Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I do not think that the EU is rowing back, but the adjustments being made are a reflection of the difficulties of adjustment in some of the European economies. That does not alter the fact that there is a need to reduce carbon emissions. The European Community is well aware of that. A further adjustment might well take place against a background of a new perspective in the United

24 Nov 2008 : Column 1286

States, which will give a whole new dimension to the Kyoto targets. Therefore, for Britain to be in the lead in this area is something on which I hope we can take the opposition Front Bench with us.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, has the noble Lord’s department yet come up with any answers to Mr Christopher Booker’s doubts about global warming, as expressed in his excellent column in the Sunday Telegraph? For instance, does it accept that NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies found that last month was the warmest October on record simply by repeating the September temperatures for October? Is it not time that the lemmings of global warming started to wonder whether they are rushing in the right direction?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord is far too wise to examine one month’s changes and regard that as indicative of global warming one way or the other; he will know that the scientific basis for global warming is taken over decades. In fact, the real issue with global warming is its relationship to emissions since the development of the Industrial Revolution. Therefore the odd month or so of change—even 18 months or a couple of years—is, in scientific terms, neither here nor there.

Climate Change: Research Funding

3 pm

Lord Tyler asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, Dr Andy Thorpe compiled his own research using available statistics on herd/flock numbers from the public domain. He received no funding from the Government.

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I am glad to hear that. As with humans, the answer to this problem may be improved diet. In the mean time, can the Minister confirm that only a tiny 7 per cent of greenhouse gases in the United Kingdom comes from agriculture? Would it not be better for government investment to go to research to explore ways in which energy can be harnessed from animal and vegetable waste through renewable gases, as in countries such as India and Ethiopia? Would it not be much better for the Government to look hard at the extent to which these research projects should be funded instead of, as has been the case in recent years, reducing the amount of farm-related research and development by 45 per cent?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am happy to agree with the noble Lord on his main contention that the work that should be done relates to the way in which we can change agricultural practices and production in order to reduce this problem. This may relate to

24 Nov 2008 : Column 1287

issues surrounding animals’ diet and the way in which waste is treated. The noble Lord is right that agriculture is a relatively small dimension of this overall issue. The Government are judiciously applying their resources to the areas where the issue is most significant.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I am pleased to hear that the Government are not wasting their money on this line of research. Bearing in mind that humans are being blamed for climate change, do the Government know of any research that is being done to prevent the human population from rising from the present figure of 6 billion to 9 billion by 2050?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, population growth is a factor in this situation—indeed, it has been a marked factor since the industrialisation process began. If the noble Lord is seeking to contrast the role of human agencies with that of animals in producing methane gas and other effusions that damage the atmosphere, I can only agree with him that humans bear the greater responsibility.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, the UK has 100 million tonnes of organic material from food waste, agricultural waste and sewage sludge that could be used for biomethane. The Government have just promised £10 million for study in this area. However, Germany already has more than 3,000 anaerobic digesters working. Why do we not have such facilities so that we can make great use of this fantastic potential for renewable energy?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord has a point, but he is encouraging the Government down a path that they are already treading. As he indicated, we are putting resources into research in this area. The fact that the Germans have made greater progress merely reflects the fact that this country cannot be in the lead in every area.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Davies of Oldham: Well, my Lords, it was not so long ago that I was being told in this House that the Danes were ahead in wind farm construction, but now they are not; the UK is ahead in the deployment of wind farms. The noble Lord will recognise that we have no intention of allowing the Germans to maintain their lead for an unduly long time.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, will the Minister say how the Government intend to harness these emissions, whether they come from cows or anywhere else?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the verb “harness” is a difficult one in this context. We are seeking to minimise rather than to harness.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the methane gas emissions from our cattle, sheep and goats are blamed for quite a part of climate change, but will the noble Lord promote the benefits of these animals? They give

24 Nov 2008 : Column 1288

us high-quality protein that we cannot obtain from grass and vegetation ourselves. They also save a lot, in the form of tractors ploughing fields to produce corn for people to eat as a replacement for animal proteins. Please can the balance between the two factors be promoted?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Countess for introducing the concept of balance to this discussion. Of course British livestock is important in farming and brings benefits to the nation, but if we can bring changes in diet and feedstuff for livestock in this country and if we can reduce emissions—and it is thought that scientifically we may be able to do so—we should pursue that route.

Counter-Terrorism Bill

3.07 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments and reasons be now considered.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

commons amendments and Reasons

[The page and line references are to Bill 65 as first printed for the Lords.]

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 2, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason 2A. Amendment No. 2 was considered by the other place on 19 November. The other place disagreed with the amendment on the grounds of financial privilege. As your Lordships will be aware, sections 7.175 and 7.176 of the Companion to the Standing Orders make it clear the Lords do not insist on their amendment when the Commons have disagreed on these grounds. Given that, I would ask that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 2.

Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 2, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason 2A.—(Lord West of Spithead.)

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I find this curiouser and curiouser. The amendment which we put forward when the House last considered this matter proposed that the discussion on the DNA database should be put on a statutory basis. We asked the Minister and Parliament to consider how people would be able to get their names off the database and understand how and why they got on to it in the first place. The Commons have now raised this as a privilege matter.

I do not know what fight the Minister put up to deter that, but my understanding of privilege amendments is that they arise when a provision would lead to a major increase in cost. The DNA database cost this country £2.5 million in 2008. We have simply proposed that anyone who thinks they may be on the database should be able to write to the person holding the

24 Nov 2008 : Column 1289

database to ask why their name is on it and to require a response. If their name came off the database it would reduce the cost of the database. I cannot see that it would cost the country much more to answer those questions than the amount currently being spent. It would also minimise the problem of holding people’s information on a database.

The problem here, which the legislation increases, is the holding of people’s DNA information. As we discussed last time, why should the Government hold virtually in perpetuity the details of what makes up innocent people who are guilty of no crime and who have been found not to be guilty of any crime? How this amendment could meet the general tenor required of a privilege amendment simply defeats me. I very much hope that the Minister will go further in his reply to this debate than he did when he rejected our amendment and tell us what the major problem is. People should not be on this database. It seems completely fatuous to say that the problem with the amendment is cost. Finding out why the information is being held will cost about the same as a first-class stamp and require just a brief examination. That is a very poor reason for the Commons not to accept this amendment.

In reconstructing the amendment we have tried to meet one of the problems raised when we previously considered the proposal—that it should be possible to maintain information for security purposes and there should be no obligation to reply to questions relating to it. Our amendment now appropriately addresses that problem and leaves the matter in the Government’s hands.

We are seeking to ensure that there is a proper debate as soon as possible on the current state and future direction of the DNA database. That is what our amendment amounts to. We want consistent and transparent guidelines to be established to govern the retention of DNA; increased public awareness; and an opportunity for the recommendations of various governmental and non-governmental bodies to be considered and implemented. The Minister has echoed those aims. He has never said that there should not be such a debate. In fact, although he put down his marker by saying he does not think there should be statutory guidelines, I think he has said that he would welcome such a debate. He certainly agreed in Committee that there was a need for a wider debate given the number of organisations campaigning for one.

It is extremely difficult to believe that anyone thinks there should not be a proper discussion. I very much doubt that anyone in this country who has had contact with the police and had their DNA taken would understand why they were on a database. A number of people have written to me since the previous debate to say, as I have said before, that they had no idea that their DNA would not be destroyed after its retention and their incorporation in the database were found unnecessary.

The Human Genetics Commission, a body explicitly set up to advise the Government on matters such as this, said that it feels,

24 Nov 2008 : Column 1290

Those views are echoed by other non-government organisations. Many bodies have already established the many areas that need to be covered by such a debate. Questions about whose DNA should be taken, how long it should be kept for, how it should be used and who it should be shared with, all need to be properly answered.

3.15 pm

The database has increased incrementally and the Government give all sorts of reasons, including counter-terrorism reasons, why the liberty of individuals should be compromised. However, they seem at variance even with themselves about the answer to the questions we have posed. As I highlighted in Committee, the National DNA Database Ethics Group, the Government’s own body set up to oversee the database, has in all its recommendations drawn attention to the fact that what is happening is not what anybody would have expected. It considers that the current guidelines on retention are not proportionate and do not mesh with data protection and human rights legislation.

There is similarly agreement between all the advisory bodies, and other bodies, that there must be more transparency and public awareness of the situation. The police DNA database is currently subject to data protection rules, as the Information Commissioner’s website makes clear. Individuals can ask to see the information about them held on computer and in some paper records. If an individual wants to exercise their subject access right they should write to the person or organisation which they believe is processing the data, not to the Information Commissioner.

As the Minister said in Committee, the guidelines are on the ACPO website. However, the information is clearly not reaching people. The guidelines are buried in appendix 2 of a document that is almost impossible to find unless you know exactly where to look. There are frequent examples of people attempting to remove their information from the database and being appalled to discover the exceptional circumstances that they must prove before that is possible. In Committee I cited the only example given on the ACPO website outlining how someone could get off the database: if they were suspected of murder but it was eventually found that no crime had been committed. As things stand, that is the only way in which one can be removed.

All these concerns are neatly summed up in a recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee. In its fifth report this year, it said:

“In order to facilitate a full debate and an appropriate level of Parliamentary scrutiny we recommend that ... the Government introduce primary legislation”—

I underline primary—

I note legislation—

It went on:

“The Government should reconsider the ways in which National DNA database information is collected, handled, stored and transferred. In particular we recommend that in order to minimise the data held, the Home Office and the police should review the identifiers used for samples and the policy of retaining samples”.

24 Nov 2008 : Column 1291

Statutory guidelines, which are what the amendment asks for, would ensure that the Government’s policy on DNA receives the attention it deserves and also ensure consistency. The current situation means that there is a postcode lottery in whether innocent people can have their information removed from the database or even obtain information about whether their information is on it. Given the ongoing debates on whether the database is already too large, that is unacceptable. The legislation increases the possibility of that happening.

The Minister did not quite make clear the effect of the Commons’ response. They have decided that our amendment constitutes potentially significant spending commitments, but I find it hard to understand where all this money will be spent. I hope that the Minister will take this last opportunity to clarify the Government’s intentions in this area. Will they implement any of their advisory bodies’ recommendations, and when can we expect the next review of the guidelines? A wealth of information and opinion is available from governmental and non-governmental bodies, and the same conclusion has been reached: there need to be proper debate and proper statutory guidelines relating to the information held on innocent citizens of this country. We need to open up that debate again. We opened it during the passage of this legislation because of the expectation that there will be an increase in the amount of such information. I hope very much that the Minister will be able to give us a more satisfactory reply than appears to have come from the other place.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, I had not intended to speak to this Motion but I confess that I am amazed at the reason given by the other place for opposing our amendment. First, can the noble Lord give us an idea of the cost of implementing the amendment? I find it hard to conceive of almost any amendment passed by this House to criminal legislation or matters of that kind that does not involve some form of trivial expense.

Secondly, have the Government really given thought to where this course will take them? In the Constitution Committee, we have learnt that citizens of this country are 15 times more likely to be on the national DNA database than are citizens in America. In this country, more than 7 per cent of the population is on it, compared with 0.5 per cent of the population in America.

If we are really to be told that the Government should not be required to spend a pittance in considering whether people should be taken off the database, the simple and only answer—I suspect that it is also the best answer—is that anyone who has not been committed of a criminal offence should be automatically removed. That would save money and then the other place would have to give thought to the effect of its point, rather than take this rather remarkable monetary line.

Baroness Manningham-Buller: My Lords, on a point of detail, if the criterion were whether someone had been convicted of an offence, that would mean that it would not be possible to use DNA for intelligence purposes.

24 Nov 2008 : Column 1292

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I have every sympathy for noble Lords who wish to see the Motion challenged but, with the greatest respect, I do not think that they come within a mile of meeting the point. As I understand it, the point is contained in the Parliament Act 1911 and relates to the House of Commons certifying something as a matter of privilege, which it becomes if it involves actual expenditure or possible expenditure. Therefore, the issue is not whether the House of Commons is correct in that matter but whether the Speaker of the House of Commons has certified to that effect. If that has happened, it seems to me that, for all its merits, eloquence and, indeed, sincerity, this discussion is irrelevant.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, perhaps I may make it plain that I accept what the noble Lord says. I am not suggesting that this House should fly in the face of the House of Commons reason; I merely seek to point out that I think that we are faced with a remarkable attitude.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I respect that.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, we certainly agreed with the amendment when we debated it previously but, from what noble Lords are saying, there does not seem to be much room for manoeuvre for this House, given the objections that the other place has registered. It seems to create a dangerous precedent. The Government have not chosen to advance any arguments against the amendment; they have simply used this financial privilege mechanism, even though the amount of money that is being talked about is very small. If this House rolls over and accepts the situation, we could be laying ourselves open to dozens of amendments coming back with this reason. I do not feel that that would treat your Lordships’ House with sufficient regard. I hope that the Minister will explain exactly what the costs will be, why they are so high and why this is such a consideration when all the arguments advanced by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, are important ones, which the Government should answer.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, undoubtedly the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, is correct: if the Speaker attaches a privilege statement to a Bill, there is nothing that this House can do about it. However, this House is entitled to express its concern that an amendment that it passed has not had the consideration that it should have had in the elected House.

It seems strange that this unelected House should be more concerned about individual freedom and the information that is held on the private subject than the elected House of Commons is. I would expect the House of Commons to express great concern, as the Select Committee has. I would expect that it would want to ensure that information held by the police and the security services is essential and that information should not be held in respect of people who are completely innocent of any crime. That is what concerns me about the attitude of the Commons.

24 Nov 2008 : Column 1293

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page