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25 Nov 2009 : Column 582

However, the problems are not caused by the Licensing Act. Only around 4 per cent. of premises have a 24-hour licence, and more than 80 per cent. of those are shops and hotels. The average closing time is just 21 minutes later than it was before the Act, and 56 per cent. of all licensed premises still close at 11 pm, compared with 68 per cent. under the old regime.

The 2008 review of the Licensing Act 2003 found that, since the new legislation was introduced, serious violent crime at night was down by 5 per cent. and less serious wounding was down by 3 per cent. We can have a debate about alcohol, but we cannot say that the problems with alcohol-fuelled violence began with the 2003 Act.

Keith Vaz: The Home Secretary is right. The Home Affairs Committee report earlier this year did not lay the blame on the Licensing Act, but we did say that the cheap availability of alcohol in supermarkets results in people getting tanked up before they go out on a Saturday night and start buying alcohol in pubs and clubs. Will he therefore consider our recommendation for a floor price for supermarket alcohol sales?

Alan Johnson: Yes, we will consider that recommendation, and the report to which my right hon. Friend refers was a valuable contribution. That is why we asked Sheffield university to conduct the research into the problem. In my previous guise at the Department of Health, we commissioned further work to enable us to look at the issue. However, he knows that the Licensing Act 2003 has done many things to address alcohol abuse, including ending the voluntary code for industry and introducing a statutory code. I think that that will make an enormous contribution.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Alan Johnson: I shall give way once more, and then I am going to conclude.

Mr. Chaytor: I am very grateful. The evidence shows that the cost to the NHS, let alone the criminal justice system, of excessive alcohol abuse is analogous to that of excessive tobacco consumption. What is the argument against introducing a ban on alcohol advertising, to follow the very successful ban on tobacco advertising?

Alan Johnson: We have looked at all the options and did consider that, but we live in a free society and the difference between alcohol and tobacco is that there is a level of alcohol consumption which, far from being detrimental to health, can be beneficial. It depends on where one draws the line.

Mr. Walker: They said that about tobacco!

Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman says, "You can say that about tobacco."

Mr. Walker: That is what they used to say.

Alan Johnson: If they used to say that about tobacco, they do not do so any more. All eminent researchers into the matter say that it would not be possible even to start to go down the route of instituting a prohibition
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system such as existed in America, because alcohol is in a different category from tobacco when it comes to health effects.

Mr. Frank Field: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Alan Johnson: I will give way to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Field: The Home Secretary said earlier that he was going to give way for "a" last time, so perhaps this is "the" last time. Before he completes his remarks, will he find time to report the good news about the progress that the Government are making in breaking the link between coming to this country to work and automatically gaining British citizenship? That issue very much concerns our core voters.

Alan Johnson: I will, and this is my only opportunity to do so. People are very welcome to come to this country to study or work and to contribute to our culture and economy, but it is crucial to break the link that means that they can become British citizens if they stay here long enough. That has to end, and a points-based citizenship system, along the lines of the points-based immigration system, can ensure that being a citizen of this country means more than simply being here for a certain amount of time. That is a very important change, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and those other colleagues who have been pushing it for some time.

The Bill proposes a new framework for the retention of DNA records. There can be no question, I hope, that the development of DNA fingerprinting by the British scientist Sir Alec Jeffreys has revolutionised the fight against crime. The retention of DNA records by the police has been critical in solving many high-profile and horrific crimes. It is unlikely that Mark Dixie, the murderer of Sally Anne Bowman, would ever have been found, had his DNA profile not been recorded following his arrest for involvement in a pub brawl from which he was released without charge. Take also the case of Abdul Azad. He was arrested for violent disorder at his Birmingham home in February 2005. He had a DNA sample taken and was released without charge. In July 2005, just five months later, a stranger rape occurred in Stafford, 25 miles away. There were no clues until the skin beneath the victim's fingernails was profiled and found to match Abdul Azad's DNA.

This is an argument about statistics, civil liberties and good policing, but fundamentally it is an argument about people and their requirement for justice and the enormous deterrent effect of DNA profiling, as well it being such a valuable tool in solving crime. It is unlikely that Sean Hodgson, who was wrongfully convicted of murdering and raping Teresa de Simone in 1982, would have been cleared, had not DNA analysis completed in 2008 shown that he was not the killer, or that Michael Shirley, who spent 16 years in prison for the rape and murder of Linda Cook, would have been released in 2003. This is about protecting the innocent, as well as finding the guilty.

Almost exactly a year ago, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that although holding the DNA records of those who were not convicted was justifiable under the European convention on human rights, it was
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unlawful to hold these records indefinitely. There followed an extensive period of consultation and deliberation. In determining what is proportionate, as the Bill seeks to do, we must be guided by the most recent scientific evidence, the professional opinion of the police, and the reasonable expectations of the public that they should be protected against crime, and that there should be justice for them and their families if that protection fails.

These elements must be balanced against the understandable concerns of those who have never been convicted of any crime about the retention of their DNA profile. Although not required to by the European Court judgment, we took the decision that all DNA samples should be destroyed after six months, once they have been converted- [Interruption.] Six months. I wish Members on the Opposition Front Bench would listen more closely. The DNA sample-the swab-must be destroyed within six months. That was not a mandate from the European Court, but is something that we decided to do.

That six months gives the chance to convert the sample into the 20 numbers that form the DNA profile. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) asks from a sedentary position, "So what?" Many people are concerned that some of their human tissue will be retained. All the arguments that we know in the House from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill raise very real concerns. It is important to stress that it is not the tissue, but the tissue converted into the 20 numbers that forms the DNA profile-and I say that once again, for the information of the Opposition Front-Bench team.

The evidence that we have, reinforced by the responses to the public consultation, shows that there is a strong case for the retention of the DNA profiles of those who are arrested but not convicted, and that there is a link between arrest for a previous offence and future offending. It also shows that after six years, the probability of re-arrest for this group is no higher than for the rest of the population. [Interruption.] Hon. Members ask what about Scotland. Scotland did not have the same information to hand when its decision to go for three years was taken, with the option of a further two years. I do not know what led to that decision. What I know is that a retention period of three years would leave a larger percentage of people with a higher hazard rate who would commit crime in the future than would a retention period of six years.

The difference between us is not about people being innocent until proven guilty. I heard the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell saying that on the "Today" programme. Two Opposition parties propose keeping on the database people who are innocent until proven guilty. They propose that as well. The difference is that they say it should just be for serious crimes that they have been arrested but not charged for, as in Scotland, and not for any other crimes. The research shows that there is no difference in the probability of reoffending, whether a serious or non-serious crime was previously committed. The evidence that we have, reinforced by the responses to the public consultation, suggests that six years is the right period.

Under the framework proposed by the Bill, the DNA profiles of all those convicted of crimes will be held indefinitely. That is not controversial. The Bill also gives
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the police the powers to take DNA samples from people who were convicted of a serious violent and sexual offence in the past, before DNA was routinely taken, and previous offenders who are returning from overseas. We believe that this will bring justice for victims and their families by solving more cold cases. Once again, I do not believe that that is controversial. It is supported on all sides of the House.

However, the records of adults arrested but not convicted will be retained for six years, not 12 years as originally proposed, regardless of the seriousness of the crimes for which they were arrested. The records of under-18s convicted of serious crimes will be held indefinitely, but for those convicted of minor offences, if it is a first conviction, the record will be kept for five years. Only if it is a second conviction will that record be held indefinitely. It would be disproportionate if a young person who commits a minor offence, which they deeply regret, were to have that crime held against them for the rest of their lives.

For under-18s who are arrested but not convicted, for both serious crimes and minor offences, their records will be retained for three years. For 16 and 17-year-olds entering the peak offending years, their records will be retained for six years.

There is one exception to the six-year rule for adults who are arrested but not convicted. The House will be aware that national security investigations, including counter-terrorism cases, can go on for many years. In some cases investigations have lasted for as long as 25 years. Setting a six-year time frame in such cases would be potentially damaging for national security. The Bill will therefore allow the retention of DNA profiles beyond the six-year point in these exceptional cases. Fewer than 1,000 such records exist, and under the Bill's proposals, each case would be reviewed every two years.

Although under current legislation those who seek to have their DNA profile removed from the database may apply to the chief constable to have their personal data removed, chief constables are under no obligation to fulfil such a request. The measures proposed by the Crime and Security Bill will place a legal duty on the chief constable to remove the DNA records in circumstances where the arrest was unlawful, the taking of the biometric data was unlawful, the arrest was based on mistaken identity or if there were other circumstances relating to the arrest or the alleged offender that would make it appropriate to destroy the material.

I believe these proposals strike the right balance between the need to protect the public and the rights of the individual, while being informed by the best available evidence. The proposals in the Crime and Security Bill, along with action to tackle youth unemployment, and the legally binding commitment to eradicating child poverty, will help to make this country a safer and fairer place. I commend the Queen's Speech to the House.

Several hon. Members rose -

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Although I do not wish to curtail the cut and thrust of debate in the Chamber by way of interventions, I remind hon. Members that the overall time for the debate is limited and there is a time limit on Back-Bench contributions. I am still optimistic that as many as possible will be able to make their contribution.

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3.28 pm

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I welcome this opportunity to discuss the proposals put forward in this year's Gracious Speech. My hon. Friends have already pointed out that the Loyal Address is little more than an opportunity for electioneering, and the Government have admitted as much themselves. Much of the legislation stands little, if any, chance of making it on to the statute book, and is heading inexorably towards the wash-up and a soapy consensus. That is not necessarily a bad thing at this stage of a Parliament, but we have seen it all before, too often.

There is to be yet another criminal justice Bill-the 28th, on our count, since 1997-which throws together an essentially random selection of measures as diverse as the DNA database, about which we have just heard in some detail from the Home Secretary, domestic violence, gang injunctions, antisocial behaviour, wheel-clamping, mobile phones in prisons, and air weapons. This is legislation by grapeshot. Never mind the quality, feel the width.

Astonishingly, the proposed Crime and Security Bill will amend an Act that received Royal Assent only 13 days ago. That is swift revision even by the Government's prolix standards. I do not know what the Bill team at the Home Office have been up to, but they are clearly working overtime. In all this helter-skelter activity, and with the Home Office displaying all the symptoms of attention deficit disorder, where is the strategy? What are the Government trying to do? Are Ministers merely indulging in inane activity, like a hamster on a treadmill? I see in this frenetic energy no guiding purpose and no sense of direction. Our criminal justice system is crying out for an approach based on the evidence of what works, yet, once again, we have a Bill that proclaims populist objectives, regardless, in many cases, of the evidence and bereft of strategy.

The evidence suggests that prison should be for serious offenders and serial offences, not an everyday response to low-level thieving and other minor crime. Yet, looking at the big picture, we desperately need a shift from prison to other, more effective measures to stop reoffending. The reoffending rate for young men on their first prison sentence is 92 per cent. Prisons are just colleges of crime, where the young learn better the techniques that we would rather they did not learn at all.

David T.C. Davies: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept, however, that all the young men in prison have already been through all those community and non-custodial sentences that he is referring to, and that none of them has worked, which is why they end up back in front of the courts and in prison? At least they are off the streets.

Chris Huhne: I do not accept the hon. Member's point. In fact, in many cases, there is not an adequately graded response to criminal or antisocial behaviour, particularly among young people. I intend to return to that point later.

Prisons are full of drug addicts, who should be treated elsewhere, and people with mental health problems whose circumstances are likely to be aggravated by their prison experience. Adopting a problem-centred approach to crime, in which we actually did what worked to cut
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crime, would do far more to prevent crime and to detect criminals so that they could be caught. That would provide a far greater deterrent than just being even tougher on the tiny minority of criminals whose case ends up in a court conviction. If we take into account the British crime survey figures and those for business crime, plus those for people under the age recorded by the BCS, probably only one in 100 cases ends up in a court conviction. People are therefore unlikely to be impressed by posturing on tougher punishments. In fact, so small is the probability of being caught that it would make precious little difference if we were to promise far tougher punishments.

That is why we need a new approach, with a much greater emphasis on detection. We also need more prevention, involving easy measures such as improving outside lighting, alarms and window locks. We need more detection, to ensure that criminals face justice. The prevention aspect of that agenda alone provides the main reason why crime has fallen further and faster in Liberal Democrat-controlled council areas than in either Labour or Tory-controlled areas- [ Interruption. ] The Home Secretary laughs, but, given that his own city of Hull and many other major cities outside London are now under outright Liberal Democrat control, we are no longer making our point based on a small sample.

Alan Johnson: I apologise for laughing, but it was funny. One of the reasons why crime and disorder in Hull is really coming down as a result of the terrific efforts of the chief constable is the extra police who were put into the city centre by the previous Labour administration before the Lib Dems took over. All that the Lib Dems have done is take away is our free school meals service, which we very much want back. They have contributed nothing to the reduction in crime.

Chris Huhne: I am astonished that the Home Secretary thinks that free school meals are relevant to crime figures. Let me give him a practical example of what I am saying. I have visited a number of Liberal Democrat councils-as no doubt he has; perhaps he should visit more-to see what work they are doing on the prevention agenda. Let us take Liverpool as an example. There, the Liberal Democrat council has installed alley gates, which have the enormous merit of preventing burglars from popping into backyards and stealing things from people's homes. I am not saying that alley gating is the only factor, but that, along with policing, has had a dramatic effect.

Since its peak, crime in Liberal Democrat council areas has fallen by more than the national average, at 20 per cent. Before we get any chortling from Conservative Members, I should say that, on crime, Conservative areas have performed less well than the national average, with rates falling 16 per cent. since the peak. Let us look at violent crime: down 6 per cent. in Conservative areas, but down by more than twice as much-by 14 per cent.-in Liberal Democrat-council areas. We are talking not about small samples, but about quite substantial areas, and what matters is what works. We need a big, strategic shift from prison to policing and probation, because catching more people who commit crime is a greater deterrent than more harshly punishing the few whom we do catch.

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