HC Deb 15 May 1984 vol 60 cc289-94
Mr. Warren Hawksley (The Wrekin)

I beg to move amendment No. 315, in page 44, line 32, leave out clause 49.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following: amendment No. 272, in page 44, line 32, leave out subsection (1) and insert— '(1) If an officer of at least the rank of superintendent has reasonable grounds for believing—

  1. (a) that a person who has been arrested and is in police detention may have concealed on him an article which could be used to cause physical injury to himself or others and which might be so used while he is in police detention or in the custody of a court; and
  2. (b) that it cannot be found without an intimate search, he may authorise such a search.'.
Amendments to the amendment: (a), in line 4, after 'him', insert '(i)'.

(b), in line 4, after 'him', insert—

  1. '(i) a drug named on a list to be published from time to time by the Home Secretary; or
  2. (ii)'.
(c), in line 6, after 'court', insert— '(ii) controlled drugs likely to create or satisfy an addictive habit'. (d), in line 6, after 'court', insert— '(ii) explosives or materials capable of being used to cause an explosion'. (e), in line 6, after 'court', insert— '(ii) the proceeds of any serious arrestable offence committed by him'. (f), in line 6, after 'court', insert— '(ii) articles intended to be used in the commission or furtherance of a serious arrestable offence'. Government amendments Nos. 139 and 273.

Amendment No. 309, in page 45, line 4, after 'him', insert 'controlled drugs likely to create or to satisfy an addictive habit, or explosives or materials capable of being used to cause an explosion, or items including jewellery and currency that are the fruits of any serious arrestable offence or may be intended to be used in the commission or furtherance of such an offence, or'. Government amendment No. 274.

Mr. Hawksley

I hope that I shall not have to detain the House for long. Amendment No. 315 leads a group of amendments which deal with intimate body searching, which is an important part of the Bill. We dealt with the matter in great detail and at great length in Committee. I tried then to persuade the Government that they should accept the right for intimate body searches by police officers for particular items. I think that most hon. Members considered that the two items of greatest importance were drugs and explosives. I called the Bill a drug pedlars' charter in Committee and I repeat that charge in describing the Bill as it stands.

I hope and believe that even at this late stage the Government will allow specific items to be mentioned. Some of the amendments that my hon. Friends have tabled would allow for that. If the Government are not prepared, even at this late stage, to reconsider the need to allow searches for drugs and explosives, I hope that the House will accept the proposition that the clause should be removed from the Bill. If that happens, the law would remain as it stands, which gives the police powers to carry out body searches to the same degree as ordinary searches. I believe that that would overcome the problem, although the result would not be as good as that which would be achieved by the original proposal that we debated in Committee.

It is interesting that over the past few weeks we have seen my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary responding to public concern by making proposals to deal with the uncontrolled increase that we have seen in heroin addiction, a problem which has alarmed the public. I support my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals. I agree that we should be able to seize the assets of drug pedlars, but before we can do that we must catch them. If the clause were to be enacted in its present form, all the drug dealers who operate from street corners or in other public places would need only to put any drugs they may have, which are wrapped, into their mouth on the approach of a police officer. The officer would be unable to proceed further in those circumstances.

That is not what the public want. They want the police to be able to deal with the problems they see, which they consider to be especially important in the cities. In the area of the West Mercia police, there have been many cases over the past few years where criminals have been caught because of the present right of police officers to carry out intimate body searches. Drugs have been found in the mouths of many people. They have been found strapped to the stomach or other parts of the body and they have also been recovered from intimate parts of the body. There have been important cases where criminals have tried to hide drugs and explosives away from view. If the Bill is passed in its present form, we will be inviting the criminal to use this method of conveying drugs and explosives around the country.

No doubt we all read last November the case of Ian Fuller who died when one of the heroin capsules that he had taken internally to bring into the country collapsed. Under the law as it is and as it will be, such a person could be searched by a Customs officer. I hope the Minister will repeat the assurances we received in Committee that Customs officers will retain the right to carry out intimate body searches.

Mr. Kaufman

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting compulsory exploratory surgery?

Mr. Hawksley

I am suggesting that certainly X-rays should be allowed, because they would show up the carrying of drugs. I have seen X-rays which the police had which showed drugs that had been taken and were being conveyed internally.

It is important that we should give the police the powers they need to carry out these searches. At a time when everybody is concerned at the increase in drug addiction in this country, it is not enough to give the courts power to impose penalties to discourage people from committing further offences.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Will the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the police drugs squad wasted less time looking for cannabis and cannabis resin and trying to improve their detection system, and went instead to the source in their search for those who peddle heroin, all the nonsense that we are hearing from him would be completely unnecessary, because we would then be dealing with the heroin and hard drugs problem where it should be dealt with?

Mr. Hawksley

I do not intend to deal with the different types of drugs, but I accept that the increase in heroin addiction is of great concern. That is why I hope the House will accept the amendment.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Despite the late hour, I hope no one in the House doubts what heroin and cocaine trafficking can do, especially to children. I hope that no one doubts either the experience of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Metropolitan police, that explosive devices are quite frequently carried in the body orifices and that they cause the kind of explosions—

Mr. Bermingham


Mr. Griffiths

No, I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman's verbosity is well known to the House. When he combines it with pomposity it becomes for me disagreeable. I want to be brief.

The police service regrettably has to deal with the consequences of micro-detonators, radios and explosives that are from time to time carried by terrorists in their body orifices. The purpose of the amendments is to prevent the law, as the House will pass it, making it impossible for the police to deter the criminal and to save innocent lives. Therefore, we are talking about real matters of concern, although at a disagreeably late hour.

The arguments were made strongly in Committee. There are two pleas that I must make to the Government. First, they know perfectly well that the finance for terror is frequently carried by way of high-value drugs in a charger which is inserted into the front or rear orifice of the body. That is why we have provided, and the Bill allows to continue, the search by customs officers for such drugs. We shall be left in an extraordinary position if the Bill is not amended. If a message from Northern Ireland to the United Kingdom is received at London airport just after a person has left the customs area, notwithstanding clear evidence that he may he carrying drugs, weapons or micro-detonators, he cannot be searched.

The reason is simple. The original Bill introduced by Lord Whitelaw contained the necessary provisions, but the present Government have removed them. I know why. The House knows why. It is because the British Medical Association said that it would not co-operate. Henceforth, the police will not have the same powers to search for the finance of terror or the implements of terror. That is not what this Government were elected for.

1.45 am
Mr. Bermingham

I shall be brief. I listened to the contribution by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). I do not propose to exchange insults with him across the Floor of the House, because that is a waste of time, but I ask again for examples of when explosives have been carried in body orifices. If we had such examples, the House might listen with care to what the hon. Gentleman says. The challenge was issued in Committee and I issue the challenge again. The allegation is easy to make, but it is based upon little known fact or substance.

A much greater principle is involved—the sanctity of the human body. That is a greater principle and it is why the BMA and other organisations view with horror the whole concept of intimate body searches and do not intend to take part in them. I hope that the House will not extend permission for such degrading searches.

Sometimes we must strike a balance between decency and society's needs. Decency demands that at least we accept that the human body should not become the object of grope, stealth, intimate probing and all the other things sought by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds to extend body searching. I hope that his amendment is rejected.

Mr. Hurd

We rightly spent much time on this issue in Committee. The Government have carefully considered arguments by several of my hon. Friends, but we have come to the conclusion that it would not be right to put back into clause 49 the power for the police to conduct intimate body searches for investigative purposes.

The arguments deserve serious consideration. Intimate searches carry some risk of inflicting injury. It is desirable, if they have to be carried out, that they are carried out by a doctor—that is in the clause. I confirm that the medical profession believes that a doctor should carry out an intimate search without the consent of the individual only if such a search is necessary to deal with an immediate and substantial risk of injury.

The amendment would allow investigative intimate searches—as opposed to protective searches—to be carried out by police officers, with the risk that that involves. That must be the subject of serious consideration.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is right to argue that a cost is involved in terms of the ability of the police to prosecute serious crime. I have never denied that. A balance has to be struck.

I should like to reply to a number of detailed questions. It is worth saying that the retention of a foreign body in a bodily orifice for any length of time is not as easy to accomplish as it might appear. Methods other than a search are available for the recovery of a concealed article and can continue to be used. Under parts of the Bill that have already been agreed, if the offence in question is a serious arrestable offence it will be open to the police to apply for an extention of detention after 24 hours if that is considered to be necessary to allow methods other than intimate search to be used or to allow nature to take its course, resulting in the expulsion of the concealed article.

In the light of doubts expressed in Committee, we have looked at the drafting of the clause. We are satisfied that the clause as drafted covers adequately articles such as micro-detonators capable of being used to cause an explosion. The clause already provides, too, for the possibility of an intimate search where there is the real risk that concealed drugs might be taken, thereby placing life or health at risk. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) mentioned that possibility.

I also confirm that the provisions of clause 49 will not affect in any way the ability of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise to undertake the intimate search of suspected drug smugglers at ports of entry into the United Kingdom.

Having satisfied ourselves that the clause covers some of the particular points raised by my hon. Friends, we have on balance come to the conclusion, while recognising that this is a serious matter—

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

My right hon. Friend knows as well as I do that there has been at least one occasion on which a suspect being interrogated in a police station not a million miles away from London was found to have within his body a radio transmitter which, at the material time, was relaying the interrogation that was taking place. That is the technical reality with which the police have to cope. Will the Bill cover such a situation?

Mr. Hurd

I do not know whether the Bill will cover that situation, because I do not know exactly what the situation was, or what or where the object was. I have tried to explain where the points that my hon. Friend had already raised are covered in the Bill, and why, having listened to my hon. Friend's views and those of the police, we have on balance concluded that it would not be right to broaden the power again.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made: No. 272, in page 44, line 32, leave out subsection (1) and insert— '(1) If an officer of at least the rank of superintendent has reasonable grounds for believing—

  1. (a) that a person who has been arrested and is in police detention may have concealed on him an article which could be used to cause physical injury to himself or others and which might be so used while he is in police detention or in the custody of a court; and
  2. (b) that it cannot be found without an intimate search, he may authorise such a search.'.

No. 139, in page 44, line 38, after `search', insert `under this section'.

No. 140, in page 44, line 39, at end insert 'or at a hospital'.

No. 273, in page 44, line 40 leave out subsections (3) and (4).

No. 274, in page 45, line 9, leave out '(3)', and insert '(1)'.

No. 141, in page 45, line 12, leave out subsection (6).

No. 269, in page 45, line 16, after 'a', insert `registered'

No. 145, in page 45, line 41 leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 46.

No. 146, in page 46, line 6, leave out from beginning to end of line 14 and insert— (14) Section 29(9) above shall have effect in relation to anything seized by virtue of subsection (12) (a) above as it has effect in relation to anything seized under subsection (7) or (8) (a) of that section. (15) Sections (Seized articles: access and copying) and (Retention of seized articles) above shall have effect in relation to anything seized under subsection (12) (b) above as they have effect in relation to anything seized under section 19 above.'. —[Mr. Mellor.]

Mr. Mellor

I beg to move amendment No. 147, in page 46, line 14 at end insert— '(15A) Every annual report—

  1. (a) under section 12 of the Police Act 1964; or
  2. (b) made by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis.
shall contain information about searches under this section which have been carried out in the area to which the report relates during the period to which it relates. (15B) The information about such searches shall include—
  1. (a) the total number of searches;
  2. (b) the number of searches conducted by way of an examination by a registered medical practitioner;
  3. (c) the number of searches not so conducted but conducted in the presence of such a practitioner; and
  4. (d) the result of the searches carried out.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 149, 150, 151, 311, 312, 156, 159, 160, 161, 162, 163, 164, and 297.

Mr. Mellor

This group of amendments meets undertakings given in Committee in relation to clauses 49 to 53.

Mr. Kaufman

I should just like to say that the Opposition acknowledge the Government's response to the case that we made in Committee.

Amendment made.

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