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Mr. Beith: I suspect that we will also not hear much about the fact that the training and career pattern of MOD police rarely gives them experience of or training in dealing with the civilian population. Some incidents have given the force a rather unhappy name. It must be remembered that its deputy chief constable was recently summarily dismissed.
Finally, I draw to the Minister's attention the short debate in the other place on 13 November on the consultation paper that has just been issued about the British Transport police. It included some of the safeguards that its members wanted, such as civilian police authority training and Home Office standards, yet when it was suggested by some of my colleagues in the other place that those safeguards should apply to the MOD police, they were pooh-poohed by Ministers and almost ruled out of order. We must understand that a different approach was taken to the British Transport police in that consultation paper from the one that has been taken to the MOD police in these proposals.
Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): I support the extension of the MOD police's jurisdiction, and am concerned about the amendments. I should declare two interests. First, I had the honour of being the Chairman of the Armed Forces Bill Committee, and I and other members of the Committee from all parties spent a considerable time discussing the extension of the MOD police's jurisdiction. Eventually, we produced a unanimous report, which supported the extension. When it was debated in this Chamber, there was also support for the extension.
As for my other interest, I am regularly in contact with MOD police. That is because my constituency contains a dockyard which, in turn, contains seven decommissioned nuclear submarines and stores intermediate-level nuclear waste. Its armaments depot is just along the road. I therefore take a keen interest, as do many of my constituentseven keener since 11 Septemberin the proper regulation and safe keeping of premises in which MOD police play a key role.
I realise that the general election prevented the Armed Forces Bill from completing its progress. I hope, however, that all Members feel that the Committee examined the issues extensively, and feel able to support our proposals tonight.
Mr. Mullin: Clause 97 appears to constitute a considerable extension even of what was proposed in the Armed Forces Bill. My hon. Friend said that she had considered the powers in that Bill, which I think were supposed to apply only when violence was involved. Is she also saying that she is prepared to accept the extension of those powers to any offence?
Rachel Squire: As my hon. Friend says, this is an extension of the proposals in the Armed Forces Billand yes, I support that extension. I shall briefly explain why; first, however, let me deal with some of the concerns and reservations expressed by the Committee, and by other Members.
The Committee strongly recommended a further revision of the excellent protocols applying to relations between civilian and MOD police. It suggested that there should be greater external accountability, that there should be more formal inspection by Her Majesty's inspectorate, and that scrupulous monitoring should take place. The Secretary of State and others supported all those proposals.
Why should we support not just that extension of jurisdiction, but further powers? Well, why not? Let us deal with the reality of post-11 September. Because of the reduction in the defence estate and because they now have to be more mobile, MOD police must frequently travel far more between one point and another. Moreover, it is difficult to produce clear definitions of what might be seen as a terrorist incident in the making, what might be seen as an incident that could lead to violence, and what might be seen as merely a civilian incident.
Jeremy Corbyn: MOD police might well intervene if someone behaved in the manner that my hon. Friend describes outside a naval dockyard, but they could do that anyway under existing powers in legislation. Why is it necessary to extend their powers so massively and allow them to apply way beyond the immediate vicinity of an MOD facility?
Rachel Squire: One of the problems with current legislation on MOD police is that it does not necessarily provide for consideration of whether they have acted legally or appropriately by intervening in such incidents. If MOD police seek to intervene and arrest someone just off the defence estate, that arrest could easily be regarded as a civilian arrest. If the offence involved joyriding, for example, a court might rule that they had acted inappropriately. As I said, there are many blurred, grey areas to the issue.
I was disappointed by some of the comments about MOD police going round armed on and off the defence estate. Anyone who read the Armed Forces Bill Committee's report will know that MOD police do not leave the defence estate when armed. If they are carrying guns or ammunition, that material is carried not only entirely separately but with the prior agreement and knowledge of the local chief constable or relevant officer. The civilian chief constable or his delegated officer deals with all instances in which MOD police carry firearms off MOD property.
Mr. Beith: The hon. Lady's description is almost but not quite accurate. There is often excellent liaison between MOD police and the local police force. Consequently, MOD armed police leaving the base and going into the wider force areausually not very far, which is why the proposed provision could be more limitedare accompanied by civilian armed police, so there is at least one police officer from each force. From a civil liberties perspective, that arrangement seems much more reasonable than that proposed in the Bill, which would allow MOD police to travel armed across a force area.
Rachel Squire: My clear understanding is that neither this Bill nor the Armed Forces Bill would allow the latter situation. The regulations governing the carrying of firearms are very strict, and the civilian police authority has the ultimate power in all such cases.
Some hon. Members mentioned training. Many MOD police are former civilian police officers. They are highly trained and experienced. Furthermore, secondment is an increasingly common practice. An extension of their jurisdiction is long overdue, and to delay extending it any longer after 11 September would be to fail to face the reality in many of the more sensitive and vulnerable parts of the defence estate. In view of the Committee's scrutiny of the issue, and the House's debate and vote on it, I hope that hon. Members believe that it is now appropriate to extend the jurisdiction of MOD police.
The Bill extends the powers of the MOD police well beyond dealing solely with terrorism, to which my hon. Friends on the Front Bench wish to confine it. They are right that a police Bill would have been a more appropriate measure in which to deal with the wider issues of the MOD police, even if the Government could make a case for them to deal with terrorism specifically. The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) would enable the Government to confine the application of the extended powers simply to dealing with the issue with which we are all concerned: terrorism.
Having said that, I have some sympathy with the general desire expressed in the Bill to extend the powers of the MOD police. I represent a garrison town, but I have to say that I have had no dealings with the MOD police. I have had no complaints either from soldiers or from members of the public. The MOD police seem to operate a pretty seamless arrangement with the local constabulary. I met the chief inspector this morning, so at least I can claim to have had some discussion and that I can bring some relevant experience to the Committee.
There is no doubt that there are grey areas that inhibit the MOD police in the execution of their duty. One is the change in married quarters, some of which have now been sold off so that we now have military estates alongside civilian estates. It is difficult for an MOD police officer to make sure that he is knocking at No. 53, which is his responsibility, and not No. 51, which is the responsibility of the local constabulary. There is also a grey area in the definition of "vicinity". If we are serious about dealing with terrorism, we must give powers to our police forces, whether they are the local constabulary or the MOD.
We do not want MOD police officers to go on fishing expeditions, which the Association of Chief Police Officers is dead against. I understand also that the assistant chief constable of the MOD policewho has 30 years' experience of the Metropolitan policedoes not want his force to go off on fishing expeditions into the towns, doing the job of the local constabulary.
I do not want the MOD police to be used as a supplement to deal with shortages in the local constabulary because the Home Office has not been able to give the necessary funding to local police forces. In my area, we are short of police officers. I do not want the chief constable of Hampshire to call on the MOD police to make up the numbers because he is short of recruits.
There is an established arrangement of protocols that governs the relationship between the MOD police and the local constabulary. It is unfortunate that we do not have revised protocols to scrutinise before approving the Bill tonight. The protocols provide an element of accountability, albeit not the same accountability as would apply to a local constabulary.