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Column 71Winterton, Nicholas
Young, Sir George (Acton)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. David Maclean and
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory.
Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment made : No. 4, in clause 15 in page 10, line 5 leave out if necessary by force'.-- [Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.]
and may not be a strip search (that is, a search involving the removal of more than the outer clothing.)'
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.
Column 72prepared 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.
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.
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
Column 73Council 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.
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--
"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,
Column 74but 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
Column 75of 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.
"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
Column 76in 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.
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.
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.
Column 77May 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. 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.
Column 787.45 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
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.
Column 79It 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.
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
Column 80who 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.