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The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies: I will give way, if I can finish my quotations first. Then the Secretary of State may be able to answer my question.

In a written answer to the hon. Member for Richmond Park on 3 November 1999, the Minister for the Armed Forces used the phrase:

There is a clear contradiction here. The Secretary of State says that the MOD police are directly accountable to him, and a parliamentary answer refers to instructions given by the Secretary of State to the MOD police, but the deputy chief constable of the MOD police says that he would not accept instructions from the Secretary of State. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has returned to the Chamber, because he may be able to resolve this urgent matter.

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9 pm

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman does not understand something fairly fundamental about the way in which all police forces in the United Kingdom operate. They are accountable to Parliament--in the case of the Ministry of Defence police, to the Secretary of State for Defence, and in the case of most other police forces, to the Home Secretary. Their being accountable means that Members of Parliament can approach the relevant Secretary of State with whatever concerns they may have about the problems that arise.

That is how most Ministers are accountable for the activities of those in their Departments. That is what accountability means, as opposed to operational independence--I suggest that the hon. Gentleman looks up the word "accountability" in a dictionary. Operational independence is a basic principle governing the way in which police forces operate throughout the country. They do not take direct instructions on how to deal with matters. He really should not come to the Dispatch Box unless he understands those basic concepts properly.

Mr. Davies: It is the Secretary of State who does not understand what is going on--at least, that is the most charitable interpretation that one can make. I have just read out a parliamentary answer from his own Department which refers to instructions, so in practice the Secretary of State does instruct the MOD police to investigate matters and to do other things. That is in absolute contradiction of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said at the Dispatch Box, and of what the deputy chief constable told the Select Committee.

The Secretary of State owes the House an explanation of why, on 3 November 1999, his Department gave what he is now telling us was a fraudulent answer, referring to his having given the MOD police instructions that he now tells the House he is not in a position to give. Far from resolving the matter and explaining the contradiction, the Secretary of State has deepened our suspicions and made it plain that the Government have not been entirely frank with the House over this important matter.

The final amendment in the group, amendment No. 7, deals with protocols. That is also an important matter, precisely because no one knows what is going on. The Government continue to put up a smokescreen, behind which they can do what they want in the MOD and with the MOD police.

Under the previous Government, it was plain what the limitations were on the activities of the MOD police, in terms of the kind of criminal case that they would take up. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) was the relevant Minister, he stated on 27 January 1987:

that is, serious crimes--

That is clear. However, as the proceedings of the Committee reveal, the picture now is very different.

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The latest annual report of the Ministry of Defence police states:

I emphasise this point--

Once again, we see the Government's characteristic subterfuge and reluctance to tell Parliament what is going on. We have an extension of the powers of the MOD police, contrary to previous explicit ministerial assurances and with no intervening ministerial explanation to make it clear what the position is.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge very reasonably asked Mr. Comben:

Mr. Comben responded:

In order to know what is going on, we must know what is in the protocols; hence the importance of the amendment.

One might think that the Government would have no problem with that. Perhaps I was too optimistic about the way in which the Government conduct their business-- I expected that the Bill would contain relevant provision. During the Committee proceedings, I received an assurance from the Secretary of State that he had no objection to publishing the protocols. At paragraph 1107 I asked:

The Secretary of State replied:

Perhaps he thought that he could brush me off and I would forget about the matter.

There is no reference in the Bill to the obligation to publish the protocols, so we have introduced that through our amendment. Because we are dealing with an extremely slippery and tricky Government, we require the protocols to be laid before the House. They will then be announced in the relevant documentation and will be available to hon. Members in the Vote Office. Nothing less will suffice. It is crucial that we see those protocols, otherwise Parliament will never have a clear idea of what is going on.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): It was not my intention to contribute to this part of the debate, but my attention has been attracted to amendment No. 6, to which the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) spoke briefly. The purpose of the amendment appears to be to create a responsibility on the part of the Secretary of State to be vicariously responsible and also to be regarded as jointly responsible. There is a legal distinction between vicarious and joint liability, but amendment No. 6 does not appear to recognise that.

In these days of devolution, we must have regard to a further point. I understand this to be a United Kingdom Bill that should, if it completes all the necessary stages of

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its passage, become a United Kingdom statute. However, amendment No. 6 deals only with England and Wales and not with Scotland, which has the principle not of tort, but of delict. In so far as the amendment seeks to make clear the responsibility of the Secretary of State, it seems to me that it has confused vicarious liability with joint liability, or at least that it has sought to combine them. It has, therefore, offered a remedy for circumstances south of the border, but not north of it. It would be extraordinary if the House were to agree to an amendment that created liabilities for the Secretary of State south of the Tweed, but allowed him to escape scot free--no pun intended--north of the border.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): Will my hon. Friend the Minister clarify the provision that amendment No. 4 seeks to change? It is important for hon. Members whose constituencies contain military establishments to be clear about the process for complaints by members of the public about the behaviour of an MOD police officer who has been acting under the powers conferred by the clause. Can the public complain to the Police Complaints Authority? If not, to which body will they have a right to complain? If there are procedures for complaints and appeals that might result in disciplinary action regarding the actions of Metropolitan police officers, for example, it would be inappropriate if there were no similar procedures for complaint against MOD officers acting at the request of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. Will my hon. Friend clarify that point?

Dr. Moonie: On time-wasting, I point out to the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) that we wasted an hour of the time allocated to this Bill when we dealt with the programme motion. We have also listened to his speech for 20 minutes. I suspect that if both had been a little shorter, we might have had time to cover the rest of the important points with which we were hoping to deal, instead of listening to the self-indulgence of Opposition Members.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 deal with provisions that enable police officers from forces other than the MOD police to call on MDP officers for assistance. The provisions in question confer on MDP officers in such circumstances the powers and privileges that are held by the officer who is being assisted. The amendments are intended to subject the MDP officer to the same code of conduct and disciplinary procedures as those to which the other police officer is subject. That would mean that MDP officers were subject to the disciplinary procedures of another force.

We believe that such provision is unnecessary. There are currently differences between the disciplinary procedures of the MOD police and those of other forces. That is not at all desirable. Accordingly, schedule 5-- I refer in particular to paragraphs 1, 3 and 4 of that schedule--is drafted expressly to allow MDP disciplinary procedures to be brought fully into line with those that have existed in Home Department police forces since 1 April 1999. Expectations about the conduct of MDP officers are no less than those that apply to Home Department officers. Indeed, MDP officers are trained to the same syllabus and operate within the same legal framework. Complaints against them are handled

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similarly and supervised by the Police Complaints Authority. The amendments would add nothing to that process.

On amendment No. 6, I do not intend to get into an argument with any of the legal experts on both sides of the House about the difference between tort and delict. My experience of tort is limited to that which has an "e" on the end.

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