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Protection of Freedoms Bill

Part of Resource Extraction (Transparency and Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 9:11 pm on 1st March 2011.

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Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester 9:11 pm, 1st March 2011

I do not think that I can agree with the hon. Lady on that. We are talking about authority in its broadest sense, whether it involves the police, the local authority or whoever. The public are entitled to live in peace, and if their peace is disrupted, the matter could be dealt with by the police or by the local authority. The two working in concert would be the best way; that has always been the way in which I have approached these issues.

The Bill proposes a further test that the crime that is to be prevented or detected should carry a minimum prison sentence. Noise offences do not, however, carry custodial sentences, and the effect of the provision would be to remove that ground for authorising surveillance. This matter needs to be thrashed out in Committee, because RIPA was never intended to deal with problems such as these. At a time when local authorities are shedding significant numbers of officers, they will need to become more efficient in order to maintain services. I have no argument with that, but barriers to achieving it will need to be removed, rather than new ones being erected. When there is no evidence that noise investigations are being carried out inappropriately, additional controls are neither justified nor in the public interest. I suggest that we should take the opportunity in Committee to remove them from the ambit of RIPA altogether.

I am sure that many of us will have read the letter in The Times yesterday from Mr Howard Price, the principal policy officer of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health[Interruption.] Well, Members are going to hear it now. It says:

“The Protection of Freedoms Bill is about to receive its second reading. It contains provisions to amend the Regulation of Investigatory Power Act…to limit the surveillance activity of local authorities by requiring authorisations made by senior officers to be approved in addition by magistrates. Hundreds of thousands of neighbour noise complaints are made to local authorities each year. Listening to such noise in the course of investigation amounts to ‘surveillance’ under the Act and arguably requires authorisation. The Bill will make that more time-consuming and harder for authorities to obtain, especially at night when most complaints are made. Complaints will go unanswered. RIPA was never intended to apply to this activity. It will be a further unintended consequence if this Bill protects the freedom of noise-makers over that of householders wanting only a peaceful night’s sleep. Noise investigations should be excluded”—