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Mr. Malik: We believe that the issue is sufficiently important to warrant a consultation. Our proposals are based on the best available evidence and research. The consultation paper sets out the research on the risk of future offending or reoffending. A six-year period is at the lower end of the risk of offending scale, but we believe it is a proportionate response to the European Court judgment in the light of the available research. We are very keen to adopt a retention period based on evidence, and we have gone some way to try to achieve
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that. We certainly think that this is an important enough issue to have a conversation with those who are not privileged enough to be in this place, and we are embarking on that at this moment in time.

The proposals in the consultation focus on achieving a proportionate balance between allowing the police to detect, investigate and deal with offenders effectively and ensuring that appropriate safeguards and protections are available to the individual, and to achieve that balance, changes are proposed in five key areas. The first proposal is that all samples be destroyed. The second is that profiles for persons arrested but not convicted may only be retained for a maximum period of six years or 12 years in the case of serious, violent or sexual offences. The third is that the DNA of a young person arrested and convicted of a minor offence be removed from the database when they reach 18 years of age, and for those arrested and not convicted of any further offences the profiles will be deleted after six years or on the person’s 18th birthday.

Sir Paul Beresford: I clearly made a mistake. I said that the young lady’s information would be collected and kept for seven years, but in fact because she was accused, wrongly, of a violent action against other individuals—I wonder whether I should wait for the Minister to listen—if we had not won the fight with the police her information could well have been stored for 12 years, as has been suggested, rather than seven. I was wrong.

Mr. Malik: As I have said, we are consulting on these proposals. The fourth proposal is that the criteria for destruction of profiles before expiry of the six-year or 12-year period should be set out in the regulations. That would enable people to know whether they would qualify to make such an application. It is also proposed that an independent advisory panel be established to monitor implementation of the regulations. Lastly, as we need to make sure that those who should be on the database are on it, proposals extending police powers to take samples and fingerprints following conviction are included.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned CCTV. I know from my surgeries and the campaigns in my constituency that queues of people—almost literally—say to me that we should have more CCTV, not less. I understand the concerns that people have about CCTV, but it is a powerful crime-fighting tool. Police operational experience and various research studies show that it deters and detects crime, and helps to secure convictions. It can also reduce the fear of crime, and the Government remain very much committed to the use of CCTV in helping to make communities feel safer.

We have taken the European Court’s judgment on DNA as the focus for our approach. We have recognised that there is scope to go beyond its judgment and establish a framework based on public protection and individual safeguards. We have provided a significant opportunity for public debate on this key area, and we will use the findings from the consultation to develop draft regulations for Parliament to consider and approve before the end of this calendar year.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about identity cards. In the context of yesterday’s announcement on those, the national identity service will provide a single, simple and secure way for individuals to prove their identity
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and to protect their personal details. The service includes the national identity register, biometric passports and ID cards. Information held on that register will be similar to that stored on the existing passport database. It will include biographical data, biometric data and administrative data relating to the secure issue and use of the card. The register will not hold sensitive personal data such as medical history or criminal records; nor will it hold tax, benefit or pension information. The individual will have the right to see all the information held about them on the national identity register, including who has accessed it, once their identity is confirmed, in line with the subject access rights.

6 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —(Steve McCabe.)

Mr. Malik: In addition, the appointment of a newly created national identity scheme commissioner—the first such commissioner ever created solely to oversee a single programme—will provide independent oversight.

Sir Paul Beresford: I thank the Minister for his indulgence. I put this question to his colleagues some time back, but would he not accept that the more data are collected and the broader they are, especially in these days of identity theft, the bigger the target becomes for those who wish to purchase the information—illegally, obviously—or break in?

Mr. Malik: We will never develop a system that is 100 per cent. foolproof. There will always be individuals who are willing to be corrupted and hackers who engage in their favoured activity. However, we believe that the benefits that accrue from our work by far outweigh any of the costs.

Recent research shows that 71 per cent. of those interviewed trusted the Identity and Passport Service to look after their personal information, which is far more than expressed trust in banks, insurance companies, supermarkets and internet retailers. Given that the ID cards regime will use the same infrastructure as the Passport Service, I hope that that, too, will reassure the hon. Gentleman to an extent—although I suspect only to an extent.

On 27 April, we published a public consultation on communications data—to be clear, that refers to the who, when and where of a communication and not the content. I fear that there is a lot of confusion about that. It is not the content of the text that matters, but who sent it, to whom, when, where and so on. Our approach in this area is proportionate. That is why the consultation sets out clearly the fact that the Government have no plans for a centralised database for storing all communications data or for storing content.

Important safeguards are in place to protect individuals’ right to privacy. Access by public authorities to any of the data currently retained by communications companies for business purposes is tightly regulated and is also overseen by the interception of communications commissioner. Used in the right way, communications data can play a critical role in keeping us all safe. Doing so makes common sense. Doing nothing in the face of technological change is not an option. We will listen to
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and engage with the public to ensure that we strike the right balance, as ever, for the continued protection of our country and its citizens.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about ContactPoint. Concerns have been expressed—not just in the House, but elsewhere—about ContactPoint, which is a vital safeguard for children. ContactPoint will provide a quick way for practitioners to find out who else is working with the same child. It will help to ensure that practitioners can share information quickly, enabling them to spend time providing support for the children who need it and helping to prevent things from getting worse. We take our responsibilities under the Data Protection Act 1998, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights, and all other legal obligations relevant to ContactPoint, very seriously indeed.

Sir Paul Beresford: I understand the basis for including children who need support. However, many of the children in my area, if not 80 to 90 per cent. of them, are not at risk, nor are they on registers and so on, yet their names, details and so forth will be on the system. That is what is upsetting parents.

Mr. Malik: I empathise with the hon. Gentleman’s perspective, but only to a degree. The contrary will be the case for the vast majority of parents, who will gain reassurance.

Security is paramount for ContactPoint, and a number of robust security measures are in place. Access is restricted to those who need it as part of their work, and it is limited to what is needed for each role. ContactPoint holds only minimal data; it does not hold case information. The Children Act 2004 Information Database (England) Regulations 2007 define and strictly limit the information that can be held on ContactPoint. It does not, and will not, contain any financial information, or any case information such as case notes, assessments, medical
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records, exam results, comments or subjective observations. We have sought, and will seek, to balance children’s and families’ rights to the services to which they are entitled with their individual right to privacy.

Concerns have been expressed about patient information held within the NHS care records service. In modern health care, it is vital that the information that clinicians need when they are treating patients is available at the right time and in the right place across the NHS. This will save lives and improve care. Access to records held in the new NHS database will only be permitted to organisations involved in delivering care to NHS patients. Other parts of Government or public agencies—the police, for example—neither have nor will have direct access to any NHS data, or to the NHS care records database. The release of identifiable patient information from NHS care records will be possible only in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998, common law confidentiality requirements, and any other legal requirements. These limit the release of information without consent to circumstances in which the public interest that would be served by the release of information outweighs an individual’s right to confidentiality, or in which legislation or the courts require or permit the release.

The hon. Gentleman kindly shared with the House an Australian experience in which breaches had occurred. I go back to the point that I made earlier—namely, that no system is 100 per cent. foolproof. Ultimately, however, we believe that the benefits that accrue will far outweigh any costs and risks involved. The Government will always take a principled and proportionate view of what needs to be done to protect the public and to respect individual privacy. We do not have a surveillance society. The constituents of Mole Valley can sleep easy this evening.

Question put and agreed to.

6.8 pm

House adjourned.

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