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The Countess of Mar: In view of the lateness of the hour, and in view of the agreement that the Government Front Bench has with the House that we close at 10 o'clock except on special occasions, I beg to move that the House do now resume.
Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I sense that this will be a very brief intervention, but I believe it is important to put to the Government and to the Minister our concern that Clause 8 is in the Bill. It would enable samples to be taken from the 1.2 million people a year who are arrested for possible recordable offences but who are not all charged, and it would allow those individuals and their DNA to be added to the national database.
I recognise the force of the Minister's comments about other cases. However, if we are to go down this road to establish a national database, then I really do not believe that we should do it through the addition of this clause to the Bill. Instead, I believe that we should have a full and proper debate and discuss the safeguards that are vitally necessary. That is why I do not believe that Clause 8 should stand part of the Bill.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Due to the lateness of the hour, I can take the matter equally briefly and say that I pray in aid all the comments that I made in relation to the previous amendment. It is important that the police are able to retain all the information assembled during the investigation of an offencenot least to enable them to investigate a possible miscarriage of justice in the future. The police are already able to obtain other information gathered as part of the investigation, such as witness statements, photographs and samples. We argue that fingerprints are no different.
However, I accept that we shall debate these issues again, and I anticipate from the mood of the Committee and from the comments made in relation to the other matters by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that we shall have an opportunity to do so at length. Therefore, at this stage, I do not seek to say anything more.
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: Does the Minister agree that there is a difference between the right, in the course of an investigation, to take fingerprints and other samples as against the right to retain them after a person has not been charged or has been acquitted? It seems to me that those are two different issues.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: They are two different stages. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, that, when considering the ability to identify the perpetrators of crime generally, it is important to have all material available to us so that we can exclude those who are innocent of any offence and, indeed, identify those who may have perpetrated the offence. The new technological improvements give us that ability in a way that we have never had it before. I simply say for the consideration of the Committee at this stage: is it right that we should wilfully disable ourselves from taking advantage of that information when it is available? That is an issue that we shall have to debate.
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: That is an argument for everyone in the country to be fingerprintedand that I can understand. I am worried about those whose fingerprints are taken in the course of examination and who are not proceeded against or are acquitted. Their fingerprints are retained but we do not have general fingerprinting for all people. Surely, there is an issue here.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I accept that that is an issue. I say that it is an issue about balance and proportionality. That is a debate that we should have because the Committee will know that the Government's view, particularly in relation to the most serious offences, is that the risk to the public is so great that it is worth balancing it in their favour as opposed to destroying information which may subsequently have proved to be vital and could have assisted in the identification of crime. It is a real issue and I do not seek to pretend otherwise. It is a question of where we draw that dividing line.
I can reassure the Committee that no improper use will be made of the information contained. The previous debate touched on what we do in relation to international agencies and the protection of the proper conduct of such matters. We have always been jealous of the sanctity of our information and that will continue. However, there will be an opportunity for us to debate these important issues in greater depth. I agree with the noble Lord and others who say that these issues are deserving of proper debate. We should do that when we examine them more fully during the course of the Bill.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Perhaps I may outline our position on this. We have consistently opposed government proposals to remove the obligations to destroy samples after proceedings against a suspect are stopped. We did so in respect of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill in 2001 and we will do so in respect of this Bill. As regards the building up of a national database, if that is the proposal, it should be fully and openly debated. It should not be added, as happened here, as an after-thought on Report in the Commons, nor debated with only two or three speeches as part of a Bill such as this. The issue of whether we should trade the value of the tool of DNA or the value of the tool or fingerprints in the fight against crime, against our civil liberties is very big. Our civil liberties are very much at stake and we will return to the issue at other stages of the Bill.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We understand the position of those who sit on the Liberal Democrat Benches. Obviously, having listened to later discussions, it will be for noble Lords to say whether that position remains. With the greatest degree of gentleness, I would say to the noble Lord that we are not trading the issue of the value of the tool of DNA against our civil liberties. Our civil liberties are in danger when we are subjected to severe causes of violence. Our civil liberties are in danger when we are not able to protect those for whom we really care.
It is a balancing exercise and I absolutely understand what the noble Lord says in relation to us doing all we can to preserve that balance. But balance it is and I wish that we could say it could go one way without the other, but it cannot. The noble Lord is right to say that we must find out where the line is drawn.
As to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, appropriate consent is defined in terms in Section 65 of PACE and varies between adults and juveniles. These are interesting and detailed issues but we shall have to deal with them another time. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord that this is not a secret method of building up a national database which will in the end include everyone. It is an opportunity to retain information which may greatly assist us in the detection of crime.
Noble Lords are fully aware of the real issues in our country of confidence in our being able to detain and restrain those who seek to behave inappropriately and improperly. That is something we shall have to face. We shall have to find an appropriate answer to those who say that we have got the balance wrong so far.
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