Mr. Heath: Does the hon. Gentleman recall that, in the debate on the Armed Services Bill, the Secretary of State for Defence revealed that the genesis of the request for the MOD police to be given these additional powers came from the MOD police themselves? In other words, they wanted the powers because they wanted a role, rather than in any response to terrorist action or to anything else.
Mr. Paice: I recall that matter to the extent that I read about it earlier today when I was preparing for this debate. From the same source, I also recall the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) making that same point on that occasion. That was a highly controversial measure, but I remind the House that the Committee stage on the Floor of the House was guillotined. About two and a half hours were allowed for the whole Armed Forces Bill to be debated; its Committee stage received just over one hour of debate. I shall look briefly at what was said in the various debates.
Mr. Beith: Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the MOD police carry firearms on some military installations, and that there may be a necessity for them to go beyond the immediate curtilage of the base? However, they usually do so jointly with a civil police officer carrying firearmstwo officers in the same car. The situation that
Mr. Paice: The right hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I do not want to come down specifically for or against the wisdom of extending the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence police. I want instead to illustrate to the Committee that this is a highly controversial proposal that deserves far more debate than it is going to get in the next 57 minutes, maximum. I suspect that it will get a little less than that, bearing in mind the pressures for other items to be reached. This measure should not be included in the Bill.
There are many concerns about the proposal. It represents a huge increase in the powers of the MOD police and I again submit to the Committee that it should not be subject to curtailed debate at this time. I readily accept that there are arguments in favour, but the arguments both for and against deserve much more time and they should be dealt with in the proper course of events when we consider the police reform Bill in spring next year.
The proposal should not be dealt with under this Bill, which is why we have tried to help the Government by suggesting two amendments to narrow the debate to issues more closely related to terrorism. That is the subject of the Bill and the Government would not be prevented from extending the jurisdiction of the MOD police at some stage. If they want to legislate for that extension of powers, they have every right to put proposals before the House, but they are unwise to do so when we are dealing with the much narrower issue of the prevention of terrorism.
The wider issue should be dealt with next year under the police reform Bill. I hope that the Minister will respond to that in the spirit of generosity for which he is renowned in the House and will understand the thought and logic behind our arguments.
We owe my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) a debt of gratitude for tabling the amendment, which at least gives us the chance to debate a proposal which represents another Bill within the Bill and which is designed dramatically to increase the powers of the MOD police at a time when the police overall have been brought under much greater public scrutiny and consider their role much more as policing by consent and with the co-operation of local authorities.
By and large, that has been extremely successful, but a new, largely unaccountable force is being brought into the equation in each locality and there is the possibility of all sorts of confusion about what local policing policies are and of confused communications between local police and the MOD police.
There are often problems when special territorial police groups go into a locality, and I foresee greater problems here. I ask the Minister to reflect on what effect such increased powers and usage of the MOD police could have had in the miners' strike, when the Government were desperate to have a national police force at their beck and call to carry out their policies, particularly in the mining areas.
Specifically, I ask the Minister to respond to the requests that have been made. What powers will MOD police have when they go into a community? What is the specific geographical limit of their powers, or is there no limit to them? What is the policy-making relationship with the local police authority, which may have priorities such as dealing with organised crime, street crime and violence, burglary or public order issues?
Every police authority has a programme of what it is trying to achieve, and I find it extremely helpful that my local police area is prepared to discuss that and adopt a policy of policing by consent. That is not possible within the purview of the MOD police.
Importantly, we have moved a long way on police complaints issues, the ability of the public to complain about the police and the way in which the police are investigated. We should go further and there should be no police investigation of the police. At the very least, one hopes that the Police Complaints Authority will be available for use in any complaint against the MOD police. If an investigation into the conduct of the MOD police were required, who would undertake it?
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has examined this issue, and has urged caution. I do not suppose for one moment that the Minister will agree to the amendment, but instead of our debating now whether or not to include this part of the Bill, it might be better if it were the subject of consultation or a White Paper, with legislation to follow at a later date.
We are in danger of giving enormous powers to a largely unaccountable police force under the direction of central Government. There will be no involvement of local policing by consent, which is the thrust of the Government's policy on policing in the community as a whole.
Norman Baker: I shall try to be brief, given the time and what we have to get through. Suffice it to say that these proposals predate 11 September by quite some time. They were brought before the House in the last Parliament, and were dropped because they were
A number of serious questions have been asked about accountability, how this provision will work on the ground and what problems could occur. I hope that the Minister has been taking note of those detailed points and will respond to them, because there are problems. On this and other provisions in the Bill, we are asked once again to trust Ministers that everything will be all right on the night. We are asked to accept that powers will be extended widely, and that we can trust the police to exercise them judiciously. We hear nothing about the fact that we should be able to trust the Government not to introduce such wide and sweeping powers unnecessarily. There is no willingness on their part to curtail their activities when it is not necessary to extend powers as widely as proposed in these measures. That is missing.
When Ministers comment on the provisions and explain why they are necessary, we hear nothing about safeguards, which also need to be included in the Bill, or the problems that may arise and what may go wrong. The concerns of hon. Members and of the Human Rights Committee are swept aside, and we are told that the powers are necessary. I would have more confidence in Ministers if they addressed the problems that hon. Members have identified and provided the necessary safeguards. I have heard nothing of that from Ministers so far, but perhaps the UnderSecretary of State for Defence will change that.