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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 166, in page 59, line 18, after "offence", insert—
'which he might reasonably assume to be terrorism'.
No. 165, in page 59, line 18, leave out second "or" and insert "and".
No. 168, in clause 99, page 61, line 3, after "offence", insert—
'which he might reasonably assume to be terrorism'.
No. 167, in clause 99, page 61, line 3, leave out "or" and insert "and".
The clause seeks to extend the jurisdiction of the 3,700 MOD police. Proposed new subsection (3A) of the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987 states that assistance of the MOD police must have been requested by a member of the regular police force, the British Transport police or the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority constabulary. New subsection (3C)(a) of that Act confers on the MOD police powers to act in any case where an officer has reasonable grounds to believe that any offence is being committed or is about to be committed.
The clause goes some way further than dealing with terrorism, which is the main purpose of the Bill. Indeed, it goes some way further than the powers sought earlier this year in the Armed Forces Bill, in provisions that fell at the general election. They sought to give the MOD police powers to act outside MOD premises in life-threatening situations. The power that is now being sought is considerably wider, so the amendment seeks to limit the extension of MOD police powers to cases
"involving the use or threat of violence".
Even that provision goes far wider than terrorism, but I accept that there might be a difficulty in identifying in the early stages what might turn out to be a terrorist act.
My purpose is to smoke out of Ministers an answer on exactly why this extensive increase in powers is necessary. I understand that Ministry of Defence police in garrison towns already co-operate well with local police. However, I assume that we want to avoid the position whereby MOD police can be used for everyday law enforcement or even in emergencies such as an industrial dispute when there is no conceivable terrorist threat.
Who will determine the limits on the activities of MOD police given that the only restriction in the Bill is that they must be requested to act by a regular police officer? Once the request has been made, under whose authority will they act? What will prevent them from branching out on their own or stretching their mandate? Will they always or even usually be armed? Who will determine that?
If MOD police are to be granted a large extension of powers, is it not right that they should be subject to the same democratic scrutiny as the regular police, who are inspected by Her Majesty's inspectorate and subject to the Police Complaints Authority? I was glad that the Home Secretary said on Second Reading that he intended to extend the powers of the Police Complaints Authority to include MOD police.
To help the Home Secretary, I have tabled new clause 3, which would enable him to take action forthwith. I have also tabled amendment No. 58, which would make MOD police subject to Her Majesty's inspectorate. I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments on those amendments in due course and on amendment No. 57 now.
I have much sympathy with the comments of Mr. Mullin. That will not surprise the Committee because I want to speak about amendments Nos. 166, 165, 168 and 167, which are tabled in the name of Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members. If the hon. Member for Sunderland, South is later convinced by the Minister's reply and decides to withdraw the amendment, I shall be less easily convinced. I may try to move formally one of the amendments that we tabled if an appropriate opportunity arises.
All the amendments relate to the extension of the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence police and the transport police. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is not the first time that the proposals have come before us, albeit in a different form. Proposed new subsections (3C) and (3D) of the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987 clearly suggest that a Ministry of Defence policeman or policewoman carrying identification, presumably a warrant card, and whether in uniform or not, could put themselves on duty and assume the powers of a constable if they have reasonable ground for suspecting that a crime is being or is about to be committed and that timing is critical. However, timing is always critical if one is to be sure of apprehending the culprit at the time. The same issues apply to the transport police, who are covered in clause 99.
The clauses include no qualification of the offence that is being or is about to be committed. We have tabled two types of amendment to try to tackle that. I shall not repeat my earlier arguments about the Bill's scope being much wider than terrorism. I hope that the Committee will take it as read that that forms the background to the amendments. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South also made the point that the Bill covers much more than terrorism.
Amendments Nos. 166 and 168 would restrict the assumption of a constable's powers to intervene when he suspects that an offence has been, is being or is about to be committed to occasions when he reasonably believes the crime to be terrorism. That is a method different from the one suggested by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South for dealing with the problem.
The alternative amendments are Nos. 165 and 167. In case two tests of reasonableness are considered excessive in one subsection, those amendments would restrict the assumption of powers to circumstances in which the suspected offence might cost lives or cause personal injury. They would ensure that both paragraphs (a) and (b) of proposed new subsection (3C) were required, rather than allowing for an "either/or" provisions.
In either case, the purpose is to restrict the assumption closer to the purpose of the Bill, which is to combat terrorism. Extension beyond the issue of terrorism is a matter not for the Bill but for the police reform Bill next year. What is being proposed is a back-door way of legislating for powers that were included in the Armed Forces Bill in the last Session, but which were dropped in the run-up to the general election because they were considered controversial. The fact that they were included in a Bill that did not directly target terrorism demonstrates that they were not directly related to terrorism. As Mr. Beith said earlier, that rather gives the game away.
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that, in the debate on the Armed Services Bill, the Secretary of State for Defence revealed that the genesis of the request for the MOD police to be given these additional powers came from the MOD police themselves? In other words, they wanted the powers because they wanted a role, rather than in any response to terrorist action or to anything else.
I recall that matter to the extent that I read about it earlier today when I was preparing for this debate. From the same source, I also recall Mr. Heath making that same point on that occasion. That was a highly controversial measure, but I remind the House that the Committee stage on the Floor of the House was guillotined. About two and a half hours were allowed for the whole Armed Forces Bill to be debated; its Committee stage received just over one hour of debate. I shall look briefly at what was said in the various debates.
The report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill states:
"we would be completely opposed to the MDP"— the Ministry of Defence police—
"actively seeking to increase its involvement in general policing duties which are the proper responsibility of local police forces. We recommend that, if and when these powers are conferred, the number of incidents dealt with by the MDP under their new powers are scrupulously monitored".
The same Select Committee report stated on another point of concern:
"The proposals in the Bill do not alter the circumstances in which the MDP will carry firearms."
A point made over and over again in those debates was that the MDP carry firearms much more frequently than members of most police authorities.
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the MOD police carry firearms on some military installations, and that there may be a necessity for them to go beyond the immediate curtilage of the base? However, they usually do so jointly with a civil police officer carrying firearms—two officers in the same car. The situation that we might now face is one in which MOD police, unaccompanied by civil police, will range round the countryside carrying firearms.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I do not want to come down specifically for or against the wisdom of extending the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence police. I want instead to illustrate to the Committee that this is a highly controversial proposal that deserves far more debate than it is going to get in the next 57 minutes, maximum. I suspect that it will get a little less than that, bearing in mind the pressures for other items to be reached. This measure should not be included in the Bill.
The much more recent Joint Committee on Human Rights report, published last week, states:
"Until the extent to which the safeguards surrounding the procedures of Home Office police forces will apply to the Ministry of Defence Police, the British Transport Police, and the Atomic Energy Authority special constables in their new functions is clarified, we are unable to be confident that the Bill provides adequate safeguards against abuse of or interference in human rights."
Returning to the Armed Forces Bill, I shall not take up the Committee's time by reading out the many objections expressed at that time, including those of the Police Federation, to the wisdom of extending the powers and jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence police in this way. Quite clearly, that is controversial. As the hon. Member for Sunderland, South said, what we have before us goes beyond clause 31 of that Bill. Last spring, Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean said:
"A key change is that which will enable MDP officers to act on their own authority in an emergency in cases involving violence or the threat of violence, or where there is the risk of death or injury."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 23 April 2001; Vol. 625, c. 18.]
This Bill goes much further.
There are many concerns about the proposal. It represents a huge increase in the powers of the MOD police and I again submit to the Committee that it should not be subject to curtailed debate at this time. I readily accept that there are arguments in favour, but the arguments both for and against deserve much more time and they should be dealt with in the proper course of events when we consider the police reform Bill in spring next year.
The proposal should not be dealt with under this Bill, which is why we have tried to help the Government by suggesting two amendments to narrow the debate to issues more closely related to terrorism. That is the subject of the Bill and the Government would not be prevented from extending the jurisdiction of the MOD police at some stage. If they want to legislate for that extension of powers, they have every right to put proposals before the House, but they are unwise to do so when we are dealing with the much narrower issue of the prevention of terrorism.
The wider issue should be dealt with next year under the police reform Bill. I hope that the Minister will respond to that in the spirit of generosity for which he is renowned in the House and will understand the thought and logic behind our arguments.
I shall be brief, as we have a lot more to get through before 11 o'clock—not least clause 100.
We owe my hon. Friend Mr. Mullin a debt of gratitude for tabling the amendment, which at least gives us the chance to debate a proposal which represents another Bill within the Bill and which is designed dramatically to increase the powers of the MOD police at a time when the police overall have been brought under much greater public scrutiny and consider their role much more as policing by consent and with the co-operation of local authorities.
By and large, that has been extremely successful, but a new, largely unaccountable force is being brought into the equation in each locality and there is the possibility of all sorts of confusion about what local policing policies are and of confused communications between local police and the MOD police.
There are often problems when special territorial police groups go into a locality, and I foresee greater problems here. I ask the Minister to reflect on what effect such increased powers and usage of the MOD police could have had in the miners' strike, when the Government were desperate to have a national police force at their beck and call to carry out their policies, particularly in the mining areas.
Specifically, I ask the Minister to respond to the requests that have been made. What powers will MOD police have when they go into a community? What is the specific geographical limit of their powers, or is there no limit to them? What is the policy-making relationship with the local police authority, which may have priorities such as dealing with organised crime, street crime and violence, burglary or public order issues?
Every police authority has a programme of what it is trying to achieve, and I find it extremely helpful that my local police area is prepared to discuss that and adopt a policy of policing by consent. That is not possible within the purview of the MOD police.
Importantly, we have moved a long way on police complaints issues, the ability of the public to complain about the police and the way in which the police are investigated. We should go further and there should be no police investigation of the police. At the very least, one hopes that the Police Complaints Authority will be available for use in any complaint against the MOD police. If an investigation into the conduct of the MOD police were required, who would undertake it?
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has examined this issue, and has urged caution. I do not suppose for one moment that the Minister will agree to the amendment, but instead of our debating now whether or not to include this part of the Bill, it might be better if it were the subject of consultation or a White Paper, with legislation to follow at a later date.
We are in danger of giving enormous powers to a largely unaccountable police force under the direction of central Government. There will be no involvement of local policing by consent, which is the thrust of the Government's policy on policing in the community as a whole.
I shall try to be brief, given the time and what we have to get through. Suffice it to say that these proposals predate
A number of serious questions have been asked about accountability, how this provision will work on the ground and what problems could occur. I hope that the Minister has been taking note of those detailed points and will respond to them, because there are problems. On this and other provisions in the Bill, we are asked once again to trust Ministers that everything will be all right on the night. We are asked to accept that powers will be extended widely, and that we can trust the police to exercise them judiciously. We hear nothing about the fact that we should be able to trust the Government not to introduce such wide and sweeping powers unnecessarily. There is no willingness on their part to curtail their activities when it is not necessary to extend powers as widely as proposed in these measures. That is missing.
When Ministers comment on the provisions and explain why they are necessary, we hear nothing about safeguards, which also need to be included in the Bill, or the problems that may arise and what may go wrong. The concerns of hon. Members and of the Human Rights Committee are swept aside, and we are told that the powers are necessary. I would have more confidence in Ministers if they addressed the problems that hon. Members have identified and provided the necessary safeguards. I have heard nothing of that from Ministers so far, but perhaps the Under–Secretary of State for Defence will change that.
I suspect that we will also not hear much about the fact that the training and career pattern of MOD police rarely gives them experience of or training in dealing with the civilian population. Some incidents have given the force a rather unhappy name. It must be remembered that its deputy chief constable was recently summarily dismissed.
That was an important intervention.
I also draw to the Minister's attention the comments of the Police Federation, which he may say has a vested interest, but which I think are rather important. It says:
"MDP officers do not have relevant experience. The Federation does not consider that MDP have an appropriate approach to recruitment nor do their officers have the appropriate training to encourage appropriate interface with the public."
It goes on at some length about why the proposals are dangerous.
Finally, I draw to the Minister's attention the short debate in the other place on
I support the extension of the MOD police's jurisdiction, and am concerned about the amendments. I should declare two interests. First, I had the honour of being the Chairman of the Armed Forces Bill Committee, and I and other members of the Committee from all parties spent a considerable time discussing the extension of the MOD police's jurisdiction. Eventually, we produced a unanimous report, which supported the extension. When it was debated in this Chamber, there was also support for the extension.
As for my other interest, I am regularly in contact with MOD police. That is because my constituency contains a dockyard which, in turn, contains seven decommissioned nuclear submarines and stores intermediate-level nuclear waste. Its armaments depot is just along the road. I therefore take a keen interest, as do many of my constituents—even keener since
I realise that the general election prevented the Armed Forces Bill from completing its progress. I hope, however, that all Members feel that the Committee examined the issues extensively, and feel able to support our proposals tonight.
Clause 97 appears to constitute a considerable extension even of what was proposed in the Armed Forces Bill. My hon. Friend said that she had considered the powers in that Bill, which I think were supposed to apply only when violence was involved. Is she also saying that she is prepared to accept the extension of those powers to any offence?
As my hon. Friend says, this is an extension of the proposals in the Armed Forces Bill—and yes, I support that extension. I shall briefly explain why; first, however, let me deal with some of the concerns and reservations expressed by the Committee, and by other Members.
The Committee strongly recommended a further revision of the excellent protocols applying to relations between civilian and MOD police. It suggested that there should be greater external accountability, that there should be more formal inspection by Her Majesty's inspectorate, and that scrupulous monitoring should take place. The Secretary of State and others supported all those proposals.
Why should we support not just that extension of jurisdiction, but further powers? Well, why not? Let us deal with the reality of post-
Let us suppose that someone was driving a car, in a reckless fashion, in the area of Rosyth dockyard. Like others, I think, I would consider MOD police in the area to be justified in deeming the incident potentially dangerous. That is the reality of post-
MOD police might well intervene if someone behaved in the manner that my hon. Friend describes outside a naval dockyard, but they could do that anyway under existing powers in legislation. Why is it necessary to extend their powers so massively and allow them to apply way beyond the immediate vicinity of an MOD facility?
One of the problems with current legislation on MOD police is that it does not necessarily provide for consideration of whether they have acted legally or appropriately by intervening in such incidents. If MOD police seek to intervene and arrest someone just off the defence estate, that arrest could easily be regarded as a civilian arrest. If the offence involved joyriding, for example, a court might rule that they had acted inappropriately. As I said, there are many blurred, grey areas to the issue.
I was disappointed by some of the comments about MOD police going round armed on and off the defence estate. Anyone who read the Armed Forces Bill Committee's report will know that MOD police do not leave the defence estate when armed. If they are carrying guns or ammunition, that material is carried not only entirely separately but with the prior agreement and knowledge of the local chief constable or relevant officer. The civilian chief constable or his delegated officer deals with all instances in which MOD police carry firearms off MOD property.
The hon. Lady's description is almost but not quite accurate. There is often excellent liaison between MOD police and the local police force. Consequently, MOD armed police leaving the base and going into the wider force area—usually not very far, which is why the proposed provision could be more limited—are accompanied by civilian armed police, so there is at least one police officer from each force. From a civil liberties perspective, that arrangement seems much more reasonable than that proposed in the Bill, which would allow MOD police to travel armed across a force area.
My clear understanding is that neither this Bill nor the Armed Forces Bill would allow the latter situation. The regulations governing the carrying of firearms are very strict, and the civilian police authority has the ultimate power in all such cases.
Some hon. Members mentioned training. Many MOD police are former civilian police officers. They are highly trained and experienced. Furthermore, secondment is an increasingly common practice. An extension of their jurisdiction is long overdue, and to delay extending it any longer after
The Select Committee on Defence—of which Rachel Squire is a distinguished member—is carrying out a very short inquiry into the powers that the Government propose to confer on the Ministry of Defence police under the Bill. We expect to be able to conclude our deliberations in time for consideration of the Bill in another place. The timetable in this House is so short that we do not have the necessary time properly to consider the complexities arising from the Bill, of which problem this matter is just another example.
The Bill extends the powers of the MOD police well beyond dealing solely with terrorism, to which my hon. Friends on the Front Bench wish to confine it. They are right that a police Bill would have been a more appropriate measure in which to deal with the wider issues of the MOD police, even if the Government could make a case for them to deal with terrorism specifically. The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Letwin would enable the Government to confine the application of the extended powers simply to dealing with the issue with which we are all concerned: terrorism.
Having said that, I have some sympathy with the general desire expressed in the Bill to extend the powers of the MOD police. I represent a garrison town, but I have to say that I have had no dealings with the MOD police. I have had no complaints either from soldiers or from members of the public. The MOD police seem to operate a pretty seamless arrangement with the local constabulary. I met the chief inspector this morning, so at least I can claim to have had some discussion and that I can bring some relevant experience to the Committee.
There is no doubt that there are grey areas that inhibit the MOD police in the execution of their duty. One is the change in married quarters, some of which have now been sold off so that we now have military estates alongside civilian estates. It is difficult for an MOD police officer to make sure that he is knocking at No. 53, which is his responsibility, and not No. 51, which is the responsibility of the local constabulary. There is also a grey area in the definition of "vicinity". If we are serious about dealing with terrorism, we must give powers to our police forces, whether they are the local constabulary or the MOD.
We do not want MOD police officers to go on fishing expeditions, which the Association of Chief Police Officers is dead against. I understand also that the assistant chief constable of the MOD police—who has 30 years' experience of the Metropolitan police—does not want his force to go off on fishing expeditions into the towns, doing the job of the local constabulary.
I do not want the MOD police to be used as a supplement to deal with shortages in the local constabulary because the Home Office has not been able to give the necessary funding to local police forces. In my area, we are short of police officers. I do not want the chief constable of Hampshire to call on the MOD police to make up the numbers because he is short of recruits.
There is an established arrangement of protocols that governs the relationship between the MOD police and the local constabulary. It is unfortunate that we do not have revised protocols to scrutinise before approving the Bill tonight. The protocols provide an element of accountability, albeit not the same accountability as would apply to a local constabulary.
Proposed new subsection (3C) in clause 97(4) proposes to give the MOD police the same powers and privileges as constables. My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset wants that provision to be restricted to offences suspected to involve terrorism. However, subsection (3D) provides that the powers in subsection (3C) can be conferred only if the men are in uniform or have documentary evidence. In addition, they must
"believe on reasonable grounds that a power of a constable which they would not have apart from that subsection ought to be exercised and that, if it cannot be exercised until they secure the attendance of or a request under subsection (3A) above by a constable who has it, the purpose for which they believe it ought to be exercised will be frustrated or seriously prejudiced."
In other words, MOD police can exercise the powers of a constable only if they believe that waiting for the local constabulary to arrive or getting permission from the local constabulary would allow a crime to be undetected. We should consider that in extending the powers of the Ministry of Defence police. I accept that it is quite a dramatic increase in those powers. I am sorry that their extension has been included in the Bill because I believe that we should have followed the advice of my hon. Friend and confined it to dealing with terrorism.
I am afraid that the
The Bill is an excuse to extend the control of the state apparatus and it contains a dangerous extension of police powers. I am sure that many injustices will follow and no doubt Ministers will reflect upon them in due course. Needless to say, I oppose this measure.
My understanding was that if the regular police decide to stop someone when they are driving in their car, they have to be in uniform. Subsection (3D) of clause 97(4) states:
"members of Ministry of Defence Police have powers and privileges by virtue of subsection (3C) above only if—
(a) they are in uniform or have with them documentary evidence that they are members of the Ministry of Defence Police".
If they are not in uniform but in plain clothes, are they allowed to stop people at will as long as they have the documentary evidence and identification, regardless of the fact that the poor old public may not know that they are Ministry of Defence police officers?
I regret to inform Conservative Members that I may have brought my good nature with me this evening, but not my generosity of spirit.
It would appear that my hon. Friend Mr. Mullin and I agree on the principle of amendment No. 57 and are merely arguing about the degree to which the powers of the clause apply. That is what he said, if he looks at Hansard.
I shall be asking the Committee to reject the amendment. Let us be clear what we are talking about. Under our proposals, this power can be exercised only when the officer concerned needs to act and cannot obtain in time the attendance of, or a request from, another police officer. Given the availability of modern radio communications, the effect will restrict its use to circumstances of genuine emergency when a virtually instant reaction is needed.
Standing instructions within the Ministry of Defence police will amplify the limitation to genuine emergencies. It does not give officers authority to go around checking tax discs or carrying out any other routine tasks on behalf of a local constabulary.
Will the Minister give the House an example of such a crime, other than out-of-date tax discs? The majority of crimes, from the least to the most serious, take place within a short space of time. Can the Minister give any examples of crimes in which timeliness is not of the essence and Ministry of Defence police would be inclined to assume the powers of a constable because there would not be time to call the local police?
I suspect that if an officer was called to a domestic dispute, he would have time to inform the local constabulary. That is one example, although I do not intend to give any more. Perhaps hon. Members will think of other examples while I am on my feet, and relieve me of the mental burden of having to do so.
No, I am sorry, I have no time.
As to what the provision allows, I ask the Committee to consider two scenarios. Intelligence is received that a possible terrorist is near a defence base—perhaps a US base. The suspect is believed to be a member of an illegal organisation, or to have with him a stolen passport or a weapon. There may be no immediate threat of violence; the suspect is only scouting—carrying out reconnaissance. Under the Terrorism Act 2000, the MDP have the power to arrest members of illegal organisations. They have powers of arrest and stop and search related to stolen articles, but at present they could act only if two requirements are met: the suspect is "in the vicinity" of the base on which the police are operating, and the local force agrees. The new powers in the Bill will allow the MDP to act if there is no time to bring in the local police—in other words, if there is an emergency.
The power is not limited to terrorism, and that is deliberate. To take a second case—an MDP officer in a street adjacent to defence property is approached by a woman who says, "Stop that man, he has taken my purse". That could happen up the road at the Ministry of Defence—our own officers patrol outside. The officer sees a man running away. Should he say, "Sorry, can't help. Although I may look like a police officer, I am in the MDP and I have no jurisdiction"? Should the officer try to establish whether the man had or had not used violence in taking the purse—by which time the man will have made off? Should the officer try to contact the local police station to seek instruction? The result would be the same. The Committee will agree that the public would expect him to do none of those, but to take action at once to apprehend the suspect.
Phrases such as "citizen's arrest" are, I am afraid, used by people who are ignorant of what police officers have to do in the course of their duty and who have absolutely no idea of what is involved—something that is very common in the Liberal party, as hon. Members may have noticed from the quality of their contributions to the debate.
For the reasons I have outlined, on further consideration and taking into account recent events, we felt that the limitation to an offence of violence would be unduly restrictive and, moreover, difficult to apply. Any attempt to discriminate between different classes of offence would be subject to the same drawbacks. The Committee will, however, want to note what I said about the limitation being to genuine emergencies.
The Committee may also like to note that we have not decided to pursue the proposal in the Armed Forces Act 2001 to enable the chief constable of the MDP to enter into standing agreements with local police to exercise police powers in areas in the vicinity of defence land. That gave rise to many expressions of concern during debate on that measure, so our decision shows that we do listen to concerns expressed in the House and in another place.
I regret that I shall ask the Committee to reject amendments Nos. 165 and 166. Their effect, taken together, would be drastically to limit the circumstances in which the power to act in emergency could be used. The Bill already limits that power to circumstances where an offence has been, is being or is about to be committed, or where there is danger to life or of personal injury, and action is needed on a time scale that does not allow another police officer to be summoned or contacted. Those are severe constraints.
The amendment would additionally prevent action except where a terrorist offence was involved and there was danger to life or of personal injury. That means that an MDP officer whose assistance in an emergency was sought by a member of the public outside defence property would still be unable to act as a police officer except where terrorism was involved. Even where terrorism was involved, he would be unable to act unless there was an immediate danger to life or of personal injury. Both in terrorist and non-terrorist emergencies, he would be unable to act as the public could reasonably expect that a police officer should.
I will give one example from the many that I could cite. In relation to amendment No. 57, I have already referred to a situation in which intelligence is received that a possible terrorist is near a defence base, or an MDP vehicle comes across such a suspect. The suspect is believed to be a member of an illegal organisation, or to have with him stolen identification or a weapon. There may be no immediate threat of violence—the subject is only carrying out reconnaissance. Under the Terrorism Act, the MDP have power to arrest members of illegal organisations, but at present they cannot act off defence land without a local police request. They have powers of arrest and of stop and search in relation to stolen articles, but again, a local police request is needed, yet immediate action may be essential to prevent an act of terrorism from occurring in future. The new powers in the Bill will allow the MDP to act if there is no time to involve the local police.
On non-terrorist issues, if an MDP officer were to see a vehicle being driven erratically and in a manner dangerous to other road users, he would be unable to apprehend the driver without first contacting another police officer, explaining the circumstances and receiving instructions. Frankly, that is not acceptable.
The Opposition have made several claims in relation to the clause. I shall first cover the old chestnut that these measures were dropped in the previous Parliament because of the quality of the arguments of those opposing them. I regret that that was not the case. As right hon. and hon. Members will be aware, the measures were dropped because we ran out of time, faced with the general election. Of course, as anyone who knows anything about the House will know, we had to introduce measures in the Armed Forces Act 2001 expeditiously.
Many organisations have been consulted and support the extension of the MDP's jurisdiction. The Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland) have been made aware of the extensions of the MDP's jurisdiction and support it. The chairman of the ACPO general policing committee, the chief constable of Staffordshire, also supports it. Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary supports it. The Home Office consultation document, which was circulated with the proposals, including these provisions, has been supported by the Police Federation of England and Wales, by the Metropolitan police and by the service police.
There has been some comment about the experience of our officers. Perhaps it would be of value to the House if I spent a little time describing what their experience involves. All our officers are trained in the use of firearms because that is an essential part of their activities. Only those who are competent to bear firearms pass out as MOD police officers. That is only right and proper, given the number of times that they have to bear them. Armed MOD policing has primarily occurred at the four main nuclear sites, plus Porton Down.
Counter-terrorist armed security policing is clearly a core activity. Since the IRA bombing at Deal, for example, the MDP have been deployed operationally in an armed role throughout MOD sites, given that, of course, we now consider the MOD a prime target for terrorism. I shall pass over many other matters, but areas of specialist training include chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons.
In particular, let us consider the MDP's experience of dealing with members of the public. Anyone would think that members of the MOD police only ever deal with people in uniform. That is simply not the case; they police housing estates in which, I assure the Committee, any crime that takes place in other parts of the country may be exhibited. They undergo the same basic training as any other constable. Their primary role is, in fact, to deal with civilians, dependants, contractors, trades people and visitors to our sites.
The MDP police service football and rugby matches. They police public events, garrison areas, such as Colchester, Salisbury Plain, Aldershot and Catterick, and public roads open to and widely used by the general public. They run community initiatives in defence areas.
The MDP have been sent to Kosovo, after three weeks of special training. I have spoken to the men and women involved and, on one occasion, a constable from the MDP has been left to run a precinct in Kosovo and has coped admirably, as have all the officers sent there. They are not amateurs; they are highly trained civilian police officers. They are not a military police force. However, I submit that they are as well trained as anyone in any other police force.
I agree that greater accountability should go with wider powers. The question is how we should provide that. We have already done some things and I promise that we shall do others in future.
On the MOD police committee, we have already added three additional independent members to the committee and are now actively considering whether more needs to be done. There is, of course, a statutory requirement to have a police committee under the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987. The role of the committee has changed since 1987. There is now more direct involvement with the MOD community and sections of it. There are now more external contractors, an increased civilian employed population, more mixed ownership within married quarters estates and more dependants and families in areas policed by the MDP. Therefore it is important that the membership of the committee should reflect those changes.
I undertake to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South that everything that can be done to improve the accountability of the MDP police force will be done. Its current membership includes major stakeholders, service chiefs and defence logistics organisations.
Let me just finish what I was going to say and see whether it covers my hon. Friend's point.
There is also a proposal that the meeting of the MDP police committee should be held in public. The chief constable has indicated that he would welcome that proposal in the light of his experience in the West Yorkshire police.
The force is currently inspected by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. Currently, inspections are by invitation and a pre-inspection visit to the force by the inspectorate prevented the chief constable's attendance at the Select Committee on Defence last week. An amendment providing for compulsory inspections was tabled to the Armed Forces Act 2001, but it fell with the other provisions for the MDP. It is proposed to include equivalent provisions in the planned police reform Bill, which should be published shortly.
On the Police Complaints Authority, at present overview and supervision of all complaints and discipline in the MDP is by statutory agreement. Therefore, the authority is involved and I was waiting until I came to that point in the brief before I referred to it. Disciplinary arrangements already mirror, as far as possible, those of other police forces. At the moment, they are non-statutory and differences arise from the fact that the MDP is part of a Department and certain powers, such as those of dismissal, belong to the Secretary of State.
The Armed Forces Bill—now the 2001 Act—originally included provisions to put discipline on to a statutory footing and to allow important decisions on discipline, including appeals on discipline decisions, to be taken on just the same basis as for Home Department forces. Disciplinary decisions and appeals would have been decided by a tribunal whose composition was statutory. Those provisions fell with the other MDP provisions in the Bill and it is our intention to include equivalent provisions in the police reform Bill.
As regards operational responsibility, the MDP is part of the Ministry of Defence. The Secretary of State is politically accountable to Parliament for the force. The Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987, however, specifically gives direction and control of the force to the chief constable. This independence is essential and shall of course remain.
I realise that I have been caught between a rock and a hard place. If I had spoken for three minutes and told everyone to get lost, I would rightly have been criticised for not responding to an interesting debate. I have tried to take more time to explain the reasons behind the provisions and the way in which we hope to couch the powers for the police. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
The Minister's speech was a travesty and an insult to the Committee. We raised a serious point about whether the clause should be limited to terrorist offences, but the Minister did not even begin to address that question. Instead, he implied that we had made all sorts of assertions about the MOD police that we did not make and would never make. We fully recognise their professionalism. The question is whether this measure in this form should be in this Bill. As the Minister is obviously reading a brief that was intended for another time when the amendment was not on offer, I hope that the Committee will look favourably on the amendment because he has no argument against it to make.
I am grateful for the Minister's assurance that the powers will be used only in a genuine emergency and when the time scale does not allow for help to be obtained from the regular police. I am also grateful for his assurances on accountability, to which I hope the House will hold him. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed: No. 166, in page 59, line 18, after "offence", insert—
'which he might reasonably assume to be terrorism'.—[Mr. Paice.]