Protection of Freedoms Bill

Resource Extraction (Transparency and Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 5:37 pm on 1st March 2011.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department 5:37 pm, 1st March 2011

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

Today we have a rare opportunity. The Bill gives us a chance to roll back the creeping intrusion of the state into our everyday lives, and to return individual freedoms to the heart of our legislation. Under the last Government, we saw a steady erosion of traditional British liberties and a slow march towards authoritarian government. They presented us with a false choice between our future security and our historic liberties, disregarding any notion of balance between the two.

The House rejected that choice on many noble occasions, notably when an extraordinary attempt was made to increase the period of pre-charge detention of terrorist suspects to 90 days. On other occasions, illiberal laws were passed, and on yet others, well-intentioned schemes were left open to abuse. The Bill gives us an opportunity to redress the balance and to right some of those wrongs, although it is not the only such opportunity. We have already repealed some measures, and we will repeal others.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Will my right hon. Friend be kind enough to give way?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I note that my right hon. Friend did not actually say that she would be happy to do so.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that however good the intentions may be, one of the great problems with the Bill is that it serially adopts, endorses and puts into British legislation European Court rulings, and that that in itself runs counter to the sentiments expressed only a few weeks ago when the House voted against a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights by 222 votes to 15?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is right, I am afraid; but I almost said I was happy to give way to him. I am not going to rehearse all the arguments we have had on the issue he raises. I am well aware of the vote in the House on the Backbench Business Committee motion on prisoner votes, and the Government have made it absolutely clear that we are not happy about having to give prisoners votes and we will be looking to do so in the most minimal way possible.

The first issue the Bill addresses is DNA. The police national DNA database, established in 1995, has led to a great many criminals being convicted who otherwise would not have been caught, and I am sure all sensible people support it, but in a democracy there must be limits to any such form of police power, and we simply do not accept that innocent people’s DNA should be kept for ever on a database, as the last Government seemed to think was appropriate. Storing indefinitely the DNA and fingerprints of more than 1 million innocent people undermines public trust in policing and goes against any sense of natural justice, so we will be taking innocent people off the DNA database and putting guilty people on.

The Bill introduces a new regime, whereby retention periods depend on a number of different factors, including the age of the individual concerned, the seriousness of the offence or alleged offence, whether they have been convicted, and, for under-18s, whether it is a first conviction. So in future, as now, an adult who is convicted or cautioned will have their fingerprints and DNA profile retained indefinitely, and we will take steps to plug the inexcusable gaps in the DNA database where the profiles of those who have previously been convicted of a serious offence are not currently included on the database.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

Although I recognise the Home Secretary’s concerns about privacy, does she accept that these moves will inevitably mean—this should be stated—that some people who have committed crimes will not be caught and convicted?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

No I do not agree, and my hon. Friend will see that that will not be the case if he looks at the many provisions in the Bill setting out the circumstances in which people’s DNA can be retained. I come back to the fundamental issue, which is whether we think it is right for the DNA profile of innocent people to be retained on the database. Before and since the election, both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have consistently taken the view that it is not right for the DNA of innocent people to be retained on the database, but that it is right for guilty people’s DNA to be retained. The last Labour Government did not do that.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

Will the Home Secretary confirm that under her proposals the DNA of innocent people will be kept on the database? She is not removing from the database the DNA of everyone who has not been convicted.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Indeed, the police will be able to apply for the DNA of some people who are arrested but not charged to be retained. I would expect that application to be made in certain circumstances, such as when the victim has been vulnerable, which may mean there is very good evidence that the individual concerned has committed a crime but the victim is not able or not willing to come forward and see that case through.

I also say this to the right hon. Lady: the last Government wanted the DNA of all innocent people to be retained on the database indefinitely. We do not think that is a proportionate response, and what we are introducing today is a proportionate response. We would expect the DNA of the majority of the 1 million innocent people on the database would now to be removed from it.

An adult who is charged with, but not convicted of, a serious offence will have their fingerprints and DNA profile retained for three years, with the option of a single extension for two years with the approval of a district judge in the magistrates court, and an adult who is arrested for a minor offence but not convicted will have their fingerprints and DNA profile destroyed as soon as possible once a decision has been taken not to charge them or once they have been found not guilty by the courts. Different arrangements will apply for under-18s who are convicted of a first minor offence, and there will be special provisions for DNA and fingerprints to be retained for national security purposes. If the police believe there are sufficient public protection grounds to justify the retention of material following an arrest for a qualifying offence that does not lead to a charge, the Bill allows them to apply to the new commissioner for the retention and use of biometric material, who will decide whether retention of the DNA profile and fingerprints of the arrested person is justified.

We must protect the most vulnerable in society, so when the victim of the alleged offence is under 18, vulnerable or in a close personal relationship with the arrested person the expectation is that the police will apply to the commissioner for retention. I believe that these rules give the police the tools they need without putting the DNA of a large number of innocent people on the database. In all cases, the DNA profile and fingerprints of any person arrested for a recordable offence will be subjected to a speculative search against the national databases. That means that those who have committed crimes in the past and have left their DNA or fingerprints at the scene will not escape justice.

The Bill also fulfils our coalition agreement commitment to outlaw the fingerprinting of children at school without parental permission. I must say that I found it amazing that any school ever thought it appropriate to fingerprint schoolchildren without their parents’ permission. The Bill will contain a double lock, whereby a school or college must obtain the consent of the parents and the child before processing their biometric data. If either opts out, the school or college must ensure that reasonable arrangements are in place to enable the child to access the full range of school services.

I shall deal now with surveillance. As with DNA, it is clear that CCTV can act as a deterrent to criminals, can help to convict the guilty and is warmly welcomed by many communities. This Government wholeheartedly support the use of CCTV and DNA to fight crime.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

On this sensitive issue of surveillance, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is being abused by local authorities which have taken it upon themselves to film such things as dog fouling and littering? Were the measures not introduced to deal with far graver issues?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I will be referring specifically to the abuse of powers by local authorities, so if he could be a little patient, I will deal with that point. On the specific issue of CCTV, it is not right that surveillance cameras are being used without a proper regulatory framework. That is why the Bill will place a duty on the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a code of practice, which will contain guidance on surveillance camera systems. I have today launched the consultation on what that code of practice should contain. Local authorities and chief officers of police will be required to have regard to the code and, over time, we will consider extending this duty to other operators of CCTV and automatic number plate recognition systems. The Bill will also allow for the appointment of a surveillance camera commissioner responsible for encouraging compliance with the code of practice, reviewing its operation and providing advice on it, including on any changes that might be necessary. This sensible and measured approach will help to ensure that CCTV is used proportionately and best serves the purpose for which it was designed: tackling crime.

My hon. Friend Mr Ellwood mentioned local authorities. I think that the public have been disturbed by the many stories of councils using intrusive techniques, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, to deal with trivial offences. Breaching school catchment area rules and dog fouling are not offences that warrant being subject to surveillance. These tactics are more appropriately used for tackling serious crime and terrorism, and it was irresponsible of the Labour Government not to put in place stronger safeguards for their use. That is why the coalition agreement contained a commitment to ban the use of these powers by councils unless they are signed off by a magistrate and are required to stop serious crime. The Bill enacts that commitment because it will require local authorities’ use of the powers to be subject to approval by a magistrate. In parallel with the passage of this Bill, an order will be made to introduce a seriousness threshold for the use of the most controversial power: directed surveillance. Local authorities will be authorised to use directed surveillance only for offences that carry a maximum custodial sentence of at least six months. Subject to limited exemptions relating to the under-age sale of alcohol and tobacco, this measure will restrict local authorities’ use of surveillance to serious cases.

As we restrict state powers of surveillance to serious offences, we should also ensure that state powers of entry into people’s homes or business premises are reasonable and proportionate. There has been a huge increase in the number of powers of entry in recent years, and there are now some 1,200 separate powers of entry. That means there are 1,200 reasons why state agencies or other bodies can invade people’s privacy. We need to protect the privacy of home owners, so we will remove unjustified powers and ensure that the remainder are subject to appropriate safeguards.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

This is all wonderful news and I am a strong supporter of the Bill. Given that there are 1,200 such powers, will my right hon. Friend make sure that her Cabinet colleagues are assiduous in rooting out dozens or hundreds of them, not just a handful, so that we make a real impact on this disgrace?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention and I absolutely agree with him. We will provide three order-making powers in the Bill to allow the repeal of unnecessary powers of entry, the addition of safeguards and the rewriting of powers of entry with a view to consolidating a number of powers in a similar area coupled with the inclusion of extra safeguards. Within two years of Royal Assent, the Government will be required to carry out a review of all existing powers of entry and to report the findings to Parliament. Provision will also be made for a code of practice for powers of entry, adding further protections for home owners.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Will my right hon. Friend note that the Library research paper on the Bill indicates that a third of all powers of entry are based on EU requirements?

Will she explain why and how she is going to repeal the provisions that are entrenched in our legislation through the European Communities Act 1972? What formula will she use—will it be the “notwithstanding” formula?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

When I gave way to my hon. Friend, I almost said I had a deep suspicion that I knew what he was going to say, and I was absolutely right. Of course we will not be able to get rid of all powers of entry, nor would that be appropriate. It will be appropriate to keep some, and with others we will need to look at the implementation of a request or desire to gain entry in relation to what is at stake, what is the most appropriate use of power and how that power should be used. The process will take some time, but it is essential that the Government are committed to reducing the number of powers of entry, whereas the previous Government oversaw a significant increase in that number.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that at the end of this process the number of powers will be sufficiently small and simple that home owners will be able to determine for themselves whether someone who knocks on the door has a right to enter?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

That would certainly be our aim and we will try to ensure that home owners are well aware of exactly who has a right of entry to their property.

Photo of Rob Flello Rob Flello Shadow Minister (Justice)

Has the Home Secretary had discussions with Ministers and the Justice Secretary about the overlap with issues relating to bailiffs and credit enforcement agencies and their rights of entry?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have been in touch with colleagues across Departments about powers of entry, because they are found in all sorts of places. All Departments will be required to review powers of entry, and duplication is exactly the sort of issue we will be looking at.

We know that powers of entry are of great concern to the public, and another issue of great concern is wheel-clamping. The Bill will protect motorists from cowboy clampers, making it a criminal offence to immobilise, move or restrict the movement of a vehicle without lawful authority. For too long, motorists have fallen victim to extortion and abuse from rogue clamping companies. We have heard stories of drivers being frogmarched to cash points late at night or left stranded by rogue operators who have towed their vehicle away. Clearly that is unacceptable.

Photo of Gavin Shuker Gavin Shuker Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

There will be support from across the House for measures to restrict the efforts of cowboy clampers, but what would the Home Secretary say to my constituent Mary Harrison, who has concerns about her residential area being overrun with cars because the existing structures to enforce parking restrictions are not sufficient?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Other powers will be available to control parking, such as barriers and ticketing. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman point out to his constituent the experience in Scotland, where such clamping was banned in 1992, I think. No problems have arisen from that change, so that is a good example for him to consider.

Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Labour, West Bromwich East

I just want to say that this part of the Bill is fantastic and that the Home Secretary has my full support for it. [Hon. Members: “Where’s the barb?”] There is none—I just want to be nice. The thousands of people who signed my cowboy clampers petition will thank her for finally listening to the people of West Bromwich.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those remarks. It is good to have cross-party support on such issues as this one, which affects many MPs whose constituents have suffered from cowboy clampers. By criminalising clamping and towing without lawful authority, the Government are committing rogue clampers to history and putting an end to intimidation and excessive charges once and for all.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central

Further to my right hon. Friend’s answer to Gavin Shuker, will she confirm that local authorities will continue to have the power to clamp on the public highway? Will residents in private developments be able to contract with their local authority to clamp on private developments? I have been contacted by a large number of people in my constituency who have tried ticketing and barriers but found that they do not work close to the town centre and public transport hubs. Could local authorities continue to clamp on private land?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. Local authorities already have the ability to take a controlling interest and to run parking on private land, subject to the agreement and request of the landowner, although that facility has not been much used.

To ensure continued access to key buildings, existing powers for the police to remove vehicles that are illegally, dangerously or obstructively parked on roads will be extended to other land. The registered keeper of a vehicle will also be made liable, in certain circumstances, for charges incurred as a result of parking on private land.

Let me address the counter-terrorism measures in the Bill, starting with pre-charge detention. Both coalition parties and many Opposition Members are clear that in the area of counter-terrorism legislation the previous Government went too far. I have already announced to the House the outcome of our review of counter-terrorism and security powers, and the Bill puts many of those changes into practice. I announced that we would not renew current legislation on the 28-day pre-charge detention period, which means that the sunset clause inserted by the previous Government has now brought the maximum period of pre-charge detention down to 14 days. The Bill will finally repeal the power to increase the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 28 days by means of secondary legislation. As I said to the House in January, police, prosecutors and the Government are clear that the normal maximum period of pre-charge detention should be 14 days, but we recognise that in exceptional circumstances that might need to be temporarily increased to 28 days. I have therefore published draft legislation that could be introduced to Parliament only in such circumstances. The draft Detention of Terrorist Suspects (Temporary Extension) Bills will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, the arrangements for which will be discussed through the usual channels.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

This has been asked before, but what will happen during parliamentary recesses? What if the right hon. Lady was seeking that extension on 30 July when Parliament was in recess? Will she expect to recall Parliament?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will not expect to recall Parliament every time a recess is called. We are talking about exceptional circumstances and I hope that Members will recognise that in exceptional circumstances it might be necessary to recall Parliament to put these powers in place.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Labour, Blackburn

My question follows that of my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson. I had to propose a recall of Parliament, to which the Prime Minister and the Speaker agreed, to introduce emergency legislation following the Omagh bombing. The bombing took place on 15 August 1998, but with the very best will in the world we were not able to get a recall for almost three weeks, so Parliament was not recalled until 3 September, as the right hon. Lady might remember. That was a three-week period. If the prosecutors have a suspect whom they wish to continue to question, how in practice will the Home Secretary be able to shorten that time? The right hon. Lady shakes her head. I promise her that we were seeking the shortest possible time, and it is very complicated. How far has she thought about that?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I understand the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making about his experience in relation to the Omagh bombing. I believe that it is possible to shorten that period to ensure that we can recall Parliament in such exceptional circumstances if that is needed. It would be wrong for hon. Members to expect that the only circumstances in which that would be required would be towards the end of a 14-day period of pre-charge detention. The period that would be available for the recall and for the new measures to be put through might be a little longer than the right hon. Gentleman is considering.

I want to move on to stop and search, which is the other aspect of counter-terrorism legislation that we will deal with in the Bill. As well as scaling back the excessive counter-terrorism legislation of the past, we need to stop the misuse of these laws. The extensive and disproportionate use of stop-and-search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is one example of that misuse. It has eroded public trust and dented public confidence. But the evidence, particularly in Northern Ireland, has demonstrated that when there is a credible threat of an imminent terrorist attack, the absence of such powers might create a gap in the ability of the police to protect the public.

The Bill therefore repeals section 44 and replaces it with a tightly defined power which would allow a senior police officer to make a targeted authorisation of much more limited scope and duration for no-suspicion stop-and-search powers. These would be authorised to prevent a terrorist attack only when there is a specific threat. The new power to search a person or vehicle would be subject to a number of additional safeguards, including a requirement that a senior police officer should reasonably suspect that an act of terrorism would take place and that the use of these powers was necessary to prevent the act of terrorism. The duration of any authorisation must now be no longer and no greater than is necessary to prevent the act of terrorism.

The purposes for which an officer may search a person or vehicle will be limited to looking for evidence that the individual is a terrorist or that a vehicle is being used for the purposes of terrorism. The Secretary of State would have the option of amending the authorisation, rather than only accepting or refusing it, as previously. Finally, the Secretary of State will be required to prepare a code of practice containing guidance on the use of the powers. These changes will provide the police with the powers that they need to deal with terrorist threats, while also ensuring that the public are not needlessly stopped and searched. The measures will also prevent the misuse of stop-and-search powers against photographers, which I know was a significant concern with the previous regime.

As recommended by the counter-terrorism powers review, I have considered whether the police need these revised powers more quickly than the Bill would allow. Given the current threat environment, I have concluded that they do. The most appropriate way of meeting the legal and operational requirements is to make an urgent remedial order under section 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998 to make immediate changes to the legislation. I will be doing this shortly. This is only an interim solution. The proposed new powers will remain in the Bill to ensure full scrutiny of the provisions.

Another important area where we will roll back the state’s power to common-sense levels is in the vetting and barring and criminal records regimes. The previous Government created the vetting and barring scheme with reasonable intentions, but, as with much that they did, their implementation was disproportionate and over-reliant on the state. There is no doubt that a small minority pose a risk to vulnerable people, including children, but requiring more than 9 million people to register and be monitored is not an appropriate response. We should be encouraging volunteers, not treating them like criminals.

The Bill will therefore introduce a new regime, whereby employers will be given a much more central role in ensuring safe recruitment practices, supported by a proportionate central barring scheme. We will retain the sensible features of the vetting and barring scheme, but will not require registration or monitoring, which means that there will no longer be an intrusive state-run database containing the details of 9.3 million people. The scheme will cover only those who have regular or close contact with vulnerable groups. This will create a more convenient and proportionate system for both employers and voluntary organisations and the people seeking to work or volunteer with children or vulnerable adults.

On the criminal records regime specifically, the Bill will enable criminal records disclosures to become portable, through a system which allows for continuous updating. This would enable an employer to establish whether new information had been recorded since the certificate was issued. It will also remove the provision requiring a copy of a certificate to be sent directly to an employer. This will allow an applicant legitimately to dispute the information released on the certificate, without this information already having been seen by the employer.

To administer the new scheme, the Criminal Records Bureau and the Independent Safeguarding Authority will be merged into a single, new organisation. These changes will ensure the continued protection of vulnerable people and children, while at the same time allowing those who want to volunteer to do so without fear or suspicion. It will end the unnecessary state scrutiny of law-abiding people.

As well as dealing with recent illiberal laws, today’s Bill rights historic wrongs. Consensual sex between men over the age of consent was decriminalised in 1967, yet more than 40 years on, gay men can still be penalised and discriminated against because of convictions for conduct which is now perfectly lawful. It is right that we should change the law and wipe the slate clean. The Bill establishes a scheme whereby an individual with a conviction that would today not be considered an offence would be able to apply to the Home Office to have the conviction and caution disregarded. If an application were approved, details of the conviction or caution would be removed from police records and the individual would be able legally to conceal their previous conviction in any circumstances. It would also no longer appear on a criminal record disclosure.

Greater transparency is at the heart of our commitment to open up government to greater scrutiny and to allow public authorities to be held to account, so the Bill makes a number of changes to the Freedom of Information Act to extend its provisions. We will consult the House authorities on these provisions before the Committee stage to ensure that parliamentary copyright is properly safeguarded. The Bill also makes changes to the Freedom of Information Act and to the Data Protection Act to enhance the independence of the Information Commissioner.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Labour, Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough

The Home Secretary will be surprised to hear that I agree with quite a lot of the Bill, but on data protection, will she consider a constituent of mine who is extremely worried about the amount of information being collected about him and retained? For privacy reasons, I will not give his name, but let us call him Mr N Clegg. He is worried that in the next four weeks information will be gathered from him which he does not wish to give and which he does not wish the Government to retain. It is called the census. What advice would the right hon. Lady give to my constituent in such circumstances?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I was waiting for the dénouement of the right hon. Gentleman’s question. There is a requirement for people to fill in the census. It is an extremely useful tool for Government. Previous Governments wanted a census because it informs Government in the production of policy. What I would say to the right hon. Gentleman’s constituent is that the census can provide useful information better to inform Government to produce better policy.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

I am grateful to the Home Secretary. I was waiting for her to be specific about surveillance cameras. I understand that it will be much harder for the police and local authorities to use them. Will newspaper editors be subject to the same restrictions?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I always wait with interest and occasionally trepidation for the points that my hon. Friend makes. [Interruption] I could make a response to the sedentary comment by Clive Efford, but it would probably be better not to do so in the context of the Chamber of the House.

On the point made by my hon. Friend David T. C. Davies, the Bill contains a great number of significant measures that will be to the benefit of the people of this country and will ensure that surveillance cameras are used for the proper purposes for which they were introduced.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am being incredibly generous. I had said that I was giving way for the last time, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Labour, West Bromwich East

The Home Secretary is indeed being incredibly generous. What will be her approach in Committee to the Information Commissioner’s powers? The relevant clause seems rather weak. Part of it mentions hearings for the appointment, but it does not really free the commissioner from a Department. The commissioner is currently under the yoke of the Ministry of Justice, but previous Select Committees have recommended that the commissioner be answerable to Parliament, not a Department. Will she take a generous approach in Committee to helpful amendments on those provisions?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman’s previous intervention was extremely helpful in supporting parts of the Bill. Members might wish to discuss that issue in Committee. It has been suggested that the Information Commissioner should be responsible to Parliament. The role goes rather wider than Parliament, however, which is why it has been placed where it has. We intend to increase the commissioner’s independence, so I am sure that the issue will be debated and discussed in Committee.

Finally, the Bill protects one of the most historic freedoms and liberties enjoyed by the British people: the right to trial by jury. The Bill repeals section 43 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which allows the prosecution to apply for a serious or complex fraud trial to proceed in the absence of a jury. We sacrifice the cornerstones of our justice system at our peril.

I have told the House today that the Bill contains a number of provisions that put into effect commitments contained in the coalition agreement, but that does not mean that it should fail to gain support from across the House. Indeed, a number of positive statements have been made by hon. and right hon. Opposition Members.

Any Government and any Parliament must seek to protect not only the security of the British public but the freedoms that we hold dear. The Bill achieves those aims. All those who believe in liberty and the rights of the individual should support the Bill, and I commend it to the House.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities) 6:12 pm, 1st March 2011

I suggest to the Home Secretary that some of the rhetoric in her speech was perhaps unwise. She is probably still thinking too much like an Opposition politician three months before an election, and not enough like a Home Secretary less than a year into a Parliament who will have to live with the consequences of her decisions and the laws that she changes.

There are difficult balances to be struck between protecting people’s freedoms from police or Government interference and protecting their freedom not to become victims of interference or violence by criminals and terrorists. Those balances should be guided by the evidence, not by the political rhetoric that she has used today about the march to authoritarianism or the ending of British liberties. Although some of the measures that she is introducing are perfectly sensible—we will support many of the sensible measures and arrangements—they are not, as the Deputy Prime Minister has tried to claim, a fundamental rolling back of the powers of the state. There are other areas where we think she has got the balance wrong.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

Will the right hon. Lady tell Members what evidence there was for 90-day pre-charge detention?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

As I have said before, I do not think that it was right to go for 90-day detention and it was not justified by the evidence. There will always be areas where Governments need to be cautious in getting the balance right. Equally, however, they must be cautious not to over-hype the rhetoric and inappropriately claim that problems will somehow be easily solved. There is always a difficult balance to be struck.

I hope that the right hon. Lady, in her tenure as Home Secretary, will not have to deal with some of the extremely difficult and dangerous terrorist incidents that her Labour predecessors had to cope with, such as the Omagh bombing, to which my right hon. Friend Mr Straw referred, and the London 7/7 bombings, that led to many of the stronger counter-terrorism measures that her predecessors introduced. I also hope that she will rarely have to deal with some of the deeply disturbing and serious crimes, such as the Soham case, which led to the new procedures on vetting and barring.

The Home Secretary will know that when in the Home Office one can never predict what is coming around the corner, what problems might be uncovered or how one might need to respond in order to protect people’s freedom not to become victims of crime or terrorist threats. In those circumstances, it is wise to build consensus, rather than engaging in the kind of over-simplified political rhetoric that will make it more difficult to strike the right balance in future.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

Does the shadow Home Secretary think it right that the details of 1 million innocent people should be on the DNA database, which is exactly what the 2009 report stated? Can that possibly be right?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

Is that not a damning indictment of Labour’s record on civil liberties?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. May I say from an advisory point of view that Members normally make one intervention at a time? They cannot suddenly pop up again when they remember a point that momentarily eluded them.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

I will discuss the DNA database later. It is important to have safeguards, but it is equally important to ensure that proper processes are in place to protect people against crime.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Labour, Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough

I want to reassure my right hon. Friend that my DNA is on the database, and I have never been arrested or convicted of anything. I was proud to do that because I thought that it was an example that would encourage people not to see the database as something that should be feared, but as a safeguard and a real asset to policing and security.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point. In many cases, the DNA database is also a way of protecting the innocent by ensuring that they are not wrongfully convicted of crimes. DNA evidence will ensure that the person who is guilty of the crime is convicted.

Let me cover some of the areas of the Bill where we agree with the Government. We agree wholeheartedly with removing old convictions for gay sex, which is now legal. We think that it is right to remove them, just as we thought that it was right to abolish section 28 and introduce civil partnerships. We also agree that we should remove the restrictions on when people can get married or become civil partners. If people want to get married at 2 o’clock in the morning and can find someone nocturnal enough to conduct the ceremony, Parliament should not prevent them from doing so.

We support sensible extensions to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. As the party that introduced that Act, we believe that it is a vital way of ensuring proper transparency and accountability. In passing, I would appreciate it if the Home Secretary would have a word with the Chancellor and ask him to stop blocking my freedom of information requests on the impact of his changes on women.

We agree that action was needed against rogue car clampers. In fact, the Opposition Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend Ms Winterton, has run some fantastic campaigns against wheel-clamping bullies. Some action had been taken to legislate for new licensing measures, but we are ready to support alternatives that work and will discuss those in Committee.

We also agree with tighter restrictions on stop-and- search powers, which were being used more widely than originally intended under the legislation. The Home Secretary will be aware that her predecessor, my right hon. Friend Alan Johnson, had already taken some action in that area and that the provisional data had shown a significant drop in stop-and-search cases in 2009-10, but we are ready to support sensible changes that bring the legislation more closely in line with the original intention. As I have said to the Home Secretary before, I am still worried about the implications in Northern Ireland. I hope that she will be able to reassure me, and the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, about the measures that she is taking in those areas.

For all those reasons, we will not oppose the Bill on Second Reading, although we have serious concerns about some elements and believe that significant amendments will be needed in Committee.

I also agree that in some cases the implementation of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 has gone beyond Parliament’s original intention and that further safeguards are needed. Again, we will scrutinise the detail, as it is important that the new procedures are not so bureaucratic that they prevent councils from doing a sensible job. We believe that communities across the country will be concerned if they find that a new code of practice makes it harder to get the CCTV they have been campaigning for, because they know it is critical to preventing crime and antisocial behaviour in their areas.

There is a massive contradiction in the Government’s approach to councils’ powers and abilities. In the Bill before us, the Home Secretary wants to make it harder for councils to gather information or to use surveillance. Yet, in her other Home Office Bill, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which is also going through the House at the moment, she wants to give local councils extra powers to seize people’s property if byelaws are breached. So she does not want council officers watching people, but she does not seem to mind them taking people’s property away.

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill states that byelaws will be able to

“include provision for or in connection with the seizure and retention of any property in connection with any contravention of the byelaw”.

Local councils have byelaws on things such as dog fouling, mud falling on roads, music outside churches or, in the case of Westminster, giving out free refreshment, all of which could be covered by future byelaw seizure powers. The Bill before us contains an entire clause entitled “Protection of Property from Disproportionate Enforcement Action”, but at the very same time disproportionate enforcement action is being actively encouraged in the other Bill. Imagine: a council cannot monitor the noise from a nuisance neighbour, but it can, if a child is playing a tune in the church square, seize the recorder; it cannot check if any dog fouling is taking place, but, if an officer happens to pass by at the critical moment, they can confiscate the dog.

So what on earth are the Government up to? We are used to chaos and confusion in this Government, but that is usually because the Deputy Prime Minister says one thing while the Home Secretary does another: he abolishes control orders; she renames them; he abolishes antisocial behaviour orders; she introduces criminal behaviour orders. We know that she does not agree with lots of what the Deputy Prime Minister says and does, but now it seems that she does not even agree with herself. Such chaos and confusion is absurd when it comes to council byelaws, but it is rather more worrying when it comes to counter-terrorism, because the process has been chaotic from beginning to end.

We can agree to support limiting pre-charge detention to 14 rather than 28 days, on the basis of the evidence from experts, but we also take very seriously the conclusion of the Home Secretary’s own counter-terrorism review, which states that the Government must provide for the possibility of needing to hold someone for longer in exceptional circumstances.

The right hon. Lady’s original plan was to allow the old limit of 28 days to lapse without even showing us the review or telling us the Government’s plans. Then, the Immigration Minister told the House that the draft emergency legislation would be put directly in the Library.

Then, the Home Secretary said that it would not and the order-making power to increase detention to 28 days would suffice. Then, we learned that the Government’s own review stated that the order-making power would not be fast enough. Then, the Home Secretary said that she would consult the Opposition on the emergency legislation so that it could be agreed as soon as possible. We are still waiting on that one. The legislation has finally been published, but, while the draft Bill refers to three months, the explanatory notes refer to six months, and the Government’s intention is still not clear.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

The right hon. Lady has rattled on a bit, but I wonder whether I can take her back to 90 days, because she did not really answer the question about the evidence on which that limit was based. I have taken a personal interest in the matter and in the issue of 14 and 28 days. When there is a case for more than 14 days but there are difficulties in recalling Parliament, officers can choose to put forward a lesser charge that can result in a conviction, thus allowing the person to be detained. The police say that that is easy to do, rather than having to go for the super-charge that would result in the major conviction. It is a simple solution to an easy problem.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

That might be possible in some cases, and officers might be able to use it, but there is an issue, because, although it is right to make 14 days the norm, it is also right to have the provision to move to 28 days if needed. Doing so through emergency legislation, as the Government propose, however, raises some significant difficulties.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn has raised the question of what happens if Parliament is not sitting, and whether it will be possible in those circumstances to move fast enough. The Home Secretary says, “Well, it’ll be all right because we’ll find out on day one whether we might need longer,” but we might not. We might not find out until day 10 of an interrogation that, in fact, a longer period is required.

Let us suppose, for example, that the police have a serious case, including credible intelligence on an imminent terrorist attack or some extreme situation. After 10 days it becomes clear that they need more time before they can charge, but they are afraid of releasing the suspect because they might abscond abroad or even trigger the attack. What happens in those circumstances? The Home Secretary will come to Parliament and say, “We need emergency legislation,” but neither she nor anyone else in the House will be able to discuss why we need it, for fear of prejudicing an investigation or a possible trial. Parliamentary scrutiny will be very difficult, so, given how difficult and risky it might prove, I urge her to look again at options such as special bail conditions, which could reduce the need for emergency legislation.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

I have listened to my right hon. Friend’s reservations, which I share: I am very much in favour of a reduction from 28 to 14 days; that goes without saying. Leaving aside whether the House is to be recalled, and assuming that it is sitting, what details will be given to us about those whom it is felt should be held for longer than 14 days? If we cannot have the relevant information because it will prejudice any proceedings that will take place if the person is charged, what are we supposed to do? Are we just supposed to nod our approval? If we are not, and the details are given out, it will be argued in any later court proceedings that the House has prejudiced the case.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

My hon. Friend makes a really important point that goes to the heart of the problem. The reason for emergency legislation through primary legislation to change those powers is, in theory, to give Parliament the chance to scrutinise, debate and decide whether the action is reasonable. In practice, however, it is very hard to see how Parliament will be able to discuss the detail at all without being at serious risk of prejudicing a potentially dangerous investigation and important case, which we would all want to see go properly through the courts, with the proper judicial process followed.

That is why I say to the Home Secretary that it seems sensible to explore whether there are alternatives, such as bail conditions and other procedures with a judicial process, that might be used in such extreme circumstances. We all hope that the circumstances do not arise, but those alternatives would reduce our need to use emergency legislation.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Has it occurred to the right hon. Lady or, indeed, to those on the Government Front Bench that we have habeas corpus, and that in such conditions it is the first duty of any judge to give effect to that provision? It does not matter what statute says; habeas corpus comes first, unless it has been expressly excluded by statute.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

The hon. Gentleman has considerable legal expertise, and I shall not attempt to get into a detailed debate about that point, but the critical issue is the complicated interaction between not only the work of the police and the role of Parliament, but the necessary role of the judiciary, and the alternatives merit more thoughtful debate, so that we do not prejudice individual cases or put the House in a difficult position.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Given what the right hon. Lady says about our proposals for emergency legislation on 28 days, will she explain why the previous Government put on the stocks emergency legislation for 42 days?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

Legislation is not the right way to respond in such extreme circumstances. In the end, it might be the backstop that the right hon. Lady needs, but she should do more to avoid the situation arising. She is not even looking at what the appropriate special bail conditions might be, for example, or at other measures that could prevent her from ever needing to use emergency legislation in the middle of an extreme situation. She should look at the possible alternatives.

Part 5 makes significant changes to the vetting and barring regime, which works to protect children from abuse. As the Home Secretary knows, the Labour Government said that changes were needed to the system to ensure the right balance between protecting children and vulnerable adults without being unnecessarily burdensome. Indeed, Sir Roger Singleton recommended removing a series of unnecessary checks, and we welcome the recent technological developments that will enable portable Criminal Records Bureau checks and substantially simplify the system.

Some practical issues have been raised, and we will want to pursue those further in Committee.

We think that this is an important development. However, the Home Secretary’s proposals go too far. She is creating a series of loopholes in child protection that parents will rightly be very worried about. The evidence from the NSPCC makes that clear. It says that her proposals leave

“a disturbing gap in the planned legislation that could put children at harm.”

Under these plans, it will be possible for people to spend long hours in positions of authority and in regular intensive contact with children without being covered by the barring arrangements because someone else is in a supervisory role. For example, voluntary teaching assistants may well not be covered. As the NSPCC points out,

“supervised employees and volunteers are still able to develop and exploit relationships with children…A volunteer part time teaching assistant in a classroom of 30 children with only light touch supervision by the classroom teacher has plenty of opportunity to develop inappropriate relationships and groom children.”

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Perhaps I can help the right hon. Lady and the House. This afternoon, the Minister for Equalities, my hon. Friend Lynne Featherstone, who is responsible for criminal information matters, had a meeting with a number of children’s charities, including the NSPCC, and was able to reassure them on that precise point. The employer will be able to get an enhanced CRB check for an individual who is volunteering in a capacity such as a teaching assistant, which will contain the same information that has been available in making the decision on the barring of that individual. The employer will therefore be able to make a decision based on exactly the same information as that on which the decision on barring was taken.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

If the Home Secretary is changing her policy, perhaps she will take the opportunity to intervene again to clarify this point. Will somebody in these circumstances—

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

Let me ask the question. Will somebody in these circumstances be able to find out whether the Independent Safeguarding Authority has made the judgment that somebody should be barred?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am very happy to intervene again on the right hon. Lady, but may I just correct her on one thing? I have not changed the policy. The policy remains exactly as it was, and the Bill remains exactly as it was. A misinterpretation of what was in the Bill has led to the comments from the NSPCC, which, as I said, is one of the children’s charities to which my hon. Friend the Minister has been speaking today. In the circumstances that the right hon. Lady outlines, the fact of the barring will not be available to the employer, but the information that led to the decision on the barring will be available to the employer. We take a slightly different position from that of the right hon. Lady and her party—that the employer must then take some responsibility for making a decision as to who it is appropriate to have potentially dealing with children in the classroom.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

This is really weird. It means that somebody—a teacher, for example—who has been working with children and has been barred for grooming a child, may then apply for a job, perhaps a voluntary post as a teaching assistant, and the school will not be told whether they are barred, but the Home Secretary thinks that that is okay because the school may be able to get some of the information that led to the barring in the first place if it is summarised on the CRB check. Why not give the school the information about the fact that someone has been previously barred?

The Home Office guidance says:

“Some people who may previously have been barred…may be able to gain posts in other areas where they are able to work less closely with children or adults. It will be up to employers to weigh up the risks involved”,

but let us think of the position in which that puts employers. They will not even know if they have got the full information; nor will they have the judgment of the experts at the safeguarding authority who have made a decision, based on their professional experience and expertise, that the person should be barred. The guidance also says that

“employers will not be able to find out the barred status of people who are not working in regulated activity roles.”

A lot of parents will find this puzzling and worrying. Why should they not be able to find out whether someone has previously been barred for working with children if they are going to be working with children again in a similar way?

Let us consider the other consequences. If a voluntary teaching assistant is caught grooming a child, then as long as they have never been a teacher, worked in regulated activity, or expressed a desire to do so in future, they will not even be added to the barred list. So two years later they can apply for teacher training and no one will know that they were kicked out of another school for deeply inappropriate behaviour. Future employers may be able to get a criminal records check but, as the NSPCC has made clear,

“This is highly concerning as most people who pose a risk to children are not prosecuted, and thus future employers may not be alerted to the risks they pose.”

I have to say to the Home Secretary that most parents will not just think that it is “highly concerning”—they will think, like me, that it is wrong.

Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Labour, West Bromwich East

My right hon. Friend is right that this is a complex and puzzling piece of the Bill, and the devil will be in the detail when it comes before the Committee. I hope that the Home Secretary is in no doubt, though, that what is very clear is that if a child is harmed as a result of this deregulatory measure, she will carry the responsibility for it.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

The Home Secretary needs to think again about this matter and take responsibility for the changes that she is making. As parents, we want to be sure that someone who has a history of inappropriate behaviour towards children will not end up as a voluntary teaching assistant in our child’s class. The Deputy Prime Minister has described the proposed new arrangements as common sense. I am afraid that the truth is that they look, at best, naive and confused, and at worst, extremely irresponsible. I urge the Home Secretary to change this proposal and not to put political rhetoric above the safety of children.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), DUP Westminster Leader

Although there are many excellent things in the Bill that I welcome, the right hon. Lady is absolutely right on this point. When it comes to the protection of children and to giving confidence to parents, is it not right always to err on the side of caution?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

The right hon. Gentleman is right. This is a difficult area. People will raise concerns if they feel that there are inappropriate burdens in reporting arrangements, and of course it is right to try to reduce those and to prevent inappropriate checks or bureaucracy, but it is also right to put safeguards for our children at the heart of the measures that we set out, and not to do things that feel inappropriate given the potential risks, given the evidence, and given the security that parents want for their children.

Photo of Rob Flello Rob Flello Shadow Minister (Justice)

My right hon. Friend is talking about the incredibly important issue of safeguarding our children. Given what we have seen in the media over the past week about the risks to vulnerable adults, would she care to comment on the fact that, although those of us who are parents are deeply concerned about children, including other people’s children, there are serious implications for vulnerable adults too?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

My hon. Friend is right. Some cases of very distressing abuse have taken place involving vulnerable adults, and it is important that they, too, should have protection against that. The key is to ensure that if one authority or organisation knows that somebody has a history of abuse, that person should not be allowed to work again in a position where they may put vulnerable adults or children at risk in a way that other authorities, or the families, were not aware of, and which might lead to harm.

I want finally to turn to DNA, which is another area where we believe that the Government are going too far. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle had already legislated for safeguards on DNA use, including a six-year limit on retention for those who were not convicted. He based those safeguards on analysis of reoffending rates and the benefits in terms of preventing and solving crimes. The Government have decided to reject those safeguards and to go much further in restricting the use of DNA, but not on the basis of evidence. Some people object, as a matter of principle, to DNA being held at all if the person has not been convicted. I do not agree with that, but neither does the Home Secretary. She claimed that nobody’s DNA should be kept at all if they were innocent, but that is not what the proposals in her Bill achieve. Rightly, she recognises that there must be a balance that supports the needs to prevent crime and to ensure that crimes are solved. A balance needs to be struck, but she is not striking the right one. The changes go too far in restricting the use of DNA and will make it harder for the police to solve and prevent serious crimes.

This is a particular problem in rape cases. As the Home Secretary knows, rape cases not only have a notoriously low conviction rate, but a notoriously low charge rate. That is because the trauma for the victim is so great and because of problems with evidence. Many perpetrators of serious sexual crimes are not brought to justice for their first offence. In about 70% of cases in which a rape suspect is arrested, there is no charge.

According to Home Office papers, in cases where there is no charge, DNA will be kept only in very limited circumstances, so in most of these cases the DNA will be destroyed, even though it might be critical in catching a repeat offender for a nasty and violent sexual offence.

The Home Secretary will know that a considerable number of cases have been solved because of DNA. Kensley Larrier was arrested in 2002 for the possession of an offensive weapon. The case never reached court, but two years later he raped someone and was found because of a DNA match. Lee and Stephen Ainsby raped and kidnapped a 17-year-old girl in Barnsley. A match with Lee Ainsby’s DNA was found years later in a case review. It had been taken because he had been arrested for being drunk and disorderly. Under the Home Secretary’s system, his DNA would not have been kept. Without that DNA, those two men would still be free, and justice for that young girl would not have been done. Abdul Azad was arrested for violent disorder in Birmingham in February 2005, but released without charge, according to the Forensic Science Service. In July 2005, he raped somebody in Stafford and was identified only because the police had his DNA. The senior investigating officer for the case said:

“We would never have caught him had his DNA not already been on the database—he didn’t even live locally so we had no intelligence leads either.”

Case after case would have been much harder for the police to solve under the Home Secretary’s new rules. Yes, she has an obligation to ensure that individuals are protected from unjustified interference, but she also has an obligation to protect people from crime and to deliver justice for the victims of horrific crimes.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I am sure that the right hon. Lady will appreciate, given the importance of this debate, that many of the points that she has made about those cases derive from European rulings and the European convention on human rights. The problem with almost everything she has said is that it was her Government who were responsible for bringing in and endorsing many of these provisions, including through the Human Rights Act 1998. Does she not accept that there is a dilemma, which has to be resolved in Committee, about whether we should go down the human rights route and follow article 8 or legislate in this House to ensure that we achieve justice for the people concerned?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

The Crime and Security Act 2010, which was passed before the election, addressed many of those issues and concerns. A wider discussion, which we will not stray into, is about whether one of the benefits of the Human Rights Act is that it refers issues back to Parliament and allows it to respond.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when my hon. Friend Mr Campbell and I took the DNA provisions through this House at the beginning of last year, the then Opposition did not oppose the six-year retention period? That was because they recognised that many murderers, rapists, sexual offenders and others were caught after committing crimes because of DNA profiles, meaning that other victims were not created. Does she agree that the proposals threaten to create more victims?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

My right hon. Friend is right about the importance of protecting victims, as well as protecting other people. It is a shame that the Government, having supported the measures in the 2010 Act and allowed it to go through, have not chosen to implement it. The revised measures will take much longer to put in place.

Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Labour, West Bromwich East

I was not aware of the cases that my right hon. Friend raised. Before we decide where we stand on this matter, I think that the people of Stafford, Birmingham and Barnsley deserve an explanation from the Home Secretary about why these measures would have allowed serious criminals to remain free.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

My hon. Friend raises an important point. If these restrictions go through and make it harder for the police to solve serious crimes, the Home Secretary will have to explain to the victims of crime and those who are worried about serious crimes and offences why she has chosen to draw the line where she has, and to strike the balance in a way that will mean that more victims will not get the justice that they deserve and that we have a responsibility to pursue on their behalf.

Protecting freedom means getting the balance right. It means protecting the freedom of victims as well as protecting everyone else from unnecessary suspicion or interference. It means making sure that there are safeguards, checks and balances that protect people’s freedoms and protect the innocent. It also means making sure that the police have the tools they need to fight and prevent crime that hurts innocent people.

In reality, what are the Home Secretary and her Government doing? Their record on protecting freedoms and ensuring checks and balances is a mass of confusion and contradiction that makes a mockery of their rhetoric: new powers of confiscation for local councils; restrictions on protest in Parliament square and powers for non-warranted officers to move people on physically; substantial powers over the police concentrated in the hands of a single politician—the police commissioner; and a populist assault on the courts and the Human Rights Act, which play an important role in preventing arbitrary state power. The Government are not putting in place checks and balances or protecting freedoms. At the same time, they are making it harder, not easier, for the police to fight crime and bring offenders to justice—through restrictions on DNA, loopholes in child protection, weakening the sex offenders register, ending antisocial behaviour orders, weakening control orders and by having more than 10,000 fewer police officers thanks to the 20% front-loaded cuts. That is not a good list.

The Bill does not do what it says on the tin. It does not deliver a fundamental change in the protection of freedom for the innocent, and it does not protect the freedom of victims. The Home Secretary has given in to the rhetoric of the Deputy Prime Minister and she will be judged by the reality of her decisions today. She is getting some of those decisions wrong.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 6:47 pm, 1st March 2011

I welcome the Bill. How could one not support clamping down on the wheel clampers? Some of my constituents have had terrible experiences at their hands.

Although I listened carefully to the shadow Home Secretary’s arguments, and although she made some fair points about DNA, one cannot, on civil liberties grounds, oppose removing the DNA of innocent people from the DNA database. It is a fundamental principle of British law that when people are found innocent by the courts, they are innocent.

My speech will be rather like the speeches that we used to have at Conservative party conferences, which said that the motion was fine, but did not go nearly far enough. Much of the Bill is, frankly, pretty unexceptional. Compared with the Deputy Prime Minister’s rhetoric last year about bringing in a Bill to

“protect our hard won liberties” much of it is a bit tame. What happened, I wonder, to the 14,000 ideas that were suggested by members of the public via the “Your Freedom” consultation? It is like a scene from “Yes Minister”. An enthusiastic new Minister says, “I want to have a Freedom Bill,” and 14,000 replies come in. One can imagine Sir Humphrey, in his most mellifluous tone, advising the Minister that freedom can be a very incendiary device when it comes to Government.

I suggest that the Bill should go further, and I hope that I will get support not only from those on the Government Benches, but from Opposition Members. The Leader of the Opposition has admitted that Labour was

“too draconian on aspects of our civil liberties”.

Where can we go further? I am particularly worried about freedom of speech. I believe that political speech and debate, even in this place, are becoming very bland. There is a chilling effect on free speech, because people are discouraged from expressing unpopular opinions that do not fit with the winds of political fashion. Did not George Orwell once say:

“Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”?

I would add that the right to speak against received wisdom is the only way to make social progress, as I hope many Opposition Members would agree. We have to protect the ability to express widely differing opinions in strong terms in the public square.

One reason why I was worried about the Phil Woolas case, as I said at the time on the Floor of the House, is that if someone has a British National party candidate standing against them, for example, they have to be able to denounce them for what they are without fearing legal sanctions. We have a more and more active and activist judiciary, not just in the Supreme Court and the lower courts but in the European Court of Human Rights. Again, that has a somewhat chilling effect. We should examine some of the debates that there used to be during general elections, certainly 100 years ago but even 50 or 40 years ago. They were a lot more robust than they are now.

With that in mind, and in the spirit of warm and cosy friendship with my Liberal Democrat friends, I wish to try to persuade the Home Secretary to give some thought to adopting a Liberal Democrat proposal for inclusion in the Bill. It was made by Dr Evan Harris, who at the time was the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon. May I say how much we all miss him? Although I disagreed with him on virtually everything, he was a kind of foil to some of my arguments. In March 2009, he tabled an interesting proposal to amend the Public Order Act 1986. He wanted to delete the word “insulting” from section 5, because he was concerned that that section was being used to trample on free speech. As I have said, I did not agree with a lot of what he said, but I did agree with that.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Is my hon. Friend aware that the said Evan Harris, on one occasion in the House, referred to those of my hon. Friends with my inclination in these matters as the “odious right”?

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I am reminded of that Somerset Maugham story in which two old men hate each other and argue all the time, and then one dies and the other one fades away. I feel that a bit about Dr Evan Harris leaving the House.

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

Does my hon. Friend remember the Hayes dictum, named after my hon. Friend Mr Hayes? It was that if a Member was in the same Lobby as Dr Evan Harris, they were in the wrong Lobby.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

That is enough about our friend, I think.

Section 5 of the 1986 Act outlaws

“threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour” if they are likely to cause “harassment, alarm or distress”. The proposal that I wish to make, which I and the Liberals supported before, is the deletion of the lowest threshold of that offence, which is the word “insulting”. That would still leave the two higher thresholds of “threatening” and “abusive”.

The 1986 Act was brought in to replace the Public Order Act 1936, which had worked very well in dealing with the blackshirts and all that. The 1986 Act does not define the terms “threats” and “abuse”, but we all know them when we see them. The courts have often said that. Threat is obvious, is it not? It is when someone is in your face and there is a fear of violence, and abuse is when someone uses obscene language. Insult, however, is clearly something less serious and more subjective, and that is the problem. I believe that removing the word “insulting” would be enough to stop section 5 being misused and generating a chilling effect on free speech.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will take any reassurance from the fact that as recently as Monday, Evan Harris was in the House campaigning to get rid of the word “insulting”.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Good, I am very glad. That just shows that there is support for that from all over the House, and indeed from outside.

Section 5 of the 1986 Act is a classic example of a law that was brought in for a fair reason, to deal with a particular state of affairs long ago, but has been used in practice for something quite different. It was brought in to tackle hooliganism, but it is increasingly used by police to silence peaceful protestors and street preachers.

I shall give a couple of examples of how section 5 has been used, to show what has been going on. It has been used to prosecute a couple of hotel owners, Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, who had a breakfast-table dispute with a Muslim guest. I do not comment one way or the other on their views, but they said that Mohammed was a warlord and that Islamic dress oppressed women. For that breakfast-table dispute, they were prosecuted. True, the judge threw the case out and apparently hinted that the police should have handled it differently, but the point is that for some reason, Merseyside police thought that section 5 applied to theological debates over breakfast. Even though the couple were acquitted, their business went to the wall. It is not enough to say, “Well, we don’t need to worry, because they were not convicted.” We should worry, because people are increasingly worried about expressing strong opinions.

There are other examples. In 2008, a 16-year-old protestor was issued a summons by police under section 5 of the 1986 Act for holding a placard outside a scientology centre that read, “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult”, which is something that many people agree with. City of London police referred the allegation that the sign was abusive or insulting to the Crown Prosecution Service. I am glad to say that Liberty, which is supporting the campaign for the change, intervened and the case was finally dropped. However, it shows the problem that exists.

Then there were the animal rights protestors in Worcester, who were threatened with arrest and seizure of property under section 5 for protesting against seal culling using toy seals coloured with red dye. Police told them that the toys were deemed distressing by two members of the public and ordered them to move on.

The last and most ridiculous case is that of Kyle Little. After being warned by the police for using bad language, he was arrested and prosecuted under section 5 for a daft little growl and woof aimed towards two Labrador dogs. I have a dog, my own dearly beloved William, and I am sure he has never felt insulted by anything that I have ever said to him. But this poor Kyle Little, for growling at a dog, was detained for five hours, despite the dog owners not wanting any prosecution, at a cost of £8,000 to the taxpayer. Unbelievably, Newcastle Crown court finally had to acquit Little of the charge. We can see what is going on. [Hon. Members: “It’s barking!”] Mr Straw and others are right. We need to bring it to an end.

We should all worry about this. There is something wrong with a law when the police think that it requires them to regulate debate. As I have said, the 1986 Act was introduced to replace the 1936 Act during a period of football hooliganism, as people might remember. At the time, a White Paper identified the mischief at which the Act was aimed—hooligans on housing estates throwing things down stairs and banging on doors, and groups of youths persistently shouting abuse and obscenities. Section 5 was a fairly reasonable response to that. The then Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, told the House that it would not undermine civil liberties, but 25 years later, we see a major difference between what was intended and what has happened since. We therefore need to examine the wording. I cannot act very easily, as a Back Bencher, but Ministers can do so very easily.

Liberty has argued that we should use the Bill to repeal section 5 of the 1986 Act in its entirety. That may be going too far for Ministers, and I do not follow Liberty as far as that, but in a classic triangulation exercise, why cannot we just remove the word “insulting” and leave the higher grades? I have support from our own Joint Committee on Human Rights, which heard evidence that section 5 was being used to suppress free speech and made representations to the previous Government, which were resisted. That Government rejected the advice of our own Committee on human rights.

I say to the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend James Brokenshire—please will he listen for a moment, as the responsible Minister?—that it appears that civil servants at the Home Office are still using, almost verbatim in correspondence signed by him, the arguments used by the last Government against amending section 5. I wonder whether he knows that the letters that he is sending out use exactly the same language as was used by the Labour Government to resist what our own JCHR suggested.

In response to the JCHR recommendations, the previous Government said that they believed that problems with section 5 could be addressed by “guidance”, which is a classic cop-out for civil servants. It is true that the Association of Chief Police Officers recently produced new guidance on breach of the peace, which covers section 5. However, that still encourages police to pursue insulting words or behaviour, because of course, that is what the law tells them to do. If we tell the police that it is wrong for people to use insulting language, they will pursue them. It is up to us to make the law clear so that the police can operate in an entirely sensible fashion. Frankly, it is not good enough for Ministers to say, “We can solve this with guidance,” especially when there is a Protection of Freedoms Bill on the stocks. In any case, an issue as serious and significant as civil liberties should not be left to mere guidance. It is for MPs to make such decisions.

The previous Government used another argument that is still used by Ministers in correspondence. They say that if the word “insulting” is removed from section 5, the police will not have sufficient power to protect the public, but that is not the case. Neil Addison, a barrister who spent 10 years prosecuting cases in Newcastle, has suggested that the “threatening” and “abusive” limbs of section 5 will cover all genuine public order cases. He says:

“Looking back on the large number of s5 cases I have either prosecuted or defended over the years I cannot think of any ‘normal’ public order situation which could not be covered by the words ‘threatening and abusive’. Most cases under s5 involve people (often drunk) yelling aggressively and making frequent use of the ‘F’ word and that is the sort of situation that s5 and indeed the entire Public Order Act was supposed to deal with, it was never supposed to deal with the situation where individuals, whether street preachers or otherwise”,

including demonstrators or people we do not like,

“were expressing their personal opinions.”

We use other laws if we get complaints from distressed individuals. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 criminalises any repeated harassment of an individual, which I support. Therefore, deleting the word “insulting” from the Public Order Act 1986 would not leave police and prosecutors without powers to deal with low-level public disorder.

One of the silliest arguments used to defend that part of section 5 is that removing the word “insulting” would mean that the courts would have to adjudicate on the difference between abuse, which is criminal, and insult, which is not—we see that argument in letters from Ministers both of the previous Government and of the current one. However, courts make such adjudications all the time. We could equally say that under section 5, the courts must adjudicate between insult, which is criminal, and incivility, which is not. Criminal courts decide whether an activity is criminal—it is their raison d’être. All the arguments put up by this and the previous Government on why “insulting” cannot be removed from section 5 fall to pieces.

I am sure we all agree that free speech is a bedrock of true democracy. It encompasses the freedom to disagree and to challenge received opinion. We might not like what someone says and we might take offence, but lively debate and a robust exchange of ideas are integral parts of a true democracy. Lord Justice Sedley, in his landmark ruling in the case of Richmond-Bate in 1999, put it better than anybody. He said:

“Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.”

In my view, the criminal law does not exist to protect people from feeling insulted. I urge Ministers to think about addressing section 5 of the 1986 Act in the Bill. They and no one else have the power to do so.

The JCHR, Liberty, Justice, the Christian Institute and Dr Evan Harris are calling on us to do something about section 5. I note the Liberal Democrats specifically referred to reforming the 1986 Act on page 93 of their manifesto last year. It is a Lib Dem idea that we would be wise to adopt. I urge such a measure on the House in the name of that most precious commodity—freedom of speech.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Labour, Blackburn 7:04 pm, 1st March 2011

I am delighted to follow Mr Leigh. This is the first time that I have ever heard him endorse anything Liberal Democrat.

I share the hon. Gentleman’s opinion of the Bill, which he described as pretty unimpressive. The content of the Bill does not remotely justify its extraordinary and wholly inaccurate title. We would expect a debate on a Bill to protect our freedoms to include a far more wide-ranging discussion by the Home Secretary of the nature of freedoms in this country and how they should be properly balanced. We would also see a description of such essential freedoms in the Bill. However, the Bill, parts of which are worthy and others downright dangerous, is no more than a standard criminal justice amendment Bill.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Labour, Blackburn

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman endorses that view.

I am sorry that the Home Secretary has left the Chamber, although I understand the pressures on her. She made some extraordinarily hyperbolic remarks, and described the situation under the previous Government as the creeping intrusion of the state and a slow march to authoritarianism. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary has accepted, the previous Government got some things wrong, and, in the light of experience, some things turned out not as intended. I will deal with those later, but on our record of balancing necessary security with the expansion of freedoms, I and the Labour party defer to no one.

Labour was the party that introduced the Human Rights Act 1998. I remind the Conservatives that they voted against it on Second Reading. I am glad that, following amendments to the Bill, which I sought to make to build the kind of consensus of which my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary spoke today, the then Conservative Opposition supported it on Third Reading. The then shadow Attorney-General, the late Nicholas Lyell, said from the Opposition Dispatch Box that he wished the Bill well.

I also remind Mr Cash that the 1998 Act is about bringing British rights home, so that they can be adjudicated on by British courts. The Act does not create a sovereign Supreme Court. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, under section 4, even if the British Supreme Court declares that legislation made by this House is incompatible with the incorporated European convention on human rights articles—that happens rarely, and not in the cases of DNA or votes for prisoners—the legislation is not unenforceable: it stays in force unless and until this House decides otherwise.

The Labour Government introduced the Human Rights Act 1998, the title of which was never disputed, because it was indeed about human rights—we could have called it the “Human Rights and Freedom Act”. We also introduced the Freedom of Information Act. I am proud that I was the Home Secretary who produced those measures and a number of others. The previous Conservative Government opposed the freedom of information legislation at every stage for 18 years. They wanted only a non-statutory, unenforceable code. That is all they would have introduced.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

I wonder what the right hon. Gentleman made of the claim in Tony Blair’s book that one of the two worst things he did was to pass the Freedom of Information Act—the other one being to pass the Hunting Act 2004.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Labour, Blackburn

I will pass lightly over the Hunting Act, if I may. I do not happen to agree with Tony Blair on that point. Although freedom of information requests can be irritating, especially if one is in government, I did not change how I operated as a Minister. It did not mean that I ceased to record my decisions or comments on submissions. As was brought out by the Dacre report, whichever party is in power there is a case for the proper protection of Cabinet discussions and collective responsibility—that issue might need to be reconsidered, because it has not worked out as intended—but I am in no doubt that overall the Freedom of Information Act has been a force for good.

In addition to those two Acts, we passed the Data Protection Act 1998. There had been no provision to protect people’s personal data before I introduced that Act in 1998. We also introduced extraordinarily important freedoms and protections for people who do not happen to have white skin, including in the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 following the Lawrence inquiry.

I am sorry that the Home Secretary is not here, but while we are on the subject of freedoms, I would draw to the House’s attention the extraordinary difficulty that we had in providing freedoms for gay men and women by reducing the age of consent—equalising it at 16. The first attempt, which was an amendment to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, was defeated in the Lords so strongly that we lost the whole Bill. I then had to introduce a further Bill containing simply a reduction in the age of consent to 16. That, too, was defeated in the Lords, and it was not until we used the Parliament Act that it got through, against vehement Conservative opposition, including from some in this Chamber—to the shame of the Conservative party—and a huge amount in the other place. So let us hear no more nonsense from the Conservative party or the Liberal Democrats suggesting that we in the Labour party failed to balance liberty and order effectively and properly. Yes, we introduced a number of measures on the other side of that equation, but most of those—as far as I can recall, all of them during my period—were actively supported by the Conservative party in opposition.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

I do not think that any Government Member is saying that the previous Government achieved nothing in relation to civil liberties. However, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that on the other side of the balance, in terms of what the Government did, were the fiasco over 90 days’ detention, control orders, blanket stop-and-search powers and some very draconian measures that went to the heart of threatening our civil liberties?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Labour, Blackburn

I will deal with each of those measures in turn, and then come to the contents of the Bill. I will run through them in the order they appear in my notes. On surveillance measures, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 was introduced, again by me, to do what it says in the title—to regulate investigatory powers. My predecessor, now Lord Howard, had started that regulation. Before 1996, there was no regulation of those powers, and the most extraordinary situation obtained inside the police. They suited themselves whether to put microphones in walls. They had guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers, but there was no statutory supervision or proper regulation, and no account was taken of the equipment used. That was improved, to some extent, by my predecessor, and then comprehensively by RIPA. However, I accept that the provisions in RIPA have been used by local authorities, in respect of minor offences, in a way that was never intended, so I support the change proposed in the Bill.

I also support the change on wheel-clamping. I will have to look at some of the detail, but like my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary I strongly celebrate the campaign by my right hon. Friend Ms Winterton, who has been promoted partly because of this and has now had to take Trappist vows as Opposition Chief Whip. I also strongly support a campaign that my right hon. Friend Mr Brown began on the elimination of all convictions involving consensual relations with gay men.

Tom Brake asked me about counter-terrorism powers. Although we did not get everything right, the introduction of those powers needs to be seen in context. The Terrorism Act 2000 was approved by the House—I cannot remember where the Liberal Democrats were, but I remember that the Conservatives supported it. However, section 44 was intended to be used in a much narrower way than has been the case, so I have no objection to its effective redefinition in the Bill.

We got it wrong on 90 days—I am perfectly happy to say that—but it must be seen in the context of what happened on 11 September 2001. People were terrified, and the first responsibility of any Government is to secure the most fundamental liberty—the right to life. Of course, we still needed to have a balance, and we sought one, but we did not quite get it right. I am perfectly happy to say that. I simply say to the hon. Gentleman, however, that although the prescription in the Bill of 14 days is fine as a standard, the contortions in the Bill and in draft legislation that would provide for a reserve power of 28 days will prove impractical. The reserve power, which we all agree ought to be there, has to be used in circumstances in which it is virtually impossible for the Home Secretary to disclose the details. The full-scale parliamentary legislative process that would follow a recall of Parliament—you can bet your life that that is how it would happen, because that is how terrorists operate—would be the most extraordinary and mocking ever seen: the Home Secretary would have to come to the House and say, “I want this legislation to double the period of maximum detention, but I can’t tell you why.” It would be far better, in those circumstances, to say, “Here is a power for the Secretary of State for which he or she will be accountable in due time.” Given that he or she is the only individual in possession of all the information that should trigger this power, the responsibility for triggering it should rest with the Secretary of State by way of a special order.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Will the right hon. Gentleman, to whom I am listening carefully, seek, as a former Home Secretary, to answer the question I put to the shadow Home Secretary regarding habeas corpus? I also asked Charles Clarke, another former Home Secretary, whether habeas corpus would survive these provisions. I never got a satisfactory answer. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that these provisions do affect habeas corpus, but that, as I insist in my Bill, which comes out tomorrow, habeas corpus is absolute and must apply in all terrorism cases?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Labour, Blackburn

I do not want to get drawn too far down this road, but the hon. Gentleman will know that until the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the recommendations of the royal commission that preceded it, there was no statutory regulation of the length of time for which, or the circumstances in which, the police could hold a suspect. It is extraordinary, if we think about it. There were judges’ rules, which were non-statutory, and the only effective check on an arbitrary use of power—apart from practice—was habeas corpus. If somebody was locked up for too long, his solicitor or friends would threaten a writ of habeas corpus. That was how it worked, and I would refer those who think that those were halcyon days for criminal justice to the 2010 Judicial Studies Board lecture in which the current Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, reflected on his time as a junior at the Bar and on how that non-statutory system of regulation led—as I saw when I was a young barrister in the 1970s—to fitting up, to words being put into criminals’ mouths and sometimes to very substantial and totally unacceptable physical pressure and violence against suspects. Of course, one consequence was that confession statements were often successfully challenged. Habeas corpus is one part of the law, but where there is more recent statute, the courts will go to that first.

Let me turn now to other matters in the Bill about which I have some serious reservations. As the Member of Parliament for Blackburn, I have had many representations about closed circuit television. I do not know whether my experience is any different from that of anyone else in the Chamber, but all the representations I have received about closed circuit television have been requests from constituents to introduce more of it. In the whole of my 32 years in this House, I have never had a single representation seeking the removal of CCTV monitors. Not one. The demand is there because it makes people feel safe, and I bet that this experience is shared across the Chamber. I cannot remember an occasion as Home Secretary when I received any representations suggesting that the existing system, which we should bear in mind is subject to control under data protection and other measures, was unsatisfactory.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

Just on a point of information—as the right hon. Gentleman invites it—during the election campaign I received at least one request to reduce the amount of CCTV.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Labour, Blackburn

I am grateful for that intervention, which makes my point, because that one representation is balanced by the large number that we receive the other way. I just wonder whether the Government are setting up significant and costly bureaucracy to solve a problem that does not exist.

On criminal record certificates, let me say this. I have been a governor of Blackburn college—a further and higher education college—for the last 20 years. Following the post-Soham measures, each member of the governing body had to fill in a lengthy form and produce their passport, as part of the application process for an enhanced CRB certificate, a process that I regarded as frankly rather tedious. I am pleased to say that it confirmed what I had already told the clerk to the governors, which was that I had no convictions since, as far as I knew, nothing adverse had been recorded by the police. At first blush I thought, “This is going a bit over the top.” I certainly accept that there ought to be a lighter regime for the generality of volunteers, but I would just offer this salutary point to the House.

Just before we were asked to fill in those CRB checks, there was an apparently entirely respectable man on the governing body who, to shorten the story, was convicted of very serious sexual offences against someone who was vulnerable—albeit an adult, and not at the college—and he went to prison. I cannot be certain about this, because I do not have access to the information, but I know enough about that man to know that there was information that could not have led to an earlier arrest but which was on the police database and would almost certainly have been included in a CRB check. I happen to believe that although it was tedious for me and everybody else on the governing body to apply for a CRB check, the balance in terms of public safety—and particularly the safety of young people and children—favours having such checks.

I just think—I know that my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper on the Front Bench believes this too—that this issue has to be examined with the greatest care. We forget too quickly the context in which the measures in question were put in place. The Soham murders were awful. Huntley, like many serious sexual offenders, was brilliant at deception. Indeed, there are no better deceivers—of themselves as well as everybody else—than serious sexually predatory men such as Huntley. If it means a bit more bureaucracy, but also that our children and grandchildren do not become the next victims, we should err on the side of safety.

Finally, let me come to DNA and the taking of other biometric data, including fingerprints. Michael Ellis, who is no longer in his place, asked about the 1 million “innocent” people on the database. That prompts the question whether people who are “innocent” actually mind having their DNA on the database. Again, I do not believe that my constituents are significantly different in character or profile from those elsewhere, but plenty have had their DNA or fingerprints taken when either the case has not proceeded to charge or they have been acquitted, yet I cannot remember a single case of someone complaining to me about it. On two occasions in my life—this was before DNA was available—I have had my fingerprints taken. The first was at school when there was a burglary and it was necessary to eliminate a group of us as potential perpetrators, and I was happy enough to give my fingerprints.

As an adult, when I was a special adviser there was a criminal investigation into the leak of a limited circulation annexe to some Cabinet documents, and a Commander Habershon, with a sergeant who looked like Oddjob out of “Goldfinger”—I should tell the House this was before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—came to interview me. I was invited to give my fingerprints; and, looking at Oddjob, I decided that this was probably an invitation I should accept. I gave my fingerprints, not least in the belief—which turned out to be accurate—that doing so would be a means by which I would be eliminated from the police inquiries. They asked me, “What should we do if you are eliminated?”, and I said, “I really don’t mind if you hang on to these.”

As it happens, I have not given my DNA, unlike my right hon. Friend Mr Blunkett, but I would be perfectly happy to do so. Most people believe—I know that some Conservative Members also take this view—that that is sensible for two reasons. One is that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford said from the Front Bench, doing so helps to protect the innocent. Since the introduction of DNA, not only have more guilty people been convicted of serious crimes, but a number of serious miscarriages of justice have at long been last ended, resulting in justice for the innocent person who had ended up in prison.

I would also remind the House why I introduced the change that meant that once there had been an arrest or charge, the samples should be retained indefinitely. There were two cases in 2000—one was called Weir, the other was called R v. B—one of which involved a murder, the other involving a rape. In both cases DNA samples had been taken in respect of offences for which the defendants had been subsequently acquitted, but the courts held that that DNA evidence could not be used to convict them later. In the case of R v. B, there was a rape—an awful rape—in 1997 of an elderly person where DNA swabs were subsequently taken from the victim. In 1998, this man B was arrested and charged with an unrelated burglary and his DNA was taken. He was subsequently acquitted of the burglary; meanwhile, the forensic examination of the DNA taken from the rape victim was proceeding. After that acquittal, that DNA and B’s DNA were matched and he was charged with rape.

The case went to trial, and the trial judge took a submission from the defence that the critical evidence—in fact, the only evidence; but as the trial judge himself said, it was compelling evidence—of the defendant’s guilt, namely the DNA, could not be adduced in evidence because it should have been destroyed.

The matter went to the Court of Appeal, which said that, on a construction of the Act, that was correct. I do not criticise the senior judiciary for that decision, because they have a job to do, and it is to construe the law, not to invent it. We should not criticise them in any circumstances. It was quite inappropriate for the Prime Minister to criticise the judiciary recently. Any decision that they make, including those made by the Supreme Court, can be overturned by this House. It is different in respect of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, but I shall not tread that particular path just now.

As a result of the Weir case and the R v. B case, someone who was unquestionably guilty of murder and a guilty rapist were found not guilty because of the inadmissibility of the evidence. They were both allowed to go free and, my guess is, to commit further crimes. I then introduced changes in what became the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough then amended the legislation further.

I mention those cases to remind the Home Secretary that, in talking about freedoms, we must strike a balance between the important rights of defendants charged with crimes—which have been strengthened quite profoundly, not least by the Human Rights Act 1998—and the rights of victims and the public. The Law Lords said in their judgment, when they reluctantly had to endorse part of the Court of Appeal’s decision, that there had to be a triangulation—their word, not mine—to balance the three sets of rights.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford spoke of the risks that the Home Secretary is taking by introducing these measures. It is a truth about being Home Secretary that something will go wrong, and that when one thing goes wrong, something else normally does as well. Indeed, when I was Home Secretary, there was one week in which I had to come to the House to make an emergency statement each day. That was exceeded only by the late Lord Whitelaw, who had to make two statements on one day about things that had gone wrong—sometimes very badly wrong.

It is possible that Mrs May will turn out to be the luckiest Home Secretary since 1782, when the post was created, and I wish her well. I do not think that she will be, however. She is the person proposing these dangerous measures that will put freedoms at risk for the vast majority of the British public, and she needs to have a care both for the British public and for her own future. In her speech, she denied that these changes would undermine the detection of crime or lead to fewer guilty criminals being convicted. She said that she would go on to explain how and why she was able to make that statement, but I noticed that the rest of her speech was completely silent on that point. I was not surprised. The changes are bound to lead to some people whom we all know to be guilty and dangerous being allowed to go free.

After the right to life, the next most important right and freedom is the right to security. We were the first Government since the war to preside over a year-by-year reduction in crimes of all kinds, as the Library paper makes clear. There was a 43% reduction, according to the British crime survey. That dramatic reduction made this country safer. I celebrate all the freedoms, including those mentioned by the hon. Member for Gainsborough, but I also celebrate the fact that, although we are a long way from perfection, this country is now safer for people living in their homes, for people out on the streets and for people driving their cars. Those are real freedoms, and some of the changes in the Bill will put them at grave risk.

Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford 7:35 pm, 1st March 2011

I am please to be able to contribute to the debate, and to be able to follow Mr Straw, who made his points very forcefully. This is an important Bill as it builds on a fundamental principle of this Government—namely, the empowering of the individual. It will ensure that more power is vested in people and not in the state, and it trusts people to take control of their lives. In short, it will create a smaller state and bigger people.

Much of the Bill involves trying to strike a balance between two undesirable extremes. With DNA, for example, we need to strike a balance between everyone having their DNA taken and no one having it taken. With CCTV, the balance needs to be struck between having no limits at all on its usage and a total ban. With parking restrictions, we need to find a balance between allowing clampers to do just as they like and allowing anyone to park anywhere on private land. Similarly, with CRB checks, we must strike a balance between having no checks on people who work with children and treating everyone as though they were a paedophile.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance, Belfast East

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point about balance. I am a voluntary youth worker with Girlguiding UK, and I would be slightly concerned if volunteers thought that there was an implication of guilt in their being asked to undergo checks. We need to be careful not to over-hype the language involved, because most of us who work with vulnerable young people are quite comfortable with being checked in order to protect them.

Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford

The hon. Lady makes a good point. The intention of the Bill is not to put off volunteers. I have worked on the governing body of an organisation that assists young children. We all joined in September and submitted our CRB checks at that time, but we did not get the results back until the following June, which highlights the farcical nature of the system. The Bill is about trying to strike a balance; we need to protect children without putting off the volunteers who want to work with them. The Bill is all about trying to find that sensible balance, and I suspect that the debate will largely centre on that today. There will be as many opinions on where that balance should be struck as there are people voicing an opinion. I believe, however, that the Bill gets it about right in balancing our basic right to freedom with protecting us from those who abuse freedom.

The Bill covers many issues but I will concentrate on just three. The first is the retention of DNA. The right hon. Member for Blackburn told the House how he had allowed his fingerprints to be taken to eliminate him from suspicion of committing a crime. That, however, was a choice that he was able to make, as distinct from the circumstances envisaged by the Bill in which people have no choice. Even if he had to face Mr Oddjob when giving his fingerprints, he nevertheless had a choice about doing so for the purposes of elimination.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that just as a choice was made to allow fingerprints to be given, so it should also be a choice voluntarily to seek to have them taken off the register?

Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford

Of course the difficulty at the moment is that unconvicted people remain on the list, but the Bill’s proposals will ensure that such unconvicted people will not have their DNA on a list for ever and a day. That is the fundamental change that the Bill brings about.

Before the general election, there was general agreement between all political parties that the laws surrounding DNA retention had to change. The arguments centred on where the line should be drawn. Few would want every man, woman and child to be on the register, while few would want to scrap the register in its entirety. Generally speaking, the DNA register has been very successful, but we must find a balance between the two extremes.

At present, the only safeguard an innocent person has after arrest is that DNA can be removed from the register by the police in exceptional circumstances—and that is it. Being not guilty does not necessarily constitute exceptional circumstances. That is the difficulty. It is unacceptable if a completely innocent person can be wrongly accused, entirely cleared of any wrongdoing and not charged with an offence, yet their DNA is never returned and instead remains on the register. An innocent man is not an exceptional man, so his DNA remains on the register for life, which cannot be right. Those who preach that “if you do no wrong, you have nothing to fear” embark on a very dangerous journey where the state is master and the individual is subservient to those in control.

The second issue is the proliferation of CCTV cameras, and I shall again pick up a point made by the right hon. Member for Blackburn. I agree that constituents only rarely contact us to ask for fewer CCTV cameras. Our constituents are more likely to contact us to ask for more of them or for mobile CCTV cameras to be moved to their particular estate or house so that an issue of concern can be monitored. My problem is not with the idea of having more CCTV cameras; it is their non-regulated basis that I object to.

When CCTV first came about and the boom took place, we all expected some sort of code of conduct to be drawn up to which councils or any other public bodies would have to adhere. That will now happen if the Bill is successful and becomes an Act, and, in my opinion, it is long overdue. We need protection from the small number of abuses that can take place. Public confidence in CCTV systems is essential and an unregulated system is unlikely to convey public confidence for much longer. Currently, only the Data Protection Act 1998 provides any safeguards, but that legislation was not designed to regulate CCTV, so it is far from satisfactory for that purpose. As I say, I do not object to CCTV cameras, but to their unregulated use, and I am pleased that this Bill mirrors that view.

Finally, let me deal with the number of powers of entry currently in force. So many powers of entry create a confusing and complex system that is open to abuse. Those who want to abuse their position and enter premises illegally can hide behind our present multi-faceted system. There are so many ways of entering premises that it is often too easy for a property owner to assume that somewhere out there is a power to do so, although that might not be the case. How can occupiers know their rights when there are so many powers of entry and an inconsistent approach to dealing with how those laws came about? It makes sense to have a simplified system that is clearer to understand for both the occupier and those seeking access.

In my experience, requests for warrants of entry by the police are rightly open to vigorous inquiry, yet warrants of entry by utility companies, for example, are almost rubber-stamped. That inconsistency has to change. There will be many occasions when it is correct to have a right of entry, but the combination of so many different powers under so many different pieces of legislation makes it almost impossible for people to know where they stand. Estimates have been made, and the Home Secretary mentioned 1,200 different powers. That is an estimate—just that. Nobody knows exactly how many different rights of entry there are, so how can anyone be certain whether a person is acting lawfully when entering a property against the occupier’s will? Again, we require a balance in which property can be entered to protect against crime, but clarity and certainty also exist so that people are aware of their rights and obligations. That cannot occur in a system as complicated as the present one.

In conclusion, freedoms are easy to lose, but very difficult to claw back. This Bill seeks to empower the individual and lessen the control of the state. I want to see less government, not more. I want power to be vested in the individual and not the state, and I support this Bill’s attempt to further that cause.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport) 7:46 pm, 1st March 2011

It was Winston Churchill who said:

“All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in single words: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope”.

It is under the banner of freedom and democracy that our troops fight on foreign fields, and it is freedom that we celebrate in Northern Ireland on 12 July each year.

I support much of what is put forward by the coalition Government in the Bill, but I have some concerns. Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, clearly and eloquently outlined one of our main concerns:

the relaxation of the vetting procedures. I am concerned to see that through their deliberations members of the Committee protect children. If that does not happen—I suspect that it will—we will take the opportunity to table amendments on Report.

On the subject of regulation of biometric data—we have all heard the comments about that—I am firmly opposed to any kind of nanny state, but I do not believe that freedom can or should be used as a licence to behave in any way with no consequence. In other words, people must be accountable for their actions and those who break the law must pay the price; they have, in my opinion, limited their own freedom by their choice of action. I firmly believe that, in accordance with section 63D of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, people’s DNA should be held on record if they are found guilty of any crime. I am somewhat perturbed, however, that section 63D(2)(a) allows for the destruction of DNA if

“the taking of the fingerprint or, in the case of a DNA profile, the taking of the sample from which the DNA profile was derived, was unlawful”.

That is clear, and I am concerned about it.

In my opinion, even if correct protocol has been followed and the sample has been taken lawfully, if the suspect is subsequently found innocent they should have their DNA record destroyed, as they have no criminal conviction. Is the Minister aware, and will she clarify it in her response, that as of 24 April 2009 almost 1 million unconvicted persons had records on the national DNA database? A very small minority of those people are still under investigation; the remainder will have been found innocent of any crime. During 2008-09, only 283 innocent individuals were successful in getting their records deleted under the “exceptional cases” provisions. That was touched on by Gareth Johnson and many others in the debate. This issue must be specified clearly in the Bill, and we will seek to achieve that in Committee.

There are many other issues with biometric information, such as the collection and retention of schoolchildren’s DNA information, which caused upset of late in a school not far from my constituency. It became clear that parents must and should have a complete veto on the collection and storage of their children’s genetic make-up. Children have been particularly affected by the expansion of the DNA database, as there has been a significant increase in the number of young people arrested following minor crimes or even false accusations. Some offences have been as minor as pulling each other’s hair or damage to trees and fences. Labelling children as criminals at an early age can be counter-productive, and I hope that will be taken on board in Committee.

Under part 3, “Protection of property from disproportionate enforcement action”, I welcome the provision in clause 54 to make it unlawful for clampers to clamp on private land. I have heard the clamping by one firm described as legalised mugging, and although that brought a laugh, there is some truth in it. All Members have had examples of abuses by clampers brought to their attention.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance, Belfast East

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the matter is devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Although the problem has not been as significant there as it has been elsewhere, I believe that a review of clamping regulations in Northern Ireland is to be undertaken.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport)

Perhaps I have cornered the market in those who have problems with clampers, but I have heard plenty of concerns expressed. I have had complaints nearly every other week. It got to the stage where I was on first name terms with the people in the companies concerned, although I am not sure whether that was good for them or me.

In my area, a firm of clampers was brought in by residents, but the clampers began to clamp visitors to those residents along with everyone else, and it was realised that there was no regulation of clamping and that the clampers were a law unto themselves. We have all heard horror stories about clamping firms. I won a case in which a lady was clamped who had a disabled child and needed her vehicle for transportation and so paid the fine. Unbelievably, the clampers informed her after payment that the guys who unclamped vehicles were headed home for the weekend and she would have to wait until Monday. After a number of phone calls, I got them to come back and do the right thing by letting her drive away. It is abhorrent that such daylight robbery, though morally defunct, was legally acceptable. The Home Office estimates that 500,000 drivers every year are clamped on private land. The week before last, I read in a newspaper that a lady who worked in a taxi firm had come outside to find her car had been clamped. She contacted her firm, and the taxi drivers, like a wagon train, surrounded the clamping car until the impasse was sorted out.

It is estimated that the public pay out £55 million in clamping fees, which benefit nobody apart from the clamping companies. Towing away will also be outlawed, with private landowners still able to regulate parking by erecting a barrier to keep drivers out or charging regulated parking fees. The ban will apply only on private land and will not affect clamping and towing by lawful authorities such as the police, local authorities or Driver and Vehicle Licensing Northern Ireland. That means that those who do not pay appropriate tax or adhere to signage will be held accountable. That must be good news, and a system is in place to ensure that that happens. Councils will continue to have the power to tow away cars abandoned on private land. Police can also remove vehicles that are causing an obstruction or are dangerously parked, providing a redress for home and business owners. In relation to clause 56, however, I believe that a reasonable standardised fee should be introduced to regulate extortionate fees that may still be levied. I hope that the Minister will address that point, because the Bill provides the opportunity to clarify maximum fees.

In one of his plays, Shakespeare wrote, “Kill all lawyers,” which was a bit extreme, but some people have used similar terminology in relation to clamping companies. I tell them that that is just words and does not mean much, but I am hopeful that it will no longer be the quotation used in my constituency if the Bill is amended and tightened up.

Harking back to the need to control legislation, there was a great deal of concern some time ago about local councils spying on people through bugged litter bins. I hope that the Bill will provide protection in that regard.

I would commend the use of CCTV, which is a kind of sleeping policeman that observes at a distance all that takes place. While one Member mentioned that he had only one complaint against CCTV, every person who comes to me tells me that they want more CCTV. In my opinion, CCTV is a weapon that we should use, as the coverage that such cameras record enables us to catch those involved in unlawful incidents. As someone who watches late-night television programmes such as “CSI”, I am always impressed by the number of policemen who come on to a crime scene outside a pub or restaurant or in the street, and I just wish that some cases in the past had had the same level of response.

I commend the Bill, although I have concerns that I hope will be addressed in Committee. If that is not the case, I put down a marker that we will address those matters on the Floor of the House when the opportunity arises.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington 7:57 pm, 1st March 2011

It is a pleasure to follow Jim Shannon, who made a sensible and measured contribution, as have other hon. Members. Mr Straw made a fair assessment of what the previous Government had done. They improved some aspects of civil liberties through the Freedom of Information Act, but he also recognised that some measures had been extremely counter-productive. In any scenario in which a Government, over the course of their lifetime, introduce an extra 3,500 offences, there will inevitably be problems with how the police interpret and apply the rules.

Let me give just one example of how some of the powers introduced by the previous Government have been used in an unfortunate way. The example was given to me by a very good friend of mine who now sits in the other place, and whose son-in-law, who is black and from America, has stopped coming to the UK with his son, because every time he went out in London, irrespective of where he was going, he was guaranteed to be stopped by the police under stop-and-search powers. He did not want to have to explain to his son why his dad was being stopped every time they went out.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the coalition has taken away the requirement on police officers to record the ethnicity of people whom they stop on the street?

A

Can Clive explain why I cannot use "English" as my ethnicity?

Submitted by Arnold Tarling

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be aware that many police forces intend to continue to seize that information. It appears that they are exercising discretion in that respect. He should reflect on the fact that his Government introduced those stop-and-search powers, which were applied in a blanket way across London and allowed the action that I have described to take place.

Although I welcome the announcement by Yvette Cooper that the Opposition will not vote against the Second Reading of the Bill, I think that the tone of her comments in relation to the Home Secretary were a touch patronising. I am sure that our Home Secretary fully appreciates the need to balance security with liberty and freedom. That is what the coalition Government are doing by presenting a Bill to restore personal freedoms that were threatened by the last Government, and to end excessive surveillance of individuals.

The right hon. Member for Blackburn seemed to acknowledge that some of the policies implemented by the last Government were—if not draconian—an infringement of the rights of the individual, expensive, and in many cases ineffective. The Deputy Prime Minister was right to describe the Bill as a rolling back of the state. However, although I will not over-hype it, because I trust that many of the measures referred to by Mr Leigh, who is no longer in the Chamber—[Interruption.] He is, in fact, present. I trust that many of the measures that he mentioned will be subject to a protection of freedoms (No. 2) Bill, because I do not see this as the endgame when it comes to protecting our freedoms. I believe that we cannot place too high a value on liberty and freedom.

The Bill has received support from a number of quarters. The Law Society, for instance, has described the destruction of DNA profiles of innocent people as “an improvement”, welcomes the reduction in the maximum pre-charge detention time, and believes that the new stop-and-search powers are “far more proportional”. It has listed a number of other proposals that it supports, including the changes in the vetting and barring system.

The Bill proposes regulation of biometric data, and I am pleased that we are adopting the protections of the Scottish model in regard to retention of DNA and fingerprints. Although the Bill will not ensure that all innocent people are removed from the DNA database, it will ensure that hundreds of thousands of those who are currently on it are removed from it. In Committee, those who have received a briefing from the Forensic Science Society will want to examine aspects of the deletion process to establish what deleting a DNA profile means and what constitutes the totality of such a profile.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

As one who practised at the Bar before becoming a Member of Parliament, I know that the whole ethos of the DNA database was that the data of those found innocent of offences should no longer be on the record. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the system used to be administered in a shocking way? Half a million records on the database were completely wrong: names and details were false. Although the Bill contains much that is welcome, we must ensure that the database is fully and thoroughly managed.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

Of course we must. Whenever a massive database is introduced, there is significant potential for errors such as mismatches to be hidden in it. I hope that the Committee stage will provide scope for further examination of the details relating to the database. I am thinking particularly of the retention of children’s DNA. In its briefing, Liberty expressed concern about the fact that a child who was caught shoplifting at the age of 10 and again at the age of 12 would remain on the database for the rest of his or her life. If Liberty’s understanding is correct, that makes me extremely uncomfortable.

I am pleased that children will no longer be fingerprinted in schools. I am astonished that schools have never been required to seek permission for that from parents. As for the regulation of surveillance and CCTV, my experience is similar to that of the right hon. Member for Blackburn and others who have spoken today. The most frequent request that I have received as a Member of Parliament has been for additional CCTV systems, but many people have approached me expressing concern about, for instance, the fact that CCTV cameras were pointing straight through their front windows, or their bedroom windows, from premises opposite. I believe that better regulation could solve the problems that have been reported to me, and I therefore welcome the proposals in the Bill.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport)

In my experience, when CCTV has been introduced in what might be described as hot spots where there is plenty of antisocial behaviour such as violence and robbery, there has been a marked reduction in the number of such incidents. Does the hon. Gentleman share that experience?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

I certainly think that CCTV deals partly with the fear of crime. However, I know from the results of an inquiry conducted by the Home Affairs Committee that its effectiveness in cutting crime is not so clear-cut. It obviously makes a difference in, for instance, car parks, but it is less obvious whether it makes a difference on a wider scale. The evidence may not be as strong as Members wish it to be.

I am pleased that we are considering the issue of automatic number plate recognition systems. I have raised with Ministers in the past the extent to which bailiffs and private contractors can use such systems, and have suggested that more regulation might be necessary. In Committee, we will doubtless wish to clarify the relationship between the Information Commissioner and the surveillance camera commissioner to ensure that there will be no overlap between them. The regulation that is being discussed at present clearly relates to CCTV in the public sector, involving local authorities and police, but that constitutes a relatively small proportion of the CCTV that is available. We may have to consider whether the boundaries specified in the Bill should be extended.

An issue that is closely related to the issues of CCTV and ANPR systems is that of the use of identification systems in pubs and clubs. Like, I suspect, a number of Members, I took up an offer a couple of weeks ago during special constables week, when we were encouraged to go out with our local special constables to observe their valuable and committed work. On Friday night I spent some time in Sutton high street, visiting pubs and clubs virtually all of which were using systems that captured people’s ID—typically, their driving licences. I know that there is significant concern among the police about the extent to which any of those systems comply with the relevant data protection legislation by ensuring that the data that they capture are secure and are handled in an appropriate manner. I realise that that may be beyond the scope of the Bill, but I think that the Government could usefully consider it.

As for counter-terrorism, Members will know from what I said earlier about stop-and-search powers that I am pleased that they will be much more tightly defined. I also welcome the reduction in the maximum period for pre-charge detention from 28 days to 14, although organisations such as the Law Society and Liberty want to push us much further and faster in that regard. I consider 14 days to be a good starting point, but I am happy to leave open the option of introducing a shorter period.

In relation to terrorism prevention and investigation measures, which are being dealt with separately to some extent, let me say as an aside that I hope we will be given more clarification of precisely what is being proposed. I do not want control orders to be replaced by something that looks very much like them. I should also like clarification of what will replace curfews, and I want to know that what we propose as a Government is a system that will focus on securing prosecutions rather than simply containing people.

On safeguarding vulnerable groups and criminal records, I welcome the fact that the vetting and barring scheme will be changed, and that 9 million people will be taken out of the scheme. Simply classifying and categorising people does not guarantee safety, and creating massive databases does not necessarily provide a solution to all the security and safety problems. We have to be more subtle and sophisticated than that.

I welcome the changes on consensual gay sex, and I am sure the Minister is aware of the concerns that, as far as possible, every single record that relates to that previously illegal activity should be deleted. I know there are challenges in terms of how to go beyond cleaning electronic data, but I hope that that can be dealt with comprehensively.

The freedom of information changes are very welcome, although not all aspects of the freedom of information ten-minute rule Bill that I have pressed on two separate occasions in the last three or four years will be picked up. I hope they will be, perhaps in the protection of freedoms (No. 2) Bill, when we get round to that in, I hope, the second half of this Parliament. I do not see any reason why very large private sector organisations that are, in effect, doing public sector work should not be subject to FOI in the same way as the public sector. If they are simply taking on what was previously done by the public sector, to which FOI legislation would have applied, it would be appropriate for it to apply to private sector organisations now doing that work.

I welcome the fact that we will preserve trial by jury and that we are restoring such rights.

In the past couple of weeks, we have watched with astonishment the courage, bravery and thirst for freedom of the Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans, who have been desperate to embed some of the most basic freedoms in their societies. We have a more straightforward task. We have started the process of restoring some of our most cherished rights in the Protection of Freedoms Bill, and will, I hope, continue that process in the protection of freedoms (No. 2) Bill, which I hope will be introduced in the second half of this Parliament, and which I would expect to pick up on some of the issues raised—such as what the hon. Member for Gainsborough said about free speech, so that the concerns of Dr Evan Harris about removing the word “insulting” can be addressed.

We must maintain the momentum. With freedoms, we can never afford to stand still; we are always swimming against the current. This Bill demonstrates that the coalition is starting to reverse the tide, and that an unprecedentedly great rolling back of the state is under way.

Photo of Pamela Nash Pamela Nash Labour, Airdrie and Shotts 8:13 pm, 1st March 2011

I want to highlight my concerns about the Government’s proposals, which seek to restrict the scope for using DNA to convict dangerous criminals. First however, I shall briefly touch on CCTV, which many of my colleagues have also mentioned this evening.

Although in doing so I run the risk of receiving an avalanche of e-mails by tomorrow morning, I want to take this opportunity to say that I have only once been approached by a constituent who was concerned about the level of CCTV coverage in my constituency. That speaks volumes when we take into account the fact that Airdrie was the first town in Scotland to have open-street CCTV, and that many lists indicate that its centre has a particularly high ratio of such cameras in comparison with other Scottish town centres. On the other hand, many constituents have requested the installation of CCTV on their streets, to protect them and their neighbours from crime, vandalism and other antisocial behaviour. In fact, we now seem to have an issue with crime being driven into areas that are not covered by CCTV. I therefore support the expansion of CCTV coverage in my constituency. Crime in Airdrie town centre fell by 24% in the first two years after the introduction of open-street CCTV. It continues to be supported locally, and is seen to be a great success in reducing crime and antisocial behaviour.

DNA evidence has proved to be a powerful tool in helping us bring to justice violent criminals and sexual offenders. Although I support many of the Bill’s proposals, I have serious concerns about any change that will make it much more difficult for the police to catch criminals and build cases against them. It was my hope that the Scottish law on DNA storage would move towards that currently in place in England and Wales. However, instead I find myself today criticising Government attempts to restrict the use of DNA, even though the way it is currently used has led to rapists and murderers being convicted when they otherwise might not even have been identified.

As Members may know, there is currently a different law on DNA retention in Scotland. North of the border, DNA that is taken as part of a police inquiry is automatically removed if the person concerned is not convicted, with the exception that in extreme cases someone charged with a violent or sexual offence but not found guilty can have their details stored for up to three years. In England and Wales there is currently much greater retention of DNA samples by police. At present, people charged with, but not convicted of, a crime will have their DNA samples held indefinitely. As a result, several serious crimes have been solved and many more criminals convicted than would otherwise have been the case. Violent and sexual offenders have been brought to justice by virtue of the fact that their DNA had been taken during inquiries into previous, unrelated and often minor offences and then matched up.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

Is the hon. Lady critical of both the Government here in Westminster and the Scottish Parliament for the changes they are making? The Government’s changes on DNA will bring them into line with what the Scottish Parliament are doing, so I presume she is critical of both institutions.

Photo of Pamela Nash Pamela Nash Labour, Airdrie and Shotts

That is correct. As I have said, I would hope the Scottish Parliament would move more towards the current system in England and Wales, rather than have us go in the opposite direction as we are doing this evening.

Let us look at the crime figures for 2007-08. Some 17,614 crimes were detected in England and Wales where a DNA match was available. These included 83 murder and manslaughter cases, and 184 rape cases. Some of these cases have been very high profile. For example, Steve Wright, the so-called “Suffolk strangler”, convicted of murdering five prostitutes in Ipswich, and Mark Dixie, jailed for life for killing Sally Anne Bowman, were both identified through DNA samples taken in relation to other crimes. Without the DNA information held on these individuals, they might never have been caught and brought to justice for their horrendous crimes, and might have gone on to commit even more serious offences. I hope that in summing up the Minister will offer an explanation to their victims’ families of why it is acceptable to change a law to allow criminals such as these to escape justice. Equally, had they committed their crimes in Scotland, they might, because of the more restrictive rules on holding DNA samples, have got away with those crimes.

If the law on the storage of DNA samples were to change radically, I would have hoped it would happen in the Scottish Parliament. Police in Scotland have made it clear that a new regime that allowed more DNA samples to be retained would increase clear-up rates and make the public safer. The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland has repeatedly called for the situation in England and Wales to be mirrored in the Scottish judicial system. Labour politicians in Scotland agree with them. Of course there should be safeguards in the system, but we believe police should be given effective tools to help bring rapists, murderers and other criminals to justice.

Labour MSPs recently proposed an amendment to the Scottish Government’s Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill to give police the power to retain for up to six years the DNA of those arrested for, but not convicted of, a crime. From my point of view and that of most Scots, who want the police to be able to catch criminals, it was unfortunate that the Scottish National party Government joined forces with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to stop this.

It is therefore deeply disappointing to stand here debating Government plans to restrict further the retention of DNA samples in England and Wales. In some cases retention will be restricted to three years, but in many cases, particularly those involving minor crimes, the police will be prevented from storing samples at all. We all know that the rate of charging and prosecuting suspected rapists is very low. The Government’s proposals in this Bill mean that someone arrested but not charged with rape—this is what happens in the vast majority of rape cases—may not have their DNA retained. Under these restrictions several high-profile crimes, including those I mentioned earlier, could have remained unsolved. It is difficult to understand the Government’s purpose in doing this. It is doubtless about pandering to the Deputy Prime Minister’s political rhetoric, but it is certainly not based on evidence about what works in the fight against crime, and it is certainly not about protecting the liberty of our country.

I am going to read out a quote and I will then tell hon. Members who said it:

“I have not yet been aware of any innocent person adversely affected by having their details on the DNA database. Actually, rather than impinge on freedoms, it enhances our freedoms. The rapists, murderers and other criminals brought to justice by DNA—these people being taken off the street enhances my freedom. Why on earth the Conservative Party would want to try to take people off the DNA database, Lord only knows.”

Those are not my words but those of Philip Davies, who represents the Conservative party, and I could not agree with him more. I urge the Government to think again about these plans. We owe it to the victims of crime and their families to ensure that laws that work and that have brought serious criminals to justice continue to do so. If the Government push ahead with this proposal, they should not be surprised to find themselves labelled “soft on crime”. Their coalition partners have always been happy with such a label, but I am surprised that Conservative Members are allowing themselves to be dragged into this nonsense. Freedom for violent criminals is a sorry price to pay for staying in power. Our freedom is enhanced by violent criminals being taken off our streets. The Government should bear in mind the fact that being soft on crime achieves absolutely nothing for anybody’s civil liberties.

Photo of Nicola Blackwood Nicola Blackwood Conservative, Oxford West and Abingdon 8:22 pm, 1st March 2011

My hon. Friend Mr Leigh is no longer in his place, but I hope he will forgive me for being here in place of my predecessor, and perhaps the fact that I share his concerns about section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 will act as some consolation.

It is a joy to have the opportunity to speak in this debate on another coalition move to try to redress the current imbalance between security and civil liberties. All Governments must, of course, be fully committed to public safety and protecting victims of crime, but under the previous Government far too many of our liberties were sacrificed in the name of apparent short-term securities. In too many cases, the previous Government acted before establishing a causal link between that sacrifice and the claimed “greater security”. In the absence of the necessary evidence or, in some cases, even public debate, actions including the indefinite retention of DNA of children never convicted, the creation of more than 500 new powers of entry and the careless scattering of a patchwork of surveillance powers across the statute book, not to mention the spectre of 90-day detention without trial, all left us wondering whether some members of the previous Government had had a “common sense-ectomy”. Even the Human Rights Act 1998 cannot make up for the disproportionate and draconian measures that they introduced.

In that context, I am pleased that the coalition Government are living up to their promise to cut back on the previous Government’s aberrations and to begin restoring the civil liberties that for so long defined British democracy. I apologise if that language seems hyperbolic, but let us think for a moment about the mother who finds herself being spied on by her local authority because she has said that she lives in a certain school catchment area; the child who needs an iris scan to borrow a library book; or the archbishop who finds himself the subject of five Criminal Records Bureau checks, not to mention the innocent man who suddenly finds himself without the right to a trial by jury. Given that the Labour party is so apparently committed to human rights, I find it inexplicable that that state of affairs should have ever arisen. Thankfully, we can always rely on the electorate to draw the line when their Government lose their grip, and I am greatly reassured that the coalition Government have been so prompt in introducing this Bill. As must be obvious by now, I support its intentions and I would have been voting for it today had the Opposition decided to push for a vote.

I would, however, like to take this opportunity to raise a few points of detail with the Minister. Nobody is questioning the fact that DNA can play an invaluable role in crime detection, but under Labour a new profile was added to the new DNA database every 45 seconds. Unsurprisingly, the Home Office had to admit that the database contained more than 500,000 false or wrongly recorded entries. The new biometric data retention regime proposed in part 1 seems to strike the right balance between greater proportionality and targeting, while still protecting the public from those who would commit heinous crimes. That is a great step forward and the regime seems likely to meet the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights ruling. However, I am unclear why the Government have not chosen to distinguish between an adult and a child who is charged but not convicted of a serious crime. In general, legislation does make the distinction between the adult and the child. Childhood convictions are considered spent in half the time of those of adults, childhood lawbreaking has not been found to be necessarily indicative of future behaviour, and the principles of restorative justice are now commonly associated with youth justice. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify the decision-making process on that point.

Secondly, except in the specific case of an application for extended retention to be heard by the magistrates court with right of appeal for both sides to the Crown Court, I am unclear whether there is a right of appeal to a judicial or otherwise independent body for individuals who feel that their biometric data have been retained unlawfully or inappropriately. I have no doubt that many colleagues have had the same experience as I have of constituents whose data have been taken and retained in error. I even have one constituent who was inaccurately registered as a sex offender for 15 years owing to a clerical error. We cannot overestimate the damage that this sort of error can cause to a person’s life. It is vital that a clear route of appeal and system of remedies are available to innocent individuals who get accidentally caught up in the system.

I am also a little unclear where the new regime will sit in relation to the Association of Chief Police Officers guidelines. I am particularly concerned that there should be clarity about the role of the “exceptional case procedure” in the new system. As the Minister knows, the guidance states that an individual’s record will be retained until that person has attained 100 years of age but it may be removed before this date by way of the exceptional case procedure. The guidelines state:

“Chief Officers have the discretion to authorise the deletion of any specific data entry on the PNC ‘owned’ by them” but only

“in exceptional cases.”

Those might include

“cases where the original arrest or sampling was found to be unlawful” or cases

“where it is established beyond doubt that no offence existed”.

I believe it is helpful for chief officers to have some degree of discretion, especially in relation to scenarios outlined in the exceptional case procedure. I am anxious to learn how such circumstances are to be addressed under the new system.

Finally, on part 1 of the Bill, I welcome wholeheartedly the regulation of schools’ retention of biometric data, especially the requirement for the consent of the parents and the child before such data are recorded. I do not understand why schools need to retain these data and I was rather shocked by the Library’s estimates that 30% of secondary schools and 5% of primary schools already use such biometric systems. I would like to see official figures on this issue so that policy in this very sensitive area can be made on the basis of evidence. Is the Minister considering requiring schools to notify the Information Commissioner’s Office if they intend to hold such data, and if not, will he tell us why not?

The surveillance regulation proposals in part 2 are well overdue. No one challenges the value of well-located, targeted surveillance, which has undeniable importance for crime detection and public safety, but there has been an exponential growth of CCTV and automatic number plate recognition systems, which has for the most part taken place outside formal regulation. The UK now has an estimated 5 million to 6 million surveillance systems. The British Security Industry Association claims that state-owned CCTV accounts for less than 10% of these and that

“it is the privately owned surveillance systems that provide the majority of evidence in prosecutions.”

It would therefore be helpful if the Minister clarified how the new code of practice will apply to privately owned systems and whether the “relevant authorities” mentioned in clause 33 will include private owners whose surveillance systems cover public areas.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

Often, one purpose of CCTV is to provide evidence and if a CCTV image is not of the appropriate quality, it cannot be used as evidence. Does the hon. Lady agree that some regulation of both public and private systems might help in pursuing cases against criminals?

Photo of Nicola Blackwood Nicola Blackwood Conservative, Oxford West and Abingdon

I cannot imagine why the Government’s understanding where surveillance systems are held and who holds them could in any way limit the improvement of justice in this country.

I also welcome the proposals in part 3 to insert judicial oversight in relation to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. This is an excellent start in reforming the confusing jumble of legislation dealing with access to communications data. However, we have some way to go before we have a system which tightly defines the reasons for which access can be granted—a particularly vague example of which is

“the economic well-being of the United Kingdom”— and which offers a straightforward legislative framework so that not only the bodies that use surveillance powers but the citizens who may be subject to them can clearly understand their rights and responsibilities.

I could go on and welcome the permanent reduction of pre-charge detention to 14 days, the reinstatement of the right to trial by jury and the progressive proposals on stop and search without suspicion, but the point is clear. In large part, the Bill returns the state’s powers to common-sense levels and signals a significant step forward for the civil libertarians among us. The Bill is the answer to the calls of many in this country, including those who had felt, under the previous Government, that state abuse of power had reached a new low, that they had become guilty until proven innocent or that they were being forced to make a false choice between democracy and security. Of course there is a difficult balance to strike between liberty and security, and any adjustments need to be made with the utmost care, but there can be no doubt that in the past decade that balance had tilted much too far in the direction of security and away from civil liberties. That is why I support the Bill and hope that it will mark the end of the Government-sponsored fallacy that absolute security can be achieved by the unacceptable erosion of civil liberties.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance, Belfast East 8:32 pm, 1st March 2011

Let me start by welcoming the broad thrust of the Bill, which has much to commend it. I believe that the protection of civil liberties, privacy and personal freedoms is incredibly important and is a fundamental building block of a democratic society, but it must be sensitively balanced against the need to provide security, safety and public confidence, which is where the debate hinges. As I said in an intervention, I am a volunteer with young people—an adult leader in Girlguiding—and I am particularly interested in the proposed changes to the vetting and barring scheme, on which I shall focus my remarks.

I agree entirely with the Home Secretary that we do not want to place unnecessary barriers in the way of people who wish to volunteer. Many youth organisations depend almost entirely on people who are willing to give freely of their time to benefit our young people, and those volunteers often find themselves caught up in an incredibly intrusive situation that can be a bureaucratic nightmare and incredibly off-putting. I hope that the Home Secretary agrees that our primary concern as we try to resolve those issues must be the safety and protection of young people and vulnerable adults. If there is a balance to be struck, the emphasis and greater weight must be on protecting the vulnerable; it is incredibly important that we do not lose sight of that. We must therefore proceed with a degree of caution as we try to change those protections and we should recall the context in which they were introduced. The earlier comments of Mr Straw greatly assisted us in recalling some of the incidents that led to the introduction of the protections, their very serious nature and the public outcry that surrounded them when people felt that children were not being adequately protected from predatory adults.

Although no one would question the need to redress the balance, given that the pendulum has swung almost too far in one direction, we need to be careful not to take it too far in the other direction, but instead try to find some sensible balance. Most people would welcome simplification of the system—for example, a system of vetting and barring that would allow clearance in one role to be carried forward into other roles, rather than repeated checks being carried out on the same individual.

However, if that is to happen, the detail of the Bill poses a challenge. People would still be checked only for the immediate role that they would be fulfilling and would not be able to carry those checks with them. That has not been addressed, but it is important to people who work with young children.

One of my concerns arising from reading the Bill is that if someone working in a non-regulated activity displays behaviour that would cause concern—behaviour which, were that activity regulated, could lead to their being barred—it is not clear that that would trigger a referral to the Independent Safeguarding Authority or to barring. My concern is that that individual could later move into a regulated activity, and young people would be left vulnerable.

A further area of concern to me is the treatment of 16 and 17-year-olds in the context of the Bill. The changes proposed appear to remove some of the protections afforded to 16 and 17-year-olds in matters of sport, faith and education. The young people with whom I work directly are aged 14 to 25 and therefore include that group. Despite the fact that they are entering adulthood, they are still young and vulnerable and they still require protection as children. They appear to fall into some kind of gap between regulated activity for children and the vulnerable adults provision in the Bill. I seek reassurance from the Home Secretary that that grey area will be clarified. We do not want children of 16 or 17 to become easier prey for predatory adults.

Finally, I want to examine the relationship between the Bill and what will happen in Northern Ireland. At present, with respect to vetting and barring schemes, England, Wales and Northern Ireland operate within a single framework. The reforms set out in the Bill are not proposed to be extended to Northern Ireland. The mix of responsibilities between the Department of Justice and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety would largely cover the areas encompassed by the vetting and barring scheme. It would be a matter for the Executive and the Assembly whether or not to extend that to Northern Ireland by a legislative consent motion or an Assembly Bill, if they choose to do it.

However, there is significant merit in the Home Office pursuing with the devolved Administration every opportunity to maintain the common approach that currently exists, as that is one way to maximise protection for young people throughout the country. We would not want to see the protection reduced, and the Assembly would have the right, if it considered that the Bill would reduce protection, to go its own way on these matters. During the Bill’s Committee stage and beyond, it is important for the Home Office to listen carefully to the concerns that are raised and to work closely with the devolved Administrations so that we can achieve a UK-wide consensus on this serious issue and maintain the common framework that has served us well.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Conservative, Salisbury 8:38 pm, 1st March 2011

One of the beliefs that unites Conservatives and Liberal Democrats is that the past 13 years of Labour Government saw a squeeze on civil liberties. The Leader of the Opposition admitted that the Labour Government were

“too draconian on aspects of our civil liberties”.

He is right. That is why the Bill is so welcome, trimming away, as it does, some of the vast undergrowth of legislation that has undermined our traditional liberties. DNA retention, CCTV, wheel clamping, vetting and barring have all become synonyms for the erosion of freedoms, and most people will be glad to see the Bill tackle them head on. However, there is something else that concerns a wide cross-section of the general public and, sadly, has not been addressed in the Bill: the way freedom of speech has been undermined by what we might call over-enthusiastic policing. It is often generated by the pressures of political correctness and causes officers to overreact to situations when no harm is being caused.

To voice one’s opinion without fear of punishment or censorship is a fundamental human right. Without it, political action and resistance to injustice and oppression are impossible. It is a precious right, and we must not allow it to be undermined. Several pieces of legislation have been suggested for amendments to improve free speech, but I want to focus, as did my hon. Friend Mr Leigh, on section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which outlaws threatening, abusive or insulting words if they are likely to cause distress.

As we have heard, section 5 has been at the heart of several high-profile cases in recent years. Liberty wisely took up the cause of a 16-year-old protester who was given a court summons by police for holding a placard outside a Scientology centre stating, “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult”. The boy claims that police told him that he could not use the word “cult”. City of London police gave him the court summons and confiscated his placard after he refused to take it down. They referred to the Crown Prosecution Service an allegation that the sign was “abusive or insulting”. When Liberty took up the issue, there was widespread criticism and the CPS dropped the case. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough has said, the defence of the existing law has been that guidance can be given to the police, but it did not work and has not worked in a number of cases.

Dale Mcalpine, a Christian street preacher, was arrested in Cumbria for answering a question from a police community support officer about his views on sexual ethics. He said that the Bible described homosexual conduct as a sin. He was arrested and detained by police for nearly eight hours. Even the president of the National Secular Society has said that the police response was ridiculous and over the top. I find myself in agreement with the renowned campaigner, Peter Tatchell, who said:

“If offending others is accepted as a basis for prosecution, most of the population of the UK would end up in court.”

He is quite right.

In a similar case, another street preacher, Anthony Rollins, was arrested, handcuffed and kept in a police cell for four hours after a passer-by was offended by him reciting a biblical list of those who would not inherit the kingdom of God. I am a Christian, and personally I might not agree with that method of evangelism, but the idea that someone can be arrested for reading from the Bible in public is very worrying. Once again, the guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers did not work. Mr Rollins got help from a Christian campaign group, the charges against him were dropped and they helped him bring a legal action against the police. The court decided that Mr Rollins’ right to freedom of religion and freedom of speech had been breached, that he had been wrongfully arrested, had suffered assault and battery by being handcuffed and had been unlawfully detained. However, the police are appealing against that ruling. Despite everything, West Midlands police think that section 5 of the 1986 Act allows them to arrest street preachers for reciting the Bible. Clearly, the police have difficulty applying the law and the guidance that the Home Office says should deal with the problem.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough said, some cases are just plain ridiculous, and it is astonishing that the police waste time with them. In 2006, demonstrators in Worcester protested against seal culling by using toy seals coloured with red food dye—a harmless way of making a point. They were, however, threatened with arrest and the seizure of their property under section 5. The police told them that the toys were deemed distressing by two members of the public, and they ordered them to move on. Ridiculous.

As the grandson of a police officer, I feel sorry for the police. They have to make extremely tough decisions day in, day out, and often under the most extreme pressure. They are criticised by all sides for being too rough, too soft, insensitive or over-sensitive. They just cannot win, and the media rarely give them a break. I do not want to run down the police. I want to focus on what we as legislators can do to avoid putting them in the situation where they have to decide whether a complaint from someone who feels insulted should result in an arrest.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

My hon. Friend is making an important and strong case. Is he aware that, before he became a Member, whom we welcome, the House was occupied with debates about public order, particularly when dealing with cases of homophobic hatred? Many examples were cited and many concerns were expressed about application in that case. Such examples illustrate the problem with section 5 and its wide interpretation, and the need for us to take a proper, thorough look at it. This is an important opportunity to do so.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Conservative, Salisbury

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. He makes a powerful point and underscores the fact that this Bill should take account of that anomaly. It is unfortunate that it does not.

We have to ask ourselves, “Should the law really criminalise insulting words?” Surely insult is in the eye of the beholder, so how can the police be expected to regulate that? Abusive behaviour is clear-cut: we all know it when we see it, and it is right that the law addresses it. Threatening behaviour is absolutely unacceptable, and we need laws to tackle it. But “insulting”? What would debate be like in this Chamber if an hon. Member could be silenced by an allegation from another hon. Member that he felt insulted by what was said?

In July last year my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister told us that this Bill would

“protect hard-won liberties and repeal unnecessary laws”.

The Government have made a good start, but they should seize the opportunity that the Bill presents to bolster freedom of expression by removing “insulting” from section 5 of the 1986 Act. There will be freedom from wheel clampers, but no freedom of speech. It does not make sense.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham 8:48 pm, 1st March 2011

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend John Glen. I shall focus on certain aspects of the Bill, some of which have already been covered, but the pertinent point about freedom of speech has not been lost on the House or, no doubt, the Minister. My hon. Friend certainly made that point very well.

I welcome the Bill not only because of the measures that it introduces, but because it is another demonstration of the Government’s commitment to reversing the intrusiveness of Labour’s big-state, big-government approach to running the country. As right hon. and hon. Members know, the more the state does and the larger the state is, the more powers it inevitably takes away from individuals and the more control it exercises over the public. This legislation sits alongside other Government Bills in taking away powers and control from politicians and bureaucrats and restoring them to the people. I think that that is welcome. It is also a hallmark of a Government who trust people and respect the majority of the law-abiding public instead of automatically treating everyone with a degree of suspicion. By contrast, for 13 years the British people not only had to put up with the previous Government’s “nanny knows best” attitude but had to face the burdens of a Government who were prepared to ride roughshod over civil liberties.

Part 1 of the Bill deals with powers of entry. Despite their claims to support and promote human rights, the previous Government seemed to neglect the rights of individuals to enjoy a private life. It is obscene that the state can exercise some 1,200 different types of powers of entry, with an estimated 20,000—this is probably a conservative figure—unaccountable town hall officials having the right to enter private property without a warrant. There are powers to check anything from the height of hedges, to plant passports, to the energy ratings on people’s refrigerators, and even, bizarrely, households containing dancing bears without a permit. This system has been left unchecked for far too long and has expanded to erode people’s freedoms. I therefore welcome the new measures in the Bill to enable Ministers to review the powers of entry and then repeal those that are absolutely unnecessary or inappropriate, or to include the relevant safeguards. Having such powers on the statute book and open to abuse not only represents an attack on people’s privacy and freedoms but undermines the occasions when there may be a genuine need for powers of entry to be exercised.

Part 2 covers surveillance and CCTV. We hear about bin inspectors going through people’s rubbish, CCTV cameras pointing at people’s homes and being utterly intrusive, councils using powers designed to prevent terrorism to snoop on people, and other frivolous acts of espionage on the private lives of our constituents.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

Part of the hon. Lady’s constituency includes the borough of Colchester. Does she accept from me that there is a code of practice for the CCTV security cameras in Colchester town centre that prevents any of the intrusions that she is talking about? Only public areas and public buildings are covered, not private dwellings, which is particularly important where we have residences in town centres.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I absolutely agree. This shows not only the extent to which we need the Bill but the extent to which some of these powers have got out of control. CCTV must be focused on the correct areas and used in the right way. In relation to CCTV and many of the other areas covered in the Bill, the state has gone too far and has too many intrusive powers. It is shameful that the UK is now regarded as the only endemic surveillance society in Europe, placing us alongside China, Russia and Malaysia.

Although there will often be a fine line between the need, on one hand, to protect the freedom and privacy of individuals and, on the other, to curtail those protections for the benefit of the wider public interest, I welcome the new safeguards on liberty in the Bill, rebalancing the law in favour of our freedoms. It creates standards for the use of CCTV through a code of practice and a surveillance camera commissioner, and that provides more transparency and accountability, which is to be welcomed. I look forward to reading the commissioner’s report in due course and seeing where local authorities, in particular, and other organisations are in breach of the code and, in effect, wasting taxpayers’ money by being far too over-zealous in their surveillance activities.

However, I also believe that CCTV has a very important role to play in the fight against crime, and these measures have the potential to strengthen its effectiveness. Can the Minister therefore give an assurance that the code will also recognise the benefits of some key and vital uses of CCTV? Perhaps that can be done under clause 29(3)(a), which relates to the provisions in the code about

“whether to use surveillance camera systems”.

In the commissioner’s report, perhaps the details on best practice could include how CCTV is being used effectively to detect and prevent crime.

I also say to the Minister that my constituents obviously do not want to move away from the use of CCTV to the point of being overly cautious and fearful of using the technology. We have heard examples from the constituencies of many right hon. and hon. Members. I trust that, in drawing up the code, the Minister will take these points into account. On Friday, when I meet Witham Industrial Watch, a group of businesses that has come together to introduce CCTV across Witham’s various industrial estates, it will want an assurance on this matter. In particular, it will want to hear that we will not create unnecessary burdens on businesses or small shopkeepers who use CCTV in the right way to protect their business interests, staff and property from theft, damage and attack.

Finally, I congratulate the Government on the provisions to restore common sense to the vetting and barring system. We have heard a great deal about that aspect of the Bill in this debate. I am interested in this matter in relation to volunteering, engagement and participation in our communities. We have heard endlessly, for years and years, about the additional cost and bureaucracy of the system, and about how it prevents people from participating in our communities. In my view, that is a bad thing. Change is long overdue to bring back some common sense. I have heard the various views this evening and although we should never water down safeguards and protections, I think that the previous system—Labour’s system—had more to do with treating everybody with a degree of suspicion and almost like criminals than with protecting children and vulnerable groups.

Photo of Neil Carmichael Neil Carmichael Conservative, Stroud

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue, and I think there is another element to it. Too many employers seem to think that because CRB checks are made, they do not have to make checks themselves. We must be alert to that danger.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

I agree absolutely on that point. There is no doubt that this issue needs some rebalancing and some common sense. This system has had a devastating impact on people who have been wrongly referenced. There should be a more proportionate approach. Hopefully the mistakes will be reduced as well. I want to see measures that protect the vulnerable and our children. This Bill is a step in the right direction and it is a proportionate response in this area.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 8:58 pm, 1st March 2011

We have heard from many people on the Government and Opposition Benches for whom I have the utmost respect, including from my hon. Friend Priti Patel. However, I do not share the enthusiasm of all Government Members for all aspects of the Bill. There are many parts with which I heartily agree, and we have heard a few examples of areas where the current legislation has gone wrong.

Years ago, I was involved in a case in the Welsh Assembly in which a bus driver who worked for a company that undertook school bus runs was told that he might lose his job because 20 years previously he had incurred a minor conviction for shoplifting or a drink-related offence at the age of 19. For 20 years, he had lived a perfectly good life and suddenly he was about to lose his job over that minor offence. Clearly, such examples are totally and utterly disproportionate and I hope that we will do something about them.

I am less keen when I hear people talking about a police state. I declare an interest as a serving special constable in the British Transport police. I assure Members that when I go out it does not look like a police state. I have conducted many section 44 stop and searches, and I do not recognise the descriptions that have been given. I would challenge Tom Brake, who is not currently in his place, to ask the gentleman who says that he was stopped and searched every time he stepped out on the streets of London to produce the written evidence. Written evidence there most definitely will be, because every stop and search of that nature required about 20 minutes of paperwork.

One problem with section 44 stop-and-searches was that they were carried out entirely at random and were never actually picking people up. The police officers themselves were not enthusiastic about doing them, because they knew that they would annoy a member of the public who was probably not doing anything at all, incur at least 20 minutes of paperwork and be most unlikely to get anyone for anything.

Section 44 is going, which is fine, but the Government ought to consider the fact that the other stop-and-search legislation is not adequate to catch people who are clearly breaking the law. For example, on many occasions—

I assure Members that I mean many, many occasions—I have stopped people for committing offences that were never going to be arrestable. The first thing that a police officer does in that situation is to check whether the person in question is known to the police for anything and whether they have a previous record. Very often it turns out that they do, and that there are warning markers indicating that they regularly carry knives, guns, drugs or other illegal paraphernalia.

At that point, faced with somebody who has committed an offence that will not get them arrested—perhaps begging or abusive language—but who regularly carries guns, knives or drugs, one would think that the officer would have the power to search them, but they do not. Unless the police officer can actually see the knife or drugs sticking out of a pocket, there are no powers to search somebody. The officer cannot take account of a person’s previous record. If we are going to get rid of section 44 stop-and-search powers, which is absolutely fine, we should at the same time ensure that people who are likely to commit offences or carry illegal apparatus can be properly searched.

We need to let the police know that when they see people acting suspiciously, they will still the have the power to stop and search. A lot of police officers, myself included, having undergone courses such as the behaviour spotting one—it is called BASS, but I will not bore Members with the details of what that means. It is about spotting people behaving in a suspicious fashion. Many police officers I have spoken to still feel uneasy about simply going up to somebody to stop and search them, even if they have been displaying obvious signs of acting in a manner that is likely to mean they were about to commit an offence.

Members of the public might feel that the police are for ever stopping and searching them—every time they go out on the streets of London, according to one Member—but police officers actually feel very nervous about going up to people to stop and search them. They feel that they are likely to get complaints if they do so. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will think about that. I have tabled amendments in the past suggesting that officers should be able to take account of somebody’s previous criminal record in deciding whether to conduct a stop and search, but I have not succeeded thus far. I do not know whether I have any more chance under the current Government than under the previous one—I suspect possibly not.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

The hon. Gentleman has referred to me both since I came back into the Chamber and, I understand, while I was not here. I would be very happy to introduce him to the baroness in question at the other end of the building, who will explain to him precisely what her son-in-law experienced. Then he will be able to make his own judgment.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

I would be delighted. I believe the hon. Gentleman said that every time that baroness’s son-in-law set foot on the streets of London, he was stopped and searched. The first thing that I would ask him would be, “Did you ask for the copies of the pink slips that have to be lodged every time you are stopped and searched?” If he was stopped and searched there will be a record of it, and we should be able to prove whether that happened every time he set foot on the streets of London. I look forward to pursuing the matter.

The issue of previous criminal records brings me to that of DNA, on which I have some sympathy with Opposition Members. I do not think that there was anything fundamentally wrong in collecting people’s DNA. I have done it myself, and I will be quite honest in saying that I am not sure that the Government have got it right. I asked the Home Secretary earlier whether she accepted that, as a result of the change, people who had committed crimes would be able to get away with it. She said that that was not true. I have the utmost respect for her, but I am very direct and I must say that I do not believe that and cannot accept it.

We see in the Bill that the Government have decided that anyone who is arrested for specific types of offences—terrorism, drugs, violence, rape and that sort of thing—will have their DNA kept indefinitely if they have a previous recorded offence. The Government recognise that keeping people’s DNA is useful when they have been arrested for offences such as murder, rape, violence or terrorism even if they are not convicted, which I welcome. However, it surely follows, therefore, that DNA can also be useful in respect of less serious offences, such as burglary or taking a vehicle without consent. We should make it clear to members of the public that we are increasing their rights and liberties, but that there is a cost—that is obvious, and we should be honest about it. One cost is that some burglars and car thieves will not be caught.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Conservative, Broxtowe

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill is about striking a balance between maintaining law and order and ensuring that crimes are properly investigated, and maintaining civil liberties and ensuring that we do not live in the sort of society in which people who are completely exonerated of the smallest misdemeanour find that their DNA is kept for ever or even for a considerable period? The previous Government got that balance wrong, and this one are putting it right.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

One’s DNA might be kept for a long time, but that would be irrelevant if one did not go out and commit another offence. If one did, one would be arrested.

I agree, however, with my hon. Friend’s general point on the balance. The previous Government may have got it wrong—they have accepted as much—but we should also look at the context in which they took some of their decisions. The terrible tube bombings in 2005 caused people to think long and hard about it, and perhaps it always changes. To be philosophical for a moment, would my hon. Friend rather live in a failed state where there is no police presence or law and order whatever, or in a rather unpleasant dictatorship of the sort that we currently see falling in north Africa? Although that is not an easy choice, most people would rather live under Mubarak in Egypt than under whatever passes for a Government in Somalia, because at the end of the day, security is one of the most important things that people have—without it, we have nothing.

The only general complaint that I have heard about CCTV and surveillance cameras is that there are not enough of them, but I accept that the police and some local authorities have recorded people inappropriately. The police have a great deal of paperwork to fill out before they can use surveillance cameras on people, but I am not sure about local authorities.

The stringent new rules will presumably stop the police targeting criminals and local authorities from targeting the ubiquitous karate instructor who claims disability benefits, but will they apply to newspaper editors? This is a serious point. As I said, men who have had consensual sexual relationships with other men will no longer have to declare that as an offence—and quite rightly; that is one of the many measures in the Bill with which I agree. However, what if a newspaper surreptitiously films people having consensual sex, and because they are in the public eye, publishes the details and puts the film on the internet? I suggest that if anyone else tried to do that in any capacity, they would quite rightly find that they had breached a law—yet newspapers get away with it. Will the Home Secretary assure us that, in future, newspapers will have to abide by the same codes and laws that are and will be applied to local authorities that are looking for benefit cheats or police officers who are looking for criminals? Benefits cheats and criminals should be targeted far more stringently than footballers who have slept with somebody to whom they are not married.

I have one final point on that. I notice that some sort of ombudsman or commissioner will be responsible for ensuring that the rules on surveillance cameras are applied, but they will have no powers. They will have the ability to say, “I think that that was wrong,” but they will not have the ability to do anything about it. However, they will have a salary of £250,000 a year. That is extraordinary, given that Members of Parliament have been told to change the law to ensure that we do not get any salary increase at all. We are being paid £65,000 a year, and if it is good enough for us, it should be good enough for whoever is put in charge of this rather toothless surveillance camera body. I would like an assurance from the Government that we are not putting through a Bill that will get rid of a lot of quangos only to create a job that will pay £250,000 a year. Mind you, there will be quite a few MPs looking for jobs in four years, so perhaps one of us will be the lucky one who gets the £250,000 salary.

Last but not least, a few people have got the wrong idea about the police. I know that you might think that I am a bit biased—not you, Madam Deputy Speaker; I forget the correct use of language or terminology. However, I am sure that most people will understand that the police have a very difficult job to do. One hon. Member went out with protesters during the G20 riots. I was out with the police the day before. I turned up for duty on the day, but spent most of my time sitting in a police station, drinking tea and watching the events unfold on Sky—such is the way when we sign up for these things. However, I went out the night before, and I was threatened by people. I knew that the police were outnumbered and felt very threatened. Police officers are human like everybody else. They get scared when confronted by people, when they are outnumbered 10 to one and when people are throwing iron bars and trying to attack them, and I think that we should show a little bit more understanding when we talk about a police state, and realise that the police are very often the victims of crime, yet also end up as the people about whom complaints are made. I hope that everybody in the House recognises the very difficult job that the vast majority of them do courageously and well.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester 9:11 pm, 1st March 2011

I shall support the Second Reading of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, although I hope that some of the reservations I am about to express will be taken note of in Committee. There are at least two unintended consequences in the Bill concerning not so much the protection of freedoms for the law-abiding, as making life so much better for two categories of antisocial people. The first are those who park illegally on other people’s property, and the second are those who cause undue misery with late-night parties and so on. I cannot believe that there is a single Member here who has not had casework from constituents complaining about late-night noise or antisocial noise on summer afternoons. If the Bill passes as proposed, with its subsections and so on, I regret to say that it will be an open invitation for the antisocial noise people to up their game in the confident knowledge that local authorities will have fewer powers at their disposal to deal with them.

I will, however, begin with the wheel-clamping provision, which has been added to the Bill because—I think—it was here to have things added to it. I am not here to defend the rogue firms of wheel-clampers. I do not think that anyone in the Chamber is prepared to speak up for those cowboys, although I always think that to describe them as that is an insult to cowboys. Nevertheless, there are companies and individuals who have abused the wheel clamp, which used correctly and in the right way is a tool that helps the law-abiding.

The Minister for Equalities started this debate on 17 August last year. I have raised the matter on the Floor of the House before and spoken to her, so I am not saying anything that will come as a surprise. She announced that the freedom Bill would provide for an outright ban on clamping on private land, where it is carried out by private companies. I can just about understand that if the private land is a commercial property, but I am not sure about the idea when applied to private land owned by individual householders. At the moment, the Bill proposes that if somebody parked in the Minister’s drive, he would be restricted in the action that he could take to deal with the problem.

I want to quote the case of the Balkerne Heights residential area, which is right next to a multi-storey car park on the edge of Colchester town centre. The communal parking for the area’s housing became a magnet for illegal parking by late-night revellers, weekend shoppers and so on. The notion that polite requests not to park in people’s private parking areas will be acceded to is a little optimistic. The people causing the problem generally responded with certain words, the second of which was “off”. The only way that those parking abuses were dealt with was through the introduction of the wheel clamp. I would say that the Minister’s front drive is exactly the same as the communal parking area of people living in flats or communal housing. It is their drive: it is where they park their cars.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

Looking at the Bill, it is clear that people will be able to close their gates and stop somebody removing a car that way. There is implied consent to allowing a restriction under clause 54(3)(a), and if the case is broader than that, the people or the commercial organisation involved can apply to the council to come and do the clamping for them. I think the problem that my hon. Friend is worried about is covered.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

I hope that my hon. Friend is correct in his understanding, but that has to be spelt out in the Bill, because it is not my understanding. If he is right, no problem—but if I am right, there is a problem. That is exactly the sort of thing that needs to be fleshed out and firmly written down, because clause 54(3)(a) refers to cases where

“there is express or implied consent by the driver of the vehicle to restricting its movement by a fixed barrier”.

Whether the barrier is up or down is irrelevant. Currently, the local planning authority may well refuse an application to start erecting barriers in carefully designed new housing areas, with landscaped grounds and all the rest of it, but if the Bill goes ahead, they will have to erect barriers to meet the very point that has quite rightly been made. Those are the unintended consequences.

I would argue that if residents living on a private housing estate with their own private communal parking areas wish to put a wheel clamp on, why can they not do so? It is an extraordinary state of affairs when the coalition Government are putting forward a Bill with a clause that would give more rights to the illegal parker than the person who owns the land where the car is illegally parked. The notion that residents could run off to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency or whoever else to get fines paid, and all the rest of it, is fanciful. Therefore, with the greatest of respect, what I would say is that more work needs to be done on that one.

The House of Commons Library has produced some excellent research—as ever, by the way—on the Bill. If Members who have the briefing would care to look at pages 26 through to 28, they will realise that the authors of the Bill need to dot a few i’s and cross a few t’s in Committee, because—I repeat—what we have at the moment is an opportunity for those who want to park illegally in other people’s private, communal, residential parking areas to do so almost with impunity. Under a heading entitled “The Bill’s provisions”, the research paper tells us:

“The Government had not previously indicated that there would be any parking-related measures in the Bill, or in fact that it was planning to make any changes to parking regulation at all.”

Therefore, those provisions have been bolted on. People who live in town centres have the advantages of the town centre, but sometimes one of the disadvantages is people coming into town, not parking where they should and abusing other people’s private parking areas. I ask the Minister to address that issue in Committee. I understand the need to tackle rogue wheel-clamping firms, but, with the greatest respect, I think that private home owners should have the right to use wheel clamps on vehicles parked on their private property, whether it is a private drive or a communal parking area.

The second unintended consequence of the Bill relates to those people whom we all love and who delight in causing problems for their neighbours by, among other things, having all-night parties. Chapter 2 of the Bill covers safeguards for certain surveillance under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. I am grateful to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health for drawing my attention to the serious consequences of these provisions. There cannot be a Member here tonight who has not been contacted by constituents as a result of noisy antisocial neighbours.

As an aside, I would like to make an important observation as the former chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on noise reduction. I wish that the coalition Government would introduce regulations to require greater noise insulation in new house building. A lot of attention is paid to heat retention in such buildings, but nothing is done about noise elimination. Perhaps another Government Department could pick that one up.

It has been suggested that the Bill has been prompted by claims in the popular press of unjustified snooping by local authorities, because it contains provisions to restrict the surveillance activities of those authorities by inserting additional tests into the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. One such test would require authorisations given by senior local authority officers to be approved, in addition, by a magistrate. That would make the process of authorisation more time consuming, and it would make things harder for increasingly stretched authorities—not least at night, when most complaints of this nature are made. The likely outcome of the proposal is that many fewer noise complaints would be investigated.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Conservative, Broxtowe

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such matters are not the domain of local authorities? The last Government made a big mistake when they mixed up the role of the police with the civil functions of local authorities. I suggest that problems of noisy neighbours holding late-night parties are the domain of the police, not the local authority.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

I do not think that I can agree with the hon. Lady on that. We are talking about authority in its broadest sense, whether it involves the police, the local authority or whoever. The public are entitled to live in peace, and if their peace is disrupted, the matter could be dealt with by the police or by the local authority. The two working in concert would be the best way; that has always been the way in which I have approached these issues.

The Bill proposes a further test that the crime that is to be prevented or detected should carry a minimum prison sentence. Noise offences do not, however, carry custodial sentences, and the effect of the provision would be to remove that ground for authorising surveillance. This matter needs to be thrashed out in Committee, because RIPA was never intended to deal with problems such as these. At a time when local authorities are shedding significant numbers of officers, they will need to become more efficient in order to maintain services. I have no argument with that, but barriers to achieving it will need to be removed, rather than new ones being erected. When there is no evidence that noise investigations are being carried out inappropriately, additional controls are neither justified nor in the public interest. I suggest that we should take the opportunity in Committee to remove them from the ambit of RIPA altogether.

I am sure that many of us will have read the letter in The Times yesterday from Mr Howard Price, the principal policy officer of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health[Interruption.] Well, Members are going to hear it now. It says:

“The Protection of Freedoms Bill is about to receive its second reading. It contains provisions to amend the Regulation of Investigatory Power Act…to limit the surveillance activity of local authorities by requiring authorisations made by senior officers to be approved in addition by magistrates. Hundreds of thousands of neighbour noise complaints are made to local authorities each year. Listening to such noise in the course of investigation amounts to ‘surveillance’ under the Act and arguably requires authorisation. The Bill will make that more time-consuming and harder for authorities to obtain, especially at night when most complaints are made. Complaints will go unanswered. RIPA was never intended to apply to this activity. It will be a further unintended consequence if this Bill protects the freedom of noise-makers over that of householders wanting only a peaceful night’s sleep. Noise investigations should be excluded”—

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman may provide us with a quotation, but I do not think we need him to read out the entire letter. He can make his point quite succinctly now, as we still have a few more speakers wanting to contribute.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. I accept what you have said and I shall now sit down as I had only 10 more words to go.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 9:26 pm, 1st March 2011

I fear that the “Protection of Freedoms Bill” is not really what it says on the tin. People might think that the Bill protects freedom, but I am afraid to say that it does many things that are not apparent in its provisions. In particular, one of the greatest freedoms we need to protect is the right to decide our own laws and, indeed, to ensure that the judiciary complies with the will of Parliament. Unfortunately, on close examination, I found that the Bill’s content is to do with the upholding of European Court rulings. That is where the problem lies, and I fear that some hon. Members may have missed the wood for the trees. This is entitled the Protection of Freedoms Bill, but it would be far better to describe it as the “Subjection to European Rulings Bill”, as one case after another simply endorses decisions taken by the European Court. By that, I mean the European Court of Human Rights in particular.

We recently debated the rights of prisoners to vote, and the result of the Division on the motion was 222 to 15. Unfortunately, I could not be here. I am sorry to have to admit this, but I was working as Chairman of my Select Committee in Budapest. However, I thoroughly endorse what was said in the course of that debate on prisoners’ votes, but there is no reference to prisoners’ votes in the Bill. The Bill has skipped that one; it is waiting for another occasion. The reason is quite simple: the coalition Government know that idea of including prisoners’ votes as one of the freedoms in this Bill would be catastrophic for them. That is not to say that we should endorse the Bill’s reference to other European Court rulings contained in the provisions, but not set out in the Bill. Unless hon. Members have read much of the background material and case law, it is impossible for them to know exactly how much this Bill offends the principle endorsed by this House by 222 votes to 15.

Let me provide some examples. Given that we have only recently come back after a recess, I doubt whether people have had a chance to read the Home Office memorandum on the Bill, and some may be more interested in its detail than others. I find that detail often throws up one or two of the unfortunate aspects of the manner in which Governments—and the coalition Government in particular—operate. The memorandum says:

“This is a human rights enhancing Bill.”

No, it is not; it is a European Court of Human Rights enhancing Bill. I refer to cases such as the S. and Marper case which related to the retention of fingerprints and biometric data. I would like to see such matters properly dealt with in legislation, and the same applies to the stop-and-search provisions, to which the Gillan and Quinton case relates. Why can we not legislate on our terms in this House? Why must we subject the House to legislating to implement the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, when we have no reason whatever for not legislating on our terms? Putting it in statute form means that the matter goes to our courts for an interpretation of that legislation. Then, in the interpretation of the legislation, our own courts, either at first instance or more likely in the Supreme Court, apply the European jurisprudence.

I remind the House of a point that I have tried to make in debates over a long period and of a speech by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, who said that we must beware of the manner in which our legislation is being subjugated to Strasbourg decisions. He warned the judges, “Brothers and sisters, beware of applying the decisions of the Strasbourg court.” [Laughter.] Brothers and sisters, comrades!

The manner in which the implementation will happen is a form of Trojan horse. I would want to see many of the problems that the Bill raises dealt with by legislation, to ensure that people were not unfairly stopped and searched or that children got the proper protection. However, it should not be done through this vehicle. By not eliminating the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act formula, we give ourselves over increasingly to the Europeanisation of our law-making and the judicial claims made in the Supreme Court at the expense of the House. Effectively, we are digging our own grave.

At the same time, I hear and read that the Government are becoming more “Eurosceptic”—I do not know what that word means; Eurorealist is much more to the point.

Photo of Louise Mensch Louise Mensch Conservative, Corby

Is my hon. Friend not in danger slightly of over-egging the pudding? I share many of his concerns about European law, but does the Bill not attempt to address some domestic injustices, and should we not support such a step in the right direction?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

As I said, I am extremely glad that many of the provisions are being dealt with, as they needed to be dealt with—but not in this manner. Notwithstanding the Human Rights Act, if it was done as my Bill on terrorism will provide, for example, we could preserve habeas corpus and avoid all the difficulties that have arisen in relation to control orders and pre-charge detentions, on our terms. That is the way we should be going, but that is for another day.

The Bill takes us in the wrong direction. As I said in an intervention on the Home Secretary about powers of entry, the Library note states that

“around one third of these powers of entry derive from regulations made under the European Communities Act 1972.”

The Home Secretary said it was important for us to get rid of many of the 1,272 powers of entry, but, as I pointed out to her then, it is essential for us to get rid of the regulations made under the European Communities Act 1972 as well. I think she would have accepted that, had it not been for the existence of a rather considerable problem: we cannot get rid of the regulations made under the 1972 Act without expressly providing in the legislation that, notwithstanding the Act, we should act in that way. There is an element of what I would not describe as hypocrisy, but would certainly describe as contradiction, in the principle behind the Bill.

I could give many other instances of overlap with the European Court of Human Rights, but I shall merely observe that I think it extremely unfortunate that this is being sold as the Protection of Freedoms Bill when, for practical purposes, it is taking us further and deeper into European integration. I say that without really wanting to have to say it. It would be easy to step back and say, as my hon. Friend Ms Bagshawe said just now, that it does some good. Indeed, I have heard many Members say that there is a great deal of good in it. However, as I said to the Home Secretary earlier, although there may be good intentions behind it, we must ask ourselves what kind of law we want in this country.

When the Supreme Court speaks of the rule of law, I ask yet again: which law, and who will enforce it? We already know that there are serious problems, but here is another one. In one of the cases in question, after the House of Lords had made its judgment the Supreme Court was brought in, and, because the European Court of Human Rights had made a decision in the meantime, decided to endorse that decision rather than the decision made by our own courts. Some very difficult questions arise. There seems to be an increasing tendency for the Supreme Court to assent to the manner in which the European Court of Human Rights makes its decisions, effectively moving into a new arena in which what Parliament may decide is overridden, and making decisions that are not necessarily what the electorate expected when they elected us as Members of Parliament.

Let me also mention, in parenthesis, the accession of the European Union to the European convention on human rights. As I discussed the issue during our debates on the European Union Bill, I shall not go over the territory again, save to say that it creates a great deal of uncertainty about which of the jurisdictions will prevail. I regret to say that I believe that what is happening in the Bill is not what was expected to happen. Some commentators may misunderstand it, but the truth is that if we do not get the principle right—the principle of who rules—we will find ourselves drawn increasingly into a web that is growing all the time, involving the sovereignty of the House and decision making.

I believe that this is entirely deliberate. I am absolutely certain that the Home Secretary has been properly briefed. I think that she knows exactly what is in her Bill. I think that she wants it, I think that she is determined to have it, and I think that the coalition is completely and utterly convinced of its merits. Indeed, the Home Secretary said the following in a statement on the judgment in the Gillan and Quinton case:

“The Government cannot appeal this judgment, although we would not have done so had we been able.”—[Hansard, 8 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 540.]

This is therefore about an attitude of mind: it is about there being a determination to go down a certain route, irrespective of the consequences for how we in this House legislate. I therefore simply say that I think there are many good reasons for adapting some of the provisions that are currently on the statute book, but the key is how we do it. The crucial point is that if we do it the wrong way, all we will end up doing is reducing the right of this House to legislate for itself.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham 9:40 pm, 1st March 2011

We have had a very lively debate, and I hope Members will forgive me if I cannot respond to every point that was made. We heard from Mr Leigh, my right hon. Friend Mr Straw, the hon. Members for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), my hon. Friend Pamela Nash, the hon. Members for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), for Belfast East (Naomi Long), for Salisbury (John Glen), for Witham (Priti Patel), for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) and for Colchester (Bob Russell) and, last but not least, Mr Cash. The question I ask myself, however, is: where is the Deputy Prime Minister? We were told that sweeping away all these measures was going to be his big achievement in government. Having heard all the rhetoric, I was expecting to see the right hon. Gentleman burst the doors open and ride into the Chamber on a trusty white steed, with his shield of truth and his sword of virtue, telling us he was going to lead us all to some promised land of freedom.

Sadly however, that was not to be the case. All we have had is a handful of Liberals in the Chamber all evening, but we would have thought they would be piling in to support this Bill since it is their key platform—it is the major plank of their contribution to the coalition Government. [Interruption.] Well, that is the source of the Bill. We support some aspects of it, as some of them are sensible, yet there are others on which we will want to ask questions and some on which we will challenge the Government position.

Throughout the debate, we have heard Members say that this is about balance, yet first and foremost, it is about balancing the coalition and appeasing Liberal Democrat Members. It is also about the need to hold together the coalition, and I wonder what some of the Tory Members, who are shuffling uncomfortably in their seats, will do when they are asked to vote for measures that in normal circumstances they would not support.

Over the past few decades, this House has been called on to act to protect people in the face of threats of many kinds, and to legislate on matters such as those addressed in this Bill. Public opinion has been strong on many of them, including the threat from international terrorists who have carried out atrocities on an unprecedented scale, increased concerns about public protection and the protection of children and vulnerable adults, the proliferation of closed circuit television, and freedom of information. At the same time however, new technology and advances in science have challenged us to legislate on, and regulate, their uses. We have faced demands for new scientific and surveillance techniques to be made available to those charged with the task of keeping the public safe.

This debate, like those that have gone before it, is about the balance that should be struck in respect of the civil rights of ordinary citizens to live without fear of harm or interference or becoming a victim of crime, and the need to protect the civil liberties of those individuals and hold back the state from intruding in their private lives. Events have led us to legislate on the issues we are debating today. We will be judged on our actions in respect of these events, the balance to be struck and the issues addressed in the Bill.

We have heard from Members on both sides of the clamping argument. The hon. Member for Colchester spoke very forcefully. The residents of one estate in my constituency are concerned because they live close to a railway station where commuters want to park and they fear that their estate will be turned into a car park. By contrast, a private road in my local town centre is policed by a cage fighter in a van who sits at the bottom of the road like a trapdoor spider waiting for anybody to park illegally on that private land. So a balance needs to be struck on this issue.

The same is true on the use of biometric information in schools. Labour Members accept that it is sensible for parents to be consulted and we welcome the proposal. However, on protecting individuals’ rights in schools, these powers have been used to protect young people who receive free school meals from being identified and stigmatised. So as much as we may want to see this sensible change made, we will want to see how far it goes in protecting the rights of those individuals too.

On the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, CCTV and surveillance, councils have played a vital role in creating public areas that the public consider to be safe. Such measures have been used to tackle issues relating to speeding cars, town centres and antisocial behaviour. So our attempts to legislate to regulate the use of CCTV and surveillance must not limit the ability of local authorities to play their important role in ensuring community safety. I have never had anyone come to me asking for the removal of a CCTV camera, and many colleagues have said the same.

We all accept the principle that some individuals who are innocent will have their biometric details retained, and I hope that the Home Secretary accepts that. Tonight’s debate is not about all innocent people having their biometric details destroyed, as some have claimed; it is about where we set the balance. The Government have clearly come down on the side of reducing the amount of biometric information that we retain, but I suggest to Government Members that events will cause us to revisit this issue. Can any Government Member say that the changes to reduce the scope of biometric details that will be retained will not result in one of their constituents saying that had the changes not been made, their family member or friend would not have suffered a serious criminal assault? Nobody here tonight can say that so we must think carefully about what we are about to do. The media will make a great deal of the issue if those circumstances come about, and Government Members will have some serious questions to answer. How many children need to be attacked for it to be worth some people in our communities suffering the intrusion of having their biometric details retained on a DNA database?

I shall now discuss barring and vetting. The protection of children is one of the most important issues that can come before us on the Floor of the House. This is about setting the balance between the need for people to volunteer and for us to encourage people to play their part in their local communities, and the need to ensure that the right framework is in place to create a safe environment where parents can be sure that their children will come to no harm. This is not only about the risks from people who have unsupervised contact with children; it is also about the people who can come close to vulnerable children and groom them. Such people are among the most dangerous individuals in our communities and they go to great lengths to gain our trust in order to deceive the most vulnerable. So it is again important that we strike the right balance between the need to protect those individuals and the individual rights that the Home Secretary has said that she is seeking to protect.

We all want to protect children and vulnerable adults in our communities but it is important to get the balance right. The previous Government’s record was to leave crime down by 43% and satisfaction rates with the police at record levels. We now face cuts of 10,000 police officers and some will question why the Government have chosen to take away some of the most important tools the police have in their toolkit when they are also facing a reduction in resources.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 9:50 pm, 1st March 2011

This has been a good debate. The passion shown and the wide-ranging nature of the debate has underlined the fact that freedom of speech is very much alive and well in the House. I take heart from the broad support across the House for many, if not all, of the Bill’s provisions. There is a clear recognition from Members on the Government Benches—and, indeed, by a number of Opposition Members—that the previous Government’s approach during their 13 years in office eroded a number of freedoms and, importantly, failed to enhance our security. Freedom was not enhanced by the creation of a leviathan national identity register containing the personal details of every adult in the country. Civil liberties were not protected by creating a database holding the details of every child. The vulnerable were not safeguarded by requiring more than 9 million employees and volunteers to register with a Government agency. Justice was not served by including more than 1 million unconvicted individuals on the national DNA database, and community cohesion was not strengthened by the police stopping hundreds of thousands of people under anti-terrorism powers but making only a handful of arrests for terrorist offences.

I remind Opposition Members of the Leader of the Opposition’s words to the Labour party conference:

“But we must always remember that British liberties were hard fought and hard won over hundreds of years. We should always take the greatest care in protecting them. And too often we seemed casual about them.”

This Government will not be casual about liberty. That is why the Bill sets out a different approach that will protect our communities while defending personal freedoms.

This has been a good debate and I thank hon. Members on the Government side, including my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) and for Dartford

(Gareth Johnson), as well as my hon. Friend Nicola Blackwood, whom I welcome as the successor to Evan Harris, although there have been some comments in support of the activities that Evan continues to do outside the House. I thank also my hon. Friends the Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), for Salisbury (John Glen), for Witham (Priti Patel), for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), for Colchester (Bob Russell) and for Stone (Mr Cash). In addition, I thank many Opposition Members for their contributions, including the light relief provided by the vision of his brush with Oddjob described by Mr Straw, who did not specify whether his fingerprints were taken by Goldfinger. I know that Ms Winterton would have liked to take part in the debate on wheel-clamping, and we appreciate her support for those measures.

I am conscious of time and I will do my best to cover as many as possible of the points that have been raised, but I apologise if I am not able to get through them all. On CCTV, I welcome the support of many hon. Members for the introduction of a statutory code of practice and the appointment of an independent surveillance commissioner. Those measures will help to maintain and strengthen public confidence in the use of CCTV systems and will ensure that the millions of pounds invested in such systems deliver value for money. Some hon. Members have commented on whether this trust and confidence is required, and I highlight the comments of Sara Thornton, the chief constable of Thames Valley police, in her review of Project Champion concerning CCTV usage in Birmingham. She said:

“As a consequence, the trust and confidence that they”— in other words, the local people—

“have in the police has been significantly undermined.

There is a real opportunity to learn from Project Champion about the damage that can be done to police legitimacy when the police are seen to be acting in a way which prizes expediency over legitimacy.”

That is the context in which we should consider the provisions in the Bill relating to CCTV.

My hon. Friends the Members for Carshalton and Wallington and for Oxford West and Abingdon highlighted the application of the CCTV code of practice. The code is intended to benefit all system users. The specific requirement to have regard to the code is initially limited to the police and local authorities as the principal operators of public space CCTV systems, but the use of privately operated cameras in private or semi-public spaces is more complex. We wish to achieve a consensus on key issues before considering whether to extend the duty to have regard to the code of practice to other operators—for example, in shopping centres. I take on board the comments that were made. I can offer my hon. Friend the Member for Witham an assurance that we recognise the important role played by CCTV in detecting and deterring crime.

An issue that was raised which is not in the Bill was section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. It is essential to consider in the round whether current laws strike the right balance on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom to manifest one’s religion and the need to protect the public. In its report, “Adapting to Protest”, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary suggested that changing the law was not the answer. In many ways it was the constant changes to the Public Order Act that had led to operational confusion. The Government will continue to review the law throughout the course of this Parliament to ensure that it allows competing rights to be properly balanced.

Comments were made on the provisions for safeguarding vulnerable groups. Some Opposition Members expressed concern that reforms to the vetting and barring scheme would put children and vulnerable adults at greater risk. We do not consider that that will be the case. The remodelled scheme set out in the Bill will cover those who may have regular or close contact with children or vulnerable adults. It will provide for a more proportionate and efficient scheme in tandem with a refined criminal records disclosure service. The creation of a huge database to monitor millions of ordinary people created an artificial sense of security. We are moving back to a common-sense approach.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

Will the Minister confirm that if somebody applying for a post as a voluntary teaching assistant has been barred from work as a teacher owing to inappropriate contact or behaviour with children, the school will not be told that the independent experts at the ISA have barred that person?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made clear, the underlying information will be known. That is the key point. It is worth mentioning that the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Lynne Featherstone met the NSPCC and other bodies, which said that they were assured by the explanations that they were given.

On DNA, we reject the allegations that we are being soft on crime. That is not the case. We recognise the importance of DNA and how it combats crime. Our approach is based on putting the guilty on the database to make a difference there, not putting on the database those who are innocent.

The Bill strikes the right balance between individual freedom and collective protection. It guards against the unnecessary and unregulated intrusion by Government into the lives of the many. It protects the fundamental values of liberty and freedom that mark this country out. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to .

Bill accordingly read a Second time.