Mr. Hancock: I am sure that the whole House is interested to hear that there is a turf war between MOD police and other police forces. However, that is not the important point. My hon. Friend suggests that the Select Committee that considered the Bill wanted to give more powers to the MOD police, but he did not say what those powers are. Most of the powers that he mentioned are already available to them. I should like to know what powers he would like to give them.
Mr. Keetch: The Committee did not suggest that the MDP should be given more powers. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend has read our report and that he will be aware not only of our concerns about their current powers, but of the way in which they should be held to account--although I am sure that we shall deal with that matter later. In this debate, however, the Minister must tell the House which MDP powers will be extended by the Bill. Additionally, which crimes that the MDP may want to investigate will be transferred to local police forces? As the hon. Member for Salisbury rightly said, those issues are the crux of the Bill.
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South): My colleague the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) mentioned that he could be considered as an old-timer because he served on the Committee that considered the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987. I also served on that Committee, but it is a long time since that Committee reported and the law was subsequently changed. I think that it would be ludicrous to say that legislation that the House passed in 1987 has to be operational today.
I have a good connection--not a financial one--with the Ministry of Defence police, and I have an even closer connection--again, not a financial one--with the Defence Police Federation. I first took an interest in the MOD police when, quite accidentally, the Defence Committee ambushed the MOD and the MOD police in an inquiry that we conducted on physical security at military installations. I have followed the MOD police ever since.
In that time, I have seen much criticism of the MOD police, ranging from genuine criticism to truly paranoid comments. A tendency to make the latter type of comment is very strong in the media. Quite naturally, anyone whose collar has been held by an MOD policeman--and there are quite a few such people--feels very irritated by the MOD police, especially if, as in Tony Geraghty's case, they did not proceed with the matter.
As I said, some people are paranoid in addressing the issue. Conversely, some people want to chip away at the margins of the issue. My good friend the hon. Member for Salisbury falls into the latter camp. He is not quite certain; he is influenced equally by the MOD police who abound in his constituency and by the Home Department police forces. His situation is symbolised by the regimental cap badge showing that the regiment faces both ways. I cannot remember which regiment that is--
The MOD police have evolved. When the Committee conducted its inquiry into the matter 13 years ago, and when I did the same 20 years ago, it had not been long since the MOD police had had to deal with the 1971 reforms, and some of the MOD-plod image remained. However, very unfairly, that image has persisted. The MOD police officers are a very professional force. ACPO and individual coppers are very ambivalent towards them, and hon. Members are ambivalent or hostile towards them. The media are either very unhappy or very angry with them. All that undermines the efficacy of the MOD police.
I think that the time has come to expand the MOD police's range of powers. However, I was not a member of the Select Committee considering the Bill--although, unlike the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), I was not kept off the Committee. It seems to me that the Opposition kept him off that Committee. The Government did not keep me off the Committee; I did not volunteer to serve on it. However, I gave evidence to it, partly because Committee members had forgiven me for being so obstreperous to them a few weeks earlier.
I also certainly did not get rid of the hon. Member for Reigate from the Defence Committee. I think that that was a decision by the Opposition rather than by my Committee. Therefore, I do not want him to become paranoid. He is not a member of the Defence Committee, but is considering very important issues such as canals, walking in cities and cemeteries. I am sure, however, that he likes that much less than serving on the Defence Committee.
Mr. Blunt: I was replaced on the Defence Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), who is extremely experienced on these matters, and I am sure that the Committee has done extremely well, in my absence, with his assistance. I fear that the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) has forgotten that, during the Second Reading debate on this Bill, I asked him to sign my manuscript amendment nominating
The Bill seeks slightly to extend the powers of the MOD police. The change is not earth-shattering, but recognises the changes in the professionalism of the MOD police and the environment in which they work. Their numbers have declined and they are now more mobile. They do less static guarding. The world of policing also has changed around them--with greater involvement by the private security industry, the MOD guard service, the military provost guard service and the growth of List "X" companies.
The MOD police have also undergone the changes occasioned by the 1987 Act. Additionally, there is a new range of threats to counter, including fraud, terrorism and environmental offences. They are now also a police agency. I think that the time has come for them to have a modest increase in their powers.
In 13 years from now--the hon. Member for Salisbury may still an hon. Member, but I doubt that I shall be--the House may seek further to extend the MOD police's powers. However, hon. Members cannot have it both ways. They cannot quietly say, "The MOD police are still MOD plods. They are not really up to the competence of some of the mainstream police forces", while criticising fairly modest proposals to increase their powers. Such criticisms are voiced despite the fact that they are attempting to become more professional and help out Home Department police forces in certain circumstances. Committee members were given sufficient evidence to justify why the MOD police deserve to have a marginal increase in their powers.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): I had no intention of intervening during this debate, but as one of my constituents is currently dying of cancer because the Ministry of Defence police grossly exceeded their powers--and have admitted doing so--when they raided his office and, in effect, by their act rendered him bankrupt, I feel rather dismayed. The name of my constituent is Mr. Crawley of Chesswood Floors.
Mr. George: I am desperately sorry. However, just because there is a posse of murderers in south London and the Metropolitan police did not use their powers and were proved to be incompetent, that does not mean that we get really angry with them. We cannot isolate a few cases and say that just because people fouled up in those, they should be penalised by being stuck with the powers that they had in 1987.
The world is changing. The world of policing is changing. If the Defence Committee had survived for another 12 months, we should have conducted a major inquiry into policing and security in the Ministry of Defence to show those aspects that should and should not interlock, and where powers, competence and training should evolve further.
In conclusion, the MOD police have definitely improved. They want a little more encouragement. Hon. Members shuffle around and issue statements on the one hand proclaiming how much they adore the MOD police while on the other saying, in effect, that they are not up to handling the rather limited changes to their powers that any reasonable person should support. Those hon. Members are saying to the MOD police, in effect, "You're not up to it. You should be stuck with the powers you had in 1987. You should not have evolved. You're a second-class police force. You are not a professional police force and you should stay that way."
That would send the wrong message. I hope that the Minister will send members of the MOD police in Salisbury, Wiltshire and Herefordshire copies of the speeches and check whether they had consulted hon. Members as to whether those powers should remain ossified or should evolve.