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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 5:00 pm on 8th March 2010.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 5:00 pm, 8th March 2010

We are enjoined in both the Old and New Testaments to love justice, seek mercy and walk humbly with our God. An important part of the issue is justice and ensuring that justice is done. There is no doubt that DNA has enabled police forces across the country, through their cold case review teams, to bring to justice for serious offences of murder and rape people who would otherwise have escaped justice.

I was fortunate enough to spend 21 days with Thames Valley police as part of the police parliamentary scheme. I point out to Members of the House who ever have the opportunity of taking part in that scheme that I considered it very worth while. During that time, I spent a day with the Thames Valley police cold case review team, which, on the next day, was about to arrest a man for a rape that had allegedly been committed some considerable time before. I noted subsequently that that resulted in a conviction in the Oxford Crown court. If there had not been a DNA sample, that man would not have been brought to justice and, more importantly, the victim of that offence would not have had justice.

Although the total number of offences in which DNA leads to conviction may be statistically and comparatively small, it can lead to convictions in cases of considerable importance and can ensure that justice is done. I rather take the view of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg. We all have a national insurance number that we are given when we are 16 or whenever we first apply to start work, which is a unique combination of letters and numbers that stays with us to the day we die. Our DNA profile, as opposed to a DNA sample, is, as I understand it, a unique collection of letters and numbers. I have no problem with the state's having my national insurance number-of course it must have it-and I do not personally see any problem with its having the letters and numbers of my DNA profile.

The difficulty with this debate, which has been brought forward very clearly by the Select Committee's report and by contributions made by colleagues from all parties this afternoon, is that there is not public consent to the proposal because there is an understandable feeling, as was evidenced by the rather tragic constituency case raised by Mr. Dismore, that having one's record on the DNA database means that a value judgment is being made that one either has committed an offence or has the propensity to commit an offence in the future.

There have been occasions when the police have given the impression that although they might not have managed to secure a conviction or a charge on that occasion, they think that the person involved did it and are going to keep their DNA on the database. That, coupled with the difficulties that people have had in having their DNA profile removed from the database, has tended to erode public consent in what the Government are trying to do with this part of the Bill. Perhaps there is a message for police forces throughout the country that when they secure convictions through the use of DNA or when that use helps to lead to convictions, they ought to give that greater publicity. There might not be sufficient recognition of the contribution that DNA can make to solving crimes. There is no consent about the process.

There is an interesting point about the way in which the Bill has gone through the House. We have a Second Reading debate on the principles. We then have the Public Bill Committee, which now takes evidence from witnesses at the start of its proceedings. We took evidence from a number of people but we have now discovered that in parallel to our doing that work and the work of a Standing Committee, the Home Affairs Committee was engaged in carrying out an inquiry and taking evidence on this very specific point. For perfectly good reasons, which were explained by Keith Vaz, the Chair of the Select Committee, it has only been possible for the Select Committee to publish its unanimous report today. I doubt whether Members of the House, other than those who have been in the Chamber this afternoon, will have had the opportunity to know what the Select Committee recommended.