David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con):
I commend the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) on his speech; he clearly put a lot of passion, time, energy and work into delivering this
change for his constituents and others. However, he should not take opposition to elements of the Bill as tactics. The House is big enough not to deliver justice for some at the price of injustice for others.
I was serving on the Front Bench when the issue of the database first came up, and I do not pretend that it was easy to resolve in our minds. After all, it involves balancing an incredibly powerful anti-crime tool-one that will deliver convictions to deal with criminals, which is what we want-against the imposition of a presumption of guilt, perhaps a lifetime presumption in some respects, to people who are seen as innocent by the state and who are, in most cases, innocent. There will, of course, be exceptions when the judicial system fails, but mostly such people will be innocent. I shall give some examples in a moment. I do not pretend that the issue is easy.
Some of the Government's proposals on the DNA database are very welcome. When we considered this before, Conservative Members, and I think the Liberals too, took the view that one way of improving the effectiveness of the scheme was to bring in the 2 million extra guilty people who had been overlooked by the original legislation. It was, frankly, governmental or corporate laziness to go for the ones that it was easy to take the samples from, not those who were likely to be committing crimes today and in future-namely, those who were convicted before the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 went through, let alone the Criminal Justice Act 2003. I approve of that suggestion. It impinges only on guilty people, and it will greatly improve conviction rates for cold cases, for current cases, and for future cases. Two million guilty people will have committed many more crimes than 1 million innocent people, virtually by definition.
That is why we came to the conclusion that the Scottish system was the best compromise. I know that we differ with the Liberals on this, although it was their brothers and sisters in Scotland who put that system through; indeed, I think it was a Liberal justice spokesman who did it. I understand, however, that the compromise was, as the Home Secretary said, based on "no data at the time", not "no data today", because the Scottish Government have had the sense-I am not often heard speaking well of an Scottish National party Government -to review the policy, as did the Labour-Liberal Government before them. Their review showed that the outcome in Scotland was at least as good as, if not better than, that achieved under the system that we have in England and Wales, despite the Home Secretary's new statistics; I shall talk about the presentation of new evidence at the Dispatch Box in a moment.
There will be those in the House who think, "My constituents worry about being hurt, murdered, assaulted or burgled. They're not worried about these technical, civil libertarian concerns." I should therefore like to take a moment or two to explain how this is, in practical terms, very real to those who suffer in this way. The case that I am going to cite is in the public domain, on the BBC website; I will summarise so that people can check the extended details themselves. The man involved is called David Sweeney. He says that in 2004 he was on his way home and was assaulted by two other men. He was about 28 years old at the time of writing, and he is a white and-I think, from the language he uses-middle-class male. That is an important point to remember: he
was a white, probably middle-class male. In the course of what happened following that attack, he was arrested on a charge of affray, which was then dropped because it was clear that he was not at fault. He was not the aggressor-he was simply defending himself, and those two men were guilty of attacking him.
"I dropped a friend off at Manchester Airport and double parked. A foolish mistake and on returning to my car the police had arrived and given me a ticket. They asked if I was 'known to the police' and I said no, having no criminal record. I was already apologetic and admitted my mistake and had accepted the parking fine.
But when they then heard over the radio that I was on the DNA database, they treated me with total contempt-as if I were a serious criminal. 'You lied to us', they said. 'You're on the database. So you've obviously done something wrong'"-
"'What are you trying to conceal now?'...There was no separation between my DNA records and those of a violent criminal.
This characterises my main problem with the database. Anyone who is on it, I think the police will have an inclination to see them as a criminal. All they heard over the radio was 'he's on the database'. Did they know I had committed no crime? I don't think so."
That case is not unusual. However, we have been talking about other categories of people on the database. The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee pointed out that 77 per cent. of young black males-defined as 15 to 34-year-olds-are on the database; the Liberal spokesman said that the proportion is just under half, at 30-something per cent. It is one thing if this happens to someone once, and they are angry enough to write to the BBC about it, but what if it happens to them and their friends all the time? What does that do to their presumption of justice? What does it do to their perception of the police? What does it do to their belief in law and order in their community? This is not a theoretical issue, or some namby-pamby, civil liberties piece of high-flown rhetoric: it affects ordinary citizens in our country day by day, and it drives a stake through the presumption of innocence in our society.
David T.C. Davies: I thank my namesake for giving way; I am intervening at my peril. There may be some genuine confusion in such situations. When the police take somebody's details, they conduct a police national computer check that will often come back saying, "No, not wanted." The police may have assumed that the person was known to them, but they would not have known that he was on the DNA database and may well have been referring to the fact that his name came up on the computer records as being known, but not wanted.
David Davis: I thank my hon. Friend for his explanation; he is expert in this, as he serves as a special constable. However, I am afraid that in all truth-please do not take this wrongly-I do not care about that: what I care about is the impact on an ordinary citizen, who could be one of my constituents. In fact, I do not have any immigrant minorities in my constituency, but it could be one of my constituents in another context. My point is this: if these things happen to a whole community on a regular basis, just think what that does.
Incidentally, there is nothing in the Bill about the PNC database, as far as I can see-perhaps I have misread it and the Minister can intervene to tell me so. The Government talk about taking off a person's DNA details after six years, but their entry on the PNC database showing that they were arrested will stay for life. Even if somebody is successful under this scheme and gets their DNA details taken off, the fact that they were arrested stays on the record.
I do not know how many of those in the House have tried to get a visa to enter the United States and have seen the form that is filled in and the record check that is done, but it is clear that someone who has been arrested is very unlikely to get that visa. Indeed, the principal concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) after the disgraceful piece of neo-totalitarian treatment that he experienced was that he would never be able to go on holiday to America again, let alone go on political trips and whatever else he does there. This Bill affects that, as well as a person's ability to get a job. This is for life, remember. Under these provisions, a person is declared a suspect for life-again, a stake through the heart of civil liberties.
It is not uncommon for total innocents to be caught up. My constituency is the 10th richest constituency in the country, as hon. Members who went there during the by-election probably know. It is not all dark satanic mills-it is very pretty, like Surrey in the north. It is very well-off and very orderly; indeed, it has the lowest crime rate in the country. When I was shadow Home Secretary, my local paper rang up and said, "You've got the lowest crime rate in the country," and I said, "I should bloody well hope so." The simple truth is that that is the nature of the constituency. Yet I have there three people on the DNA database who are clearly, to my mind, innocent; two of them are children arrested on the basis of malicious allegations from other children. My police authority is one of those where people are never taken off the database. Perhaps that is not surprising, as it was involved in the Soham episode; I think that if I were the chief constable in Humberside I would be very chary about taking that decision. However, that means that the youngsters will be on it pretty much until they are adult-at the time of their first application for a job, if they do not go off to university. The third person is a man who works in the care sector-or at least he did until last year. These are innocent people who are having their lives destroyed, damaged or in some way harmed by this situation.
What is the basis of this? The Home Secretary is actually a rather close friend of mine. We travel back to our consistencies on the train together, we are next-door neighbours and we co-operate on all sorts of things-I am probably doing him great harm by saying all this, but never mind.
The simple truth, therefore, is that I do not believe that the Home Secretary is making an evil, point-scoring, electoral point. I presume that he and other Ministers believe in this approach. The Minister for Policing,
Crime and Counter-Terrorism, who will serve on the Committee, is a capable man, and I think that the Under-Secretary the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), is too, so where does it come from?
I cannot remember whether Disraeli or Mark Twain originated the phrase "lies, damn lies and statistics", but heavens above it applies here, because the conflation of statistics and so-called facts that has taken place throughout this debate has been astonishing, which was why the quote from the leading statistician cited by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) was apposite. That was why I asked the Home Secretary earlier to do something that the Home Office has refused to do for the past year. He agreed and we will hold him to it. I asked him to comment on the Prime Minister's claim that 114 murderers have been convicted and locked up as a result of the 1 million database entries from innocent people-not the others, because we all accept that there is a reason for the guilty to be on the database-and to provide the list. The information is in the public domain, so there is no reason why the entire list of 114 murderers should not be published. However, I believe that that assertion is simply untrue. In the words of GeneWatch, the independent experts:
"These claims are demonstrably false".
Both Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen and the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee have made the same point. The key period is between 2004 and now. In 2001, there was the first change to the law to allow retention after charge, while the second change, which made the big difference, happened in 2004, with retention allowed after arrest. Between 2004 and now, the size of the database has doubled and become the biggest in the world. Of course, however, the number of direct DNA convictions went down by about 2,000-from around 21,000 to 19,000. The number was about that order of magnitude, but it certainly did not go up.
The Home Secretary responds to that by saying that it has happened because crime has gone down. He is the only person in the entire country who believes that crime is going down, but let us take him at his word. However, even if that is the case, crime has gone down on the Government's figures-rigged as they are-by about 10 per cent., but although the database has doubled in size, the proportion of convictions achieved through it has stayed between 0.34 and 0.37 per cent. There is no upward trend-the figures go up and down-and it has remained the case that roughly one in 250 cases have been solved through DNA. The database inflation has not delivered more justice and security; it has simply delivered huge insecurity to the people who are on it, but should not be.
Why has this happened? What has led Ministers to take such an approach? They do so not for ill intent. I suspect that my namesake, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), supports them, and he does not have ill intent at all-there is not a malicious bone in his body. I think that their belief largely results from a misconception of the way in which the system works. Very few hon. Members have served in uniform of any sort, let alone police uniform, and they do not really think this through. They form a
lot of their impressions of everything from terrorism to crime by watching too many editions of "Spooks" and "CSI".
We too often take our understanding of what is happening in reality from popular culture, which the Home Secretary did today when he suddenly cited, out of thin air, one of his new examples-it was the first time we had heard about it-and talked about DNA under victims' fingernails. The truth is that the relevant DNA in most murders is not the perpetrator's, but the victim's. That is the blood that is found on clothes, in the car, on the weapon, or on the skin of the person who carried it out-usually a man, to go back to earlier statistics that we heard. The database has no implications for such cases, because the body is generally there.
The most common circumstances in which DNA is used is when the criminal-the guilty man or woman-is identified first, with DNA taken second. In such circumstances, the database does not feature at all. The next category is when the DNA that is taken comes up as relevant to a cold case-we heard earlier from the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who is very keen on the issue of cold cases. However, the database has absolutely no implications for cold cases. The argument about cold cases is complete rubbish, because the relevant database for a cold case is that of cold case DNA samples from crime scenes, and there have not been more solutions of cold cases because that database is incomplete-and what is more, the Government propose to close Operation Stealth, the unit that runs it. If we really want to fix the cold case problem, we need to get the database of DNA from cold case crime scenes up to date, and then check DNA against that every time a person is arrested. I will return to how that has caused the House to be misled in a moment.
The last category of DNA use is the one that is relevant to today's debate. It relates to future cases when a match is found to DNA that is already held, and an individual is arrested on the back of that. No one argues that that is not important. After all, not one person who has spoken has said that we should take guilty people-4 million of the 5 million-off the database. Both the Conservatives and Liberals argue that 2 million more such people should be put on the database, because that is where the system's power lies. That is because, despite what the Home Secretary says, every piece of scientific research that has been carried out on criminality shows clearly that criminals are almost always repeat offenders. Those who commit big crimes precede them by committing small crimes. Those who are socially undisciplined by committing one sort of crime are undisciplined on everything, whether that is stealing things, cheating on fines or not paying following driving offences. Some of the Government's more sensible strategies hang on that understanding.
There is an enormous difference between the likely criminality of innocent people and those who have already committed crime. If that were not true, there would be a case for a national database. That was why the hon. Member for Eastleigh was right when he said
that the Home Secretary had made the case for a national database. If the Home Secretary believes that the data should be there, they should cover all innocent people, not just those who are unlucky enough to get caught up by a random process.
Let us think about the people who get caught. First, there are the victims, because if a person is mugged and the police happen to turn up on that occasion, the mugger will be much slicker than the victim by saying, "He hit me first." We have read in the newspapers and heard anecdotally about many such cases.
Secondly, there are the have-a-go heroes who try to stop a fight but also get caught in this messy process. Then there are the children who are accused by another child, whom I mentioned earlier, and the teachers who are accused by a malicious child-there are two such cases in my constituency. There are also the care workers who are accused by people who are mentally unstable. They might have spent their lives trying to support those people but-bingo!-there is another case. All those innocent people are caught in this trap, yet we are doing what is convenient to the police.
Frankly, the police gave disgracefully poor evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, and I recommend that hon. Members read GeneWatch's summary of the contribution of the representative from the Association of Chief Police Officers-almost every piece of data that he gave was wrong. To put it bluntly, ACPO's understanding of the statistics and probability is non-existent, and I am afraid that it is down to the House to insist that Government agencies do their job properly, rather than sloppily and in a way that impinges on the rights of the people whom they are there to protect.
That all leads me to believe that there is a problem to be dealt with. As I said, the Scottish system is not perfect. However, I say to Ministers-they might have been discounting the rest of what I said, but I would like them to listen carefully to this-that in this area, there is a massive amount of data under the Government's control. The data are in a manageable, electronic, coded database form. It is possible to do a great deal to pursue the effectiveness of that database, yet we have seen almost no published data from it.
The data that we have seen have been desperately flawed. Again today, we heard the Home Secretary conflate the issue of re-arrest with that of conviction after arrest, behaving as though being arrested twice somehow made a person guilty. To a young black man in Brixton, I do not think that that is true. It is no surprise if somebody who is on the database gets picked up again-how do we think policemen work? It is not wrong that they should work in that way, but it is simply wrong to draw that conclusion. A couple of months ago, I was so horrified by the Jill Dando Institute data that I asked its research director whether I could see the information and interview the researcher. Just 10 days later, the data were withdrawn because the same conflation error had been made.
It is not hard to solve the problem. The Government have the information, and they should put it in the public domain, or at least in the domain of authorised academics who can examine it independently. Then we could get some sensible answers on the mathematics of the matter, so that we could judge how much freedom, privacy and presumption of innocence we should trade off against the right to security from violent criminals.