Clause 79 - Samples

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 8th March 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 11:00 am, 8th March 2001

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

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

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)''.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

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.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

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.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

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.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

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.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

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.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

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.''

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

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.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

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.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 11:15 am, 8th March 2001

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.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

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.

Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Liberal Democrat, Taunton

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?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

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.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

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.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

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.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

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.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

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.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

I have some sympathy for the Minister's view that one should carefully explore to what extent a registered medical practitioner should carry out certain procedures and to what extent it is reasonable that they should be carried out by registered nurses. We should not be naive about the process of government; when such a change is wholly allowed by the clause, we must assume, as the Police Federation rightly assumes, that cost will drive the provision.

It is entirely sensible to have a pilot project and I was interested to hear about the one in Kent. However, I am more convinced of the good sense of our amendment, which states that a nurse should be used only when it is not practicable, at that stage, for a doctor to be involved.

I have much sympathy with the suggestion that a person of the same gender as the suspect should carry out an intimate examination. Criminal justice Bills are not rare, and we are discussing a developing situation. If we reject the Government's proposal, we will not stand in the way of sensible policing. Our suggestion that the move should be allowed only when it is not practicable to do otherwise gives a useful halfway house when, as the Minister rightly said, pilot studies are being carried out and other matters are being considered. We should move step by step, and I therefore ask the Minister seriously to consider accepting the amendment on Report if he cannot do so now.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Amendment No. 222 relates to the same issue as amendment No. 268. We have been round the course, and voted on clause stand part. We will not press amendment No. 223 to a Division, although Conservative Members may want to divide the Committee on their amendment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 268, in clause 79, page 65, line 16, after `or', insert

`(where it is not reasonably practicable for a registered medical practitioner to do so)'.—[Mr. Hawkins.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 11.

Division number 36 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 79 - Samples

Aye: 4 MPs

No: 11 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

On a point of order, Mr. Gale. I might have misunderstood the procedure and, if I have been overtaken by events, that is my fault. Am I too late to ask for a vote on amendment No. 222? If not, I would like to have one before we move on to the next clause.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

The answer is straightforward. It is too late, because the Committee agreed to the withdrawal of the amendment. I asked whether it was the pleasure of the Committee that it be withdrawn and the hon. Gentleman did not object.

Clause 79 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.