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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.