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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

That is correct. As I have said, I would hope the Scottish Parliament would move more towards the current system in England and Wales, rather than have us go in the opposite direction as we are doing this evening.

Let us look at the crime figures for 2007-08. Some 17,614 crimes were detected in England and Wales where a DNA match was available. These included 83 murder and manslaughter cases, and 184 rape cases. Some of these cases have been very high profile. For example, Steve Wright, the so-called “Suffolk strangler”, convicted of murdering five prostitutes in Ipswich, and Mark Dixie, jailed for life for killing Sally Anne Bowman, were both identified through DNA samples taken in relation to other crimes. Without the DNA information held on these individuals, they might never have been caught and brought to justice for their horrendous crimes, and might have gone on to commit even more serious offences. I hope that in summing up the Minister will offer an explanation to their victims’ families of why it is acceptable to change a law to allow criminals such as these to escape justice. Equally, had they committed their crimes in Scotland, they might, because of the more restrictive rules on holding DNA samples, have got away with those crimes.

If the law on the storage of DNA samples were to change radically, I would have hoped it would happen in the Scottish Parliament. Police in Scotland have made it clear that a new regime that allowed more DNA samples to be retained would increase clear-up rates and make the public safer. The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland has repeatedly called for the situation in England and Wales to be mirrored in the Scottish judicial system. Labour politicians in Scotland agree with them. Of course there should be safeguards in the system, but we believe police should be given effective tools to help bring rapists, murderers and other criminals to justice.

Labour MSPs recently proposed an amendment to the Scottish Government’s Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill to give police the power to retain for up to six years the DNA of those arrested for, but not convicted of, a crime. From my point of view and that of most Scots, who want the police to be able to catch criminals, it was unfortunate that the Scottish National party Government joined forces with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to stop this.

It is therefore deeply disappointing to stand here debating Government plans to restrict further the retention of DNA samples in England and Wales. In some cases retention will be restricted to three years, but in many cases, particularly those involving minor crimes, the police will be prevented from storing samples at all. We all know that the rate of charging and prosecuting suspected rapists is very low. The Government’s proposals in this Bill mean that someone arrested but not charged with rape—this is what happens in the vast majority of rape cases—may not have their DNA retained. Under these restrictions several high-profile crimes, including those I mentioned earlier, could have remained unsolved. It is difficult to understand the Government’s purpose in doing this. It is doubtless about pandering to the Deputy Prime Minister’s political rhetoric, but it is certainly not based on evidence about what works in the fight against crime, and it is certainly not about protecting the liberty of our country.

I am going to read out a quote and I will then tell hon. Members who said it:

“I have not yet been aware of any innocent person adversely affected by having their details on the DNA database. Actually, rather than impinge on freedoms, it enhances our freedoms. The rapists, murderers and other criminals brought to justice by DNA—these people being taken off the street enhances my freedom. Why on earth the Conservative Party would want to try to take people off the DNA database, Lord only knows.”

Those are not my words but those of Philip Davies, who represents the Conservative party, and I could not agree with him more. I urge the Government to think again about these plans. We owe it to the victims of crime and their families to ensure that laws that work and that have brought serious criminals to justice continue to do so. If the Government push ahead with this proposal, they should not be surprised to find themselves labelled “soft on crime”. Their coalition partners have always been happy with such a label, but I am surprised that Conservative Members are allowing themselves to be dragged into this nonsense. Freedom for violent criminals is a sorry price to pay for staying in power. Our freedom is enhanced by violent criminals being taken off our streets. The Government should bear in mind the fact that being soft on crime achieves absolutely nothing for anybody’s civil liberties.