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.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South 6:45 pm, 25th October 1984

Once again I listened with great care to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). Much of what he said tonight was said in other places, including in Committee. I do not believe that the Bill can be allowed to go on to the statute book without, at some stage, someone answering certain fundamental questions. I have posed those questions to Government Ministers and to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds on a number of occasions, but have not yet received answers.

I intervened during the speech of the Minister of State to draw his attention to the wording of Lords amendment No. 156, which is in the male, rather than the male or female, form. Perhaps the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds inadvertently misled hon. Members in Committee, on Report and in the House. I appreciate the cause that he seeks to espouse, and I understand his position in these matters, but I do not see how the listening device referred to in the first example can be said to be an object likely to cause physical injury to himself or others; and (ii) he might so use while he is in police detention or in custody of a court; I cannot see how the type of detonator that needs other firing devices can be said to fall within the provisions of amendment No. 156. I have often puzzled over the Gloucestershire case and I have never been able to understand how a bunch of keys would come under the terms of the amendment.

When one talks about intimate body searches, whether of male or female persons, one is beginning to go down the road which says that even the human body is no longer sacrosanct within the English legal system. It is easy, in the context and times of dreadful events, to use a dreadful event as an excuse to pervert—if I may put it as strongly as that—some of the basic principles that we have held strongly for a long time.

Everyone in the House wishes to facilitate the fight against crime, to ensure that the guilty are captured and sentenced and that society is protected, but liberty also has its price. I have heard no evidence at any stage of the discussions on the Bill which has convinced me that intimate body searches will assist in the fight against the drug pusher. Not one example has been given, as far as I can recall—if anyone can think of an example I shall stand to be corrected—of intimate body searches having facilitated the conviction of a drug pusher. The reality is that when a person suspected of being a drug pusher or carrier is taken to the police station it is easy to make a claim, "We suspect that you are." What worries me is that if the amendment reaches the statute book that allegation will become the justification for the extensive use of intimate body searches.

I am also worried that the amendment talks of a class A drug only. How is anyone to know beore the search whether one is searching for—I believe that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds recognised the point—class A or class B drugs? It will be sought to justify the search by saying that it might be a class A drug, even if it turns out to be a class B drug or nothing. How, why and what justification will be sought? We all know that in practice it will be recorded in the notebook, "I believed that". That is a justification, but it is not good enough. We have stepped down the road of licence. We have started licensing intimate body searches. The moment one starts down that road, one starts to negate liberties.

In a civilised society we do not need these provisions. There are many other ways in which we can secure the protection of our liberties. For example, we could employ people to find these offenders, but I shall not waste the time of the House by canvassing what has been said by other hon. Members about other methods.

I shall leave the House with one last thought. It goes back to something that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said tonight. He asked whether the Association of Police Surgeons of Great Britain would take the same ethical view as the BMA. The BMA objects to intimate body searches on the ethical ground that it is wrong to probe the human body where there is no danger to life or limb from whatever that person has been using his body for. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the letter from the BMA dated 23 October, of which no doubt he has received a copy, he will see that it sets out clearly the basis of its ethical objections. It is simple. If there is no danger, there should be no probe.

I cannot see how the Association of Police Surgeons can take a different view. Its members are invariably members of the BMA and no doubt are subject to the same rules of the ethics committee. Perhaps we could end the argument if the members of the medical profession stood united. Whether they be doctors, nurses or midwives, the basis of their ethics is the same. They believe in the sanctity of human life and the protection and sanctity of the human body. If they stand firm, as the Minister said, there will be no intimate searches and our country will be that little bit more civilised.