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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 4:30 pm on 8th March 2010.

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Photo of Christopher Huhne Christopher Huhne Shadow Home Secretary 4:30 pm, 8th March 2010

I am always delighted to follow Keith Vaz who, as usual, has been speaking an awful lot of good sense. I am delighted that his Committee was able to reach a unanimous view on this sensitive issue, and I hope that the Minister and his officials were listening to the points that he raised.

I wish to speak to new clauses 5 to 7, tabled in my name and those of my colleagues. I outlined our position on the DNA database on Second Reading, and my hon. Friends the Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) did so in Committee. We believe that only the DNA of people who have been convicted of a criminal offence should be on the database. There should be a primacy of the presumption of innocence over guilt. DNA should by all means be taken following an arrest but, if no subsequent conviction is achieved, the data relating to that person should be removed from the database on conclusion of the investigation or criminal proceedings. That should be a simple rule with no caveats, and no ifs or buts: a dividing line between innocence and guilt.

The amendments tabled by Chris Grayling and his colleagues represent a pragmatic compromise. There may be some doubt as to whether a two-year extension period is necessary; it may lead to function creep, whereby all samples are tacitly assumed to be kept for five rather than three years. On the whole, the Scottish model on which the Conservatives have based their amendments is not our first preferred policy, but it represents in our eyes-as one would expect, given that it was introduced in a Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration, in which the Justice Secretary was my esteemed colleague Lord Wallace of the other place-a much more palatable solution than the one proposed by the Government. If the Conservatives press their amending provisions to the vote, we would support them.

The Government have made no fundamental changes to their original proposals. They have made no compromises, although there have been token additions to deal with people convicted of offences overseas and to end the postcode lottery for removal from the database. Some of these are welcome. There should, of course, be a standardised approach to removal from the database and there can be no argument against having proper parliamentary oversight. The ends may not be to our liking, but the means must be as fair and as transparent as possible.

The Government amendments do not change the foundations of their approach to the DNA database, which is little more than a random hoarding of any data that they can get their hands on. The proposals, of course, still fail to address any of the concerns outlined in the European Court of Human Rights ruling in the case of S and Marper v. the United Kingdom about the "blanket and indiscriminate nature" of the database. How on earth can the Government suggest that these measures are "proportionate", as they are required to be by the judgment?

The UK already has the largest DNA database in the world in proportion to our population, with the records of more than 5.5 million people on it, almost 1 million of whom have never been convicted of any crime; while almost one in two of all black men are on the database. There are real issues about the potentially counterproductive nature of a detection tool that is seen to be quite so discriminatory by ethnic group. It was interesting that James Brokenshire cited the extraordinary difference in the figures for people on the DNA database between the separate nations of this country alone. It becomes even more severe, of course, when ethnic minority figures are taken into account.

The number on the database would surely increase under the proposed system of keeping for six years the DNA of people who have not been convicted of any crime, yet more than 2 million people who were convicted before the database began are still not on it. All we get from the policing Minister is the charge that the Government's proposals might lead to some convictions, but what about all the convictions that are not taking place because the Government have not introduced an effective system for catching up with people who are convicted, who should be on the database and whose presence on it has the support of every political party?

The effectiveness of the DNA database as a tool for fighting crime is without any doubt whatever. It is important; the police want it; we support it. It is telling that the database is, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch pointed out, clearly set at a point of diminishing returns.