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Protection of Freedoms Bill

Part of Resource Extraction (Transparency and Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 8:13 pm on 1st March 2011.

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Photo of Pamela Nash Pamela Nash Labour, Airdrie and Shotts 8:13 pm, 1st March 2011

I want to highlight my concerns about the Government’s proposals, which seek to restrict the scope for using DNA to convict dangerous criminals. First however, I shall briefly touch on CCTV, which many of my colleagues have also mentioned this evening.

Although in doing so I run the risk of receiving an avalanche of e-mails by tomorrow morning, I want to take this opportunity to say that I have only once been approached by a constituent who was concerned about the level of CCTV coverage in my constituency. That speaks volumes when we take into account the fact that Airdrie was the first town in Scotland to have open-street CCTV, and that many lists indicate that its centre has a particularly high ratio of such cameras in comparison with other Scottish town centres. On the other hand, many constituents have requested the installation of CCTV on their streets, to protect them and their neighbours from crime, vandalism and other antisocial behaviour. In fact, we now seem to have an issue with crime being driven into areas that are not covered by CCTV. I therefore support the expansion of CCTV coverage in my constituency. Crime in Airdrie town centre fell by 24% in the first two years after the introduction of open-street CCTV. It continues to be supported locally, and is seen to be a great success in reducing crime and antisocial behaviour.

DNA evidence has proved to be a powerful tool in helping us bring to justice violent criminals and sexual offenders. Although I support many of the Bill’s proposals, I have serious concerns about any change that will make it much more difficult for the police to catch criminals and build cases against them. It was my hope that the Scottish law on DNA storage would move towards that currently in place in England and Wales. However, instead I find myself today criticising Government attempts to restrict the use of DNA, even though the way it is currently used has led to rapists and murderers being convicted when they otherwise might not even have been identified.

As Members may know, there is currently a different law on DNA retention in Scotland. North of the border, DNA that is taken as part of a police inquiry is automatically removed if the person concerned is not convicted, with the exception that in extreme cases someone charged with a violent or sexual offence but not found guilty can have their details stored for up to three years. In England and Wales there is currently much greater retention of DNA samples by police. At present, people charged with, but not convicted of, a crime will have their DNA samples held indefinitely. As a result, several serious crimes have been solved and many more criminals convicted than would otherwise have been the case. Violent and sexual offenders have been brought to justice by virtue of the fact that their DNA had been taken during inquiries into previous, unrelated and often minor offences and then matched up.