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4A. After section 4A of that Act there is inserted--
"Functions of inspectors of constabulary
4B.--(1) The inspectors of constabulary shall inspect, and report to the Secretary of State on, the efficiency and effectiveness of, the Ministry of Defence Police.
(2) The inspectors of constabulary shall carry out such other duties for the purposes of furthering the efficiency and effectiveness of the Ministry of Defence Police as the Secretary of State may from time to time direct.
(3) Before carrying out any inspection by virtue of subsection (1) above in Scotland, the inspectors of constabulary shall consult the Scottish inspectors with respect to the scope and conduct of the proposed inspection.
(4) In this section--
'the inspectors of constabulary' means Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary appointed under section 54 of the Police Act 1996;
'the Scottish inspectors' means the inspectors of constabulary appointed under section 33 of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967.
Publication of reports
4C.--(1) Subject to subsection (2) below, the Secretary of State shall arrange for any report received by him under section 4B(1) above to be published in such manner as appears to him to be appropriate.
(2) The Secretary of State may exclude from publication under subsection (1) above any part of a report if, in his opinion, the publication of that part--
(a) would be against the interests of national security, or
Before I deal with the main body of my text--which, I am glad to say, will not take me too long to deliver--I should like to correct the possibility of a slight misapprehension about something that I may have said to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) when we were discussing the search of premises. I tried to explain the fact that the word "searches" involves searches of space rather than searches of persons. In certain circumstances, however, provided that it were specifically mentioned and there were reasonable grounds for suspecting that an item had been secreted elsewhere, a search could involve, for example, the space of members of a crew or a unit other than that of the member who is under suspicion. I wanted to make that very clear as I may have been a little misleading on the point.
I should like to thank the Select Committee for its work on the Bill and for its report. The Committee was conceived a little less than three months ago, in circumstances that may not have been considered altogether propitious for the way in which it was likely to go about its work. That the Select Committee achieved so much is due largely to its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire). She managed to mix courtesy and firmness in presiding over the Committee and she proved resolute in promoting its interests.
As its report notes, the Committee was able to hold at least as many evidence sessions as its recent predecessors and to undertake a similar number of visits. However, that tells only half the story, as the Committee was able to attract witnesses of the calibre of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, the Chief of the Defence Staff, the chief constables of the Suffolk constabulary and the Ministry of Defence police, and the Chaplain General.
The visits conducted by the Select Committee included Colchester, HMS Invincible, which was off the coast of Scotland, Kosovo and Cyprus. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) may be of the view that those were three or four journeys too far, and he may well enlighten us about that later if he catches the eye of the occupant of the Chair. However, I know that the Select Committee found those visits a vital component of its work. The Ministry of Defence was very happy to assist in organising them.
I should say a few words about some of the Select Committee's recommendations. When the recommendations fall within the Ministry of Defence's sphere of responsibility, we shall of course give them the customary careful consideration. Perhaps inevitably, the Committee considered the issue of the tri-service Act that will replace the three single service Acts that we are in the processing of extending with this Bill. The Committee recommends that the tri-service legislation should be brought before Parliament within three years, whereas the Department is working towards bringing it forward as part of the next five-yearly Bill, as we announced on Second Reading.
The key issue for us now is to get the new legislative framework for the armed forces right. We agree that it is important for it to be in place as soon as possible, but it is even more important that the framework should be capable of meeting the needs of the services for the foreseeable future. We believe that it will take some time to ensure that we get it right. Nevertheless, we shall examine the scope for some acceleration of the project, and we shall be happy to keep the Defence Committee in touch with our thinking on that and on progress generally.
We have spent some time discussing the Ministry of Defence police today, so I do not propose to dwell on that part of the Committee's report. The Select Committee looked at the services legal aid schemes, and noted that there appeared to have been a problem recently with the availability of duty solicitor assistance for members of the armed forces overseas. That is about to be put right. It is worth mentioning that the services attach great importance to their arrangements for legal aid being at least as good as those available in the civilian sphere. There is a very serious intention that "accused in service" proceedings should not be at a disadvantage compared with their civilian counterparts, and much of the credibility of the system of discipline in the armed forces depends on that. Where problems are identified, we shall do what we can to sort them out.
Like previous Armed Forces Bill Committees, the Select Committee inquired into the question of under-18s in the services. Of particular interest is the period of service required of young recruits. The Committee is properly concerned that potential young recruits should receive clear information on that and that those involved in the recruiting process should be responsible for ensuring that such would-be recruits have fully understood the information before they sign up.
In fact, the present intention--and, we believe, the practice--is that such recruits are given full and clear information, both prior to signing up and subsequently, about the length of time for which they will be required to serve. It is only right that that should be the case.
I am sure that the House will not have lost sight of what the Bill is primarily about--the continuation for a further five years of the legislative basis for armed forces discipline. We believe that many of the changes in the Bill will help the administration of discipline; we commend those, and the Bill in its entirety, to the House.
Above all, we must remember those for whom we legislate--primarily the men and women of the armed forces. I again place on record what I am sure will be the thanks of the whole House for what the armed forces undertake and achieve, not only overseas but, as we have been reminded so graphically during the past few days, in this country, too.
Mr. Key: I add my thanks to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire), and to all its members who made it so worth while. Despite the somewhat difficult circumstances of the original composition of the Committee--I suspect that when people read its report to the House, they will understand what we were getting at--nevertheless, as the report stated, we all did our best in the traditional way.
I am grateful, too, to all those people who gave evidence to the Committee and to those we met during our modest peregrinations. I especially thank the hon. Lady--so ably assisted by the Clerk--for the quality of her report to the House. I am also grateful to the Government for actually giving the Opposition several of the important things for which we asked. That is a measure of the success of such Committees. I am an advocate of the pre-legislative scrutiny route. I was converted to it by my membership of the previous Armed Forces Bill Select Committee.
I am sure that that approach works. The Government have listened. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence mentioned the legal aid scheme and his amendment to put on a statutory basis the work of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. He also said that there would be a new look at the employment of people aged over 16 and under 18, which I especially welcome.
I look forward, with some trepidation, to the tri-service discipline Bill. I am sure that Ministry of Defence officials are already working hard on that project. If they are not, they should be because we will be after them in a few years. Such issues will need to be addressed as we move on in the cycle. We all need to make more effort to ensure that the public understand more about the policing of this country. I am sure that most people do not often come into contact with the police; they see police cars dashing about and they are aware of red caps in the Army, but that is probably about it.
Any hon. Member with a remotely military constituency can be fairly sure that up to eight different police forces will operate there. I certainly have eight forces in my constituency. Of course, the Wiltshire constabulary is by far the most numerous, but the Ministry of Defence police, the Royal Military Police, the Military Provost Guard Service, the Ministry of Defence Guard Force, the RAF police, the Atomic Energy Authority police and the British Transport police are all involved.
During our travels and in taking evidence, it was clear that some people feel that the time has come perhaps to consider creating a unified military police service for the armed forces. That suggestion has its merits. I have heard some significant arguments for more purple operations and more joint operations between the services, and it might be time to consider those issues, but the counterbalancing argument is that people like to be policed by their own kind.
We shall have to return to the legal rules that govern the terms of the service engagement, which derive from the royal prerogative and from the judicial rulings of a previous age. The feeling among civilian lawyers is that the rules are skewed in favour of the Crown, and I alluded to that in mentioning the secrecy of some of the documentation, but it might also be timely to address the whole legal and conceptual basis of the current service engagement to determine whether an engagement derived from the royal prerogative is adequate in this day and age. That is inevitable; I rather regret it, because that has been the basis on which the Army's regimental system has grown up, but Professor Rubin has a lot to contribute, and I am grateful to him for the way in which he has helped my thinking on the matter.
We must address the issues brought to the public domain in "The Future Strategic Context of Defence", a paper produced by the Ministry of Defence. I suspect that that important document is not widely read--more's the pity. I do not hesitate to say that the introduction makes it clear that the document represents not Government policy, but Ministry of Defence or military policy. However, it is significant and we cannot ignore the section on the political dimension, which states:
It should be clear that, despite earlier comments by my old sparring partner the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), in no sense is this an attack on the MOD police; nor was the Division that we managed to squeeze in. I have been hugely reassured and impressed during the past three months by the growing professionalism of the MDP. I look forward to visiting Wethersfield. I have been invited and I shall certainly go, because I am convinced now that it is a mature police force and that its training is up to the Home Office standard. Not only is it inspected by the Home Office constabularies, but it trains Home Office forces in a number of areas; we must dispel the myth. This is a criticism not of the police, but of the Government for the way in which they sought to tack on that series of clauses.
I return to the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Walsall, South will have had many such instances, but I cannot help recalling that on 24 February 1987, I said:
Above all, we owe it to the force to give its purpose more clarity in the future than we have in the past. Overall, this has been a good and useful Bill and I hope that in continuing the life of the service Acts, we will have performed a service for Her Majesty's forces.