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Protection of Freedoms Bill

Part of Resource Extraction (Transparency and Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 7:35 pm on 1st March 2011.

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

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.