Initimate Searches

Part of Orders of the Day — Police and Criminal Evidence Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 25th October 1984.

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Mr. Shaw:

We now come to clause 53 which is concerned with the powers of intimate search. I know that this issue has been of concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House as well as to their Lordships. The amendments permit, in the first place, nurses as well as doctors to undertake an intimate search, and, in the second place, the authorisation of doctors and nurses to search for class A drugs in certain circumstances. In addition, the Customs' powers of investigative intimate search are unaffected by these provisions.

7.30 pm

The Bill as passed by this House made no provision far intimate searches to be undertaken by anyone other than a registered medical practitioner or police constable, nor did it provide for an intimate search to be carried out for any reason other than to remove a concealed or potential weapon. The first Bill provided for an intimate search to be carried out for investigation purposes—to obtain concealed evidence of a serious arrestable offence—but when my right hon. Friend reviewed the provisions of the Bill before reintroducing it into this House he took the view that this investigative power should be removed from the police.

However, in another place there was general agreement on all sides that this position was not satisfactory. It was urged that nurses and midwives as well as doctors should be able to undertake intimate searches, on the basis that, if such a search had to be undertaken in the first place, it was preferable for it to be undertaken by someone who was better qualified than a police officer. The Government were wholly sympathetic to this argument. We have always made it clear that intimate searches should be undertaken by police officers only as a last resort, where the risk of injury to the detained person himself or those guarding him outweigh the risk of injury caused by the search. Accordingly, after consultation with the relevant professional bodies, amendments were brought forward which would permit registered nurses to carry out intimate searches. These are amendments Nos. 162, 171, 172 and 174.

I should like to stress several points. First, intimate searches now take place only in exceptional circumstances. The new safeguards contained in the clause will ensure that the need to resort to a compulsory search of this nature arises only where there is no acceptable alternative. Secondly, if the need for such a search arises, the first port of call for the police is, and will remain, their own police surgeon, if this is practicable and he or she is available. It follows that the participation of nurses will be far from a routine occurrence. Thirdly, the Bill does not oblige any doctor or nurse to undertake a search on the authorisation of a senior police officer; it simply provides the authority in law for a search to be made.

The second point on which there was general agreement in another place was that, in view of the threat to the life and health of many young people posed by the growing trade in dangerous drugs, there should be a clear provision in the Bill for an intimate search to be carried out when a dealer or carrier is suspected, on reasonable grounds, of internally concealing drugs, particularly heroin. The amendments now before the House meet this need. They provide a power of search related to a class A drug which is being carried with intent to supply or export it. So the power is focused on those directly concerned in trading in these evil substances. It is also limited in other ways. Unlike a search for a concealed weapon, considerations of great urgency will not arise, and search for a class A drug may be carried out only by a registered medical practitioner or nurse—not by a police officer—and only at a hospital, surgery or other medical premises—that is, not at a police station. Because the power to remove class A drugs is vested solely in doctors and nurses, we have to recognise——