"the retention in question constituted a disproportionate interference with the applicants' right to respect for private life and could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society".
Its ruling is a staggering criticism of the UK Government, who have collected the most personal information from innocent people on a database that is not fit for a democratic society. Yet, rather than be humbled or chastened by that, the Government are presenting proposals that fly in the face of the ruling. It seems that they would rather continue their dangerous obsession with creating massive and illegal databases of any information they can get their hands on than accept that they were wrong and that they have gone beyond the law.
The effectiveness of the DNA database for innocents as a tool for fighting crime is itself highly questionable. Figures have shown that despite the huge increase in the number of profiles on the database, from 2.1 million in 2002 to 5.6 million at the last count, the number of detected crimes for which a DNA match was available-we are not even talking about it being crucial to the conviction-has fallen from 21,098 to 17,614 last year. That does not surprise me because, as I said, the database is random. It includes 1 million innocents and excludes more than 2 million people who were convicted before
the database began. One sensible aspect of these proposals is to collect the DNA of such convicts. We will support that. There seems to be an absolutely clear basis for ensuring that that goes ahead.
Ms Abbott: Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern about the way in which Ministers, when they advance their arguments about the super-database, seem to have difficulty holding in their heads the difference between being guilty and being innocent? I had an Adjournment debate on this question, and a Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and talked about "allegedly innocent" people. Do not Ministers need reminding that under British law a person is either guilty or innocent? Although we do not say that there are no circumstances in which we should keep the DNA of innocent people, Ministers need to be reminded of some of the principles of English law.
Chris Huhne: The hon. Lady is absolutely right. That is a crucial principle. Ministers surreptitiously begin to talk not about how a previous arrest is a good indicator of some future conviction, but about how a previous arrest is a good indicator of another future arrest. Just because somebody is arrested twice, that does not make them any more guilty than they were when they were arrested the first time, when that was followed by no successful prosecution. I fear that Ministers are being naive in their approach. The issue of principle is exactly as the hon. Lady says.
David T.C. Davies: The hon. Gentleman is being very fair. Will he or the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) take the opportunity to tell us whether they agree that the five people named by the Daily Mail as the murderers of Stephen Lawrence killed him? I believe that they did and so do most people who have considered the case. I believe that it is right that their DNA should be collected and I would never describe them as "wholly innocent people". Would the hon. Gentleman describe them as completely innocent?
Chris Huhne: I know that the hon. Gentleman is a member of the special constabulary, and that he will therefore have had a certain amount of legal training, and he is aware that there is a difference between the standard of proof in a civil case and that in a criminal case. The standard of proof in a criminal case is that somebody has to be convicted beyond reasonable doubt. As a former journalist, I know that the standard of proof in a civil case, when it comes to libel, is on the balance of probabilities. I salute the campaign that the Daily Mail has run on this issue, but I merely point out to the hon. Gentleman that it is slightly more difficult to bring a successful prosecution on a criminal basis than it is to defend oneself in the libel courts.
Let me return to the DNA database. The evidence provided by the Government to support the retention of the DNA of all innocent people for six years is a shambles. The so-called evidence in the consultation
paper was based on an extremely small sample of research carried out by the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science, which its own director later noted was incomplete and based on data to which the institute was not given direct access. The director stated that it
"was probably a mistake with hindsight, we should have just said 'you might as well just stick your finger in the air and think of a number'".
"use of statistical science does not enhance public trust"
"misleading statistical arguments in public consultations should be regarded as a statistical felony"-
All the Home Office has done is halve the period proposed in the consultation document, as if splitting the difference were a substitute for evidence. The Home Secretary said today at the Dispatch Box that there was tremendously important evidence that would support his evidence and that, as we speak, it is in the process of being peer-reviewed. I have news for him-there is a difference between something appearing in a learned journal once it has been peer-reviewed and something that is going through the process of peer review.
If research is going through the process of peer review, it has not yet been accepted for publication in a learned journal. That process can involve a substantial amount of revision on the part of the authors. If, after getting its fingers burned in the case of the consultation paper and the Jill Dando Institute, the Home Office has not learned not to present to the House a load of half-baked evidence, it damn well ought to have done so. The Home Secretary ought to know that he should come here with evidence that is incontrovertible and based on research that is published in a learned journal, not something that he hopes will support his point of view at some time in the future.
Our preferred alternative is a strict split between innocence and guilt. If a person is found guilty of a crime, their DNA is retained on the database. If they are not convicted of a crime, their DNA is removed from the database at the end of the investigation. It is as simple as that. The principle of being innocent until proven guilty is the cornerstone of our criminal justice system. I have seen nothing in any of the so-called evidence provided by the Government today to convince me that we should abandon that principle now.
The inadequate DNA proposals loom so large over the entire Bill that although there are positive elements elsewhere, it is well overdue for the Government to take seriously their obligations towards the European convention on human rights not just in this matter, but in the matter of sections 44 and 45 of the Terrorism Act. They should start with the Bill. The DNA proposals fail to respect the right to private life. They sacrifice the presumption of innocence over guilt on the basis of a cooked consultation. They are an affront to British traditions of hard-won liberty and justice. I am sad to say that for that reason, despite some of the positive provisions in the Bill, we will not support it this evening.
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) (Lab):
I support my right hon. and hon. Friends and when the time comes, I will vote in favour of the Bill being given a Second
Reading. I go further and suggest that so far this evening we have heard from the Liberal Democrats a victory of pomposity over intellectual rigour, and from the Conservatives, a rant. One would have thought that as we are so close to the election, they would give us some insight into the alternative positions they take on the Bill.
The spokesmen of both parties failed to respond at all to the Government's announced improvements to the legislation on compensation for British citizens who are victims of terrorism overseas. I do not make a partisan point. For more than five years my noble Friend Lord Brennan and I have worked with victims groups on a non-partisan basis, day in and day out, to resolve the issues arising when the lives of innocent British citizens and their families are blighted for ever as a consequence of attacks on them simply because they were British citizens.
An announcement has been made of a scheme for the future, which I warmly welcome, along with recognition of something I asked the Government to consider last autumn-that any new compensation scheme should not overlook victims who have already suffered and will continue to suffer for the rest of their lives. I would have expected at least 30 seconds' acknowledgement from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen and an indication that they would support the proposals in the House tonight.
Victims' families throughout Britain may feel concerned that, for other partisan political reasons, the proposed schemes may not be implemented before the general election. That would be scandalous, particularly for the families who have been waiting since Bali for financial support and recognition of the consequences of such terrorist attacks.
Mr. McCartney: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. I have made my criticism, so I will allow him to respond. I say so because it is important to guarantee that, by the end of the debate, all Opposition Members concerned have clearly stated, whatever their view of the whole Bill, that they will grant fair weather and support to the Government to ensure that those two aspects of the Bill-the future scheme and the scheme for current victims-get through the House and are implemented, so that the victims and their families can start to rebuild their lives.
Chris Huhne: I am sure that, when we have had a chance to look at those measures, they are likely to command a great deal of support from all parts of the House, but I urge the right hon. Gentleman-particularly because the measures are likely to get so much support-not to try to use the issue as a camouflage for much more controversial proposals on the DNA database. I assure him that, if the Government accept in Committee our amendments on the DNA database or, indeed, the expected Conservative amendments, the Bill is likely to go through with the measures that he cares so much about.
Having spent 15 years as a Front Bencher in government and in opposition, I must say that I am not using the issue as a camouflage. I raise it in this way simply because I fear the responses from the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Epsom and
Ewell (Chris Grayling), on the Conservative Front Bench. They made it absolutely clear that they were prepared in another place and here tactically to stop the Bill going through.
The issue is so important, however, that I plead with the hon. Gentlemen-whatever their views on other matters and whether they can be resolved-not to use their tactics to the point where, as a result, their fellow citizens and their families, who have waited since 2002, do not receive any recognition of what went wrong or any financial support for the ongoing physical and mental damage that has been inflicted on them and their loved ones.
Keith Vaz: My right hon. Friend speaks with great passion on that issue, which is very important to him. However, he cannot say that it is being used as a camouflage by those who oppose the database proposals. We support him on the issue, but if he is, rightly, so keen on it, the Government could make time in the House and a Bill-just on that issue-could go through with the support of all Members. No one is trying to stop his proposals.
Mr. McCartney: My right hon. Friend knows very well that I never suggested that hon. Members were using my issue as a camouflage. I asked them, as I do my hon. Friends, to make a simple commitment. What I am saying to Members is absolutely clear: I am not playing footsie and asking people to make a trade-off. We cannot trade off the lives of fellow British citizens; we cannot trade off the consequences of Bali, Mumbai and all the other instances of terrorism, where British citizens have suffered grievously. My point is that this issue goes beyond the other aspects of the Bill. Its status as a vehicle for this issue is important, however, because the Government have for the past five years had to consider evidence from me and others and from the families concerned; and, in a very difficult situation, they have now responded positively.
Once again, I suggest that we establish a transparent scheme for the future with clear rules of engagement, if, sadly, British citizens again become victims of terrorist attacks in a far-off land; and, I suggest that those who have already suffered and continue to suffer-those who have been grievously injured, physically and mentally -be given the opportunity to receive compensation. The issue is about justice denied for 10 years. We should not allow people in the few weeks of the Bill's consideration to reach the point whereby, in their desire to amend it, they miscalculate the situation and allow the injustice to continue. That is my plea to all hon. Members.
When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary opened the debate, I was pleased to hear him recognise two points. He recognised that an act of terrorism is an attack on the nation state and, therefore, an entirely different crime from normal criminal activities-as dangerous and as difficult as they may be. As a consequence of that recognition, I believe that in all circumstances from now on the state has an overwhelming duty-a first duty-to protect, look after and defend its citizens, whatever the reason why they are not within the shores of the United Kingdom when that attack takes place. It could not have been right then, and would not be right now or in future, for the nation not to look after the interests of someone simply because they had a toenail over the white cliffs of Dover when they were attacked
by a terrorist. That surely should never have been the case. Thankfully, following my right hon. Friend's statement today, it will not be the case in future.
My right hon. Friend also recognised something else, for which some of us have been arguing for some time. Many of the British citizens attacked in such incidents in the past decade have been attacked for one sole reason: they are British citizens. That became even more true in Mumbai, where British citizens were killed and maimed simply because they were British. Sadly, attacks-small or large-will take place in future, and I believe that those who carry them out will seek out citizens from particular nations, including ours, and will afflict and damage those citizens. Given those circumstances, it is so important to recognise that it is unacceptable for there to be a legal loophole through which victims of attacks overseas are treated differently from those who are attacked within our own borders. I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend is putting that right.
My right hon. Friend also said that he would broadly mirror the domestic criminal injuries compensation scheme. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism, in Committee if not tonight, give a clear indication of what exactly that means? I ask the question seriously. On 15 January, Ned Temko, a journalist who has followed with great knowledge and commitment the cause of victims of terrorism overseas, wrote this in The Guardian:
"Planned amendments going before the Commons on Monday will include a more generous scheme for future victims, along the lines of the settlement for victims of the 7/7 terror bombings in London."
The second part of the scheme relates to two other Departments, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Justice, so I shall not press my right hon. Friend to answer about it today. It is about how we will introduce a non-statutory scheme for those who have been damaged since 2002. I understand that there will be hardship payments, that the scheme will be limited to a certain period and that it will be ex gratia and non-statutory; it will not be a retrospective scheme according to the legal definition.
It will be interesting if we find out in Committee how different-or broadly similar-that part of the scheme will be from the scheme announced today for future victims. Will the eligibility for hardship payments be the same as that in the prospective scheme the Home Secretary announced today? I do not ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism to respond in detail today; I am giving him pointers for the Committee, to ensure that, in the days and weeks to come, victims and their families have a clearer understanding of what the scheme will look like and what they can expect.
I understand that hardship payments could be calculated according to the tariff of injuries in the domestic criminal injuries compensation scheme and that no payments would be made to the families of those killed or for injuries that did not lead to an ongoing disability. Equally, no payments would be made for loss of earnings. That is in line with what the current criminal injuries compensation scheme delivers in the UK. However, it would help those concerned if they knew whether in future there would be consideration in respect of compensation for those who had lost their lives.
I understand that the Foreign Secretary will be responsible for designating who will be eligible for the hardship payments. So that things will not be held up, will the Foreign Secretary and appropriate Ministers meet representatives of the various groups to talk the issue through with them? In that way, victims' organisations would clearly understand precisely how applications can be made for injuries incurred in certain incidents and how they can refer cases to the Foreign Secretary for designation.
I am certain that in making the announcements today, the Government will have found resources from the appropriate legislation. I welcome that and thank them for it. I also thank the Home Secretary for the work that he has done to bring together a complex issue to ensure that justice is at last won for victims. He has done so in a way that ensures that every part of Whitehall accepts that the state has an obligation to look after its citizens who are attacked abroad, and that the state recognises the ongoing needs of victims who have survived with horrific illnesses.
One thing about those who have survived is for sure: their ongoing daily courage and that of their families. It is a humbling experience to stand here and speak on behalf of people who do not have a voice to speak here-those who have lost their children, grandchildren, wives or husbands. It is difficult to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves in this Chamber, and who are now limbless or who suffer from mental illnesses.
A constituent of mine survived the Sharm el-Sheikh attacks, having gone back into the hotel time and again to help rescue survivors, not knowing whether there would be another bomb in a few moments. He has to live with the consequences of that for the rest of his life. He protected a young child who, only minutes before, had been talking with friends who moments later no longer existed. That is a humbling experience. Until today, it has been hard to put into words what those families have felt at the fact that no one would recognise-just recognise-the consequence of those terrorist attacks on them and how devastated their lives had been. For many of their loved ones, there was no life at all.
I am certain that there will be disappointments about some of the restrictions in the scheme. Overall, however, I think people will accept that at last the House has the opportunity to recognise that our fellow citizens require protection. When that protection does not work and they become the victims of terror attacks, the one thing that should not concern them is an unwillingness or lack of ability on the part of their state to look after them and their families.
I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends for this announcement today. A lot of hard work, effort, tears and sweat have gone into getting where we have reached. However, all that pales into insignificance when we consider what has happened to the families I have been discussing. Whatever else the House does with the rest of the Bill, I ask it not to jump off the cliff, as it were, by using tactics that leave those families devastated again.