I shall make a point that may seem minor at first, but I hope that the Minister and those who advise him will take it seriously. It may interest some members of the Committee, many of whom entered the House of Commons at or since the 1997 election. As a Government Back Bencher during the 1992–97 Parliament, I served on the Committee that considered the Criminal Justice and Public Disorder Bill, and made a small but important contribution to English law that resulted in quite a lot of correspondence. The then hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East, Mr. Peter Butler, and I tabled an amendment that the Government accepted after some debate. It was a small amendment, but it enabled the police to do a great deal more searching. Since then, Mr. Butler and I, to our surprise, have received quite a lot of correspondence from police officers.
A police magazine picked up on our amendment to give the police extra powers. We have been told that it is possible to carry out more effective searches because of our provision. It is always nice for a parliamentarian to know that a change that one has made, however small, has had some positive effect. I was immediately reminded of that when I read the clause and wondered whether I should move a similar amendment. I thought that it would be more appropriate to describe it on stand part and give the Government the opportunity to table a similar amendment, in Committee or on Report, if they are persuaded by the argument that I am about to advance.
The change to the Criminal Justice and Public Disorder Bill was the adding of the word ''hat'' after the word ''coat'', which became known as the Butler-Hawkins amendment. That change was of some significance, because Mr. Butler and I had practised as lawyers in the midlands before entering the House of Commons and knew that Rastafarian offenders tended to hide drugs or weapons under their hats. The police were severely constrained in what they had to do if they were not given the right to search under a Rastafarian's hat. As I said, we debated this amendment at some length and managed to persuade my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean), then Minister of State at the Home Office and now the Opposition Chief Whip, and ministerial officials. I am sure that there are files on this somewhere, buried in the recesses of the Home Office, that say that the Government went along with the proposal.
The clause states:
''The powers . . . do not authorise a constable to require a person to remove any of his clothing in public, other than an outer coat, jacket or gloves.''
The Minister will not be able to give me an answer today, but I ask him to consider the idea and discuss it with his officials. If he can return with a Government amendment, that would have even greater power than an Opposition amendment, which the Government might feel duty bound to oppose, simply because it came from the Opposition. I want the change in the law to be made. It may sound trivial, but I consider it quite important. That is why I went into a little detail in setting out the background.
I rise in support of my hon. Friend's judicious suggestion. Can he clarify what he envisages under the term ''hat''? A Rastafarian who is asked to remove his hat may claim that it is an article of religious importance. I wonder, a fortiori, whether a Sikh would take umbrage at being asked to remove his turban. Does my hon. Friend think that a turban constitutes a hat for the purposes of his amendment?
My hon. Friend goes to the heart of the debate that we had when we considered the 1994 Bill. It was made clear that the Government would not have been able to accept the amendment that Mr. Butler and I proposed if it had applied to turbans. The Rastafarian hat has never been accepted by the British courts as being part of the religion, unlike turbans, which have. That is the distinction. I am not surprised that my hon. Friend immediately went to one of the points that were raised at the time. It may seem trivial, but it is in fact a matter of some substance. That is why I mentioned that the police had written to both of us—Mr. Butler and myself—to say that the amendment had been useful. Even a one word three-letter amendment can have some relevance. I know that the Minister cannot give me an answer today but I hope that he will consider the point.
I simply seek confirmation that the usual protections and rules will apply and that there will be sensitivity in both male and female searches.
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) was certainly right—I cannot give him a direct answer this afternoon. He raises an interesting point, and we shall approach it constructively. As our brief discussion has illustrated, there would be considerable drafting issues. We will have to ascertain whether there is a way forward, and then we will be in touch. I can certainly give the assurances that the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) seeks. Protections are built in and there will be a chance to examine the code of practice. We will be sensitive to the concerns that he outlined.
I expected that the Minister would give his usual courteous reply. As I have been able to establish that the amendment that I suggest was made to the then Criminal Justice and Public Disorder Bill, I do not think that any drafting problems would be insuperable. As I remember it, the amendment simply said, ''after 'coat' insert 'hat' ''. That is how it went into the Bill. There is a precedent. The provision is in legislation and it is still being used. I think that I would have noticed if it had been repealed or amended. I hope that the Minister comes to a profitable conclusion.