Extension of Jurisdiction

Part of Clause 31 – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 2nd April 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury 8:45 pm, 2nd April 2001

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 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: We have established the Protocols with police forces of the respective UK countries which we police but we still have anomalies in respect of our jurisdiction which is presently legislated for in the MDP Act of 1987. A more recent and poignant example was that of a request from 2nd PUS"— permanent under-secretary— for us to supply police officers on a mutual aid basis during the fuel crisis. I wrote back to the 2nd PUS and told him that he could have as many officers as reasonably practicable but he wouldn't be able to use them for the specific role that the Home Office had intended (that of aiding fuel convoys or policing picketed oil refineries). Having explained our dilemma in great legislative detail it wasn't long before the 2nd PUS was on the case. It has always been a point of great concern that fundamental issues such as where and when we can exercise the power of Constable have taken such a long time to be formally recognised. At last we have the final pieces of the jigsaw in place and ironically, it is the Armed Forces Bill 2001 which is the vehicle we are using to make these final changes. 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.