HC Deb 14 May 1984 vol 60 cc28-30

'There shall cease to have effect any Act (including a local Act) passed before this Act in so far as it authorizes—

  1. (a) any search of a person by a constable at a police station; or
  2. (b) an intimate search of a person by a constable, and any rule of common law which authorises a search such as is mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) above is abolished.'.—[Mr. Hurd.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Hurd

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The clause serves two purposes. It puts beyond doubt the repeal of all existing statutory powers in so far as they permit the police to carry out an intimate search. Intimate searches are now carried out in pursuance of the power of search conferred by section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. We shall come to the importance of that Act on later amendments.

As the House knows, the intention is that the only circumstances in which an intimate search may be carried out by or on behalf of the police are those set out in clause 49.

The clause abolishes the present powers of the police under common law to search persons detained at police stations other than by way of an intimate search. We shall have an opportunity later to discuss the content of clause 49, and what should or should not be in it as regards intimate body search by the police. As a result of the discussion in Committee, it was clearly necessary to remove any ambiguity on the points that I have mentioned.

Mr. Kaufman

When the Government agreed to make this concession in Committee, we regarded it as one of the most significant achievements that we had managed to obtain during the passage of the Bill. We are therefore very satisfied that the Government have brought forward this new clause. Not only do we support it, but we anticipate that it is a precursor to the Government accepting our new clause 16 as a logical extension of what the Government are doing in this new clause.

Mr. Griffiths

I have a slight reservation on this matter. There are no problems on clause 49, and there are no problems about intimate search. However, under the clause as it stands the common law right of search at a police station would cease. That would be all right if the Bill covered all circumstances, but, alas, it does not.

The power of search that will replace the common law powers depends on "reasonable suspicion". In general, no one would quarrel with that, but my right hon. Friend the Minister is aware of the argument that I put in Committee. From time to time, the police search, on arrest, as a routine matter and do not always carry out such searches to look for a specific item that they believe that a person may be carrying.

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For example, a person who has jumped bail or been taken to a police station after being arrested for a minor offence may be searched only if an officer has reasonable suspicion that the person was carrying something that was relevant to that particular offence. However, there have been instances of people being arrested for such an offence taking out a penknife and stabbing a police officer. When the Bill removes the common law rights of search, will the police be unable to conduct a search that could reveal penknives or other articles that have no bearing on the offence for which the person has been arrested but could represent a danger for the police?

My right hon. Friend the Minister may be able to say that the search at a police station will require people to turn out their pockets. If so, I shall be content. However, we need to be sure that in abolishing for ever the powers of search under the common law—specifically at a police station—we will not be denying the police the power of a general search which could turn up items that are not related to the specific offence, but could be dangerous.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

The SDP and the Liberal party are glad that the Government have introduced new clause 6, and we support it. We take the firm view that only the powers of search set out in the Bill should be available to the police. The attempt to codify the powers of search in the Bill is wholly welcome. Of course, that does not pre-empt our position on what those powers should be. We shall return to that later.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has merely reiterated what he said in Committee on a number of occasions. I shall merely reiterate what I said in reply to the hon. Gentleman on a number of occasions. Extreme cases make bad law, not good law.

I welcome the new clause, because it begins to codify when searches may take place, which is in the interests of society as a whole. If every person who went into a police station were searched, even if he had been arrested for only a minor offence, we should create ill will.

I think that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds had in mind the case of a police officer who was stabbed in a taxi. There have been examples of attacks taking place at police stations, but they are only one or two cases among the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who are taken to police stations each year. To legislate for the isolated rather than the generality will create poor law rather than good law.

Mr. Hurd

The answer to the anxiety of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is that, although he is right that the search power on arrest —under clause 29—is related to reasonable suspicion, the search power under clause 48—on arrival at a police station — is not so related. That is a pretty comprehensive power which would enable the police to deal with the problem about which my hon. Friend is worried.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has already spoken in this debate. We are on Report arid not in Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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