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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.
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.
', and be subject to the code of conduct and disciplinary procedures,'.
', and be subject to the code of conduct and disciplinary procedures,'.
'(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
'(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. 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.
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:
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:
Previous statements to Parliament over the past few years, (made indirectly from MDP) have been equally as misleading as the response given to your Select Committee. Such responses have stated that the current discipline regulations 'mirror those of the home department police forces.' This is misleading at the least and at the worst blatantly untrue.
MDP officers are neither subject to civil service disciplinary procedures or regulations derived from the Police Act 1996.
I feel that it may be misleading to say that complaints against MDP officers are dealt with in exactly the same way as other police forces. "
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.