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Protection of Freedoms Bill

Part of Resource Extraction (Transparency and Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 7:46 pm on 1st March 2011.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport) 7:46 pm, 1st March 2011

It was Winston Churchill who said:

“All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in single words: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope”.

It is under the banner of freedom and democracy that our troops fight on foreign fields, and it is freedom that we celebrate in Northern Ireland on 12 July each year.

I support much of what is put forward by the coalition Government in the Bill, but I have some concerns. Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, clearly and eloquently outlined one of our main concerns:

the relaxation of the vetting procedures. I am concerned to see that through their deliberations members of the Committee protect children. If that does not happen—I suspect that it will—we will take the opportunity to table amendments on Report.

On the subject of regulation of biometric data—we have all heard the comments about that—I am firmly opposed to any kind of nanny state, but I do not believe that freedom can or should be used as a licence to behave in any way with no consequence. In other words, people must be accountable for their actions and those who break the law must pay the price; they have, in my opinion, limited their own freedom by their choice of action. I firmly believe that, in accordance with section 63D of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, people’s DNA should be held on record if they are found guilty of any crime. I am somewhat perturbed, however, that section 63D(2)(a) allows for the destruction of DNA if

“the taking of the fingerprint or, in the case of a DNA profile, the taking of the sample from which the DNA profile was derived, was unlawful”.

That is clear, and I am concerned about it.

In my opinion, even if correct protocol has been followed and the sample has been taken lawfully, if the suspect is subsequently found innocent they should have their DNA record destroyed, as they have no criminal conviction. Is the Minister aware, and will she clarify it in her response, that as of 24 April 2009 almost 1 million unconvicted persons had records on the national DNA database? A very small minority of those people are still under investigation; the remainder will have been found innocent of any crime. During 2008-09, only 283 innocent individuals were successful in getting their records deleted under the “exceptional cases” provisions. That was touched on by Gareth Johnson and many others in the debate. This issue must be specified clearly in the Bill, and we will seek to achieve that in Committee.

There are many other issues with biometric information, such as the collection and retention of schoolchildren’s DNA information, which caused upset of late in a school not far from my constituency. It became clear that parents must and should have a complete veto on the collection and storage of their children’s genetic make-up. Children have been particularly affected by the expansion of the DNA database, as there has been a significant increase in the number of young people arrested following minor crimes or even false accusations. Some offences have been as minor as pulling each other’s hair or damage to trees and fences. Labelling children as criminals at an early age can be counter-productive, and I hope that will be taken on board in Committee.

Under part 3, “Protection of property from disproportionate enforcement action”, I welcome the provision in clause 54 to make it unlawful for clampers to clamp on private land. I have heard the clamping by one firm described as legalised mugging, and although that brought a laugh, there is some truth in it. All Members have had examples of abuses by clampers brought to their attention.