HC Deb 09 May 1996 vol 277 cc450-2

'.—(1) A service policeman may, for the purpose of recording information, take a sample to which this section applies from a person without his consent if that person has been convicted of an offence in service disciplinary proceedings.

(2) This section applies to a sample of hair (other than pubic hair) or to a swab taken from a person's mouth.

(3) The power under subsection (1) above may be exercised in relation to a person convicted of an offence only if—

  1. (a) he has not had a sample to which this section applies taken from him since his conviction; or
  2. (b) where he has had such a sample taken from him, the sample has proved insufficient.

(4) The power under subsection (1) above may not be exercised after the end of the period of three months beginning—

  1. (a) in a case falling within subsection (3)(a) above, with the date of the conviction;
  2. (b) in a case falling within subsection (3)(b) above, with the date on which a service policeman is informed of the fact that the sample has proved insufficient.

(5) A service policeman may use reasonable force, if necessary, in exercising the power under subsection (1) above.

(6) A sample of hair may be taken either by cutting hairs or by plucking hairs with their roots so long as no more are plucked than are reasonably considered to be necessary for a sufficient sample.

(7) In this section— service disciplinary proceedings" and "service policeman" have the same meanings as in section 9 above; and sufficient" and "insufficient", in relation to a sample, means sufficient or insufficient (in point of quantity or quality) for the purpose of enabling information to be produced by the means of analysis used or to be used in relation to the sample.

(8) This section is without prejudice to any power to take samples under any other enactment or under any rule of law.'.—[Mr. Soames.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Soames

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 80, in title, line 5, leave out `fingerprinting of and insert `taking of fingerprints and samples from'.

Dr. Godman

I want to voice some concerns that I have about the new clause and to seek guidance from the Minister. The new clause begins by stating: A service policeman may, for the purpose of recording information, take a sample". In the Bill, a service policeman is defined as a member of the Royal Navy Regulating Branch, the Royal Marines Police, the Royal Military Police, the Royal Air Force Police or the staff of the Royal Air Force Provost Marshal. I can only speak with some experience, albeit limited, of the Royal Military police. Presumably, under the new clause, a service policeman could be a lance-corporal. Is that the case? Why is the clause so much out of kilter with extant legislation in Scotland and in England and Wales?

In part II of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993, clause 28 allows for a police constable, presumably the equivalent of a lance-corporal in the corps of the Royal Military police, to take a sample. But subsection (4) states: A constable may, with the authority of an officer of a rank no lower than inspector, take from the person— (a) from the hair of an external part of the body". From that point clause 28 of the 1993 Act and new clause 3 are almost identical. Why does the new clause not have that limiting subsection? Why has the Minister chosen to allow any member of a military police establishment to take such action against a prisoner? Surely if it is good enough for the civil police in Scotland to require an inspector to give permission, the same should hold for the armed forces.

In a crude, rough way, the rank of inspector is equivalent to an Army major. Therefore, why not insert a subsection into new clause 3 which allows only a lance corporal in the military police, say, to take such a body sample once he or she has the approval of the officer commanding the unit, or someone of equal rank?

In terms of human rights, the new clause leaves a lot to be desired when compared with the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act. At the most appropriate moment, the new clause should be changed in the way that I have suggested.

Mr. Soames

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) says that the new clause is out of kilter, but I have to tell him that it is one of the most kiltered new clauses that I have ever met. I want to reassure him that the rank of the service policeman concerned is completely immaterial. All service policemen, given the authority and status of their position and the special responsibilities that they carry, will be able to undertake these tasks. There is no problem with regard to the law being the same in Scotland, but I shall investigate further the matter that he has raised and write to him in greater detail.

5.45 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell

It is not surprising that the Minister does not have encyclopaedic knowledge of Scottish general law, but the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) has raised an interesting question of principle—namely the level at which a power of this kind should be able to be exercised. If, as I understand it, it is a principle to try and approximate as far as possible the law which pertains to the armed services with the law which pertains in civilian life, there is clearly a substantial issue of principle as to whether the person who is lowest in the command structure in the military police can exercise a power which, in the civilian sector, can be exercised only by someone of a substantially higher rank. I therefore hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to the important point of principle which the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow has isolated.

Mr. Soames

I assure the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) that I do not hold the kind of views about my learned Friend that the hon. Gentleman does. That is a supremely helpful and constructive intervention. I have no idea what the answer to the point is. I shall investigate it and write to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East and the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow. I am sure that they have a valid point, and we will clarify it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clauses 11 and 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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