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Protection of Freedoms Bill

Part of 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 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.