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Let me describe what the measures aimed to achieve. They were modest adjustments to the jurisdiction of the MOD police in the light of experience since the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987. In the professional assessment of MOD police themselves, gaps and other areas that needed to be improved had appeared. Far from being an agenda to expand the role of the force, the proposals were designed to enable it to operate effectively in meeting the demands placed on it.
The proposals were also designed to ensure that individual MDP officers were not placed in the impossible position, when faced with an emergency, of choosing between refusing to assist or acting in a way that might leave them at risk of legal challenge. Such situations are now more likely to arise than in 1987, because individual MDP officers are expected to move frequently between different defence establishments in order to discharge their responsibilities at those establishments. Indeed, as I said, the Select Committee noted that
The way in which the Opposition have behaved is an insult to the Ministry of Defence police and to their fine representatives in the Defence Police Federation. We will hear much from Conservatives in the next few weeks about law and order and their opposition to crime, but what do they do when a modest proposal is made in that regard? They block it in order to play political games. I am not sure whether that is due to the general election or whether the Opposition spokesman on defence, the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, who is not present, is trying to bolster up his credentials for the only election in which Conservative Members are interested: that which will occur after the general election, when they choose a new Leader of the Opposition.
Mr. Key: I invite the Minister to calm down. He is looking awfully red and flustered. Indeed, I cannot remember when I last heard so much bluster and fluster from a Minister. If he cannot handle his own business in the House better, I shudder to think what would happen if he were ever to manage a crisis. He has just presented us with the most withered fig leaf that I have seen a Minister use for some time, in an attempt to cover up his own inadequacy. It is astonishing that he believes that the Opposition can block a measure either in the other place or in this House. The Government still have an enormous majority--for the time being. I hope that he will consider these matters slightly more rationally. After all, he
We welcome the amendments. It is entirely the Government's fault that they have got themselves tied up in knots. For a start, they need not have opted to have an election now at all: it is a year early. The Prime Minister has cut and run, which has caused the problem. I was not privy to negotiations in the other place, but I know that Cross Benchers expressed serious concern. It must have been serious, if the Government were prepared to cave in so quickly there. They did not take the matter to the wire. They did not try very hard or even press for a Division. It is no good the Minister blustering; he failed to negotiate in the House of Lords and was not prepared to press the matter.
Let us get the record straight. The Ministry of Defence police have their proud origins back in the days of Samuel Pepys. They are a great security service. It was a Conservative Government who delivered the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987, as a result of a careful and thorough report that was produced for the Ministry of Defence. The report was specific about the limits of the Ministry of Defence police. We have just spent some three months in Committee exploring the issue of jurisdiction. We were convinced that jurisdiction was being reasonably extended. We have no quarrel with that, but we voted in the final stages of the Bill's passage through this House against the clauses standing part of the Bill. I explained our reasons then and I do not want to repeat them now.
Mr. Key: That is correct. We thought that it was important to make the point. We wanted to make it clear that we had reservations about the Bill. Our concern related not to jurisdiction, but to the way in which the provisions were introduced.
Mr. Key: I have already said that I was not privy to the negotiations in the other place, which is independent of this House. That is what the Government have never managed to understand. They do not realise that the House of Lords is independent; the Conservative party in the Lords does not take instructions from the House of Commons. [Interruption.] The Minister can snigger, but their attitude to the Lords symbolises everything that is wrong with this rotten Government and the way in which they have eroded the democracy of Parliament for the past four years.
For four years, this Labour Government knew that they could have introduced in a measured way the legislation that was necessary to increase the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence police, but they chose not to do so. In the end, they were bounced into it, and we heard about that only because of the incautious remarks that the out-going former chief constable of the Ministry of Defence police made in response to last autumn's fuel
For four years, the Government could have done something sensible. They could have waited for the first of the quinquennial reviews, which has been under way since last October and with which the Ministry of Defence police have been fully engaged. They could have considered the review, done a proper job and then introduced a Bill. The fact is, however, that after four years they have failed to deliver. Ministers have let down more than 3,000 Ministry of Defence policemen and their families. Those people are doing a thoroughly professional job--that is not in question--but they have a different regime. They do not have the standard disciplinary procedures of the Home Office police force, but they should have, and that is what the Opposition have been asking for. We gave the Government the benefit of the doubt in the House of Commons, but the Lords said that they were not convinced.
It is important to stress that we are not opposed in principle to the extension of the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence police. The more that we scrutinised the clauses, however, the more that we realised that they were a stop-gap, piecemeal response to the fuel protests. We will undertake a review of the role of the Ministry of Defence police. Indeed, I might say that we will do so in government, in a few weeks' time.
I think that the Minister has overlooked the problem of disciplinary procedures, which remain without a statutory basis. He has also overlooked the concerns that have been expressed by hon. Members from all parties, including his own, about the problem of protocols between the Home Office police forces and the Ministry of Defence police. We were told by the Ministry of Defence that there would be standing arrangements at a high level that would be subject not to legislation or even to statutory instruments, but to deals made between the Ministry of Defence and Home Office police forces after the Bill was enacted.
We also raised severe and difficult issues about jurisdiction over civilians and about increasing investigation of serious crime by the Ministry of Defence police. I have no quarrel with that, as it is a natural evolution of the service that they provide. They have shown that they perform to the highest Home Office standards, which is why I accepted the invitation to go to Weathersfield. I think that the Minister might be surprised, as he seems to think that every Ministry of Defence policeman will suddenly be outraged that the Government backed down in the Lords. What will outrage the Ministry of Defence police is the fact that he has caved in and is now trying to shift the blame.
Above all, we raised serious issues about the accountability of the Ministry of Defence police and the transparency of their operations and their relationship with Ministers. We also asked about the independence or otherwise of a chief constable, who can be "instructed" by a Minister--the very word that the Minister used in the Chamber today in answer to a parliamentary question.
The aspect of the Bill that we are considering is a fiasco of the Government's making. We look forward to reverting to the matter as soon as possible. I can understand why the Minister is a little scratchy about it; he probably hoped to be back in his constituency campaigning by now. However, parliamentary democracy