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Clause 77

Counter-Terrorism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 15th May 2008.

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Costs of policing at gas facilities: England and Wales

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I beg to move amendment No. 199, in page 55, line 7, after second ‘the’ insert ‘national security of the’.

This is really an issue of clarification. The clause applies where

“provision of extra police services at a gas facility in England or Wales is necessary because of a risk of loss of or disruption to the supply of gas connected with it, and...that the loss or disruption would have a serious impact on the United Kingdom or any part of it.”

The amendment seeks to emphasise the point that this is necessary for the purposes of the prevention of terrorism. I should be grateful if the Minister would respond.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office

I understand the broad thrust of the amendment, and it is a difficult area in the sense that we seek to protect these key facilities and afford in statute an ability for the operators to recover their costs. We have already done this on a voluntary basis; this simply puts it on a statutory basis. Given the importance of these facilities for the economy and overall life of the UK, we want that done all the time, 24/7, on a regular basis. Yes, crucially, that will seek to prevent terrorist incursion to disrupt those facilities, but it would just confuse things if we simply included the reference to the national security of the UK, because we want protection all the time; yes, principally protection from terrorism, but also for the broader interest, economic and otherwise, of the facility.

I understand where the hon. Member for Newark is coming from in terms of trying to strengthen the anti-terrorist dimension of the clause, but the amendment will not achieve that. In fact, it will probably lessen and dilute the import of what we are trying to do to protect these facilities. The point where the national security elements of such key facilities stops, and their broader contribution to economic life begins is, by definition, incredibly blurred. I sympathise with his reasons for the amendment, but I do not think it works. The clause as written achieves exactly what he seeks to achieve, and I would ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

This was a probing amendment, so I am happy to withdraw it. We will come on to a couple of other areas where it would be quite useful if the Minister could tell us a little more about the discussions that have taken place between the Government and those within the industry who will have to bear these particular costs—which could be quite onerous—and whether they are in fact happy and content with the measures provided in the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

I beg to move amendment No. 45, in page 55, line 17, after ‘State’, insert ‘or a police authority’.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 200, in page 55, line 17, leave out ‘in or around’ and insert ‘within a one mile radius of’.

No. 201, in clause 78, page 56, line 2, leave out ‘in or around’ and insert

‘within a one mile radius of’.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

Before I address the amendment, it might be helpful to seek a definitional clarification, which is: what is meant by “gas”? It is not defined in the Bill. I attempted to table a probing amendment to seek to clarify that. I assume we are talking about hydrocarbons—gas intended for fuel use—but “gas” is a rather broad term, and I am quite surprised that it is  not defined in the Bill. Perhaps there is a statutory meaning of “gas” which already provides this; if so, it surprises me.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

Order. I have been very generous, but the hon. Gentleman is speaking to amendments that have not been selected.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

I apologise, Mr. O’Hara. Perhaps I went on at too great a length. It was a point that I would otherwise have raised in the clause stand part debate. I was trying to avoid a further debate at that point.

Amendment No. 45 introduces the words “or a police authority”. This may be a matter on which the Minister can very quickly reassure me. It is clear that when extra police services are provided for the security of gas facilities, they can come from two sources. They can come from the Ministry of Defence police, in which case no problem arises, or they can be provided under section 25(1) of the Police Act 1996, entitled “Provision of special services”, in which case they will of course be drawn from territorial police forces. All I am trying to ensure—[Interruption.]The Ministersays that I am wrong on that fact. If that is the case, I am very happy to take an intervention.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office 10:15 am, 15th May 2008

I am mindful of your exhortations, Mr. O’Hara, and will wait until I respond to the debate.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

That is the worst of all worlds: an intervention that did not give me the answer. The point is that if police are provided by a territorial force, it is appropriate that the police authority that has the responsibility for funding that force has the recompense from this levy back to their resources. I know when I was chairman of a police authority, there was very great resentment when the resources for policing national events or events with national security implications had to come from already overstretched police authority budgets. The end was willed by the Government, but not the means to provide.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office

The Bill makes provision for either the MOD police or territorial police to provide that policing. Under current arrangements, in many of these cases, there is a central national pot that funds dedicated security posts. By and large, that money is from the centre, given that these are national provisions. I do take the point about abstraction from territorial forces, but that has not been the case thus far and is unlikely to be in the future.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

I am grateful for that, which means I can abbreviate my further points. I would like to be satisfied that that is the case. I will give a direct example: the policing of Bristol airport at times of high terrorist activity was a significant drain on the Avon and Somerset constabulary. It meant abstraction from our local constabularies: police officers who were community officers in my area found themselves instead toting machine guns at Bristol airport. It does seem appropriate that, where local police authorities are having to carry the burden of a national security responsibility, they are properly recompensed for it. I hope and think the  Minister is assuring me that that is the case. If he can give that assurance, I will be satisfied.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I join in the comments made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome. In addition, there are a couple of amendments that we have tabled that are to be considered now. They are really definitional, as to what constitutes “in and around” a facility and whether that should be geographically defined. My question to the Minister is whether what constitutes the provision of extra police services in or around a facility will be a source of dispute if no further geographical definition is given. The amendments propose 1 mile; they are probing amendments and again I come back to the nature of the discussions that have taken place between the Government and the industry itself and the providers, in terms of resolving these matters. Will there be arguments over the interpretation of the text of the statute?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office

I certainly can assure the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome that is not intended for this provision either to come out or be abstracted from territorial forces that just happen to have such a facility in their area. It is above and beyond that.

I will not quote the site but one example now has voluntarily 24 hours a day, seven days a week armed response coverage by the MOD police. Prior to them taking over the role, a small team from the territorial force involved, fully funded from the dedicated security post central pot, did that in its stead. We are trying to replicate that because I do take the point about abstraction.

Without incurring your wrath, Mr. O’Hara, the points about airports are entirely separate and different. The designated airports, that is the ex-BAA airports, do need to come to some arrangement with the local police—Heathrow, Gatwick and so on. The non-designated invariably do not or are always a matter of dispute, rather like Bristol. So the hon. Gentleman will give two cheers at least for the announcement among others yesterday of a transport security Bill, which is designed to implement that aspect of Stephen Boys Smith’s report that tries to restore the balance between that crucial infrastructure—local airports—and the burden on local police, simply because it happens to be in their area. I digress, for which I apologise.

While I am on my feet—because I do not think there will be a need for a clause stand part—if the hon. Gentleman turned the page gently to clause 81(4) he  would see that all expressions used in the sections are defined in part 1 of the Gas Act 1986. That covers every aspect of what he referred to earlier in terms of definition, narrowly defined, too, by the reference in the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority, which is the interplay between those, and says what we want.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

Order. That is precisely why the amendments were not selected.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office

Thank you, Mr. O’Hara, for that admonition for someone else through me.

I am not inclined to accept the point about geography, not least because in our discussions with Ofgem, the industry and the police, it is seen as an operational matter. These are distinct and very different facilities. In one case, to draw a half-mile radius might be more than sufficient to encompass all the security and policing dimensions but, given their nature, others might be far broader than that.

The broad intention would be—largely informally and voluntarily—to have that drawn up and agreed between the parties concerned. By their nature, some of these sites are very close to coastal areas and rely strongly on the road network and it is for the chief constable or the principals concerned to determine where the security and policing impact in terms terrorism or continued utilisation of those sites should be drawn. On balance, while 1 km or 1 mile might be sufficient in many areas, I do not want to restrict their hands in that context. There can be broad agreement by the parties concerned as to what the necessary curtilage around one of these sensitive sites would be.

This seeks to put in the Bill a statutory provision that is already carried out on some sites on a voluntary basis. Hon. Members will know that these are very important sites and we think that this is the way not to replicate the airport position that imposes an undue burden on the local constabulary simply because of the accidental geographical location of such sensitive sites. I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

That was an entirely satisfactory response. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 77 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

It being twenty-five minutes past Ten o’clock,The Chairmanadjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at One o’clock.