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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): The Minister is about to explain the provisions of this part of the Bill, but will he say at whose behest the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence police is being extended? Has it been requested by that police force itself, by territorial police forces, by the Ministry of Defence or by the Home Office?
Mr. Spellar: The change has been proposed very much at the instigation of the Ministry of Defence police and the Defence Police Federation. Increasingly, as I shall describe, members of that force find themselves in situations in which they come into contact with the public. They are seen to wear the uniform of a policeman, but they have no more powers than the average citizen. It is to remedy that defect, and others, that we are introducing the Bill. That course of action seems appropriate and right.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I welcome the provisions of clause 31, and I have been trying to secure similar changes for the other non-Home Office police forces, such as British Transport police, the Royal Parks constabulary and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority constabulary. However, the explanatory notes make it clear that the powers provided in the clause for a Ministry of Defence police officer to act in extremis--in London, for example, that necessity might arise in the absence of a Metropolitan police officer, or when it was necessary to go to the aid of such an officer--can be exercised only if there is the potential to
My second point is that clause 32 also mentions land dealt with by the Atomic Energy Authority police and by the British Transport police, but does not mention the Royal Parks constabulary. The Royal Parks constabulary and the Ministry of Defence police have an interface close to this building, and circumstances such as those covered by clause 31 can often arise in such areas. Could that omission be looked into?
Mr. Spellar: That question would have to be addressed to another Department. The Royal Parks constabulary comes under a separate institution, not the Ministry of Defence, although I often find that the Ministry has responsibilities that I had not previously understood it to have. My hon. Friend must understand that we are dealing with an anomaly, but we must be equally sensitive to the considerations of the county police forces. This is an appropriate measure to address the problems that we have identified, while maintaining the supremacy of the county forces. I shall certainly draw his comments on some of the other forces to the attention of the appropriate Minister.
If a Royal Parks constabulary officer in St. James's park were faced with a crime involving violence, clause 31 would not confer any more powers of arrest or intervention on a Ministry of Defence police officer in the circumstances than I would have as a civilian. That is ludicrous. The point of clause 31 is to remedy such anomalies, and does so in relation to the British Transport police. An officer of the Ministry of Defence police will be able to go into Westminster tube station to support an officer of the British Transport police when there is the potential for violence, but he will not be able to do so in St. James's park. I suspect that the Home Office, or the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, is being awkward in this matter.
The greater contact between MDP officers and the public has consequences for expectations of how members of the force will act. If a member of the public is the victim of an assault, he or she may expect a passing police officer in uniform to assist. It is of no concern to the victim whether the police officer belongs to the MDP or the local constabulary.
However, the present law does not allow an MDP officer to exercise constabulary powers when intervening in these circumstances, except near defence land. He would have the same standing in relation to the incident as any other citizen, as I said earlier. That is not satisfactory, as it can inhibit the officer from assisting effectively because he knows that his actions may subsequently be challenged.
The Bill seeks to remedy that. Clauses 31 and 32, and schedule 5, make a number of changes to the jurisdiction of the MDP. A key change will enable MDP officers to act in an emergency in cases involving violence, the threat of violence or a risk of death or injury. This addition to individual MDP officers' powers is tightly circumscribed
These proposals will enable individual MDP officers to make a more effective contribution to policing the community. Other proposals in the Bill will make it easier for the force as a whole to co-operate with Home Department forces. They will allow the MDP to enter into standing arrangements if a local police force requests assistance in the longer-term policing of land in the vicinity of defence land.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): My hon. Friend the Minister will know that I have corresponded with the Ministry of Defence for a long time about the suggestion that the MDP be replaced in certain establishments by private security people. I am slightly confused that we seem to be widening the MDP's powers while suggesting that some jobs that it undertakes could be taken over by private security firms. Am I wrong in my assumptions?
Mr. Spellar: I think that my hon. Friend is partly wrong. In a number of places where static guarding is carried out, the Ministry of Defence police force is being replaced by the Military Provost Guard Service, which is not a private security company but an integral part of the Ministry of Defence. The move from static guarding, in which Ministry of Defence police has played a considerable role, towards a more active policing role brings the force more into contact with the public. So the changes that my hon. Friend describes are part of the basis for the changes that we propose in the Bill.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Have any discussions taken place about the merger of the Ministry of Defence police and the UK energy police force, as their roles overlap in certain circumstances? Has such a merger been considered in terms of new powers?
The Bill will also allow the force to meet requests for the provision of personnel or other resources to assist other police forces anywhere in the country and to meet special demands on their resources. Help given during the recent floods or a search for a missing person are examples of such provision.
There will be two key provisos in relation to the provision of MDP assistance of this latter sort. First, such assistance will quite rightly be triggered only if there is a request from the relevant chief constable. Secondly, we intend that it should be found from within the force's own resources. There will be no additional resources for the MDP simply to enable the force to help Home Department constabularies.
There are other proposals relating to the MDP which there is insufficient time to cover today. I can assure the House, however, that there is no intention to duplicate the role of the Home Department forces or to turn the MDP
It goes without saying that there is no room for the abuse of controlled drugs in service life. The armed forces' drug testing programmes, conducted on a random basis, have proved to be a useful tool in deterring and combating their use.
There is no equivalent provision to allow testing for alcohol. The services have extensive education programmes designed to promote a responsible attitude towards alcohol. However, it would not be appropriate to test for alcohol on a random basis, given that it does not have the same unlawful status as controlled drugs. Instead, the Bill seeks a power to enable the armed forces to test for alcohol or drugs in certain specified circumstances, such as when an incident has caused death, serious injury or serious damage, or could have done so. If it is considered that persons subject to service law may have contributed to the incident, they may be required to provide breath or urine samples to allow testing for alcohol or drugs. It will be an offence to refuse.
The results of such tests will be used to assist in establishing the cause of the incident and therefore to inform a subsequent board of inquiry. The test results will be excluded from use against anyone in a subsequent service prosecution to ensure the fullest co-operation of all those called upon to participate in a test and, by analogy, with evidence given at other boards of inquiry. However, they could be used as evidence in civil proceedings, or as a basis for any subsequent service administrative action aimed at preventing an individual from exposing himself or others to similar risks in future.
The underlying intention of the provision is, of course, to add to the range of measures to safeguard individuals involved in potentially hazardous duties and to discourage the inappropriate consumption of alcohol or the use of controlled drugs.