It is a pleasure to be engaging in this debate under your stewardship, Mr. Bercow. You are my favourite Conservative MP, which might not help you in the coming years. None the less, it is on the record. I congratulate Mr. Randall on securing this debate on an important topic that has recently attracted considerable interest. I have listened carefully to the points raised and shall try to deal with the main issues.
Let me start by saying that our counter-terrorism laws are not designed or intended to stop people taking photographs. That is simply not their aim. People have the right to take photographs in public places for legitimate reasons and we will do everything we can to uphold that right. The hon. Gentleman rightly talked about the threat of terrorism, as all hon. Members have done in the debate. After the Good Friday agreement was reached, I was a commissioner to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland for three years. Also, my constituency housed the lead 7/7 bomber and, more recently, the youngest convicted terrorist in the country. Therefore, I know full well the threat that exists. However, to be blunt, none of the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned in his interesting and useful contribution seem to be a threat to this country in any shape or form. I will go through that in my speech.
I accept that there are concerns about how some of our laws are being, or might be, applied. There are two separate issues and I would like to deal with each in turn. First, concerns have been expressed about the stop-and-search powers used under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. As hon. Members will know, section 44 enables the police to stop and search anyone within an authorised area for the purposes of searching for articles of a kind that could be used in connection with terrorism. The powers do not require a reasonable suspicion that such articles exist. That is a useful power, but it is also wide-ranging, and concerns have been expressed that the power is being used to stop people taking photographs—whether of buildings or of people—within authorised areas. There are also concerns that cameras are being confiscated as part of such searches. Those are genuine concerns that people have raised.
I would like to make it clear that section 44 does not prohibit the taking of photographs. In November last year, the National Police Improvement Agency issued revised guidance on the use of section 44 that made it clear that the power does not stop the taking of photographs in an authorised area and that the police should not use those powers to prevent people from taking pictures. The police may stop and search someone who is taking photographs in an authorised area, just as they may stop and search any member of the public, but the powers should not be targeted on photographers.