Clause 13 - Interpretation

Part of Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 15th February 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office 2:45 pm, 15th February 2001

No. I went down to Wiltshire, to Devizes—not to the hon. Gentleman's constituency, if that was the trivial point that he was going to make—on one of my regular visits to regional police forces to discuss policing issues of local concern. I had informed the party chairman, in the normal way, that I would be going. I discussed many issues with the Wiltshire police both in Devizes and in Swindon. Amazingly, the role of the MOD police did not arise in that context.

I am interested to see than no amendment has been tabled on these questions, as could easily have been done. The role of the MOD police is an important and significant issue. The changes that are currently being made to the Armed Forces Bill are important, and not uncontroversial. There are many in the police who think that it is wrong to give the MOD police some of the powers set out in that Bill. While that is not necessarily a party political matter, it is a serious issue in relation to these questions. The Government would not give the MOD police extra powers in such matters unless there was a powerful reason to do so. No such reason has been advanced by the MOD police themselves, because it is important to have proper protocols of arrangement between the MOD police and other forces.

I saw that actively demonstrated yesterday in Wiltshire, where I was talking to the officers involved in the Porton Down inquiry, in which MOD police are working together with the Wiltshire force. It was also clear at the Farnborough air display last summer, when the MOD police were back to back with the Hampshire police discussing how to operate. There are complicated and important protocols of agreement between the MOD police and territorial forces about how such relationships should operate. That is one of the issues being addressed in the Armed Forces Bill.

The Government would not lightly introduce legislation giving the MOD police greater powers, because we would not want to jeopardise such relationships. The Bill gives extra powers are given to the British Transport police because there is a particular offence in clause 1 relating to the country's transport system. They were therefore included, at their request, because that was the right thing to do.

I do not accept the Opposition's points. If they seriously suggest that the MOD police should be included, they should table an amendment, which should be debated and then discussed with the MOD police. That is not said in a spirit of hostility. Getting such relationships right is important. It is not easy or straightforward, but the Armed Forces Bill is an attempt to do that in relation to general areas of concern. I hope that we can agree that the clause should stand part of the Bill despite the entertaining diversion that we have just had on the role of the MOD police.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire has clearly been so affected that Hansard will not be able to report the tears in his eyes at the power of my rhetoric, which has persuaded him not to intervene on the matter—or perhaps not.