Sunday, December 10, 2023

MP’s discuss possibility of DP World to have own police force

BOTH THURROCK MP’s rose on the floor of the House of Commons to discuss the viability of DP World London Gateway having their own police force, in a similar fashion to the Port of Tilbury.

Jackie Doyle Price said:

“I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Sheryll Murray for introducing the Bill. I do not think that anyone is unaware of how deeply she cares about the maritime industry and it must be a particular pleasure for her to introduce the Bill today.

“It is fairly true that, as my hon. Friend said, many of the measures in the Bill appear arcane. That is because we do not see maritime Bills very often. For those of us on the Conservative Benches, that probably goes to prove that industries thrive best when Governments and politicians do not get in their way. Considering the maritime traditions of this country, it is perhaps a great surprise that we do not talk about them more often. I for one value hugely and am well aware of the maritime industry’s contribution to our economy, particularly in the area local to me in Thurrock, where the port of Tilbury and its associated shipping and logistics interests are so significant for jobs and wealth creation.

As my hon. Friend the Minister takes on his new responsibilities, I ask him not to neglect the maritime sector but not to get in its way either.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock, Conservative)

“Does my hon. Friend agree that unlike airport capacity, with which we know we have a problem and with which we are trying to grapple, port capacity is growing rapidly in the UK? That shows the success of the sector. My hon. Friend will know that it is true because of the presence of the largest construction site in Europe next to her constituency in Thurrock.

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock, Conservative)

My hon. Friend makes his point extremely well. I know he has been very proud to witness the growth of that new major port facility in his constituency. The emergence of that port further strengthens the role of the Thames and the estuary in our port infrastructure and the ports in my constituency are looking forward to its becoming functional.

They do not view it as competition but think that it will strengthen the maritime sector overall. The interesting thing about my hon. Friend’s comparison with aviation is that a lot of heat has been generated about aviation capacity and, as we have said, the maritime industry tends to be neglected by politicians. Sometimes that is a good thing, but when the Mayor of London makes noise about the availability of the Thames estuary as a potential airport location, he has not thought about its impact on the maritime sector. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues in the Department for Transport will consider fully the impact on the shipping and maritime industries of their considerations about airport capacity in the south-east.

I want to focus on clause 7 and the provisions on port police. I draw the House’s attention to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which records that I am an unpaid adviser to the Port of Tilbury police in my constituency. Six port police forces serve the ports of Dover, Felixstowe, Bristol, Liverpool, Tees and Hartlepool and, last but not least, Tilbury. The Port of Tilbury police are the second oldest police force in the country. It is the heir to the Port of London Authority police force, which followed on from the Thames River police force, which was ultimately merged with the Metropolitan police. We are proud of our historic role in the development of policing in this country.

The point is that when we talk about port police, we are not talking about something separate from the established police forces that people recognise; we are talking about police constables and their powers. That is why clause 7, which will extend the jurisdiction of port police officers, is so important.

As I mentioned, the need for a change to legislation was identified back in 2008, so for me, the clause is extremely belated, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall for including it in her Bill, particularly as the Bill contains a number of provisions; it is ambitious, and it is a tribute to her that she has included so many measures in it.

I am sure that many Members will be surprised to learn that there are separate port police forces. Perhaps it is worth reminding the House, and acknowledging, that there are a number of non-Home Office police forces in the UK. The most well known are probably the Ministry of Defence police and the British Transport police. The role of port police forces is to undertake policing activities in port areas. My local port police force in Tilbury polices an area the same size as the City of London. Those Members who have not been to a port may not realise that ports are big communities in themselves and do need a police function. Port police forces are funded entirely by the ports that they serve; they take no resource from the taxpayer.

The six ports with police forces account for more than 40% of the UK’s non-oil traffic, which means that those police forces are the guardians of millions of pounds-worth of traded goods every year. I mentioned that their responsibility is to police the port area. It is worth saying a little bit about exactly what kind of activity that involves. In the public’s mind, the presence of police in a port would tend to be associated with concerns such as drug smuggling, anti-terrorism and immigration control. Those matters are the responsibility of the UK Border Agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and special branch, but the port police work in constructive collaboration with those agencies. That is additional support for Government activities—at, I emphasise again, no cost to the taxpayer. Although these constables are privately funded, they enjoy exactly the same rights, responsibilities and roles as any normal constable. They owe allegiance in a personal capacity to the Crown, and they are sworn in by local magistrates.

Clause 7 extends the jurisdiction of port police constables beyond the existing limit of one mile outside the port area. That one-mile jurisdiction is enshrined in the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847. I am sure that all Members of the House will recognise that our docks were very different places then. They were places of intensive employment, and faced lots of labour issues, more than anything else. Also, the goods coming into the docks would have been a lot less technical and valuable. The pattern of policing has therefore changed. The fact that there is less employment in ports means that crimes tend to be a lot more sophisticated. The suggestion that the crimes and activities that forces will be involved in can be kept within the realms of the port is an historical anachronism.

Looking at what else has happened in the more than 150 years since the 1847 Act, obviously, there have been changes in patterns regarding holding prisoners in custody and the provision of courts. The reality is that when port police officers are prosecuting offenders for crimes in the normal way, through the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts, most of them have to attend courts beyond that one-mile jurisdiction, and by definition, they then do not have their powers as constable while they are in court. It is a bit dangerous to highlight that issue, but the situation needs to be addressed. Having been the best kept secret, since 2008 the press in Dover have realised that the port police there often act beyond their jurisdiction. That fact is out there and needs to be dealt with. A matter addressed in the House can often be the best kept secret, so we can have a frank debate about it.

Port police officers have to travel all over England and Wales to attend courts, but do not have the powers of a constable when they do so. On occasion, officers have attended court, have been directed by judges to arrest people and have had to explain that they do not have the power to do so. It is important for public confidence that we deal with the issue. As port police officers travel outside their port in marked cars, they are a visible presence and the public expect those officers to act when something happens. For example, if they came across a scene of crime or disorder, the public would expect them to intervene. The public would expect them to intervene to stop drunk drivers. At present they cannot do so. We have been looking for an appropriate legislative vehicle to deal with this anomaly.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock, Conservative)

Can my hon. Friend give the House any practical examples where officers have not been able to use their powers, whereas under the changes proposed in the Bill, they would have been able to intervene in a crime or misdemeanour and the outcome would have been different?

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock, Conservative)

I have been told by the chief constables of both Dover and Tilbury police forces that on a number of occasions officers have been asked to intervene, particularly in episodes of disorder such as street assaults, while they have been out on patrol. In practice, their current status has not prevented them from doing so, but they well know that, if challenged, they would not be able to defend their actions in court. The proposed changes would put everybody on a more secure and legitimate footing.

In making the case for the change, I want to highlight the contribution that port police make to national policing priorities. Although port police are dedicated to serving the ports where they operate, they have, as I said, the same powers as other constables, and much of the work that they do in the port is indistinguishable from and complementary to that of Home Office forces. As was said before, they prosecute crimes in the same way as any Home Office force by sending files over to the Crown Prosecution Service with recommendations for prosecution. Let me illustrate that national contribution with a few examples.

The port of Dover police is the largest of our port police forces and its presence at a busy border crossing means that the Home Office relies heavily on services that it provides. The force’s officers often play a role in detaining people subject to football banning orders. They regularly intercept people with histories of violent crime who are attempting to travel. I am advised that in

2010 the port of Dover police arrested 180 people who were wanted by Home Office forces. That illustrates that they are very much part of the fabric of our police infrastructure.

Both the port of Dover and the port of Tilbury have automatic number plate reading systems installed at the ports, which are connected to the police national computer. As a result, nearly 700 vehicles were intercepted in 2010 by just those two port police forces. Almost all those vehicles had had their details circulated by the police national computer from Home Office colleagues across the UK.

In addition, the work of the port police complements that of the local forces. Many port police forces engage in traffic control outside their ports, for example, thereby preventing traffic gridlock as a result of vehicles queuing to get into the ports. It is also worth mentioning that in the event of a major incident, port police forces are ready to support their Home Office colleagues. From my own perspective, given the number of COMAH—control of major accident hazards—sites that exist in my constituency, they are a fantastic additional resource that the Essex police would be able to call on in the event of a major incident. I know that the port of Tilbury police value and attach great importance to their readiness to support them in serious incidents. It is also worth noting the contribution of the port police forces to our successful Olympics this year. They were very much part of the powers to combat terrorism and made a full contribution to public safety.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock, Conservative)

My hon. Friend gives a glowing account of port police. Does she think that our ports would not be so well policed without them, and, if so, would she recommend that the new port being constructed in my constituency next door to hers by DP World, the London gateway port, would be best served by adopting its own police force, rather than relying on those supplied by the Home Office?

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock, Conservative)

The power of the port police, as opposed to any other supplier of security provision or support, is that they have the powers of a constable. The strength of that, and the support that we give to our police officers, speaks for itself. The port in his constituency has reserve powers to create a force if it so wishes, and I would encourage it to do so. My experience of the port of Tilbury police is that, given the amount of high-value commercial activity in a port, there is every opportunity for serious and organised crime, which requires the expertise and dedication of sworn-in police officers to combat that effectively. To be frank, it will give a level of service that contract providers such as G4S would never be able to provide.

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall, Conservative)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Northern Ireland Assembly could introduce the same legislation as this to ensure that the two ports in Northern Ireland had the same powers?

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock, Conservative)

I completely endorse that point. In many ways, over the years the port of Belfast police may have made more of a contribution to our national security than any of the other port police forces. The chief constable of the port of Belfast police wants exactly this measure for his force. I would thoroughly encourage the Northern Ireland Assembly and Ministers to engage in whatever is necessary to ensure that these legislative provisions are extended to the port of Belfast police.

The port police do other work in support of Government agencies. For a number of years, port police forces have supported the UK Border Agency in arresting illegal immigrants. We are all well aware of the stories over the years that we have read in our newspapers, particularly concerning Dover, but a number of incidents in Tilbury have also required the port police to arrest illegal immigrants. The port police also assist the Maritime Coastguard Agency by detecting offences contrary to regulations on the carriage of dangerous goods by sea. I emphasise that all this work in support of what the public expect from their police services in protecting the security of our kingdom is done at no cost to the taxpayer.

In practical terms, the legislation will allow the police officers to maintain their powers and privileges of the office of constable beyond the 1 mile jurisdiction. When they attend custody suites with prisoners they will be working on legitimate authority. As I have mentioned, we are aware of occasions when port officers have attended court and been asked to arrest persons. If they do so—and they have done so—they are acting outside the law, which is clearly in no one’s interests and needs to be addressed. Equally, when processing prisoners at custody suites outside their jurisdiction, strictly speaking it is illegal for officers to carry any personal protection, including batons and handcuffs, but if they were not to do that they would obviously be at risk. Again, we need to remove that anomaly.

This change will enable officers going to or returning from an incident to use their powers as constables to deal with crimes in progress rather than simply reporting it to the local force. Clearly, there is an efficiency for local forces if a port police officer can deal with a matter there and then instead of, as in my case, referring the matter to Essex police and waiting for an attending officer. That will enable them to be much more effective in supporting their local officers and will mean that, if called upon to support in a major incident, they will be able to act with the full confidence that they are not acting outside their powers. The important practical point is that it will enable officers to arrest suspects and carry out house searches for offences committed in the port but where the suspects live outside, because otherwise going to an address outside a jurisdiction would obviously mean working outside their authority.

Some Members might be a little nervous that we are extending the jurisdiction, but the existing jurisdiction is well below that of special constables and we should look at it in those terms. Also, the way my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall has presented the relevant clause in the Bill means that the chief officer for the resident Home Office force will have the powers to rescind the right to operate beyond the jurisdiction of one mile if he is ever unhappy with the manner in which the port police are operating. The way the Bill is drafted brings no challenge at all to the chief constable in the Home Office force and allows us to maximise the complementary nature of port police officers. I know that the Department for Transport has consulted all the Home Office forces that would be affected by that and all chief constables were positive.

I hope that I have been able to persuade colleagues of the real urgency of tackling this anomaly once and for all, in the interests of security and public confidence in our policing. I hope that the Bill is given a Second Reading, notwithstanding the concerns expressed about other provisions in the Bill, which I look forward to addressing in Committee.


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