My Lords, this Bill covers many areas of importance that have a significant impact on our civil liberties and our fundamental human rights. These are the very principles on which our democracy was founded. I hope that this legislation will make a contribution to tackling the injustices in our society that it highlights.
Clause 1 relates to the amount of information that officers would be required to record under stop and search powers. I commend the Government for proposing that a number of recording requirements should now be either removed or significantly reduced. Some officers have made reference to a target culture that is prevalent in their everyday duties, so I am grateful that this has been given due consideration. I support measures to reduce bureaucracy and therefore hope that this section significantly reduces the length of the stop and search documentation.
Staffordshire Police successfully reduced the length of administrative time spent on recording information. There is no reason why this good practice cannot be implemented in other police authorities. I am concerned at the stop and search activities undertaken by the police for purposes that are not related to terrorism. I have previously spoken about this issue in your Lordships’ House. Since 1997-8, black people have been almost eight times more likely to be stopped and Asian people are twice as likely to be stopped by the police in comparison with their white counterparts. This situation must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
It is important for the police to retain the respect and confidence of minority groups, which can prove vital in solving crimes and gathering intelligence. Sections 44 and 45 of the Terrorism Act 2000 authorise police to stop and search individuals in the absence of reasonable suspicion. I fear that this situation could have disastrous consequences in all our communities. In fact, only 0.6 per cent of the people stopped under Section 44 powers in the second quarter of 2008 were subsequently arrested. The European Court of Human Rights has also raised concerns about the use of stop and search powers under Sections 44 and 45, stating that they should be used in a proportionate manner.
Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 also does not require police officers to have reasonable suspicion about an individual before they carry out a stop and search operation. The latest figures suggest that 25,294 searches under current legislation were carried out last year in the London Borough of Newham. I was in the area last Saturday and addressed a gathering where there were people of Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi extraction and I spoke to some of them individually. Newham also happens to have one of the largest percentages of ethnic minorities in the country. The activities of the police may send a poor message and possibly breed resentment among the ethnic minorities. Therefore, powers under Sections 44 and 45 of the Terrorism Act and Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 need further examination and reappraisal.
Clause 14 concerns the retention and use of DNA samples. DNA technology is of high importance in detecting and preventing crime. Making use of this system is a question of finding the right balance between applying the law and not compromising the dignity and rights of individuals. I do not dispute the retention of the DNA of guilty individuals. However, I am concerned about the DNA of innocent people. A transparent and consistent approach to the removal of innocent people’s DNA from the database would be most welcome. The current system may cause concern among certain members of our society. For example, 77 per cent of people on the DNA database are black youths, which is disproportionate to the number of convictions brought against this group.
Some police forces refuse to remove DNA samples even when a person is declared innocent once a case has been closed. Research has revealed that only 22 per cent of requests for the removal of DNA samples are granted. Certain police forces agree with the majority of requests, but a large proportion do not. There needs to be consistency and clarity among the processes undertaken in all 43 forces, as the current figures give rise to a postcode lottery. By October 2009, over 5 million DNA samples were on the database. This situation is unnecessary and has rightly drawn criticism from many circles. There is evidence to suggest that less than 1 per cent of crimes are solved due to the DNA database. I would be grateful if the Minister could explain to your Lordships’ House why the DNA database has continued to increase while the number of crimes for which a DNA match is available has continued to decline.
The Bill requires all DNA samples to be destroyed after six years. I would like to see the Scottish system adopted, whereby the DNA of innocent people is not retained at all. I am encouraged by the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that it is illegal to store one’s DNA indefinitely. The court stated that our DNA database has,
“a blanket and indiscriminate nature”.
That is a criticism of the present system by an institution of great stature. The court also ruled in 2008 that the retention of DNA samples belonging to individuals who had not been convicted of any crime was unlawful and unnecessary in a democratic society.
I welcome Clause 24 and subsequent clauses, as they introduce measures to tackle domestic violence and reinforce the protection of victims after a suspected offence. The subject of domestic violence is something on which I feel strongly and about which I have previously spoken in your Lordships’ House. The intentions of the Government are highly admirable on this issue, but I am concerned as to how domestic violence protection notices and orders will work in practice. It is important that they are not used as substitutes for pursuing proper sanctions in the courts against perpetrators of domestic violence. More police officers should be encouraged to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence, even in the absence of the victims’ testimony, by reasonable use of circumstantial or medical evidence relating to the offence. Research suggests that approximately 3 million British women are victims of domestic abuse each year. Some 14 per cent of violent offences involve domestic violence. The unfortunate reality is that the actual figure is inevitably higher, as a number of victims do not come forward to report such abuses.
The physical and psychological trauma suffered as a result of domestic violence should be assessed immediately after victims are identified. May I ask the Minister what extra assistance will be given to children who have witnessed domestic abuse? Domestic violence is prevalent in all communities and all classes of people. It is an abhorrent practice, which causes untold harm to the victims and their families.
At this juncture I should like to declare an interest. I am the chairman of an insurance broking organisation that has provided specialist insurance to the security industry over many years. My company has acted as insurance brokers to the British Security Industry Association, as well as to the International Professional Security Association. The security industry performs a valuable service and is now very much part of the extended police family.
I have always believed in maintaining and strengthening standards in the security industry and have applied strict criteria to the acceptance of security companies and personnel under our insurance scheme. We welcomed the enactment of the Private Security Industry Act 2001 and the formation of the Security Industry Authority. I welcome Clauses 42 and 43, which amend and extend the Private Security Industry Act 2001 and will introduce a licence requirement for businesses carrying out vehicle immobilisation or restriction and removal of vehicles.
Clause 43 proposes that the approved contractors scheme under Section 15 of the 2001 Act be extended to those persons who carry out in-house security activities. Certain organisations have in-house security arrangements and this proposal will ensure parity with companies providing security under contract. I welcome the establishment of an independent tribunal, or adjudication system, for release fees applied by wheel-clamping companies, as some motorists may feel that they have been badly treated in this regard. At present, the approved contractors scheme, which is supervised and managed by the Security Industry Authority, is voluntary, but I would like to see this scheme become mandatory for all security companies, as that will further regulate the security industry.
I support Clause 47 and subsequent clauses relating to compensation for victims of overseas terrorism. I spoke in your Lordships’ House when the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, introduced his Bill. I see that he is not in his place, but I appreciate his perseverance.
We must defend the civil liberties and values that are vital to our society. I am particularly concerned about the collection of DNA samples and the use of stop and search powers in relation to ethnic minorities. The current state of affairs does not bode well for community cohesion. The situation in Newham shows that the facts speak for themselves. It is important to ensure that no group feels as though it is the constant target of discrimination.
Although I welcome any provisions to address domestic violence, I feel that the Bill must gain more clarity. I fear that the Bill is not adequately far-reaching in its present state to have a pivotal impact. I sincerely hope that it will be strengthened in Committee.