Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Simon Hughes: I will be brief. The clause contains an important transition of authority, and clearly does not yet have the confidence of the police. In such delicate areas, when discussing authority for intimate searches, we should not proceed without the assurance that the police are happy about the measure. The public may also be concerned about the matter. They would expect authority to be given by somebody of a rank that they regard as senior. I understand the Minister's arguments, but there has not been sufficient time for agreement to be reached on the clause.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I do not want to speak at length, so I will simply make three points about what has been said. First, I do accept the use of the word ``downgrade'' by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). I do not think that he meant it in any derogatory way, but it is not right to describe what we are proposing as downgrading. We are proposing that in the flexible restructuring of the police force that is currently taking place, such responsibilities are appropriate for inspectors. It is not a matter of downgrading.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman did not suggest in his remarks that the measure is motivated by considerations of cost, but he has done so previously. He is wrong about that—the measure is concerned with the restructuring of the force, in the way that I have described.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister was busy chatting to his ministerial colleague. I did make that point again, but he did not hear it.

Mr. Clarke: I should apologise. Unfortunately, there is a part of me that tends to switch off when the hon. Gentleman is going through the same speech again and again for each clause. I apologise to him and to the Committee if I missed that particular point.

As I said during yesterday's sitting, inspectors are in the unique position of both having the experience and knowledge required to conduct such operations and being available on the ground, with direct knowledge of the situation. That makes them very capable.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): Since this is a specific task that the Bill seeks to delegate to police officers of the rank of inspector, would it be reasonable to assume that, in any future assessment of competence, the individual performance of those officers could be assessed against that specific task?

Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is entirely correct. One of the important sets of proposals in the Bill, which we will consider later today, is that concerned with strengthening the approach to police training, which we hope to do through legislation and with the resources that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has been able to allocate to the task in the comprehensive spending review. Our aim is to improve the quality of training precisely to deal with the kind of points that my hon. Friend is raising.

Mr. Hawkins: The intervention from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) and the Minister's response give me an opportunity to ask a question. On the police, Conservative Members have long been concerned that the Government have concentrated too much on process, at the expense of performance. Does the Minister accept that no sensible organisation could possibly cope with the number of performance targets that this Government have imposed? I know that they recently reduced it from 58 performance targets, which we had savagely criticised in the House, to, I believe, 42. No sensible business organisation has more than three or four performance targets.

The issue that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green raised with the Minister is another instance of concentrating on process. Let the police do the job of policing.

11 am

Mr. Clarke: Ironically, the position that the hon. Gentleman takes would have exactly the opposite effect. We want the police, at inspector level, to be able to do these jobs. He is saying that we should not allow that. I do not wish to enter into a general debate on the target-setting process throughout the range of police performance, unless you would especially like me to do so, Mr. Gale.

I can tell the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey that the Police Federation has doubts about all the changes concerning flexibility, the effectiveness of the developing use of new technologies and so on. That theme recurs, in different places, throughout the Bill. That is not the same as saying that the police service as a whole is against them; it is not. In general, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Police Authorities and the Police Superintendents Association are in favour of the proposed changes. Neither is it the same as saying that we do not take account of the view of the Police Federation. We are ready to discuss such questions with the federation, and do so. In fact, we should like to enhance the level of discussion. However, I am not prepared to say that simply because a position is put forward by the Police Federation, we should not proceed with any reform. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that that is the case. We want to consider the entire situation and to take the overall view of the police service. I hope that the Committee will agree that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 6.

Division No. 35]

Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Lock, Mr. David
McCabe, Mr. Stephen
McDonagh, Siobhain
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.

Ballard, Jackie
Gray, Mr. James
Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Hughes, Mr. Simon
Lyell, Sir Nicholas

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 78 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 79


Mr. Simon Hughes: I beg to move amendment No. 222, in page 65, line 9, leave out subsection (1).

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 223, in page 65, line 14, leave out subsection (2).

No. 268, in page 65, line 16, after ``or'', insert

    ``(where it is not reasonably practicable for a registered medical practitioner to do so)''.

Mr. Hughes: I shall be brief. Amendment No. 222 raises almost the same issues as those that we debated in relation to clause 78 on the matter of whether officers of the rank of inspector or above can authorise the taking of intimate samples and the compulsory taking of non-intimate samples. Amendment No. 223 raises the question of whether intimate samples which, at the moment, can be taken only by a registered medical practitioner should also be able to be taken by a registered nurse. We are talking about samples such as blood, semen, tissue fluid, pubic hair and similar delightful things that those poor people must deal with as part of their job. Amendment No. 268 says that it should be possible for a registered nurse to perform the function only when it is not practicable for a registered medical practitioner to do so.

So generous is my spirit that I can see that amendment No. 268, tabled by Conservative Members, is superior to amendment No. 223. I therefore support it in preference to ours. As amendment No. 222 raises issues that we have been round the course on before, I do not wish to elaborate on it.

Mr. Hawkins: I referred yesterday to the skill of our able researcher, Matthew Gullick, and said that it was 3-0 to him against the Government and the officials. On this occasion, I think that it is 1-0 to Gullick against the Liberal Democrats.

The Chairman: Order. The House is served by a large number of able people—police, researchers and others. If we catalogued them all in Committee, we would do little else. We might refrain from doing so.

Mr. Hughes: I observe one point, which may amuse the Committee. The issue of whether it is a man or a woman who carries out the intimate body search appears rather confused in the mind of some of those who brief us. A briefing document that asks us to consider various issues uses a wonderful phrase. It states that

    ``no consideration has been given to the rights of the prisoner''

—that is a perfectly reasonable argument, but goes on—

    ``nor the safety of what may invariably be a nurse of the female gender in such circumstances.''

There are still more female than male nurses. I understand that there are now more female than male graduate doctors so the likelihood is that in time such procedures will be carried out by a woman. An issue of safety arises for people carrying out intimate body searches without the prisoner's agreement. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us, now—which would probably be better—or on the Floor of the House, whether there is guidance or a code of practice in regard to such circumstances. There are issues both of civil liberty for the individual being searched and of protection for the person doing the searching.

Is it still the case—I think that it is or has been, in both the prison service and the police service—that one can insist on a body search being carried out by someone of the same gender? Women have raised that issue in the past; one should be able to assert that right if one wishes.

Mr. Hawkins: The hon. Gentleman graciously said that he thinks our amendment goes to the point. Little can be gained from repeating all the reasons why we think that the relevant rank should be the senior management rank of superintendent. The Minister rightly said in response to the previous debate that no Opposition Member intended to use the phrase ``downgrading'' pejoratively—certainly I do not. It is simply a statement of fact about officers who are much less senior. Although the number of superintendents is relatively small, they are senior managers in the police service; there are many inspectors. The Minister and I will never agree on whether the measure is cost-driven. We take a strongly different view from the Government and believe that it is important to involve senior officers, as we have said repeatedly. The Minister was very critical about the fact that I kept making the same speech, but if the Government keep getting it wrong in the Bill, we will keep opposing them. In our view, the Government have plainly got this wrong. It is important to ensure that nurses are used only when registered medical practitioners are not available. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey for making that point.

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