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Crime: CCTV

Volume 701: debated on Thursday 8 May 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they will take to ensure that maximum use is made of closed circuit television footage as part of a strategy to reduce crime.

My Lords, the national closed circuit television strategy was published in October last year and a national CCTV strategy programme board has been established. The programme board is currently reviewing the strategy’s recommendations, and the Government will have the opportunity to approve the work of the board later this year.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with ACPO’s view that the contribution of CCTV cameras will be as significant as that of DNA and fingerprinting? In order to fulfil those ambitions, though, will he ensure that the cameras are properly positioned, primed, loaded with film and capable of producing images that can be recognised so that leads can be followed up? Will he ensure that the police who operate the cameras are properly trained, motivated and, where necessary, such as in viewing the footage, supplemented by modern and updated technology?

My Lords, there are apparently some 4.2 million CCTV cameras in the United Kingdom, not all of them in the public sector. It is right to say that we need to make good and effective use of CCTV because it has an important impact on the detection of crime, the deterrence of crime and the reduction of the fear of crime. The issues that the noble Lord raises regarding training, motivation of staff and improvements in technology are the right ones to address, which is why we have a developing national strategy, many of the recommendations from which address those very issues.

My Lords, does the Minister know that Westminster Council finds CCTV extremely successful, but that it was said on radio recently that, on the whole, nationally they are a waste of time? Westminster’s answer was that people need the time to look at the films. Will he confirm that that will be one of the factors taken into account?

When I was mugged—not in Westminster—none of the cameras nearby was recording as they either had no film in them or were not working. No one can look at things if they are not recorded.

My Lords, I am sorry to hear that the noble Baroness was attacked in that way. That is appalling. CCTV can make an important contribution to dealing with incidents like that. I am a CCTV enthusiast; when I was city leader in Brighton, I led a campaign to have CCTV networked across the city. It has an enormous benefit and value, particularly where there is a big night-time economy. It is important to ensure that the cameras are operational and are working properly and efficiently, and that the staff looking at them know exactly what they are looking for. That is an important element in the training programmes that are being designed as part of the national strategy.

My Lords, the Minister’s enthusiasm for CCTV seems to ignore the evidence from the 2004 Home Office study that only one in 14 CCTV systems that it studied in great detail actually had any effect on the rate of crime. Would it not therefore be better to put more effort into getting police on the beat and less into CCTV?

My Lords, it is not a case of either/or; it is a case of using CCTV intelligently along with neighbourhood policing and community support officers on the ground so that they can work together. Most CCTV control rooms ensure that the controller there has a radio connection with police in the field and can advise them on particular problems in order to deal with the sorts of low-level disorder that CCTV can easily pick up.

My Lords, I have asked this question before, and I think that the Minister’s figures are way out of date: how many CCTV cameras are currently registered with the Information Commissioner?

My Lords, I do not have those data. The figure I have of CCTV cameras operable in the UK is an estimated number.

My Lords, following the Joseph Sebastian case, over which there are question marks and which was referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, is there not an argument that prosecution authorities should not use speeded-up versions of CCTV material in court because that may well influence cases in a way that is prejudicial to the person being tried?

My Lords, there have to be proper legal protections when using material obtained by CCTV: I do not think any of your Lordships would argue with that. The important thing is to ensure that if CCTV is to be used in a courtroom, the quality of images is usable and that it provides additional information and evidence to that which the prosecuting authorities will, no doubt, provide to the court. Those issues are extremely important.

My Lords, as the Minister has said, it is believed that there are more than 4 million CCTV cameras in this country. It is also assessed that we are the most surveilled country in Europe and, indeed, in the wider world. Are the Government at all concerned about the civil liberties aspect of that?

My Lords, if I had to debate with the noble Baroness, I could fairly argue that I am one of those who are civil libertarians. Yes, of course, one has to get a balance between protecting civil liberties and ensuring that we provide proper protection on the streets from the very people who attacked the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. That is the exact issue we need to grapple with, which is why operational manuals and codes of practice are, importantly, in place. Those things ensure that liberty protections are, rightly, balanced against the need to protect people.

Yes, my Lords, but does my noble friend not recognise that the tenor of questions following my original one demonstrates that, if we are to have CCTV cameras among us all, they need to be properly used and manned so that we can get the benefits that are clearly available when those conditions apply?

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. That is why the national strategy is addressing the issues of quality, training and motivation and ensuring that we take maximum benefit from improvements to digital and other technologies relating to CCTV.