Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): Surely the words ``British Islands'' will include, for example, the Falkland Islands and those islands in the Caribbean that are British protectorates. They are not covered by this Bill.

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend is right, and reinforces my point. We are anxious to retain the traditional formula of the

    ``United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man''.

That phrase has been used repeatedly in Bill after Bill, Act after Act. The Minister may have some justification for his novel phraseology. If he does, I will certainly give way, but before that it is important to place on the record the substantive point of our belief in the traditional description of this country and, indeed, that description itself. The Minister is not going to intervene. Perhaps he has been persuaded by my argument although that, too, would be novel.

Finally, we come to amendment No. 275. It touches on another important point, but a rather different one. We seek to insert a new subsection (1E) which suggests that before giving written consent, the person concerned should have the provisions of subsection (1D) drawn to his or her attention in writing. That is important, because we are concerned with the protection of the citizen.

Subsection (1D), which would make it impossible for consent given under subsection (1C) to be withdrawn, is not unique, but such provisions are not all that common. Any person who is asked to make an irreversible commitment, to which consent cannot subsequently be withdrawn, should always be informed of that fact in writing beforehand. That is why I have left amendment No. 275 until last. The issue that it deals with is particularly important and separate from the others. Whatever the Minister may think of the other amendments in the group, I urge him seriously to consider that one above all. It is an important safeguard for the liberty of the subject.

2.45 pm

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): Does my hon. Friend also want the Minister to explain the implications of the change for arrangements for police co-operation in Europe?

Mr. Hawkins: That is a good point. It would help if we might hear about that. My hon. Friend, having been a distinguished Minister in the previous Government, has more experience of cross-border ministerial meetings than I have. My experience was limited to being a Parliamentary Private Secretary in two Departments, although in one of those, the Ministry of Defence, the work had significant international implications. I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. No doubt the Minister will have something to say on the matter.

We are of course aware of the important briefing provided to all members of the Committee by Liberty. I shall not repeat all the concerns rightly raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) about clause 80. However, they are important issues, and the points that Liberty raised and the hon. Gentleman so ably summarised deserve a detailed response from the Minister.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): I share my hon. Friend's concern about the phrase ``the British Islands''. The Minister rolls his eyes and looks heavenwards as if I am deranged.

Mr. Clarke: I had intended to leave this point until I replied to the debate, but to try to cut short continued discussion of it, I remind the Committee that the meaning of the term ``the British Islands'' is set out in the Interpretation Act 1978 and was, of course, current throughout the term of the previous Government. It has exactly the meaning set out in amendment No. 269, of the

    ``United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man''.

That phrase has been in standard use in legislation for 22 years. I thought of intervening on the point earlier, and then thought that I would leave it, but as questions such as whether the definition includes the Falkland islands have been raised, I thought that I should place the explanation on the record to help the Committee.

Mr. Blunt: I am sure that the Minister is right in the assurance that he gives the Committee. However, I find the term an extremely odd use of language, when it would be possible to be specific. If the jurisdictions set out in amendment No. 269 are what is meant, it would be infinitely preferable for them to appear in the Bill.

Mr. Hawkins: Of course I heard the Minister's intervention, but I found it surprising. If the Minister is telling the Committee that the phrase ``the British Islands'' was used in every Bill of the previous Parliament, I am amazed. That is not my recollection, although of course I have not had the chance to check. My recollection is that on several occasions we debated Bills that contained the phraseology used in the amendment.

Mr. Blunt: I note that my hon. Friend has tabled two alternative amendments, Nos. 269 and 270, the second of which includes a reference to the Republic of Ireland. I understand from what the Minister said that the phrase used in the Bill does not include the Republic of Ireland. However, I remain concerned. On a normal reading of ``British Islands'', anyone would clearly think that the term included the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Hughes: It is like the phrase ``the British Isles'', which has always included Ireland. The Irish are obviously not keen for that to be used.

Mr. Blunt: The fact that a definition is floating about from 23 years ago does not reassure me much when we could put known and clearly understood terms in the Bill. Something as vague as ``British Islands'' is no substitute for an accurate term.

I am especially concerned about proposed new subsection (1A)(d) of section 63A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. It states:

    ``a public authority...with functions in any part of the British Islands which consist of or include the investigation of crimes or the charging of offenders''.

If, on reasonable reflection, I believe that ``British Islands'' includes the Republic of Ireland, my understanding would be that the provision would cover public authorities nominated by another country.

If we do not mean the Republic of Ireland, the Minister should accept amendment No. 269, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), as it at least is clear. I would not want him to accept the alternative of amendment No. 270, which includes the Republic of Ireland, simply because of the authority that would then be given to that country to nominate public authorities without the permission of the House and the wishes of the Government. Such authorities would be given power and responsibility under the clause.

Mr. Clarke: I am slightly surprised that we should devote so much time and energy to discussing the meaning of ``the British Islands'', given the shortage of time of which the Opposition complain.

It might help the Committee if I responded to a point made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey this morning about the process of access to fingerprint and DNA records. I said that I would write to him, but I can now give him an answer, and doing so will help our debate.

Under the Data Protection Act 1998, an individual has a right to a copy of details of any personal data relating to them that is held on a computer. Fingerprints or DNA profiles are considered personal information. Individuals who want to exercise their right under the 1998 Act, or their representatives, need to apply to the main police station in their area for a subject access application form. Once the form is completed, it needs to be returned to the police with an appropriate form of identification, so that the police can establish that the individual is the relevant person, and that he or his representative has the right to the information. Apparently, there is a fixed charge of £10.

The form will then be sent to the subject access office in New Scotland Yard, which will check the details of the individual against the records held on the PNC—the police national computer. If no information is held, a standard letter will be sent by the subject access office directly to the individual. If any information on the individual falls within the provisions of the 1998 Act, the information will be checked and sent directly to the individual who requested the information. The police are under a legal requirement to respond to such requests within 40 days.

Similar arrangements exist for the DNA database, but because it is currently not linked to the police national computer—we are developing that relationship—the requests are dealt with by the forensic science service on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

As far as multiple sets of fingerprints are concerned, each set is recorded and given a unique arrest summons record number on the police national computer. The ASR also includes minimum basic details, such as the name of the person, details of the officer taking the prints, the officer investigating the case, the offence and the charging station. The fingerprint bureau then enters the record on to the national automated fingerprint identification system, known as NAFIS. It is not possible to create a record on NAFIS without the full information that I have summarised.

NAFIS will retrieve the ASR from the Phoenix criminal name database on the PNC. Checks are then made to ensure that the data captured on the new form match those on the ASR. If the subject has a criminal record, the Criminal Record Office—CRO—number is added to the relevant field in the ASR together with a unique NAFIS fingerprint identification number. When a fingerprint record is added to an existing or a new record, the information goes automatically to the PNC to update records. ASRs are attached to existing records.

The unique fingerprint identification number allows tracking through the NAFIS system. For any individual there may be several sets of fingerprints taken for different offences. NAFIS also uses the best prints to compile the ``ten print'' complete fingerprint record, so that might be a composite of individual prints taken from different sets and records. That allows for an audit trail to be created, enabling all prints to be kept and accounted for even though the set shown when the record is interrogated may be a composite.

Access to fingerprint records by police forces was an issue raised in this context by the hon. Gentleman. When the roll-out of NAFIS is completed in April 2001—as hon. Members will know, it has been a recent major project—police forces in England and Wales will have direct access to the national fingerprint collection through their force fingerprint bureau. Access to the collection by other police forces will continue to be through the national fingerprint bureau in New Scotland Yard. All access to the DNA database is through the forensic science service. I thought that it would help the Committee to place on the record the nature of that process, because of the points that have been raised in debate.

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