HC Deb 30 January 1989 vol 146 cc71-87 7.15 pm
Ms. Mowlam

I beg to move amendment No. 24, in page 47, line 43, at end insert `and may not be a strip search (that is, a search involving the removal of more than the outer clothing.)'

Mr. Speaker

With this we may take amendment No. 26, in clause 22, page 15, line 15 leave out 'one-third' and insert `one-half.

Ms. Mowlam

We shall speak briefly on amendment No. 24, as we went into the subject at some length in Committee.

Opposition Members consider that strip searching as practised in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales is humiliating and degrading to women. We do not believe that it fulfils any meaningful security purpose. We do not wish to change the nature of intimate searches or to stop the security forces from being able to examine clothes; we understand the need for specific items of clothing to be examined when someone is going into or out of prison. We see no point, however, in strip searching as it now exists. We do not think that a visual examination of an unclothed man's or woman's body serves any valid security function, and we should like to know why the Government consider it necessary. Opposition Members would argue that there are alternatives such as rub-down searches, and that many mechanical instruments can be used without inflicting the humiliation of a strip search.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

I do not want to be difficult, but I am sure that the hon. Lady will appreciate that amendment No. 24 is limited to examining officers under the port and border controls in schedule 5. The broad issues that the hon. Lady is discussing do not fall under the amendment.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

I understood that we were talking about a right for examining officers to strip-search any visitor to the United Kingdom from anywhere else, or anyone leaving the country or crossing the border in Ireland. The general question of strip searching for anyone crossing those borders is what is at issue.

Ms. Mowlam

That is exactly the point that I am making. The Minister was correct to point out that the amendment relates specifically to port of entry, but we want to get across the fundamental arguments that we discussed in Committee, while—as my hon. Friend says—relating them particularly, on this amendment, to entry at ports into Northern Ireland or the mainland. It is the principle with which Opposition Members are concerned.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Does the hon. Lady agree that it is scandalous that men are prepared to use women to carry bombs, knowing full well that those women will be blown up? We must do something to protect such women against themselves.

Ms. Mowlam

It is scandalous for men, women or children to carry bombs, but I do not agree that this kind of strip searching deals with the problem. We accept the need for rub-down searches, examination of clothing and, when there is reasonable suspicion, intimate examinations. Can the hon. Lady explain how a bomb can be carried by a woman whose clothes have been taken off? It is the visual examination to which we object. We understand the need for searches when there is reasonable suspicion, but strip searches merely allow the humiliation and degradation of women.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

indicated dissent.

Ms. Mowlam

The hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) shakes her head, but the present arrangement is ridiculous. An individual will be examined, but a pram containing a baby will not be. The Government's position is illogical and inconsistent. We are asking not only for consistency and logicality, but for the rights of women placed in such a position to be defended.

Mr. Hunter

Can the hon. Lady explain why a strip search is more humiliating for a woman than for a man?

Ms. Mowlam

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but if he reads the records of women who have been strip-searched in Northern Ireland he will understand why it is so humiliating. Six or seven male prison officers—in the main, prison officers are not female—will stand around a woman who has been asked to take her clothes off, chatting, gossiping and making rude comments about her body. It is not a question of security, as the hon. Member for Lancaster tried to suggest, but of degradation—and that is what we object to. We understand the nature of security but that is not what strip searching is about.

Ms. Short

As I understand it, the amendment applies to the strip searching of men and women. I say to the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) that there is no question but that women find the idea of being strip searched deeply offensive. Men make less fuss. I do not know whether men do not mind running around naked in front of each other and having their bodies examined, but most women find the idea deeply repulsive.

Ms. Mowlam

I am sure that the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) will respond when he wants to.

Alternatives are available. I am sure that Conservative Members will remember that when the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) was directly concerned with Northern Ireland affairs, he said that he would investigate and consider alternatives to strip searching. The time to do that is now here.

There has been an improvement in security instruments, and if they are good enough for the House of Commons and airports they should be applied to prisons. There is no need for strip searching as it is done now.

Opposition Members are not alone in pressing such an argument. Many organisations that have studied the matter in detail also call for strip searching to be abandoned or changed. Those organisations include Amnesty International, A Christian Response to Strip Searching, the TUC, the Student Christian Movement of Ireland, the Irish Information Partnership, the National Council for Civil Liberties and the Government's own advisory body, the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. The Prison Officers Association has called for a review of practices in prisons, both in Northern Ireland and on the mainland.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

I hate to be tiresome but the amendment has nothing to do with strip searching in prisons. It is exclusively related to strip searching by examining officers under the port control powers.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I shall tell the hon. Lady when and if she is out of order.

Ms. Mowlam

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister's point highlights my argument. We are particularly concerned that the port powers can be administered by a customs officer or an examining officer. There is a host of individuals who may not have the training, experience or knowledge of prison officers. We are even more worried that such individuals may be involved in strip searching. We oppose strip searching in prisons; in relation to port powers it is even more worrying and threatening.

I am sure that the Minister will well remember the discussions we had in Committee about the standard of facilitie and rooms at many of the ports. We are anxious about the standard of facilities in prisons—I am sure that the Minister can stretch his mind to the anology—and even more concerned about those at ports. We are more worried when people are less protected and more open to abuse by people seeing what is happening.

Ms. Short

I am surprised that the Minister protests so much. We are talking about the power of examining officers—without needing to have reasonable suspicion—to take the clothes off any individual who comes into or leaves our country. The examining officers are entitled to strip-search anybody to find out whether he or she might have done something in breach of this legislation. "Welcome to Britain," we say to tourists. "We might force you to take off your clothes completely if we feel like it, if we spot you and pick on you."

We know that, when we give these powers to examining officers—

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

The hon. Lady and her hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) are taking this to extremes. The amendment refers to the removal of more than the outer clothing. People have to take off rather more than a mackintosh—there is nothing about stripping naked

Ms. Short

I am afraid that the hon. Lady has not followed this subject closely. I shall describe a strip search. A woman is required to take off every article of clothing, including her underclothing, which is examined piece by piece by the examining officer. If she is menstruating she is required to remove her sanitary protection and have it examined, too. That is what we continually do in prisons in this country.

The amendment would prevent us from doing this to people who visit our country, or cross the border between the Six Counties of Northern Ireland and the 26 counties of the South, which is what many people who live in those parts do all the time. It is unbelievable that the amendment is unacceptable. It is serious enough to take the power to strip-search if there are reasonable grounds for suspicion, but I can see a case for the Government doing so. Strip searching without reasonable grounds is giving examining officers a blanket power.

As I said, we know that the officers will not strip-search everyone. They will suspect certain categories of people—for instance, younger people of Irish origin. There are 80 million people of Irish extraction in the world, 40 million of them Americans. Examining officers tend to be suspicious of younger people from the Arab world—obviously, there has been a history of terrorist action in that region. They tend to suspect young people from Africa who might be sympathetic to the ANC and its struggle in southern Africa.

This power enables examining officers to instruct people to take off all their clothes without those officers needing to have reasonable cause for suspicion. I cannot believe how complacently the Minister interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) to say that, as this was not about prisoners, she should not be so concerned. It is even more intolerable that people visiting our country should potentially be subjected to this kind of treatment, and that there should be no restraint on Government powers.

I have studied strip searching is some detail. I visited Armagh gaol, where it started, but it is now spreading through all our gaols, and it particularly affects women prisoners. I must tell the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) that I do not know why men do not find strip searching as objectionable as women do. However, we know from the protests that women find it deeply offensive, and that other women are offended by the thought of women being treated in this way. Remand prisoners are treated like this twice a day—it is a continual process of humiliation.

A woman who is determined to smuggle an object can smuggle it internally. We are given all sorts of assurances all the time by prison governors that they will never move to forcible internal searches. We now have technology that is capable of detecting anything dangerous—for instance, the bomb referred to by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman). It would be more efficient to use sensitive detection equipment to pick up something that might be carried internally than to force people to take off their clothes and have their underwear and sanitary protection examined.

Strip searching is unnecessary. There are better ways, using the available equipment, of ensuring that nothing is being smuggled, than putting people through this humiliation.

The Government stress the money that can come into the United Kingdom from tourism, but with the value of the pound moving up so quickly we may hear less of that. In any event, the message will be something like this: "Welcome to Britain. If we feel like it, we can force you to take off your clothes before you come in. We can do so without having any reason to suspect you of anything. We are entitled to look to see whether you may be committing an offence under the Bill. After your holiday we can do it to you again before you leave the country."


Many hon. Members do not appreciate that, because the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is not a natural or historical one, there are those who live near the border who cross it constantly. They cross it when they go to church. Some farmers have fields on both sides of the border. That is true of many members of my family. The Bill takes the power to strip-search any woman who lives in the border area. That could be done daily if the authorities chose to do so. None of us thinks that the situation has deteriorated to the extent that the powers would be used constantly on everyone, but they are being taken in the Bill. Unless the Minister is willing to accept the amendment—it should be acceptable to him—the warning is that our officials will be entitled, if they feel like it, to strip-search any man or woman who enters or leaves the country, or crosses the border between Northern Ireland and the 26 counties. They will be able to do that whenever they feel like it to search for information.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) said that strip searches are unpleasant and that they should be avoided at all costs. There is something in what she says, but she must consider allowing strip searching within the context that we are discussing, which is not the ordinary one. The schedule provides for examination on arrival or on departure. The second paragraph sets out the situations in which someone can be searched on entering the country or leaving it. It is clear that those who may be searched will have given rise to suspicion among officers of Customs and Excise, the police and the security services. If they have given rise to the suspicion that they are involved in terrorism, the issue will have to be pursued.

We are talking of those who have not been able to give a satisfactory explanation of their movements to an officer who is responsible for the security of the people of the United Kingdom. That is why he will possibly proceed to a strip search. It is an extraordinary power to deal with an extraordinary set of circumstances. Terrorism is not a normal activity. If someone is suspected of terrorism, surely there are circumstances in which the power of strip searching, which the hon. Member for Ladywood dislikes so much, can be exercised. I am sure that no one would advocate that it should be exercised unless he or she feels that its use is absolutely necessary.

Ms. Short

Unless I have misread the schedule, the hon. Gentleman appears to have misdescribed the Bill. Irrespective of whether an examining officer has grounds for suspicion, he will have the power to proceed to a strip search. That is one of my complaints. There do not have to be reasonable grounds for suspicion. The examinig officer will have the power to subject anyone to that sort of examination.

Mr. Hind

This is where common sense enters into it. Paragraph 2(1) of schedule 5 provides: Any person who has arrived in, or is seeking to leave, Great Britain or Northern Ireland by ship or aircraft may be examined by an examining officer for the purpose of determining— (a) whether that person appears to be a person who is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism". The paragraph then refers to exclusion orders. Sub-paragraph (c) refers to: grounds for suspecting that any such person has committed an offence under section 8 of this Act. The power that we are discussing must be built on top of all the other powers that have been given to the police and the immigration officers at the ports. It applies especially to those who come into the United Kingdom as immigrants who might be illegal or who might be bringing in drugs, arms or whatever. No officer will search someone for the sake of doing so. He will proceed to strip-search only if a suspicion is raised in his mind.

Ms. Short

Then let us put that in the Bill.

Mr. Hind

It is a bit late to do that.

Ms. Short

Ask the Minister.

Mr. Hind

We are talking of a power that is being given to deal with terrorism. It is there for all to see.

Under the Bill, an officer must satisfy himself that the person with whom he is dealing is not involved in terrorism. Under other legislation he has the same power to search. He will be able to search for drugs, for example. Is the hon. Lady saying that we should not allow strip searches in other circumstances such as those which involved drugs, for example? Is she saying that no member of the security services and no police officer will be allowed to strip-search for anything?

Ms. Mowlam

The hon. Gentleman has spoken of common sense. He has developed an argument, however, and reached conclusions that lack common sense. He says that no officer would embark on a strip-search without having sufficient evidence that it was necessary. Is he arguing analogously that, of the 38,178 who were arrested in the past four years under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984, there was specific information in relation to them all? Since the beginning of the PTA, 344,650 houses have been searched. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that there was reasonable evidence in relation to each of those houses? That would appear to be the logic that he is deploying.

Mr. Hind

With your leave, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall try to stay within order.

The hon. Lady advances a good argument, and she has put her finger on one of the extraordinary features of terrorism. The power to strip-search in certain circumstances is an extraordinary one that is intended to deal with extraordinary circumstances. It is not easy to secure evidence against alleged terrorists that will stand up in court. Witnesses are intimidated. They are frightened and they will not come forward. The consequence of that is the power to place exclusion orders. They are used where we know that there is evidence and that if the witnesses would come forward it would stand up in court. In dealing with straightforward criminal law, as with terrorism, a person who is arrested may be interviewed by the police to ascertain whether he will pass on information, under caution, that will assist in building a case against him. That is entirely normal. No one complains about that procedure when the police use it in dealing with ordinary crime.

When someone is arrested under the 1984 Act and he says nothing, and as a consequence there is no evidence against him other than that of witnesses or complainants who will not come to court because they are likely to be intimidated, there will be complaints from Opposition Members if the accused person is released. We must examine our procedures within that context.

If we exclude the power to strip-search at our ports—it relates specifically to terrorism—we shall create an anomally. In some circumstances, we shall allow strip searches when there is a suspicion of drug carrying, for example, and in others, especially those related to terrorism, we shall not.

May I go on to show why, in some circumstances, we cannot allow that to happen? People who wish to bring in items or papers relating to terrorism will use a great deal of ingenuity to conceal them. It may be necessary to ask them—men or women—to remove their clothes so that their ingenuity can be discovered. The explosive Semtex is an interesting example. It is odourless and non-metallic and cannot be detected by the machines about which the hon. Member for Ladywood talked. If it was placed underneath clothing, or sewn into clothes so that it could not be detected by touch, a strip search would have to take place to discover it.

There are many similar examples. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who has served with me on many criminal law Bills, could give examples of people concealing items—often drugs—in the body, either internally or in the body orifices.

Ms. Short

How is that relevant to a strip search?

Mr. Hind

That is the only way in which such items can be discovered.

Ms. Mowlam

The hon. Gentleman is missing the point. Our amendment would not avoid intimate searches, so it would be possible to search body orifices. The amendment does not argue that clothes should not be examined. We have allowed for clothes to be passed out so that officers can look, for example, for items sewn into hems. We are trying to stop men's or women's bodies being visually examined, which we believe is illogical, irrational and counter-productive.

Mr. Hind

This is at the root of the problem. If someone conceals something within the orifices of his body, how else will it be found? The amendment would create a farce. A full strip search would be allowed under ordinary legislation, perhaps in relation to drugs. Does the officer at the port say, "Under the amendment to the schedule, I cannot search for anything related to terrorism"? Suddenly he will become interested in drugs and say, "I am strip-searching this person to look for drugs." If the port authorities are as devious as the Opposition suggest, they could do that without difficulty. The amendment would create inconsistency and, at the end of the day, nonsense.

Ms. Short

I wish that the hon. Gentleman would choose his words more carefully. Items that are carried internally are not caught by a strip search, so the hon. Gentleman has wasted much of his case on the possibility of people smuggling items internally. A strip search is not part of an internal examination. If people are determined to smuggle something, they can do so internally, so that making them take their clothes off will not be effective. Of course, if they are carrying nothing, it is humiliating.

Mr. Hind

I disagree forcefully with the hon. Lady. I have been involved in drugs cases where Customs officers, by strip-searching the courier coming through the port, were able to remove drugs from inside the body orifices. Those drugs were seen as soon as the clothing was removed. I appreciate that the hon. Lady is talking about a full internal search, but I am not. I am talking, from hard experience of dealing with similar cases, about the common-sense way of doing it, and I believe that it is necessary to have a strip search.

7.45 pm

As the hon. Member for Ladywood said, the border between the Six Counties and the Republic is not a natural border. It is very long and impossible to police adequately, and people do not always cross it using roads. They go down many of the cart tracks that criss-cross the border. But the majority of the arms, explosives and equipment used by the IRA is brought into Northern Ireland via that border. Many of them are brought into the Republic from all over the world. People who cross the border immediately come under suspicion, and they are the sort of people whom sub-paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of paragraph 2(1) are designed to catch. They must explain their movements—

Ms. Short

They live there. They go there in the ordinary course of their lives.

Mr. Hind

I appreciate that.

People who have an honest and legitimate explanation for their movements have nothing to fear. Anyone who is carrying on his business normally has nothing to fear from the schedule. But if people cannot give an adequate explanation, there must be further investigation. Common sense applies very much in this regard. It is nonsense for the hon. Lady to say that the people who live there and who cross the border regularly should be exempt from strip searches. Those are exactly the people who should be searched, if they cannot give a reasonable explanation. They must be asked, "If you have nothing to fear, why do you not go through the normal check points? Why do you cross fields or use cart tracks?"

This is an unusual power to deal with a difficult problem. Had it not been for the horrors and the disasters caused by terrorism, I am sure that the House would. not even consider such a power. But it is necessary, and I urge my hon. Friends to vote against the amendment.

Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest)

Having heard the speeches of the hon. Members for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) and for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam), one would have to be extraordinarily insensitive not to appreciate their argument. I do not know whether there is any value in pursuing the question whether men are less offended than women by intimate searches and strip searches, but I speak for most men when I say that I would find it a degrading experience which I hope never to undergo. I cannot believe that it is probably reasonable to say that it would be even worse for women.

We must start from that point. I have always believed that if someone is innocent, the sense, not just of shame and embarrassment, but of sheer outrage on being subjected to such an examination would be greater than almost any other experience at the hands of the Executive arm of the Government.

That is the inevitable prelude to my next point, which is that we must consider what the Bill exists to do and under what general power the power of search exists. The Bill provides the framework within which to deal with the extraordinary and unique situation in the United Kingdom. Of necessity we convey to officers under schedule 5 wide powers to enable them to deal with an adversary who, on any logical interpretation, will use whatever processes, devices, tricks and methods of concealment are available to help him or her to achieve an evil and detestable object—the maiming of innocent people.

It is significant that the Bill never mentions intimate searches or strip searches, but simply gives officers the power to search. The hon. Member for Ladywood knows that well, because she knows the subject better than I do and I defer to her experience. Paragraph 4(2) of schedule 5 says that an examining officer may search that person and any baggage belonging to him in accordance with the powers and responsibilities vested in that officer under paragraph 2. That power must, deliberately, be wide and my first concern about the amendment—I do not say "objection", because the amendment does not justify that word; whatever else, it is clearly proposed in a spirit of humanity and concern for the rights of women—is that as soon as one qualifies a search and says that only certain parts of the body may be searched, or certain items of luggage or clothing, one immediately gives the terrorist—the only person with whom we are concerned—the avenue he seeks. The terrorist will know that he or she has the right not to be subjected to a particular type of search and, bearing that in mind, will devise an appropriate method of concealment.

The hon. Member for Ladywood mentioned the searching of a pram but she knows of the diffidence and reluctance of members of the security services about searching a pram and making a mother take her baby out of the pram and throw the clothing to one side to see what is underneath the pram. But she also knows it is a matter of great sadness to millions of women in this country and in the Province—that such diffidence has resulted in devices being carried in prams and those devices have caused death to innocent mothers and babies. My anxiety is that, the minute the power of search is qualified, in the way the amendment seeks, we tie the hands of the officers and that is inconsistent with providing the necessary power to ensure that a thorough search is carried out when it is needed for the examining officer's inquiry.

Ms. Short

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that a fundamental frame that we have used in law when talking about restricting people's liberties or locking them up is to give power to the Executive to carry out those actions when there is reasonable cause. Would it not be better, if we are giving officers the power to strip off people's clothes, to provide that there must be some grounds for suspicion before that power can be used?

Mr. Norris

The hon. Lady has made a good point about the width of the powers given to examining officers. Were it not for the exceptional context of this legislation, the House would be well advised to examine that power in great detail.

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Norris

I shall give way when I have finished my reply to the hon. Lady.

I do not believe that under the power given by the Bill to search to determine whether that person appears to be a person who is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism to which this paragraph applies", one can start with sufficient evidence for a prima facie case before one is allowed to search. We all know that in the context of normal customs investigations, customs officers who are experienced in such matters look at a queue of people passing through the green and red channels and occasionally they will ask a person in the green channel to stop and they will ask a few more questions than usual about his trip and what he is carrying. They do so for a combination of reasons, one of which is that such a random search shows others that it is not worth while to abuse the privilege of ease of passage that the green channel gives.

Another reason is that the officers have built up years of experience from which they can identify tell-tale signs that lead them to say: "I don't know what it is, but something about the person worries me. I may have seen him before and he is acting in a way I regard as suspicious." That is the basis on which an experienced investigating officer works. To define that in law other than in the broadest terms is genuinely difficult and we should be careful about that when drafting. None the less, that power is a necessary one to give to officers.

Mr. Hind

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as well as dealing with Irish terrorism, which is the main stream of the Bill, the schedule also refers to other types of terrorism? We are dealing not only with Northern Ireland, but with international terrorists who come through our airports in situations such as my hon. Friend has outlined. That is why the powers are necessary.

Mr. Norris

My hon. Friend made that point when he raised the subject of drugs and the necessity for officers to have wide powers to search for drugs. The issue is the same, and the Bill is concerned with the prevention not only of Irish terrorism but of terrorism generally.

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) for not having given way to him. However, I am delighted and flattered that he is taking such an interest in my speech. I trust that he will stay for the end of it, which will arrive shortly. I want first to make the point that the hon. Member for Ladywood knows that the Bill requires that a search of the person may be carried out only by a person of the same sex. I regard that to be as necessary as the hon. Lady considers it to be. It provides some protection from prurient interest and from exploitation of an intimate examination to which the hon. Members for Ladywood and for Redcar have both rightly referred. We should be adamant in ensuring that that provision continues.

The Bill is almost unique in our current parliamentary framework, in that Parliament renews annually powers that, wisely, it has not taken to itself in perpetuity. The rationale for that is that the situation in the Province changes each year, so each year the House endeavours to ensure that the restrictions we put on freedom of the individual and freedom of passage to and from the United Kingdom and across the sea is only as severe as is appropriate to the threat to the peaceful order of the country at the time.

The hon. Member for Ladywood introduced the idea that perhaps the searches could be carried out by machine. My understanding is that, sadly, that is not the case. I say "sadly" because I assure her that if satisfactory evidence were available that machines that could be applied externally were utterly foolproof and that examination for substances or objects could take place without the necessity for anyone to take off any article of clothing—inner or outer—I would want this provision removed from the Bill. However, sadly, I do not believe that that is the case.

Mr. Greg Knight

Does my hon. Friend agree that the main point is that most law-abiding people are prepared to accept some embarrassment if that means that the risk of them, their neighbours or relatives being killed is diminished?

8 pm

Mr. Norris

We all accept the intellectual logic of my hon. Friend's argument. He makes a reasonable point which, I hope, is the reaction of most honest people who are asked where they have been on holiday when they arrive back in this country with their perfectly lawful duty-free allowances.

I am prepared to accept that the hon. Members for Ladywood and for Redcar have reflected the genuine sense of outrage which not only women, but men, feel if an examination goes further than merely cross-questioning or further than a cursory examination such as one has every time one travels on an aeroplane, and involves taking off clothing and so on. I accept that that process involves indignity and that it is one to which we should never subject people without overriding reasons. Those overriding reasons exist in the context of the prevention of terrorism. As there is not at this stage a satisfactory technical alternative, those powers must remain until that technical alternative is available.

Ms. Mowlam

Our point followed a statement made by the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) when he was a Minister at the Northern Ireland Office. He said that he would review the procedures in relation to alternatives. Does the hon. Gentleman know whether the Northern Ireland Office has carried out such a review? We are concerned because sometimes words are cheap, but the actions cost a little more.

Mr. Norris

I am not answerable for the promises or undertakings given now by my hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who expresses exactly the point that I am seeking to make, although more succinctly.

Our aim is to prevent terrorism and to examine people who enter this country to determine whether they are bringing in with them explosives, weapons or any other items that they might use in the commission of terrorism. The aim is not gratuitously to offend either women or men. Although I cannot speak for my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), I repeat that if I were satisfied that a satisfactory technical alternative existed which would mean that it was clearly and demonstrably unnecessary for anyone to remove any item other than rainwear, I should be the first to say, "Let us thankfully take the power out of the Bill." I believe that there would be unanimous support across the House for that view. However—when the hon. Member for Redcar reflects on this, I am sure that she will agree that this is the case—there is at best equivocal evidence that such a technical facility exists, and at worst the suspicion that our technical expertise in that area is not up to the dangerous task in hand.

Mr. Heffer

I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) since his return to the House. Having listened to some of his hon. Friends, it is a real pleasure to listen to him because he has a somewhat different and more humane approach. I take on board his honesty in this matter. I do not believe that he wants to see strip searching or any other type of searching that could cause humiliation. I believe that he is genuine about that, and I understand the dilemma that he is in—and frankly we are all in—on this matter.

Let us examine what happens in relation to stopping terrorists or potential terrorists from getting into other places. Nowadays it is clearly vital that we have measures of protection at party conferences. That is obviously the case for the party in government, but we in opposition also do the same—although up to a point I cannot understand why. We prevent, for example, people entering the hotels at which the hierarchy are staying. However, as far as I know, no one who enters the portals of the Conservative party conference is strip-searched. Of course, they are searched effectively, as we are. In fact, I get a bit fed up with it at times because the security people look under one's fingernails, under one's coat, up the bottom of one's trousers and goodness knows where else. To say the least, it can be slightly annoying, but one understands that it has to be done. However, as I have said, nobody is strip-searched.

Day after day, people enter the House of Commons. I well remember some events in the House before 3ecurity was tightened. I remember somebody throwing a smoke bomb—thank God it was not a real bomb.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

That happened twice.

Mr. Heffer

Yes, there were two. I also remember a farming gentleman throwing something other than a bomb. It landed over here and made quite a mess. Rightly, efforts were made to protect Members of Parliament somewhat more effectively than they had been protected before, but nobody who comes to the House of Commons is strip-searched.

Those are three places where, despite strict protection, nobody is strip-searched—

Mr. Greg Knight

I have listened carefully to the lion. Gentleman's argument, and I am not sure whether he is making a good point. First, will he accept from me that each delegate who attends the Tory party conference must produce a security pass which has a photograph appended to it? That is a little different from encountering a couple of people dressed as farmers in a country lane in Ireland.

Secondly, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that police dogs enter the House before the House sits, and that they not only sniff out the Chamber for explosives, but go upstairs.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

The dogs come in when no one is here.

Mr. Heffer

My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) has made a good point. The dogs come in when nobody is here—apart from a few people walking about.

I agree that people coming to this country must have a passport, but if such people come from Northern Ireland, they are United Kingdom citizens. Although people may come here from another country by way of Northern Ireland, people from Northern Ireland are citizens of this country.

This is a difficult problem. I am not saying that it is easy. I am not arguing that we should do nothing because this issue is of no consequence; it is of consequence. However, I have always had a dreadful image of strip-searching. I have seen photographs and films—thank God I have not seen it done myself, although I was in the forces—of what we all know happened to the men and women who were stripped naked by the Nazis. We know of their terrible humiliation. The first thing that is done to humiliate a person is to strip him. There is nothing worse than being naked in front of several people. Dreadful things are done. We live in a civilised society. We do not use the methods of uncivilised people. If we did, we would cross the Rubicon from civilised behaviour. That is not acceptable.

It is about time we spent more money on getting machines to do searches. We remember the dreadful, horrible business of the plane being blown up. People from several companies came to me saying, "We have had machines for some time that would find that sort of thing, but they have not been used. They have not been taken on board." I do not know enough about the matter, but we should examine it and put some money into research to ensure that we create the appropriate machines. If we can go to the moon, we can surely do something to stop such humiliation.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

I apologise for not being in the Chamber for the beginning of the debate. I am struck by one of the hon. Gentleman's points. He started speaking with perfectly humane motives. However, such motives can easily lead to sentimentalism and a confusion of categories. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the Nazi analogy applied to us, whereas the problem is that we are dealing with people who have Nazi instincts. They are the killers, and we are trying to prevent them from killing. We must not allow one's justified concern about strip-searching to lead to a fundamental confusion of categories.

Secondly—I do not want to try the hon. Gentleman's patience—if we were to say "No, this is too abhorrent; let us stop strip-searching," what would be the practical result? It would be that people would take advantage of that to camouflage their terrorism more effectively.

Mr. Heffer

The hon. Gentleman has reduced the argument to a simple matter. It is not a simple matter. I do not agree with the methods of terrorism and violence to solve political questions, but we cannot say that, in all circumstances, people who conceal weapons necessarily have Nazi tendencies. For example, the people in Europe whom we supported and provided with arms to fight the Nazis did much the same thing. The Nazis called them terrorists. We regarded them as freedom fighters. It depends on what angle one takes.

We are talking about methods that are used now. Whatever happens, the ultimate solution to the problems of Ireland—North and South—is a political settlement.

Violence by anybody on any side will not solve the problem—after all, we have had it for a long time. We must examine the problem from that angle.

I ask the House to support the amendment—perhaps with some reservations—because of the humanity involved and the fact that it will prevent humiliation. Many innocent people are affected. Powerful arguments have been advanced on that point, and they should be supported.

8.15 pm
Mr. Sumberg

This has been one of the best debates on the matter that I have listened to. Some hon. Members have discussed this topic for a considerable time, both in Committee and in the House. I enjoyed the eloquence of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris). I was crouched forward because I had not heard him speak in the House since before the last election. It was good to see him back and to hear his speech.

All decent instincts have come to the fore in the debate. None of us can be entirely happy that we are to pass a piece of legislation that will allow strip searching. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said, there is a history to the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) said that it would not be right to be sentimental, but images of the past and of the present make one frightened that such things must happen. There can be nothing more humiliating for a man or a woman—I make no distinction between the sexes—than to be stripped before others, or even before one other person, to prove his or her innocence. I have never experienced it, and I hope that I never will.

Throughout the Bill's proceedings, I have said that civilised society faces a great challenge to all things that we believe in. Hon. Members have referred to many of them in this debate. All civilised values are under threat from terrorists. The hon. Member for Walton was right to say that there must be a political settlement. However, until there is a settlement of peace and until law and order are established, such a settlement cannot happen.

Ms. Short

I put that point to the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) whose return to the House I, too, enjoy. The hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) agrees that making someone strip off their clothes in front of uniformed individuals is oppressive and that none of us would like it. Does he agree that, if the power is necessary in some circumstances, there should be a requirement to show reasonable cause to do it? Under the Bill as it stands, an examining officer can do it to search for information. Does the hon. Gentleman consider that that goes too far?

Mr. Sumberg

That promotes various difficulties. If reasonable cause must be shown, it can be challenged. We are dealing with an emergency in which a decision must be taken immediately. We are relying on the good faith and good sense of the officer involved.

As I said, society faces a challenge. Over the past 10 years, terrorism has increased. More and more people are being killed and maimed. Examples are invidious. The fact that we must contemplate this legislation means that the terrorist has achieved some form of victory. That is the price that we have to pay.

Dr. Reid

The hon. Gentleman has discussed at some length and in the abstract the principles involved in some of these issues. As a relative newcomer to the debate, may I ask him with no mischief intended to consider to what practical end strip searches are carried out? I ask in all innocence. Have any of the maimings been prevented by dangerous weapons and substances, detonators and so on being found during such strip searches? If so, to what extent? If not, to what end are we insisting on strip searches?

Mr. Sumberg

I do not have all the figures, but perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister does. Even if I could say that nothing has been found, it would still be reasonable to include strip searching, because it acts as a deterrent. It is a preventive measure against people taking the chance of importing explosives or other materials that can maim and kill. It works on the same principle as customs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest mentioned, when we may try to smuggle in something less dangerous. Not everyone is checked, but each of us knows that if we go through the green channel we may be challenged, searched and found out. As in other matters, I believe in the deterrent effect, although perhaps some Labour Members do not. Strip searching acts as an aid to fight terrorism.

I hope that we can look forward to the day when these measures are not necessary and when we have the technicality and science to avoid them. I hope that we are working on that. For a variety of reasons unconnected with Northern Ireland it is essential that people can travel safely. Until that day arrives measures of this sort are needed. I hope that it will not be long before they are redundant.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

First, I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, who is unwell and in bed. He is sorry not to be here to reply to this and a subsequent debate. Nevertheless, I am glad that the Northern Ireland Office is represented by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.

This has been a good and far-ranging debate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) said. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris), I well understand the anxiety and distress articulated by the hon. Members for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short). Those fears are more theoretical than real, but to the extent that they are real they may require further consideration.

I shall focus on the rather narrow amendment No. 24 which requires careful consideration.

Ms. Short

That is what we have been considering all along.

Mr. Hogg

I heard that remark. I said that this had been a wide-ranging debate involving discussions on strip-searching in prison and elsewhere. We are talking about the exercise by examining officers of their powers at the port controls and it is on that that I wish to focus.

It is plain that many of the circumstances described are covered either by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act codes of practice, particularly by code C, annex A, or by sections 54 and 55 of PACE. Where a person has been arrested by the police and brought to a police station, which could happen under paragraph 6(4) of schedule 5, or where a person is arrested by the police under clause 14 and brought to a police station, the safeguards contained in sections 54 and 55 apply. For that matter the provisions in annex A of code C also apply where a person is detained by the police in a police station. That is a power of detention which arises under the schedule, but which falls short of the exercise of a power of arrest.

As the hon. Ladies will know, page 64 of the code deals with strip searching and states: A strip search (that is a search involving the removals of more than outer clothing) may take place only if the custody officer considers it to be necessary to remove an article which the detained person would not be allowed to keep. So in many of the circumstances that we have discussed, the position is already safeguarded either by sections 54 or 55 of PACE or by annex A of PACE code C.

There remains a gap. If a person is detained riot by a police officer and not in the police station, the position is not covered by either of those two sections or by the codes. The same is true if a detention or an arrest is made by an examining officer who is not a policeman because, as the House knows, examining officers, although usually policemen, are not always policemen. There is a gap which has been identified.

Dr. Reid

As the Minister is discussing the difference between the theoretical and the real position can he answer my question to the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg)? In reality, rather than in theory, what has been the result of strip searches in terms of discovering anything that could be regarded as remotely dangerous?

Mr. Hogg

I am afraid that I do not have with me a detailed summary of the result of searches, and I would not wish to try to summarise what is clearly a large subject. I shall not try to answer that question because I do not have the factual information to enable me to do so.

Dr. Reid


Mr. Hogg

No, I have answered that question and I cannot clarify it further. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I did answer the question. I said that I did not have any information. It may not be the answer that the hon. Gentleman wanted, but it is a perfectly clear answer, it is the best that I can give, and I give it.

A gap that requires further consideration has been highlighted. It is unattractive that, in the certain narrow circumstances that I have described, strip searching could take place without any of the safeguards that would have applied had the person been arrested by a police officer. Therefore, I should like to reflect on the matter to consider the extent to which further safeguards should and could be incorporated in the Bill. I will arrange for that to be done.

Ms. Mowlam

I appreciate the Minister giving way and acknowledging the obvious loopholes and weaknesses in this section of the legislation. When he refers to the PACE provisions, can he further reassure the House-he has already explained the weaknesses that exist about controls at ports—that the PACE provisions for Northern Ireland contained in statutory instruments currently before the House will include exclusions in relation to the prevention of terrorism as they have done in the past? May I assist the Minister by answering the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid)? If the Minister had read the Hansard of the Standing Committee he would be aware that all that had been found from strip searches was perfume, £5, a couple of letters and a key.

Mr. Hogg

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will consider very carefully the hon. Lady's first point. I am grateful for the information that the hon. Lady gave about searches.

Amendment negatived.

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