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

Part of Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 8th March 2001.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 4:45 pm, 8th March 2001

This has been a good debate and I do not intend to repeat at length the position that my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and I have made clear. We see the amendments as a way of ameliorating the clause and we shall support them. We are unhappy with the principle of the proposal for the pragmatic reasons that have been raised. We are worried about the risk to people who give their consent but might not want to do so in the future, and about the fact that we are not yet, and probably never will be, able to ensure that the DNA system works accurately. We can never ensure that the management of scientific data and materials is perfect, so that things are always as they are described. Therefore, there are pragmatic reasons why we support the amendments. There is also a democratic reason, which the hon. Member for Reigate explained very well.

There is a real issue, but we have not had the real debate that we have had on other big issues in other forums. It was not in a manifesto, it was not debated at the previous election, it was not in the Queen's Speech, it has not been debated in the round in either House of Parliament and it had not been debated before it came to Committee. The Minister conceded that the measure had come off the back of a court case. I do not criticise him for that, because we are all aware that that case left the law in an uncertain state, and it is perfectly proper for the Government to say that they need to act. However, on this big issue, just to pluck one option and place it in a part of the Bill that has many other measures is entirely inappropriate.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and many other others, I understand where the police and the Government are coming from and the importance of trying to ensure that we secure convictions properly. However, we are still not persuaded on the issue on which we have had the most exchanges. What logic justifies the holding of information about people just because they have come into contact with the law on one occasion, but does not justify holding it in other cases? My hon. Friend said that it was an opportunistic additional method of collection. That is right. It is no more logical than taking the first name on each page in the telephone book or the electoral register.

There is a slightly more coherent process. I understand that those people happen to have gone through the police system and are linked with law and order and the collection of information, but that is chance and accident. I do not have the figure in my head— the Minister may not either—but a significant number of people are arrested, charged and acquitted. I am happy to say that the criminal justice system acquits people quite often. Many are innocent; some are not. We will never know the answers to those questions.

A debate is taking place on double jeopardy, which enters the realm of what the balance should be between citizen and state. I accept the Minister's perfectly valid alternative description, but the debate is about the powers of the state, what information it should hold and what consent the citizen gives to that being held, whether or not the state believes that it is in the interests of humanity. My hon. Friends and I therefore support the amendments, but whether or not they are defeated, we will oppose the clause. I give notice that, because the next clause is similar—although it relates to Northern Ireland—we shall also seek its deletion.