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Counter-Terrorism Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 9th October 2008.

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Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism) 2:45 pm, 9th October 2008

As I understand it, the material will be kept unless the person asks for it to be destroyed, at which point they would go through the process I described a few moments ago.

I am sorry; I have only addressed Amendment No. 13 so far. Amendment No. 14 seeks to require the Secretary of State to issue an order containing national guidelines on the fingerprint and sample database. With specific reference to the clauses of this Bill which we are debating, I will resist this amendment. Once again I should like to remind noble Lords that it is not appropriate to have a wider debate on the use of fingerprints and samples in the narrower context of the provisions in this Bill, but I understand the depth of feeling about the need for such a debate, which I agree must take place at some stage.

The amendment requires guidelines on requesting information about the fingerprints and samples held. Access to information held on an individual is regulated by the Data Protection Act. Under that Act, an individual can ask the police what information they hold on them. Information on how to make a subject access request can usually be obtained from the local police station or through the force's website. The Information Commissioner provides independent oversight of data protection issues, including the retention and use of fingerprints and samples. Given this established system, it seems unnecessary to require an additional set of national guidelines to be published.

Equally, there is a system for requesting the destruction of fingerprints and samples held. People can request the destruction of their sample in the case of those taken under PACE. The policy for samples taken under PACE, in line with the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 and the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and adopted by chief officers, is to retain, save in exceptional circumstances, all samples from people acquitted of criminal offences or against whom proceedings have not been pursued. The aim of the policy is the prevention or detection of crime, the investigation of offences, and the facilitation of prosecutions and speedy exculpation of the innocent, as well as the correction of miscarriages of justice. The House of Lords supported this policy in 2004 in the Marper case.

There is no legal obligation to remove samples taken under the Terrorism Act. As with Amendment No. 13, I do not think that there is any need for the Secretary of State to issue national guidance, as robust and established processes are already in place. I have outlined why we believe the policy upon which these processes are based is appropriate; namely, that the retention and use of samples taken either covertly from those who are not subsequently arrested or from those under arrest who are not subsequently charged, has played a vital role in many criminal investigations. I am in no doubt that when these clauses become law and the ability to cross-reference fingerprints and samples becomes more efficient, this will be of considerable benefit in the protection of our national security and the prevention, detection or investigation of crime.

In a future debate there may well be considerable scope to debate these principles, but this is not that debate. I have made clear the benefits of Clauses 10 to 18 and outlined the safeguards against the misuse of fingerprints and samples. I therefore ask that the amendments be withdrawn.