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Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is a difficult issue between choosing Iraqis who will participate in this process and Iraqis choosing for themselves the people who will participate in this process? It is a difficult issue, to which there is probably no completely satisfactory answer. But in these circumstances, does my noble friend agree that
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree that it is enormously important to have the broadest possible base. The noble Lord puts it very well: who does the choosing? That is why there was the first conference in Nasariyah and then the one in Baghdad. That is why there has been a women's meeting, with some 40 women drawn together to have their say about this. But I think that what the noble Lord is getting at is the role of the United Nations. I am happy to tell him that Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello has indicated to John Sawers, the United Kingdom's representative, that he is very supportive of the coalition's plans and that our plans have broad support among Iraqis. That is a very important point. Kofi Annan's representative staff have been involved in the recent consultations, and he believes that they are going well. It is very important that Iraqi people feel that they have real ownership of this process.
Lord Quirk: My Lords, given the importance of education in the establishment of civilised values, although I know these are early days, can the Government say whether the United States is yet involving USIS in Iraq? What plans do the Government have, in due course, for the British Council to return to the admirable role that it undertook in Mosul, Baghdad and Basra where, even at the present time, a Shia majority in the country could respond to British Council initiatives?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course education is an enormously important part of the process with regard to education of young children and cultural activities. We believe that about 90 per cent of Iraqi children have been able to return to school. But there is a real problem about education aids: the books used are written from a Ba'athist perspective and we do not wish to see their continued use in schools. So there is an enormous amount of groundwork to be done.
The noble Lord asks what further plans there are for the return of the British Council. Security on the ground would have to improve greatly before that could happen. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has returned from Iraq and my noble friend the Secretary of State for International Development has also recently returned. From their reports, it is clear that it is still very early days. I agree with the noble Lord that we must set our sights on the future, and those are the sort of things that we want to aim for, but there is a little more groundwork to be done first.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, it fully complies with the Act. The chief scientist of the Forensic Science Service is the custodian of the national DNA database under a memorandum of understanding with the Association of Chief Police Officers. DNA samples are collected from suspects and the personal data derived from them are loaded by the FSS on to the database. As an executive agency of the Home Office, processing of personal data by the FSS is within the Home Office notification to the Information Commissioner.
The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Will she accept that I have no wish to underplay in any way the importance of DNA evidence as a potent weapon against crime? That said, is it really possible to square the fifth data principle, that:
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we would say that it is. Noble Lords will know that there is a balance to be struck; they will also be aware that it has been possible for us to identify the perpetrators of crimes committed many years ago with the benefit of DNA samples taken recently. For example, a person was stopped for shoplifting a very small amount; the DNA sample indicated that, 25 years previously, he had been responsible for a series of sexual assaults. We believe it is critical evidence which is of great use to the public.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I was present at the Police Foundation lecture last week in memory of my noble friend John Harris, Lord Harris of Greenwich, at which the Home Secretary stated that there were now over 2 million DNA profiles on the database. Does that figure actually represent people convicted of a criminal offence?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Lord will know that the data are collected from those who have been charged and those who have been convicted, and I cannot tell him how many people fall into either category. It is only very recently that we have been able to retain samples taken from those who have not been convicted but who have been charged and prosecuted in relation to offences. It is true to say,
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, your Lordships will know that it is being proposed that those samples will be retained so that they can be used in due course should they be necessary in relation to comparative samples. That proposal will have to be debated. When this matter came before the House, there was a question in relation to where the balance between public good and personal privacy should be struck. We have said very clearly that this is an implement which can be used to free people as well as to identify the perpetrators of wrongdoing. Those who have committed no offence need fear nothing from the retention.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it is certainly true that the public are very anxious that those who can properly be identified as the perpetrators of crime should be so identified. Indeed, there is a very interesting document that I am very happy to put into the Library produced by the Forensic Science Service called Case Closed: 50 years of DNAa gallery of cases involving DNA profiling, which demonstrates the utility of this procedure.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, is it not fair to remind the House that the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill contained a provision that retrospectively legalised the 50,000 or so illegal retentions of fingerprints and DNA samples? At the time, a great many of your Lordships felt that that was an improper way to proceed, but none the less, it became law. Can the Minister assure the House that, given public anxiety about these databases and that piece of history, the present collection and retention of DNA samples and fingerprints is strictly in accordance with the current law?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can certainly assure noble Lords that that is the position. Of course we are, as we have already said, going to debate more fully the issue of whether we should now be able to retain all the samples so obtained. However, I can certainly assure your Lordships that everything we have is in accordance with the rules and has been applied quite properly.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether the national DNA database is in fact open to Interpol, Europol and other European criminal investigative organisations, and indeed, outside Europe,
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, requests for a search of the national DNA database are channelled through the Interpol London Persons Desk. Those are processed only where it is clear that the request is in the interests of the prevention and detection of crime, national security or the data subject. Only a one-off speculative search of the database is made and information fed back via Interpol. A risk assessment on the dissemination of this information is then made, and the risk assessment will consider the justification and proportionality of the disclosure of the information. That does not tend to pose a problem with our other partners, the EEA countries, where similar DPA and human rights principles apply. All proper safeguards are put in place to ensure that this information is used properly and in accordance with the criteria that I have just outlined.
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