New Clause 1 — Destruction of samples etc: England and Wales

Part of Commission for the Compact – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 19th May 2009.

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Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee 4:45 pm, 19th May 2009

I have a great deal of sympathy with Chris Huhne, who based his arguments on the system in Scotland, which offers us an example of what can be done. I feel—this prompted my intervention during the discussion on the programme motion—that this serious and important area of policy deserves a proper debate in the House, rather than the time that we have allocated for this debate.

The Government are reacting to a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. When the judgment was made, the Home Secretary made a statement to the House at the end of last year. Several months passed before the Government decided what their new policy would be. The Government have not met the fundamental objection to holding the DNA of innocent people on the DNA database. Either someone has committed an offence, or they have not. If they have not committed an offence, it is fundamentally wrong that their DNA should be retained on the database. If it is retained, as the Government hope, and an arbitrary figure, such as six years or 12 years, is chosen—I am not sure why those periods were chosen—the worry is that if that arbitrary figure cannot really be justified, it goes against the whole argument in changing the principle.

When this matter has been raised in the House on numerous occasions, Ministers have said that we need to retain the DNA of individuals in case they commit criminal offences in the future. Ministers have given many examples of the retention of DNA over one issue resulting in people being arrested or imprisoned for another issue several years afterwards. They come to the House with legitimate arguments and evidence to support their view, but I think that that is evidence in support of an even bigger database—the mother of all databases—on which would be retained the DNA of every individual in this country. Either we should have it for everybody, or we should retain only the DNA of those who have been convicted of an offence. The retention of DNA on the presumption that people who are in trouble over one issue will get into trouble over another because they have some kind of criminal tendency is, I think, wrong. That is the problem with the Government's argument—it is the fundamental flaw that they have in trying to address the proper ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. The suggestions made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh deal with that point.

I hope that when the Minister comes to reply he will be able to tell us that the DNA samples of children—of all children—have now been removed from the database. The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing is nodding, but I give the Under-Secretary the opportunity to put that on the record from the Dispatch Box. I do not think that we have heard that from the Dispatch Box since this matter first came into the public domain.

Let me give an example of an innocent person who suddenly has his DNA retained. A hooray Henry—a helpful guy—goes into a pub to enjoy himself. He intervenes to prevent a fight. The police are called to stop everyone in the pub, or outside it, causing a disorder. The police take everyone in and the DNA of the person who intervened to stop the fight is retained.

One of my constituents did exactly that. He intervened to prevent a fight, was arrested, detained overnight in a police station and had his DNA taken. He had no criminal record whatever, yet his DNA was retained. Why retain his DNA? Why presume that he might commit another offence when he has an absolutely clean record and intervened only because he was trying to prevent two people from fighting? He went out to enjoy himself with his friends. He was not involved in the disorder—he tried to stop it.

A Member of the House has raised the following matter on a number of occasions. When an elderly member of his family died in suspicious circumstances, the police took the DNA of all members of the family. The hon. Gentleman tried for months—it may be years now—to get an answer from the relevant chief constable and to have his DNA removed. He came to me, as Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, and the Committee wrote to the Home Secretary to ask what was happening about the hon. Gentleman's DNA. I am not talking about Damian Green, although he too has a legitimate case for asking for his DNA back.

Why should the DNA of a Member who was not involved in any criminal activity be retained? He was not even at the scene of a crime, but happened to be related to a person who died in suspicious circumstances—although I understand that they are no longer suspicious.

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