Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Hughes: 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.

Mr. Clarke: 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.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): 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.

10.45 am

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.

Mr. Clarke: 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.

Mr. Heald: 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.

Mr. Hughes: 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 No. 34]

Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Lock, Mr. David
McCabe, Mr. Stephen
McDonagh, Siobhain
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.

Ballard, Jackie
Hughes, Mr. Simon

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 77 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Hawkins: 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.

The Chairman: 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.

Clause 78

Authority for intimate searches

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

Mr. Hawkins: In this stand part debate we return to our earlier argument that the Government are wrong to downgrade the rank at which decisions are made from superintendent to inspector. I repeat that I am not decrying the important work of inspectors, many of whom are longstanding friends, including those with whom I worked when I was prosecuting at the Bar and those I have met in my constituency.

A further point that I did not raise in the earlier debate is that the Minister must not only justify the Government's motivation--perhaps it is cost saving, which has been forced on the Home Secretary by the Treasury--but explain why such a huge leap down from superintendent is being made. If the Minister was suggesting a change from superintendent to chief inspector--[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. As I have indicated in the past, there are splendid green Benches outside the Room for those who wish to conduct private conversations.

Mr. Hawkins: The Government's proposed reduction in the required rank, from superintendent all the way down to inspector, is plainly wrong. We might have taken a different view if they had proposed a change from superintendent to chief inspector. In my experience, chief inspectors are senior managers. That is certainly true of those who have responsibility for my constituency. Mentioning that gives me the opportunity to pay tribute personally to Chief Inspector Mick Day, who is one of the most helpful senior officers with whom it has ever been my pleasure to deal. I have the good fortune to know him. He was born and brought up in my constituency, so he knows the area very well—not just because of his police career, but from life.

If the Government had announced a change from superintendent to chief inspector, we might have taken a different view, because people of the calibre of Chief Inspector Mick Day would have been involved. Such police officers are regarded, by me and by many Conservative Members, as senior managers. It is not right to downgrade the required rank. I will be urging my right hon. and hon. Friends to support me in voting to remove clause 78. We think that it is wrong, for the reasons that I have set out, and I will therefore be urging members of the Committee to vote against it.

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