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The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 52 stands in the name of my noble friend Lady Harris and myself. It is grouped with Amendments Nos. 59 and 60. The amendment is about intimate searches of detained persons.
I shall not deal at any length with what today appeared in the Guardian. We have already had an interesting discussion on that matter. I want to record my considerable respect for the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who has brought a breath of fresh air into your Lordships' House. He has often put aside his written papers and has not hesitated to criticise government departments about their handling of some past issues. I never believed that any civil servants would have the courage to tell the noble Lord what he should or should not say. But I am sure that someone will pay a very heavy price for such advice.
I raised this matter on Report. The information obviously was not available, particularly in relation to the code of practice. I have rather belatedly now received that information. I intend to study it very carefully. I shall then advise my colleagues in the other place accordingly.
I want to make one or two points. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, mentioned on Report that Code of Practice C, which contains guidance on the conduct of intimate searches, is currently under review. I should like to know when that review is likely to be completedthe consultation process and so on. The Minister indicated that the consultation will be completed before the matter goes to the House of Commons.
We should not confuse intimate searches of police detainees with those done in privatised prisons. People who are detained in police custody are innocent until proved guilty. I used to receive most complaints about that concern when I was at the Police Complaints Authority. Of course there will be instances where such examinations are necessary, but, I suspect, only in isolated cases. That is why safeguards, including the authority of a senior officer, are required when carrying out such searches.
We accept that doctors and nurses in those few and isolated cases are best equipped to carry out this process. Occasionally, due to unavailability of doctors and nurses, custody officers with police powers may have to perform such searches. Again, there are considerable safeguards in relation to that particular power.
A complaint that I often receive is that not only does one feel physically abused but that often this is accompanied by verbal abuse. It is a degrading practice, both for the victim and for the officers. No one disputes that sometimes it may be necessary. But in this present day and age, with all the available electronic gadgets and systems, is it necessary to resort to this particular level of intimate search? I beg to move.
In some ways I presume that the Guardian published not just the background notes but the speaking notes. I might as well say, "It is on the table". It is exactly the same as what I said on 16th April. I have nothing new to add. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has kindly set out, in moving the amendment, the circumstances in which currently a police constable and in future a designated detention officer can conduct an intimate search for potentially dangerous articles. They are extremely limited.
As I said before, under Section 55 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act such a search may be carried out only with the authority of a senior officer. Authority can only be given if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the person has concealed on his person an item which may cause physical injury to himself or to others. The senior officer must also have reasonable grounds to believe that the item cannot be found in any other way.
The noble Lord made the point about the modern use of technology. An intimate search is only made if there are reasonable grounds to believe that an item is there and that it cannot be discovered in any other way. Any search must be conducted by a registered doctor or a nurse, unless that senior officer authorising the search considers it is not practicable, for example, where he reasonably suspects that the person has concealed a harmful article on himself, such as a razor blade and no doctor or nurse is available to conduct the search. Of course the person carrying out the search must be of the same sex as the detainee. I do not think that I have mentioned that specifically. That is part of the existing rules. That is not changing.
Although all these things come later than one would wish, following our exchange on 16th April I wrote to the noble Lord about the intention to revise the codes of practice. The draft codes of practice will be issued shortlyI understand that it will be very shortly. I do not have a specific date, but I have reason to believe that it will be during next month. I have said that it would be for the convenience of Members of the other House that that consultation is open and in publiccertainly by the time that they come to consider the matter in Committee; otherwise, I freely admit that the Minister or Ministers in that Committee will get a pretty rough ride from Members of Parliament. That is the plain fact of the matter. I cannot give a specific dateI have not myself seen the draftsbut they will be available shortly. Of course, as soon as they are, they will be made available to your Lordships' House.
In addition to the consultation, the House itself will in due course have the opportunity to scrutinise the codes through the affirmative resolution procedure. So there is no question of our publishing the codes, consulting, and then ramming them through the other placeto use that or any other pejorative term.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, without having been given notice of that question, I cannot be certain. All that I can say is that previouslycertainly in Committeewe discussed the new organisation for police training. Everything that can be placed in the public domain will be. We do not intend to keep anything back from Members of the House at any point.
We are discussing with the police training providers and the Metropolitan Police what areas and competences will need to be covered in training for community support officers and accredited community safety officers. Those will include training on understanding the extent of their powers, as well as on communication, first aid, understanding diversity and conflict resolution. It is crucial that training is conducted professionally, and I have every reason to believe that the police themselves are at the forefront in that. That is why the new organisationwhose acronym I can never remember; it has about five letters; but I think that it goes under the working title of Centrexwill deal with that. Without warning, I cannot tell my noble friend what will be available for publication.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, did not refer specifically to Amendments Nos. 59 and 60, but I am happy to speak to them because they are relevant. They would restrict escort officers' powers to conduct a search by restricting the grounds to search to situations in which the escort officers reasonably suspect a person to be in possession of an object likely to cause harm or injury. If those amendments are not to be moved, I shall not waste the House's time.
On Amendment No. 52, we have the matter covered in the narrow and specific group of circumstances that I have again put on record. No doubt the matter will also be discussed in the other place, but I genuinely hope that I have given the noble Lord a reasonable explanation of the matter that he has legitimately raised for the third time.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.