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Protection of Freedoms Bill

Part of Resource Extraction (Transparency and Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 7:57 pm on 1st March 2011.

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

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.