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18 Jan 2010 : Column 52

I am not satisfied that the Government have dealt with the ruling of the European Court on the issue. I regret that, because there has been a long gap between the end of last year, when the ruling was made, and now, when we ought to have had a debate on the matter in Government time, rather than tying it to a piece of legislation that has so many good things in it. I want to pay tribute to the many hon. Members who have campaigned on the issue for so long-for example, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) recently secured a debate in Westminster Hall that was answered by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell).

The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), who is not in his place at the moment, went through what I regard as the trauma of having to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act for some very simple pieces of information, including how many applications for removal from the DNA database had been made in each area. Why he had to go through all that palaver to get such simple information from the Home Office is beyond me. That is the kind of information that the Home Secretary should feel happy to publish, because he did not make the decisions; they were made by 43 different chief constables.

The Home Secretary is going in the right direction, but he has not arrived at the position in which I would like to see him and the Government. He is right to reduce the period for which such data are held, for a start; in my view, it should be reduced further, in line with the principle that innocent people's DNA should not be on the database. That is why, in our inquiry tomorrow, the Committee is taking evidence from the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands), who was totally innocent of all allegations against him, as he will tell the Committee. I do not want to pre-empt his evidence, but a remote family situation was the reason why his DNA was taken in the first place.

We asked the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham to give evidence not because of the family circumstances that he went through but because it took him so long to get a reply from the chief constable of the West Midlands police. In the end, he had to table a parliamentary question. Members of the public cannot table parliamentary questions to find out whether they are on the database.

David Davis: The Chairman of the Select Committee has raised a fundamental and central point-although it will look elliptical to the public-about the reticence of the Government and police authorities to put in the public domain much of the information necessary to make this decision. When Chief Constable Sims appeared before the Committee, he gave a series of comments that GeneWatch subsequently took to pieces forensically because he had conflated so many data.

A huge amount of information is involved. It is computerised, so it is by definition on a database. It ought to be available to the Select Committee and to other, academic authorities to enable us to make rational decisions both about the kinds of issue that the Home Secretary mentioned, such as hazard curves, and different strategies for minimising impingement on people's liberty while maximising effectiveness.

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Keith Vaz: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The information ought to be available. When the Home Secretary and Ministers come before our Committee, as they have done whenever we have asked, they have been absolutely transparent and provided huge amounts of information, but the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that that information should be made available in the first place.

We will hear from the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham. We will also hear from a gentleman from Oxford whose DNA was taken after he simply threw a bottle of water up to a protester in a tree in order to give him refreshment. His DNA was taken as a result, and he has been unable to get it removed from the database.

The Home Secretary is right: he knows that there is a problem with the current system. If there were a transparent, easy-to-understand system for applying for and getting a reply on DNA retention, people would probably be satisfied, but he has not gone far enough. That is why I am attracted by the evidence given by Chief Constable Peter Neyroud of the National Policing Improvement Agency, which was set up by this Government to be-it is a perfect function for the agency-a central authority to examine applications consistently, so that the balance is right, as the shadow Home Secretary said, and it is not just a question of what a local chief constable says.

What is interesting about what the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) just said is that the chief constable of the West Midlands police-I do not know whether anyone spotted this-kept referring in his evidence to the database held by each chief constable as "theirs", as though it belonged to them. Quite frankly, it does not, in my view. The best way to make things consistent is to have one authority to handle them.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, and does he agree, that measures such as the ones that we are discussing will only add to the distrust of police in many inner-city constituencies such as mine, where it is greater, although decreasing? Many young people in inner-city areas are arrested frequently, often when they have not done anything, and keeping their records will only add to the existing distrust.

Keith Vaz: I am happy to accept that from my hon. Friend. She represents Brixton in the House. As I mentioned earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington stated in her debate that 77 per cent. of young black men were on the DNA database. That is a serious matter. I know that the Home Secretary had a lot to cover today, but he did not address that. The disproportionate nature of those statistics cannot be dealt with by putting everyone on the database. Who says that that would be a bad idea? None other than the father of DNA, Sir Alex Jeffreys. He thinks it is wrong to keep the DNA of innocent people on the database. He, too, will give evidence to the Select Committee. If the person who discovered this process and is renowned as something of a genius on these issues says that to the Government, I am surprised that they have not accepted his views.

David T.C. Davies: The Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee will also know that four fifths of the people on the DNA database are male. Does this suggest that there is some kind of anti-misogynistic view among
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the police and the judicial system that makes them single out men, arrest them and take their DNA? Of course not. Is not the reality that the whole process is colour-blind-indeed, blind to sex and colour? Those who get arrested get their DNA taken, whether they are black, male, Asian or anything else.

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is a distinguished member of the Select Committee, and his questions are always incisive. I have to take issue with him on this point, however. The figure of 77 per cent. represents a huge and disproportionate number of young black people. I understand his point, but if the process is having a disproportionate effect on a section of the community, we need to be careful. This is another argument that we are putting forward.

Ms Abbott: On the point about disproportion, my right hon. Friend will be as aware as I am that the number of black youths on the DNA database is disproportionate to the amount of convictions. That is the key correlation. Regarding the Home Secretary's proposals for removing innocent people from the DNA database, I have run clinics with Liberty in Hackney to help young people to get their DNA off the database. The criterion of unlawful arrest that the Home Secretary has put forward would not help most of the people I deal with. Some of them were bystanders when they were arrested; others had simply gone into shops to return jumpers when they were arrested. Although the principle of having criteria is good, the criteria that he is outlining are completely inadequate for dealing with the sporadic hoovering up of innocent people's DNA that is going on.

Keith Vaz: I agree. My hon. Friend was not here when I paid tribute to her work in this area.

I will abstain in the vote on Second Reading today because the Home Secretary has not convinced me on the DNA issue. A Select Committee inquiry is also ongoing, and it would be quite wrong for me to pre-empt the conclusions in its report. I promise to place that report before the House as soon as possible-subject to members of the Committee agreeing with it, of course, because we like our reports to be unanimous. That has been the case with all but one of our reports over the past two and a half years.

I hope that the Home Secretary will have a chance to go away and do further work on the Bill before it reaches its Committee stage. There are many good points in it, and it would be a tragedy if it were lost because of this issue. I hope that it will reach its Committee stage and come back to us for its Third Reading as soon as possible, because I reckon that there are only 35 working parliamentary days between now and 31 March. Time is therefore pressing if he wants to get it on the statute book, and I hope that that can be done as quickly as possible.

5.19 pm

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I am always delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who speaks a lot of wise words on this subject, and on many others. He has certainly elucidated matters of evidence for the House this afternoon. I cannot say that about the hon. Member for Epsom and
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Ewell (Chris Grayling), however, or about the Home Secretary. Earlier, we heard a slightly unedifying spat on whether crime figures had been falling or not. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell knows perfectly well that the figures that Conservative Home Secretaries were pleased to use when the Conservatives were last in government were those of the British crime survey. Those figures show incontrovertibly that there has indeed been a fall in crime. Before the Home Secretary thinks that I am sidling up to him on this issue and before he decides to take credit for this development, however, let me point out that crime has fallen in every single western European country except Belgium. I am not quite sure what the Belgians are doing wrong, but this fall is certainly not something that the Labour Government can realistically claim credit for. If the Home Office had not ended its research on model building-I am delighted to see that the Justice Department is now doing this again-it would have known that all sorts of other factors, including technology, technological development and, of course, demographic factors, play a part in the crime trends.

This is an omnibus Bill. As such, it is a random cross-section of measures that have been thrown together for no greater reason than the fact that they happened to be hanging around at the bus stop at the time when the Bill was going past. There are some pleasant-looking passengers dotted around the bus, but the overall impression is, I fear, tainted by the leering ogre picking its teeth on the front seat on the top deck-namely the Government's proposals for the DNA database. Although a comb has been raked through this beast's tangle since the White Paper, the effect is scarcely pleasing.

It is the dominance of those proposals that will determine the fate of the Bill, at least as far as Liberal Democrat Members are concerned. If the Government do not accept dramatic amendments in Committee, we will be entitled to draw the conclusion that they are merely cocking a snook at the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the S and Marper case. That would be entirely unacceptable, and we would not only oppose the Bill on Third Reading, but would do our utmost to beach it like a whale during wash-up.

I have spoken before about the ministerial tendency to overdose on legislative laxatives. This is the 69th home affairs Bill since 1997 and the 60th criminal justice Bill. The Government are the proud father and mother of more than 3,600 new criminal offences. Even those in favour of law, as I am, recognise that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. This legislative diarrhoea is, frankly, a conspiracy between Ministers who want to leave their footprints in the legislative sand and civil servants who recognise that the fast track to promotion is to spend time with Ministers discussing their pet legislative proposals.

Even for this Government, this Bill breaks new ground. It amends the Policing and Crime Act 2009, which received Royal Assent just 13 days before the current Bill was announced. The Home Office Bill team have really outdone themselves on this occasion, and I think we can be sure that there is at least one part of the public sector where there can be no doubt about productivity performance, even if there remains some doubt-if I read what is happening across the House-about the quality of the product.

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Ms Abbott: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the officials in the Box are flushed pink with pride.

Chris Huhne: I am glad that the hon. Lady has pointed that out; there certainly seemed to be more commotion in the Box than is usually the case.

Before moving on to the DNA proposals, let me deal with some of the less controversial passengers on this particular bus. We welcome a reduction in police red tape, but in reducing the length and number of forms that the police are required to complete, we must ensure that we also monitor fair dealing. Stops and searches of all kinds, but particularly those carried out under terrorism legislation, disproportionately affect ethnic minorities. Since 1997-98, black people have been almost eight times more likely to be stopped and Asian people twice as likely to be stopped as white people. I accept that the requirement in primary legislation to record the person's ethnicity is a welcome move, but this must be kept under constant management review. Stop and search must be seen to be proportional to the threat if the police are to retain the confidence of minority communities, which is so crucial in terms of gathering intelligence and ensuring that witnesses come forward to secure convictions.

The Bill fails, however, to consider the problems of stops and searches under sections 44 and 45 of the Terrorism Act 2000, whereby they can be undertaken without the need for any suspicion at all. Just last week, the Government again found themselves on the wrong side of a European Court of Human Rights ruling on this very legislation. There have long been concerns about the massive overuse of section 44 powers, particularly by the Metropolitan police. Only 0.6 per cent. of people stopped under these powers in the second quarter of 2008 went on to be arrested, and the Government's own terrorism adviser, Lord Carlile, pointed out last year that searches were being carried out to provide "racial balance". Yet in this Bill the Government have made no moves to tighten up on their use. I hope that in Committee Ministers will table amendments that address the issues that the European Court of Human Rights has raised about sections 44 and 45, and will ensure that these stop-and-search powers are used in a proportionate manner by more tightly drawing the conditions in which they can be deployed.

David T.C. Davies: Is not the reason why so few people are arrested as a result of section 44 precisely because these searches are meant to be random and thereby send out a message? Because of their randomness, all sorts of people are stopped and searched who would not normally expect to be so. Also, if the searches were not random, but instead were targeted at certain groups of people by age, ethnicity or anything else, the hon. Gentleman would be the first to complain.

Chris Huhne: Apart from anything else, I disagree that this is a sensible use of police time. In order to see that, we need only look at the success rate and the potential for alienating minority communities, whom we need to have on board if we are to tackle terrorism. This power needs to be revisited, as the ECHR has made very clear.

Part 5 of the Bill introduces measures to tackle domestic violence further, and to protect the victims of it in the immediate aftermath of a suspected offence. We welcome these so-called "go" orders as a useful way
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to giving victims of domestic violence the time and safety to make decisions about their future. However, it is imperative that these orders are coupled with support and counselling for victims, and temporary housing for the perpetrators, as is the case in the other countries upon whose provisions they appear to be modelled.

Mr. Malins: On domestic violence protection notices, I wonder whether there really is a serious gap in the law that needs to be filled. Do we not already have sufficient criminal charges to enable the mischief to be dealt with under existing laws?

Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman has considerable professional experience of the law, and he makes a very good point, which I take seriously. He is certainly right to raise this issue given how many offences have been introduced since 1997-and, indeed, some even before then-when it was already perfectly possible to prosecute under existing legislation. I am happy to look at this in Committee if what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting is indeed the case, although I am absolutely convinced that we need to do more to tackle domestic violence. I suspect that we will achieve a lot in that regard by persuading more police forces to adopt the best practice of some, which is to go ahead with prosecutions even when the victim is unwilling to give evidence, such as by using circumstantial or medical evidence about what has happened. That appears to be an effective way of tackling domestic violence. However, having been out with my local police force and seen cases of domestic violence, I really do think we need to deal with this as forcefully as we possibly can.

Part 6 concerns gang injunctions for under-18s. We are less happy about this area of the Bill, since it appears to be another case of legislating on the hoof. These clauses amend the recent Policing and Crime Act 2009, and they are baffling since the Minister told the Joint Committee on Human Rights in March last year that the Government had no intention of covering children and young people explicitly. My party has long argued that antisocial behaviour orders, or ASBOs, should be a last resort. If overused-there are parallels here with the so-called "gangbos"-they become ineffective and costly and potentially criminalise a generation of young people.

These gang injunctions seem to me to repeat many of the same mistakes. They again blur the line between criminal and civil law. They criminalise young people without any thought as to how or why they find themselves caught up in the dark world of gang-related violence, and they simply mimic many powers that are already on the statute book. Furthermore, they give the courts powers to impose draconian orders on young people who breach these injunctions. As Liberty has so aptly put it, we are, in essence, talking about

It is staggering that the Government are intent on expanding these types of orders for children, and we shall certainly seek to amend these provisions in Committee.

Part 7 makes the issuing of a parenting order mandatory upon the breach by a child of an ASBO. Parenting orders, in themselves, are often beneficial, but we are concerned that these provisions may result in such orders being used as a last resort, at the point when a child has already been criminalised by breaching a
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discredited and overused ASBO; ideally, parenting orders should be used well ahead in this process. These measures do nothing to address the root causes of antisocial behaviour before they get out of hand. We need to catch children early, create schemes that divert them away from crime and antisocial behaviour, and get them to take responsibility for their actions when they stray, particularly through restorative justice schemes and neighbourhood justice panels.

On part 8, we thoroughly dislike the licensing regime for wheel-clamping businesses operating on private land. I see no justification for yet another licensing regime, so let us instead opt for a simple Scottish-style solution and declare such clamping illegal entirely, as it is tantamount to extortion. We should not be attempting to clean up this industry's act by providing a licensing regime.

Finally, I turn to parts 2 to 4, which concern the DNA database. To say that the Government's proposals are a disappointment is an understatement-they are a scandal. They have roundly failed to address any of the concerns outlined in the European Court of Human Rights ruling in the case of S and Marper about the "blanket and indiscriminate nature" of the database. The UK has the largest DNA database in the world; it is far larger than its American counterpart, despite the population of the United States being so much bigger. Our database contains records from more than 5.5 million people, almost 1 million of whom are innocent-they have no record on the police national computer-and almost one in two of all black men are on the database. This is little more than a random accretion of profiles from anybody who happens to run into the police. We have heard in great detail, particularly from the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, how difficult it can be, depending on where one lives in the country, to get one's details removed from this database, even when one wants to do so.

As I briefly mentioned, in December 2008 the ECHR ruled that the retention of the DNA samples of two men who had not been convicted of any crime-S and Marper-was illegal and violated their right to a private life. The Court ruled that

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