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18 Jan 2010 : Column 71

This is a dangerous matter, because juries take DNA evidence as the golden bullet. Too many of them have watched "CSI", "Bones" or "Cold Case Files" and believe that DNA evidence is perfect. I shall ambush the Home Secretary on his way home on the train on Thursday and give him a copy of this week's New Scientist. I recommend that the other Ministers read it, too. It contains a long overdue piece about the doubts that many scientists have about the veracity of the presumption that there is a one in 7 million chance of DNA evidence being wrong. There are all sorts of reasons why that should not be the case, and I shall not bore the House with the technicalities today-my first degree is too long ago for that. It is likely that the probability of a mismatch is much greater than we think.

We come up against what is known as the "birthday syndrome". The chance of me and the Home Secretary having the same birthday is one in 365-that is pretty straightforward to work out. The chance of me and one of the entire Home Office ministerial and Parliamentary Private Secretary team having the same birthday is about 25 per cent. If we add in the people in all their private offices, it is about 50 per cent. Actually, the chance of my having the same birthday as the Home Secretary is zero, because his is in May, but the point is that the probability of a mismatch rises steeply the greater the database gets.

The presumption among those who are tied to databases is that the bigger the database, the better it will be. No, the bigger the database, the geometrically bigger the chance of a mismatch. That is the mathematics. Members should not believe me, they should go and get themselves a mathematician to explain it to them. It is straightforward, and it is called the birthday syndrome. A bigger database carries a greater chance of a mismatch. If a quarter or a fifth of those on the database are innocent, there is a serious risk of a miscarriage of justice.

DNA is a powerful and effective tool, but we make an awful lot of presumptions if we jump to the conclusion that it is perfect. The Government are in a position to release the information from the database to the scientific community so that it can make the judgments that I have mentioned. The American Government have been approached to do that and turned down the request. I suggest that if the British Government really want to do something in their last few months in office, they should accede to it. They are right in that DNA is a powerful tool that can protect British citizens, but it can also create serious miscarriages of justice. It is in their interest to ensure that that does not happen.

6.25 pm

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): I apologise for having been absent for part of the debate, but I had to attend a statutory instrument Committee upstairs.

I listened with a great deal of interest to what the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) said about DNA, about which I shall make a few comments later. I wish to talk first about another part of the Bill, which in some ways relates to the problems that he mentioned of the effect on communities. That is the part that deals with stop and search.

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The Bill proposes changes to how stop and search is recorded. I absolutely understand the reasoning-we do not want excessive police bureaucracy, and we want the police to spend as much time as they possibly can on the street dealing with crime, rather than filling in cumbersome forms or records. However, the use of stop and search can be controversial and it is important that we get it absolutely right.

Stop and search can take several different forms, and there are three main powers to exercise it. There is section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which is the commonest form, but there is also section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. These last two do not require a police officer to have reasonable suspicion about an individual before they conduct a stop and search. Section 60 of the 1994 Act, in particular, is often ignored when there is discussion of stop and search. There was a recently a prominent court case about section 44 of the 2000 Act, and there has been a great deal of publicity about how it has been used in relation to recent demonstrations in central London. However, when we consider the regulations governing stop and search during the passage of this Bill, we need to examine what happens under section 60.

The proposal in the Bill is to reduce the recording requirements under PACE. There will not be any need to record whether anything was found during the stop and search, whether any injury or damage were caused to the person stopped, or their name. Monitoring will continue in relation to ethnicity, but not age. We need to consider what the consequences of that might be. If someone wished to make a complaint that a stop and search was unlawful, or wished to show in their defence in a case that they had been stopped and searched two or three times in the same day-that sometimes happens-they would find it very difficult without names and other details being recorded.

We need to think much more carefully about how we monitor the use of stop and search. There is obviously an issue with section 44 of the 2000 Act following the court case. It must be reviewed and there is likely to be an appeal-there is of course no guarantee that that will succeed-but it is absolutely certain that all the reservations about the use of section 44 given in the judgment apply equally well to section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

I was in the House when that Bill was debated back in 1994, as were one or two others in the Chamber today. In the debate on section 60, we were told that the power would be used only in exceptional circumstances, when a superintendent considered that there was the possibility of serious violence in their area. However, the power is being used absolutely routinely in certain police forces, as a method of doing stop and search without having to have suspicion regarding the individuals concerned. In the Met, in 2000-01, there were 2,800 recorded uses of section 60; in 2002-03, the figure was up to 8,600; and in 2003-04, it was 4,400; but by 2007-08, it had risen to 17,000. The latest figures show that in just one year, in one London borough-Newham-there were 25,500 searches using section 60. That happens to be the borough that uses section 60 most heavily, but in my borough, Waltham Forest, there were 6,000 in one year, which is more than there were in the whole of the Met just a few years ago.

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The excuse for those figures is Operation Blunt 2. That was when the big increase occurred. However, the usage of section 60 is simply not being monitored properly. In fact, there is very little relationship between knife crime and the number of searches under section 60. Like the DNA provisions, the use of section 60 is a source of resentment among young men-it is generally young men-who are stopped again and again. It is about time we looked again at how section 60 is used and monitored, and we should be looking to amend how it operates. The Bill gives us an opportunity to do that.

I welcome the fact that the law on DNA retention is being looked at and reformed, but I am afraid I cannot welcome how it is being done. There are some very basic issues. The fact that three quarters of young black men between the ages of 16 and 34 are on that database has been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden and others. There is evidence that there is a higher rate of arrest among young black men, but often a lower rate of conviction than among the corresponding white cohort.

David T.C. Davies: I have also heard the criticism that there are proportionately more young black men in prison and other institutions than white males, but there are all sorts of possible reasons for that, one being that the former group may be committing more crime. I accept that there are many other possible reasons.

Mr. Gerrard: I would not pretend that statistics relating to ethnicity and crime are not complex. We need to look at the causes of crime and the age groups involved and all sorts of issues. However, it should concern us that there are considerable disproportionalities between one population and another. That certainly happens with the stop and search, as I mentioned. A young black male is much more likely to be stopped and searched, and in London in particular, in recent years, the stop and search of young Asian men has increased. In turn, that is reflected in the DNA database.

The retention of the DNA data of someone who has not been charged with, let alone convicted of, an offence is a basic issue. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden gave some specific examples, so let me give a couple concerning people I have dealt with in the past few months. One 15-year-old girl was accused, exactly as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, by another girl in the same school. There was an argument at school and there was perhaps a little bit of pushing one way or the other, and that girl ended up being arrested and is now on the DNA database. When her mother and I asked for her data to be removed, the answer was no. I looked at the procedure that is currently used in the Metropolitan police. Its guidance on removing people from the database states that

and gives examples of when that might happen, which include

or when "no offence" whatever "existed". The reality is that virtually no one is removed. That 15-year-old will remain on the database.

I have had two examples in the past few months of Asian men-one in his 30s, one in his 50s-who had been on holiday to visit relatives in the US. On their way back through Gatwick and Heathrow, they were stopped
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under anti-terrorism powers and their DNA samples were taken. In neither case has there been any charge, nor is there going to be. That is quite clear. However, from what the Home Secretary said in his opening speech, those two men, who have not been charged or convicted, and who have no previous record whatever, may remain on the database for years, because they were stopped and questioned under anti-terrorism powers.

I cannot see what the hard evidence is to support the proposals in the Bill. I heard the statistics the Home Secretary mentioned, but the basis for his argument from those statistics is extreme flimsy-it was based on thin research that has not decided anything definitively. That the data are thin has been admitted, and yet they are the basis on which we are going to bring in primary legislation that specifies the number of years for which data can be held. At the very least, we should be looking at a measure that allows the number of years to be changed quickly and easily if we get the definitive research that I believe we need.

It is almost a no-smoke-without-fire argument: the fact that somebody has been arrested at one point leads to the assumption that they are more likely to commit a crime than somebody who has not been arrested. The evidence to back that up that I have seen-the hard evidence, based on solid data going back over a significant period-seems remarkably thin. I do not think we should be going down that road on the basis of data of that standard.

Finally, I welcome another part of the Bill that the Home Secretary mentioned-the measures to regulate wheel-clamping. That has been a real nightmare to deal with in many areas, and certainly in my constituency. I have seen a number of cases of the absolute abuse of power by private companies carrying out wheel-clamping on private land. I have seen cases of people who work in shops-not shop owners-being conned into signing a contract with a company, which then comes along and clamps people in the back alleyway behind the shop. I have seen cases of people being clamped on a garage forecourt after they have simply gone into the shop to buy something. They have come out to find that they are being charged £400 or some other ridiculous amount of money to release their car. I welcome measures to deal with that. The Bill contains the power to regulate, and what we need as soon as possible is the statutory code of practice that will put the detail into effect. That is what is needed, not just the requirement for the companies to register.

Alongside that, I hope that we can also use this Bill to consider some of the other activities of private security companies. I am really concerned about how many areas they operate in. I dealt recently with the case of a constituent who had had a problem in a department store. The private security company involved handled her somewhat roughly, she was thrown out of the store and banned from entering it again. She was also accused of being racist, but that was totally untrue, as the store eventually admitted. However, she had no comeback against the store, because the private security company was responsible. Such companies operate in far too many places, and they seem to operate without any significant regulation. They may have to be registered and obtain licences from the Security Industry Authority, but if they behave badly it is difficult to get anything done about it.

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Tony Baldry: Is not the real problem that when the police indicate that they are no longer willing to investigate problems such as shoplifting, the private sector intervenes, but it is unregulated and some companies can act like cowboys? People receive letters threatening prosecution or telling them that they have been put on lists, and it is very intimidating. There is no redress in the magistrates courts, and no supervision or overview.

Mr. Gerrard: That is right, although the police have not withdrawn. In the street market and shopping centre in my constituency, there is a local police team which takes an active interest in what goes on. There is however a growing trend to employ private security, especially in stores, and then if something goes wrong, there is no redress. If people have a problem with the police, there is a complaints procedure and-if necessary and in major cases-it can end up with the Independent Police Complaints Commission. As with wheel-clamping, for which we are considering codes of practice and increased regulation, we should consider other areas in which private security companies operate. This Bill may be an opportunity to do that.

The Bill deals with some big issues-the reforms to stop and search, the DNA database and private security. I am disappointed by some aspects, especially those to stop and search, on which we need more monitoring, not less, and the DNA database. As the Bill makes progress, I hope that we will be able to improve those aspects.

6.44 pm

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I begin, as always, by declaring an interest as a lawyer, a Crown court recorder and a part-time district judge. I wish to address an aspect of the Bill that has not yet been raised in any great detail-the clauses on domestic violence and domestic violence protection notices and orders. I wish to speak from a practical point of view and tell the House and the Minister-I have no expectation that the outside world, or even any other hon. Members, will have the slightest interest in what I say-about some problems that will need to be considered carefully in Committee.

We all agree that domestic violence is a very serious issue. The official figure for domestic violence is 14 per cent. of violent offences, but anecdotally it seems higher in the cases that have come before me. Such incidents usually involve a man being violent to a woman, although not always. They are, sadly, under-reported, but the Government have taken the issue seriously over the years. As well as introducing several important initiatives for the police, they have also set up specialist domestic violence courts. The Government recognise the importance of the issue and have tried to act on it as best they can.

I once heard it said that domestic violence is even worse than stranger-to-stranger violence, because it involves a breach of trust and therefore has a longer lasting impact. Be that as it may, we all agree that domestic violence is terrible, and everything that we can do as legislators to stop it should be done. We should punish those of either sex who are guilty of it.

However, I am not sure that the provisions in the Bill are necessary. The Government are nearly always well intentioned, but they have had a tendency to legislate a bit too much and forget about how the legislation will
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work in practice-what it will mean in extra bureaucracy for those who have to enforce it and what the results will be on the ground. I refer to clause 21 onwards and the provisions on domestic violence protection notices-the ability of the police to issue a notice to someone who has been violent or threatened violence to another in a domestic situation. Such a notice could have some nasty results for the person who received it. However, if we are dealing with violence-the Bill specifically mentions someone who "has been violent towards" another, as well as threatening violence-I contend that we have enough provision in the criminal law to deal with the perpetrator, without adding another layer of statute.

Let us say that I am cohabiting with a woman and I am violent towards her, and she calls the police. The Bill would provide that I could be issued with a domestic violence protection notice, but the police can already arrest me, take me to the police station and charge me with a criminal offence. They can charge me with common assault, which is only triable summarily in a magistrates court and carries six months in prison. They could charge me with actual bodily harm, which is triable on indictment, or-if the violence is very nasty-with grievous bodily harm or malicious wounding with intent. If I threaten to kill my partner, they can charge me with threatening to kill. They cannot charge me under the Public Order Acts because those offences apply only outside dwellings, but they have several options for dealing with me. If the police are not happy with those options, they can move on to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which I think was introduced by this Government. It would apply if I had embarked on a course of threatening or abusive conduct-the Act requires such conduct to be carried out only twice before an offence is committed. That Act also gives the courts the fullest powers to impose non-molestation or restraining orders on me.

Mr. Llwyd: I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully and I fully agree with him. I would make the further point that, with the various assaults to which he has referred, there could be a remedy whereby the person who had committed the assault could be freed on bail, albeit on conditions that state that he should not return to the property or go within so many yards of the person concerned.

Mr. Malins: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He has extensive legal experience and makes the point, which I was about to make, that the ability of the police to act in relation to charges of common assault, ABH and so on is not restricted to just charging a person. Rather, they can deal with the issue in exactly the same way that is proposed in the Bill, namely through the granting of bail or not. So if I go to the police station and I am charged, the police can make it a condition of bail that I do not attend the premises or go within 100 metres of it, and so on. Therefore, my direct question is: what exactly is not covered in the law as it stands today that the Bill seeks to cover?

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