Clause 77 - Fingerprints and samples

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:55 am on 8th March 2001.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 9:55 am, 8th March 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 218, in page 63, leave out lines 32 to 41.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 219, in page 63, line 42, leave out subsection (2).

No. 220, in page 64, line 29, leave out subsection (6).

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The three amendments relate to clause 77, which is about the circumstances in which fingerprints can be taken and the rank of police officer who can authorise that. There are some far-reaching and controversial proposals relating to fingerprints being taken and kept when someone is arrested, charged and then released because he has been found not guilty or because no further action will be taken, and relating to the wider issue of other samples, such as DNA samples. As we said on the Floor of the House, that has never been the subject of a widespread public debate. It crosses the threshold of a presumption that we have worked under previously, which was either that people could volunteer to give personal information or that, in certain circumstances, personal information could be taken from them without their consent. However, it has never before been the position that personal information could be taken without consent and kept if the person had at all times been innocent. We will deal with some of those wider issues during the debate on the next few clauses and amendments.

The clause will amend the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and will provide that the same regime should apply where people have been given a caution in respect of a recordable offence to which they have admitted—for the authorities, that is an alternative to a conviction—or where they have been warned or reprimanded, which is a form of officially recognised punishment that was introduced by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The purpose of the amendment is to flush out from the Government the exact criteria according to which the police should be allowed to collect and hold fingerprints. I understand that the same rule can be applied to a caution as to a conviction, because both are disposals of the case by way of an acceptance of guilt and a record against the person. That is why this is a probing amendment, rather than one that we intend to press.

I accept that a warning or reprimand under the 1998 Act is also a disposal of a case in that an offence is recorded. The purpose of the amendment is to open up the debate rather than to deal with the central concerns about that section of the Act.

Amendment No. 219 follows the lines of our debate the other day. It relates to the appropriate rank of police officer who can authorise compulsory fingerprinting. At present, it must be a superintendent. The Government said yesterday—it seems a year ago, but it was only yesterday—that they take a more flexible view about levels of authority. I do not think that there is a theological argument about that, but we need to be clear. In that context, I am interested in their view about the rank at which certain police activities can be carried out. Is the proposal the result of an assessment of police powers following discussions with police representatives? Is this part of a pattern of conclusions, of which we have seen two pieces of evidence, one yesterday and one today? It would be encouraging to know that a comprehensive review had been undertaken, rather than the matter having been considered in a narrower context.

Amendment No. 220 is a probing amendment, relating to the extension of PACE to cautions, warnings and reprimands in the same way as subsection (1B). It is designed to test whether the compulsory fingerprinting provisions will be limited only to those specified or be available to the police at any time, which appears now to be the case. Will the Government contemplate going even further, and applying the provisions to anybody who is taken in and questioned who might not subsequently be arrested? A person may agree, voluntarily, to be questioned, and later be detained and arrested.

My final questions, to which I would have known the answers if I had been a member of the Committee on the Crime and Disorder Bill, are about the period for which warnings and reprimands remain on a person's criminal record. Will cautions remain for the same period as that which applies to the rehabilitation of offenders, or will they be erased earlier? Will the same apply to fingerprints once someone has been rehabilitated, so that the criminal record for warnings and reprimands, and possibly for cautions, will not carry on if no further offences are committed until the end of the rehabilitation of offenders period? Will the slate be wiped clean? The proposal is about the collection of material against people who have had a criminal record.

We seem to be in danger of having a two-tier society. Ministers said during debates on the Football (Disorder) Bill that up to a third of young men end up with a criminal conviction. If a warning, reprimand, caution or conviction remains for all time on a young man's criminal record, and his fingerprints and DNA samples are kept, his whole life may be prejudiced, even when he has grown out of the rebellious and disorderly phase of his late teens and early adulthood and become a perfectly normal individual.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:00 am, 8th March 2001

Has the hon. Gentleman thought about the effect on a fixed penalty notice offence? A caution is usually thought to be a less serious disposal than a fixed penalty notice, but in this context, to be given a caution is more serious. It gives people criminal records and forces them to give their fingerprints. However, with a fixed penalty notice, people have only to pay a penalty. Does he agree that the tiers of punishment are rather confused in that case?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am happy about the trio of disposals that is set out. Conviction is at the top of the league, caution in the middle and warning or reprimand at the bottom.

However, the hon. Gentleman poses a good question. Had he won the election earlier in his life when he tried to become the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey—as so often happens, the Tories only just reached double figures in percentage of the vote—he would have represented the people whom I met last week, from the Southwark pedestrian rights group, who asked the same question. They spoke about fixed penalty notices and parking offences and asked where they come in the league table of punishments.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

As hon. Members will have seen, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I agree with the hon. Members for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and for Taunton (Jackie Ballard). We also tabled amendment No. 219 together.

I have given the Opposition view before: we do not think that it is appropriate for the Government to downgrade senior management responsibility in the police. I have heard Labour Members over the past nine years, in criminal justice debates in Committee and in the Chamber, talking about the celebrated miscarriages of justice in cases involving matters as serious as terrorism. They expressed concern about fingerprint evidence and forensic scientific analysis of such evidence. It therefore surprises me that a Labour Government are introducing provisions that would lower the level at which police senior management supervision is required in such important cases.

We recognise that there are cost constraints. The Minister will say that many senior police officers support what the Government are doing, but as I said yesterday, senior officers are often aware that they are being kept short of funds. The Government try to have it both ways. They starve the police of resources, especially in shire counties such as Surrey, but then tell them that they hope they will support their policies, which will save money. They are trying to preordain the responses of particular senior police organisations. The Government play both ends against the middle, turning their approach to the police service and criminal law into a vicious, as opposed to a virtuous, circle.

We are worried about the measures and I want to place on record the fact that the Opposition agree with many of the other points made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. He mentioned yesterday that his constituency contains the headquarters of Liberty. The Conservatives do not always agree with Liberty, but on this occasion we do. It is significant, just as it was when we discussed amendments to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 yesterday, that Liberty and the police say that the provisions are backing away from PACE and the protection of the liberty of the subject. It is often forgotten that police organisations are just as keen as groups such as Liberty to protect that liberty, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge that.

On this occasion, several concerns are relevant. We have not specifically tabled an amendment on the subject, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman about people who are likely to receive only a caution, reprimand or warning under the new system introduced by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. If what they have done is not regarded as criminal, why should their fingerprints be retained?

I recently visited one of the large police stations that covers parts of my constituency, although it is not based in it. I observed how police custody officers carried out their work. While I was there, police officers told me that they were likely to deal with a particular case under the new system of reprimand, warning or caution. At the same time, however, before it was finally decided what charges would be brought, all the young men involved were fingerprinted. The youths may well have received nothing more than reprimands, so why should their fingerprints remain on file for ever? Would they have been treated differently if, when their fingerprints were taken a few months ago, the Bill had been an Act?

The Bill may not be retrospective, but let us assume that a similar case occurred a couple of days after it becomes law. The young men might be of good character and come from respectable families, but they could be fingerprinted, even though they were given only a reprimand or warning. I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) took the same view as me when we were debating the Crime and Disorder Bill. I have not had time to confirm my recollection, but the Government were trumpeting the fact that, by limiting the response to reprimands and warnings, they were not going to criminalise behaviour that was below the criminal threshold.

I recall Ministers saying that that was the whole point of the Bill. Why do the Government now believe that behaviour below the criminal level, which will result only in a reprimand or warning, should result in fingerprints being kept on file for a substantial period? My hon. Friend's intervention on the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey was to the point: how will the measure fit in with fixed penalties? That is what we want to hear from the Minister.

Our concerns are genuine. We may not vote on amendment No. 219, but it reflects genuine anxieties. We are dealing with serious questions, which the Minister must answer. He has a difficult job to explain the apparent and overt inconsistencies between the Government's objectives in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the debates that preceded it, and what the Government are now trying to do.

No one seriously suggests that the Government intend the country to become a police state, but there are bound to be legitimate concerns, and the watchword has to be constant vigilance to ensure that any draconian powers are not misused. Police officers will want to ensure that all the procedures are properly observed, but we share the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

It is worth setting out the rationale of the clause. I hope that the Committee will excuse me if I stray into a clause stand part debate, but it is important to understand the context of the amendments.

The clause contains several measures on taking fingerprints. Under subsection (1) the police will be allowed to retake fingerprints where an individual has been convicted of a recordable offence if the initial set of prints was incomplete or of poor quality, or if there were errors in the data-capture process. Under subsection (2) the level of authorisation for the taking of fingerprints is changed from an officer of superintendent rank or above to inspector or above.

On amendment No. 219, I shall not add much to what was said yesterday. The structure of the police force is changing in the ways that I described. In answer to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, we are not setting out a coherent world picture. Nevertheless, through the Lancaster House process on police reform, we are actively debating with the police how best to move towards a more holistic approach. An important aspect of the development of a modern and flexible police force is re-examination of past problems by the police themselves—rather than by politicians and civil servants—to establish the most appropriate methods for the modern arena. Amendment No. 219 in itself, however, is not part of any holistic view, but is related to the developments that I have described.

It may be worth saying that changing the ranks for fingerprinting was included in the consultation document published in July 1999—``Proposals for revising legislative measures on fingerprints, footprints and DNA samples''. Our recommendations are based on that document, so I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

Clause 77(3) mirrors the provisions in clause 77(1), allowing the police to retake fingerprints when an individual is charged with a recordable offence if the initial set of prints was incomplete or of poor quality, or if there were errors in the data-capture process. These measures are important to enable the police to benefit from new technology. Digital capture, storage and searching of fingerprints will significantly increase the speed with which matches can be made. For the process to work efficiently it is important to have good quality images.

Under the current provisions of PACE, if a partial set of prints is taken during the course of the investigation, the police cannot take the remaining prints to get a full set. Developments in technology enable a single fingerprint to be taken for ''live-ID''—an on-line check of an individual's identity where a record of that individual's fingerprints already exist.

Subsection (4) deals with what happens where doubt has arisen about the identity of the person who answers to bail at a court or a police station. In those circumstances, the fingerprints of a suspect may be taken without consent where it is authorised by the court or an officer of at least inspector rank.

Subsection (6) extends the power to take fingerprints to cautions for recordable offences because of a current loophole. If offenders' fingerprints have not been taken during the course of an investigation or when they are charged or informed that they will be reported for the offence, it is not possible to obtain fingerprints later if the police decide to proceed by way of a caution. A caution is an administrative disposal, not a conviction, which means that details of cautions held in national police records may not always be supported by fingerprints. Similar provisions are introduced for warnings and reprimands under section 65 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

To answer the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, final warnings and reprimands currently stay on the record for seven years and cautions for five years, except for offences against children, the mentally or physically disabled, or elderly people, or offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Acts, in which case they stay on the record for longer. If fingerprints have been taken under the current Bill, it is intended that they be retained permanently.

Clause 77(7) enables fingerprints to be taken electronically and stored in a digital format. It is important that any form of evidence has a proper evidential trail, so when fingerprints are taken electronically, they must be taken in an appropriate manner in line with the recommendations of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology. The practice has already been adopted in Scotland through the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Act 1997.

The definition of a fingerprint is clarified in subsection (8) to remove any ambiguity or argument about the means by which a fingerprint is recorded. Finally, section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1948, which has fallen into disuse and is no longer able to provide proof of previous convictions, is repealed under subsection (9).

Those are the main purposes of the clause. I was asked whether we want to move towards compulsory fingerprinting. The Bill does not change the basic position under PACE. Fingerprints can be taken on suspicion of involvement in a recordable offence and also on conviction. The Bill allows them to be retaken if they are technically deficient and following a caution, warning or reprimand.

I understand the argument about the league table of fixed penalty notices, but the purpose of the fixed penalty notice provision in clause 1 is to have a rapid and effective means of dealing with the offence. To require fingerprints to be taken and an approach to be established by that means would work against that.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:15 am, 8th March 2001

As the Minister knows, one of my concerns about the Bill is that criminal damage is one of the offences covered by fixed penalty notices. Fixed penalty offences are unlikely to be detected using fingerprints, but that is not true of criminal damage. Those who damage vehicles and cause criminal damage often leave fingerprints, so they provide a means of detecting some of the more serious cases of criminal damage. I am worried that we might give someone a fixed penalty notice, which is a more serious disposal than a caution, and not have fingerprints. Is there any protection against that?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I understand the point and I hesitate to add to the hon. Gentleman's catalogue of approval that he will cite in various circles, but we had a good debate on criminal damage and the amendments that he and his hon. Friends tabled on clause 1. I made it clear then that we intended fixed penalty notices to cover the lower level of criminal damage and not serious criminal damage. We had a long discussion about the ability of people whose property suffers criminal damage to take action. His concerns about more serious criminal damage and the need for evidence such as he described were dealt with during that debate. When fixed penalty notices are issued, identity and suspicion of involvement will not be an issue. Fixed penalty notices are not a conviction, so we are not including the power to take fingerprints. The point is reasonable, but my explanation is entirely sustainable.

Amendments Nos. 218 and 220 would perpetuate an inconsistency because some records would be supported by fingerprints and others would not. If the police were unable to take a full set of prints during the investigation or the prints were of poor quality, they should be able to retake them. If they were unable to do so, subsequent investigations might be hindered if the offender reoffended.

I have dealt with amendment No. 219 and I hope that hon. Members will not press it to a vote.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I am afraid that the Minister will be disappointed, because I am not satisfied with his response on amendment No. 219. There should not be a downgrading in the level of management responsibility, and the Government may live to regret that. If there is a miscarriage of justice, a future commission may criticise them and say that if a superintendent had been in charge, it probably would not have happened. I am not criticising police inspectors, many of whom are personal friends and for whom I have enormous respect, but there is significance in the involvement of a very senior officer. We feel strongly about that, and I shall urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote with me against the proposal and in favour of amendment No. 219.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I want to return to a matter to clarify what the Minister said, but I am minded to press amendment No. 220 to a vote. If someone is dealt with by the courts with a caution, warning or reprimand and has his fingerprints compulsorily taken, my understanding is that they will remain permanently on police records, but under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, the caution, warning or reprimand will be removed from the record after a specific period. If that is so, the provision is exceptionally draconian.

The ethos of the warning, reprimand and caution process was conceived to be an administrative disposal short of a conviction, so that the offender did not acquire a criminal record and the disposal could be referred to only for a specific period. It seems wrong that, as a result of a less-than-conviction disposal, fingerprints, which will remain on file for ever, can be taken compulsorily. If the Minister confirms that that is the case, it is the beginning of big brother and an oppressive state.

Those who are told that this process is being undertaken to record an offence but to avoid a conviction will not usually understand that the record will remain on police files afterwards. Such people will be likely suspects in subsequent investigations of offences.

If the Minister confirms that I have understood the matter correctly—I do not want to vote on the basis of a misunderstanding—I will certainly press amendment No. 220 to a Division. Amendment No. 218, which refers to fingerprints being re-taken if the first set is defective, has less impact on civil liberties, so it would be logical for the Committee to focus on amendment No. 220. However, I would be grateful for confirmation that I have not misrepresented the situation.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I confirm that the hon. Gentleman is broadly correct in his summary of the state of affairs surrounding amendment No. 220. He has not been misleading and he has described the situation accurately. The Bill will provide the power for the retention of all fingerprints and samples, including those that come from suspects who are acquitted. It is illogical to destroy the prints of cautioned suspects, who have admitted that they are guilty of the offence with which they have been charged.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reconsider his position. It is important to have a consistent approach to records of fingerprints and DNA, and such records are an important tool in the fight against crime. I understand that some people have civil liberties concerns, and he is entitled to raise those. However, the proposals will give the police an effective crime-fighting tool, which is as important for the liberties of citizens throughout the country as the concerns that he expressed.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful for the Minister's confirmation. If he had said that the fingerprints would be kept, but that they would disappear from the record as soon as a person's criminal record disappeared, that would be a different matter. However, he has confirmed that that is not the case. That is inconsistent with the original intention.

The measure is about the police building up more information. Of course, they will always be helped by having more fingerprints and DNA samples on record, and by increased powers to arrest and detain suspects, but that is not a valid argument. We should not have a society that helps the police just so that more people can be arrested and convicted more easily. There must be a balance.

Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Liberal Democrat, Taunton

Does my hon. Friend agree that the logical conclusion of the Minister's approach would be for everyone to have DNA samples and fingerprints taken at birth? That would provide a smart card record throughout life.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

That is exactly the case. My hon. Friend and I will challenge the assumption that lies behind the Government's approach when we reach the later clauses on DNA.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

That is not a logical conclusion, because contact with the criminal justice system and the police is established in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. The comments of the hon. Member for Taunton raise issues about the desirability, or otherwise, of a national database, but I do not think that there is a logical connection in the way that she suggested.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton rather than with the Minister. We will have a situation in which people may lawfully have samples taken from them, and even if they are later acquitted, those samples will be kept on record without consent. They will have had contact with the police, but the system will not have found them guilty. My hon. Friend and I, other Opposition Members and, I hope, Labour Back Benchers think that it would be unacceptable to keep samples, fingerprints or other body prints from someone who had unjustifiably attracted the attention of the police, was repeatedly subject to unfair arrest—many young people complain of that—and was eventually charged but acquitted.

All that such people have done is to have contact with the criminal justice system. I have had such contact, as I expect has the Minister. I have been stopped by the police; I do not know whether he has. It would be an unacceptable consequence for that contact to put one on ``the list''. If people who have never had a criminal conviction will be in the same league as others about whom information is held, the logic is that we might as well all be there. We must have that debate, and my hon. Friends and I will strongly resist the idea, as would, I hope, many people on both sides of the House. I am not sure that the public are ready for it.

I should be grateful if we could vote on amendments Nos. 219 and 220. However, I do not want to press amendment No. 218, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 219, in page 63, line 42, leave out subsection (2).—[Mr. Gray.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Division number 32 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 77 - Fingerprints and samples

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 220, in page 64, line 29, leave out subsection (6).—[Mr. Simon Hughes.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Division number 33 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 77 - Fingerprints and samples

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

May I ask a question about the Human Rights Act 1998? It relates to the provisions for the compulsory fingerprinting of individuals. If people have been found guilty of a criminal offence, I can see no difficulty in their being compulsorily fingerprinted as part of their penalty, subject to the authorisation of a senior police officer. Similarly, a caution, warning or reprimand would probably count as a disposal in a criminal case. However, a fixed penalty notice is slightly different because it is a civil procedure.

Have fixed penalty notices not been included because of Human Rights Act considerations? Given that people admit guilt at the cautioning level, the warning level or the conviction level—they are either admitting guilt or being found guilty—I am worried that paying a fixed penalty notice will have the same effect, and that people will think that they are admitting that they have committed an offence and are paying a penalty in lieu of prosecution and conviction. I may be wrong, and I would be interested to hear the Minister's response.

In some cases, but not all, it is extremely helpful to have fingerprints. It is not necessary for someone who is drunk on the highway, but it is for criminal damage. I agree with the Minister that fixed penalties will not be issued for the more serious cases of criminal damage. However, in our small market towns and in the cities of Britain, groups of youngsters often commit acts of yobbery and vandalism. All too often it can escalate from kicking lamp-posts to seriously damaging motor cars or committing serious offences of criminal damage.

I wonder whether there is not a logical inconsistency. There are three tiers of seriousness: if I am right, warning is at the bottom, caution is next, and the fixed penalty notice follows that. It is rather surprising that those on the third tier should not have their fingerprints taken, particularly as no criminal record will be kept. They will not be recorded as having committed an offence, but I do not see why we should not keep their fingerprints.

There may be some overlap between arrangements for keeping criminal records and for keeping fingerprints, but I thought that section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1948 is being repealed because that administrative link no longer exists. If we have a separate database for fingerprints, and if there is no obvious interaction with criminal records other than the one that I mentioned—the fact that, under the Human Rights Act, the one follows the other—why should we not consider bringing fixed penalty notices into the system? I want to tease out of the Minister whether that would be a problem.

The other aspect is whether PACE gives the police the discretion to take fingerprints from those receiving fixed penalty notices at the police station if there is a worry that the offenders may be part of a group that has committed many offences in the area.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

On the hon. Gentleman's last point, I believe that there is no discretion; but I am asking for further advice in order to give a more authoritative answer. On his third point, the short answer is no: Human Rights Act considerations did not lead to fixed penalty notices not being included. As I said earlier, identity and suspicion of involvement will not be an issue when fixed penalty notices are issued. Fixed penalty notices are not a conviction, so the police have no power to take fingerprints.

I shall say a little more on the hierarchy point that the hon. Gentleman has been making. The fixed penalty notice is a less serious disposal of cases than a caution, reprimand or warning—the latter three can be given only if guilt is admitted. As we heard during our debates on part I, people who accept a fixed penalty notice are not necessarily admitting guilt, so it is lower in the hierarchy than the other three options. However, I acknowledge that it might not seem like that to the person in receipt of a fixed penalty notice. I think that I have correctly described the position in our legal hierarchy.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I do not want to return to the question of fixed penalty notices in detail, but how does what the Minister has said sit with the maximum penalties that he has proposed for those? Surely a possible fine, in effect, of £2,500 for one of the offences in question is more serious than a caution, which involves no penalty at all but is simply a matter of being told not to do it again.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I cannot recall whether I have yet written to the hon. Gentleman and to the Committee on this matter, but as I suggested previously, when we discussed what order of penalty might be involved, we intend on Report to table an amendment with a view to reducing the relevant proportion from a half to a quarter. That is another example of the way in which the Committee's rounded and lengthy consideration of the Bill has led to changes. That is the classic way in which Parliament should operate and the result is to the hon. Gentleman's credit. We have considered the issue, as we said we would. However, the order of penalty that we are considering in this context is not dramatically different from what I was alluding to previously.

I urge the Committee to agree that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

What are the current arrangements for keeping fingerprints and for allowing the person whose fingerprints are kept to know about that? What proof is available to a citizen who falls within new subsection (1A)—because the police want to take another set of prints, the original set being defective—that the first set of prints to have been taken has been destroyed?

I have several questions about this, from the point of view of the citizen. If, today, I wanted to discover whether my fingerprints were being held, where would I go? Could I have access to them, and on what notice? If the authorities had taken my fingerprints lawfully, the first set having been defective, could I be assured that the first set would be destroyed? Could I be present when they were destroyed, or have the right to know about it?

If fingerprints are held, to whom are they accessible beyond the police force that collected them? If they were collected in London by the Metropolitan police, should I assume them to be accessible to every territorial police force in England and Wales? Would they be accessible to other police forces, such as the Royal Parks constabulary and the military police, or to other agencies such as the National Criminal Intelligence Service? Above all, would they be accessible to bodies such as Customs and Excise or the Inland Revenue? If so, exact details of the extent of their availability should be provided.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am loth to give an off-the-cuff answer to that comprehensive group of questions. We have established and invested in the national automated fingerprint identification system—NAFIS—which operates throughout the country. That system is currently being developed. Technological change presents many possibilities. However, I should prefer to write to the hon. Gentleman in answer to the detailed points that he raised, rather than to give an off-the-cuff response that might be misleading.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Conservative, North East Bedfordshire 10:45 am, 8th March 2001

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey raises important points, and I should be grateful for a copy of the Minister's letter of reply to him. I share the concern about taking fingerprints in the case of fixed penalties and I should like clarification of the matter. My support for fixed penalties is based on their being a straightforward, simple way of disposing of minor offences. For offences such as drunkenness one does not need fingerprints on the record; they are unlikely to tie in with significant crime. A balance must be struck with the liberty of the individual. I am worried if simply accepting a fixed penalty will leave someone's fingerprints on the record; I am even more worried if someone's fingerprints may be kept if he is acquitted or if no charge is proceeded with. I cannot understand how fingerprints could then properly be kept. I hope that the Minister will clarify that I am wrong in thinking that they could.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire mentioned the Human Rights Act, which is extremely important. I am sometimes worried that Ministers are inclined to answer that if something is not thought to offend against that Act, it is per se acceptable. The Human Rights Act is a long stop; it is not the code that sets out how we should be dealt with in every respect. I hope to continue to live in a society in which standards are in most instances higher than are absolutely required under the Human Rights Act. The mere fact that something may not be thought to contravene the Human Rights Act is not necessarily a satisfactory answer. Ministers are asked to put their name to the fact that Bills that they put before the House comply with the Human Rights Act; I know that they do so in good faith, after thought and advice from their lawyers. None the less, on many occasions during this Parliament, Bills have rightly been amended because, on reflection, it was realised that significant aspects of them did not comply with that Act. Consequently, it is important that we do not assume that the measures comply with the Act merely because the Bill contains a statement to that effect.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's assessment of fixed penalty notices and the offences, but I think that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire was reasonable to specify that the offence in the list that gives rise to ambiguity about the value of fingerprints is criminal damage. That is why we have just replicated our debate on that provision. With that qualification, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely right.

We shall discuss the point about acquittal when we come to clause 81 in a few moments. At present, fingerprints are destroyed after acquittal; clause 81 provides that that will no longer be the case. I understand from what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he does not support that change, but that is not the main issue at stake with the clause.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I thank the Minister for explaining that he will change the level of the fixed penalty notice; that is most welcome. I had also forgotten to thank him for his letter last night which states that he intends to remove clauses 7 and 8 from the Bill. Those are the clauses that caused much concern about bureaucracy and confusion for those receiving fixed penalty notices at the same time as receiving a warning notice and possibly a statement. That is also most welcome.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and I cannot support the clause, because the Minister confirmed that subsection (6) means that someone who has received a caution, reprimand or warning will have fingerprints taken and kept indefinitely; if that provision were removed, we could do so. I also look forward to the information about the general arrangements that I understand that the Minister may be better able to give outside the Committee. However, at present the clause goes too far in relation to those who have not been convicted.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 2.

Division number 34 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 77 - Fingerprints and samples

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 2 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 77 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

On a point of order, Mr. Gale. I was initially puzzled because amendment No. 221 does not appear on your selection list, but I understand that that is because it would delete the whole clause. However, when so much else about our procedure is being considered--I am committed to reversing much of what the Government have done on procedure under the inappropriate description of modernisation--you might refer that matter to the Chairmen's Panel, Mr. Gale, and, if it agrees, to the Modernisation Committee. The Chairman's selection is seen by those who are not Members of Parliament but who take an interest in our proceedings, and it might be helpful and less confusing for them if such an amendment could appear on the selection list in brackets. For example, amendment No. 221 could have appeared in brackets under clause 78 to make it clear that it had not been selected because it seeks to delete the entire clause.

I shall not go further, Mr Gale, and you may not want to respond to that point of order now.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I have listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman, I am prepared to refer the matter to the Chairman of Ways and Means, who, no doubt, will want to make his representations to the Modernisation Committee.

Amendment No. 221 was not selected because it is otiose. The Committee has the opportunity to debate and vote against the clause, so the amendment is redundant. However, I accept that the amendment paper may sometimes seem arcane to those who are not entirely conversant with it.