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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Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett , Birmingham, Erdington 6:45 pm, 25th October 1984

I am glad that the Minister has clarified that point.

The Opposition have two major objections to the Government's proposals for intimate searches for drugs that could be carried out with the use of force. In all the consultations during the passage of the Bill the doctors have made clear their distaste at being required to search for evidence. Doctors and others in the medical profession have found that prospect alarming. They are reluctant to be asked not simply to search for evidence during an examination, but, if necessary, to do so with the application of force. I am sure that the Minister and others will take on board the fact that it is a matter of medical ethics, which must not be taken lightly in this place or elsewhere. It is certainly not taken lightly in the medical profession. Many members of the medical profession may decline to become involved in such practices. I noted that the Minister was careful to say that, where someone in the medical profession came to that conclusion, that view would be accepted.

A doctor, or, in the terms of one of the amendments, a "suitably qualified person", does not have ethical problems when the search—perhaps involving the use of force—of an arrested person is justified on ground of danger to the life of the individual. As the BMA has told us: It is our view that there can be no objection to a medical practitioner carrying out an intimate body search where the purpose is to remove an object which is of immediate danger to the life or personal safety of the suspect or of those people responsible for the suspect's custody and supervision. I am glad that the Minister acknowledges the strength of that argument. In other words, the BMA accepts that where the concealed drug could cause danger or physical injury to the suspect, its members would be prepared to search.

As the Minister and the House will recognise, this is an important distinction, because we are being told that the BMA does not support the search for evidence but would support a search if the reasons for it involved the safety of the suspect and that is the reasonable judgment of the suitably qualified person. That is a mile away from the clumsy compulsion in other parts of the Bill.

The second problem relates to the class A list of drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The BMA was in consultation with the Home Office and made some proposals to the Department, but then the lines went dead. It was expecting a response from those responsible in the Home Office, but, in the words of the old song, "Answer came there none." As the Minister and the House will be aware, more than 85 drugs are listed in schedule 2, part I, to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The House will be delighted to know that I do not intend to read them out, mainly because of the problems that I anticipate over pronunciation of names of the drugs.

A wide range of drugs are set out in the list. There are a few of immediate interest, such as heroin, which the Minister mentioned. The others are the cocaine and cocaine-based drugs and the morphine and morphine-derivative drugs. I have taken advice, and I am informed that those are a small number of the drugs listed in the class A schedule. The amendment implies that we expect police officers not simply to be able to suspect that there may be morphine or cocaine-related drugs concealed in the intimate parts of the suspect, but to be able to spot the difference between cannabinol, either with or without cannabis or cannabis resin around it.

Amendment No. 156 allows for forceful intimate searches where a superintendent or more senior officer has reasonable grounds for believing that the suspect may have a class A drug concealed on him. Are we saying that a superintendent, or the generality of senior officers above that, can tell his ethylmethylthiambutene from his 4-Cyano-2-dimethylamino-4? It is ludicrous to suggest that, and, with the greatest respect to those in the medical profession, I should think that one would have to go a long way round that profession before one could find a qualified doctor who could instantly tell one the use of most of the drugs on the class A list.

The BMA further tells us that it acknowledges the point about the need for much better efforts to be made to stop the entry of heroin, the trafficking in it and its use. It is very much a linked process. As I have already said, if better efforts were made to stop heroin coming into the country in the first place, it would help to solve the problem.

The BMA also says this: We appreciate the size of the current problem relating to the illegal importation of heroin but we believe that any provision made in respect of heroin would need to be a specific temporary provision. It appears to us that this could be done within the Bill by giving the Secretary of State the power to permit searches for heroin by laying the appropriate regulation. We believe these powers should be covered by an Affirmative Regulation. It goes on to make the point that on the class A schedule is a drug called Fentanyl. It is used in carefully controlled circumstances in operating theatres, and there is no known case of addiction to it.