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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 5:45 pm on 8th March 2010.

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Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 5:45 pm, 8th March 2010

We have had an interesting debate on this important subject. The framing of today's debate with the publication of the Select Committee's report has been helpful in highlighting some of the issues, which were raised by the Chairman. It is interesting to note that the Committee did not support the Government's approach to the six-year retention period. The Committee believes that that is too long-much of the other evidence supports that-and argues for a three-year retention period. I note the points that the right hon. Gentleman made about the disproportionate impact on minority communities, and we will need to maintain our focus on that issue.

I respect the approach taken by Chris Huhne and the purity of his logic, although we see the need for pragmatism in striking the balance between the interests of citizens and protecting them from the risk of crime. I support the points that he made about the evidential approach that the Government have taken and the holes in their analysis.

Mr. Dismore set out clearly the problem of stigma that can occur in relation to the retention of a DNA profile and the impact that that might have on an individual. That stigma has been rightly highlighted in several cases, and the House will be concerned by the individual case that the hon. Gentleman brought up this afternoon and the tragic circumstances involved.

My right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg makes the case in relation to a universal database, although I would mention the issues of cost and practicality. I take a different view when it comes to the benign nature of the state. I do not agree with the universal approach, but I do agree with my right hon. and learned Friend about the need for DNA forensics and proper cold case databases so that information can be matched speedily and effectively. It is an important detection tool, and he also mentioned the deterrent effect. Crime scene forensics and DNA records must be retained, so that they can be matched against DNA profiles taken on arrest for unconnected offences.

My hon. Friend Tony Baldry highlighted the issue of justice, and that is why we support the use of DNA forensics in the detecting of crimes and bringing perpetrators to justice. That overlaps with some of the points made earlier in the debate, but I am clear that the use of the DNA database should be for the detection and prosecution of crime and for no other purpose. A universal database of the kind that my hon. Friend suggests would be disproportionate, for reasons of cost and security. The Government do not have the strongest of records when it comes to keeping information safe, and that would be even more of an issue if the database were to be extended as my hon. Friend suggests.

I appreciated the support of my hon. Friend Mr. Cash in making the case for the basic period of three years and about the primacy of Parliament. He mentioned his concerns about the surveillance society, which is a wider issue albeit connected to several of the contributions we have heard in this debate.

I acknowledge some of the changes that the Minister has made following our discussions in Committee on oversight and the scrutiny by Parliament. He has also recognised the need to be able to take samples from visitors from overseas should it be discovered, once they are here, that they have committed serious offences overseas. I welcome the changes that the Minister has brought forward, but I return to the issue of balance and judgment. We must take a proportionate approach to the retention of DNA records for those who have never been convicted of an offence. We must respect the basic principle that someone is innocent unless proven guilty, and we must not discount the stigma that can be attached to someone if those principles are breached. Therefore, I wish to test the opinion of the House on new clause 1, and see whether we do in fact respect those fundamental principles that I and my colleagues hold dear.