Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Heald: My hon. Friend will have seen the letter from Fred Broughton, the chairman of the Police Federation, in which he expresses a concern about that, saying that his organisation

    ``would question the thinking behind such amendments in the provision of safeguards both to custody officers and the prisoner. The only conclusion that can be immediately drawn is one of cost savings. That cannot be a good reason for demeaning tried and tested procedures put in place under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.''

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend is right. I was going to come to the views of police officers at the sharp end, which we have stressed repeatedly. The Minister should listen carefully to Fred Broughton, because he speaks for the mass of police officers at the sharp end. Again, on recent visits, I have seen for myself the difficulties that officers have when samples are being taken. In a debate this morning, I mentioned a recent visit that I made to Guildford police station, where the custody officers were dealing with a very difficult drunk. They were extremely skilful in managing to allocate some officers from those on duty to deal specifically with the drunk, so that dealing with him did not impinge too much on others who were being processed at the station by having their fingerprints taken and so on. Ordinary police constables and custody sergeants must deal with hugely difficult tasks, so it is an important safeguard to ensure that all officers are protected.

Clearly, doctors and nurses also perform very difficult tasks. Television sometimes over-dramatises matters, but it was helpful in some regards that the recent BBC series ``Dangerfield'' managed to highlight the difficult and important tasks that face doctors who are serving GPs and who also visit police stations. Although some plots were of course highly coloured, I was especially interested in the series because a great deal of its filming took place in and around the courts where I practised. The Parliamentary Secretary is not with us at the moment, but he was also on that circuit. Much of the filming was done in and around towns such as Warwick, and the exteriors of real police stations were quite often used. It was a successful series with a wide and large audience, and doubtless there is now greater appreciation of the serious risks that sometimes face not only ordinary officers, but police doctors, GPs who assist the police, and nurses who assist those doctors. Any of us who have spent time visiting police stations in our constituencies know that that is the case.

I do not know whether Government Back Benchers will have had the same opportunity. If not, I seriously urge them to visit police officers, at a time that is convenient to the police, to see the difficult dilemmas that they face. Then Government Members might better understand some of the points being made by Opposition Members. These are important amendments, and I support those in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Helpfully, the Liberal Democrats have said that our amendment No. 268 is better than theirs, and we shall certainly press that amendment.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I shall not say anything more on amendment No. 222, because we have discussed it at great length. In the light of the complaints about the time spent on various parts of the Bill, it might be as well to spend more time on the aspects that we have not discussed, rather than simply run through the same points again.

Amendments Nos. 268 and 223 are more interesting. Frankly, I am rather surprised at the Liberal Democrats' position. The health team is an important concept to develop and build, which is happening more and more. Registered nurses are highly trained medical professionals. Allowing them to take the whole range of intimate samples that, at present, only medical practitioners can take simply reflects their expanding role across many different medical environments. The proposed change would be in keeping with current practice in hospitals and doctors' surgeries, where registered nurses already take such samples. It will also help to avoid delays and remove the need to call on a police surgeon's services where a trained nurse can easily deal with the practical requirements. The Government's approach across the whole system is to strengthen the position of nurses, to be more flexible about the skills that can be used in different ways and to develop the concept of the health team, rather than the highly hierarchical approach that currently exists throughout the health service.

There are difficulties, and many important and substantial issues arise, but no one can seriously doubt that a trained registered nurse has the capacity to take the intimate samples that we have described. It is not that my orientation towards the point is different, but that I profoundly disagree with it. Giving registered nurses the capacity to deal with such situations is a step forward in the development of our medical services. I must make one small clarification: a dental impression may be taken only by a registered dentist, and we do not propose to alter that.

To answer the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey about the sex of the person taking the test, I understand that a doctor taking an intimate sample does not have to be of the same sex as the person from whom the sample is taken, although that would be good practice, which we are trying to encourage. I hope that Opposition Members will reconsider their position.

11.15 am

Mr. Hughes: I should have said clearly that this is a probing amendment, not our fixed position. We are not against the proposal but want to explore the issues.

On the second point that the Minister dealt with, is there no right in any part of the system for someone to insist on having an intimate search done by someone of the same gender or—as a colleague suggested—the converse, to insist on someone of the opposite gender? Some people might prefer that.

Mr. Clarke: This is most entertaining. During the debate, we have learned about the youth of the hon. Members for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and for Taunton—and now we have this extraordinary departure. I knew that the hon. Gentleman had a fixation with people in uniform, but I was not aware that that extended to people of the opposite sex in those circumstances. His constituents will be fascinated to know about that.

The right that the hon. Gentleman suggests does not exist, but it is good practice for samples to be taken by people of the same sex. The position is that a doctor of either sex can take intimate samples or perform a search, but a constable must be of the same sex. That difference is interesting.

Mr. Hughes: And a nurse?

Mr. Clarke: A nurse can be of either sex.

Jackie Ballard: I shall not follow up my hon. Friend's comments, because I am not in a mood for disclosure.

For many women, it might be important that an intimate search is done by someone of the same gender, but I am seriously concerned about, for example, a Muslim woman in a police station. Will the Government consider tabling an amendment in future?

Mr. Clarke: I am certainly prepared to consider that. As I say, good practice would give an individual the right to choose someone of the same sex. That applies not only in the religious circumstances that the hon. Lady mentioned but more generally. It is clear that the law differs in its application in various respects, but that is something that is worth considering.

Mr. Heald: Clearly, the Government are retaining the ability for a registered medical practitioner to take the sample but, from what the Minister said, it seems that he would rather have nurses do that. If the Government think that it would be sensible to move from doctors to nurses, it would be helpful if the Minister told us so. Obviously, it was a protection to have a registered medical practitioner take samples. If he is simply saying that a nurse can do it if a doctor is not available, I cannot see why he does not accept our amendment.

Mr. Clarke: All I am saying is that we want to remove the existing restriction. In practice, the hon. Gentleman's amendment would not allow us to do that. I am not saying that it is Government policy that nurses rather than medical practitioners should take the samples. However, it is our policy to ensure that they are free to do that.

We are reviewing the division of responsibility between doctors and nurses in the custody suite. A key pilot project is taking place in Kent, to look at those matters. Most of the relevant rules are in PACE code C. We are reviewing that, and aim to have a revised code in force early next year. Some of those issues, including the one raised by the hon. Member for Taunton, will be addressed in that review. I will not go so far as to say that as a matter of policy we are specifying nurses rather than doctors. However, our policy is that the current restriction should be removed and not qualified as proposed in amendment No. 268.

Mr. Hawkins: It helps the Committee to hear further responses, one of which, from Jeff Moseley, the secretary of the Police Federation, has just been sent to me. He states that the amendment to section 62(9) of the 1984 Act

    ``is a retrograde step...This can only be amended again on the basis of cost. No consideration has been given to the rights of the prisoner nor the safety of what may well invariably be a nurse of the female gender in such circumstances. `Why spoil the barrel for a hap'eth of tar?'''

I hope that the Minister will respond to those strong words.

Mr. Clarke: No, I will not, as I have nothing further to add. The Police Federation is a respected organisation; Fred Broughton and Jeff Moseley put their case powerfully and well and circulated it for discussion, as is their right. However, they do not bring anything new to consideration of the proposal.

I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

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