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18 Jan 2010 : Column 45

Chris Grayling: I am sympathetic to what the right hon. Gentleman says, although I would like to wait to see the recommendations that his Committee makes at the conclusion of its investigation. Some decisions should certainly be taken nationally rather than locally. I am open to considering what he says, and I look forward to reading his Committee's report and the transcripts of its proceedings.

David Davis: Although the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee made an important point, he did not mention the fact that this is not just a question of one authority, but of an independent quasi-judicial authority. One of our difficulties is that the motivation of police chiefs and chief constables is to minimise crime at almost any cost. In my area-it is also the Home Secretary's area-of Humberside, we have a good chief constable who is very determined, but data are almost never handed back. The person who takes such decisions must have a more balanced view of the security regarding individuals and their rights.

Chris Grayling: My right hon. Friend makes a good point. If we were to adopt the Scottish system, some concerns might be allayed, as a number of decisions to remove would be taken automatically.

There is a postcode lottery. Some people find it very difficult to get their DNA removed from the database although, interestingly, some convicted offenders, such as the Leader of the House, seem to get away without having their DNA taken at all.

The Government have been completely cavalier with the traditional rights and liberties of this country and, on the DNA database, they have got things plain wrong. This is not just about what is right and wrong for civil liberties. The DNA database has grown rapidly in recent years. Nearly 250,000 subject profiles were loaded on to the database in 1998-99, but that figure has now more than doubled. By October 2009, there were 5.9 million individuals' DNA samples on the database, making it the largest in the world per head of population. One would have expected the number of detections and convictions using DNA to have increased at the same time, but the opposite has been the case, both in overall terms and proportionately. As the number of DNA records has increased, the number of detections has fallen from a peak of 41,148 in 2006-07 to 31,915 in 2008-09-a drop of 22 per cent. There is no evidence that building a bigger and bigger database will help to solve more and more crimes.

Grudgingly, the Government have accepted over the past few months that they cannot win the argument on DNA. After the European Court ruling that a system that keeps innocent people's DNA indefinitely is illegal, Ministers first proposed to keep records for up to 12 years. When that was resisted, they introduced their current proposals for a six-year limit. More importantly, however, they still want to keep a DNA record of everyone arrested by the police, regardless of whether they are charged or convicted, and regardless of the severity of the offence under investigation. We will not accept that.

We have argued consistently for the approach that is in use in Scotland, under which DNA from people who are neither charged nor convicted for minor offences is not retained. The only exceptions arise when the offences are of a serious sexual or violent nature, in which case
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records may be kept for up to three years, and for a further two years with the agreement of the Scottish equivalent of a magistrate. Such a system might provide the independence of judgment that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) wants.

We think that that system strikes the right balance, so a Conservative Government would adopt the Scottish system for England and Wales. We will not accept the measures set out by the Government in the Bill, which are illiberal, inconsistent with the values of our judicial system and our nation, and opposed by the majority of the public.

The Home Secretary attacked the Scottish system, although he then said that he would not criticise it. He cited unpublished statistics to defend his view, but totally ignored my intervention about independent research. Such research was carried out for the Scottish Executive by Professor James Fraser, the director of Strathclyde university's centre for forensic science. It was reported in July 2008, and Lord Bach, a Justice Minister-the Home Secretary's Labour ministerial college-said last summer of Professor Fraser's report:

I am afraid that I would rather take my views from independent research provided to the Scottish Executive than from the Home Secretary himself.

Alan Johnson: Of course that approach would not have led to any such detriment, and I presume that that research was done two years after it was introduced. That is not the question. If we believe that those who are arrested but not convicted have a greater propensity to be re-arrested, as the hon. Gentleman obviously does given that the Conservative policy is to retain data on the DNA database for those accused of committing serious offences, the question is whether their data should be retained for three years or six years. The quote that he gave does not relate to that matter at all. Other independent, peer-reviewed evidence and research that has come along since suggests the need for a six-year period, and he simply cannot ignore it.

Chris Grayling: The Government have set great store by the evidence of the Jill Dando Institute, which the Ministry of Justice has again quoted. It stated that

The Home Secretary bases his argument on an intellectually reasonable position, but the logic of what he says is that we should have a national DNA database. We must accept either one side of the argument or the other. We happen to believe that we should protect civil liberties in this country, that there is a balance to be found and that the Scottish system reflects that balance. Of course we need to be robust in the fight against crime, but we also need to be robust in defending the liberties and values that underpin our society. We are not willing to stand idly by while the Government make yet another attempt to force through a scheme that we believe to be wrong for this country.

When I debated the Queen's Speech with the Home Secretary in the House back in November, I warned him that our position had not changed and that we
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would not accept what the Government had proposed. There are things in the Bill that we would otherwise welcome. A Conservative Government would certainly take steps against rogue clampers and seek to do more to combat domestic violence. There are things in the Bill that are meant well. Given the usual Labour baggage that comes with them I am sceptical about whether they will actually make a difference, but they are superficially innocuous. However, the DNA issue is a real point of principle. We will not back the Bill as long as the DNA proposals remain in it. In Committee, on Report and in the other place we will again seek to table amendments that would implement the Scottish system in England and Wales.

Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman believes that the issue of principle and civil liberties is important. Does he believe, therefore, that it was wrong to convict 23 killers and rapists on the basis of evidence that he believes should not have remained on the DNA database? Does he believe that that was a breach of their civil liberties?

Chris Grayling: In reality we do not know the evidence behind the Home Secretary's comments, and there is no such thing as a perfect system. The jury system will not always get it right, but we do not argue that we should not have a jury system. We believe that we should stand by the principles of our democracy and the traditions of our criminal justice system, and we do not accept the Government's view.

Chris Huhne: The Home Secretary really must not be allowed to get away with his last intervention. The Association of Chief Police Officers statistics that he refers to are for 2008-09 database matches, and they refer not to any criminal convictions but only to matches with a "direct and specific value" to the investigation. In the absence of a conviction, there is no way of knowing whether the matches between the database and the cases concerned were ultimately innocent or whether they provided evidence of guilt. The Home Secretary is eliding two issues and talking about arrests leading to evidence that there should be re-arrests, not to convictions. A re-arrest is not evidence of a conviction.

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman makes extremely valuable points. The Government have become utterly confused on this issue, and Labour Members will find their position hard to justify. There are Members on the Labour Benches who have campaigned over the years in defence of civil liberties and for the traditions of this country's legal system. Ironically, they have looked on Conservative Members as the ones who are unduly authoritarian. The worm has clearly turned.

The DNA issue is a real point of principle, and we will not back the Bill as long as the DNA proposals remain in place. We will table amendments in this House and the other place to seek to implement the Scottish system, and we will challenge Ministers again to accept a proposal that we believe is fair and proportionate. We will seek to win that argument this time and persuade them that we are right and they are wrong. I hope that we will find support on all Benches in both Houses, but in the end, if the Government will not concede and Ministers will not accept what we propose, we will not
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accept the Bill. In the final days before a general election, there will be no deals to be done. If we have our way, the Bill will not pass, and then it will be for a Conservative Government to make rapid reforms to how our DNA database works and to ensure that its use is proportionate and that we do not continue to store the DNA of people accused of minor infractions who, in reality, have done nothing wrong.

4.54 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling)-the shadow Home Secretary-and the Home Secretary agree that there are important points of principle in the Bill, and therefore it is right that Parliament has a full and frank discussion of the issues contained within it, especially with regard to the DNA database, which I will address at the end of my speech.

Like the shadow Home Secretary, I welcome a number of the measures that the Home Secretary has put before the House. First, the Government's decision to allow compensation for the victims of terrorist outrages abroad and bring provisions into line with the criminal injuries compensation legislation for victims in this country is most welcome. I pay tribute to the work of so many Members, in particular my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), in convincing the Government of the need to introduce such measures. All I ask is that the new system be as transparent and efficient as possible. I receive many complaints from those who apply for compensation under the current criminal injuries compensation scheme that it takes too long for them to get compensation, so I hope the bureaucracy that will inevitably go with the expenditure of public money will be as simple as possible, because of course we are talking not about ordinary criminal injuries but about very serious injuries.

Secondly, I welcome what has been said about wheel-clamping. Again, the measures are in line with a number of the recommendations made by the Select Committee on Home Affairs over a number of years. Wheel-clampers have felt able to move in and cause innocent people great difficulty. I admit that I was wheel-clamped once, many years ago-I declare that interest-but it is important that we try to regularise the situation.

I hope that when we get to Committee, we will look at the situation-I will come on to this when I talk about the database-of those who have found that information about them that has been stored on a Government computer has ended up not necessarily with wheel-clampers, but with those who are able to issue parking tickets to those who are following Government advice. I am referring in particular to the case of a member of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), who is not in the Chamber-no doubt he is busy in his constituency.

Taking Department for Transport advice on travelling on our motorway system, the hon. Gentleman pulled over because he was feeling tired, and parked in the car park of a Welcome Break service station. He was advised by the Department to rest, so he parked and went to sleep for a while. When he woke up, he drove on to his next engagement. A few days later, he received notice of a fine for parking in the car park for more than two hours. He found out, through his own investigations,
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that the company concerned obtained his vehicle registration number from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. It passed the information to a private company, which then issued a fine.

Those who know the hon. Gentleman will know that he would not keep matters to himself. He challenged the decision, and the parking ticket has now been quashed. The Committee has agreed to investigate the matter, but I draw it the Home Secretary's attention because it is another example of the private sector being involved but not responsible.

Tony Baldry: I agree with everything the right hon. Gentleman says, but the difficulty is that clauses 39 and 40 simply put companies on the same basis as individuals regarding wheel-clamping licensing. Last year, the Home Office issued a number of press releases saying that it was going to cap the fines and introduce an appeals system, and that there would be no double-dip-in other words, fines for both parking and towing away-but none of those measures is in the Bill. Does he agree that we need to ensure that Ministers give some very firm undertakings in Committee that they introduce a code of conduct to impose such regulations on wheel-clampers? Otherwise, we have a headline but no substance to those clauses.

Keith Vaz: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's Whip, the hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson), has noted that bid to serve on the Committee, which would be the best way to ensure that those matters are raised there.

The third aspect of the Bill that I am pleased with are the provisions on antisocial behaviour. The Home Secretary has made this a priority for the Home Office. It is useful for politicians to say that they are against antisocial behaviour, but the Home Secretary has gone out of his way to ensure that his Department has treated this issue sensibly and given it priority. I liked what he said about the Fiona Pilkington case, because it is easy to accept that the relationships between various agencies are going well, but in that case there was clearly a breakdown in communication between the police and other agencies, which meant that the reports made by the Pilkington family were not acted on as quickly as they should have been. Every hon. Member will have had constituents coming to their surgeries and complaining about antisocial behaviour, and we write to the police and local authority asking for something to be done urgently. Our wish is to ensure that the system works. Legislation is fine, and new orders will be great, but we need to ensure-I think that the Home Secretary "gets this"- that all the agencies act together quickly so that if people complain to the police they feel that something positive is being done quickly.

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall) (LD): I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the need for agencies to work together. In my part of the world, the police have been praised by many people for that. The problem has been getting the Crown Prosecution Service to pursue cases. The police and other agencies-and I as a Member of Parliament-have been frustrated that we cannot seem to get the CPS to take these matters seriously. It appears to want to deal with bigger matters,
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as though it thinks antisocial behaviour is beneath it. That is wrong, and we need to ensure that cases are followed through.

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is right, and the victims also need to be kept informed. The decisions are taken by the agencies, but no one bothers to tell the people who complain. The best way to build confidence in the system is to ensure that complaints are investigated and, if sufficient evidence is found, a prosecution is brought, justice is done and the victims are informed in good time to attend court and make their views heard. We need to ensure that the CPS does its job effectively.

I am concerned about two areas-stop and search, and the DNA database. As far as stop and search is concerned, it is right that we take every opportunity to reduce the amount of bureaucracy with which the police have to battle. I am sure that senior police officers have been telling the Home Secretary that since the very moment he took office. Probably every Home Secretary in the 23 years that I have been in this House has talked about the need to reduce police bureaucracy and release officers to the front line to deal with the issues that concern members of the public-our constituents. I am sure the Home Secretary will find, on reflection, that some of the requirements imposed by this Government will need to be removed-so we have added to the bureaucracy of the police, although we have also provided more resources for the police than any other Government in history.

The Home Secretary is right to use this Bill to reduce police bureaucracy, because that is in line with what Sir Ronnie Flanagan said in his important report two years ago, and with what the Home Affairs Committee said in our report "Policing in the 21st Century". It also takes on board the comments made by the very robust and clever Jan Berry when she presented her report to the Home Secretary. There is no need for the Home Secretary to be embarrassed by the fact that someone like Jan Berry is prepared to make radical proposals, because they are in line with what Ronnie Flanagan said, with what the Committee said and with what the Home Secretary in fact believes.

I felt a little concerned about the fact that the Home Secretary said, "Well, it takes a long time to get things rolling." Why does it take so long? I wrote to the previous Home Secretary following a visit that my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean) and I made to Staffordshire police headquarters. We were told about a form, which the force expects its police officers to fill in, that will reduce from 24 pages to one. I thought that that was excellent, so I wrote to the previous Home Secretary and said, "This is a great idea. It's best practice, so don't let's just circulate it; let's have it adopted. Let's just say to chief constables, 'This is a wonderful way of saving paper'-it reduces 24 sheets of paper down to one-'and saving time, which means less bureaucracy and more police officers out on the beat, rather than filling in forms.'"

The Home Secretary gave me a Home Secretary's response today-that it takes time to get things done-and I regret that. If a good idea is being used by one police authority to save time and reduce bureaucracy, it ought to be used all over the country. I still do not know whether the Staffordshire example has been followed. I raised the matter with the Home Secretary when he gave
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evidence to the Select Committee-the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) was there when we had those discussions-and with my right hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith). If it has been adopted across all 43-

Mr. Hanson indicated assent.

Keith Vaz: The Minister is nodding cheerfully to say that the Staffordshire example has been adopted. If so, that is good news, but it has taken us 18 months from the day that we visited Staffordshire.

Chris Grayling: Let me add a word of caution: there are a number of things which are supposed to have been abolished, but which, when one goes out with police officers, one finds have not been. For example, the foot-long stop-and-search form and the full stop-and-account form are still being used in plenty of places around the country. I would therefore advise the right hon. Gentleman to be cautious about accepting absolute guarantees from his Front-Bench colleagues that the 24-page form has gone.

Keith Vaz: I can assure the shadow Home Secretary that I will be writing to the Home Secretary to confirm that what I have described is the case. Of course I accept the assurances of Front Benchers-they are right hon. and hon. Members, and we cannot possibly not do so-but just to be on the safe side, I will write and confirm that point, and perhaps even get the date on which all that happened.

We give the Government full marks for their intention to try to reduce bureaucracy, but let me say this to the Home Secretary. I know that we are near a general election, but both Sir Ronnie Flanagan and Jan Berry, as well as the Select Committee, in a unanimous report, have suggested that there is a need to invest in new technology and give every police officer a hand-held computer, whether that be a BlackBerry, a blueberry, an iPod or whatever-I am 53 and I do not know what the technology is; I just know whether it works when I switch it on and I can communicate. We should give the police what they need so they do not have to run back and take statements, but can take them from witnesses at the scene. We should save time and reduce bureaucracy by investing in technology. That is not in the Bill, because it does not need to be-it can be done by the Home Secretary in his settlement or in his frequent meetings with the Association of Chief Police Officers-but let us get on with it.

That leads me to my last point, which is about the DNA database and the reason why, although I support much of what the Government propose in the Bill-for example, on compensation and the reduction in police bureaucracy-and do not feel that I can vote against Second Reading, I none the less cannot support them with a positive vote. I shall be abstaining, unless I can be convinced by the Minister when he winds up that I am doing the wrong thing, over the issue of the DNA database. I appreciate what the Home Secretary is doing today-he is allowing us to have a debate on this issue-but I cannot possibly support a measure that will keep the inadequacies of the DNA database for six years when I was not satisfied that they should be kept for 12 years.

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