Clause 81 - Restriction on use and destruction of fingerprints and samples

Part of Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 8th March 2001.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 4:00 pm, 8th March 2001

No. I am absolutely aware of the benefits of science, and especially forensic science, in the investigation of crime, and of how much the police increasingly rely on it. To be honest, it is only the development of the old CID work of the great novels, films and television serials of the past. Forensic science is used to make matches, which is particularly important for serious crimes of violence. For example, forensic evidence has already played a significant part in the Damilola Taylor inquiry. We hope that that will lead to a satisfactory conclusion and people will be charged soon and correctly and convicted appropriately. I am entirely aware of the importance of forensic science: it has a huge role to play, and the police will increasingly rely on it.

This whole debate is about the relative liberty of the individual against the state. The proposition is being put in the context of the Bill without all the preparation that we should properly have. We have had important debates in the House on genetic testing, gene-related science and whether it is appropriate to permit research on embryos for the purpose of medical cures for permanent and debilitating conditions such as Parkinson's disease. As I recollect it, the two votes that we had in the Commons and the Lords were preceded by two full days of debate about whether it was appropriate to go down that road. We considered the scientific evidence and the evidence produced by Committees of both Houses, listened to the views expressed and proceeded carefully.

However, I do not think that we in this country have had a debate at all on this issue. We have not faced the question whether it is appropriate to move to a society in which the police can, without the individual's consent, hold such information. It is a large debate and goes to the heart of what information on the individual should be held by the authorities. Although I understand where the proposal comes from and the reason why the police and the National Criminal Intelligence Service would argue persuasively for its inclusion, that does not justify taking a decision of this magnitude in this way, at this time, without a wider debate.