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The Prime Minister:
The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows a lot about not answering questions. [Laughter.] I can tell him that he has misunderstood the legislation. It requires the Home Secretary to present
to the House a statement showing that there is an exceptional and grave terrorist threat and that the need for action is urgent, and she must ask the House to support the action that she has taken. The legislation does not require discussion of the individual detainees; that would be wrong. The purpose of this legislation, like that of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, is to get the House to agree that these special measures are needed. That is the purpose of the debate, and that is the right way to proceed.
Q6.  Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the University of Central Lancashire? Since 1828, when it was the Institution for The Diffusion of Knowledge, it has developed into one of the largest universities in the United Kingdom. It now provides education and skills training for more than 21,000 students, 2,500 of whom are in mainland China.
The Prime Minister: I am proud that the number of universities in our country is growing, and that the number of students in our country can grow as a result of the proposals of the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills. The University of Central Lancashire, with its 21,000 students, is another university that is giving young people opportunities that they have never had before. I hope that we shall be able to announce the provision of 20 more university campuses, so that every major town and city in the country is properly served by higher education.
Q7.  Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): Every year 342,000 older people in the country are victims of abuse, including crimes such as intimidation, theft and assault. Tens of thousands of older people with dementia are routinely prescribed unlicensed drugs that keep them sedated and cut their lives short. Will the Prime Minister take action to close the loopholes in the law that allow the victims to go unprotected and the perpetrators to go unpunished, and will he meet me and a delegation to discuss what else needs to be done to tackle elder abuse?
The Prime Minister:
I shall be prepared to talk to the hon. Gentleman about this matter. We are about to propose an NHS constitution. Our aim is to guarantee rights to every person who is a patient of the NHS, and
I believe that whatever he is revealing about what happens to elderly people can be dealt with as part of the rights in that constitution.
Q8.  Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister may know that a number of newspapers in Birmingham and elsewhere have suggested in the past 24 hours that the national challenge announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families will threaten hundreds of schools with closure, including 27 in Birmingham. Will he confirm that that is certainly not the plans intention and that, rather, the aim is to work with teachers and parents, most of whom are already making huge efforts to do the right thing by children and raise standards? In other words, the intention is to avoid school closures, not the opposite.
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The national challenge is intended to raise every school in this country to a higher standard. In particular, the aim is to deal with failing schools and to make sure that their results are better. Whatever action needs to be taken in terms of replacing head teachers or improving the service is part of the national challenge. I can also tell him that, in this and other areas, more money is being injected into the school system to make that increase in standards possible. We want every school pupil in the country to get the best possible education.
Q9.  Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): It is forecast that the Treasury is set to secure a windfall of anything between £4 billion and £6 billion as a result of the increased price of a barrel of North sea oil, yet Scotland has secured absolutely no benefit from that rise. Norways oil fund is worth some £186 billion, and even non-independent Alberta has an oil fund of £8.8 billion. Given that windfall, surely it is time for a Scottish oil fund. If the Prime Minister continues to say no to Scotland on this issue, the Scottish people will say no to him and goodbye to some of his Back Benchers.
The Prime Minister: We are one United Kingdom, and we share the risks, rewards and resources throughout the UK. It is because we are one United Kingdom that Scotland has 200,000 more jobs than it had in 1997. Scotland has never been better off, as a result of a Labour Government.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the removal from the DNA Database of DNA samples taken from individuals who are not charged or are acquitted; and for connected purposes.
Everyone accepts that DNA has been a massive breakthrough in crime detection, helping to solve the crimes of today and also some of the cold cases from 20 to 30 years ago. However, the Government have pursued this breakthrough in a disproportionate way.
The UK has by far the largest DNA database in the world, with 4.5 million people registered. Proportionally, five times more people are on our database than is the case with the next closest country. We think of the US as having a punitive criminal justice system, but less than 1 per cent. of its population is on the US database, whereas we have around 6 per cent. Moreover, it has been estimated that under current laws, the database will expand to include one in four of our adult male population.
The number of children on the database is particularly worrying. At the moment, it is estimated that it contains entries for more than 700,000 people who were under 18 when they were arrested and their DNA was taken. In case hon. Members think that some of them might have deserved what they got, I should add that there are estimated to be more than 100,000 children under 18 on the database who have never been convicted, cautioned or charged with any offence.
I am sure all hon. Members will have seen various crazy cases across the country. There are examples from every constituency. A quick trawl of press clippings threw up the case of three children who were hauled into a police station because they climbed a cherry tree to build a tree house. They were arrested for criminal damage and had their DNA taken, but the case was never taken any further. Another example is the 14-year-old boy who was a victim of mistaken identity when teachers at his school gave police the wrong name after a brawl between pupils.
Even after admitting they had arrested the wrong boy, the police refused to remove his DNA. Whereas in the past schoolboy fights, high jinks and lads climbing trees would have resulted in a stern word and them being taken home, children are now getting criminal records and their DNA is being held on the database for ever.
We should also be worried about the sheer number of ethnic minorities on the database and the racial imbalance. Almost 40 per cent. of black men have their DNA profile held, compared with 13 per cent. of Asian men and 9 per cent. of white men, despite the fact that there is no evidence that black men disproportionately commit crime. In fact, evidence suggests that white men are more likely to offend than black men. This over-representation of black men creates mistrust and continues to fuel problems that are much larger, such as the disproportionate representation of black men in our criminal justice system. Also, problems of race relations, community cohesion and discrimination, either perceived or real, are made worse. Moreover, the situation is getting worse. At the current rate, more than half of all black men will be on the database within two years.
This highlights one of the main objections to holding the DNA of those who are not charged or who are acquitted. One of the fundamental tenets of British justice is innocent until proven guilty. Refusing to destroy samples taken from those who are never charged or who are later acquitted completely blurs that principle. The DNA database assumes that people will be guilty of something in the future; that is why the samples are kept. This is very Big Brother; George Orwell must be spinning in his grave.
When the national DNA database was created in 1995, only the DNA of convicted offenders could be held, and samples had to be destroyed if the suspect was acquitted or charges were dropped. Because by 2001 the Government were breaking their own lawpresumably as a result of incompetence rather than designthe law was changed to allow the profiles of those acquitted of certain crimes to be kept. That was expanded even more in 2004, when samples could be taken from anyone arrested for a recordable offence. By the end of 2005, 200,000 samples that would have been destroyed before 2001 had been retained, and that number has since soared. There are now estimated to be more than 1 million people who have not been charged or convicted on the databasethree times the population of a city the size of Cardiff, where I live. Those are 1 million people considered innocent under British law, but considered potentially guilty by the Home Office. By retaining that DNA, the state is saying, Well, you might not have been convicted, but we think you may commit an offence in future and we want to make sure we can catch you when you do. That is not acceptable.
It is almost impossible, however, for someone to remove their sample from the database. Since the changes in 2004, fewer than 700 people have managed to remove their profiles700 out of the 1 million innocent people on the database. The police control which samples are removed. People have to apply to the chief constable of the force that took the sample in the first place, who is hardly an independent arbiter. The Government may be forced to change this shortly, as there is a case before the European Court of Human Rights, brought by two men from Sheffieldone of whom was under 18 at the timewho have applied to have their DNA removed on the grounds that they were both cleared and neither has a criminal record. The ECHR is expected to rule this summer, and a finding against the Government could open the floodgates on this issue.
Even if some people might not agree with the civil liberties case for removing the DNA of innocent people, there is a very strong practical case. The Government have already said that they believe that the DNA of the majority of the active criminal population is now recorded, so why the mad rush to take samples from so many other people? The DNA database is not without cost. The costs of sampling increasing numbers, maintaining an expanding database and storing millions of samples will continue to grow.
However, there is very little evidence that these increasing costs will have much of an impact on crime detection. Despite the massive expansion in the number of individuals on the database, the percentage of recorded crimes solved as a result of a DNA match has remained fairly constant; the figures I have seen show it to be below 0.4 per cent. A bigger difference has been made at the other end of DNA matching: at the crime scene. At present,
fewer than 20 per cent. of crime scenes are forensically examined, and only a small proportion of them yield any biological material that is then tested. Clear-up rates are much higher when DNA is found at a crime scene, so should we not be putting resources into that end of things, rather than into collecting individuals samples?
One argument often used to justify the keeping of DNA is that it will help to solve cold cases, but that is fallacious. When someone is arrested and their DNA is taken, that should be tested against unidentified crime scene DNA, as is done. That will identify whether they have committed any unsolved crimes, and that is fine, but if they have not, holding their DNA after that point is irrelevant. In addition, the massive cost of holding the samples is borne by police forces. I am sure that I am not alone in thinking that the money might be better spent on front-line policing, to ensure that fewer crimes are committed and our communities are kept safe.
Following the European case, the Government may have to change their policy anyway, but I would like to propose a solution. Some countries, such as Scotland, France and Canada, have legislated against retaining DNA samples from those who are acquitted. I believe we should follow their lead, and remove innocent peoples DNA from the database. Samples and profiles should be destroyed if the individual is not convicted or cautioned, although there should be an exception for those accused of a violent or sexual offence. Their samples should be keptnot indefinitely, but for a specified time. In addition, all children under 16, unless guilty of a violent or sexual offence, should have their DNA removed from the database. If we treat them like criminals at such an early age, they may well go on to fulfil our expectations.
We are talking about a huge number of people1 million of themwhose deeply private information is being held by the Government when they have not been found to have done any wrong. That goes against fundamental British principles, as well as being a massive drain on public resources for little gain, and this Bill would rectify that injustice.
Jenny Willott accordingly presented a Bill to require the removal from the DNA Database of DNA samples taken from individuals who are not charged or are acquitted; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 October, and to be printed [Bill 118].
[Relevant documents: The Second Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights: 42 Days, HC 156, the Ninth Report from the Committee, on Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights: Counter-Terrorism Bill, HC 199 and the Government Response, Cm. 7344, the Tenth Report from the Committee, on Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights: Annual Renewal of Control Orders Legislation 2008, HC 356, the Twentieth Report from the Committee, on Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights: Counter-Terrorism Bill, HC 554, and the Government Response contained in the letter dated 5th June 2008 from Rt Hon Tony McNulty MP, Minister of State, Home Department, the Twenty-first Report from the Committee, on Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights: 42 Days and Public Emergencies, HC 635 and the Government Response contained in the letter dated 6th June 2008 from Rt Hon Tony McNulty MP, the letter dated 4th June 2008 from Rt Hon Tony McNulty MP, on special advocates and control order legislation, the letter dated 4th June 2008 from Rt Hon Tony McNulty MP, on pre-charge detention: 28 days annual renewal, and the letter dated 9th June 2008 from the Chairman of the Committee to Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP, Secretary of State for the Home Department. ]
amounts to a public emergency threatening the life of the nation, in accordance with Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights..
(7) Nothing in this Part is to be read as requiring the judicial authority to act in a manner inconsistent with the right of the specified person to a fully judicial procedure in Article 5(4) of the European Convention on Human Rights..
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