§ 3. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will examine, with a view to its amendment, whether the Sex Discrimination Act 1976 is having an inhibiting effect upon the deployment of women police officers and the duties which they perform.
§ Mr. Raison
We do not consider that a review is necessary. Chief constables are able to deploy women officers on a wide range of duties.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
Does my right hon. Friend agree that before the 1976 Act women police were a specialist department, handling crimes involving women and children? Those crimes included rape. Does he agree also that as a result of the 1976 Act the police have had to become an integrated force and that the specialist department has been broken up? In view of the natural and wide concern about offences against women, is it not preferable that those offences should be investigated by women officers? Will my right hon. Friend consider whether the Act is working against the best interests of women?
§ Mr. Raison
The Act does not restrict the availability of officers of either sex for particular classes of police work. It is true that the special units have been terminated. The advisory group on the law of rape, chaired by Mrs. Justice Heilbron, considered that the sympathy and experience of officers conducting interviews with women victims were more important that their sex. We are considering further guidance to the police. I am sure, however, that this principle holds good, although it may be desirable to arrange, wherever practicable, for a woman police officer to be present during such an interview if the complainant so wishes.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the most important qualifications for those interrogating victims of alleged rape are special training, tact and sympathetic understanding? Does he further agree that those qualities are found equally in men and women police officers? Does he agree also that all officers, men and women, must continue to be given equal access to every type of work experience, to training and to promotion prospects, as provided in the Sex Discrimination Act?
§ Mr. Raison
The inquiry under Mrs. Justice Heilbron came to the view expressed by the hon. Lady about the qualities required for dealing with these cases. The Government, I think, will agree. Women police officers have been able to operate in a much wider sphere than in the past. It is important to remember that chief constables are able to make their own decisions on the deployment of their officers.