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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.22 to 8.30 p.m.]

Immigration and Asylum Bill

House again in Committee.

Clauses 123 and 124 agreed to.

Clause 125 [Searching arrested persons]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Simon): Before calling Amendment No. 193WA, I advise the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 193XA.

Baroness Williams of Crosby moved Amendment No. 193WA:

Page 79, line 40, leave out ("but it does authorise the search of a person's mouth").

The noble Baroness said: I can move this amendment reasonably quickly. It deals with the whole area of search under the Bill, involving the right of immigration officers and others to investigate and search somebody who is suspected of an offence.

We are particularly concerned about the fact that under Clause 125 officials have the right to authorise the search of a person's mouth. We understand that that is necessary in the case of drug offences. We are generally very puzzled about why it should be authorised in the case of immigration offences. It is rather difficult to understand what people might conceal in their mouths that may be germane to discovering that they were guilty of an immigration offence.

We have been told about one hard case. This related to a woman who apparently had some razor blades in her mouth. She said that she was prepared to commit suicide if an attempt was made to deport her. That was obviously a sad case but, I believe, a very rare one. That case does not seem to us to provide grounds for including in the rights of search that are contained in the Bill the search of a person's mouth.

There are already restraints in the Bill; for example, intimate searches are not generally permissible. We suggest that searching a person's mouth should fall into the same category and not generally be subject to the right of search.

We are worried on several grounds. First, for many people this an unacceptable intrusion. Secondly, we genuinely cannot see its relevance. We know of no other case that has been mentioned to justify it. Thirdly, we are referring to people who in many cases will have been traumatised in their earlier existence. Therefore,

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we are very strongly opposed to intrusions which are not absolutely essential. This amendment seems to us to fall clearly within that category. I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The effect of Amendment No. 193WA would be to remove the specific authorisation in Clause 125(5), which provides for the search of an arrested person's mouth. Amendment No. 193XA would limit searches under this subsection to an outer coat, jacket or glove, and only where the immigration officer had reasonable grounds for believing that the arrested person might be in possession of an item capable of causing physical injury to himself or to another person.

The consequence of the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness would be to introduce divergent practices between the immigration authorities and the police. The amendments would prevent immigration officers carrying out certain kinds of effective search. An immigration officer searching a person has a duty not only to that person but also to his or her own safety and the safety of others at the scene.

Experience has shown that items such as razor blades, drugs and other dangerous materials are concealed in the mouth. That is why a specific reference to searching a person's mouth appears in the equivalent police powers under Section 32 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and why it has been replicated here.

It is not the intention of this clause to provide immigration officers with powers to enable them to carry out intrusive and inappropriate searches. Immigration officers will receive specific training in this area, and the emphasis of that training will be on sensitivity and co-operation. I expect that there will be very many cases in which immigration officers would have no grounds for suspecting that dangerous items had been concealed. However, we cannot assume that that will always be the case. The clause provides adequate safeguards which apply to the police and others who are empowered by the police and criminal evidence codes.

An immigration officer must have reasonable grounds for believing that relevant items are concealed on an arrested person. He or she can search only to the extent that is reasonably required for the purpose of discovering such items. I cannot invite noble Lords to support these amendments. If an officer has reasonable grounds for believing that relevant items are concealed on an arrested person and if he or she can search only to the extent that is reasonably required for the purpose of discovering such items, in my submission, those provisions are not objectionable. I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Dholakia: May I probe the Minister about the position of asylum seekers? Will there will be enough women immigration officers to carry out such duties? Culturally, it is fairly offensive to women from certain countries to be examined by male officers, even if it relates to a search of the mouth.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: It is fairly clear that the Minister does not intend to yield on Amendment No. 193WA. As this amendment is grouped with

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Amendment No. 193XA, I shall say a word or two about that. If the Minister is not prepared to accept Amendment No. 193WA--

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Clearly not.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: In that case, I shall press him on Amendment No. 193XA. I do not mean to be rude, but I find his argument quite disingenuous. Drugs are not part of an immigration offence, as it is normally understood. They are, of course, part of a straightforward offence in our society. If an immigrant or a refugee is charged with a drugs offence, it is perfectly reasonable to investigate his or her mouth; we are not arguing to the contrary. However, this is not about drugs offences; it is about immigration offences. It is difficult to see how somebody would, for example, swallow a passport. I suppose it is possible, but it seems unlikely.

I repeat that the only case about which we have heard to justify this quite extraordinary level of intrusion--of a kind that creates considerable cultural problems, as my noble friend has pointed out--is the case of one lady, about whom we have all heard, who was found to have a razor blade concealed in her mouth. People who threaten to commit suicide do the same thing, but we do not immediately authorise a search of the mouths of people who are stopped and searched by police officers, unless there is reason to suspect that a drugs offence has been committed.

I turn to Amendment No. 193XA as a fall-back position. It seems to me that this amendment limits the way in which a search of a person's mouth could be sustained. It makes it clear that an officer must have reasonable grounds for believing that the suspect might be in possession of an item capable of causing physical injury to himself or to another person. This at least would limit the powers of search.

I beg the Minister to think again. This is similar to the kind of matters which we have come across in other cases under the stop-and-search powers, which have created tremendous strains in relations between the different communities in this country. It seems very difficult to justify this degree of intrusion. We accept that it may be necessary in a case in which somebody is charged with offences that are directly relevant, such as drugs offences, but that is quite a different issue, as the Minister well knows.

I suggest to the Minister that Amendment No. 193XA, which is unexceptionable by any possible standard, should at least be written into the Bill if he insists on maintaining the provisions relating to the search of a person's mouth. I believe that anything less than this is likely to create totally unnecessarily strained relations, which we have no wish to bring about, between the immigration service and the people for whom they are responsible.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: I rise to support the noble Baroness. As we started to deal with Part VII of the Bill, I felt almost as if we had hit another author, because the style of Part VII is very different from that

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of Part VI. When we were discussing Part VI, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said several times, when pressed, that we do not have to put everything on the face of the Bill whereas it seems in Part VII that we are putting everything on the face of the Bill and it reads rather strangely. I believe that this particular item--namely, the searching of a person's mouth--could surely be spelled out in a code of practice. Must it really be on the face of the Bill?

Lord Hylton: I support the comments which the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, made a few minutes ago. I had intended to ask the very question that he asked, and I hope that we shall have an answer tonight. We know that there is now a woman police officer in almost every police station in the country. It is the practice that women will be searched only by other women. Perhaps the Minister could say how many women immigration officers are now in post and what proportion that number bears to the total.

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