Photography (Public Places)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 1st April 2009.

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Photo of John Randall John Randall Conservative, Uxbridge 11:00 am, 1st April 2009

That is exactly the point that I have been trying to make. I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman, with his surname, has been involved in the all-party group on photography.

I recognise that there is a serious terrorist threat, and that point leads me to Street View. The argument has been made that underground stations and other transport locations could be targets for terrorism and that anyone taking photographs of such places might be doing so to find out where the entrance is and what is around it, and is therefore suspicious. However, I have been on Street View, and have been able to look at all the underground stations in my constituency and find where all the CCTV cameras are. I was even able to go to RAF Uxbridge, where there was a bomb incident many years ago, and along the A40 to RAF Northolt to look over the fence, all using Google Street View, because the cameras are on stalks. The argument that photographers might threaten our security, or that the police have to be so alert to the issue, has been diminished by the advent of Street View.

I did not mean to discuss Street View so much, but many people, including colleagues, have contacted me about it since I secured the debate. I am not sure whether Members will yet have had time to purchase today's Uxbridge Gazette, but there is an article on page 9 entitled, "Mind my privacy", about Mrs. Rita Blake, aged 72, of Widmore road, Hillingdon. She says that there is an image of her wobbling up the road and she does not like it. There have been several other such incidents just in my constituency. It is fun to look at Street View, but from a security point of view—I am talking not about terrorism, but about burglary and all sorts of other incidents—what representations have the Government made to the provider to see what can be done? Frankly, I find the matter very concerning.

When I hear the argument that people taking photographs are potential terrorists, I am reminded that all hon. Members have probably left though Carriage Gates and had to wait for the public to finish taking their photographs of what I suspect is one of the prime terrorist targets in the country. With the technological advances in digital photography, a camera that does not look complex can pick up incredible detail that can then be downloaded on to a computer. Carriage Gates is, of course, one of the more vulnerable entrances to the House. I do not see how the issue can be divided two ways.

I would also like to mention a point raised by some good friends of mine who are journalists. They say that the police are increasingly using powers under section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 and section 58(1)(a) of the Terrorism Act 2000 against bona fide journalists. That is rather worrying. I think it is well known in the House that I am not a supporter of a third runway at Heathrow and that I attend many demonstrations against it held by the public. At such demonstrations, I have increasingly noticed the police taking photographs of ordinary residents and that our bread-and-butter constituents are having their photographs taken. I understand that there might be one or two anarchists who infiltrate such demonstrations, but it is worrying that huge swaths of our fellow citizens are photographed just because they are doing something that seems to involve demonstrating against the state.

I have put my name to various amendments and a private Member's Bill on the control of paedophilia, but a further issue that has been raised with me is the fact that there seems to be an incredible hysteria about taking any photographs that might contain a child. My daughter is a keen rugby player—she is only 13 and her mother hopes that she will learn to do something a bit more sensible, but she is my daughter so, unfortunately, the chances of her growing up to do something sensible are limited. I feel that I cannot even take a camera to a game of girls' or boys' rugby without being looked at in a strange way. At best, I might end up in a diary column; at worst, I might end up appearing in front of the local magistrate having to explain why I was taking a photograph of young children. The situation is getting to the point of hysteria.

There are various strands to the issue and I appreciate that the Minister might not have enough time to deal with all them. We should all be interested in the subject. The police force and, certainly, PCSOs should have some sort of code. I noticed that, in the last Session of Parliament, Mr. Mitchell tabled early-day motion 1155 on photography in public areas. He asked for a photography code for the information of officers to be issued by the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers. That is right; officers should be told what is likely to cause a problem. I believe that that should be the case not only because I am a libertarian and I think that we should have those rights, but because the terrorism legislation introduced by the Government is brought slightly into disrepute if it is used for the wrong purposes.

We agreed to emergency legislation being pushed through the House because of the threat of terrorism and because we know that such legislation is important. However, when the legislation was being considered, we raised concerns and were told, "No, it won't be used in that way. This is just for use in extremis." We then find that somebody has been stopped reading out the names of the war dead in front of the cenotaph in Whitehall, and that somebody has been cautioned under terrorism legislation for taking a photograph of a police car on double yellow lines. I am afraid that that will make people think that the laws we pass have not been scrutinised properly and that those laws might even be brought into disrepute.

I understand that there is a fine balance to be struck between allowing people the right to take photographs and dealing with the other issues that we must consider. As MPs, we know full well that photographers might take pictures of us when we are carrying out our various activities in our constituencies—only when they find out that such pictures are mundane and boring do they delete them—but there is a right for people to take photographs and we must ensure that it is not subsumed by hysteria and a state that has become too keen on surveillance. At the same time, however, we should be worried about the advent of Street View and concerned that something even more intrusive might follow.

I shall finish now and listen to the Minister's wise words.