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Protection of Freedoms Bill

Part of Resource Extraction (Transparency and Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 6:12 pm on 1st March 2011.

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

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.