Section 74 — Power to take fingerprints to establish identity of suspect

Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:45 pm on 25th May 2006.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 3:45 pm, 25th May 2006

Group 14 is on the power to take fingerprints to establish a suspect's identity. Amendment 165, in the name of Colin Fox, is the only amendment in the group.

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP

The discussion on amendment 165 inevitably takes on some of the flavour of the previous debate on DNA profiling. The remarks that members have made about the presumption of innocence also apply to amendment 165.

The bill proposes to introduce mandatory fingerprinting of suspects. Those are people who have not even been charged with—far less convicted of—a crime, but they will now be obliged to provide fingerprint evidence to any police officer who asks for it. Currently, we take people's fingerprints when we charge them, but the proposals under section 74 will mean that they could be taken from anybody to identify them.

My amendment 165 seeks to remove section 74. A rubicon is being crossed, because we will treat the innocent in the same way as we treat the guilty. In the debate on DNA, some members highlighted that ordinary citizens who do not commit crimes have nothing to fear from rights being taken away. I look forward to those comments also being made on this measure.

We should leave aside the obvious uncertainty that there now is in the Scottish criminal justice system in the light of the Shirley McKie case and the question of whether fingerprints can be used definitively to identify people.

The evidence given to the Justice 2 Committee at stage 1 questioned whether reasonable grounds for suspicion on the part of a police officer would be based on objective intelligence and information about the behaviour of individuals or whether it might instead be based on an individual's age, race or sex. It seems to me that, as with DNA samples, the police will stop people whom they do not like and build up a fingerprint database of them. As I said previously, that is why one in three black men in Britain is now in a database, despite the fact that they make up less than 3 per cent of the total population.

I move amendment 165.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

At stage 2, I shared some of the concerns that Colin Fox has outlined. My concerns related to the destruction of fingerprints and the length of time that that might take. I lodged some amendments on the issue at stage 2. However, I am glad to say that clarification was provided by the minister at stage 2 and we were given reassurances about how and how quickly fingerprints would be destroyed. That was reasonable. Once the issues were explained at stage 2, I was happy to accept the situation. Where Colin Fox is—with all due respect—going wrong is that he fails to recognise that times move on and technology moves on. The ability to take fingerprints remotely and to ensure that police officers can work efficiently and effectively and make good use of their time seems to me to be a higher priority than some of the issues that Colin Fox raised in his speech. Given that clarification on the destruction of fingerprints where necessary was made at stage 2, we will not support amendment 165.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour 4:00 pm, 25th May 2006

The purpose of section 74 is to enable the police to use mobile fingerprint readers to establish whether somebody is who they say they are. Mobile fingerprint readers will allow officers to do that quickly, effectively and without needing to take the person to a station for fingerprinting, which is resource intensive and time consuming for the officer and the individual.

Furthermore, mobile fingerprint readers will help the fight against crime by enabling police officers to ascertain quickly whether people are suspected of other offences and whether there are outstanding warrants against them. As Stewart Maxwell said, we need to enable police forces to use new technology to best effect for the purposes of preventing and solving crimes. Section 74 gives the police the powers to do that, and it would not be in the interests of effective policing to remove it from the bill.

I hope that Colin Fox will withdraw his amendment, given what was said not only today but at stage 2. If he does not, I ask the Parliament to oppose it.

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP

I insist on my right to press my amendment. There is a principle here. The minister talks about the need to use roadside technology. That is fine—I am all in favour of technology. However, as things stand, we take fingerprints if we charge people. We are having the same debate that we had earlier on DNA. As far as I am concerned, it is not appropriate to take the fingerprints of people who have not been charged with an offence.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 165 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 6

For: Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Fox, Colin, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Martin, Campbell, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Sheridan, Tommy
Against: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Richard, Barrie, Scott, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Brownlee, Derek, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Fabiani, Linda, Fergusson, Alex, Finnie, Ross, Fraser, Murdo, Gibson, Rob, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Johnstone, Alex, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morgan, Alasdair, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Petrie, Dave, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinburne, John, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 11, Against 95, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 165 disagreed to.