National Dna Database

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:43 pm on 29th February 2008.

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Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Identity) 2:43 pm, 29th February 2008

Perhaps I should cut through some of what I was going to say and move swiftly on to talk about the equality impact assessments, particularly those relating to the DNA database. Time is short, and this is the crux of what the hon. Lady and, I hope, other Members are interested in.

The National Policing Improvement Agency is conducting an equality impact assessment to identify any potential adverse effects in the processes and procedures surrounding the management of the database. That includes how data, particularly on diversity, are recorded on the database—the issue I raised earlier about how that can be done as fairly as possible within the constraints of day-to-day policing. Also, the Association of Chief Police Officers' DNA good practice guide provides guidance for police forces on DNA sampling and custody suites.

The assessment is being conducted by the NPIA equality, diversity and human rights team, in partnership with ACPO and the Home Office. Other interested parties are also being consulted, and I am sure that the hon. Lady's views would be welcome. I undertake to ensure that hon. Members receive a copy once the assessment is published, and will ensure that the hon. Lady receives notification of publication, as well as a copy of the document.

If any such discrimination exists, we will take action to address it. I would be keen to do so. Having a constituency such as mine, it would be difficult for me not to say that, but I believe in it passionately. We cannot allow anything that is not fair to continue. If there are any unfairnesses in there, we will drive them out. That work is being done in consultation with the Equality and Human Rights Commission. We are working with as many interested parties as possible to get this right.

The hon. Lady raised issues of retention in relation to non-convicted persons. We will have to agree to differ on that point. We have seen huge results from the retention of such data. She mentioned the European Court case; I shall not comment on S and Marper, as we are expecting a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights in summer—possibly around August.

On those charged with offences but not convicted, which involved about 200,000 people from May 2001 to December 2005, about 8,500 profiles were linked with crime scene profiles. That involved nearly 14,000 offences, including—this is where I differ with the hon. Lady—114 murders, five attempted murders, 116 rapes, 68 sexual offences, 119 aggravated burglaries and 127 links to the supply of controlled drugs. Those are serious crimes. Had those 200,000 people not been on the database, they would not have been linked to those crimes. That speaks for itself and it helps to solve serious crimes and protect the public, which, after all, is the role of the Home Office and, in particular, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Let us take this down to real-life crimes. I shall not go into too much detail, but let us take the recent example of Mark Dixie, who has been convicted of murder and was arrested following a punch-up in the pub where he worked. The incident was, in itself, fairly minor and no further action was taken, but because his DNA was on the database, a match to the murderer was produced. Within five hours, he was under arrest.

We believe that the DNA database serves a useful and important role. I recognise fully the hon. Lady's concerns, which have been reflected to me by constituents and by other hon. Members. That is why we are looking into how we can make improvements and seeing what might be done. I should add a word of caution, though. Even if, overnight, we found some way of tackling issues about the over-representation of young black men in the criminal justice system, the DNA database would still exist as a reflection of the past. There is no likelihood of the Government removing any profiles from it on any scale. It would take decades before the balance evened up, were we even to solve the issues that might exist in terms of detection.

I undertake to maintain contact with all hon. Members who are interested in this important matter and to reflect the significant issues raised by the hon. Lady, which are of great concern to the Home Office.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Three o'clock