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Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South) (Lab): I very much welcome the report, although some of the things that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) said will lead me to reread some of it. It is easy to talk about balance but difficult to know where that balancing point is—and it can change in a
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day, depending on events. People’s attitudes on what the limits of the state should be will change dramatically if security is breached and the surveillance created by the state or the private sector proves unequal to the threat and the action. People’s views are not immutable, and they will demand more.

We are all here as democrats and all believe in human rights, transparency in Government, good governance, protection of society, individual liberties and freedom of the press. I start with the point, which not even every Member of the House would agree with, that, frankly, I trust the integrity of my colleagues in the major parties and their willingness to take into account all the factors that lead to key security decisions. I trust them to protect our interests against those within the bureaucracy who might wish—although I doubt it—to use that information inappropriately, and to ensure that a proper line is drawn whereby the citizen has access to the protection of the state to pursue their lives in as free a manner as is humanly, and in governmental terms, possible.

However, there are some nutters out there, and there are Governments composed of whole teams of nutters. Although I am absolutely certain that this is not the case in my constituency, there are those who, if they are not fantasists on the subject, are so dedicated to advocating human rights that they forget that one of the greatest human rights is the right of an individual to walk down to Tesco, or wherever, and come back in one piece.

Human rights can be preserved by actions that might not always fall within the aspirations of or documents produced by Liberty or the Home Affairs Committee. I do not want to be seen as hawkish—I certainly would not put myself in that category—or as demanding that the state do more and more until individual liberties are severely damaged or obliterated, but we must have a sense of reality in this country, and I think that our constituents often have a greater sense of reality than we do.

Keith Vaz: I have enormous admiration for my right. hon. Friend, leaving aside the question whether it is a human right to go to Tesco. The issue he has raised is about who draws the line: quis custodiet ipsos custodes—who will keep the keeper? Who will keep the keeper and know when the line has been crossed?

Mr. George: My right hon. Friend’s Committee would help to keep the line, but there are others. Almost the first sentence of my speech was that I trust my parliamentary colleagues who will be or are in executive positions. They will not suddenly metamorphose into Genghis Khan—at least, most of them will not—on assuming office. I might be naive, but I have been around for a long time and I believe in their judgment, although I do not always agree with it, on the preservation of human rights and the desire to protect our citizens. I have no anxieties whatever.

Tom Brake: To pursue the Tesco issue, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that many people in the United Kingdom believe that the right to go to Tesco without being asked where one is going and why is also important?

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Mr. George: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman’s shopping aspirations are higher than Tesco, but the point is made. Anyone going into Tesco—I do not do so on a daily basis, I must add—is subject to surveillance, because the company has a duty of care to its customers as well as a legal liability: if somebody goes in armed with a machine gun and 50 shoppers are killed, it will have a devastating effect on sales.

The point is that going about one’s normal business cannot proceed in a society under a degree of threat without some intrusion into what can be seen as the pure freedom to choose exactly what to do. There is conflict and we must recognise that. It does not take a genius to work it out that there is an enormous threat to our national security from those who wish to do us harm. Terrorists now have access to weapons that are far more devastating than those their fathers or grandfathers might have had 20 or 30 years ago. Whole shops, areas and towns could be obliterated.

We are also aware of the growth of crime whereby what might otherwise be perfectly legitimate models of behaviour and legitimate non-intrusive equipment can be turned against society as a whole. Money can disappear. Terrorists can pass information among themselves. People find it difficult to go out now or to fly because of perceived threats, whether real or imagined. Given all that, although we are not in a Hobbesian state of nature, few people can argue that we should have licence to do what we wish.

The report states clearly—this deserves to be repeated—that we are not living in a surveillance society by its use of a question mark after the words “surveillance society” in the title. I agree that we must be certain that the Government do not go too far in reducing liberties, but we must also be certain that they go far enough in protecting us, even if that involves further intrusion into our lives authorised by Ministers, judges and those who are there to impose limitations on the action of the Government or the intelligence services.

No Government will feel happy at being shown to have erred too far in the direction of liberty and too little in the direction of security and the defence of our human right to exist. Globalisation has made our position much more difficult. It requires the skills of the intelligence services, the Government, the police, the private sector and all those engaged in security and protection to ensure that they can do their job. However, the balance that must be struck is almost impossible to determine. It is constantly shifting.

Anyone with a sense of history can see how Governments have used the technology at their disposal, which has not been much, to intrude on people’s lives for right or wrong. A totalitarian Government would not have been possible 75 years ago, because the technology did not exist to permit total control over a population, although Stalin perhaps went the farthest in the mid-1930s. Now, however, the technology exists for total control and there are Governments who not only wish to have total control over their own societies, but might be sufficiently expansionist to wish for total control over countries that have not the slightest desire to fall under their influence.

Finding the median position is difficult, and we rely on the Government to find it. Is it halfway between totalitarianism and licence? I have no idea, but hon. Members know the area in which I am trespassing. The
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Government have shown their weaknesses in protecting our information and theirs, and there have been some spectacular lapses. I hope that the lessons are being learned from such information loss, which resulted from incompetence and lack of training—not just among those in the public service, but among those hired by it.

I want to focus not only on the role of the state in protecting society, but on the role of the private sector. I will not make a speech on the private security industry, although I could. The Minister is well versed in those issues, as he has been exposed to them endlessly over the past few years. I am sure that any hope he might have to move himself away from the Home Office has to do with that perpetual set of missives. However, he knows clearly that although co-operation between the public and private sectors would have been anathema 10 years ago, when the private sector was totally unregulated and often incompetent and untrustworthy, with the passage of legislation—imperfect though it is, and in need of strengthening and enlargement—it is as certain as is possible that those parts of the private sector subject to regulation are functioning effectively and can be relied on, if required, to work with the Government to assist in national disasters, to hunt criminals, to protect cash in transit vehicles and so on. That has come about. Private sector companies have a role to play, and it is important for the Minister and all the Government.

I should have said, by way of minor criticism of the Home Affairs Committee report, that its terms of reference confined it largely to the work of the Home Office. The Home Office has no monopoly on protecting society, so I hope that my right hon. Friend can persuade other departmental Committees to do a little inquiry, or a big inquiry, on what is happening within their remit, because the full picture can be important.

The security industry has potential for mischief, which is why properly administered regulation is important. It is no longer Fred the night watchman who is involved; the people who work in the industry are professionals. They are not just ex-policemen; they are people who have grown up in security and have expertise of the highest order. There is scarcely a function undertaken by the police that could not be or is not undertaken, pretty effectively, by the private sector somewhere in the world.

It is important that legislation be strengthened, but in several areas where it operates I am reasonably happy. For public space surveillance, or CCTV, a licence is required. There are two types of licence, and at £245 for three years they are good value for money. There are front-line and non-front-line licences. The issue is important.

However, the failures of the system—even the current one—are obvious. CCTV is meant to be almost the interface between the state and society, although I am not sure that I have 300 cameras following me around my constituency. Some of our colleagues would require only one, which could be turned off for much of the time, so my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East must be very busy trawling the streets of Leicester and London if he is being picked up by 300 cameras—I hope that all the footage is not being viewed. However, he has made a valid point.

Most people are quite happy to be monitored. I am not particularly photogenic, but I do not mind walking through a barrage of 300 cameras, because I know that I am safer as a result of that mass coverage.

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Keith Vaz: Is my right hon. Friend saying that there should be more cameras?

Mr. George: There should be more effective cameras, which has been clearly demonstrated in my right hon. Friend’s report and in every other report. As we all know, a camera eventually played a big part in identifying the killers of Jamie Bulger. Everyone who watches “Crimewatch” knows how many cases have been solved because of good cameras.

However, too many of the cameras around are imperfect and they will now be swept aside by new technology. If we are to rely more and more on CCTV—it is not an alternative to policing, but a remarkable supplement—the cameras have to be adequate. When we watch footage on television programmes, we can barely see a person’s outline, let alone who they are. The cameras therefore have to be up to standard, and the persons who operate them must work for only a certain number of hours and be properly trained, remunerated and supervised. There is a whole series of factors. One suspects that there have been improvements, but it is up to the Minister and his colleagues to ensure that standards are adhered to, because I am not certain that they have been in every case.

In those circumstances, I do not mind if we require more cameras and more good cameras. If we are caught by a camera on the M6, as some people have been, we get mad as hell, but that is probably because we have been speeding, which is against the law. We do not like it when it happens to us, and some people may not like exposure to cameras, but I would have thought that law-abiding people had no anxieties about their images and the images of those who might seek to do damage to them being recorded.

I went to an airport in northern Europe, which had incredible equipment, but there was just one person monitoring 35 cameras. When he went out—I nearly said when we went out—to answer the call of nature, nobody was monitoring the cameras in that major airport. It is therefore critical that there be enough of a relationship between the personnel and the number of cameras.

Mrs. Laing: On the right hon. Gentleman’s penultimate point about the attitude of law-abiding citizens, does he agree that citizens who are going about their business and not breaking the law in any way might nevertheless fear for their privacy, because they do not intend their whereabouts at any particular point to be a matter for public record? In saying that, I do not disagree with him. CCTV cameras serve an important purpose, but citizens’ concerns about their privacy may relate to more than just whether they are being law-abiding.

Mr. George: I understand the arguments. I would not say that I discount them, but I do not share them. If people go out into a town centre, they need to feel secure, which is more likely if there are more policemen on duty, although whether that has an effect is a point for discussion. However, if there are no policemen, the police will have access to effective cameras.

A few months ago, I had a situation in my constituency, which I have not yet resolved. Two security guards left their post in the establishment where they worked because they were told that a guy was running around with
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knives. These two security guys—I bet that they were not on much more than the minimum wage—took on this guy unarmed and brought him to the ground, but one of them was stabbed. I want to propose an award for them and I am asking the police whether they will allow me access to the CCTV footage, because there was a camera there. Perhaps that will be prohibited because the incident was none of my direct business, but I suspect that the footage still exists.

What happens if people throw away their CCTV film after a week because they cannot afford the storage, but the police detect a case three months later, thinking that they are on the ball? Perhaps new technology will address that problem. However, my views and those of the hon. Lady are not totally opposed—I am on one side of the line, and she is on the other.

Tom Brake: Still on the subject of CCTV, does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that paragraph 27 on page 103 of our report highlights the need for the Government to do further research to establish whether its intended effect of preventing crime is being achieved? As taxpayers, we and our constituents want to know that the money being spent on CCTV rather than on more police is being invested effectively.

Mr. George: Absolutely. I applaud the large section of the Committee’s report that deals with CCTV, because I had reached the same conclusions some time previously—I take a big interest in private security. However, I hope that any inquiry would look not just at the effectiveness of police-owned or municipally-owned CCTV, but at the importance and effectiveness of CCTV in the private sector, because the private sector will be far and away the largest purchaser and operator of CCTV.

CCTV is not a panacea and it has to be seen in conjunction with other forms of protection. Frankly, anyone who relies completely on cameras is barking, but I dissent from the idea that my freedom will somehow be impinged on because I am on television so frequently. Avoiding television is not something for which Members of Parliament are renowned, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East got on television 300 times—he is not here now, so he is perhaps perambulating around Westminster, which means that he will be on at least 20 cameras.

My last point is that the Security Industry Authority has not got around to including important sectors such as private investigators—it is still agonising. We have the Private Security Industry Act 2001, but it is now 2009, and the SIA and the Government have not got around to regulating investigators. The security commissioner has a pretty strong view on private investigators. A minority of them are almost the lowest form of pond life, and they should be struck off and removed from their so-called profession.

I have no financial interest whatever in the security industry, but I have monitored it. It is wrong to think that we can expunge the private security profession from our consciousness or nobble it with restrictions. A view is gradually emerging—the Minister will obviously take an interest in this—that we should see what can be done about private investigation. These people are not all Eddie Gumshoes; some are operating at the top end
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of the market. They are hired by the police and big business to do inquiries that the police cannot or will not do, or which they do not have the expertise to do.

My plea to the Minister is that when regulation is proposed it should be imposed sensibly, because if it is not that could be seriously damaging to society.

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I do not want to mislead my right hon. Friend, but we are considering the question of regulation of a range of categories of the private security industry in its broadest sense, including those he has mentioned such as private investigators. Bailiffs are another category, and wheel clampers another. All such categories are being considered by the Home Office, to see whether we can take matters forward. I hope that that reassures him a little.

Mr. George: I would prefer my hon. Friend to deal with wheel clampers first, from a constituency standpoint, but nationally, I would want investigations dealt with fairly swiftly and effectively.

Keith Vaz: I reassure my right hon. Friend that we are undertaking at this very moment an inquiry on wheel-clamping. We will have a report out in the next month.

Mr. George: 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
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diminish. We must recognise that a balance must be struck, wherever it is. I do not think that we have yet found that place.

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