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10.30 pm

In other words, MOD police can exercise the powers of a constable only if they believe that waiting for the local constabulary to arrive or getting permission from the local constabulary would allow a crime to be undetected. We should consider that in extending the powers of the Ministry of Defence police. I accept that it is quite a dramatic increase in those powers. I am sorry that their extension has been included in the Bill because I believe that we should have followed the advice of my hon. Friend and confined it to dealing with terrorism.

Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham): I am afraid that the 11 September atrocities have simply become an excuse for each Department to sweep up every little piece of nasty legislation into this Bill—something that they have been eager to do for years.

The Bill is an excuse to extend the control of the state apparatus and it contains a dangerous extension of police powers. I am sure that many injustices will follow and no doubt Ministers will reflect upon them in due course. Needless to say, I oppose this measure.

My understanding was that if the regular police decide to stop someone when they are driving in their car, they have to be in uniform. Subsection (3D) of clause 97(4) states:

If they are not in uniform but in plain clothes, are they allowed to stop people at will as long as they have the documentary evidence and identification, regardless of the fact that the poor old public may not know that they are Ministry of Defence police officers?

Dr. Moonie: I regret to inform Conservative Members that I may have brought my good nature with me this evening, but not my generosity of spirit.

It would appear that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and I agree on the principle of amendment No. 57 and are merely arguing about the degree to which the powers of the clause apply. That is what he said, if he looks at Hansard.

I shall be asking the Committee to reject the amendment. Let us be clear what we are talking about. Under our proposals, this power can be exercised only when the officer concerned needs to act and cannot obtain in time the attendance of, or a request from, another police officer. Given the availability of modern radio communications, the effect will restrict its use to circumstances of genuine emergency when a virtually instant reaction is needed.

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Standing instructions within the Ministry of Defence police will amplify the limitation to genuine emergencies. It does not give officers authority to go around checking tax discs or carrying out any other routine tasks on behalf of a local constabulary.

Mr. Paice: Will the Minister give the House an example of such a crime, other than out-of-date tax discs? The majority of crimes, from the least to the most serious, take place within a short space of time. Can the Minister give any examples of crimes in which timeliness is not of the essence and Ministry of Defence police would be inclined to assume the powers of a constable because there would not be time to call the local police?

Dr. Moonie: I suspect that if an officer was called to a domestic dispute, he would have time to inform the local constabulary. That is one example, although I do not intend to give any more. Perhaps hon. Members will think of other examples while I am on my feet, and relieve me of the mental burden of having to do so.

Mr. Paice: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Moonie: No, I am sorry, I have no time.

As to what the provision allows, I ask the Committee to consider two scenarios. Intelligence is received that a possible terrorist is near a defence base—perhaps a US base. The suspect is believed to be a member of an illegal organisation, or to have with him a stolen passport or a weapon. There may be no immediate threat of violence; the suspect is only scouting—carrying out reconnaissance. Under the Terrorism Act 2000, the MDP have the power to arrest members of illegal organisations. They have powers of arrest and stop and search related to stolen articles, but at present they could act only if two requirements are met: the suspect is "in the vicinity" of the base on which the police are operating, and the local force agrees. The new powers in the Bill will allow the MDP to act if there is no time to bring in the local police—in other words, if there is an emergency.

Mr. Letwin: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Moonie: No.

The power is not limited to terrorism, and that is deliberate. To take a second case—an MDP officer in a street adjacent to defence property is approached by a woman who says, "Stop that man, he has taken my purse". That could happen up the road at the Ministry of Defence—our own officers patrol outside. The officer sees a man running away. Should he say, "Sorry, can't help. Although I may look like a police officer, I am in the MDP and I have no jurisdiction"? Should the officer try to establish whether the man had or had not used violence in taking the purse—by which time the man will have made off? Should the officer try to contact the local police station to seek instruction? The result would be the same. The Committee will agree that the public would expect him to do none of those, but to take action at once to apprehend the suspect.

Mr. Heath: What about a citizen's arrest?

Dr. Moonie: Phrases such as "citizen's arrest" are, I am afraid, used by people who are ignorant of what police

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officers have to do in the course of their duty and who have absolutely no idea of what is involved—something that is very common in the Liberal party, as hon. Members may have noticed from the quality of their contributions to the debate.

Mr. Grieve: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Moonie: No.

For the reasons I have outlined, on further consideration and taking into account recent events, we felt that the limitation to an offence of violence would be unduly restrictive and, moreover, difficult to apply. Any attempt to discriminate between different classes of offence would be subject to the same drawbacks. The Committee will, however, want to note what I said about the limitation being to genuine emergencies.

The Committee may also like to note that we have not decided to pursue the proposal in the Armed Forces Act 2001 to enable the chief constable of the MDP to enter into standing agreements with local police to exercise police powers in areas in the vicinity of defence land. That gave rise to many expressions of concern during debate on that measure, so our decision shows that we do listen to concerns expressed in the House and in another place.

I regret that I shall ask the Committee to reject amendments Nos. 165 and 166. Their effect, taken together, would be drastically to limit the circumstances in which the power to act in emergency could be used. The Bill already limits that power to circumstances where an offence has been, is being or is about to be committed, or where there is danger to life or of personal injury, and action is needed on a time scale that does not allow another police officer to be summoned or contacted. Those are severe constraints.

The amendment would additionally prevent action except where a terrorist offence was involved and there was danger to life or of personal injury. That means that an MDP officer whose assistance in an emergency was sought by a member of the public outside defence property would still be unable to act as a police officer except where terrorism was involved. Even where terrorism was involved, he would be unable to act unless there was an immediate danger to life or of personal injury. Both in terrorist and non-terrorist emergencies, he would be unable to act as the public could reasonably expect that a police officer should.

I will give one example from the many that I could cite. In relation to amendment No. 57, I have already referred to a situation in which intelligence is received that a possible terrorist is near a defence base, or an MDP vehicle comes across such a suspect. The suspect is believed to be a member of an illegal organisation, or to have with him stolen identification or a weapon. There may be no immediate threat of violence—the subject is only carrying out reconnaissance. Under the Terrorism Act, the MDP have power to arrest members of illegal organisations, but at present they cannot act off defence land without a local police request. They have powers of arrest and of stop and search in relation to stolen articles, but again, a local police request is needed, yet immediate action may be essential to prevent an act of terrorism from occurring in future. The new powers in the Bill will allow the MDP to act if there is no time to involve the local police.

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On non-terrorist issues, if an MDP officer were to see a vehicle being driven erratically and in a manner dangerous to other road users, he would be unable to apprehend the driver without first contacting another police officer, explaining the circumstances and receiving instructions. Frankly, that is not acceptable.

The Opposition have made several claims in relation to the clause. I shall first cover the old chestnut that these measures were dropped in the previous Parliament because of the quality of the arguments of those opposing them. I regret that that was not the case. As right hon. and hon. Members will be aware, the measures were dropped because we ran out of time, faced with the general election. Of course, as anyone who knows anything about the House will know, we had to introduce measures in the Armed Forces Act 2001 expeditiously.

Many organisations have been consulted and support the extension of the MDP's jurisdiction. The Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland) have been made aware of the extensions of the MDP's jurisdiction and support it. The chairman of the ACPO general policing committee, the chief constable of Staffordshire, also supports it. Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary supports it. The Home Office consultation document, which was circulated with the proposals, including these provisions, has been supported by the Police Federation of England and Wales, by the Metropolitan police and by the service police.

There has been some comment about the experience of our officers. Perhaps it would be of value to the House if I spent a little time describing what their experience involves. All our officers are trained in the use of firearms because that is an essential part of their activities. Only those who are competent to bear firearms pass out as MOD police officers. That is only right and proper, given the number of times that they have to bear them. Armed MOD policing has primarily occurred at the four main nuclear sites, plus Porton Down.

Counter-terrorist armed security policing is clearly a core activity. Since the IRA bombing at Deal, for example, the MDP have been deployed operationally in an armed role throughout MOD sites, given that, of course, we now consider the MOD a prime target for terrorism. I shall pass over many other matters, but areas of specialist training include chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons.

In particular, let us consider the MDP's experience of dealing with members of the public. Anyone would think that members of the MOD police only ever deal with people in uniform. That is simply not the case; they police housing estates in which, I assure the Committee, any crime that takes place in other parts of the country may be exhibited. They undergo the same basic training as any other constable. Their primary role is, in fact, to deal with civilians, dependants, contractors, trades people and visitors to our sites.

The MDP police service football and rugby matches. They police public events, garrison areas, such as Colchester, Salisbury Plain, Aldershot and Catterick, and public roads open to and widely used by the general public. They run community initiatives in defence areas.

The MDP have been sent to Kosovo, after three weeks of special training. I have spoken to the men and women involved and, on one occasion, a constable from the MDP

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has been left to run a precinct in Kosovo and has coped admirably, as have all the officers sent there. They are not amateurs; they are highly trained civilian police officers. They are not a military police force. However, I submit that they are as well trained as anyone in any other police force.

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