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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 5:30 pm on 8th March 2010.

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Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Minister of State (Home Office) (Crime and Policing) 5:30 pm, 8th March 2010

I thank colleagues for a useful and reflective debate on some important and key issues for the House as a whole. We had a long and detailed debate on these matters in Committee. I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in this debate for ensuring that those matters came before the House today.

If I can summarise, two clear positions have been stated from the Opposition Front Benches. James Brokenshire said that he supports the three-year period for retention in relation to serious offences, based on the Scottish model. As I said in Committee and repeat today, we have a principled position from Chris Huhne, who does not believe that the DNA of anybody not convicted of crimes should be kept. We have heard important contributions from my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, who has brought to bear the conclusions of the Home Affairs Committee. I am grateful to members of the Committee for their consideration of these matters.

My hon. Friend Mr. Dismore commented on the views of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and has tabled some amendments, to which I shall speak shortly. Mr. Hogg made a thoughtful speech that summarised some of the dilemmas that we face in balancing the need to protect our citizens with the need to gain their consent, and in doing so in the legal framework within which we have to work.

Tony Baldry made the case, in part, for a full DNA database. We need to ensure that that is considered, and there are arguments for it, but the Government have had to take a proportionate view and have settled on the position that is before the House today as meeting our legal obligations. Mr. Cash talked about the primacy of this House in making decisions and expressed what I can only say are long-held concerns about the operation of these matters which are not new to anybody in the House.

There is honest disagreement about the DNA database, and I believe ultimately that the hon. Members for Hornchurch and for Eastleigh are on the wrong side of the argument for the British public. We are trying to ensure that we take a proportionate approach that meets the legal obligations that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon mentioned and works within the legal framework that the hon. Member for Stone and the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham talked about, but that ultimately protects the British public, deters individuals from committing crime and supports the prevention of crime by ensuring that we have a database that is operationally efficient. There is honest disagreement, but I believe that we are proposing a proportionate system and working within the judgments of the Council of Ministers on Marper. We are trying to ensure that the six-year period that we have suggested meets our obligations in a fair and effective way.

I shall speak in due course to Government amendments 8 to 16, in the name of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. As I tried to explain in Committee, the Opposition amendments would remove the proposed framework for the retention and destruction of DNA and adopt a variant on the Scottish model. The hon. Member for Eastleigh would have a model that did not allow for the retention of matters relating to the DNA of innocent individuals at all.

I begin with Government amendments 14 to 16. We listened to the debates in Committee, as I hope the hon. Member for Hornchurch and others recognise. Issues that were raised there are partly reflected in the reports produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East. I will consult my right hon. Friend's Committee, but we have tried to ensure that we consider both the need for consistency and how individual approaches to the database can be made.

One key issue that has been raised, which is addressed in amendments 14 to 16, is ensuring that we do not have postcode lottery on the implementation of the proposals before the House. In tabling the amendments, the Government decided on a new early deletion procedure, with the National DNA Database Strategy Board being a single point of contact for both members of the public and constituency MPs instead of their having to go to individual police forces. That was a key issue in Committee, and I know that the hon. Member for Hornchurch was concerned about it. I hope that the amendments will ensure that we have consistency across the board in relation to early deletion. Once the board receives a request, the case will be handled by a central team, which will collate the case file, offer advice and consider, based on previous decisions, whether a deletion can be agreed to. If so, it will arrange for it to be implemented.

Amendment 14 will place the responsibility for those arrangements on the board, which, as the House will be aware, has existed since 2007. It will oversee the operation of the database and technical standards in relation to DNA. The board's core membership will be drawn from the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Police Authorities and the Home Office, but it will include independent elements such as the Information Commissioner, the forensic science regulator and the National DNA Database Ethics Group.

Government amendment 14 will also mean that chief police officers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland must follow that guidance. It is crucial that the removal process is consistent, and I hope that the House welcomes that amendment.

On Government amendments 15 and 16, we listened to what was said in Committee with regard to parliamentary scrutiny over the board and the reports it produces. I thank the hon. Member for Hornchurch for raising that in Committee. Again, I believe that there is now a consensus to amend the Bill to allow that parliamentary scrutiny of the board.

Ultimately, there is a disagreement between the Government, and the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benchers on these matters. New clause 1 and associated Opposition proposals return us to the fundamental questions of the length of time for retention, and whether we achieve a balance for the protection of the community at large with the Government's proposals or with the Scottish model, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch proposes.

We believe that we have the evidence and the support, that we meet our legal obligations and that the six-year retention period-regardless of the seriousness of the offence for which a person has been arrested-will lead to the prevention of crime, and ultimately and accordingly to the solving of crimes. That is important, and we have taken that view very strongly. As the House will know from discussions in Committee, we believe that rapes, murders or manslaughter cases in England and Wales have been matched to the DNA database and the DNA profiles of individuals who have been arrested but not convicted of any crime.

I say to the hon. Members for Hornchurch and for Eastleigh that it is an issue of proportion.