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8.45 pm

Dr. Moonie: This has been a wide-ranging debate and many views have been expressed.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 would not remove the MDP's basic jurisdiction--for example, on defence land--to deal with serious crime, but they would stop the MDP giving assistance to a local police force in a serious case or on a police raid, as the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) helpfully--at least in some senses--mentioned. For example, a local force may want help simply to carry out an arrest for a serious offence; under the amendments, the MDP would be unable to give that assistance. The amendments refer to those parts of clause 31 that specifically enable police officers or forces other than the Ministry of Defence police to call on MDP officers for assistance. The amendments would limit the circumstances in which an MDP officer could provide such assistance.

By way of background, I should explain that the provisions in the Bill that would be affected by the amendments substantially restate the position in section 2(2)(d) of the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987. Where clause 31 differs is in the removal of the geographical limitation in the existing legislation that relates to the vicinity of defence property. Clause 31 also includes the British Transport police and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority constabularies, as well as local police forces, among the forces whose officers may call on MDP officers for assistance.

In one respect, the new power is more restrictive than the old one, in that its operation is specifically limited to a particular incident, investigation or operation, whereas the old power was more generally drawn. Except for its geographical limitation--the limitation to the vicinity of defence land--the present provision has worked very well in practice and I see no reason to provide additional conditions. It is to be borne in mind that the initiation of requests for assistance under the provision rests exclusively with the officer of a police force other than the MDP. I hope that the Committee would have confidence in such officers being able to act sensibly in calling for MDP assistance.

Implicit in the amendments--I accept that it was not intended, but this construction can be put on them--is the suggestion that MDP officers are not competent to be involved in major operations. In fact, MDP officers have training similar to Home Department police officers', so there is no need to limit artificially MDP officers' involvement in particular classes of case if, in the opinion of a Home Department officer, that is necessary.

In summary, we consider the limitation proposed in the amendments inappropriate both because of the constraints that they intentionally impose on the ability of MDP

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officers to provide assistance when it is needed and because of the erroneous premise that the latter are not competent to assist in the circumstances mentioned in the amendments.

Mr. Hancock: Can the Minister clarify for the House what rank of civilian officer can request intervention?

Mr. Key: It has never been stated.

Mr. Hancock: I think that the House is therefore entitled to be told what rank of officer can request intervention: constable or inspector?

Dr. Moonie: It is, in fact, any rank, because the provisions may be applied in an emergency. I think that we would all agree that it would not be proper to expect a Home Department police force to go up through the chain of command to find someone of sufficient standing.

I shall now deal with some of the other points that were made. A very limited extension has been made to allow MDP officers to respond in an emergency to the crimes of violence or events involving the risk of injury or loss of life that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. When an MDP officer is en route from one part of the MOD's jurisdiction to another and comes upon an offence that is being committed that clearly involves a risk to life or serious injury, he has the power to intervene as a policeman, as opposed to as a member of the public.

I can only thank the hon. Member for Reigate for his very sensible comment. As for the incidents mentioned by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), we can act only if someone cannot get help from the local police--we cannot cruise around hopefully, looking for violent emergencies. I am well aware of the problems that he is experiencing in his constituency and hopeful that we have in hand ways in which to deal with them.

Mr. Key: We are running out of time and the Minister has made his case well. My intention was to clarify what was meant to be going on, and we have been around the course; so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford): I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 32, line 13, after "privileges", insert--

', and be subject to the code of conduct and disciplinary procedures,'.

The First Deputy Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 5, in page 32, line 22, after first "privileges", insert--

', and be subject to the code of conduct and disciplinary procedures,'.

No. 6, in page 32, line 45, at end insert--

'(3E) The Secretary of State shall be liable in respect of torts committed by a member of a police force engaged on relevant service within section 2, subsection (2), paragraph (d) to subsection 3B(b) inclusive; in the performance or purported performance of his functions, in like manner as a master is liable in respect of torts

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committed by his servants in the course of their employment and shall in respect of any such tort be treated for all purposes as a joint tortfeasor.'.

No. 7, in clause 37, page 38, line 37, at end add--'Functions of inspectors of constabulary--

'(5) Protocols between the Ministry of Defence Police, Home Office Police Forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Police Forces Scotland, shall be laid before Parliament.'.

Mr. Davies: The Minister was kind enough to say that our last debate was wide ranging; indeed it was. I hope that he will agree that it was also serious and constructive. He cannot claim that there has been any element of filibustering or time wasting. Therefore, by his own statement, he has condemned the decision of his party managers to force us into a three-hour debate. Parliament being gagged in such a manner means that we are less than half way through the groups of amendments selected for debate and we have only 40 minutes to go. What is happening this evening is monstrous and the remarks that I made on the programme motion were, if anything, understated.

It is not the Opposition's view that Ministry of Defence police are professionally incompetent in some way--far from it. We shall certainly not engage in the sort of MOD police bashing that we heard from the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), speaking on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. On the contrary, we believe that there is a good case for extending the powers of the MOD police--

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

Mr. Davies: No, I shall not. If the hon. Gentleman does not like my not giving way, let me point out that my reason for not doing so is that there is no time, and that the reason that there is no time is that his allies in the Labour party have imposed a disgraceful programme motion on the Committee. If he wants to complain, he should complain to his friends in the Labour party. Given the disgraceful way in which the House has been treated, I do not intend to take interventions either from new Labour Members or from their Liberal allies.

We believe that it is sensible to extend the powers of the MOD police. We do not want an MOD policeman to be unable to intervene in an emergency when he is passing. We want MOD police to be able to support the civilian police and to add to police resources in the local community when required to do so. In the Select Committee, I suggested that it would be sensible to give MOD police explicit training to prepare them for overseas police operations--Petersberg-type operations, such as the one being undertaken in Kosovo.

We do not in any way oppose that extension of powers. However, amendments Nos. 4 to 6 reflect our belief that it should be accompanied by an extension of the disciplines, checks, balances, protections and duties that would apply to civilian policemen in similar circumstances. We want to maintain the balance and to ensure that pari passu with the extension of powers goes the extension of protections. Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 would bring Ministry of Defence police under the Police Act 1996 and make them subject to the Police Complaints Authority, just like the civilian officers with whom they would be working in the circumstances envisaged under the clause.

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That is important because there is currently great doubt about whether Ministry of Defence police are subject to the PCA. Let me quote the exchange that took place between the Secretary of State for Defence and my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on 7 March in the Select Committee. My hon. Friend asked:

The Secretary of State replied, "Yes." When my hon. Friend asked, "Under the full jurisdiction?", the Secretary of State replied, "Yes." One cannot be much clearer than that.

It is a matter of considerable concern to the Opposition--and ought to be to the public--that recently, well after 7 March, we received an e-mail from a senior serving officer in the MOD police, who said:

meaning the civil police. The officer continued:

The officer continues:

That is a serious charge, as the Committee will appreciate. In effect, the statements from the Defence Secretary that the MDP are simply subject to the full jurisdiction of the Police Complaints Authority under the 1996 Act are simply not correct. Our suspicions are strengthened by the fact that a written answer given to the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) on 22 March, two weeks after the Secretary of State's clear and apparently unambiguous assurance to the Committee, is much less clear. It is plain that the Government are trying to weasel out of the Secretary of State's clear statement. In his written answer of 22 March, the Minister for the Armed Forces states:

"Comparable" does not mean "exactly the same", so we need to get to the bottom of the matter, and we probably do not have time to do that properly. It may well be that the Government, having imposed the programme motion on the Committee, will be able to use lack of time as an excuse for not giving adequate answers on that important matter. A whole area of considerable doubt and proper concern about contradictions in what the Government have told us will never be clarified and Parliament will not be able to do its job.

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No doubt you selected Amendment No. 6, Mrs. Heal, because it, too, enshrines the principle that the same kind of protection that applies to civil police should be extended to Ministry of Defence police when they serve or act alongside civil police. The amendment deals with responsibility for torts and its purpose is simple. At present, individual constabularies are responsible for the deeds or misdeeds of their officers. If officers serve outside their own constabularies and alongside other police forces, under section 97 of the Police Act 1996, the Secretary of State is directly responsible for any damage that they may cause or any tort suit that may be made against them. We are simply extending that principle to the MOD police when deployed in equivalent circumstances alongside other police forces. Indeed, the amendment follows exactly the text of the equivalent passage in section 97 of the 1996 Act. The great problem is that we do not understand the true position, because the Government are speaking with forked tongue again.

I am glad that the Secretary of State is now back in his place, because on 7 March, speaking about the accountability of the Ministry of Defence police, he told the Select Committee:

That is recorded in paragraph 1115, on page 161 of volume II of the Committee's report. It sounds absolutely splendid, but the evidence that we heard directly from the deputy chief constable of the MOD police, Mr. Comben, was not quite in line with it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) asked Mr. Comben:

Mr. Comben responded:

In other words, Mr. Comben was saying that the Secretary of State could not give instructions to the Ministry of Defence police.

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