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DNA Database

6. Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the national DNA database. [24794]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): The national DNA   database is the biggest operational policing DNA database in the world. It now holds more than 3.3 million DNA profiles and provides the police with around 3,000 intelligence matches each month. The annual number of direct DNA detections more than doubled from 8,612 in 1999–2000 to 19,873 in 2004–05. In addition, a further 15,732 crimes were detected in 2004–05 as a result of further investigations linked to the original case in which DNA was recovered.

Lynne Featherstone: I thank the Minister for that answer, but I wonder whether he is aware that earlier this year figures showed that 32 per cent. of all black males in the UK were on the DNA database, but only 8 per cent. of white males. Does he recognise the growing concern about racial profiling and disproportionality in criminal investigations, and will he undertake to find out what underlies those figures?
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Andy Burnham: I know that the hon. Lady has shown an interest in this subject and has tabled parliamentary questions on it. The data held on race profiles are not directly accurate, in that they are derived from the impressions of the police officer in the custody suite, not a statement by the individuals involved. There are therefore problems with providing the data that she requires. However, the procedures apply across the piece to people who have been arrested, so they are not discriminatory. Moreover, huge public benefit is derived from the database with regard to the detection of serious crime.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): But why are the police allowed to keep the swabs and the DNA of people who are not charged with any offence?

Andy Burnham: They are allowed to keep the DNA to help with the solving of serious crime. My hon. Friend will know that some serious offences have been solved by using the database. For example, in 2001 a shoplifter was arrested in Derby. His DNA was taken and found to match that in a rape that was committed in 1998 in Canterbury. If people are guilty of no crime, having their DNA on record can only help to ensure that they are not wrongly accused of a crime.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): What discussions has the Minister had, or is intending to have, with his counterparts at the Department of Health about any connection between the database and the ID   card scheme, as well any connection between the   database and the new national computer network that the Department is introducing?

Andy Burnham: The national DNA database is not linked to the Department of Health. It is focused on the solving of serious crime and is a major operational tool for the police to use to ensure greater reliability in connecting the guilty to a crime. There is no direct link to the systems that the Department of Health is introducing. The Government have invested some £300 million in expanding the DNA database. If Opposition Members wish to challenge its results, I can confirm that it has helped to solve crimes throughout the country, with great benefits to the families of the victims of those crimes.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): With an ever increasing number of people logged on the database, what consideration has my hon. Friend given to the advice of Professor Jeffreys, who discovered the DNA fingerprinting technique, that we should move from 10 to 16 markers in order to avoid wrongful convictions?

Andy Burnham: My hon. Friend is far more eminent in matters of science than I am, and I will of course consider seriously the point that Professor Jeffreys raises. We are ensuring that we use advances in technology and science to the maximum possible effect in the public interest, which—in this case—is solving serious crimes.
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Drug Treatment (Offenders)

7. Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): What steps he is taking to ensure that offenders receive adequate drug treatment. [24795]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): Drug treatment plays a key role in rehabilitating offenders and reducing reoffending. That is why we have developed a comprehensive structure to deliver drug treatment to offenders wherever they are in the criminal justice system, and have invested heavily in a range of programmes, including enhanced treatment in prison, the drug interventions programme and drug rehabilitation requirements for community sentences.

Mr. Burrowes: I am grateful for the Minister's response, but does he share my grave concern about drugs in Pentonville? A recent inmate struggling to rehabilitate himself from drugs told me that the prison is awash with drugs, with cannabis bars thrown over the walls, and crack cocaine and heroin easier and cheaper to obtain inside the prison than outside. When will the Minister and the Government take action to deal with that scandal, which is happening not just in Pentonville but in prisons throughout the country?

Paul Goggins: The Prison Service, prison governors and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety work hard to counter drugs being brought into our prisons. The problem is significant and nobody can deny it, but the failure rate for mandatory drug testing was 24 per cent. 10 years ago and it is now down to 11 per cent., so I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that that is an indication that the efforts of staff in all our prisons to reduce the amount of drugs coming into prison and being misused by people in prison are having some impact. I do not deny for a minute that the hon. Gentleman makes an important point: this is an evil and we need to continue to work together to bear down on it.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): The Minister was recently in charge of prisons and knows that drug treatment for offenders is far from the success that he would have us believe. Not only are drugs literally pouring into our prisons, but nearly half of all who start drug treatment programmes in prison fail to complete them. There is a shortage of suitably qualified drugs workers in our prisons and the social exclusion unit found that even after receiving treatment in prison there is almost no support on release, so returning to drug taking and criminal activity is the easy option. As well over half the crime committed in this country is connected to drugs—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Supplementaries should be shorter.

Mrs. Gillan: I wondered, Mr. Speaker, when the Minister would make some real investment in aftercare and services.
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Paul Goggins: May I express some mild surprise? The hon. Lady has carried her Front-Bench responsibilities for a long time and I know that she visits prisons and takes a deep interest in these issues, so how she can retain such a wholly negative assessment of the position baffles me, because she knows that many staff are working hard to turn people's lives around. The number of people employed to work with drug misusers has increased from 6,000 to 10,000 as a result of the massive investment that the Government have made, not just for offenders in prison but for offenders in the community; 55,000 offenders in prison were on a maintenance or detoxification programme last year and 40 per cent. of all prisoners are on voluntary drug testing. I do not think that her question reveals the full picture, which is more positive than her version of it.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): No matter how much drug rehabilitation treatment is provided, will the Minister acknowledge that as long as the Government's policy is based on harm reduction, for every drug addict who is cured 10 more will come along? Will he redirect his drug policy to drug prevention?

Paul Goggins: We will not be deflected from harm minimisation, because it is essential that people who misuse drugs are helped to get off them and that the people whose houses they burgle and whose lives are made a misery owing to that criminality can also be protected. We have invested massively in drug treatment: the pooled drug treatment budget increases to £478 million in two years—an astronomical increase. We are absolutely determined to ensure that when people caught up in criminality as a result of their drug misuse want to change their behaviour we will give them every assistance to do so, but if they will not change they will have to take the consequences.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that he is fighting the problem with one hand tied behind his back? Prominent politicians are advocating taking drugs. The other year, half the Tory Front Bench admitted to taking them and now a prominent candidate for the leadership is suggesting that ecstasy should be downgraded. What chance have we got when that lot are involved in taking drugs?—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

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