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.

Alert me about debates like this

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

I can confirm that it should be ``the Auld report''.

I understand the police's argument in favour of increasing the number of people on the database and having a larger information bank against which suspects can be checked when arrested. It is, however, a poor argument, because the police could be given all sorts of extra powers to increase convictions. If there were enough money in the Budget, if the Chancellor had been so minded and if further recruitment were possible, we could increase the police force 10 times over. That would greatly increase the likely number of convictions, but we would require a national debate before proceeding with that. We could take away the rights of defendants and interpret the right to silence in a particular way to count heavily against them. There are all sorts of ways of increasing the number of convictions.

I am unhappy with the current rate of convictions. Together with cautions, convictions apply to only 3 per cent. of offences in the British crime survey and 24 per cent. of recorded crimes. That is not good enough. We need to improve the detection rate through better policing, and the police need to bring their activities up to speed. More intelligence-led and professional policing is necessary and the police must have all the kit, radios, vehicles and other tools that they need. We must ensure that we have enough police and that the criminal justice system works well, but we must not keep edging away at people's liberties.

Here is another surprising element of policy from a Government who failed to mention it in their manifesto. Civil servants' and the Government's desire to be perceived as strong on law and order is undermining the understanding of some elements of the Labour party—it has always had an authoritarian streak—that civil liberties need to be defended against people in authority such as the police, civil servants and others.

We must resist this measure, as we must resist removing the right to choose a trial by jury—another plank in the Government's current programme, to which they were expressly opposed at the general election. The Government have no public authority for changing their position. On a wide range of matters, they are eroding the balance between the state and the individual, which saddens me and does no credit to the Minister, the Government or the country. We are supposed to be a country in which liberty burns brightly and is taken away only by agreement of the overwhelming majority of the public, and in which the rights of minorities are defended.

Policing must be by agreement, but this proposal certainly does not have the agreement of the Liberal Democrats. I expect that it will not have the agreement of Conservative members of the Committee or, I hope, of those elements in the Labour party who are traditionally committed to civil liberties. The Minister should either accept the amendments or withdraw the clause. If not, we shall certainly return to the issue on Report, when I expect to gain considerable support. Let me tell the Minister now that we will not agree to include these proposals in any negotiated Bill in the event of an early election. It would be better if the proposals were removed from the Bill now, so we would have one less controversial matter to worry about in the weeks ahead.