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There has been much debate recently about the level of surveillance in our society. The debate is worth having, although much of the dialogue has been conducted in a fit of hysteria that bears no relation to the reality of our everyday lives. Widespread use of photography and film is here to stay—the relevant question is how we regulate its use to provide legitimate protection of the public and property while at the same time ensuring that our citizens’ rights and freedoms are properly protected.

Time and again, constituents request closed circuit television coverage in areas where vandalism, thefts, drug dealing or violence have repeatedly occurred. It is not an alternative to proper policing or crime prevention strategies, but decent quality CCTV evidence can certainly make a material difference in bringing forward a prosecution. It often records the type of crime that can be difficult to prove by other means.

Just a few weeks ago in Glasgow, we experienced within one week the tragedy of the murders of two innocent women. The first, Moira Jones, was murdered when arriving back at her home in the south side of the city and the second, Eleni Pachou, was murdered at her place of work in my own constituency. In the same week, there were also reports of five women who were subjected to sexual attacks in broad daylight, all within the space of less than two hours, in the centre and west of the city. Such events are thankfully unusual, but their occurrence over such a relatively short time understandably caused a great deal of fear and alarm. To the credit of Strathclyde police, suspects in all three cases have now been apprehended and it is clear that CCTV evidence played a critical part in the investigations.

The use of such evidence is now a routine part of police inquiries and it is much more common as a means of pursuing a prosecution in the UK than the use of DNA material. Perhaps not surprisingly it results in far more guilty verdicts, leading to a consequent reduction in police time and expense tied up in trials. In the case of random attacks, it can also help to prompt evidence from witnesses who may not have been aware that they were in the vicinity of a crime at the time of the offence, or that their evidence could be material. Importantly, it can also eliminate innocent people as suspects.

However, when police gather CCTV evidence, they have to collect it from a wide variety of sources that currently do not have to follow any compulsory code or minimum requirements. It is estimated that there are around 400 town, public or municipal and city-centre systems in the UK, and perhaps up to 1.5 million privately owned and operated public-space CCTV cameras.

It is important to distinguish between the two groups. The public systems have a primary purpose to provide
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public safety and, accordingly, they need to include the ability to provide evidential recording for police incidents. In Greater Glasgow, we have the GCASS system, which oversees the use of CCTV coverage in places where the public have unrestricted access and also co-ordinates action by the police, local authorities and the major social landlords.

However, even with that level of organisation, Strathclyde police find it difficult at times to persuade all the local authorities in its force area to contribute to the revenue costs, which run at approximately £3,000 to £4,000 a year for each fixed camera. The force also has to interface with 16 separate public systems that use different equipment and processes. This leads to both police and prosecutor’s staff being tied up in time-consuming evidence gathering and having to spend long periods of time in preparing evidence in a format acceptable to the courts. Regrettably, it is still a requirement in many Scottish courts that such evidence be shown in analogue rather than digital format, despite the fact that the latter is much less costly and is speedier.

On the other hand, cameras on private property that allow for a public presence, such as shops and bars, are much more likely to be primarily a property protection scheme. However, given the scale of private coverage compared with public systems, it is evidence from private cameras that, on the whole, will provide the majority of film evidence in a crime incident. During last year’s terrorist attack on Glasgow airport, for example, I understand that more than 70 per cent. of the film and photo evidence came from such private sources.

When a serious incident occurs, police have to contact all public and private owners in the vicinity, first to check whether they hold such equipment and secondly to ascertain whether film has been kept that is of a quality capable of being of use. The major problems that police face when collecting such evidence is the poor quality of the images and the fact that redundant technology is used because of a failure to invest in appropriate equipment.

Speed is also vital, as some owners routinely destroy film within a couple of days, and others within a few weeks. However, the police do not necessarily know that, and there is no requirement on equipment owners to provide details. In addition, owners of smaller, more basic systems may be unfamiliar with the mechanisms required to download the data. It has not been unknown for it to take several weeks to be able to obtain some film evidence. It is also not uncommon for cameras not to be working at all or to be wrongly positioned so that no relevant evidence can be obtained. All of these problems can have a direct effect on the ability of police to arrest the perpetrator of a crime.

If we believe that all of us, as citizens, should take some level of responsibility in relation to the crime on our streets, then I do not consider that it is unreasonable to expect those who operate CCTV systems to have a duty of care to the general public by following best practice and keeping equipment in good working order. Public trust could dissolve easily if there were increasing evidence of misuse, and that is why we need to guard against poor handling of data by persons with little or no training. We also need to guard against the degrading of data to keep costs low by reducing quality for convenience and cheapness of storage, and the use of worn out and redundant equipment.

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However, I also accept that, given the scale of their use and the fact that many of these cameras are operated by small business, sometimes as a requirement of their insurers, it is important to avoid undue bureaucracy and administrative expense. The Bill accordingly proposes a proportionate response that builds on the recommendations of the Home Office report issued last year for a national CCTV strategy, and the voluntary code promoted by the CCTV user group that acts as an industry body.

First, the Bill would place a statutory duty on public bodies such as local authorities, transport groups and housing associations to work together with their local police force to achieve a streamlining of public systems. That would give greater efficiency and reduce administrative costs. One example of how such an obligation could be of use at a fairly minimal cost is for all CCTV used only for traffic monitoring purposes to be given basic digital recording equipment suitable for police use, and an image-retention facility.

The Bill would also place an obligation on authorities to contribute to the costs of co-ordinating such systems where, as in Glasgow, the system is maintained by a large metropolitan authority that covers a number of smaller council areas. Secondly, the Bill would require private organisations that control large areas that are open to the public, such as cinemas, hotels, shopping centres or large bars and clubs, to provide the local police force with up-to-date information on the type of CCTV system that they use, on how long they preserve film for, and on how the system is maintained. Given that many such premises are already licensed by local
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authorities in some way, I would argue that the additional obligation should not be unduly onerous. It would allow the police to map town and city centre locations where there is the highest footfall, and to provide information to private users on the best way to maintain and operate their systems.

Finally, the Bill would require insurance companies to promote an agreed code of practice with their business customers. That could include requirements relating to: the type and scale of equipment that should be used, and appropriate to the site size; use and location; the training that should be provided to staff; and the adoption of regular maintenance contracts. That would have the benefit of securing an improvement in the overall base quality of the use of CCTV in this country and of providing a platform for minimum standards that can easily be reviewed and altered.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Ann McKechin, John Robertson, Mark Lazarowicz, Rosemary McKenna, Nia Griffith, Helen Jones, Angela E. Smith and Miss Anne Begg.

Closed Circuit Television (Monitoring and Promotion)

Ann McKechin accordingly presented a Bill to impose a duty on public bodies to co-operate with the police and specified local authorities on the use of closed circuit television; to require certain users of CCTV to provide specified information to the police; to require insurance providers to promote the use of CCTV systems; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 October, and to be printed [Bill 139].

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Opposition Day

[18th Allotted Day]

Members’ Allowances

Mr. Speaker: We now come to the main business, an Opposition day debate on Members’ allowances. I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

12.42 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I beg to move,

Some hon. Members may wonder why, two weeks after a debate on MPs’ expenses and allowances, we have brought forward another motion on the subject. Two weeks ago, the Commons had the opportunity to put its house in order, to clear its name and to go some way to restoring public confidence in Parliament as a body and hon. Members as individuals. It failed to do so. Members voted to keep the John Lewis list and rejected a system of external auditing. The newspapers, which had welcomed the report from the Members Estimate Committee, were accordingly negative about the vote taken by this House. Of course, we should not be driven by the media— [Laughter.] I say to those hon. Members who are laughing that we should listen— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mrs. May rose—

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. May: If my hon. Friend will allow me, I should like to make a little progress with my speech first, but I assure him that I am happy to take interventions later. We should not be driven by the media, but we should listen to the views of our constituents. It is incumbent on every Member to understand the depth of feeling on the issue outside the House. The result of the vote on the MEC report has compounded a general lack of respect for politicians.

Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

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Mrs. May: As I have just said to my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), I shall be happy to give way in a few minutes. I should just like to make a little progress with explaining why we brought forward such a debate at this time.

We believe that the matter is so important that we should not let it rest after the vote on 3 July. I hope that the House will show that, having reflected on its decision on that day, it is now willing to move forward and make the changes needed to restore public confidence. In short, we need to show not only that we recognise the depths to which we have sunk in the public mind, but that we accept our responsibility to do something about it.

We are honourable Members, but our failure to recognise the concern outside the House about our processes and that people expect us to adopt the best practice shown in the private and public sectors, has led to cynicism and, I believe, damage to the reputation of the House, and we need to address that. That is why we have chosen today to show leadership on this issue, to debate the motion to show that Members of Parliament take this seriously and that we are willing to clean up our acts and be deserving of the office that we are privileged enough to hold.

Sir Patrick Cormack: This is a bit reminiscent of the nasty party speech that some of us remember. It really is a pity that this has become a party political issue. This is a matter for the House of Commons, and because today we have a helpful written statement from the Leader of the House, and because the Government amendment is not all that different, would it not better serve the interests of the House and of our constituents if the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and the Liberal spokesman put a collective hot towel round their heads, went away and came back with an agreed position that we could all adopt, without a vote, so that we could get on to debating the issue that really does concern our constituents? Before sitting down, I want to apologise to my right hon. Friend for having to leave before the end of the debate, but I am chairing my Select Committee.

Mrs. May: When my hon. Friend refers to getting on with issues that concern our constituents, only on Tuesday of this week I had an e-mail from a constituent raising a number of issues relevant to my constituency, but it started with this sentence:

That is a reflection of the views that constituents hold on this issue.

Several hon. Members rose

Mrs. May: I should be grateful if hon. Members would allow me to answer one intervention before I take any more.

That is a reflection of constituents’ views on the issue. We are offering the House an opportunity to come to a consensus on a position that would move the House forward in a way that we failed to do on 3 July.

Mr. Touhig: The right hon. Lady referred to our decision a week or so ago on external auditors. Would she accept that the National Audit Office is a credible
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external auditor and does she welcome the statement by the Leader of the House that it will now be involved in the external audit of all these matters?

Mrs. May: I will come on to the statement made by the Leader of the House and the Government amendment in relation to the National Audit Office. In fact, that amendment does very little to take us further than the present position of the NAO as the auditors of the House, because it talks about processes, not about going behind Members’ signatures, which was the point of the external audit proposals in the MEC report that were rejected by the House.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con) rose—

Mrs. May: I give way to the hon. Gentleman and then to my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Devine: The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. My constituents are talking about this, and their concern is that they will see the situation where the only people who can come to this place are rich Tories. I have been told that the leader of the Conservative party has a £20 million trust fund. Is that the case?

Mr. Speaker: Order. These are personal matters. [Interruption.] Order. Hon. Members know the rules. If an hon. Member is going to be criticised or attacked they should be notified in advance.

Mrs. May: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Of course we want people from all sorts of backgrounds to be able to play their part in this House, but we also need to ensure that taxpayers’ money is being used properly and that our constituents and taxpayers see that it is being used properly.

Several hon. Members rose

Mrs. May: If hon. Members will just be a little patient, I said that I would give way to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). I will then give way to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) and then to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey), who has been seeking to intervene rather a lot, and then I should like to make some progress.

Mr. Hogg: May I associate myself with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack)? Historically, this matter has been for the House, not for whipped party votes. Therefore I have difficulty in understanding why it is being debated on the Supply day. Incidentally, as we do not live in unfurnished boxes, why should there be a prohibition on reimbursement for furniture and household goods? Provided that it is modest, transparent and audited, what is the objection?

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