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Protection of Freedoms Bill

Part of Resource Extraction (Transparency and Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 8:48 pm on 1st March 2011.

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Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham 8:48 pm, 1st March 2011

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I absolutely agree. This shows not only the extent to which we need the Bill but the extent to which some of these powers have got out of control. CCTV must be focused on the correct areas and used in the right way. In relation to CCTV and many of the other areas covered in the Bill, the state has gone too far and has too many intrusive powers. It is shameful that the UK is now regarded as the only endemic surveillance society in Europe, placing us alongside China, Russia and Malaysia.

Although there will often be a fine line between the need, on one hand, to protect the freedom and privacy of individuals and, on the other, to curtail those protections for the benefit of the wider public interest, I welcome the new safeguards on liberty in the Bill, rebalancing the law in favour of our freedoms. It creates standards for the use of CCTV through a code of practice and a surveillance camera commissioner, and that provides more transparency and accountability, which is to be welcomed. I look forward to reading the commissioner’s report in due course and seeing where local authorities, in particular, and other organisations are in breach of the code and, in effect, wasting taxpayers’ money by being far too over-zealous in their surveillance activities.

However, I also believe that CCTV has a very important role to play in the fight against crime, and these measures have the potential to strengthen its effectiveness. Can the Minister therefore give an assurance that the code will also recognise the benefits of some key and vital uses of CCTV? Perhaps that can be done under clause 29(3)(a), which relates to the provisions in the code about

“whether to use surveillance camera systems”.

In the commissioner’s report, perhaps the details on best practice could include how CCTV is being used effectively to detect and prevent crime.

I also say to the Minister that my constituents obviously do not want to move away from the use of CCTV to the point of being overly cautious and fearful of using the technology. We have heard examples from the constituencies of many right hon. and hon. Members. I trust that, in drawing up the code, the Minister will take these points into account. On Friday, when I meet Witham Industrial Watch, a group of businesses that has come together to introduce CCTV across Witham’s various industrial estates, it will want an assurance on this matter. In particular, it will want to hear that we will not create unnecessary burdens on businesses or small shopkeepers who use CCTV in the right way to protect their business interests, staff and property from theft, damage and attack.

Finally, I congratulate the Government on the provisions to restore common sense to the vetting and barring system. We have heard a great deal about that aspect of the Bill in this debate. I am interested in this matter in relation to volunteering, engagement and participation in our communities. We have heard endlessly, for years and years, about the additional cost and bureaucracy of the system, and about how it prevents people from participating in our communities. In my view, that is a bad thing. Change is long overdue to bring back some common sense. I have heard the various views this evening and although we should never water down safeguards and protections, I think that the previous system—Labour’s system—had more to do with treating everybody with a degree of suspicion and almost like criminals than with protecting children and vulnerable groups.