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DNA Database

Volume 502: debated on Monday 14 December 2009

I thank the Minister for that answer. Across the Thames Valley police area, DNA data for 10,500 under-18s, a good number of whom are children from my constituency, are held. I accept that it is useful to have a DNA database, but we need to be careful that we do not stigmatise children. What steps is he taking to remove the records of innocent children from the DNA database?

We are bringing forward proposals in the Crime and Security Bill to address the concerns of the European Court of Human Rights. We are introducing measures regarding children that we believe are more proportionate and that will meet the Court’s requirements, but it is important to recognise that the presence of the DNA of people who have been arrested but not convicted forms an important part of the DNA database, which helps to detect up to 40,000 crimes a year.

Last month, a black rock band from Brixton who were playing at The Oak public house in Burntwood, Staffordshire, were wrongfully arrested after their gig—vehicles, dogs and a helicopter were used—because of a false alarm with good intent. The chief constable of Staffordshire rightly withdrew their DNA samples because no offence had been committed. Is the Minister happy with the Association of Chief Police Officers’ guidelines, and is he confident that other police officers in other circumstances would be able to respond as rapidly and rightly as the chief constable did in that case?

We are looking at the guidance that is currently available, but as part of the Crime and Security Bill we are also bringing forward measures to make sure that the deletion of people from the database is put on a statutory footing for the first time, which will be an important step forward.

The proposals the Minister talks about are clearly designed to be the minimum change possible to avoid being declared in breach of the European Court of Human Rights again. Instead, the Minister could adopt the Scottish system, which allows records for the innocent to be kept normally for only three years. Will he admit not only that his proposals will continue to alienate respectable people from the police, but that crucially the Scottish system has a 16 per cent. higher success rate than his system in matching profiles from crime scenes to names on the database? It is not only fairer, but actually more effective in combating crime.

The Scottish model was not based on any research because none was available at the time. The hon. Gentleman talked about deletion after three years and used the word “normally”. In fact, it can be three years plus two years, plus two years ad infinitum. Thus, by comparison, that system could for some people be more draconian than our proposals. It is also based on keeping samples rather than profiles, which is one of the most significant criticisms that the European Court made.

Although undoubtedly there are arguments for what the Minister says, and the Home Affairs Committee recognises that, people have been arrested when there was no evidence against them and they feel there is a stain on their character. That should very much be borne in mind in this controversy.

That is why we are bringing forward statutory provisions in the Crime and Security Bill to make sure that when deletions are appropriate, they are made easier.