Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

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Ms Blears: I shall deal with the amendments relating to photographs, then fingerprints and then the footwear impressions. Clearly the amendments have the same objective, which is the protection of juveniles and people with mental health problems who could be vulnerable. Amendments Nos. 297 and 298 would prevent the taking of photographs of juveniles and other vulnerable persons. The police should be able to retain accurate records and take photographs of those who come into contact with the criminal justice system. Regrettably, juveniles are responsible for a significant proportion of the crime in this country, so the police should be able to take photographs. I understand the point about having an appropriate adult present, but taking photographs is one way to ascertain identity which the police should be able to do.

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The same argument applies to the amendments to clause 108 on fingerprints. The clause is about taking fingerprints away from the police station in a way that helps us to ascertain people's identity. If they could not check the identity of people under 17, the police would be prevented from dealing with a whole range of juvenile crime and inhibit their operational effectiveness. One of the amendments is worded in such a way that it would prevent the police from taking fingerprints from juveniles and people with mental health problems in any of the circumstances currently covered by section 61 of PACE, even in a police station. The amendment goes too far—further than the hon. Gentleman intends. I know that the Committee would not want to support that position.

The law allows officers to take fingerprints and a non-intimate sample from persons aged under 17 who have been arrested, charged or convicted for a recordable offence without an appropriate adult necessarily being present. I emphasise the word necessarily. The power is there, but I know that officers can and do exercise their discretion. In such
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circumstances, they might well decide to wait until an adult is present before exercising those powers. It is for the officer to decide in each case.

The power to take fingerprints somewhere other than at the station will be welcomed by police officers, and I should not like to see it limited in the way proposed by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome. The powers should be available universally for persons of all ages, because the police can use their discretion. It weighs heavily with me that if the police do not have access to such powers for photographs, prints and footwear impressions, more people might be arrested, because some of the powers are designed to ascertain identity on the spot. If somebody's identity can be proven and he can be shown not to have been involved in an offence, he can be free to go. Now, people sometimes have to wait for three or four hours before their identity can be properly ascertained. They are dragged into a police station, and it is as much of an imposition on them as it is on the police officers involved.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's intention to protect the rights of juveniles and those who are vulnerable because of their mental health problems, but it is necessary for the police to have the powers. The matters are covered by the statutory codes under PACE and those codes are the appropriate vehicle through which to ensure that the police have appropriate guidance.

Mr. Heath: Can the Minister say whether the PACE codes of conduct and the guidance therein apply not only to constables in the execution of their powers, but to the various other persons who will be permitted to take photographs, such as a CSO who is issuing a fixed penalty notice and the accredited persons from a local authority in the case of a penalty notice for truancy. Somebody who has been asked to wait by a CSO will not necessarily have committed a crime, yet there is provision for photographs to be taken for identification purposes. I want to be sure that the codes of conduct to which the Minister referred apply to the range of people who are now to be empowered to take such actions.

Ms Blears: I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. The PACE provisions relating to constables also apply to the other people who exercise such powers. It is the power being exercised that is important, not the individual doing it; therefore the safeguards and provisions in PACE and its codes of practice apply to the range of individuals who might exercise the powers in order to ascertain a person's identity.

Having given the hon. Gentleman the reassurance that the provisions will be considered fully in the codes of practice, I ask him to consider withdrawing the amendment.

Mr. Heath: I am grateful for the Minister's response on the codes of conduct. That is absolutely crucial. One of the matters raised by the groups who expressed concerns was the incompatibility, as they saw it, of the new arrangements with existing codes of conduct
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under PACE. I shall look carefully at what the Minister has said, and wait with anticipation for any revision to the codes.

I am happy to withdraw the amendment; it was never my intention to press it to a Division. I understand the Minister's argument that it would undermine a wider provision than one on the specific area that I have sought to probe. As she understands, that was not my intention. I hope that we shall return to the matter at a later stage, possibly in another place. The organisations that contacted me on the subject will look carefully at what the Minister has said. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Mr. Djanogly: I thank the Minister for sending members of the Committee a letter about a demonstration of the technology involved. In the letter, she states:

    ''I should however like to stress that fingerprints taken using the new equipment will not be retained or added to NAFIS if they are not already on the system.''

Briefly, how will that work in practice?

Ms Blears: First, I apologise to the Committee for sending such a late invitation to the demonstration from the Police Information Technology Organisation of the system of which it is so proud. If hon. Members would find it useful, I am more than happy to organise another demonstration at some point when they may be able to attend.

Mr. Heath: Perhaps on an occasion when we are not discussing the Constitutional Reform Bill on the Floor of the House.

Ms Blears: I entirely accept that point. It seems that hon. Members involved in home affairs and constitutional matters are never out of either the Chamber or the Committee Room.

I have seen a demonstration of the equipment. It is a tremendous technological advance and will be hugely useful to the police, particularly when used in conjunction with automatic number plate recognition, which can trigger an investigation. Fingerprints can be taken and matched on a database. I am told that information on fingerprints can be sent back within about four or five minutes from a mobile unit inside a police vehicle, and that will save an enormous amount of police officers' time.

The reason why we do not propose to retain fingerprints in those circumstances is because they are taken pre-arrest and are intended to help make a quick identification on the street and determine whether the matter needs to be taken further. Fingerprints taken post-arrest are retained, but that is further up the chain. The balance of civil liberties means that we should not retain them when they are taken pre-arrest.
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Mr. Djanogly: I appreciate that the fingerprints are not meant to be retained, but my question was how will the person from whom they are taken know that they have been destroyed?

Ms Blears: I do not have a complete answer to that to hand. I asked whether a record will be made of the fact that fingerprints had been taken, and I understand that such a record will be made but prints will not be retained. I am happy to find further information for the hon. Gentleman about whether a person will be given a receipt or whether a ticket will be written out saying that fingerprints have been taken, but I am not sure of the practicalities. I have no doubt that my officials will provide me with further information and I will write to the hon. Gentleman with those details.

Mr. Grieve: On a point of order, Dame Marion. Which clause are we discussing? We are under the impression that we are discussing clause 108 stand part, but we have not yet considered the amendments to that clause.

The Chairman: We are debating clause 107, as amended.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful, Dame Marion. We can now have a repeat performance of the same debate on the next clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 107, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 108


Mr. Heath: I beg to move amendment No. 188, in clause 108, page 74, line 31, after 'fingerprints', insert

    'for the purpose of establishing identity'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 304, in clause 108, page 75, leave out lines 3 and 4.

Mr. Heath: I am not sure whether I am supposed to pretend I did not hear the previous debate. I cannot do so, as the premature interjection by the hon. Member for Huntingdon means that we have already had some helpful assurances from the Minister.

The purpose of my amendment is to make the clause read:

    ''a constable may take a person's fingerprints''

for the purpose of establishing identity

    ''without the appropriate consent'',

and so on. The only reason for doing so, which might be self-evident, is to establish the purpose referred to later, in subsection (7), which says

    ''fingerprints taken from a person by virtue of section 61(6A) above must be destroyed as soon as they have fulfilled the purpose for which they were taken''.

The amendment is a safeguard to ensure that the purpose for which they are taken is immediate identification of that person, and not in order to create a databank of fingerprints or for any other purpose.
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The event that will trigger the fingerprints' destruction is the identification having been made, so there will be no question of establishing a back-door fingerprint bank of people who have not been convicted of any offence, or even charged with one.

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