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Surveillance Cameras

Volume 702: debated on Thursday 26 June 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How many surveillance cameras are in use in public places in the United Kingdom; and how this compares, per head of population, with the European average.

My Lords, no hard data on the number of CCTV cameras operating in public places in the United Kingdom are currently held by the Home Office. The National CCTV Strategy recommends the development of a system of registration that assists in the regulation of CCTV systems. We are discussing this recommendation with the Information Commissioner. The Government will have the opportunity to approve the work of the National CCTV Strategy Programme Board later this year.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, albeit that it is somewhat inconclusive in its nature. Avoiding the increasing temptation to make a speech on these occasions, I have two questions for the Minister. First, can he advise the House, even in percentage terms, how many cameras are in the public sector and how many in the private? Secondly, does he agree with the recent estimate by the police authorities that the utility rate of such cameras is under 3 per cent?

My Lords, between 1999 and 2003 the Home Office invested some £170 million of capital funding into local authorities and public bodies for investment in public space CCTV. It is estimated that that delivered some 680 town centre CCTV systems, which is thought to be about 15 per cent of the total number of such systems in the United Kingdom. As for the 3 per cent figure referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, I have no information that that is correct in terms of detection. What we have found is that when CCTV was introduced in places such as Newcastle, for instance, there was a falling off of burglaries in the city centre by some 56 per cent, criminal damage by 34 per cent and theft by 11 per cent. That, and anecdotal evidence, suggests that CCTV systems are extremely good in preventing crime and, more importantly, detecting it.

My Lords, what is the Government’s view on removing lumps in the road and replacing them with cameras? I am told that these lumps cause bad emissions from cars and that they are equally bad for the cars themselves. It would be a great benefit to Prince of Wales Drive in Battersea if only we could have cameras and not lumps.

My Lords, I assume that the noble Baroness means speed humps. I have to confess that I have previously campaigned to have speed humps in my city. They have certainly ensured that traffic slows down, which probably saves both lives and injuries; there is certainly research on that. But I understand her point: the introduction of camera systems can assist in traffic management. They can be of considerable benefit.

My Lords, my noble friend cited Newcastle. Given the widespread use of these cameras, do the Government have a more national assessment of their effectiveness? In particular, do they reduce the level of crime or simply displace it?

My Lords, such studies as there are suggest that there is no displacement effect. However, there is clear evidence that they assist in the detection and prevention of crime. Figures suggest that between 2006-07 and 2007-08, more than 8,000 fewer offences of personal robbery were committed in London and detections increased significantly by 14 to 15 per cent.

My Lords, would the Minister be good enough to reconsider his being wedded to speed humps? They are the most unattractive things and, as my noble friend said, they produce an extra amount of exhaust. They also produce some pretty good expletives from the passengers who get thrown about. Does he also agree with my noble friend that cameras are a good thing? They are very invasive and we have too many of them.

My Lords, I do not know that we have too many CCTV systems in the United Kingdom. Police forces up and down the country say that they do an extremely useful and valuable job in preventing and detecting crime. The case is also clear that road humps along with other methods of traffic management and control contribute significantly to reducing the number of people killed on our roads, especially in residential areas, where there is a particular problem, and the number of injuries that people suffer as a result of motor accidents and speeding.

My Lords, I wonder if I could help the Minister. I have been advised that we have more CCTV cameras in the United Kingdom than they have in the United States, Italy, France, Germany and Spain combined. Would he care to comment on that?

That is the truth, my Lords; these are matters for speculation. But there is no doubt that CCTV cameras make a significant impact in preventing and detecting crime. I always thought that the party opposite was concerned about those issues. This morning I am beginning to get a rather different view.

My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who chaired the New Deal for Communities programme in Liverpool, where CCTV has been part of the strategy for reducing crime. I would have thought that the Minister might be able to find some statistics from the New Deal programme. Could he make those statistics available to show what the reduction in crime has been in New Deal areas where those CCTV cameras have been put in place?

My Lords, we are undertaking through the national strategy a number of studies on the impact of CCTV systems. When that information becomes available I shall be happy to share it with your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, are good practice guidelines or a code of practice available for the use of such cameras? Who monitors the CCTV systems to ensure that there is no misuse of such equipment?

My Lords, because the Government were committing cash and investment into CCTV systems during the latter part of the 1990s a code of practice was developed which the data commissioner introduced in 1998. So there is already a code of good practice to ensure that information captured by CCTV systems cannot be abused and misused.

My Lords, what kind of accountability to Parliament is there for this monitoring? Is a report produced? Which organisation carries out the monitoring particularly of the private organisations that carry out surveillance on so many of us? It is said that in this city we are photographed 14 times a day. That is a matter of considerable concern.

My Lords, there is accountability in the code of practice, the data commissioner, reporting to Parliament and the fact that Parliament debates these matters from time to time. There is little doubt that CCTV systems have a significant effect in tackling and preventing crime. We have all seen images on our TV screens of the product of CCTV in tackling terrorist offences and tracking down terrorists in this country. We should welcome the use of CCTV in ensuring that we are better protected and that our nation and our people are safer.