HC Deb 26 November 2001 vol 375 cc741-3

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Beverley Hughes

Clause 88 amends the Terrorism Act 2000 to allow fingerprints to be taken from a person detained under the Act to ascertain their identity. At present, fingerprints can be taken from a person detained under that Act only to establish whether he or she has been involved in certain offences under it or in acts of terrorism. Clearly, circumstances can arise in which the police know that the person that they are holding has committed an act of terrorism, but do not know their true identity. For example, a detained person may deliberately withhold their identity from the police or assume a false identity. Although the police have up to seven days to interview a suspect under the Act, valuable time could be wasted. Finding out someone's true identity could prevent acts from taking place.

8.15 pm

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, an officer of the rank of at least superintendent will be able to authorise taking fingerprints from a person detained at a police station without his or her consent if they are satisfied that the fingerprints will allow him or her to be identified. In Scotland, a constable will be able to take or require fingerprints from a person if he is satisfied that they will be able to identify him or her. The clause also allows the police in Scotland to examine fingerprints or DNA samples retained under Terrorism Act powers when investigating a crime that, at that stage, is apparently non-terrorist. At the moment, those records can be searched only if the police are investigating a suspected terrorist offence. There is therefore a risk that they will miss connections between ordinary criminal offences, which may be committed as precursors to terrorist activity, and terrorist suspects. That change was introduced for England and Wales under the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001.

The clause is in the Bill to enhance police counter-terrorist operations by allowing police to use fingerprints to confirm the identity of terrorist suspects, and I believe that it should stand part.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I understand why fingerprints should be taken, but can the Minister explain how long fingerprint records will be held in the event of the person under suspicion not being charged or imprisoned, and being released as an innocent person instead?

Beverley Hughes

Certainly, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, fingerprints can be kept indefinitely by the police. The provisions are outside the PACE framework, but I think that the same applies. However, I will get a definitive answer on that point for my hon. Friend.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

In her introduction, the Minister said that the clause deals with crime committed as a precursor to terrorist crime. How does one know in advance that a crime is a precursor to terrorist crime and would an individual be told that fingerprints were being taken because it is believed that the crime is such a precursor?

Beverley Hughes

Clearly, the police do not know; that is the point. That theme may be rehearsed during this debate and, indeed, a later one. However, the line between terrorist offences and ordinary criminal offences is not one that can be easily drawn. Certainly, when the police have someone in the police station who is under investigation and whom they are trying to identify in relation to criminal offences, they will not know whether those offences are connected to terrorist activity.

I pointed out that the clause would give the powers that I described to the police in Scotland. Similar changes were introduced for England and Wales under the Criminal justice and Police Act 2001, so the Bill brings Scotland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 88 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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