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New Clause 1 — Retention, destruction and use of fingerprints and samples

Part of Crime and Security Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 8th March 2010.

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Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 4:15 pm, 8th March 2010

I am delighted that we are able to have a debate of this kind on this very important subject, bearing in mind that so many concerns about the Government's DNA database proposals were expressed on Second Reading. To help the House, I should point out that today, the Select Committee on Home Affairs published our report into the DNA database. I apologise for not getting it to Members sooner, but we were keen to let the House know of our deliberations in time for this debate. We do not control Government business of course, so we did not know when Report would be. We met in what one might call an emergency session last Thursday to agree this report, and I wish to thank all the members of the Committee for their work.

The report was prompted by the concern expressed on Second Reading-and over the last few years-about the ever-growing DNA database. We can all agree on the facts-I certainly agree with the facts put forward by James Brokenshire. There is no dispute that it is one of the largest-if not the largest-DNA databases in the world, and our concern is the way in which it has grown. The Government have often said that information should only be retained if necessary, and that must apply to the use of DNA profiles.

During our deliberations, we took evidence from several individuals, including my hon. Friend Ms Abbott and representatives of the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science. Among our most persuasive witnesses was Sir Alec Jeffreys, the inventor of DNA profiling. When someone as distinguished as Sir Alec appears before a Select Committee and expresses the concern that he never anticipated that the DNA profile of innocent people would be kept on the database, members of the Committee have to listen carefully to him. The Minister was in the session just before or after Sir Alec gave evidence, and I think that he heard that evidence. I do not say that politicians have hidden agendas-many of our agendas are open and transparent-but when someone like Sir Alec says that such retention was not intended, we have to take that seriously.

The Committee had different views about the length of time that people's DNA should be retained on the database. Some felt strongly that everyone's DNA should be on the database. Some felt that the DNA of innocent people should not be kept on it at all-in other words, it should be removed almost immediately. However, there was general agreement that the Government had delayed unnecessarily following the decision by the European Court of Human Rights. We could have avoided this dispute if the Government had acted much more quickly.

If there is a need for consensus on Home Affairs issues, this is one of those occasions on which we should have reached all-party agreement, because this issue affects so many of our citizens. There is no dispute on either side of the House that, if DNA helps in the detection of crime-as we say in our report, there is no doubt about that-it must be used to do so. The point of contention is the worry about the ability of this Government or any Government to hold information about citizens and therefore to expand their possession of that information to the detriment of individual citizens. Balancing the rights of the individual and civil liberties with the interests of justice has to be done very carefully.