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The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) should accept that the Army legal services have improved considerably since his day. They provide a high standard of service. The Army prosecuting authority, which has been set up since his time, has further increased the competence with which prosecutions are conducted.
It may seem anomalous to award costs if service officers are conducting both prosecution and defence, but the point is that that is not always the case, and in order to be equitable, whichever side causes an irresponsible increase in costs should be liable for it. That is perfectly proper. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that his point about funding is accepted.
'except in matters relating to a serious crime or police raid;'.
'except in matters relating to a serious crime or police raid;'.
Mr. Key: I had better start by explaining what I mean by "serious". The matter is defined in the Supreme Court Act 1981, as amended by a practice direction from the High Court. I mean classes 1 and 2 out of the standard four classes. Class 1 offences are misprision of treason and treason felony; murder; genocide; torture, hostage taking and offences under the War Crimes Act 1991; an offence under the Official Secrets Acts; and soliciting, incitement, attempt or conspiracy to commit any of those offences. Class 2 offences are manslaughter; infanticide; child destruction; abortion; rape; sexual intercourse with a girl under 13; incest with a girl under 13; sedition; an offence under section 1 of the Geneva Conventions Act 1957; mutiny; piracy, and soliciting, incitement, attempt or conspiracy to commit any of the above offences. That is what I mean by "serious".
I am a survivor of the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987. As we progressed through that Bill, Ministers of the day made it clear that the Ministry of Defence police force was, on that occasion, being given proper constabulary powers. It was being given a clarity of jurisdiction, with which we all agreed. The then Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton), repeatedly pointed out that the sort of crimes that would be handled by the Ministry of Defence police would be of a minor nature. They would certainly not be serious crimes of the sort that I have described. Furthermore, they might be
It was never envisaged that the Ministry of Defence police would suffer the mission creep, as the National Union of Journalists and others have called it, that we have seen. That is in no way to denigrate the Ministry of Defence police, whom I do not think have had a fair deal over the past 15 years or more. They are a very distinguished and ancient police force, going back to the time of Samuel Pepys. This House has gradually increased the force's powers but every now and again it gets a bit out of kilter and the House addresses the issue once again. That is why we see these clauses tacked on to the Armed Forces Bill. This is quite a modest Armed Forces Bill compared with the last piece of legislation, which was a veritable Christmas tree of differing and widely disparate issues. Nevertheless, these clauses have been tacked on.
In the Select Committee, we challenged the Ministers, the chief constable and the deputy chief constables about what had happened since that nice, simple time in 1987 when everything had seemed so clear. On question 765 on 6 February, Mr. Comben, the deputy chief constable, was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall):
The outgoing chief constable said in his address to the Defence Police Federation national conference at the end of last year that it was all well and good having this recognition, but that it counted for absolutely nothing if the police force was not recognised by the customer. He said that those officers must be seen to be delivering a top quality service, no matter what that service might be. He referred to a number of CID cases. He reported that the CID of the MDP had investigated 30 rape cases--the previous year the figure had been 16.
We heard a lot of evidence in the course of the special Select Committee, not just about rape but murder. There was genuine concern among the Home Office constabulary forces, and genuine worry on the part of the Police Federation of Home Office constabularies at this mission creep.
There was a stark difference in the evidence of the deputy chief constable of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland who addressed us and the chief constable of Suffolk who addressed us on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That struck members of the special Select Committee quite forcefully.
I am trying to clarify, by these amendments, just how far we think that the Ministry of Defence police should be going. It matters to the clients and the public that they know what a Ministry of Defence policeman is. He is in a police uniform; we have been reassured that he or she has superb training, and there is no doubt that they have to meet the same targets as the Home Office police. However, it is important that as the Ministry of Defence police evolve--for evolve they will--we should be clear about what they are seeking to do.
From the Bill's Second Reading onwards, we have been assured that the Ministry of Defence police will operate outside the wire only in a way that will be approved by the chief constable of the local Home Office constabulary. I say "approved by" because that might happen in two ways. It can happen either by the invitation of the chief constable or because of a standing agreement at a high level--a phrase that has been often used during the Bill's passage--between the Ministry of Defence police chief constable and the chief constable of the local force. We will come back to those protocols later.
Mr. Keetch: This is the crux of the Bill. As the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) has said, the special Select Committee spent a great deal of time discussing it. I am delighted to see the Chairman and other members of the Select Committee here tonight.
The concern that we have expressed on a number of occasions is that there has been, as the hon. Member for Salisbury said, a degree of mission creep in what the MDP have been doing. We have heard conclusive evidence from journalists, from Tony Geraghty and Gill Linscott, of previous actions that the MDP have already undertaken. We have heard of concern about the MDP's existing powers. Therefore, if we are to accept that there should be an extension of the MDP's jurisdiction, the House should be absolutely sure that the limitations placed upon it are right.
I support what the hon. Member for Salisbury said about the crimes that the MDP will be investigating. In our Committee, the Minister made it clear that he did not believe that the MDP should investigate murder, rape, attempted murder, attempted rape, and so on. He believed that there should be a way in which such offences should automatically be offered to the local county constabulary for it to investigate. I should be interested to hear whether he says that now and how he suggests that that should be done.