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.