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Lord Redesdale: I support the amendment and my noble friend Lord Mayhew in opposing the Question that Clause 2 stand part. We oppose clause stand part because we have doubts about the effect of the clause. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, has covered in significant detail many of the points relating to this issue and I shall therefore restrict myself to asking just a few questions that occur to us on these benches.

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On which bases will the pilot studies take place? If they turn out to be a failure or have significant defects and they bring to light the fact that this scheme may not work in the way it is set out, what will then happen to this clause? Will the Ministry of Defence police be retained or will they go forward in the manner set out anyway?

The other point that occurs to me, living close to Otterburn training area, is that the Ministry of Defence Police are usually based locally and are a significant source of local employment. To a local community one of the cost implications of a garrison town is whether, if the Ministry of Defence Police are to be removed from this duty, there will be a significant deficit in local employment. Some areas such as Otterburn rely solely on the training area for a source of employment and this could have a very detrimental effect.

My other point I should like to raise as a question. If a garrison unit is moved to a base, would that unit be liable to supply soldiers to act as armed guards if there was a shortfall? Would it then accept the liability to provide service personnel in this function? If that is the case--and it may very well not be--will the pilot study measure the effect on their morale? As is the case in the regular Army at the moment, there are significant problems of undermanning, and to add one more liability, one more duty, could have an effect on morale, especially as guard duty, as I know from my own experience in the Territorials, is in the long term extremely boring and detrimental to base morale.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): The noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Redesdale, have rehearsed a considerable list of concerns on this matter - concerns, I may say, which have been put to me directly by the Defence Police Federation. I hope that I can put the majority of them at least to rest.

Clause 2 will give the Armed Forces the flexibility to recruit personnel for military service in a specified locality rather than worldwide. The Committee may be minded to agree that in itself that is sensible--or rather, that it seems strange that we have not enjoyed that flexibility hitherto.

It has been said, rather unkindly, in another place that what is being proposed is a "travel to work" army. I can assure the Committee that the overwhelming majority of servicemen and women will continue to be required to serve wherever needed, at home or overseas, in peace or war. There are no proposals, therefore, for the general introduction of local service schemes, other than for guarding. However, the Bill does give the option to introduce such schemes if the services see a need for them before the next Armed Forces Bill in five years' time. As I have already said, it is simply a matter of prudently building in some flexibility.

I do not know whether it will offer any reassurance to the Committee if I say that I would be hard pushed to speculate on other types of task that might be suitable for local service engagements. There is no hidden list of agenda, or anything like that, waiting to be produced the moment the Bill is enacted.

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The reasons for considering the use of local service personnel could vary according to the circumstances of the case. There are some jobs that have to be done which might be unattractive to full-time regulars or inappropriate as full-time tasks for them, but which would nevertheless best be carried out by uniformed service personnel rather than by civilians or police officers. It is on this basis that we have decided to introduce the military provost guard service, using MLSE personnel.

The MPGS will be a professional, well-trained and capable guard service. Ministers would not agree to its establishment unless it was. Its success should be demonstrated by the proposed pilot scheme.

At present significant numbers of MDP officers are employed at Army establishments on armed guarding duties for which police powers are not required. It is wrong in principle, I believe, to recruit high quality individuals, give them extensive police training and then to use them wholly or mainly as armed guards.

Employing local service engagement military provost guard service soldiers to carry out these guarding duties will enable significant resource cost savings to be made without there being any reduction in security standards.

I hope that I have been able to assure the Committee that the powers under Clause 2 will be used sensibly and selectively. Local service is certainly no panacea for Armed Forces such as ours which have and will continue to have commitments and responsibilities which are both extensive and challenging. However, I believe that local service does have a place, if only a limited one and, on that basis, I commend the clause to the Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked me about the pilot scheme. Subject to the passage of the necessary legislation, the pilot scheme should start in April 1997. It would be conducted at four places--the new Defence Intelligence and Security Centre at Chicksands; Chilwell, which is the home of HQ 49 (E) Brigade and of 27 minor units; the Central Ordnance Depot at Donnington; and Headquarters Land Command at Wilton. The C-in-C Land Command would make a full report to Ministers on whether a pilot scheme had been successful in both security and financial terms. Ministers' conclusions would then be reported to the Defence Committee in another place, as well as being the subject of consultation with the staff associations and the trade unions.

The noble Lord asked me what would happen if the scheme were to fail. If the pilot scheme were to fail--and we do not expect that it will--then, quite simply, the soldiers' engagements would not be renewed unless there was other appropriate work to which they could be moved; and, quite clearly, we would have to have a rethink of the way ahead. I do not pretend to the noble Lord that that rethink has taken place. It would be odd if it had because, as I said just now, these are, in our view, sensible proposals which are also workable.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked about the cost of what we are proposing. Let me say that the investment appraisal and the affordability assessment that we carried out shows that the proposals and the scheme will

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be cost effective and also affordable. He also spoke about the powers conferred upon the MPGS. It will not have constabulary powers--that is quite clear. It can, however, conduct security patrols with the agreement of the local chief constable, and many soldiers already do. We should bear in mind that armed guarding by soldiers is nothing new. It has been happening for many years; it has been happening successfully. So the apprehension that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, expressed can perhaps be tempered by the thought that this is a tried and tested system.

The noble Lord also expressed the fear that the Ministry of Defence police who are in posts requiring police powers will be replaced. I can assure him there is no question of that. Only the MDP employed on guarding duties will be replaced, according to agreed complementing criteria.

I turn briefly to the amendment to the clause. I freely confess that I am a little bewildered by the amendment. The intention is that the main MPGS scheme, involving the creation of around 600 local service guarding posts, should not go ahead until the completion of the pilot scheme which, as I said, we plan to start next year. The pilot scheme cannot get underway until we have recruited men and women on MLSE engagements, and that cannot happen until regulations are made under Section 2(1) of the Armed Forces Act 1966, which Clause 2 of the Bill amends.

The Committee may appreciate that the amendment, unwittingly or otherwise, would frustrate that. It appears to prevent the making of regulations until Parliament has received a report on pilot studies. I assume that is a reference to the pilot scheme. Yet we cannot report on the pilot scheme until we have made the regulations allowing us to conduct that scheme. The regulations themselves, as a statutory instrument, will have to be laid before Parliament, where they will be subject to the negative resolution procedure.

The amendment also refers to the consultative process, and, from what the noble Lord said, it is intended to prevent the introduction of the pilot scheme until the Defence Select Committee in another place and both Houses have considered the consultative document issued by my department on 29th May. There is no need to provide for that in legislation. As I have already said, the regulations themselves have to be laid before Parliament.

It could be also that the amendment is intended to prevent the introduction of the main scheme until the report to Parliament has been made on the pilot scheme. My honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has already undertaken to make a report on the outcome of the pilot scheme and our proposals for phasing in the main scheme to the Defence Select Committee in another place. I gladly repeat that undertaking today. I do not believe there is any need to provide for that in legislation.

If I understand the purpose of the amendment correctly, the intention is not to stop the MPGS scheme dead in its tracks; it is to ensure that Parliament is kept properly informed about the outcome of the consultative

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process and the pilot scheme. I can reassure the Committee on that point, as I have already indicated. However, I cannot advise the Committee to look kindly on this amendment. Not only is it unnecessary for the purpose of ensuring that Parliament is kept properly informed; even more fundamentally, as I have already explained, the amendment would have the effect of stopping the pilot scheme.


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