Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in 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.
There has been and continues to be much debate surrounding the operation of CCTV systems in the UK, and it is a debate that we should welcome. However, I do not want to use this opportunity today to discuss the politics of Big Brother; rather I want to move the issue forward to how we can best regulate these systems and use them to provide legitimate protection of the public and of property, while at the same time ensuring that our civil liberties are protected.
It is estimated that there could be as many as 1.5 million privately operated CCTV cameras in operation in the UK today, plus another 400 publicly operated systems in operation in town and city centres. It is evident from that that CCTV is a fact of modern life and it is here to stay. The Bill provides proposals to ensure that the systems are used to their best purpose, which is to act as deterrents of crime and aids to prosecution.
No compulsory code or set of minimum requirements is laid down for the operation and maintenance of CCTV systems in the UK. That can cause particular problems for some police investigations in which CCTV footage is used as evidence, in particular for crimes that would be difficult to prove by any other means. While CCTV could and should never be an alternative to policing or crime prevention schemes, evidence suggests that it can and does bring forward prosecutions in cases where it may have been difficult to do so otherwise.
Public systems already have a primary purpose to provide public safety, and there is a need for those systems to be equipped to the levels suitable to provide recordings of a high enough quality to be used as evidence of crime. In Greater Glasgow, the Glasgow community and safety services oversee the use of CCTV systems in those public places to which there is unrestricted access, as well as co-ordinating action by the police, local authorities and major social landlords.
Despite that co-ordination, the cost of each fixed camera runs at between £3,000 and £4,000 a year, a total to which local authorities are not obliged to contribute. There are 16 separate public systems in use in Greater Glasgow, and Strathclyde police must contend with that. The different equipment and processes for each system make evidence gathering a lengthy procedure. Alongside that, all evidence submitted to the courts must operate under an analogue rather than a digital system.
Private systems which operate on private property that allows for a public presence, such as large bars and shopping centres, are usually put in place as property protection measures. As the number of systems is so vast, private recordings provide the majority of evidence in incidents of crime. The use of CCTV evidence is now a much more common means of pursuing prosecution in the UK; more so than the use of DNA material, for example. Its use as evidence results in more guilty verdicts, easing the burden on police time and the public purse by way of less expensive trials.
Recorded evidence can also help to prompt witnesses who may not have been aware that they were in the vicinity of a crime at the time, but who may hold crucial evidence. Another important aspect is that CCTV can be used to eliminate innocent people from police investigations, speeding up the overall process and lowering the cost. Yet, when dealing with a serious incident in which CCTV footage needs to be examined, police forces can and often do face an array of problems with the quality and accessibility of the footage that they require.
The lack of regulation means that, when dealing with a serious incident, police have to contact all public and private owners in the area. That is, first, to identify any owners of CCTV systems and, secondly, to check for footage worthy of submission as evidence. Problems also occur with the routine destruction of film. Police forces are unaware of how long owners keep their footage before it is destroyed, and the owners are not required to provide such information on a regular basis. That means that some evidence might be destroyed before the police can access it.
Some owners of small or more basic systems are not familiar with the mechanisms required to download data, for example, and in some instances it can take weeks to obtain the film evidence required. With some systems, the cameras do not work at all and no evidence can therefore be obtained. The problems caused by such disparities can directly affect the ability of the police to arrest perpetrators and bring forward a case for prosecution.
It would not be particularly burdensome to require those who operate CCTV systems to have to meet a set of standards of best practice and general maintenance, particularly when most of the private organisations that would be required to do so are likely already to be regulated by the local authority in some way.
For small businesses in particular, there is an issue regarding insurance. Some insurers require owners of CCTV systems to avoid undue bureaucracy and administrative expense. The Bill makes provision for that. Building on the recommendations of a recent Home Office report for a national CCTV strategy, the Bill proposes a voluntary code for businesses promoted by the CCTV user group, which would act as an industry body.
The Bill would impose a statutory duty on public bodies, such as local authorities, transport groups and housing associations, to work with local police forces to streamline public CCTV systems and, importantly, to impose a duty on local authorities to contribute to the costs of co-ordinating such systems. That would on the whole, provide greater efficiency and reduce administrative costs.
Large metropolitan authorities would no longer be required to foot the full bill for the co-ordinating of such systems when other smaller local authorities would be required to contribute. The Bill would also impose a duty on private organisations that control large areas open to the public in which they operate private CCTV operations, such as bars, clubs, cinemas and shopping centres, to provide local police with up-to-date information on the type of system they use, for how long they preserve film and how their system is maintained.
Lastly, the Bill would impose a requirement for insurance companies to promote an agreed code of practice with their business customers. CCTV can have a positive impact on the fight against crime and the fear of crime, but if we are to maintain the public’s confidence in CCTV, we have a duty to reassure our citizens that such monitoring is not only effective but worth the investment.
Question put and agreed to.
That Mr. Tom Harris, Mrs. Joan Humble, David Cairns, Dr. Alasdair McDonnell, Mrs. Jacqui Lait, Derek Twigg, Lembit Öpik, Norman Lamb and Meg Munn present the Bill.
Mr. Tom Harris accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 November and to be printed (Bill 153).