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9.15 pm

Amendment No. 6 intends to make the Secretary of State liable for torts that Ministry of Defence police officers commit, in the same way as, in the quaint terminology of the law,

In plain language, the Secretary of State would be as liable as if he were the employer of the Ministry of Defence officers. As they are civil servants, the Secretary of State is already liable for their wrongdoing, in the same way and in the same circumstances as an employer.

The amendment appears to be based on a provision of the Police Act 1997. It makes the Home Secretary liable for the actions of police officers who are not part of a Department when they are working for a Department or, for example, on temporary service for the Home Secretary.

Perhaps there is some misunderstanding about responsibility for Ministry of Defence police. However, I assure the Committee that the Secretary of State, like any employer, is already legally responsible for their actions. The amendment is therefore unnecessary as well as inapplicable to Scotland.

Amendment No. 7 refers to the protocols between Ministry of Defence police and other police forces in different parts of the United Kingdom. The protocols set out guidelines on the respective responsibilities of Ministry of Defence police and other forces. Three such protocols exist: one for England and Wales, another for Scotland and a third for Northern Ireland. They will be renegotiated if the proposals on Ministry of Defence police pass into law. The amendment would provide for them to be laid before Parliament formally. It is not clear whether it is intended to apply to existing protocols or to the renegotiated documents, but the overall intention is clear.

The Select Committee took an interest in the protocols and received assurances about putting them in the public domain. We shall abide by that commitment, but we should prefer it not to be a statutory obligation; that would be the effect of the amendment. The protocols will have to be renegotiated and Ministry of Defence police will be only one of the parties to the negotiations. We need to be sure that the other parties are content with the idea of publishing the documents in their entirety.

I do not want to be difficult about the matter. If we have learned one lesson from the Ministry of Defence police proposals, it is that the appetite for information about MOD police affairs is apparently endless. We shall to try to do even better in future to satisfy that.

I understand the spirit behind amendment No. 7, but I hope that the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford will accept our desire and intention to be helpful and withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Quentin Davies: Someone should remind the Minister and his grinning colleagues on the Treasury Bench

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that hubris is followed by nemesis. Earlier, I accused the Government of arrogance. It has got worse during the course of the evening. The Minister even had the temerity to suggest that we should not have protested against the attempt to programme or guillotine the Bill and that we should not have debated the programme motion. That speaks for itself.

Dr. Moonie: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies: No, there is no time.

Another insidious aspect of the meretricious procedure is that if we vote for our amendments or against the clauses, we take a quarter of an hour out of our limited time. It does not take a mathematical genius to calculate that if we voted for six amendments or against six clauses, there would be no debate. The Government do not want to hear arguments; they would be delighted if we spent all our time voting.

Although we have not completed our discussion of the important points raised by the amendments, I shall reluctantly but necessarily ask the House to allow me to withdraw the amendment. We can then try to make as much progress as possible on dragging the truth out of a reluctant Government.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Key: I do not believe that the clause should stand part of the Bill. The House is clearly not of one mind on the issue. The clause is the one genuinely contentious provision in the Bill. It absorbed the vast majority of our time in Committee and led hon. Members on both sides to ask a lot of penetrating questions. It would be no exaggeration to say that our confidence in the Ministry of Defence police was to some extent called into question as a result of some of the representations made to us. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee felt that there was a lot of serious unfinished business surrounding this issue.

The right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), my old sparring partner, reads me completely wrongly on this matter. I said that successive Governments had been unfair to the Ministry of Defence police because we had not been clear about what we expected them to do. Of course I accept his statement that certain aspects of the matter have moved on a great deal since 1987. Of course they have--and a good thing, too. However, there is still a great deal of uncertainty, and the Bill does not address that. That is why the clause should not stand part of the Bill. This matter should have been the subject of a separate Bill. The provision should have been bigger and should have addressed other issues. The Government should not just have looked at a little bit of the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987 and tacked on some clauses. We should have been given an opportunity to examine the issue of policing of the military in the widest sense.

The clause arose from the most extraordinary circumstances. That matters, too. What was the motive of the Ministry of Defence for introducing it in the first

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place? That was revealed to us in a speech by the outgoing chief constable of the Ministry of Defence police to the Defence Police Federation at the end of last year, about the growing role of the CID in the Ministry of Defence police and about the protocols established with chief constables:

permanent under-secretary--

So said the chief constable in one of his last speeches before he retired. He identified the reason why the clause has been tacked on to this important Bill, which allows the continuation of the military service discipline Acts and a number of sensible reforms that we have not opposed. We have agreed with the vast majority of the Bill; we have stuck to the timetable; and we have done what an Opposition should have done in Committee. However, this clause should not stand part of the Bill. It is not complete; it has not been thought through or debated; and it leaves a lot of stones unturned.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng): It has been debated.

Mr. Key: The Minister says that it has been debated. It has been debated fully in Committee, but not on the Floor of the House. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have strong feelings about that. There is a lack of clarity in the clause, and it leaves a lot to be desired, as we have demonstrated in the speeches that we have made in the short time available. That is why, in spite of the warm welcome that we have given to many of the provisions, a lot of people in the House and outside it have severe misgivings about this part of the Bill. We have seen those misgivings written about in the press by distinguished commentators and journalists. Those in the Association of Chief Police Officers have also said that they have reservations. We have not had adequate time to discuss the matter in the wider context, and that is why the clause should not stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Bruce George: I am not quite certain from the remarks of my adversary or sparring partner, the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), whether he is recommending voting against clause stand part. I urge him not to call a vote not because that would waste 20 minutes when we have little time available, but because it would be awful to make the MOD police an issue of party political controversy. [Interruption.] I did not interrupt the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), but he becomes semi-hysterical on these matters.

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He virtually accused my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of lying by suggesting that the Police Complaints Authority had nothing to do with the MOD police. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will explain these remarks in the chief constable's annual report:

Obviously, the PCA is more than peripherally involved. I am sorry, I have mispronounced "peripherally"; it is on a par with "nemesis". Perhaps this is my pronunciation nemesis.

Conservative Members have had a good fling. I did not like the Committee procedure and I expressed my dislike more strongly than anybody, but the Bill spent a long time in Committee and we have had a debate today. I hope that the Opposition will decide that, of all the issues to which they could object, this is not one of them, and that they will not call a vote that would throw the MOD police into the political arena, which, frankly, they do not deserve. If there is any group of police officers that has been more investigated, I should like to know which. I hope that we can let the MOD police go along with their marginally additional powers. I hope that the coppers, journalists and Opposition Members who want to do so have had their whinge now. Let us not make the MOD police a political issue.

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