Armed Forces Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:32 pm on 23rd April 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Kimball Lord Kimball Conservative 5:32 pm, 23rd April 2001

My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, on his membership of the noble Order of the Garter. I believe that his description of the duties of a commanding officer impressed every Member of this House. No wonder he got to the top of his profession!

I am concerned about one particular aspect of the Bill: the position of the MoD Police--a police force that has been built up without any proper local authority control and is entirely the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Defence. As I understand the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, the Ministry of Defence may take powers to act without a request for assistance from the Home Department or from a police officer. Those powers are far too wide-reaching.

It is terribly important for everyone in this country to realise that even chief officers of police are subject to the vigilance of police committees. Every year people are elected to those committees which constitute a good safeguard. I cannot imagine that the chief metropolitan commissioner of Northumberland would try to cancel the livelihood and liberties march unless he believed that it would cause disorder or seriously endanger people. I also worry about some chief constables with degrees in sociology. I hope that that does not make them politically corrupt. They are, after all, accountable to their local police committees. I hope that as the members of those committees are elected, they will keep them under firm control.

Let us consider for a moment what happened with the fuel crisis. The Government wanted a force that could break heads and enforce their will. To that end they approached the Ministry of Defence Police for help. I am glad to say that they said that they could not help. I hope that the Bill will not give them additional powers. As I understand it, the Ministry of Defence Police cannot arrest someone who commits an offence outside an MoD establishment. The Ministry of Defence Police should deal only with people who commit offences on MoD establishments.

If the Bill becomes law, the Government will be able to build up a paramilitary force to use against people whom they do not like. We ought to be able to say that that should not happen here. Now is the moment for us to kick up a fuss to make absolutely certain that that does not happen here. After all, the noble Baroness is working against the clock. Unless she removes the whole of Clause 31, the Bill will not be accepted. However, we may be able to reach a compromise on that matter.