Tonight the House of Lords debated the Protection of Freedoms Bill.  This was my contribution:

“My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority. I fear I may be spoiling the consensus that seems to have emerged as to what a wonderful Bill this is. This is a very grandiosely entitled Bill: “Protection of Freedoms”, no less. I am sure that when the title was chosen the Deputy Prime Minister had visions that, like the authors of the Magna Carta, seven centuries on, his creature would still be seen as a cornerstone of British liberties.

Frankly, he can dream on. This Bill is a mish-mash of ill-sorted provisions, a mish-mash without any overarching or underpinning philosophy and, worst of all, a mish-mash that will bring about unintended and damaging consequences. Balancing the civil liberties of the individual against the security of the state and the protection of the lives and well-being of other individuals is never an easy task and I wish that I could be confident that that balance has been appropriately struck in this Bill. Let us take, for example, Part 5, which makes major changes to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who is not in her place, will remember the time spent in this House trying to ensure that children and vulnerable adults were properly protected against those who might harm them.

When we hear from organisations, such as Fair Play for Children, that this Bill introduces,

“elements of serious risk to children”,

we need to consider the points with very great care. The Government say that the arrangements under the 2006 Act were too complicated and onerous for those who had to implement them. Yet the people who will have to implement this Bill say that its provisions do not reduce or simplify the current system and that it runs the risk of sowing considerable confusion and unnecessary complexity.

There is no evidential basis for these changes. There is to be no pilot and what is being done throws away the broad cross-party consensus on which the previous legislation was based. A major concern lies in the proposed definition of what constitutes supervision in respect of affected activities. This remains worryingly vague. One suggestion is that the definition of supervision should be “line of sight”. This is so vague as to be frankly laughable and out of touch with daily realities. If the activity stays in one or perhaps two rooms and there are two staff or supervisors to monitor all volunteers, perhaps that would be possible. But in a multi-feature environment where there is outdoor activity, and in many other situations, it will be next to impossible for many organisations to provide that level of supervision. It will result in increased costs and/or a restricted number of activities, and, no doubt, fewer volunteers involved and fewer children benefiting.

In any event, supervision misses the point. The supervised activities of a volunteer are one thing but it is precisely during those activities that the trust of the child with that individual is created. It is that trust that makes possible unsupervised contact and the risks that that brings with that trust being exploited and betrayed. Of course, the risk of such exploitation and betrayal taking place during supervised activities can be reduced by good supervision. But what of the contact outside the supervised activity? The child now trusts that adult because they have encountered them in the supervised activity. But that trust is where the potential for abuse is created outside that secure environment.

That is an example of where the balance is being struck wrongly. It is based on the false belief that the bureaucracy involved is stifling volunteering. Fair Play for Children surveyed its member groups and found that more than half believe that the existing vetting arrangements have improved their overall practice. In only one instance in 200 did a group report that the arrangements had made it more difficult to recruit volunteers. Most parents will say that when they hand over their children they want the reassurance that the adults who their children will encounter have been properly vetted. Do the Government really want to put the rights of the potential paedophile above those of the child? That is just one part of an ill-thought-out Bill.

Part 4 reduces the maximum period of pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects from 28 to 14 days. The periods of detention longer than 14 days have been used extremely sparingly and are subject to judicial approval, which has not always been given. The Government, moreover, acknowledge that sometimes a longer period—up to 28 days—may be necessary, presumably because of the nature and complexity of some counterterrorism investigations.

If circumstances require it, it is proposed that the Home Secretary comes to Parliament to introduce emergency legislation to reinstate the longer detention power. That has to be nonsense. It means that during—I repeat, during—a terrorism investigation, the police and security services may have to ask Parliament to be recalled to debate an issue that it cannot discuss without prejudicing a future trial. The remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, are extremely pertinent on this point. Ministers recognise that 28 days may be necessary to investigate or avert a serious terrorist threat, but none the less intend to remove the power, even though there is no evidence that the power has ever been misused.

Part 2 adds to police bureaucracy, which is another example of extra expenditure being incurred as a result of pressure from the Daily Mail. It will make it more difficult for the police and local authorities to use CCTV to prevent and detect crime. This no doubt reflects concerns about a surveillance society, although when I was a local government leader my experience was that communities always—I repeat, always—welcomed the introduction of new CCTV schemes. If that concern about a surveillance society was so important, why are there no restrictions on the use of private CCTV cameras? I do not want to labour the point, but this oh-so-cleverly-worked-out Bill makes it more difficult and more expensive for our already overstretched police service to prevent crime but does nothing to restrict the proliferation of privatised surveillance.

Finally, Part 1 restricts the retention of DNA samples and profiles taken during a criminal investigation. This will make it harder, not easier, for the police to catch and convict dangerous criminals. The Home Office’s own research produced last year contradicts what this Bill will do. It showed that, each year, 23,000 people who will be taken off the database under these proposals will go on to commit further offences. Of these, 6,000 will commit serious crimes, including rape and murder.

Whose civil liberties are we protecting here? It will certainly not be those of anyone like Sally Anne Bowman who was 18 when she was murdered close to her home in south London in 2005. The police investigation initially drew a blank. But a year later, Mark Dixie, a pub chef, was arrested following a brawl in the pub where he worked. No further action was taken for that pub brawl but his DNA was taken and subsequently loaded on the database. It produced a match to the DNA evidence retrieved from the murder victim and within five hours he was under arrest. He was subsequently charged, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. So what are we doing removing the ability to protect people like Sally Anne Bowman? There are plenty of other such examples.

This Bill repeatedly gets the balance wrong. Of course, we should protect freedom. But why is it that the only freedoms that this Bill seems to care about are the freedoms of the would-be terrorist, the manipulative paedophile and the serial rapist?”

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