[Sir John Butterfill in the Chair] — A Surveillance Society?

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:55 pm on 19th March 2009.

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Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South 2:55 pm, 19th March 2009

I am delighted and wish I had realised, as I would have offered to give evidence. I gave evidence to the Committee prior to my right hon. Friend's chairmanship, when it took an interest, rather belatedly, in the question of regulating private security. The report was of fundamental importance in bringing the Government to the table to deal with the security industry.

When I was writing my book on private security, I agonised about how to define private investigators. I got down to about 29 branches of private investigation and then gave up, thinking I had provided enough evidence of its diversity. However, the Minister knows that the sector encompasses the top and bottom ends of the market. I speak not as a consultant, but as someone who just takes an interest. It is vital that what is bad in the sector be prevented. What can happen is that when the legitimate industry is prevented from doing something, it subcontracts to the bottom end of the market, which is only too pleased to investigate and to be unlicensed. That is the most sensitive and complicated of all the relevant areas.

I am sorry that I have gone on too long. I generally agree with the report and congratulate the Committee, and I have read the Government's response and that of the Information Commissioner. The report takes the argument forward, and is sensible and sane, although I think that the Chairman will agree that there will be variation in where on the line the Government or Back-Bench MPs settle.

We have core support for the principles enshrined in the document. I have said clearly and honestly—some will disagree with me profoundly—that there is a limit to what I would be prepared to accept from Government by way of surveillance, but I am aware, as we all must be, of the dangerous world in which we live. Therefore, hoping to go back to some romantic period in the '60s or the 1920s—hardly romantic—is fantasy.

We must be cognisant of the fact that the crooks are smarter than the cops in many countries and that unless our society can combat the multiplicity of threats and risks to which our nation is exposed, civil liberties will diminish. We must recognise that a balance must be struck, wherever it is. I do not think that we have yet found that place.