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 absolutely share the hon. Gentleman's concern. A particular incident could lead to DNA being retained. The House knows very well the circumstances relating to the hon. Member for Ashford, and the Select Committee recently published a report about them, although it did not mention the hon. Gentleman's DNA. However, the fact is that his DNA was taken and there would be no prospect of its being removed for six years under the Government's proposals, unless we were to make an exception for Members of the House, and in the current climate we should never be in a position to make exceptions for hon. Members. But why retain that DNA?

We know that the DNA of a disproportionate number of black and Asian people is held on the database, because if a disproportionate number of black and Asian people are stopped and searched under stop-and-search legislation there will be more DNA from people from the black and Asian community. Their DNA, too, is retained on the database. Why do the Government say that their DNA should be retained for six years or even longer because they were stopped under stop-and-search powers? There is a fundamental flaw in the Government's argument: either it is okay for everybody or it is okay only for people who have committed criminal offences.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh did not deal with the possibility of loss of data, although I am sure he would have done so if he had had the time he sought under the programme motion. Although the situation is better, unfortunately the Government were afflicted by loss of data for a period last year. I do not just blame the present Government—any Government who sought to retain so much data would be affected. The more data the Government possess, the greater the likelihood that the data will be lost, so why hold information if nothing is being done with it?

Ministers must address those issues if we are being serious about the subject. It is not that those who say that a limit is needed are against catching criminals. Of course we want to catch criminals, and we want to use everything in our power—every piece of new technology—to achieve that.

The professor of genetics who invented the way in which DNA is extracted and retained is Alec Jeffreys of the University of Leicester—one of our most eminent citizens, recently given the freedom of the city of Leicester—and he is on record as saying that he does not understand why the Government have made these proposals. He has talked about other ways in which such things can be used to aid the police and other authorities, without the retention. If our arguments are dismissed because we are not experts, I hope that the Government will listen to the expertise of none other than Sir Alec Jeffreys, who says that the Government are wrong on the issue. I know how fond Governments are of relying on experts, so the Government should take it from Alec Jeffreys, if not from us, that they need to think again.

As the Bill is going through Parliament, the view is, "Let's just stick it in the Bill, because we don't know when the next one is coming out." We have had 66 such Bills, as the hon. Member for Eastleigh said—quite a lot of Bills—and we have had almost as many immigration Bills. We need to think carefully before we adopt something that is a knee-jerk reaction, and we should not have a knee-jerk reaction, because we have known about this for seven months, so there is every reason for people to have thought about it very carefully. I hope that Ministers will reflect on the proposal before they push it through the House. I have every sympathy for the Liberal Democrat suggestion, and I hope that the Minister can reassure us that sufficient safeguards are in place.

One of the best safeguards is that, when people write in, they receive replies. In the case of the hon. Gentleman whom I mentioned, he has not had the decency of a reply from the chief constable. At the very least, there should be a robust process of challenging. It should not be exceptional; there should be a reasonable way in which people can challenge the retention. I wrote about my constituent, and I received a very flimsy reply from the custody sergeant. I expect more and better from a Government who are keen to ensure that our liberties are protected.

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