Crime: CCTV — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:59 pm on 12th January 2010.

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Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench 2:59 pm, 12th January 2010

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the value of closed circuit television in fighting crime and securing convictions of offenders.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, there is some published research on the value of CCTV but we are working with the police to strengthen the evidence base. However, we know from actual cases the value of CCTV in the detection and conviction of offenders, involving terrorism, murder, volume crime and anti-social behaviour. The Government encourage local partners to consider the contribution which CCTV can make in fighting crime as part of their crime reduction strategies.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he not accept that the claimed value of CCTV is not borne out by recent official information, which shows that the number of crimes solved by using CCTV in London, for example, has fallen from one in two in 2003-04 to only one in seven in 2008-09? Does the remit of the new national CCTV oversight body have any regard to the cost-effectiveness and value for money of the considerable number of CCTV systems installed at great expense by Her Majesty's Government?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord has asked a number of questions. I would refute some of the claims made about the percentage of crimes solved by CCTV, which are based on inputs by individual police officers and accumulated in a certain way. No judgment has been made of their accuracy and general statistics cannot be given. It is worth knowing, however, that from April 2007 to March 2008, CCTV was used in 86 out of 90 investigations of murder and helped to solve 65 of them. The camera footage captured crime taking place or was used to track movements of suspects. In a third of those cases, witnesses were able to identify the murderer from it. CCTV plays a huge role with regard to serious crime and is very valuable. I have mentioned previously in the House that the regulator needs to obtain accurate, empirical evidence, but I have no doubt that CCTV is extremely important in stopping serious crime and in detecting terrorist offences.

Photo of Lord Hughes of Woodside Lord Hughes of Woodside Labour

My Lords, is there not a flaw in the argument of people who say that CCTV is not so effective and that its use should therefore be reduced and then draw the conclusion that, because the police solve fewer crimes than perhaps they did six months ago, we should abolish the police?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, my noble friend points out that the arguments against CCTV can become somewhat circular. There is talk about how many cameras there are. The way in which the huge total is reached is by someone walking down Putney high street, counting the number of cameras and multiplying that by the number of streets in the UK. That is not a very accurate way of arriving at the final figure. There are a lot of cameras because individuals feel safe having cameras on their property and put them there. There is a camera in every cash machine; there is a camera in buses for looking down the bus lane. Those are all co-ordinated with the city-centre sited cameras which the Government helped local communities put up. When footage from them is pulled together in the case of a serious crime, such as the attack on Tiger Tiger, amazingly conclusive evidence is built up that lets us track people down and capture them.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Jones Baroness Neville-Jones Shadow Security Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, in connection with the points that the Minister makes about value for money, will he say something about the quality of the pictures? In a number of cases there have been pictures but not of sufficient quality to provide evidence, in particular evidence admissible in court. What measures are the Government taking to ensure that the pictures are of a standard sufficient to provide admissible evidence in court?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, the noble Baroness has raised a very good point. Very often, the pictures are not of sufficient quality. The CCTV regulator has just come into post and will embark on a programme of work to obtain empirical evidence to achieve that. He will come to us with that programme of work in the next couple of months and then move forward to look into some of these areas. Some cameras are not controlled by the Government, but they do give a certain security. Last summer, I travelled quite a lot on the Tube. Announcements were being made that there were cameras on stations and in trains. I thought that I would do my own survey and so I asked people travelling on the Tube what they thought. After the shock of someone talking to them and looking as though they were about to be mugged, they generally agreed that the cameras made them feel more secure. The cameras have a real value.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Crossbench

What has been the impact of CCTV cameras on unmanned stations? Have they decreased the crime rate and increased the number of prosecutions when crimes have occurred on unmanned station platforms?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, I do not know the details on that specific point so perhaps I may come back to the noble Baroness on it. However, what I do know, because we do have statistics, is that cameras have made a considerable difference in car parks in terms of attacks on cars or attacks on people within those car parks. I have no doubt that CCTV adds value. We also have a lot of hearsay evidence, which is why the regulator must go into it, of rather unpleasant people and yobs saying, "Look out, there's a camera". I do believe that it has an impact, but we need definitive and accurate analysis of it.

Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is frustration when there is no film in the cameras? Some people get away with crimes when the evidence is not there because the film has been left out.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, I absolutely agree. I know that sometimes with people's private CCTV it is not in there and they then pay the price. However, it would be quite unacceptable if this was happening with cameras run by councils and the Government. They would deserve to be keelhauled. It should not happen.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, the Minister will share my view that the public have high expectations of CCTV. Will the research he mentioned look at the greater or lesser effectiveness of it in different places? He mentioned car parks. Knowing where CCTV works best would allay a lot of the fears of those concerned for civil liberties as against the effectiveness of the measure.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a good point. As I say, we are waiting for the programme of work to come from the regulator. That is certainly something I will make sure is looked at. Clearly there is always a concern about the surveillance society. As I said, I looked at that last summer and talked to people. They were not concerned at all about the fact that there were cameras there because they felt so much safer. We have to get this into balance and not go mad about the surveillance society. Generally people are not tracked from here to here to here. Governments tend to be far more incompetent-not this specific one, but generally-at doing something like that, so the fear does not necessarily have to be taken into extreme account, but we have to take it into account.