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Nigel Griffiths: I noticed that the hon. Gentleman had to use his pager to rope in some of his colleagues late in the day. I thought that I was being generous to one of them by noting that he was not in his place—the rather charitable convention in the House. A number of Members, including the hon. Member for West Chelmsford, were not in at the beginning of the debate or not in for the whole debate.

Mr. Burns: The reason that I was not present at the beginning, about which I notified the Speaker's office, was to help the Government to complete the Committee stage of a Bill. We sat 40 minutes late.

Nigel Griffiths: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting that on the record. What it tells the House and people who care to read Hansard is that there are many serious reasons why Members are not in the Chamber. It is the Opposition who chose to raise the matter and dwell on it, to their own embarrassment. I am sure colleagues on the Government side have equally valid reasons.

I end, Madam Deputy Speaker, by thanking you for the role that you have played in this debate and in the absence of the Speaker. We wish the Speaker a recovery to full health, and I wish every Member of the House a peaceful and restful Easter.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab): I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
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Children's Hospices

4.28 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, all colleagues, officers and staff of the Palace of Westminster a happy Easter, and thank you and everyone else for what you do. Today I especially thank the excellent and honourable team of Doorkeepers who are waiting at the Bar, ready to carry into the Chamber some 250,000 signatures calling for fair play on children's hospice funding.

I have more than 12,000 signatures. These were organised by The Sun under its caring and excellent journalist, Dave Masters, and by Somerfield supermarkets' wonderful Butterfly campaign. I congratulate them. They are heroes. The campaign does not end here. There are plans for the whole year, starting with No. 10 Downing street in May.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

Lip Reading Services

4.30 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Mrs. Irene Haylock of Benfleet hard of hearing club is chairman of the Essex league of the hard of hearing. Deafness and hearing loss is seriously undervalued as a disability in some areas of society. Deaf people feel that others think that they are just stupid, and they are often excluded in social environments. I am grateful to all those who supported the petition and who care about that disability, including, of course, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People.
30 Mar 2006 : Column 1122

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

Prevention of Antisocial Behaviour

4.31 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Many good people in the neighbourhood of King George playing field, Canvey Island, are deeply concerned about antisocial behaviour by some youths on the island. Castle Point has a large number of youths, the vast majority of whom are great, caring, honourable, hard-working kids with bright futures, but the situation is spoiled by just a few yobs, who seem to get all the publicity. I am grateful to Inspector Kevin Diable-White of the local police, who is doing all that he can to tackle that problem along with Castle Point borough council and residents.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.
30 Mar 2006 : Column 1121

30 Mar 2006 : Column 1123

DNA Database

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Kevin Brennan.]

4.33 pm

Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): I am delighted to see that hon. Members on both sides of the House are busily engaged in other important matters this afternoon.

The national deoxyribonucleic acid database—the national DNA database—has the potential to transform our country into a low-crime society, but it also has the potential to make us feel that we are living in the "Big Brother" house. There are currently about 3 million people on the database, and that number includes what has been described as

By 2008, it is predicted to include 4.2 million people, and presumably most of those new additions will be people who are not currently criminally active. Since last year, well over 100,000 law-abiding people have been added, even though they have not been charged with any crime. The number continues to increase each year.

The police currently have the authority to take DNA from any person who is arrested and detained for a recordable offence, including road traffic offences. Samples can be taken by force if necessary, but are generally taken using a swab from the mouth. Those are known as criminal justice samples, but they are not taken only from criminals. There are two other types of sample: those recovered by the police from the scene of a crime; and those taken from volunteers. For example, 4,000 people in Croydon are being tested to eliminate people from the investigation into the murder of Sally Anne Bowman.

The UK database holds the largest amount of data in absolute numerical terms and in percentage of population terms of any other country in the world. It currently stands at 5.2 per cent. of the population; in the United States, it is 0.5 per cent. of the population. To put this in some context, in addition to the profiles of the 3 million or so individuals, there are nearly 300,000 crime scene profiles on the database relating to a variety of crimes such as burglary, theft and fraud. It also contains a significant number of rapists, murderers and kidnappers.

Recent Home Office figures show that where there is DNA at a crime scene, the overall detection rates shoot up: in domestic burglary, from 16 per cent. to 41 per cent.; in theft from a vehicle, from 8 per cent. to 63 per cent.; and in criminal damage, from 14 to 51 per cent. That shows that the average detection rate across all crimes rises from 26 per cent. to 40 per cent. for crimes where a DNA profile has been obtained. In a typical month, that equates to around 15 murders, 45 rapes or sexual offences, and 2,500 motor vehicle, property and drug crimes.

My friend, Commander Dave Johnston, head of homicide at New Scotland Yard, cites the example of a gerontophile—somebody who rapes elderly people—who has for some time been at large in south London. He has raped about 40 women and killed two of them through rupture injuries. The commander says: "We've
30 Mar 2006 : Column 1124
got buckets of this man's DNA—we just don't have anything to compare it with." He points out that this is just one of the 300,000 outstanding crimes where the offender is known, but only by the DNA that they have left behind. These people cannot be matched to a named person because they are not on the database.

People in my constituency suffer from far too high levels of crime associated with vastly inadequate routine police resources, despite the overall increase in police numbers in recent years. Mercifully, very serious crime is rare, but when it happens, Kent police, under chief constable Mike Fuller, have an excellent record; we need only look at their performance over the £53 million cash heist that took place a month or so ago.

But if we are to reduce crime and make our community safer, we must remove or control those who pose a risk to our well-being and safety. Many of the outstanding DNA samples held by the Forensic Science Service relate to repeat offenders, particularly in cases of rape and serious sexual assault. Many of those as yet unidentified are continuing to offend. Furthermore, the power to take DNA from people after death would be useful in cases of a sexual nature. It would mean that undetected crimes did not remain outstanding if it could be established that the perpetrator had died.

There may be a strong argument for taking DNA from dead people to help manage the current database. At the very least, the police could tell the victim, who might still be living in fear, "Sorry, we didn't get them, but they died." That might be helpful for victims dealing with the effects of such awful crime.

The UK police currently obtain DNA from only 1 per cent. of crimes. Research shows that, with proper investment, that could be increased to more than 54 per cent.—in other words, those crimes where DNA might reasonably be expected to be found. That would significantly increase the number of criminals brought to justice. Of course, that would be wasted if the number of people on the database did not increase.

The science of DNA does not only convict the guilty. It also helps the innocent who may otherwise face trial because of compelling circumstantial evidence or witness statements. There may be cases where a prosecution would have been based on that sort of evidence but for the presence of DNA, which led to another person being convicted or the original suspect being eliminated.

Apparently, in five years, we are likely to be able reliably to tell the skin complexion, height, birthplace and details of any deformity or significant impairment of an individual through DNA. It is possible to grow a sample from the merest touch against a surface or a body using a system called low copy number—LCN. It can currently be used to determine an individual's physical characteristics including, gender, ethnic background, eye colour and hair colour. Many other characteristics are being worked on as the understanding of DNA develops. Recent changes to the law in California are likely to lead to another technological surge as private sector companies seek the massive profits that will be available.

The DNA of any individual comes 50:50 from mother and father. By using that knowledge, family connections can be made. Earlier, I mentioned the gerontophile. The police know, quite precisely, where his family comes from. The closer the family member, the closer the link on the DNA.
30 Mar 2006 : Column 1125

DNA can be obtained from almost any cell in the body but is normally taken from testing blood, saliva or semen. In cases of a badly deteriorated corpse, it can also be taken from bones or teeth. One should bear in mind that around 50,000 people remain on the missing list in this country alone.

The current methods are called SGM plus—single generation multiplex plus—which provide 10 different markers for identification. Extrapolated out, they give a statistical likelihood of two similar DNA samples being one in 1 billion.

The country—and my constituents who travel into London day after day—face another gigantic threat from terrorism. Eye-popping work is being done using DNA, as the Under-Secretary knows. Of the four July suicide bombers, we held DNA on only one. If we had had more, the police and national intelligence agencies could have established who they were far more quickly and linked them to other people, other addresses and possibly other scenes.

That is rather a long-winded way of saying that some amazing benefits have come out of the UK's advanced and world-leading position in DNA databasing.

The trouble is that I, and many other people, feel uneasy about the state holding information on us—whether about our financial position, our personal lives, or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) mentioned an hour or so ago, through council tax inspectors. Most of all, many of us feel uneasy at the thought that the state might have part of our physical being by holding our DNA. When I leave here this evening, I could be arrested for a traffic offence. I might not subsequently be convicted, but in five days' time, my DNA could be on the database for all time.

If we are to make the best use of this technology, we must have a proper debate about it. At present, it feels as though we are moving towards a national database by stealth. Perhaps the benefits would be so huge in transforming the crime profile of this country that the public could be swayed in favour of the move. The bottom line should be that, if innocent people's DNA is going to be held on the database, we should have a rational debate and try to bring this about in an open and organised fashion, and not in a haphazard manner, however well intentioned and successful the Government have been in this area.

If the Government want a database that contains the code for everyone, and not just for existing criminals, they should be honest about that. They are getting more and more people, many of them innocent, on to the database, and the challenge for them and the very senior police officers who are calling for a national compulsory database is to reassure people and to win the argument by demonstrating the extraordinary potential benefits to people like me, my constituents, and the civil liberties groups. At present, the bit-by-bit approach is doing nothing to ameliorate people's fears.

4.46 pm

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