Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1060-1076)|
Mr Vernon Coaker, Mr Tim Hayward and Mr Stephen Webb
19 NOVEMBER 2008
Q1060 Lord Peston: Just to clarify,
I think what you are talking about in economic terms would be
the marginal productivity of being on the DNA database and therefore
it would not be 100 per cent because no system works that way.
It would be a contributory factor.
Mr Webb: Yes, and I believe these are
cleared-up crimes, but we will write back to confirm.
Q1061 Lord Morris of Aberavon: Minister,
since DNA has been so valuable (and I support that) in clearing
up some very important high profile crimes, would it not be logicalyou
might get an even bigger dividendif everyone were on the
national register, as supported by eminent judges like Lord Justice
Sedley and others? Secondly, what is the justification, if you
do not go down that road, for innocent people being kept on the
Mr Coaker: The judgment that you make
is about where you think the line about what is necessary and
proportionate should be drawn. The Government's view at the present
time is that a national DNA database, notwithstanding some of
the benefits that might accrue, is not a proportionate response
and is not something that would necessarily command the support
of the population. We do, however, believe that where somebody
has been convicted there is no debate about that: their DNA should
and would need to be retained in that circumstance. Alongside
that the other threshold we have is the issue with respect to
somebody who has been arrested and has been through the PACE procedures
and the fact that they have been detained in a police station.
Obviously their DNA will be retained in those circumstances but
it is important to remember that retaining somebody's DNA in those
circumstances is not saying that somebody is guilty or innocent
of anything. It is just a matter of retaining their DNA because
you have regarded that as meeting a reasonable threshold for DNA
to be retained.
Q1062 Lord Morris of Aberavon: Just
because he has been in a police station?
Mr Coaker: Because he has been arrested
for an offence which a police officer has to have reasonable suspicion
of, because that offence has to be a recordable offence and, of
course, because he has been taken to a police station where the
custody sergeant believes that he should be detained while further
investigations are made. That is the threshold that is met. It
is not just a case of everybody having to be on it. There has
to be that threshold test met.
Q1063 Lord Morris of Aberavon: Not
Mr Coaker: No.
Q1064 Viscount Bledisloe: I can see
the practical force of this but what you are saying amounts really
to saying they would not have been arrested and locked up if it
had not been that they had probably done it.
Mr Coaker: No. All I am trying to say
is that police officers can only arrest somebody if they act in
accordance with the PACE code, and the PACE code requires a police
officer to have at least a reasonable suspicion that the person
they have arrested has committed an offence. That offence has
to be of the standard of a recordable offence. They then have
to be taken to the police station and at the police station the
custody sergeant or whoever is responsible then has to take the
decision that that person should be detained.
Q1065 Viscount Bledisloe: I follow
all that, but what you are saying, after it has been decided that
they shall not be prosecuted or their acquittal, is, "Surely
it is sensible to keep this data because they probably did it,
or at least if they did not do it they probably did something
Mr Coaker: It is a proportionate response
to the question, is it possible that some of the people who come
into contact with the police in the way that I have said may be
people who it would be beneficial in terms of the public good
for their DNA to be retained.
Q1066 Viscount Bledisloe: That is
the same thing as I said but rather more mealy-mouthed.
Mr Coaker: Was it? I was not trying to
be mealy-mouthed. I was trying to explain. In the end you make
a judgment. There will be those, and there may be people in this
Committee, who think that there should be a national DNA database.
We do not believe that but we think there are certain thresholds
that should be met and the debate and discussion that take place
on the threshold we have set is where somebody is arrested and
then detained at a police station. The debate will no doubt continue
Q1067 Lord Lyell of Markyate: Moving
on, the Government published something called the National
Identify Scheme Delivery Plan 2008 in which you say that "[t]here
will be the strongest possible oversight of the Scheme",
and that this is to be provided by a National Identity Scheme
Commissioner under the 2006 Identity Cards Act. What does this
really mean? How does a commissioner in millions of cases give
the strongest possible oversight? Who is going to do it and how
is it going to work?
Mr Coaker: We will have a National Identity
Scheme Commissioner. We hope and expect that person to be in post,
as I understand it, by the middle of next year. By the summer
of 2009 there will be a commissioner appointed with sole responsibility
to oversee the way the National Identity Register database works.
The scheme commissioner will have oversight of the entire scheme,
will have to report to Parliament at least once a year. If the
commissioner uncovers an issue with the way the scheme is functioning
or the National Identity Register works he can raise that with
the Home Secretary, he can report, for example, inappropriate
use or storage of information to the Information Commissioner,
and the work between the identity scheme commissioner and the
Information Commissioner I think will be essential. They can make
a report to Parliament outside of the annual report, and, of course,
if they uncoverand we hope that they would act proactively
with respect to thiscriminal cases they can report those
to the police under various sections of the Identity Card Act.
All government departments will have a statutory duty to provide
whatever the commissioner and his or her staff need in order to
carry out their function, so I think this will be a commissioner
who will be quite a significant figure in ensuring that the register
works in the way it is supposed to.
Q1068 Lord Lyell of Markyate: How
many million people are going to be on this scheme over the next
five years and how is this man or woman going to carry out this
immense task? Are they going to wait for some mistake to happen
and then look into it? What are they going to do?
Mr Coaker: No. As you know, the identity
card scheme will roll out incrementally. It started with foreign
nationals and will be moving to airside workers next year and
then to students, so there has been an incremental roll-out of
the identity card scheme, but, of course, the importance of the
work of the commissioner will be not to wait for something to
happen. I take your point absolutely. It is for them to be proactive
in the work that they do. I cannot put an accurate figure on how
many people we expect to be on the register within five years.
That would be pure speculation. I do not know what the answer
to that will be, but certainly we would expect the commissioner
to be proactive, tough and resourceful in the way that they take
this work forward.
Q1069 Baroness Quin: I want to raise
the issue of CCTV where again the UK seems to be in strong contrast
to many other countries in terms of the scale of cameras that
we have. Obviously, the Committee recognises that often these
schemes can be popular and also that the cameras themselves are
not owned by one authority; there is a mixture of public and private
cameras. Nonetheless, what is the Government's current thinking
about CCTV? In particular, given that the National CCTV Strategy
of October 2007 recommended a national body responsible for the
governance use of CCTV, what has been the follow-up to that recommendation?
Mr Coaker: Can I say to Baroness Quin,
my Lord Chairman, that the Government agrees with the recommendation
in the National CCTV Strategy, that there should be a national
body for the governance and use of CCTV in this country, and we
will be looking to establish one. I cannot give a timeframe for
that but when I say I cannot give a timeframe I am not saying
it will be in five years' time. I am saying there will be a national
body that we will establish to oversee CCTV. I think CCTV is very
popular, and I take Lord Smith's point about polling evidence
for that, but if I look at my own constituency where people come
to see me the demand is not for less CCTV; it is always for more.
Also, and I am sure this is true for members of the Committee
in their own communities, people see it as a very effective safety
measure. I have seen all the various debates that there are about
it. All I can say is that everywhere I go and for nearly everybody
that I speak to CCTV has been something which promotes public
safety, helps tackle crime and is fantastically reassuring. Having
said that, there are issues that arise from it and certainly I
think a national body overseeing all of the work and the roll-out
of the strategy and some of the issues will be extremely helpful.
I think you asked about the statutory regulation. Our view is
that we want to see how the national body works and how effectively
it puts in place some of the various things that are supposed
to be happening already with respect to data protection and registration.
It is not something that we would necessarily dismiss but in the
first instance we want to establish the national body and see
how that works with respect to voluntary regulation, keeping in
our back pocket the need, if necessary, to do more.
Q1070 Baroness Quin: I think you
said that you envisaged the national body overseeing new schemes.
Would the national body also have a role, or do you think it should
have a role, in terms of reviewing the utility of existing schemes?
Mr Coaker: Yes.
Q1071 Lord Peston: There are two
ways of interpreting the surveillance problem. One is to say that
we live in exceptional times and must accept a sacrifice of civil
liberties but all that will end in due course. The other is that
terrorist and serious crimes are permanent and thus the sacrifice
of civil liberties must be expected. Which of those views is the
correct one or is the question completely unanswerable?
Mr Coaker: I think different times require
the appropriate response to that particular time. It is difficult
always to say that in 50 years' time this will be the circumstance
and therefore it will be completely different from nowworse,
better or whatever. Times change, technology changes. There are
difficulties, there are threats to us, as we know only too well,
which we have seen on our streets, and that requires us to take
action against them. An important point is to say this: society
should respond in the appropriate way to the threat that it faces
at that particular time, always having regard to the need to balance
national security with human rights, and the judgment of where
that line should be drawn will vary from one age to the next.
Q1072 Lord Peston: So if one tried
to draw an analogy with the war when we had our identity cards,
limits on travel and all that but then we won the war and we got
rid of it fairly rapidly, that would be a wrong analogy to the
Mr Coaker: In a time of outright war
there is a more dramatic change perhaps between being at war and
being at peace. What we are trying to ensure at the present time
is that at a time of peace, at a time of prosperity in a democracy
those who threaten us, and those threats have changed over time
and may change in the future, we take action against in a way
which is proportionate but does not threaten our own democratic
traditions and institutions in a way which people would regard
as unacceptable. As always, that is a balance and the debate takes
place as to where you draw the line.
Q1073 Lord Morris of Aberavon: Minister,
I am grateful for the help you have given to us in your answers.
May I oversimplify it? This is a constitutional committee and
although we have dwelt on the merits we are not really concerned
with the merits; we are concerned with constitutional propriety.
Are you content that it is not a misuse of powers for a terrorist
act to be used as a tool to catch fraudulent roof tilers? Would
it not be better perhaps, if there is a lacuna in the machinery
to catch roof tilers, and I suspect there is not in my knowledge
and experience, for what it is worth, to have primary legislation,
The Catching of Fraudulent Roof Tilers Act?
Mr Coaker: I think the first thing to
say is that although RIPA obviously can be used with respect to
very serious mattersterrorism and so onwe do not
see RIPA as primarily a terrorist piece of legislation. RIPA is
a piece of legislation which brings together all of the various
techniques with respect to surveillance, with respect to human
intelligence, with respect to the collection of communications
data, that are appropriate in a whole range of circumstances.
I think it is important for us to say loudly and clearly that
although aspects of it may be used to tackle terrorists it is
not a terrorist piece of legislation.
Q1074 Viscount Bledisloe: Mr Webb
suggested in relation to my questions about DNA that one of the
reasons why our database is larger than anybody else's is that
we started earlier than anybody else. Could you write to us setting
out the way in which that works?
Mr Webb: I am told the US's is now bigger
than ours in numbers.
Mr Coaker: We can again write to the
Committee if that is helpful.
Q1075 Viscount Bledisloe: Yes. If
the answer is that America's will be the same proportionate size
as ours when they catch up that would be very useful to know.
Mr Coaker: My Lord, we will write to
you again if that is helpful to you and the rest of the Committee.
Q1076 Chairman: Thank you, Minister.
The final question is perhaps you could give the Committee an
indication of when to expect a response to the Thomas report on
data sharing which was, I understand, expected earlier this month.
Mr Coaker: I thought that was soon. My
Lord Chairman, can I apologise? I do not want to finish on a sour
note. I will have to write to you on that one as well. I thought
it was by the end of this year but I may be misleading you by
saying that. I shall write to you.
Chairman: Minister, may I, on behalf of the
Committee, thank you and Mr Webb and Mr Hayward very much indeed
for your attendance and for the evidence which you have given,
which we shall deliberate on with immense interest.