Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I appreciate that, normally, there would not be two speeches from the Labour Front Bench on this Motion. However, I have one particular reason for breaking with that convention. I came to this country as a refugee when a small child. I did not mention that fact during earlier debates because I thought that it would be seen as special pleading. Therefore, I left it alone. Nevertheless, I have some experiences which, clearly, have influenced me because I have memories of my childhood.

I should like to make a few brief comments. Having virtually got their Bill through, it is not clear to me whether the Government want every asylum seeker to claim asylum at the point of entry, thereby making no savings in the social security or any other budget, or whether they expect, for reasons that have been amply debated, that many asylum seekers will not make the claim at the point of entry, in which case there will be some savings but also some consequences.

According to the latest statistics, there are at present some 70,000 asylum cases waiting to be resolved. If, on average, an asylum case costs the public purse roughly £100 a week in income support, and so on, I calculate that that will cost about £350 million a year. I know that the Government have said--and, indeed, the Minister said it only a few minutes ago--that there are certain costs which they are trying to cut, and that they have increased the number of staff to deal with such matters. Nevertheless, we are still left with the cost of £350 million a year.

Bearing in mind the fact that it takes 18 months to two years to make an asylum claim--although, two days ago, I met a Ugandan woman who has been waiting for five years for her claim to be resolved--if we speeded up the process to, say, six months, we would probably save about £250 million to £270 million a year. That is where there could be a real saving--a real saving to the Exchequer, provided that we still operated a decent and fair system. I give way to the Minister.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. It is important for me to repeat the figures that I gave earlier. The number of determinations rose from 2,400 in 1994 to 7,000 last year; but the projected figure for this year is 19,000. That is an enormous improvement. Initial decisions by the Home Office rose from 21,000 in 1994 to 27,000 last year. We expect that figure to rise to 37,000 this year. Therefore, the increases that the noble Lord, Lord is looking for--and, indeed, more--are well on the way to being achieved.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, perhaps I should not have embarked on the question of figures because this is not a stage of the Bill where one should be debating issues that have already been addressed and which are perhaps inappropriate now. I simply wanted to make this point. If there was a will, which the Government have not been showing over the years, I still believe there would be

2 Jul 1996 : Column 1379

much greater savings. It is in that area that savings could be made which would be consistent with this country's tradition of being fair to people who seek asylum; indeed, a tradition from which I benefited. We could do so without going through some of the procedures that we have before us.

Having said that, I should like to thank my colleagues on the Labour Front Bench. I have not taken part in a debate before in this House that has reached such a stage. I should also like to thank those from the Liberal Democrat Party for the part that they played in the proceedings; and, indeed, I should like to thank the government Ministers for their unfailing courtesy.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Community Service by Offenders (Hours of Work) (Scotland) Order 1996

7.45 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 11th June be approved [23rd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, community service by offenders was introduced in Scotland by the Community Service by Offenders (Scotland) Act 1978, which was consolidated into the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. At the moment, community service can be given for between 40 and 240 hours. The Government believe that now is the time to revise both the minimum and the maximum hours for which a community service order can be made. That is in order to reinforce the message to offenders, to sentencers and to the public that community service is a properly demanding sentence of the court.

In the White Paper Firm and Fair issued in June 1994 the Government set out their proposals for changes in the community service maximum number of hours and invited comments from interested parties. No contrary comments were received and the proposal to increase the maximum received strong support from those responding.

Since then, the Government have also reviewed the minimum, and our intention to change the provision was announced last autumn. Again, there have been no contrary representations.

The proposed changes in the number of hours contribute to our overall objective. In addition, a circular has recently been issued by the Scottish Office to local authorities requiring them to ensure that a sufficient number of physically challenging and demanding tasks are made available for community service offenders; and that the nature of the work and its product are brought much more to the attention of the public. That includes the marking of protective clothing where worn by those involved in a community service scheme.

A national community service environmental initiative has been launched which focuses on major projects, such as graffiti removal, footpath building,

2 Jul 1996 : Column 1380

renovating public open spaces and waterway clearance. They are major projects of clear benefit to the community, but demanding of the offender. We are determined that there should be no misconception that community service participation is a soft option holiday camp; it is not. It is hard and useful work.

I believe that the changes we are making to community service hours are positive. They will assist in the disposal of its objectives and they deserve our shared support. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 11th June be approved [23rd Report from the Joint Committee].--(The Earl of Lindsay.)

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, I believe that there is general agreement in the community that the whole question of community service for offenders has been a success. I was slightly concerned about the increase from 40 to 80 hours, but I am informed by people who are involved and those who are sympathetic to it that it will produce a better balance and a sharper understanding for those concerned.

However, I have a slight worry upon which I hope the Minister will be able to assist me. I do not like the idea of someone being specially dressed to indicate to the public that he is an offender. Do offenders turn up in the morning and change into these clothes and return to their communities at night in their own clothes? I hope that the Minister will clarify that small but I think psychologically important point. While we want to make someone aware that he has broken the law, has been a nuisance and has done things that are not socially acceptable, we do not want him to be constantly marked out. We are talking about community service. We want to enable people who have offended to be able to break out of that cycle as quickly as possible. The Minister may prefer to write to me on that point rather than reply now. I repeat that I think that is an important point.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome the noble Lord has given to the order. I can reassure him about the clothing he asked about. It is protective clothing; it is not a uniform as such. Each authority will make its own arrangements for marking protective clothing clearly and visibly. The clothing will not be worn on the way to and from work. It will be labelled quite clearly "Community Service Scheme". My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is keen to raise the profile of community service orders in the public domain. I can also reassure the noble Lord that the wearing of protective clothing will be guided by health and safety requirements. There will obviously be instances, such as working within residential care homes, where health and safety requirements will not require the wearing of protective clothing. This is not a universal obligation placed on all offenders, as the noble Lord may fear. If there is anything I can add by way of a letter to the noble Lord, I shall do so. I beg to move.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

2 Jul 1996 : Column 1381

Armed Forces Bill

7.52 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 2 [Enlistment or entry for local service]:

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 13, at end insert--
("(3) Within 6 months of the coming into force of this section the Secretary of State shall, before proceeding to any further replacement of Ministry of Defence police, lay before both Houses of Parliament a report relating to the outcome of any pilot projects for alternative arrangements under subsection (1) for duties which have been undertaken by Ministry of Defence police.
(4) No proposal for alternative arrangements under subsection (1) for duties which have been undertaken by Ministry of Defence police shall have effect unless it is confirmed by order made by statutory instrument and subject to approval by resolution of both Houses of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 1 stands in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. Perhaps I could be forgiven for saying at the outset that I for one am a little concerned that the defence of the realm should be pushed down the agenda in this way and treated in such a cavalier fashion as it has been treated this evening.

This amendment concerns Clause 2, which is the enabling clause for the proposed military local service engagements and the military provost guard service. Its purpose is to make sure that pilot projects are pilot projects and that they are properly evaluated before Parliament decides whether or not to endorse the scheme for implementation. The Government tell us that before going fully ahead the pilot projects to which I have just referred will be evaluated. However, the suspicion remains that the pilot projects are in fact a formality, or even a ratchet to lock policy into what will become an irreversible change.

There are doubts about the real motivation and purpose. Questions have been raised about the design and cost-effectiveness of the pilot projects, if they are genuinely pilot projects at all. Has the Minister yet seen a paper prepared by members of the Defence Police Federation setting out, as they see it, a more cost-effective option for the pilot projects? What is his conclusion on what they recommend? If he has not seen the paper, will he undertake this evening to acquire it and study it before finally deciding to go ahead?

We debated all this fairly fully in Committee in the Moses Room. However, anxieties remain on which the Government have so far failed to reassure us. For example, on costs of the scheme, is it not true that the forecast pay bill has already escalated by as much as a third? Will the level of remuneration not have to be very attractive indeed if it is to bring in personnel of the right calibre to such monotonous and mostly boring work--guarding and guarding alone? What of the recruitment and training costs? Have the estimates fully taken into account the costs of recruiting and training sufficient civilians if, as many anticipate, the number of Army recruits proves low?

2 Jul 1996 : Column 1382

The Government say the intention is to replace the Ministry of Defence Police personnel on a one-to-one basis, but few outside government believe that will be a viable ratio. Indeed, in this context, what of the disturbing events at Chilwell which I raised in Committee, and about which we still have to have a satisfactory explanation? I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I briefly refer again to what I said in Committee when I drew on an interesting letter which was written by experienced and committed members of the Ministry of Defence Police at Chilwell. They wrote:

    "As you know, the MPGS scheme proposes that Ministry of Defence policemen are to be replaced on a one-for-one basis by infantry-trained non-regular soldiers; where those policemen are employed solely on armed guarding duties. This is what the scheme's protagonists within the MoD and Government have been telling Parliament, but it is far from the truth. Hardly any MDP on stations without a nuclear association are employed solely as armed guards. At the three MDP manned stations chosen to pilot the scheme, Chilwell, Donnington and Wilton, the MDP complements are and have for years been employed on primary policing duties, with the added capability to provide an armed response if necessary".
As I pointed out to the Committee, the letter continues, significantly,

    "On my own station, Chilwell, a complementing review scheduled for September 1996 was rushed forward to mid-April. This resulted in our being retrospectively relegated on paper only to the required status of armed guards; although our actual employment has not changed at all. This review also increased our complement, again on paper only, from our current total of 20 men to the 26 men which the MPGS would require. This represents a hidden increase in manning by the MPGS over our current true MDP numbers".
That is hardly a convincing start to a genuine experiment by a pilot project.

When will this scheme break even? Will it be this century or next century? If it has been properly costed the Minister must surely give us a firm estimated date. He will know that many informed people doubt whether it will ever break even. As regards the public purse as a whole, what of the cost which will fall on other budgets outside the Ministry of Defence as the civil, non-Ministry of Defence police are compelled to take on more of the duties which in the past were undertaken by MoD police?

This brings us to wider issues. MoD police are civilian police constables and police officers trained in the use of firearms. The firearms fall into the whole discipline, skill and professionalism of police work. That is a vital safeguard. The MoD police are subject to the Police Complaints Authority. None of this will be true of the MPGS. Do we see here, quite frankly, a potentially sinister--I do not use the word lightly--erosion (yet another under this Government) of civil society as we value it in a free democracy? What of the calibre of the weapons to be used by the MPGS, often in close proximity to civilian communities? How certain can we be that the MPGS will remain deployed exclusively on guarding duties as now described? What happens if and when they are drawn into other activities? Sooner or later will they not inevitably be expected to give assistance to the civil police in the same way as the MoD police have not infrequently been called upon in the past?

2 Jul 1996 : Column 1383

As we understand it, while Army personnel recruited to MPGS may not have had formal, dedicated training in guarding, civilian recruits will be required to take an MoD guard service foundation course in addition to their other training. Why is there that distinction? I gather the Government have said that they aim to have as the minimum standard of training for the MPGS the national vocational qualification guarding level 2. That indeed sounds wise. But if that objective is to be fulfilled, will it not be essential for recruits from the Army to receive the same quality of training as civilian recruits? Does not the Minister agree that just to have been allocated guard duties from time to time during an Army career does not begin to amount to such systematic training? If all MPGS personnel were to receive the necessary training, would it not significantly increase the cost of the scheme?

What of reserve commitments? We understand the intention is that the Army regulars joining the MPGS will not acquire any further additional reserve commitments. We also understand that it is proposed that any existing reserve commitments will run concurrently with MPGS service. Will the Minister confirm that? If that is to be the case, and if the Government manage to recruit, for example, 500 MPGS from former regular service personnel, and their reserve commitments are discharged concurrently with their MPGS service, what effect will that have on the reserve capability of the Armed Forces? And, incidentally, will civilians recruited to MPGS themselves acquire reserve commitments after their full-time service?

We learn that MPGS personnel will be members of the Armed Forces pensions schemes. I understand that those pensions are calculated on the basis of the highest pay in the last three years of service. If a serviceman leaves the regular services on, say, £16,000 a year and serves with MPGS on £11,000 a year, will his pension be calculated on the lower or the higher rate? We need to be clear about that. It obviously has big implications for recruitment.

Finally, how local can local service with MPGS be guaranteed to be? The Government appear to indicate that it is intended that MPGS personnel will not be required to serve overseas in peacetime. But will all potential recruits be informed before joining MPGS that they may be required to serve elsewhere including overseas for longer than normally required in regulations; and will they be told in exactly what circumstances that would happen?

With great respect, the Minister has a lot of convincing still to do. There is much anxiety about the genuine nature of the pilot projects. There is much anxiety about the scheme as a whole. We shall listen carefully to what he says tonight. I beg to move.

8 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I support the amendment which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and myself. As regards the seriousness of the issue, I spoke to one of the Ministry of Defence policemen and was shocked to hear him say, "The writing's on the wall, isn't it?". That is very much the

2 Jul 1996 : Column 1384

view within the Ministry of Defence Police: that whatever happens as regards the pilot schemes, it is the end of the Ministry of Defence's police commitments.

I wish to ask a number of questions. We have been given the impression that the main reason for the change between the MDP and the MPGS is cost. In the changeover period the cost expenditure is, I believe, £20 million. The break-even point given by the Minister during Committee stage of the Bill was 2002 to 2003. However, a number of items may have changed since that cost analysis. First, the cost of wages seems to have increased. I believe that the wage originally envisaged was unrealistic. I do not believe that recruitment will be possible at that level of remuneration. Will the Minister indicate the level of wages per year which will be acceptable for a member of the MPGS? Will the figure be under £10,000 or closer to £14,000?

The noble Lord referred to membership of the MPGS. If the numbers increase, that will significantly increase the expenditure. We are not talking about a small number of men. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that the number to be recruited for the MPGS is 700. That figure is the size of a battalion; it is not a small figure. As regards replacement of the MoD police, the Minister assured us that it will be on a one-to-one basis. The Minister assured us at Committee stage that involuntary redundancy was unlikely. That might be so in the pilot schemes. Ministry of Defence police may be moved sideways to other postings. But will that be the case once the pilot schemes have concluded and other schemes are initiated? Will there be a redundancy cost that has not been calculated in the figures?

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, raised an issue close to my heart. The Ministry of Defence Police have a role outside the base that they defend. They are not just armed policemen on guard service. They take a large role in activities outside the base. Perhaps the Minister will give some indication as to whether that costing has been taken into account. Will the Home Office police seek remuneration for the added commitment that they will give to areas formerly covered by the Ministry of Defence Police? The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but if local chief constables have an added commitment they will have to obtain the money from somewhere. Will any of that money be sought from the Ministry of Defence? Or has the cost to the Home Office police been taken into account? That figure might easily have been omitted.

We are not happy about this issue. We cannot take the matter further at present. However, I ask the Minister for firm figures in order to put the minds of the members of the Ministry of Defence Police and ourselves at rest. Otherwise we shall have to return to the matter at a later stage.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page