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Protection of Freedoms Bill

Part of Resource Extraction (Transparency and Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 8:58 pm on 1st March 2011.

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Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 8:58 pm, 1st March 2011

One’s DNA might be kept for a long time, but that would be irrelevant if one did not go out and commit another offence. If one did, one would be arrested.

I agree, however, with my hon. Friend’s general point on the balance. The previous Government may have got it wrong—they have accepted as much—but we should also look at the context in which they took some of their decisions. The terrible tube bombings in 2005 caused people to think long and hard about it, and perhaps it always changes. To be philosophical for a moment, would my hon. Friend rather live in a failed state where there is no police presence or law and order whatever, or in a rather unpleasant dictatorship of the sort that we currently see falling in north Africa? Although that is not an easy choice, most people would rather live under Mubarak in Egypt than under whatever passes for a Government in Somalia, because at the end of the day, security is one of the most important things that people have—without it, we have nothing.

The only general complaint that I have heard about CCTV and surveillance cameras is that there are not enough of them, but I accept that the police and some local authorities have recorded people inappropriately. The police have a great deal of paperwork to fill out before they can use surveillance cameras on people, but I am not sure about local authorities.

The stringent new rules will presumably stop the police targeting criminals and local authorities from targeting the ubiquitous karate instructor who claims disability benefits, but will they apply to newspaper editors? This is a serious point. As I said, men who have had consensual sexual relationships with other men will no longer have to declare that as an offence—and quite rightly; that is one of the many measures in the Bill with which I agree. However, what if a newspaper surreptitiously films people having consensual sex, and because they are in the public eye, publishes the details and puts the film on the internet? I suggest that if anyone else tried to do that in any capacity, they would quite rightly find that they had breached a law—yet newspapers get away with it. Will the Home Secretary assure us that, in future, newspapers will have to abide by the same codes and laws that are and will be applied to local authorities that are looking for benefit cheats or police officers who are looking for criminals? Benefits cheats and criminals should be targeted far more stringently than footballers who have slept with somebody to whom they are not married.

I have one final point on that. I notice that some sort of ombudsman or commissioner will be responsible for ensuring that the rules on surveillance cameras are applied, but they will have no powers. They will have the ability to say, “I think that that was wrong,” but they will not have the ability to do anything about it. However, they will have a salary of £250,000 a year. That is extraordinary, given that Members of Parliament have been told to change the law to ensure that we do not get any salary increase at all. We are being paid £65,000 a year, and if it is good enough for us, it should be good enough for whoever is put in charge of this rather toothless surveillance camera body. I would like an assurance from the Government that we are not putting through a Bill that will get rid of a lot of quangos only to create a job that will pay £250,000 a year. Mind you, there will be quite a few MPs looking for jobs in four years, so perhaps one of us will be the lucky one who gets the £250,000 salary.

Last but not least, a few people have got the wrong idea about the police. I know that you might think that I am a bit biased—not you, Madam Deputy Speaker; I forget the correct use of language or terminology. However, I am sure that most people will understand that the police have a very difficult job to do. One hon. Member went out with protesters during the G20 riots. I was out with the police the day before. I turned up for duty on the day, but spent most of my time sitting in a police station, drinking tea and watching the events unfold on Sky—such is the way when we sign up for these things. However, I went out the night before, and I was threatened by people. I knew that the police were outnumbered and felt very threatened. Police officers are human like everybody else. They get scared when confronted by people, when they are outnumbered 10 to one and when people are throwing iron bars and trying to attack them, and I think that we should show a little bit more understanding when we talk about a police state, and realise that the police are very often the victims of crime, yet also end up as the people about whom complaints are made. I hope that everybody in the House recognises the very difficult job that the vast majority of them do courageously and well.