Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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The Chairman: Let me clarify the position. We will vote on new clause 9 much later in our deliberations, so the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity of a separate vote. I call the Under-Secretary.

Mrs. Brooke rose—

The Chairman: Order. I hope that the Under-Secretary will forgive me. I like to call hon. Members before the Under-Secretary replies. I did not know that the hon. Lady wished to contribute.

Mrs. Brooke: Thank you, Mr. Stevenson. I hesitated slightly, so that is my fault. If the Under-Secretary wants to intervene, I shall welcome that. What I am about to say might be unnecessary if he answers my question.

I wanted to say something about intimate body searches because a person who experienced such a search at the hands of private contractors simply as a visitor to an institution contacted us expressing a lot of concern. Clearly, a visitor would not be subject to the same level of probing as that undertaken by a detention officer. There was a policy of close body searching of visitors and it was argued that it seemed to apply particularly to women. I am sure that men would say that the same applied to them—there are plenty of them in Committee to do that—but I shall take the feminist approach. The woman was intimately touched and felt that the contractor's hands were moving all over her body. She complained and, at her next visit, she experienced a worse and even more intrusive body search.

10.45 am

The person who contacted us said that she was happy to speak out. She had the confidence and the background to make a complaint. However, many women—and men, for that matter—who might not dare to complain about such behaviour. However right the system is, if a situation occurs in which people will not make complaints about intimate matters, it is a cause of great worry. My colleagues and I are determined to oppose intimate body searches by detention officers, let alone by private contractors. I hope that the Under-Secretary will give such matters serious consideration. Yes, all could be well in an ideal

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world, but there is so much potential for such a practice to go badly wrong whereby people will be suffering in silence and feeling humiliated.

Lady Hermon: Does the hon. Lady agree that it would be extremely helpful if those supplying contracted-out services had basic human rights training? If they knew what was meant by degrading treatment and understood their powers of detention under human rights legislation, it would be most helpful and eliminate many complaints and worries.

Mrs. Brooke: I agree. I am not sure whether training would totally overcome the problem, but employees providing contracted-out services need relevant training and experience.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): I am somewhat puzzled by the hon. Lady's argument because no one welcomes intimate body searches, no matter who carries them out. As the hon. Lady said, people who carry out that task have received the appropriate training. Moreover, people who undertake searches at our airports and elsewhere are not police officers; they can be employed by contracted-out organisations. Surely that is the issue, not whether police officers or others undertake such tasks.

Mrs. Brooke: We are discussing instances when training may have been received, but is not producing the proper results. I advise caution. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes and I will have more to say about the general principle of who carries out intimate body searches. However, I agree that human rights training is important for those dealing with escort and detention cases.

Mr. Ainsworth: I apologise to the hon. Lady for not picking up on the issue of intimate body searches earlier. I am so flattered by the constant stream of nice things being said about me by the hon. Member for Lewes that I am loth to upset him in any way. However, I do not accept his remarks that the way in which Lord Rooker handled such matters in another place was not to a satisfactory standard. I know him; I have read the report of the debate in Hansard and there is no justification for saying that was an attempt by Lord Rooker to mislead or prevent discussion.

We have managed to have a reasonable relationship when doing business together, but the hon. Gentleman does politics no good when he does not stick to the issues, or wrongly suggests that others are trying to mislead Parliament, whether in the House of Lords or the House of Commons. Lord Rooker made it clear that decisions had not been taken, that issues had simply been raised within the Government and that there would be an opportunity to discuss the matter once we had reached a conclusion. He did not attempt to mislead the House of Lords for devious reasons, and I cannot stand here and accept such comments without a response.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): Will the Minister clarify why Lord Rooker, if I understood the hon. Member for Lewes correctly, was told:

    ''On no account read out the following paragraph''?

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What was the purpose of that restriction?

Mr. Ainsworth: I would ask the hon. Gentleman to go away and read exactly what Lord Rooker told the House of Lords. He said that representations had been made, that an issue was being considered, that the machinery of government had reached no decision and that the issue would be brought up if that was felt appropriate. There was no ulterior motive whatever in the way in which the matter was raised, and it is completely unfair to make that suggestion.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister is doing a valiant job, and is being splendidly disingenuous, but those of us who have seen officials' briefings know that the game has been given away when documents are leaked to a national paper showing that ministers have been told in large bold capitals not to read something out.

The Chairman: Order. It might help the Committee if I say that I am particularly conscious that hon. Members should refer to what was said here and in another place, rather than to what was not said. I hope that hon. Members will take that into account in considering the issue.

Mr. Ainsworth: Opposition Members have gone back to the good old style of seeing not only other people, but me, too, as disingenuous, and I feel far more comfortable being put in that category. I have refuted what I think is unfair comment about a colleague in another place, and I shall take the matter no further.

I was hugely grateful to the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire for saying that the inclusion in the complaints system of the classification of people that we are discussing, but not of others, was a debate for another time. After having agreed with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety to take this part of the Bill in Committee, I found out that the way in which the amendments had been structured brought a lot more within the debate's remit than I had expected. I hope that it has not been so obvious that my right hon. Friend is the expert on the Bill, not me. Although I feel able to respond to the point raised by the hon. Gentleman, it is probably more appropriate, in terms of the Chairman's rulings, for my right hon. Friend to pick it up later.

The crucial point is that intimate body searches required by the police are rarely carried out by non-medical persons. The overwhelming majority are conducted by medically trained people who are brought in for that purpose. At present, a non-medical person, such as a police constable, may be required to carry out such searches where there is a degree of urgency and a real danger—this is all covered by the current regulations—that a person will damage themselves or someone else. There is, therefore, a requirement to act immediately. If we allow detention suites to be manned by civilians, those who are available to do the job and who have appropriate training will have to respond to emergency circumstances in exactly the same way as a constable would. In such circumstances, it would not be in the best interests of the person themselves to put the urgency on hold while a constable was fetched

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from another part of the police station to carry out a body search. The constable would not necessarily be better trained or prepared to do that than the people manning the facility, who would be required to have the appropriate training.

Norman Baker: On Second Reading, a Labour Back Bencher intervened on the Minister to ask why, if occasions on which a police constable had to carry out such a search were so rare, it was necessary to give the power to another group of people. Surely a police constable could deal with them, especially as, presumably, the person would be in a police station.

Mr. Ainsworth: If the hon. Gentleman stopped looking at Hansard and listened to what I was trying to say, he and I might be closer than we are on this point. He wanted to raise that issue to suggest that someone agreed with him.

If we allow civilianisation in the detention area, there will be gains in terms of specialisation of skills as well as cost savings. I have seen that in Wiltshire, and other police forces have testified to the gains that could be available. In the relevant emergency circumstances, rare or otherwise, I believe it appropriate for the people on hand doing the job to be able to respond. The alternative is that they go and find a police constable from another part of the police station. That would not necessarily be in the interests of dealing with the emergency appropriately. It would be in the interests of efficiency and safety if the people who did the job in the detention suite were appropriately trained to deal with such circumstances.

In the overwhelming majority of cases in which an intimate body search is required, medically trained staff are brought in to carry it out. We have no intention or desire to change that. It is only when there is danger to the individual or others that it is appropriate for non-medical staff to involve themselves in intimate searches. The provision is so that responses can be made in emergency circumstances.

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