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DNA 2 Home Office questions came around yesterday.  

The most interesting questions were about the holding of DNA samples. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith outlined the Government's position:

"The national DNA database plays a key role in catching criminals, including many years after they might think that they have got away with their crime, eliminating the innocent from investigations, and focusing the direction of inquiries. In 2007-08, 17,614 crimes were detected in which a DNA match was available. Those included 83 homicides and 184 rapes. In addition, there were a further 15,420 detections resulting from the original case involving the DNA match. Those occur when, for example, a suspect, on being presented with DNA evidence linking him to one offence, confesses to further offences.

The specific ruling [by the European Court of Human Rights] was on a blanket policy of retention of the fingerprints and DNA of those who had been arrested but not convicted, or against whom no further action was being taken. The Court also indicated that it agreed with the Government that the retention of fingerprint and DNA data

    “pursues the legitimate purpose of the detection, and therefore, prevention of crime”.

We are, however, looking at the key point in the judgment, and drawing up proposals that will remove the blanket retention policy. We will bring forward those proposals for consultation soon.

I announced in December our intention to remove all those aged under 10 from the database. That has now been carried out. When we bring forward proposals to change the blanket approach to retention, we will give particular consideration to those aged under 18, and to how the protection of the public can be balanced with fairness to the individual."

Wells MP David Heathcoat-Amory posed a question on civil liberties:

"What does the Secretary of State say to Mr. Daniel Baker, a constituent of mine who was a victim of mistaken identity? He was never charged with any crime and is entirely innocent, but the police are retaining his DNA against his wishes. When will the Secretary of State start recognising the liberties of the individual, and stop regarding everyone in the country as a suspect?

Jacqui Smith: I think that the case study that I cited a minute ago identified some of the important benefits of DNA retention. There are real-life cases in which people have been made safer by the retention of DNA post-arrest. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman’s constituent can apply to the police force, in exceptional circumstances. That is why— [Interruption.] That is why I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will look closely at our proposals for a more proportionate way of dealing with the retention policy."

The Home Secretary had described a case where a man arrrested for violent disorder was released without charge. However, a DNA sample was taken. Several months later a rape occured. Skin taken from below the victim's fingernails was matched to this man's sample, and he is now in prison.

Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling went with the same issue:

"This is a very straightforward and simple issue. It is, right now, illegal to store the DNA of innocent people over long periods on the DNA database, but as of today, the Government are still doing that. Why?

Jacqui Smith: I have made it very clear to the hon. Gentleman that we have looked in detail at the judgment in the case of S and Marper and we will bring forward proposals very soon—and when we do so, I hope that Opposition Members will engage with them with slightly more sophistication than they have done today.

Chris Grayling: But this is illegal now, today. Furthermore, it is a principle in our society that people are innocent until proven guilty. This Government have a habit of throwing away many principles in this society, but that is one that should be sacrosanct. In the case of the DNA database, however, they appear happy to abandon the principle. They are also happy to store the data of babies and children. Their actions are clearly morally and legally wrong. Why will they not just stop keeping this data illegally, right now, today? Why will they not stop now?

Jacqui Smith: As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a period of time during which, quite rightly and reasonably—not least given that the Government’s approach to the retention of data was upheld in the UK courts—there is consideration and proposals are brought forward. That is what the Government are doing, and he obviously was not listening when I said that no DNA of children under the age of 10 is kept on DNA databases now."

The Government has proven itself utterly inept at holding people's personal details, but I don't have any other objections to them holding DNA samples for individuals. Indeed it would seem to have lots of advantages. I suppose one other worry is that most of us are not in a position to question the authority of scientists who assure us that DNA samples match – something I always think of when someone says they are in favour of the death penalty "when there's no doubt".

James Brokenshire, a Shadow Home Affairs Minister, said that street prices for hard drugs have fallen (I presume he was troubled by that fact rather than making a particularly brazen advertising pitch):

"If the Government think that their drugs strategy is working so well, will the Minister explain why heroin and cocaine are trading on British streets at prices that are at an 11-year low?

Mr. Campbell: I am not sure that we would agree with the hon. Gentleman’s figures, but let me tell him something about cocaine. There is no evidence that its use has risen in recent years. Its wholesale price is rising, as are seizures of the drug, and the purity of cocaine on the streets is falling. Taken together, those factors suggest that the action that we are taking on cocaine has been successful."

Shadow Minister for Disabled People Mark Harper asked about violent crime:

"Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): What recent estimate she has made of levels of violent crime. [264796]

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): The British crime survey is the best guide to trends in violent crime. The latest figures, for the BCS year ending September 2008, showed that 2.2 million incidents were experienced by adults in England and Wales. Since 1997, violent crime is down by 40 per cent., which is equivalent to 1.5 million fewer incidents.

Mr. Harper: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. He will know that many of our constituents are concerned about knife crime, given that the number of people being stabbed to death is at a record high. My constituent Mr. Roger Lambert, of Lydney, watched the BBC 1 programme “Stabbed: The Truth about Knife Crime”, and contacted me about the matter. He is so concerned about what happens to those who go out with a knife and take someone’s life that he wants—I said to him that I did not agree—the Government to consider bringing back the death penalty to deal with the problem. What can the Minister say to make Mr. Lambert comfortable about safety on our streets and the risk of being stabbed to death by a knife?

Mr. Coaker: What I cannot say to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent is that I am in favour of the death penalty or that it will be brought back, but I can tell him and other people throughout the country what we are doing to tackle knife crime issues, which are very particular in some parts of our communities. The hon. Gentleman could mention to his constituent that people found in possession of a knife are now far more likely to be charged, and on being charged they are far more likely to be imprisoned. That applies to possession offences, of course, but if somebody is caught using a knife, they can expect much stricter penalties. The hon. Gentleman could also use some of the latest statistics, which were published on 4 March. The Department of Health figures show that among those aged 13 to 19, there were 31 per cent. fewer admissions to NHS hospitals for stab wounds in the nine English TKAP—tackling knives action programme—regions from June to November 2008, compared with the same period in the previous year. That compares with an 18 per cent. reduction in non-TKAP areas over the same period, and it is extremely encouraging, although there is clearly much more to be done."

It was brave of the minister to cite NHS statistics on knife wounds after the Government got into trouble for misusing them.

Another member of the Shadow Home Affairs team, Romford's Andrew Rosindell, asked about the use of dogs in crime:

"The Minister will be aware that the use of dogs in violent crime and antisocial behaviour is becoming an increasing problem in many areas of the country, particularly the inner cities. Will the Government carry out a detailed assessment of the effectiveness of current legislation and consider how boroughs such as Wandsworth have utilised mandatory micro-chipping as a means of controlling this increasing problem?

Mr. Coaker: Of course we will consider any measure that needs to be taken to tackle the sort of phenomena to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The use of dogs not only as a status symbol for some people in gangs but as an offensive weapon is of increasing concern, as he rightly points out. We are trying to find out the extent of the problem. As for what we are doing, the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire), who is also sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, will tell the hon. Gentleman that the Policing and Crime Bill contains gang injunctions, which can be used, subject to their being passed by Parliament. It can be part of such an injunction to ban a gang member from having or using a dog in the ways to which the hon. Gentleman refers."

Lassie would know what to do.

Douglas Carswell, MP for Harwich, received confirmation that the Government doesn't know how many people are in the country:

"What recent estimate she has made of the number of illegal immigrants resident in the United Kingdom. [264798]

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): Since the phasing out of embarkation controls from 1994, no Government have ever been able to produce an accurate figure for the number of people who are in the country illegally. However, with the implementation of our new e-borders system, which the Opposition oppose, by 2010 more than 95 per cent. of non-European economic area foreign nationals will be counted in and out of the country, and that will rise to 100 per cent. by 2014. This is part of the programme of border protection that also includes the global roll-out of fingerprint visas, watch-list checks for all travellers before they arrive or depart from the UK, and identity cards for foreign nationals.

Mr. Carswell: Ministers will recall that many thousands of illegal migrants were found to be working in the security industry, yet last month it was revealed that a mere 35 had been removed. Will the Minister specifically update the House on how many more have been removed since?

Mr. Woolas: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on repeating that question. The answer is on the record—if he wants further details, I shall, of course, write to him."

Shadow DEFRA minister Richard Benyon raised a point that was new to me:

"Two years ago, the Select Committee on Home Affairs took evidence, as part of its immigration services inquiry, from a number of people concerned about the large number of private adoptions, mainly from west African states, many of which never appear on immigration data. What steps have the Government taken since to follow up the recommendations of that report, which recognised the severe concerns of places such as the London borough of Southwark, where a large number of child welfare issues relating to this issue are starting to manifest themselves? What may appear culturally okay to some communities is certainly not okay when it is causing serious child welfare problems in this country.

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue, which all Members of the House would recognise, and, as ever, we are grateful to the Home Affairs Committee.
A number of policy measures have been put in place on the treatment of children in such a situation, including the identification of parents and of guardians; the work with the local authorities that stemmed from the policy issue; and country-by-country plans—he referred to cultural differences—on which there has been particular co-operation with the Nigerian Government, as Nigeria is one of the main countries we deal with."

Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green asked about immigration, aptly enough:

"This is a good opportunity for the Home Secretary to be honest about the points-based system. She tends to refer to it as the “Australian-style” points-based system, because we all admire the way in which the Australians deal with immigration. Did she notice that last week, the Australians, who put an annual limit on work permits, reduced that limit? They said that it was prudent to do so in a recession. Will she admit that a Conservative Government could follow that policy, because we will introduce an annual limit, but that she cannot? Will she therefore stop trying to fool people into thinking that we have an Australian-style system? Only under a Conservative Government will we have Australian-style control over immigration numbers.

Jacqui Smith: On the contrary, I have already announced—I reiterated this today—that we have the ability, through the points-based system, to raise the bar. We will do that. The impact of that, alongside the economic circumstances that we face, will be fewer migrants coming to the UK from outside the EEA. We will successfully reduce the number of migrants coming in during these difficult economic times. If we are talking about honesty, as the hon. Gentleman favours a cap, although I do not know what sort of a cap it is—a UK Tory cap—perhaps he would like to give us some background. Perhaps he could say how many people he thinks the cap should cover, what its level should be, and how it could be made more effective, given that it would cover only one in four migrants to this country, whereas the points-based system covers half of them."

Tom Greeves

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