HC Deb 15 April 1948 vol 449 cc1256-8
Mr. Ede

I beg to move, in page 35, line 10, to leave out from the beginning, to "on," in line 21, and to insert: Where any person not less than fourteen years of age who has been taken into custody is charged with an offence before a court of summary jurisdiction, the court may, if it thinks fit. This Amendment and the next two Amendments—in lines 25 and 26—deal with the Clause which relates to the taking of finger-prints, a Clause about which some misgiving was expressed on Second Reading and which received very careful investigation during the Committee stage. These Amendments represent an agreement which I think was reached on the Committee by people who had taken differing views about it at first, and I think it sufficiently ensures the taking of finger-prints without imposing undue hardship and indignity on the persons concerned.

In the first place, we exempt from it altogether children under 14 years. A doubt was expressed as to the meaning of the words, "appears or is brought." We are omitting those words from the amended version of this part of the Clause, and the amended version makes it quite clear that three conditions must be fulfilled before a court can order fingerprints to be taken. The person must be over 14 years of age, he must have been taken into custody, and he must be charged with an offence before the court.

It was also thought that it was not quite clear that the court was given an adequate discretion in the matter, and we have therefore added the words, "if it thinks fit," in order to make it quite clear that the court has to consider whether it is a case in which this power should be given to the police. I commend these Amendments to the House because they represent a very considerable effort on the part of all hon. Members of the Committee to assist the cause of justice while at the same time safeguarding individual liberty and human dignity. I hope that especially those hon. Members of this House who took part in our deliberations in Committee will feel that I have covered the points which I undertook to cover.

Mr. Grimston (Westbury)

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) particularly raised the point that a person should be taken into custody before his finger-prints were taken, and the Home Secretary has met that point. I think he has also met the other point which was raised. I am obliged to him for having done so.

Mr. Hector Hughes

I regret that the Amendments do not meet the objections which I expressed to this Clause. There can be no objection to finger-prints being taken from all citizens in general, but there are many objections to fingerprints being taken from persons who are not proved to be guilty. This Clause divides the population into three classes —those who are guilty and whose fingerprints are properly taken and preserved, those who are not guilty and whose finger-prints are taken and destroyed on acquittal, and those who are not guilty, were never charged and whose fingerprints were never taken.

This division would not occur if fingerprints were taken in general from all citizens, but this is in fact a discrimination not only between the innocent and the guilty but between those who are never charged and those who are found to have been wrongly charged. It is unfair, illogical and unjust. It could be obviated by providing that finger-prints should not be taken until after a person is found guilty. It is wrong that an innocent person should be forced to allow his finger-prints to be taken before he is proved guilty. This Clause provides that force may be used, and it is entirely wrong that force should be used on a person who has not been proved guilty and that such a person should be forced to provide evidence against himself, because that is what taking his finger-prints amount to, and that is contrary to the traditions of our system of law.

Under our system, the onus of proof is on the prosecution, and the accused person is deemed to be not guilty until he is proved guilty. Yet here we have an infringement of the right of the citizen by forcing him to allow his finger-prints to be taken before he is proved guilty. I hope the Home Secretary will reconsider this Clause in order to make it more consonant with the liberty of the citizen as we understand it.

Sir T. Moore

The Home Secretary has fully met the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hector Hughes) in accepting Subsection (4) in which he has now provided that: All finger-prints …shall be destroyed on the acquittal of the person concerned. That is exactly what the Committee wanted. That takes away that perpetual stigma from the person involved, which was exactly the point stressed in Committee. The Clause with these Amendments is a great improvement on the original drafting, and I congratulate the Home Secretary on making it so much more humane and effective.

Mr. Ede

By the leave of the House, I would like to say to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hector Hughes) that this Clause is a great deal more protective of the rights of the citizen than the practice which prevails in the country part of which he has the honour to represent in this House. His reforming zeal might now be transferred to the Scottish Grand Committee, if he feels that this might be an occasion when the law of Scotland might be assimilated to the law of England.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In line 25, after "or," insert "if the person to whom the order relates is remanded in custody."

In line 26, leave out from "which," to second "is," and insert "he."—[Mr. Ede.]