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Forensic Science Regulator Bill

Volume 690: debated on Friday 12 March 2021

Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Third Reading

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for granting time to debate private Members’ Bills today. Following a full debate on Second Reading and a useful and substantive debate in Committee, the Bill is now in a very fine form to hopefully conclude its passage through this House before going to the other place.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) for bringing the Bill forward and for his constructive attitude, which has meant that this piece of legislation has had a smooth passage through the House over the last few months; I am grateful to him. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green), who was his John the Baptist, if you like, in introducing the Bill previously, unfortunately falling foul of the timetable.

This is an important Bill that will put forensics across the UK on a much better footing and increase standards across the board for forensic evidence that is offered in court—something that has been in all our minds, sadly, over the last 24 hours. I am grateful to the Home Office team, who have worked so hard, along with the team of the hon. Member for Bristol North West, to get the Bill in good shape.

In particular, I am grateful for the gimlet eye of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), which was passed over the Bill extensively on Second Reading. He quite rightly challenged me on the difference between the cost of the Bill introduced in the previous Session, which was £100,000, and of the Bill before us, which was estimated to be £400,000. He will be pleased to know that his challenge to me resulted in some more robust analysis, which has reduced the annual cost to £220,000. I hope he believes that he has paid for himself, at least over the last 12 months and into the future. On that note, I commend the Bill to the House.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on progressing his Bill to Third Reading, and I thank the Minister for his support on behalf of the Government for the Bill’s passage.

The Bill puts the regulator on a statutory footing, to ensure that the standards set by the regulator are met, and if they are not met, the Bill allows for enforcement action to follow. These measures are long overdue and should enhance the integrity of our criminal justice. The Bill is exactly in line with the Government’s forensic science strategy of 2016, which recommended giving the regulator these powers, and the Opposition very much support that. I want to end by putting on record my thanks to Dr Gillian Tully, whose term as the Forensic Science Regulator came to an end recently, for her years of service in the post, her wise counsel and leaving the role in good shape for her successor. We very much support the Bill.

I support the Bill as well. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for reminding me of the scrutiny that I gave the Bill on Second Reading, and I am delighted that it empowered him to analyse the cost on a fresh basis. As somebody who has practised in our criminal justice system as a barrister for many years, I do not think there is anything more important in our system than that we should be able to have absolute trust in the integrity and quality of the forensic science service and that the evidence it provides, which is so often crucial in court, should be beyond reproach. To that end, I am sure that the Bill, which was discussed and significantly amended in Committee, is all for the good.

This is another example of why it was common sense for the Leader of the House to enable the Bills that have been considered in Committee to come back for consideration on Report in this special Friday sitting. That is good. I am sure that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as the Chairman of Ways and Means, were much involved in facilitating this; if I am wrong, you will not need to say that, because I am sure that even if you did not do it directly, your influence has been there all along, trying to encourage our ability to constructively bring forward legislation that has already been discussed and steer it to fruition. I understand that their lordships will consider the Bills that have passed in this House today and, as a result, they will hopefully get on to the statute book. That would not have been possible but for the House authorities facilitating what we have done today.

While my name is on this Bill, I should take this opportunity to thank the many people involved in bringing it to this stage: to the right hon. and hon. Members for taking part in the debate, both in this House and in Committee; to the Minister, the shadow Minister and their respective teams for their support; to Finn McMahon in my parliamentary office for his help in guiding the passage of this Bill; to the Whips on both the Government and Opposition Benches, as well as the Clerks of this House, for their wise counsel; to the work of many Select Committees both in this House and in the other place over many years; and lastly, as has already been mentioned by the shadow Minister, to Dr Gillian Tully, the outgoing forensics regulator, who has consistently lobbied for this change over many years.

As has been said, the standards that will be put in force for forensic services in this country will do justice to the victims of crime and will add confidence in the criminal justice system. Now more than ever, with all this on our minds, I look forward to the Bill taking a smooth passage through the House of Lords and becoming law in due course.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.