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 Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey 6:45 pm, 25th October 1984

With the leave of the House, perhaps I may respond to one or two matters raised in the debate.

I ought perhaps to remind the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) that the amendment approved in the other place was moved by my noble Friend Baroness Masham of Ilton. If my noble Friend had heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Ladywood she would be rightly shocked. It is not an issue which anyone takes any relish in debating or legislating about. It is unfortunately an issue which the length to which members of the criminal fraternity are prepared to go in drug dealing has brought to our attention. We are doing our best in the amendments approved in the other place to solve the problem.

I wish to comment on three issues raised in the debate. The first refers to class A drugs. By their definition, class A drugs are highly dangerous. There is no doubt that some are more dangerous than heroin. LSD is an example. As for addictiveness, since the power is restricted to possession with intent to supply in practice it will bite only in the case of drugs which have a market and for which there is a demand.

Our main concern at the moment is with heroin. But there are other drugs which are also of concern although they are not so common or popular with addicts at present. I have in mind some of the pain-killing drugs—the opiates, morphine, pethidine and, of course, cocaine. But there are reasons for saying that the class A drugs are the most dangerous and that those drugs which become marketed as part of the criminal intention to create addiction are the ones which in due course will be covered by police activities in this area.

As for the BMA, the medical profession has made it clear that doctors can ethically and properly carry out intimate searches to remove articles which pose an immediate threat to the lives of the persons concerned or those guarding them. The BMA has now accepted that, because of the threat posed by heroin to the health of society, it may be right and necessary for doctors to participate in its removal from a suspected dealer. But the amendments are not limited to heroin, because there are other class A drugs, and there can be no logical difference between the removal of one dangerous drug and that of another. Internal concealment and danger to the health of the carrier which is posed by it make the drugs even more dangerous, and we hope that doctors will be able to agree to act upon police requests for assistance.

The nursing professions have accepted that the voluntary involvement of their members is permissible in the exceptional circumstances for which this power provides. The Royal College of Midwives has not accepted it, but in many cases members of that college are also registered nurses. The Bill makes it clear that the searching for drugs in terms of the intimate search powers will have to be carried out by a registered medical practitioner or a registered nurse.

My final comment relates to the remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett). The real issue at stake should be the prevention of drugs coming into the country, anyhow. We know that this is a big world-wide traffic. We have to do our best to improve the sources of detection before they reach the market. I assure the House that the Government have taken action in terms of additional customs provision. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health announced recently that 100 new customs posts will be provided to fight drug smuggling alone, that there will be additional customs staff on the Central Drugs Intelligence Unit and that senior customs officers have been posted to Karachi to improve operational intelligence about that market from which so many drugs come. I accept entirely that what has to come about is stifling the trade at birth rather than being involved in pieces of legislation which give no one pleasure when discussing the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill and these amendments.