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National DNA Database

Volume 530: debated on Monday 27 June 2011

12. What assessment she has made of the potential effects of her plans for the national DNA database on the number of DNA matches. (61839)

The Government’s approach is based on putting on the national DNA database more people who are guilty of crimes, rather than those who are innocent. Simply increasing the size of the DNA database does not necessarily result in more detections. We have been informed in the consideration of our plans by past statistics highlighting falls in DNA detections despite the huge increase in the number of profiles retained.

That is interesting. What is the Minister’s response to the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on those matters, Chief Constable Sims, who says that there will be 1,000 fewer cases solved because of the decisions that the Minister is going to take?

The hon. Gentleman may also know that Chief Constable Sims acknowledged that such estimates were

“notoriously difficult to put figures on”.––[Official Report, Protection of Freedoms Public Bill Committee, 22 March 2011; c. 8, Q1.]

The Protection of Freedoms Bill Committee also heard evidence from GeneWatch which pointed in a very different direction. I again point the hon. Gentleman to past circumstances and to statistics highlighting that, despite the huge increase in the number of people that his—the previous—Government put on the DNA database, DNA detections have fallen.

Last Friday a man with no previous convictions, Mr Ronald Toms, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the attempted rape of an 84-year-old woman. He was caught because he had been previously arrested but not charged with an offence, and his DNA had been taken. Will the Minister confirm that under his proposals Mr Toms would be free to rape again?

I say to the right hon. Gentleman, with all respect, that he will well know that the use of individual cases cannot be undertaken lightly, given that they rely on all sorts of other issues such as consent and on other identification evidence. We have taken a very measured approach by making sure that those who are guilty are retained on the DNA database, and that there are matches to ensure that the cold-case database is used effectively. That way more crimes are detected.

For the second time in five days, the Home Secretary has declined to answer questions on DNA, even though she knows that it is a growing concern, and that I and the Leader of the Opposition raised it last week. There are about 5,000 rape cases each year where the police think that they have enough information to pass a case on to the Crown Prosecution Service but the CPS decides that it cannot charge. In those cases, the Government’s plans mean that DNA will not be held even though rape has a notoriously low charge rate and we know that some people go on to offend again.

On Thursday the Minister with responsibility for women, the Minister for Equalities, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), suggested that the police would be able to apply to retain DNA in cases where they thought that the public were at risk. That is very different from what the Home Secretary told me on Second Reading of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, when she did not include cases where the public were thought to be at risk.

So, will the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) now explain how the police and the DNA commissioner are supposed to assess who poses a risk; and in how many of those 5,000 cases does the hon. Gentleman expect the police to apply and for DNA to be held?

The right hon. Lady is wrong on a number of counts, because the Home Secretary was absolutely clear on Second Reading about the approach that would be taken. The Government have said that, when an individual is arrested for a sexual offence such as rape but not subsequently charged, the police will be able to apply to the new biometrics commissioner for the DNA profile’s retention. If the commissioner agrees, the profile will be retained for three years. The right hon. Lady seems to ignore the facts and the way in which the issue has been presented, but there is the clarity on what is to happen.

The Minister has not answered the question. He may want to look back at the words that the Home Secretary used on Second Reading, which were rather different. Does he really think it is practical for the police separately to assess, fill in forms and apply to hold DNA on 5,000 new rape cases each year, as well as countless other serious crimes? Ministers have just spent 20 minutes telling the House that they want to cut police bureaucracy; now they are increasing it. The West Midlands police chief said to the Bill Committee:

“We have always argued that it is impossible to create a regime of individual intervention for a database of 6 million. We have to make decisions based on automation.”––[Official Report, Protection of Freedoms Public Bill Committee, 22 March 2011; c. 9, Q4.]

The Home Secretary is making it impossible for the police—

The right hon. Lady needs to look at the statistics, as I have already highlighted. If she looks at the data from 2001-02, when there were 39,000 detections against a database of fewer than 1.4 million, all from convicted people, and compares that with the data from the last year, when over 5 million individuals, including hundreds of thousands of innocent people, were on the database, she will see that the number of detections had fallen to 32,500. Labour Members appear to be very casual with people’s liberties, although they claim they are not. They seem to assume that simply because someone is arrested for a crime, they are guilty. We take a different view. Labour Members are not prepared to look at the facts and the evidence.