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Powers to require removal of disguises: Northern Ireland

Amendment made: No. 65, in page 56, line 6, at beginning insert "an offence under"—[Jane Kennedy.]
Clause 94, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 95

Power to stop and search in anticipation of violence

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy): I want briefly to put it on record that the Government are taking this valuable opportunity to extend to Northern Ireland powers to stop and search in anticipation of violence, as identified in this clause and clause 96, making provision for Northern Ireland that is comparable to that made in section 60A of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and providing that the Secretary of State may make regulations to govern the retention and disposal of anything seized under clauses 94 and 95, such as knives or other offensive weapons. The clause extends those provisions to Northern Ireland.

I hope that clauses 95 and 96 will be welcomed in all parts of the House. As I said, the measures will obviously benefit Northern Ireland and be welcomed there.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): I shall make an even briefer comment. I must say that the Minister has yet again given the game away. The phrase "the Government have taken the opportunity" is the story of the Bill from start to finish. Whatever arguments she can adduce in favour of extending the powers to Northern Ireland, that extension does not appear to be the result of the state of emergency in a Province where extensive terrorist legislation is already on the books.

Jane Kennedy: Simply to respond quickly to that point, Mr. Haselhurst—[Hon. Members: "Sir Alan."] I beg your pardon, Sir Alan. The clause takes to Northern Ireland the powers regarding knives that apply elsewhere in England and Wales. It is entirely appropriate for those powers to be available to the police in Northern Ireland. Knives were used with devastating effect on 11 September and it is nonsensical to suggest that the police in Northern Ireland should not have the powers available to them.

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Question put and agreed to.

Clause 95 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 96 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 97

Jurisdiction of MoD police

Mr. Mullin: I beg to move amendment No. 57, in page 59, line 18, after "offence", insert—

'involving the use or threat of violence against any person'.

The Chairman: 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".

Mr. Mullin: The amendment stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins).

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

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

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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.

Mr. Paice: I have much sympathy with the comments of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (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

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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.

10 pm

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 the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said earlier, that rather gives the game away.

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