has been considered in private legislation which has come before the House such as the British Railways Bill which extends the powers of the British Transport Police for a further period. Generally in police circles and among chief constables there is a great deal of discussion going on about precisely what the status and the extent of responsibility of such forces should be. I do not think that the Government should ignore that general air of disquiet and concern when we are involved in this debate.

We all accept that the civil police should have fairly wide powers and should be able to use firearms. Notwithstanding what was said by the hon. Member for Whitehaven, we all know that our civil police are armed in a number of important situations. They have ready access to arms, subject to a variety of controls, and it is necessary that they should have that access because of the dangers they face. We have managed to avoid the general arming of every policeman on the beat, thank goodness, and I hope that we continue to do so. However, there are many situations in which our police are armed.

We feel able to allow the arming of police for a number of reasons. First, the civil police—those maintained by police authorities—are accountable in a wide variety of ways either to the Home Secretary directly, in the case of the Metropolitan Police, or to a democratically-elected police authority if they are a local police force—and still, in some respects, accountable to the Home Secretary. The powers of the Home Secretary are fairly extensive, and for police forces outside the Metropolitan area they are supplemented by the powers of the police authorities, although there are areas in which a chief constable exercises discretion which he would not regard as subject to either form of accountability.

Secondly, the civil police have a widely-known and understood discipline and command structure. Thirdly, the instructions that they are given about the use of firearms and the general basis on which they may be used are fairly widely known and understood.

It used to be simple. Policemen were given firearms for their personal protection in situations in which that was necessary. We now know that they have been given firearms in cases which go beyond personal protection. A recent example was the Balcombe Street siege, when we saw police having to carry firearms—and we accepted this—in a rather different rôle. However, we know the basis on which it is done and the very extensive training to which the police are subject before they are allowed to make use of firearms.

Since the Police Act the police have had a complaints procedure which is known and understood. This House has seen fit to give a Second Reading to a Bill to strengthen and improve that complaints procedure. However, whether we look at the position as it is now or as it will be if the Bill is enacted, we find that the police have a complaints procedure. They may well soon have a complaints procedure with an independent element in it. It is possible now for a member of the public to record his complaint against the police, to know precisely by what procedure it is to be dealt with and to see it through under that procedure.

When we look at the force that we are considering tonight, we face the fact that it does not meet all these tests in anything like the same way and that there are added problems about it. In the first place, its accountability is by no means as clear as that of the civil police forces. Before this debate I sought to clarify the situation as far as I could by asking the Secretary of State for Energy, who is the Minister responsible, what his responsibilities were. I tabled a Question asking whether he would list his present responsibilities in respect of the police force of the Atomic Energy Authority. The Under-Secretary explained that the constabulary was a force of civil police attested under the Special Constables Act 1923 as extended by the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Functions) Act 1947 and the Atomic Energy Authority Act 1954 and is under the exclusive control of the Atomic Energy Authority. My right hon. Friend has no specific responsibilities but the Government take steps to satisfy themselves that the arrangements for safeguarding nuclear installations are adequate in the light of the circumstances prevailing. I am sure that the Minister does satisfy himself about this matter. However, there is little basis in that answer for holding the Secretary of State accountable in the way in which the Home Secretary is accountable for the actions of the Metropolitan Police or even the limited way in which the Home Secretary is accountable for the work of provincial police forces. For example, we can ask the Home Secretary whether he will order an inquiry under the Police Act into an incident which has taken place in a provincial police force. In this case, however, there is nothing comparable to that, so the accountability is in some doubt.

Then there is the matter of the widely-known and understood command and discipline structure to which I have referred and which is characteristic of our civil police. Again, I asked the Secretary of State what the situation was in regard to the Atomic Energy Authority police. I asked him: what is the current strength, in each rank, of the police force of the Atomic Energy Authority? His hon. Friend the Under-Secretary replied: It would not be in the national interest to give this information in detail. In general the current strength of the Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary at all AEA and British Nuclear Fuels Limited establishments is approximately 400."—[Official Report, 23rd February 1976; Vol. 906, c. 18–19.] The hon. Gentleman is becoming rather more coy than was his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry about a year ago when he said that 326 persons were employed by the force. The reply was rather less approximate then. Why cannot we know how many superintendents and how many sergeants there are, whether this rank structure or a different one obtains, and what pattern of command exists in the force?

I want to know what procedure governs the use of firearms and what instructions have been given to members of this police force of the Authority about their use. Again, we know a lot about the use of firearms by the civil police, but the Under-Secretary said that: Individual instructions are issued to members of the Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary about the use of firearms. It would not be in the public interest to disclose them."—[Official Report, 23rd February 1976; Vol. 906, c. 19.] We have no more information. The Secretary of State told us tonight in great detail how he will have carefully to consider the standing orders governing the use of firearms. Clearly, however, he is not answerable to the House on those standing orders, and it is clear from the answer of his hon. Friend that we cannot establish, as we can with the civil police force, what general provision governs the use of firearms by this force. That is a matter for serious concern.

Then we come to the processing of complaints, a matter of serious concern in relation to the civil police, about which we have been careful to establish a procedure which we are now trying to improve. The answer I got from the hon. Gentleman to my Question was: In addition to the constabulary's own internal procedures for handling complaints from the public the AEA Constabulary is subject to the jurisdiction of the Authority's management and to the civil police if any offence is suspected."—[Official Report, 25th February 1976; Vol. 906, c. 18.] So are we all, thank goodness, but the idea of some registrable, identifiable pro- cedure for dealing with complaints, much less any independent element in it, is not to be found here. It is extraordinary that in this complaints procedure neither the Home Secretary nor any independent body has responsibility. We are in a very strange situation.

When we add the special difficulties which can arise in relations between this force and the civil police, we realise what a dangerous area we are entering. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) drew attention to the position of a constable under Clause 3 of the Bill when considering the procedure where an officer is perhaps carrying arms either in hot pursuit or because he believes that there is in a particular locality somebody who he knows to be trying to obtain nuclear material.

One can imagine very difficult situations, particularly in hot pursuit, where the local poice force is brought in and asked either to help in or to sort out a situation in which a member of the Authority's police has used arms in circumstances in which the local police force would not have done so. I can tell the occupants of the Government Front Bench, in case they have not already established this for themselves, that there is disquiet among chief constables about this aspect of the Bill, and I shall be interested to know the extent of the consultations with chief constables and others on these aspects. No one is suggesting that the Atomic Energy Authority police will create or seek to create difficulties, but circumstances can arise when two quite different forces, operating under different rules, are trying to apprehend someone who is suspected. A difficult situation can arise especially if one force is carrying arms which the other force does not wish or does not see fit to use in the same situation.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

To answer the question of the hon. Gentleman about what consultation there was with the Police Federation, may I say that to the best of my knowledge there was none?

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who knows the work of the Police Federation better than any other hon. Member.

It is a sad commentary on the way the Bill has been brought before the House without such consultation and that there is, I regret to see, no Home Office Minister on the Front Bench. We are discussing the regularisation of the arming of a police force which is bound to have extensive dealings with the civil police force for which the Home Office is responsible.

All these things illustrate a failure to grasp some of the difficulties which can arise and some of the problems with which we must deal before we go any further. I am convinced from fairly wide discussions which I have had that there is more disquiet among the civil police than the Government seem to realise. I do not see how I can ask my hon. Friends to support the Bill unless the Minister can give some direct undertakings far beyond those given by his right hon. Friend. His right hon. Friend showed himself sensitive to some of the difficulties and, I think, felt at the back of his mind that if he were on this side he would be drawing attention to some of the snags, probably in stronger and more critical terms than I have done.

I must ask the Minister to look at certain specific features and give some assurances about them if he expects our support. First, he must confirm or deny what the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said about what consultations there were with the civil police before the Bill was brought before the House.

Why did not the Secretary of State do as was sensibly done in the case of the airports, in a situation which required special security protection and where special policing requirements had to be squared with the general responsibilities of the police? His right hon. Friend decided to take the principal airports and their police forces within the civil police. He did so without detriment to the members of the forces concerned. I was on the Committee and remember that elaborate arrangements were made. Perhaps they could be improved, but they can certainly be made. It would have been possible for us to take those responsible for what is, after all, a small force into the civil police in a way which would have disarmed most of the disquiet. I should like to know why that course was not chosen and whether it was seriously considered.

Are Ministers prepared to have written into the Bill, if they do not choose the course that I have described, a comparable degree of accountability to that to which the civil police are subject, either through the Secretary of State himself being answerable to the House on far more aspects of the work of the force than he is now or through the Home Secretary assuming a rôle in relation to this force which might be just as appropriate as is his existing rôle? The Secretary of State has responsibility for energy and for ensuring that our energy requirements have as much protection as they require, but the Home Secretary's responsibilities cover a wider range.

The impression given by the answers that I have received is that the Secretary of State sees his rôle as ensuring adequate policing for the installations for which he is responsible, and it is right that he should. But police responsibilities go beyond that and they include ensuring that the public are satisfactorily protected and that the relations between police forces work satisfactorily. That area of responsibility is traditionally for the Home Office. Either the Secretary of State must accept more of it or the Home Office must become involved here.

Is the Minister prepared to give more information on the command structure and the firearms procedures? I should also like some indication of whether he will seek to apply the Police Bill to this force. That Bill, currently before the House, included on Second Reading and may well continue to include a clause enabling private police forces—I think that the term is used in the Bill, and it includes this force as a possibility—to fall within the complaints procedure that it establishes.

Some forces have already given an indication that they intend to do precisely that. The British Transport Police has clearly said that it wishes to fall within whatever complaints procedure is ultimately chosen for the civil police. I welcome and commend that decision, and it is on that basis that I have withdrawn a proposed instruction on another Bill. I hope the Minister will make it clear that he is prepared in the same way to see that this force is subject to whatever complaints procedure the House decides is right and necessary for the police.

In all these respects, we must ensure either that the civil police whom we know and trust have the responsibility for this difficult task or that a force which is subject to similar constraints and disciplines, and which can therefore be held in the same respect by the public, is created for the purpose.

8.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East

I shall take up some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). We all accept that there is a danger from terrorism, that this concerns many public facilities and that obviously nuclear-based installations are at risk. Because of this risk there is a need to take precautions.

I may part company with the Government on the issue of whether the Bill gives the right answers to the problems arising today. Two principles are involved. The first is the rôle of the private police forces, the extension of such police forces into other realms of activity and their relationship with the civil police, which are normally organised on a local basis. The second principle is that of arming the police in connection with their duties on site or on the move, taking convoys of nuclear or fissile materials from one area to another.

I was surprised to hear from the Secretary of State that apparently no steps have been taken to safeguard nuclear power stations. The easiest course for people intending to commit acts of terrorism is to seek out sensitive targets, among which are nuclear power stations. Any ignorance about the lack of defence of power stations has been rectified tonight. I understand the need for powers to provide for the security of power stations, both those which deal with plutonium products, which have strategic and dangerous qualities, and conventional power stations.

There are two matters in the Bill apart from the need for action exemplified by the increase in such installations and the convoying of materials. Both these matters raise matters of principle. Recently the main trend has been towards an extension of the powers of the civil police. As the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said, there has been discussion about the relationship of the special police forces and talk about their integration with the civil police. That has happened with the airports police and I hoped that that trend would continue. In the early days of Glasgow Airport, when I prosecuted in the minor courts and had dealings with the Glasgow Airport police, I was dissatisfied with the standard of that police force, but that was in the early days before the force gained the necessary experience. The Atomic Energy Authority police have been in existence since 1955 and they are not thought to have a low standard.

In argument, the Secretary of State referred to the Ministry of Defence police force which guards military convoys and used it as a parallel case. He said that this example was being followed in the Bill. I do not wish to take that parallel too far, because there are special reasons why there should be defence security. No doubt the nuclear products being conveyed are of a dangerous nature. Defence projects and activities have always been screened more securely than civil activities.

The Atomic Energy Authority is seeking to have its own police force and to adopt certain of the powers and duties which the Ministry of Defence police have. Rather than the adoption of the parallel of Ministry of Defence police, we may see the development of a para-military police force organised on a national basis. It could be said that this would be the first sign of the emergence of a gendarmery inside the United Kingdom.

Let us follow the military example further. It is perfectly true that the military authorities have their own system of judiciary in the form of their courts-martial. However, no one would suggest that we should adopt courts-martial for civil purposes. It is essential that we keep to the guidelines which have been accepted over many generations, namely, that there should be a clear division between what is organised on a military and on a civil basis.

In the course of my examination of the Bill I tried to discover the attitude of the police. I am aware that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who deals with home affairs had discussions with the Chief Officers Association in Scotland. I should like to ask certain questions at a later time about those discussions.

However, I have received information from the Police Federation. First, it made the point that it is generally against the arming of the police. Where, however, it considers that that is necessary in a given situation—tonight we have dealt with the dangers which can come from a terrorist attack on a quantity of nuclear materials—it takes the view that the civil police should provide the protection. The Police Federation has made it clear that it has specialists in weaponry who have been trained along the lines which the police have followed for many years. It has constables and other officers who are also experienced in police disciplines. In my view that is essential.

Secondly, the Police Federation fears that there is a danger of escalation if the use of arms is adopted by other bodies. It fears that it will receive more strenuous pressure than in the past to carry arms since we live in troubled days. The Police Federation also fears that the rôle of the civil police will be undermined by the existence of this police force which will be able to travel from one area to another. In the past it has been accepted as a principle in connection with the British Transport Police and other bodies, that there could be special police forces to guard special situations. However, these situations have, generally speaking, been of a static nature. In other words, the police have been at airports or railway stations and their powers have been limited. Here for the first time the police force of the Atomic Energy Authority will be able to move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It will move away from the static situation which has prevailed hitherto and in the course of its activities in connection with the Bill it will move from one police district to another.

Although the Secretary of State can prove that there is a danger which can face nuclear installations and convoys of fissile products, it has not been proved during the debate that the proposals which the Government have brought forward will necessarily be effective. Not only are they dangerous by introducing new trends, but they can run into all sorts of other difficulties.

As a result of the consultations with the chief constables—I am not sure whether there were also con- sultations with the Police Federation—were the chief constables happy with the Government's proposals? Did the Government consider leaving the duties of escorting convoys to the civil police? They do a considerable amount of this work, sometimes in less dangerous circumstances than dealing with nuclear materials, such as the convoying of heavy goods wagons. Does the Minister consider it right that weapons should be carried at all times by the AEA police when convoying the materials? Does he not accept that these weapons should be carried only when information is received that there is likely to be a real hazard to a convoy? By that I do not mean having specific knowledge that a convoy will be hit, because obviously steps would then be taken to stop the convoy from travelling. I am talking about the situation where there is a general danger rather than in the broad circumstances mentioned by the Secretary of State.

If shooting incidents occur, who will be responsible for investigating them? Will it be the civil police authorities, and will the civil police have the duty in Scotland to report the circumstances to the Crown Office or to the procurator fiscal in the district concerned? If there is pursuit after materials have been removed, who would be responsible for the co-ordination of the chase? Here we get into some of the real difficulties. Take the example of a convoy running from Dounreay to Windscale, a journey of several hundred miles. It will pass through several police districts, of which the AEA police will know very little concerning the terrain and the police forces which operate there, and in the heat of the moment they might be placed in a quandary about how a local force operates.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Stirling Falkirk and Grangemouth

I am worried about the trend of the hon. Member's speech. He seems to be suggesting that we are trying to introduce some new method in which the AEA police will for the first time undertake escort duties on convoys. They have always escorted convoys between Dounreay and Wind-scale and any other establishment in Britain. The difference is that now, if the House chooses to pass the Bill, they will be armed. Contrary to what the hon. Member seems to suggest, the civilian police have not carried out these escort duties in the past.

Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East

If the Under-Secretary had forborne a little, I would have advised him that I was well aware of that situation. With this sort of situation, would it not be better that, instead of the AEA police escorting the convoy, the escort should be arranged through the civil police, who would provide the necessary protection? The point I am trying to make is this. If my suggestion were adopted, the escorting police would be passing through their own areas and would thus know them far better than would the AEA constabulary. They would be in a better position to deal with any emergencies because they would know the emergency network. The AEA police, on the other hand, would have to call in the civil police to help them. In bringing in the civil police force there might be a danger of confusion about coordination and control of the operations.

Photo of Mr Edward Leadbitter Mr Edward Leadbitter , Hartlepool

Perhaps the point that the hon. Gentleman is raising is more fundamentally underlined in my constituency, which has within it the only nuclear power station in the United Kingdom which is in the centre of a total urbanised area, an area in which the civil police authorities would be closely concerned. In that circumstance Clause 3 raises some problems.

Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East

I totally accept the hon. Gentleman's point. I am glad that he was able to use the experience which he has in his constituency to underline my argument. The same problem could arise in remote areas with small populations.

If the AEA police experienced difficulties in the course of their convoying operations, would the civil police be permitted to intervene? Would guidelines and provisions be worked out in cooperation with the two forces?

There is no evidence to my mind that the civil police could not provide the service and perform the duties which are already undertaken by the AEA police. I think that they would be able to do the job equally well because of their existing position. If there were to be any arming, it would be far better for arms to be carried by a police force which was under democratic supervision. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has already said that there is a danger that the Authority police will be responsible to no one, not even to the Secretary of State for Energy.

I believe that the Bill creates a dangerous precedent. I do not think it provides the answer which is sought to an admittedly serious problem. Unless the Minister can offer some assurance on the many points which are at issue, including the substantial and dangerous powers which exist in Clause 3, my hon. Friends and I may be forced to divide the House.

We concede that there is a need to safeguard convoys of fissile material, but we feel that if the Authority police are to be given that job and the power of arming, such provision should be confined to the immediate vicinity of power stations or research plants where the risk is greatest. We feel that the normal convoy operations, whether or not there is arming, should be undertaken by the civil police.

9.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I too, give a hesitant welcome to the Bill. It is a strange sort of Bill, as it is the product of two Ministries. I think it would have been better if it had been in the hands of one Ministry. I am inclined to agree that it should have been a Home Office Bill rather than this mixed child.

I reinforce the questions that have been put by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the number of constables involved. My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannan) said that he understood the number to be about 400. At no time did the Secretary of State volunteer that information.

Photo of Mr Robert Bean Mr Robert Bean , Rochester and Chatham

I am sorry if I did not refer to the number involved. In fact, I have answered questions about the size of the force. I think that the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) obtained his information from an answer that I supplied. I have been interrogated by a number of hon. Members and I have tried to give the House information in anticipation of the debate.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I am obliged to the Secretary of State. Nevertheless, it does not lessen my fears about the composition of the Bill and about the police force that we are establishing and its powers.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

But the Secretary of State was unable and unwilling, in the general public interest, to give any indication of the number of officers, their ranks or their command structure.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

Having given way twice before I have really got into my speech, I hope the House will forgive me if I go ahead with my contribution.

1 am a little unhappy about the contents of the Bill and the ability of the AEA police force to be able to move around the country in an armed state in hot pursuit or on suspicion in the course of their duty. Many of the points that have been raised will have to be tackled in Committee, but one cannot give constables the power to possess firearms without any certificates or other authority under the 1968 Act—certainly not without being a little more specific about the situation. What types of firearm will they possess—air rifles, machine guns, revolvers or rifles? What is the quantity? Although the Secretary of State may feel it a little unfair to attack the Bill in that respect, I know that if the Home Secretary had been on the Front Bench he would have understood the reasoning behind that kind of questioning.

The police are most rigorous in the sense that certificate holders must give details of the weapons which they are entitled to possess. This House cannot possibly do its duty and allow the Bill to go through in this fashion, which apparently will allow these constables and the chief constable to pile up arms, ranging from pea pistols to howitzers, and unlimited amounts of ammunition, without our being given more specific details.

I asked the Secretary of State whether the force, in its new rôle, will have to possess firearm certificates and whether it will be allowed to possess weapons when off duty. I was glad to hear that that was not the case, and that in every case these weapons will be stored, and that when an officer goes off duty the weapon will be returned to a stockpile or armoury for safe keeping, as should happen.

What is wrong with the present system? At present, armed guards are issued with firearm certificates entitling them to hold weapons of specified calibres. That system appears to have worked well in the past. Is there not a strong case for treat- ing the constables covered by this Bill in the same way as we treat police at civil airports? Why do we need to accord special power and importance to AEA police?

I agree with the Secretary of State's view that the Authority is the custodian of highly significant and important material. Nevertheless, there are custodians of other significant and important material who do not possess these powers. I have in mind those who look after germ and biological research stations. Those stations, in their way, are just as vulnerable to terrorists. Those stations are attractive targets for the madman. Surely in Committee a case could be made out for giving similar powers to the guards on those establishments. I am surprised that a body of several hundred men should have been freed from firearm certification in such a facile way when ordinary, law-abiding citizens who possess firearm certificates are being leant on by police all over the country.

Clause 3 gives these constables power to go, with uncertificated weapons, wherever they think necessary in the course of their duty. It is a harsh contrast when one compares that situation with the situation of the many civilian firearm holders who are being badgered from time to time by police authorities. When people wish to renew licences for rifles used for target or other practice, many chief constables require the applicants to show that they have places where they can use the rifles. If a person cannot do that, for example, by producing the consent of a landowner to the rifle being used on his land, the certificate is withdrawn.

It is a strange anomaly that we should allow these special constables to roam around the countryside with unlicensed weapons while the police adopt a very energetic attitude towards the holders of legitimately licensed firearms. For example, the President of the Anglia Sportng Rifle and Pistol Club, Mr. Cunningham, is awaiting trial on a charge that he had in his possession three pistols which, as the property of the club, should have been in the possession of the secretary, not the president. The police kept him confined to a cell for four days while investigating his credentials, even though he had been president of the club for nine years. When he appeared in court, he was handcuffed and was photographed in that situation.

It is strange that we should give these powers to people who are not members of a civil police force and have never before enjoyed anything like these powers. Many alterations will have to be made in Committee to make this Bill acceptable to many of us.

9.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

I came here to give the Bill a general welcome. That is still my intention, but my confidence has been a little shaken as speech after speech has criticised the Bill. The arming of the AEA special constables is an important matter, which should not be taken lightly. I know that the Government considered it very carefully. It is most important we should not send a message of great fear or exaggeration from this House. We do not want the public to become alarmed that some major disaster is likely to happen. The Government are taking prudent steps to prevent anything of that nature occurring. I had the opportunity of going to Nagasaki and Hiroshima shortly after the atomic bombs had been dropped, so I have had experience of the ultimate disaster. That is why I am keen that the Government should take steps to make certain that disaster on that scale should never happen again.

I accept that we must take these steps in the case of a hijacking or a serious act of terrorism, but I am not clear why we should differentiate between nuclear establishments. The Secretary of State mentioned four establishments which are not named in the Bill. Are those four establishments included because of the particular type of operation they perform, or the type of fuel used?

We should also be considering nuclear power stations. I am concerned about the Magnox station at Chapelcross. Under Clause 2 powers are given to British Nuclear Fuels to have armed police. I cannot understand why, when British Nuclear Fuels runs Chapelcross—and for all I know other power stations—it should not be eligible to have there an establishment of armed police. I know that the Magnox nuclear power station is particularly safe, but that may not be known to terrorists. I do not want terrorists to operate near any power sta- tion. All power stations should have well-armed and trained guards to prevent activity by terrorists. I ask the Minister to explain why all nuclear stations, whatever their operation, are not included.

How will the position of British Nuclear Fuels and Uneco be written into Clause 2? That may be covered by reference to previous Acts, but it would be much clearer and easier to understand if it were clearly established in the clause.

I have the highest regard for the competence and authority of the chief constables and the police forces generally. I have not the slightest doubt that in this area—which has been over-criticised tonight—there will be no major problem of co-ordination between the chief constable and whoever is in local command of the special constabulary. I feel sure that an efficient and acceptable system can be organised.

When nuclear fuel is in transit, problems may arise because the vehicle will be moving from one police area to another, but with our sophisticated radio system I see no major problem here, as long as it is clear who is in command if an incident should occur. Is the chief constable to take over immediately something happens, or is one of the armed special constabulary to remain in control during the incident? That should be clarified, and the public should know, because it could cause an immense degree of apprehension if a clear channel of command were not laid down.

Some of the problems referred to by hon. Members have gone far too far in establishing a fear of how the system is to work. I should be happy to see the Bill proceed into Committee because it can only be in the interests of the general public that our nuclear establishments should be guarded as closely, efficiently and effectively as possible. This Bill is a step in the right direction.

9.31 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I declare an interest, in that I have a connection with the Police Federation. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) on his very capable and constructive speech and on the way in which he has approached the Bill on behalf of the Opposition. He said that prevention is better than cure, and in a debate in which there have been certain science fiction overtones, homely language of that kind is important. My view is that a stitch in time can save nine. That is the right approach to the Bill.

This is in many senses not a minor Bill. It is a major Bill, because of the enormity of the threat against which we are seeking to guard ourselves. It is a significant Bill, because it extends the powers of one special police force, in the sense that its members will now have the right and the duty to go anythere they like on suspicion, carrying weapons and exercising the powers of special constables. I cannot say that I like that. I must say that I accept it.

The threat that we are seeking to guard against comes from terrorists, from fanatics and from—may I say it?—nut cases. It could also come from armed criminal gunmen stealing fissile material for gain. The ways in which nuclear power stations could be put at risk can be divided broadly into the categories of sabotage, theft of materials in transit, and, conceivably, blackmail by occupation. I shall deal only with the question of sabotage.

In many cases I suppose that it would happen by bombing. I say "bombing", because it is important to realise just how far bombing has become part of the scene. At the time of the Shepherds Bush murders, a bomb in Britain was an incident that occasioned the whole nation to pause, but we have had 165 bomb explosions by armed terrorists on this side of the Irish Sea in the last two years.

On 28th August, the bomb at Caterham caused 33 casualties; on 29th August, one person was killed in Kensington Church Street; on 5th September, two were killed and 63 injured at the Hilton Hotel; on 22nd September, three people were injured in Portman Square; on 9th October, at Green Park, one person was killed and 17 injured; on 13th October, Lockets Restaurant was bombed, but fortunately no one was injured; on 15th October, at Camden Hill, one person died; on 9th November, there was the incident at Wilton Square; on 12th November, at Scott's Restaurant, one person was killed and 15 injured; on 18th November, in Walton Street, two were killed and 19 injured.

I need not go on. The pattern of bombing has arrived. We live in that kind of a Britain. Therefore, the Government are entirely right to seek to guard effectively against the bombing of some of the most dangerous installations in our country. In the face of this kind of rising terror, the police have had to be provided with weapons.

Since I have a connection with the police, I say to the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. Cunningham)—and, indeed, to the Secretary of State—that we are quite complacent and mistaken if we believe that Britain still has an unarmed police force. The British police are armed. I am in no way indiscreet if I indicate the extent to which they are armed. Between 1970 and 1973 guns were issued for use to the police on an average of 100 times every week. That was during the peaceful period. Since 1973, the number of times that guns have been issued to the police has risen to a very much higher figure. In London more than 5,000 police posts are armed. In the country as a whole more than 15 per cent. of all our serving officers, members of the Federation, have already completed their marksmen's training. I am very glad that they have.

The Metropolitan Police has its Special Branch. It also has—they are less known—the Personal Protection Squad, the Diplomatic Protection Squad, and the SPG. They are not just armed with the odd pistol; some are armed with the Ingram and the Uzzi sub-machine guns. It is time the House recognised that we no longer have an unarmed police. I wish we did. Our police, unfortunately, now have regular and necessary access to weapons.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham , Whitehaven

I recognise the truth of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Like him, and no doubt everyone else in the House, I regret it, but I was referring not to the kind of situation that he was describing but to the permanent carrying of the police of arms, throughout all their normal duty hours. That is different from what the hon. Gentleman is saying.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

There is no such thing as normal routine police duty. There is a risk of violence at all stages, and the police must now have easy and frequent access to guns. We all wish they did not have to.

I turn to the only point in the Bill on which I wish to press the hon. Gentleman before he replies. Clause 3, on my reading, allows any special constable to go anywhere he likes on suspicion. He does not need to be investigating a theft. He needs only to suspect that in some part of the country someone has been engaged in a theft.

It is an important decision to allow special constables from nuclear power stations to go armed anywhere in the country on suspicion. This matter will need to be looked at carefully in Committee, because it is bound to raise the question of the exact relationship between these constables and the local police.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) said that it is essential to know who is in charge. The answer, I am sure, must be that the chief officer is in charge. Anyone coming in from the nuclear police will, for the purpose of the civil peace of the area, be effectively under the command of the chief officer. There is no way in which he cannot be. But the exact relationship needs to be made very plain.

Then there is the question of intelligence. If we act upon suspicion in searching out a potential law breaker, information in the possession of the local police is absolutely critical in discovering the potential criminal. I hope that this matter of the relationship between the special constabulary and the local police will be cleared up in Committee.

I do not like this proliferation of special police forces—private police forces—all over the country. We have far too many of them in both the private sector and the public sector. I should very much prefer to see the general civil police provided with the numbers, the equipment and the support that they need to take care of the Queen's peace, wherever and however it is threatened. It is the general policing of the country that we should be supporting, as I am sure all hon. Members support it, and although I accept that in the circumstances in which we find ourselves this Bill ought to go through, I hope that it carries with it the codicil that at the same time we should be giving the general police all the support that they need to deal with the great strains that a violent society now places upon them.

9.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , Oswestry

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) spoke with his customary eloquence and his special authority on this topic in a way which reinforced the widespread distaste which exists throughout the House that a measure of this kind should be necessary. But, as he said, it was a question not of whether we liked the measure but of whether we accepted it. I want to reinforce the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) in saying that we accept this measure, and my hon. Friend, in an extremely elegant and pertinacious manner, elaborated exactly the balance of factors which are bound to exercise the House when it considers legislation of this kind.

I comment briefly upon the three main considerations which have run as themes through this Second Reading debate. First, there has been the anxiety lest the traditional regard for civil liberties which lies at the heart of so much of the public's attitude is being set aside when we bear in mind the real and growing threat which is now represented by terrorist action. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. Cunningham) was right when he said that the range of terrorist weapons and the range of terrorist ambition will eventually encompass the items which are included in this legislation.

I have no hesitation, although no pleasure, in saying that the balance of my judgment is that this is an area where concern for the legitimate protection of the public admits a diminution of what traditionally would be regarded as an inalienable preserve of civil liberty.

Secondly, and flowing directly from that consideration, is the concern for the demarcation with the police of the Atomic Energy Authority's special constables. It seemed to me that the point was made most effectively and constructively by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), who raised some questions which, I am sure, will concern hon Members when this legislation proceeds to Committee.

I also think that we should be wise to take note of the concern of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) that this perhaps establishes a principle which could lead to a wider application or, to use his word, an escalation which could cause genuine anxiety. The House also will have noted the speech of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)—in the absence of the libertarian elements of the Tribune Group, perhaps the only genuine representative in the debate of a strand of libertarian concern which should properly be present in debates of this kind.

That takes me to the third point, which is whether the legislation as currently drawn goes wide enough or whether it should be extended to embrace power stations. This matter was raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) and was also referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries. I have no doubt that this matter could reasonably occupy hon. Members once again when this legislation proceeds to Committee.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) said, there is a whole range of questions and topics which he wishes to pursue in Committee. I am sure that the Chairman of the Committee of Selection will have noted his anxiety to serve the House in this respect.

The Committee stage is important because it will enable rather more detailed public discussion, which I know the Secretary of State would welcome and which was emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth). I only hope, from the experience which we had on Monday when we debated nuclear safety, that the concern in this House for wider public discussion will be mirrored in the Press. One of the distressing aspects of Monday's debate was that not one word, let alone one sentence, appeared in either the Financial Times or The Guardian. If the quality end of Fleet Street is not prepared to take an interest in these matters, the field is open for the more sensational treatment.

My final consideration turns on the remarks of the hon. Member for Dundee, East. He left us, as ever, tantalised as to whether the Scottish National Party would divide the House against this legislation. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) is not present to hear my remarks because I regard him as bearing the great grey hairs of wisdom in a party which, on the whole, has a number of striplings. I had hoped that I could appeal to him to restrain the potential exuberance of the hon. Member for Dundee, East.

I say to the Scottish National Party that it is one thing to have reservations about this legislation and to want to examine much more closely the relationship between the traditional constabulary and the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary but that it is quite another thing to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill—not to vote against it on a reasoned amendment, but to vote against it pure and simple. I know perfectly well that the hon. Member for Dundee, East does not want his party to be tarred with even one bristle of the Scottish Tartan Army brush—[Interruption.] Yes, it is a fair point to make when hon. Members undertake certain actions.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , Oswestry

My final words will be an appeal to the hon. Gentleman not to force a Division on the Bill but to pursue his objectives during the Committee stage.

Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I asked the hon. Gentleman to give way when he launched into an attack—

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. Unfortunately—or fortunately—that is not a point of order.

9.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Alexander Eadie Mr Alexander Eadie , Midlothian

In the time at my disposal I should like to start on the note mentioned by the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen). I hope that tonight hon. Members will realise the importance and significance of the Bill. I hope that they will also realise that I am probably incapable of answering adequately many of the points that they have raised, and in any case I probably shall not have the time. However, we shall find it appropriate to address ourselves to these points in Committee.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) may seem mindful of opposing the Bill. However, I think that all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have said that we regret having to bring in the Bill and to support it. To some extent we ought to be frank with each other philosophically and admit that the Bill is in one sense a defeat. It is a defeat because we must do these things. When we pass certain laws, they are a confession of defeat and an acknowledgement that we have found ourselves in a situation in which people cannot live together in peace. Therefore, we must do such things in the interests of maintaining discipline in our society. I make that appeal to any hon. Member who is disposed to oppose the Bill.

Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East

Does the Minister accept that if one forms the reasoned view that the Bill as presently framed is fundamentally wrong, the appropriate thing to do is to vote against it and then to ask the Government to bring in a revised Bill?

Photo of Mr Alexander Eadie Mr Alexander Eadie , Midlothian

I know the hon. Gentleman's confusion about the ways of the House, but that seems to me to be a rather strange concept of parliamentary discussion. Indeed, I find it strange that the hon. Member is now adopting a notion about the way in which he should approach the Bill before I have had the opportunity to try to reply to some of the points that he has made. I do not like that sort of preconceived argument. It is not within the traditions of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) to some extent set the tone for the debate. He expressed reservations and said that he was not happy with the Bill. He is very knowledgeable in this sphere. He put forward the point that has concerned many hon. Members, and asked why the provisions of the Bill did not cover nuclear power stations. We considered the question of commercial nuclear power stations and whether they should be protected by armed guards. We decided that it was not necessary at present, although the situation is being kept under review. I could go on to deal with some of my hon. Friend's remarks about the fissile material within such power stations. However, at present we believe that there is not the danger there that we associate with the other sites which we have tried to identify, although we shall probably want to return to this matter in Committee.

The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) raised the question of consultation, which is very important and has been raised frequently during the debate. There has been full consultation with the Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary Association—the union to which the AEA police belong—about the proposed arming. It has been accepted by the association. We have also had full consultations about the arming of the Atomic Energy Authority police, with the staff representatives on the sites which the armed police will guard. There has also been Joint Industrial Council consultation at national level. I understand that the employees concerned accept the need for arming the constabulary.

The chief constables of the local forces for the areas in which Harwell, Winfrith, Windscale and Dounreay stand have been kept fully in the picture on the proposed arming. I hope that the hon. Member for Dundee, East will note that point. They are closely involved in the arrangements for the protection of sites against terrorist or criminal activity.

I shall move from the question of consultation to deal with the question of automatic weapons, raised by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr). I can tell him that the Bill would give the AEA police access to whatever types of weapons were appropriate for their guarding duties. Generally, pistols will be carried, as with other police forces. Heavier, single-shot weapons could be available if needed. The constabulary will also be entitled to carry automatic weapons, such as sub-machine guns. This power is open to other police forces, although none enjoys it at present. It is likely, however, that terrorists making an attack upon a nuclear site would use such weapons and it is the intention that automatic weapons should be available for use by police guarding sites, if necessary.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East raised operational points. I hope that I did not misjudge him earlier in saying that he had preconceived notions. He raised some very important points, which should be put as forcibly as possible in Committee, where they will deserve an answer and an explanation. One point he raised related to the reaction of the Scottish Chief Constables Association. I am very pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that that Association has been consulted in depth by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office. The Association has indicated that chief constables accept the need to arm the AEA police. I should tell the hon. Gentleman that in practice the AEA police in Scotland who will be armed are at Dounreay, in the far North. As he posed the question, I presumed that it was one of substance, and I hope that he will accept that I am giving a factual statement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Dr. Cunningham) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth) also raised points. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West was right in saying that the public have a right to know. I thought that my right hon. Friend tried to make this clear in opening the debate. The hon. Gentleman's point was that there should be continuous review, and in any democratic society there must be, in dealing with issues such as this. My

hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven asked why Capenhurst was not included. We do not see Capenhurst as a problem in terms of significant holdings of dangerous fissile material such as plutonium, and therefore we do not see a need for armed guards there at present—but, as I told my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East, we shall continue to keep the position under review. I realise that in the time available—

Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not the case that there is a motion taking the business to any hour, so that the Minister does not have to stop at 10 o'clock?

Photo of Mr Alexander Eadie Mr Alexander Eadie , Midlothian

I told the House that I probably would not be able to reply to some of the main points. I also give the House assurances that there are Committee points that will be dealt with later. I hope that the House will agree that the Bill be now read a Second time.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 104, Noes 11.

Division No. 72]AYES[10 p.m.
Archer, PeterFowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)Palmer, Arthur
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Parker, John
Atkinson, Norman[...]Cvn, Dr AlanParkinson, Cecil
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodGoodhew, VictorParry, Robert
Bidwell, SydneyGourlay, HarryPavitt, Laurie
Biffen, JohnGow, Ian (Eastbourne)Peart, Rt Hon Fred
Blenkinsop, ArthurGrant, George (Morpeth)Perry, Ernest
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertGray HamishPrice, William (Rugby)
Bray, Dr JeremyGriffiths, EldonRadice, Giles
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Hannam, JohnRippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Buchan, NormanHardy, PeterRoderick, Caerwyn
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Carter-Jones, LewisHunter, AdamSandelson, Neville
Cartwright, JohnJackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)John, BrynmorSmall, William
Clegg, WalterJones, Barry (East Flint)Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)Kerr, RussellSpearing, Nigel
Coleman, DonaldLamborn, HarryStallard, A. W.
Corbett, RobinLamond, JamesStoddart, David
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Lawrence, IvanStradling Thomas, J.
Cryer, BobLeadbitter, TedStrang, Gavin
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)Lester, Jim (Beeston)Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Davidson, ArthurLyons, Edward (Bradford W)Tinn, James
Deakins, EricMcCartney, HughTorney, Tom
Delargy, HughMackenzie, GregorUrwin, T. W.
Dodsworth, GeoffreyMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)Ward, Michael
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethMadden, MaxWeatherill, Bernard
Eadle, AlexMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Wellbeloved, James
Elliott, Sir WilliamMawby, RayWise, Mrs Audrey
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Millan, BruceWoodall, Alec
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Woof, Robert
English, MichaelMonro, HectorYoung, David (Bolton E)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Ewing, Harry (Stirling)Newens, StanleyTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Farr, JohnOvenden, JohnMr. James A. Dunn and
Faulds, AnthonyPage, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)Mr. Joseph Harper
NOES
Bain, Mrs MargaretRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Beith, A. J.Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Crawford, DouglasThompson, GeorgeTELLERS FOR THE NOES
MacCormick, IainWatt, HamishMr. Douglas Henderson and
Raid, GeorgeWelsh, AndrewMr. Richard Wainwright.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).