Tuesday, 13 December 2011.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, this Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and will resume after 10 minutes.
Protection of Freedoms Bill
Committee (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 20th Report from the Constitution Committee, 20th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 26 : Requirement for consent before processing biometric information
85: Clause 26, page 19, line 27, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
“(2) A parent shall be given the option of not having the child’s biometric information processed and consent is deemed to be granted if a parent does not request the relevant authority not to process the child’s biometric information.”
My Lords, if I may start off with a general remark, let me say that I suspect that I will end up preferring the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, to mine. My purpose in tabling these amendments is to give us a good chance to discuss this part of the Bill, which I think has gone too far in trying to apply to schools special arrangements for dealing with biometric data that are neither required nor sensible.
In the wider world, letting one’s biometric data go is perhaps frightening. What Facebook is up to at the moment—for example, allowing people to tag photographs, such that I can be identified from photographs on other people’s websites because they are tagged with my name and details and the way in which that allows information about me to spread around the world—is worrying enough in our society but would be extremely worrying in, say, Syria. One should be aware of the dangers posed by the widespread ability to identify people remotely. If it became possible at a distance to pick up people’s identity as they passed shop-fronts and gazed into window displays and to have information on fingerprints widely available so that, for example, as soon as I touched a door-handle the store would know who I was, that would, to my mind, be a fairly nightmarish world to be part of. I am very grateful that our Government show no inclination to go down that road and, indeed, at an early stage abandoned identity cards, which would have been a step in that direction.
However, to my mind, in a closed community like a school, those worries do not apply. The school is supposed to know where each kid is all the time. I remember getting terribly upset when a friend of mine had their child knock on the door, having walked a mile home from school without the school having known that the child was absent. You expect a school to know where the children are, you expect it to know what they are doing and you expect it to be in control of them. Within a closed arrangement like a school, having one’s biometric information available is not such a big thing. Within this community of the House of Lords, the place is full of people—thank goodness—who know who we are. That is a biometric recognition system. One of the reasons why this place is secure is that it is full of doorkeepers who would recognise someone who did not belong. Within a school, an automatic system does no more than that, and it is fundamentally no more frightening than that.
A school has a lot of information on the pupils under its charge. A lot of that information is much more sensitive than a hash of some fingerprint—something that would take a great deal of ingenuity to make any real use of if it escaped. A school has information on what children have done in terms of their academic endeavours, what special needs they have, what mischiefs they have committed and people’s opinions of them, which could be extremely sensitive if they appeared in later life. Schools are used to guarding a lot of data about their charges. Whether they do that as perfectly as possible, I do not know, but one very rarely comes across occasions when this information has escaped to people’s embarrassment—when it does, it has usually been released by their mothers who are so proud of the reports that their children have received at school.
This is the context within which we must think about the sort of information which will be available as a result of a biometric recognition system. All that it is doing is scanning the proportions of a face or taking a few data points from the ridges of a fingerprint—but not as many as you would take if you were doing a proper security scan because you want something that works fast rather than completely accurately. There is no common storage format or easy way of that data being made use of by outside people even if they did discover it.
In these circumstances, as I say, you are supposed to know everything that is going on—knowing whether a child is in a classroom is something that a school is supposed to know. By and large, it is quite rare that these systems are used even to that extent. Mostly, they are used just for tagging library books to see who takes them out and to see who is entitled to free school lunches in order to avoid the use of cash and people being labelled as free school-meal kids. There is no identification—they are in a way disguising someone’s identity and protecting their information when used as meal systems. Fundamentally, though, biometric systems are used because they enable a school to do what it should be doing more efficiently and more cheaply than it could without them.
I agree that there is some basis for asking for parental consent. I probably do not naturally start out from that position, but I am convinced of it by what the Government have said, and by things that have been said to me in a long e-mail correspondence with some of the people promoting this side of the Bill. There are a lot of things that parents are asked to consent to, and it is quite reasonable that a school should explain why it wishes to use these systems and get general parental consent for it. If a parent wishes to say no, the school should make arrangements for that particular child to be excepted. I go along with that.
However, I really want the systems and rules that we put in place for schools to fit in with all the other rules that are there for asking parental consent for this, that and the other—whether it be religious observance, sex education or whatever else. These are taken seriously by schools and there are ordinary systems for them, the basis for which is single-parent consent. If two parents are involved and one objects, that nullifies the consent, but if you are seeking consent all you need is the consent of one parent. With a lot of schools, for parental arrangements it is really hard enough to get that; to go beyond that, in what seems to be an entirely ordinary matter for schools, does not seem sensible.
The other aspect that I want to look at is where facial recognition systems in particular, and other forms of ID, are going to be built into the systems that kids are using. If they are accessing Facebook from school—as many will be, because it is a common way of finding out information and communicating with other children who are collaborating on a project—there will be biometric information systems built into that software that will not be within the school’s power to disable. That will be within the individual child’s power to deal with, and the school will not have responsibility for it. If the school is using Windows 8—not yet out, but in beta form—there will be facial recognition systems built into that, so that when you sit down, your computer knows that it is you; if someone else sits down at your computer, it does not turn on. That, again, is a personally activated system. A school can disable that on school computers, but if the school is allowing children to access laptops and to take them home, as many secondary schools now do, then you would expect the child to be in control of the system and it would not be reasonable to require the school to impose or be responsible for the way in which biometric recognition systems are used without the school’s own systems. Some of the wording that we have at the moment crosses those boundaries.
On my individual amendments, Amendment 85 is completely garbled and I have no idea what it means. It may be that my noble friend’s officials have been able to decipher it, but I think it must have been my handwriting and I cannot now work out what the amendment means. I apologise to him and to the Committee for that.
Amendment 87 is a version of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. It is really saying that you must have single-parent consent and that an objection by the other parent nullifies that, but otherwise you only need one parent’s consent. Amendment 88 is another way of saying that, while the second part of Amendment 87 deals with the point that I made about some bits of biometric recognition being outwith the school’s control. Amendment 90 covers that same point, as does Amendment 92.
Amendment 94 is a worry about the wording in that part of the Bill. There are a lot of schools with these systems in place—several thousand of them, probably including the large majority of secondary schools and quite a lot of primaries. The wording of that part of the Bill might be used to allow a school not to go for retrospective parental consent. My view is that, if we are to have parental consent, all those schools that have the system should write to parents asking for their consent, rather than that consent being assumed or being taken to be too difficult—an exception being claimed under this subsection.
Amendment 97 reduces the age limit to 16, which I think is the common age within schools at which pupils should be allowed to take responsibility, while Amendment 98 questions the width of “equipment”, which in common parlance has animate as well as inanimate means. I beg to move.
I have to tell your Lordships that, if Amendment 85 is agreed, I cannot call Amendments 86 to 88 because of pre-emption.
My Lords, we have four amendments in this group: Amendments 86, 89, 93 and 96. Amendments 86, 89 and 93 would simplify requirements for consent for the processing of biometric information. In particular, Amendment 86 would establish an opt-out rather than an opt-in system and remove the requirement for both parents to consent; instead, it would require notification from just one parent to withdraw consent. Amendments 86 and 89 remove the current provision allowing children of any age to override parental consent, and instead permit only children above the age of 16 to object. Amendment 93 makes consequential changes to requirements for parental consent while—although I will leave this to the end—Amendment 96 establishes a new duty upon schools to consult the views of teachers, parents and pupils before introducing biometric recognition systems into schools.
Our amendments in this group, as I have said, seek to simplify requirements around consent for schools and to prevent new rules from rendering costly, high-tech equipment in schools defunct. There are apparently no official figures on how many schools use biometric systems, but there are estimates. There was an estimate in a House of Commons Library note earlier this year that 30 per cent of secondary schools and 5 per cent of primary schools use them. Perhaps the Minister could tell us what he thinks the figures are.
The Home Secretary’s description of the Bill's provisions as a double lock on the processing of biometric information in schools is a tellingly accurate reflection of the regulatory bulwark that schools will in future come up against in order to use existing biometric processing systems. By requiring both parents of every child to provide written consent, the Government are creating a potential bureaucratic nightmare for schools that use these systems. In the words of the Association of School and College Leaders:
“What is proposed here is a very burdensome and bureaucratic new regulation that will address no significant problem. In short, it is exactly the kind of legislation that the present government promised to repeal, not enact”.
Confusion also abounds about the scope of the Bill’s definition of biometric information, with the Information Commissioner noting that the definition,
“as it stands is considerably broader than that in general use”.
In that connection, will the Minister confirm whether in future schools will be required to gain written permission by parents in order to use digital photographs on file and CCTV cameras?
There appears to be an in-built bias in the Government’s proposals that belies an inherent mistrust of new technologies that runs throughout the Bill. The requirement for parental consent from both parents is an example of this. Such a high bar is in no way consistent with other issues of moral conscience in schools, such as over the question of participation in collective worship, on which the law permits a child to be excused on the request of one parent. The provisions also display a lack of awareness about some family arrangements, requiring schools in some cases to contact estranged parents but offering no guidance on how a school is to judge whether the welfare of the child requires that the parent is not contacted under the exceptions in Clause 27 of the Bill. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how schools should decide whether the welfare of the child requires that the parent is not contacted.
Yet more potential confusion is created by provisions in the Bill that would allow a child of any age to override the wishes of their parent and refuse to use biometric processing systems. The Bill seems to assume that children of five years of age should have the same legal competency as those of 16 years of age. Parents are trusted with the mental, physical and moral welfare of their children on most other issues, so it seems bizarre that a child should have the final veto on this.
It is even more puzzling, considering the memorandum submitted to the Public Bill Committee by the Home Office, why the Government believe that parental consent is still needed for children beyond the age of 16. I quote what the Home Office said:
“The issues around the use of biometric data are particularly subtle and complex, and even more mature children may not be able to fully appreciate them. In other areas such as marriage and making a will children under the age of 18 need parental consent. In our view the issues around the giving of biometric data are similar in that respect”.
Could the Minister say why, if the Government believe that the use of biometric recognition systems by children in schools is as serious an undertaking as the question of marriage, they believe that a child as young as five would have the competency to make an informed moral objection to both parents’ wishes?
While we support the principle of parental objection for the processing of children’s biometric details, the Government’s proposals go far beyond anything practical and necessary, taking a sledge-hammer to efforts by the most innovative schools to take advantage of new technologies. It is likely to end up costing the schools hundreds of thousands of pounds over three years.
There is a considerable amount of misunderstanding surrounding the use of these systems in schools, which in no way resemble the forensic use of biological material in criminal investigations. As the Association of School and College Leaders points out:
“The biometrics systems in use in education do not precisely identify individuals in the general population in the way that police fingerprinting may do, but merely distinguish between different students well enough to charge the correct ones for their lunch. The information would not be sufficient for investigative, forensic or evidential purposes even if made available for such, as of course it cannot be under the data protection registration of the institution concerned”.
This is an attempt to tap into an agenda which fails to recognise the positive contribution that the use of these pioneering techniques makes to schools. Biometric recognition systems can provide privacy for children who receive free school meals by concealing the source of funding and removing the need for cash or the use of cards. They can be used for registration of pupils and borrowing books from school libraries; they can also help to ensure that unauthorised people do not gain access to school premises. More broadly, they expose pupils to pioneering technologies, helping to inspire the interest in science and hi-tech industries which must form the basis of our future economy. Yet the Government’s heavy-handed regulation means that the use of these new technologies in schools will become much more hassle than it is worth for many schools, which is presumably this Government’s hidden objective.
A leading provider of these technologies has criticised the Government’s approach to regulation, saying that there has not been proper consultation or clear thinking about consequences of the new policy. It is the same pattern of mixed signals and rushed policy as occurred in the chaos created by the reduction in feed-in tariffs on solar panels. That, too, harmed and is harming one of Britain’s hi-tech industries. These amendments are in line with the recommendation of the Information Commissioner in 2008 that parents be allowed to opt their children out of participating while minimising the bureaucratic burdens on school.
The Government have claimed that this Bill is about restoring common sense to public life. However, we would suggest that requiring schools to chase written consent from two parents and allowing children of five years of age to override the wishes of their parent stretches the definition of common sense.
I made reference earlier to Amendment 96, which would establish a new duty on schools to consult teachers, parents and pupils before introducing biometric recognition systems into schools. In relation to the previous three amendments, we support the principle that parents should be able to excuse their children from having their biometrics processed where they felt strongly on the matter. It is to the unnecessarily burdensome and prohibitive framework that the Government propose that we object. This amendment provides for a common-sense approach to parental and pupil consultation by requiring a full consultation of views by the school prior to the introduction of any new biometric recognition system. Like the Association of School and College Leaders and the Association of Managers in Education, we are confident that most parents and pupils will continue to welcome the opportunity to access new technologies in schools and that, by ensuring full prior consultation by schools and allowing parents and pupils over the age of 16 to opt out, we would strike the right balance.
My Lords, I have Amendment 91 in this group, which is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Walmsley. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has obviously not been subject to Black Rod’s little talk about security in this place, which urges us all to wear our passes at all times—which I acknowledge I am not at this moment—rather than rely on people knowing who we are.
My Lords, I know that we are all supposed to do that, but I am sure that the noble Baroness has seen, as I have, groups of guests wandering around with unidentifiable passes and noble Lords with their passes on back to front so that you cannot see even whether they are a Lord let alone who they are. Eyeball recognition by the doorkeepers is much more reliable and efficient, and is probably cheaper at the end of the day.
Perhaps I had better not continue down this route—I could, but it would take more time than the Committee might like to devote to it.
Another point on which I am perhaps not with the noble Lord is that every school knows what every child is up to all the time—I wish that were so. I am sure that we are going to hear from the Minister about the balance between privacy rights and sensible use of technology—I hope that we are not going to hear about feed-in tariffs, which seemed to stretch the analogy a bit far.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, did not know, on reflection, what his Amendment 85 was about. I have been in that situation as well, but that is not so on this amendment, against which I wrote “silence equals assent”—I think that it is the difference between opt-in and opt-out.
Before I come to the detail of my amendment, I wish to pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about the technology being used in schools not being as sophisticated, if I can use that term, as technology used in other contexts. Can the Minister say how reliable the equipment is? That was the immediate question I had in response to the noble Lord’s comment.
My amendment does not contradict any of the other amendments that have been spoken to and is not inconsistent with the Bill. It provides that the relevant authorities, schools, academies and FE colleges should tell parents and children of their rights to refuse consent at least once in every academic year—in other words, it is about informed consent. The suggestion comes from the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, which supports the provisions in the Bill for ensuring that the institutions cannot process biometric data if consent is refused. I know that my noble friend will say a word about the convention rights.
I have been told by the Children’s Rights Alliance about research which shows that most children using these systems have not considered how long their fingerprints would be held for and they generally were not concerned. My response to that is that of course they would not—they are children and they do not necessarily think through all the implications of what they are being asked to agree to. Therefore explaining exactly what the subject matter is, both to them and their parents, is important. Other research—again, I am not surprised about this—shows that when schools have introduced a biometric system they have emphasised the benefits and not talked about the problems. All of this is natural human reaction.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred to the report of the Information Commissioner in 2008. The Information Commissioner made it clear that schools which collect data must be aware that children are data subjects and that they,
“should in the first instance be informed and consulted about the use of their personal data”.
This being the first principle of the Data Protection Act, he went on to say that,
“Fairness requires that schools ensure that pupils are informed about and understand the purpose for which their personal data is being processed”.
Our amendment would require that they are in a position to give consent—or, indeed, withhold it—but on an informed basis.
My Lords, this is an area which I have been thinking and worrying about because of the practicalities of it all. The part about children and schools is a well meaning and well intentioned effort to introduce legislation to make sure that children’s privacy is not breached and that no information is kept on them which could make things difficult for them in later life. It is very important that we should not do that.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, we could try to make sure that the biometric information that is used for administrative purposes is not kept to evidential standards. In other words, the information could not be used in courts; it could not be linked up with the police computer; it could not be linked up elsewhere. That could be done simply by making sure that it is kept to a standard which is good enough to identify people for administrative purposes in populations of a few thousand, but once you raise it up to a national scale it does not work. For instance, under EU directives there have to be 13 matching points for a fingerprint to be admissible in evidence in court—that is, 13 out of 18. If only 10 or 11 were kept, which is probably quite sufficient for the school’s purposes, the information could never be linked with the main national databases. That might well be a way round it. That is contained within this group of amendments.
We need to have schools running efficiently. Having a system in which everyone has to opt in in writing is lunacy. Parental permission should be dealt with by adopting one of the amendments that deals with that. The consent should come from either parent. It is only an opt-out, not an opt-in. All that is quite correct. I do not know what happens to foreign students with the UKBA requirements that they prove what they did when and where they attended. We may find that we will need biometric information for that, so it would be quite good to be able to cover all those situations. It may be that that applies only to older students. I do not know enough about it.
Amendment 89 takes out Clause 26(4), which I think is very important. Otherwise, a disruptive child or set of children could cause chaos by just opting out suddenly and unilaterally and requiring things to be removed. If someone opts out at some point in the middle of term, what is that going to do to the administration systems? Is it practical? We have to look at when people can do this. You cannot have people moving in and out of the system willy-nilly.
I like all the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, apart from the pre-emption issues. Reasonableness has to come into all this. Sometimes it is difficult to remove things. Amendment 95, which removes the need for consent to be given in writing, is sensible. In this modern age when we are trying to go electronic, why should stuff have to be in writing? If you are going to allow people to opt out, why not have an opt-out thing on a website so that they can click on it or do something? Perhaps they can send e-mails. There are other ways of doing things electronically, and with adult illiteracy rates running at whatever they are—10 per cent—I do not think we should insist on writing. Some parents might have a problem. We should look at issues like that, and these amendments deal with them and should be looked at.
Amendment 97 deals with the age of adulthood. Are we adults at 16 or 18? One minute we want to give people the vote at 16, but the next thing we say is that they have to be 18 if they are not to be considered as children.
I do not like the two amendments that require consultation or going out and explaining things to people every year, which I think will be an unnecessary cost. I do not think it will get us any further. Although I think that Amendment 91 is very well meaning in thinking that we should explain everything to parents and children every year, it is hard enough to get the law understood. If we are going to interpret the law correctly, if we rewrite it, is that not going to cause problems? I do not know. Perhaps we should write clearer laws, and then they could read the law and not have a problem.
My Lords, the amendment simply provides for the turnover of pupils generally on an annual basis. I certainly did not intend it to be reworded every year. Information goes out from schools frequently on an annual basis. Sometimes, it sits in the bottom of a child’s bag.
While I am on my feet, the noble Earl may be comforted if the Minister can confirm that, for the purposes of these provisions, writing includes e-mails and other forms of electronic communication, which I suspect it does.
In the interests of time, I confirm that that is correct.
Thank you. I am sorry to have wasted the Committee’s time. In general, I think that a lot of these amendments are very useful, and they should be taken away and looked at hard by the Minister. We should be moving from an opt-in basis to an opt-out basis and avoiding adding costly burdens to the school system.
I support my noble friend Lady Hamwee on Amendment 91 and will make a few comments about other noble Lords’ comments.
Amendment 91 is necessary on the basis of children’s international convention rights: the privacy rights that a child has under Article 8 of the ECHR and Article 16 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In particular, Article 12 of the UNCRC says that a child has a right to be heard in decisions that affect them. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has made it very clear that, in order for a child to realise that right, it is necessary that,
“the child be informed about the matters, options and possible decisions to be taken and their consequences”.
Therefore, this amendment is very important especially since, under the proposals before us, the child has the right to refuse consent as well as the parents. It is important that the parents and the child are given the information that they need in order to make an informed decision.
Further to what the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, I think that the reason why the child should have a final veto is because we are talking about very specific information about the child’s body—the fingerprints, the retina, the face or whatever. The child’s body belongs not to the parents but to the child. Therefore, it is very important that appropriate information is provided. Most children are very compliant and they like to co-operate with people who are in authority over them—their parents, their teachers and so on—so it is important to let them know that they do not have to do so. There may well be very good reasons why they should agree to co-operate, but they should also have the right not to do so if they wish.
Let me make just one or two other points. I listened with interest when the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that schools should know where every child is physically at all times of the day, and I quite agree. However, I think that that should rely on the attention of the teachers, rather than on the likes of CCTV or electronic cards passing through doors. There is a danger that, if there is too much of this sort of thing—electronic ID cards or CCTV—teachers will come to rely on it too much and the teacher’s vigilance will be reduced. We really have to ensure that the technology tail does not wag the human rights dog.
Going back to what the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, said about letting people know every year, I agree that the information should be reworded if the system changes or is enhanced in any way, but otherwise I agree with my noble friend Lady Hamwee that it is not necessary to reword it every year. That can be done very easily, given that every school has a website or newsletter or something that gets sent out regularly to parents or to which the parents have access. As long as the school makes sure that, one way or another, the parents have that information in not too much gobbledegook or jargon, so that they can understand what the consequences of this system are, the school will have fulfilled its obligation under our amendment.
It is important to have the information in order to make an informed decision, and we all expect that. When we enter into any sales transaction or credit agreement or any kind of contract, we read the small print—or we need at least to be provided with the small print, so that we can tick the little box saying that we have read the terms and conditions, even when we have not done so. The point is that we have a right to have that information, and we really must be provided with it.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hamwee suggested that I should not talk about feed-in tariffs and solar panels, and I am tempted to follow her suggestion on that. I used to speak a great deal on those issues in my previous job, but I do not often do so now that I am in the Home Office. I am not sure that they are quite relevant to this debate. Possibly we ought to have a new award for relevance in amendments—we could call it the Lord Rosser award for relevance—and I could congratulate the noble Lord on winning the award on this occasion for bringing in feed-in tariffs and solar panels.
I am sorry if the Minister could not understand the point, but I quoted from one of the leading providers of this technology in schools who said that there had not been proper consultation or clear thinking about the consequences of the new policy. My point was that that lack of proper consultation or clear thinking about the consequences of a new policy seems to have become a feature of this Government, because that is precisely what happened with the new feed-in tariffs. I am sorry if the Minister cannot understand the relationship between the two.
My Lords, as regards consultation, we consult till the cows come home in this department and every other department, and I am distinctly happy about the amount of consultation that has taken place on this issue. We will move on now from feed-in tariffs and solar panels and get on to the gist of the amendment.
My noble friend Lord Lucas is obviously not completely convinced that there is a need for parental consent at all, but accepts that he could be persuaded as long as, as I understand him, it is not overburdensome. That point is probably behind the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and others. By the way, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, did ask in passing for confirmation of the figures he used, and I can confirm, if I heard them correctly, that he is broadly right. Our figures are that some 30 per cent of secondary schools and some 5 per cent of primary schools are making some use of biometric systems for dealing with matters which, again one ought to stress, are largely related to access to school dinners, libraries and that sort of thing—so not major matters that affect them in other ways.
My noble friend obviously needs a degree of persuading about these matters. It is probably best if I go through the amendments in the appropriate order. I will deal with them in an order that I will take rather than as they are set out, but possibly I will leave Amendment 85, the first of my noble friend’s amendments, which even he described as being garbled; it is possibly best if I say little about that. I think my noble friend will understand why I take these a little out of order. I will start with Amendment 88.
Amendment 88 would have three consequences. First, it would obviously narrow the definition of who is a parent for the purposes of these provisions. Secondly, it would change the scope of the requirement for consent in that only one parent will need to consent. Thirdly, it seeks to introduce legal protection for schools and colleges where a child’s biometric information is processed beyond the control of that school or college. I will begin by addressing the first and third effects of that amendment.
For the purposes of these clauses, a parent means the child’s mother, father or any other individual who has parental responsibility for the child. Where it is not possible to obtain consent from any such persons, the parent is the person who cares for the child, unless the child is accommodated by a local authority or some voluntary organisation, in which case consent will be needed from that authority. My noble friend’s amendments obviously narrow this definition to include only individuals with parental responsibility. This would mean that, where there is no individual with parental responsibility who is able to consent, a school or college would be able to process a child’s biometric information without any person providing consent. I am sure that is not my noble friend’s intention, and he would probably want to adjust his amendment if he comes back to it—and I see my noble friend nod. The Government believe that all children, whatever their care arrangements, deserve the same level of protection in relation to the use of their personal information by a school or college. That is why we believe it is right that the definition of a parent goes wider than that suggested by my noble friend. Again I see my noble friend nod, and if he wants to come back to that he will no doubt amend his amendment.
The third element of this amendment seeks to provide protection for schools and colleges where a child’s data are processed outside of the control of the school or college. I know that my noble friend is concerned that these provisions should not apply when pupils access commercial websites or software systems that use face recognition to control access. I can give reassurance to my noble friend that the provisions in Clause 26 cover only the processing of biometric information that is carried out by, or on behalf of, the school or college.
Let me move on from Amendment 88 to the alternative approaches suggested by my noble friend in Amendments 85 and 87. It is also appropriate to consider here Amendments 86 and 89, from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, which address a similar point and which I think my noble friend said he possibly preferred to his own. All those amendments seek to adopt a different approach to consent. At their most radical, they seek to replace the opt-in arrangement provided for in the Bill with an opt-out process. As a variant of this, they seek to provide for consent to be given by a single parent. Given the sensitive nature of the data involved, a positive decision should be made by both parents. This approach would afford them the opportunity to act on any concerns that they may have about the use of their child’s biometric information. In the vast majority of cases I would expect parents to discuss the issues between themselves and reach some agreement. As those of us who are parents will know, that is not always necessarily possible but, in the main, parents can reach that conclusion among themselves.
On safeguards, as noble Lords will be aware, Clause 26 includes two important safeguards, which ensure that the rights of children are properly respected. The first prohibits a school or college from processing a child’s biometric data where the child objects to such processing or where they refuse to participate in a process involving an automated biometric recognition system, regardless of whether their parents have consented or not. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, does not agree with that and thinks that the parents’ rights should overrule the child’s. I put to the noble Lord the example of a 15 year-old child who refuses point blank to have his biometric data taken, despite his parents being perfectly happy about it. Would the noble Lord be happy for that 15 year-old to be dragged kicking and screaming to the fingerprint machine to have his data taken, or is he suggesting something else? My belief is that we need parental consent—I will deal with that later—but the child’s consent is equally valid. I am sure the noble Lord would not consider it right for that 15 year-old to be dragged kicking and screaming, as I have said, to the fingerprint machine.
The second safeguard requires the school or college to make reasonable alternative arrangements for pupils to access services or facilities where parental consent has not been given or where the child objects. Again, that is quite right and something that is perfectly easily managed by those who provide the machinery for these things.
Amendments 90 and 92, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, require only that schools and colleges must,
“as far as they are reasonably able”,
ensure that biometric data are not processed where the child has refused; and, as far as they are reasonably able, provide alternative arrangements. Again, that is technologically easy and can be done. I recognise that my noble friend seeks to ensure that schools and colleges are not saddled with unnecessary burdens and I am in full agreement with him on that. However, those amendments would weaken two very important safeguards that will protect the rights of children in relation to their biometric information.
The two amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, Amendments 86 and 89, would have a significant impact on the first of those safeguards. They would remove the right of children aged 16 and under to object to their biometric information being processed. As I have made clear, we believe that children should have that right, regardless of their age. Again, I put that question about the 15 year-old—although it might be a seven year-old—to the noble Lord. It is one that he needs to address.
In respect of Amendment 90, I cannot envisage any school or college having difficulty in ensuring they do not process the data of a child who has refused or where parental consent has not been given to such processing. It should be abundantly clear when a child refuses to have his or her biometric information taken or to participate in a process involving an automated biometric recognition system, even in the case of very young children.
On Amendment 91 in the name of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, I am sure that she would agree that it would be unacceptable for children to be disadvantaged because they did not want to use an automated biometric system or if their parents refused to give consent for such purposes.
Amendment 95 would remove from Clause 27 the requirement on schools and colleges for consent, or withdrawal of consent, to be obtained in writing. We believe that requiring schools and colleges to gain written consent ensures that parents are aware that their child’s school or college uses an automated biometric system and that, by signing the consent form, parents are actively involved in determining whether or not their child participates in that system. Again, I confirm to the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, that written consent includes electronic as well as other means. I hope the noble Earl will accept that.
I turn now to the age limit. Amendment 97 seeks to alter the requirement for parental consent to be obtained in relation to all children under the age of 18 so that it would be required only for children under the age of 16. Noble Lords will be aware that the Joint Committee on Human Rights suggested in relation to older children—16 or 17 year-olds—that they should be capable of reaching their own decisions on such matters. It has been suggested by some that people can drive—I cannot remember whether they can smoke—and do all kinds of things when they are 17 years old. They can also serve in the Armed Forces, although they tend not to go abroad until they are 18. There are different ages for different matters for which people need consent: it is 17 for driving, 16 for marriage and I think that for the issue of firearm certificates the age goes down quite a lot. However, people can vote only at 18. Some believe that that should be reduced to 16, but I do not support that and I do not think it is a part of the coalition agreement. However, I need not get into voting ages.
A variety of different ages affect us in different ways and, given these complex factors, we consider that it is a question of balance. Even 16 or 17 year-olds may not always fully understand the issues that arise in relation to processing biometric information. Even then it is important that parents should have a say in the matter. Similarly, we believe that children should have a say in it and that is why we are, in effect, giving children a veto in this matter. Such an age limit is not without precedents. As I have made clear, there are different age limits for different matters. Again, as I said, it is a question of balance in these matters and it will be difficult to get it right. We believe that 18 is the right age and that children under that age should have a right to opt out.
Amendment 94 relates to the provision in Clause 27(1)(d) which, as currently drafted, provides that parental consent is not required where,
“it is otherwise not reasonably practical to obtain the consent of the parent”.
My noble friend is concerned to address the question raised by the Information Commissioner as to whether schools which currently process pupils’ biometric information without specific parental consent would be able to rely on the provision in Clause 27(1)(d) and claim that, because of the administrative and financial burden of doing so, it would not be reasonably practical for them to obtain parental consent in relation to children who were already participating in an automated biometric recognition system. I can reassure my noble friend that the exception he seeks to remove cannot be used simply because it would be inconvenient or difficult to obtain consent.
Amendment 98, the last of my noble friend’s amendments in this group, seeks to add to the definition the word “inanimate” before “equipment”. I believe that my noble friend’s intention is to ensure that any living being or object capable of animate interpretation is excluded from this definition. I can assure him that the clause as drafted already provides for this.
I want to go back to the business about being able to assume that there is implied consent, when it is very difficult to get it. Does the Minister not accept that inertia can be quite large among people and that, if you have to get positive consent, there will be a whole raft of parents who will not get round to doing it, for one reason or another? Therefore, you will suddenly find in these systems such a large failure to opt in because of inertia that they will be quite expensive and will have to be replaced by manual systems. That could put a huge burden on some of the schools, which would have to be paid for by the Government. Is it not much more sensible to move into a positive opt-out rather than a positive opt-in? I think that it will be much more burdensome than the Minister thinks. People are full of inertia, and you are not going to get that many people opting in.
I accept that there can be a problem with inertia. It is what one might refer to as the “cheque is in the post” syndrome. People say that they are doing things and they do not. I suspect that we have got it right, but I am more than happy to have a further look at this if the noble Lord thinks that there will be concern over that. But this is something that schools are already doing a great deal about in terms of consulting or talking to their parents, and it is something that schools are used to. But perhaps we could talk about that at some later stage or between now and another stage.
The Minister has raised a number of issues, but could he confirm that under the Government’s proposals a child of five could say no, even though the parents had said yes, and it would be the view of the child of five that prevailed? If a 15 year-old agrees and one parent says no and one says yes, will the Government then seek to uphold the right of the 15 year-old? Also, he said that under my proposal the 15 year-old would be dragged kicking and screaming. Could he just confirm that school teachers are not allowed to use force against pupils, or has the government policy changed?
Government policy has not changed, and the noble Lord will accept that the words I was using were metaphorical.
Careless words they may be, as the noble Lord is saying, but I will go on using them. The simple fact is that he was suggesting you would force a child to be registered. How is he suggesting that that could be done other than by dragging the child kicking and screaming? We think that it is right at any age. I think that it would be rather unusual for a child of five to say that he was not going to do something when his parents insisted that it should be done.
If I could assist—
No, I will not give way, because I am answering the noble Lord. I can confirm that a child of any age can refuse; similarly, if a child of 15 wants to register but one of the parents refuses, it will not happen. We are trying to get the right balance.
I was only going to try to help the Minister by saying that all that would happen is that you would not get such a service. In other words, if it was a biometric lock that allowed access to a laboratory at certain times, the child just would not get into it. They would have to decide whether they wanted access or not. If it was about school meals, and the parents said that they would only get the meals that way, the child will just not get fed. They will soon come round.
No, we are not looking for them to “soon come round”, as the noble Earl puts it. We are suggesting that schools should have to provide some alternative arrangement so that those who do not want to have biometric processes used can still get access to school meals or the library or whatever by some other means. It might be by a PIN or a swipe card. It does not have to be, but it is very convenient for a lot of them if they can put a finger down and get out their library book or get their meal. I hope that satisfies the noble Lord.
If the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, does not want to interrupt me further, I shall move on to the amendments tabled by my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lady Walmsley. I understand that Amendment 91 is prompted by a concern that children and parents should understand the important rights that are being afforded by these clauses, but I do not believe that it is necessary to include a specific provision that would place an additional burden on schools and colleges to notify parents and children every year of these rights. Parental consent given under Clause 26 must be fully informed and freely given. That means that schools and colleges should provide parents with all the relevant information to enable them to understand exactly what they are being asked to consent to. This will include notice that any consent given by the parent will extend for the duration of the child’s time at the school or college, unless, of course, consent is withdrawn—because it would be open to parents to change their mind and withdraw it—or the child subsequently indicates that he or she does not want to continue to use an automated biometric recognition system.
If the system is considerably enhanced, does the Minister accept that further information should be provided to parents?
My Lords, I think this is what lawyers refer to as a question of fact and degree. If the system were, as my noble friend puts it, enhanced considerably and that involved a real change, then there would have to be further approval from the parents and children concerned. If it were a minor or technical change, I think that would not be the case. I shall leave it there, as it is a question of fact and degree as to whether there has been a proper change. I am in the hands of my noble friend Lord Lucas, but I hope that with those explanations of the various amendments he will feel able to withdraw his amendment. I think this debate has been very useful. We might not all agree totally but, as always, it is a question of getting the balance right on these matters, and I hope we have got it more or less right.
Am I right in understanding—and I apologise if this sounds as if I am trying to put words into the Minister’s mouth—that his concern is the bureaucratic provision of a requirement to make information available every year but he accepts that consent under these clauses would not properly be given unless the parent or child, as the case may be, is properly informed?
Parents and children, to the extent appropriate for the child’s age, must be informed in the appropriate manner, and we want to get that right. We just do not think it needs to happen every year. If, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, there were substantive changes to what was being proposed, then further consent would be required, but we do not have to do that each and every year. Once should be enough for the duration of that child’s journey through that school.
My Lords, I am very sad indeed to learn that my noble friend’s equipment is entirely inanimate, but if for the purpose of legislation that is the meaning of the word, I am sure that having it in Hansard will suffice.
I am not at all sure that I understood the scope of “reasonable” as he expressed it. He said that the biometric system had to be run by or for the school, if I remember his wording exactly. I do not see where the boundaries of that are. If a bit of software provided by the school is being used on the school’s computers, why should that fall outside the prohibitions in this Bill just because it is a built-in component of a commonly available system? I would be very grateful if I could sit down with officials between now and Report to go through that.
I would also like to explore the scope of electronic means where we are looking at this consent. What forms of registering consent will be acceptable? This occurs as a general question. How is a school to know that a parent has given consent? How is it to know that it is the parent who has given consent? Schools do not have a stock of signatures to compare signatures against. If it is hard enough with something in conventional writing, how they are going to do it in electronic form I am not at all sure.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to this debate. My experience is that electronic means are needed to be used by parents because an awful lot of messages from school end up in the washing machine.
Yes, my Lords, and in the ordinary way where something is not, as it were, being mandated by law in the way that is occurring in the Bill, that would seem sufficient. I would like to be sure that that ordinary common-or-garden communication that the noble Baroness describes will be acceptable under the Bill. Clearly, there is the matter of a verifiable electronic signature. When we came to introduce electronic means into the definition of writing it was with the concept of an electronic signature that was verifiable so that you could complete documents by electronic means, but that is not what is being talked about here. What we are talking about is getting an email that says, “Yes, I’m happy and so is Fred”. Is that consent by both parents, or is there some greater degree of identification required for electronic communications to be acceptable under this thing? Or is it just the reasonable best efforts of the school? I am not asking the noble Lord to respond now if he has prepared—
If I may, I will just briefly respond to the noble Lord. Obviously, on the question of what is reasonable, great tomes have been written about reasonability in legal terms for years and years, and it is something that we want to discuss. In regards to, as he said, what forms of consent will be required I think he was quite right to take the intervention from the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, who as a mother and a grandmother speaks with great experience as to what happens to these messages and where they end up. However, if my noble friend would like to discuss this with myself and officials, that would probably be very useful, just to make sure that we can get it right between now and Report. I will certainly be more than happy to offer a meeting.
Can the Minister clarify before the next stage of the Bill whether or not, in circumstances where a school were to decide to use this form of recognition for people entering and leaving the school premises, he thinks that there are many 14, 15 and 16 year-olds who would withhold consent in order that they can slip out in the lunch hour unknown?
If it was a matter of getting in and out of the school, there would have to be some other provision—as with school meals and libraries and so on—by which they could get in and out. It would not just be by biometric data; it might be by a PIN or a smart card or whatever. But I will certainly look at the point made by the noble Baroness, who speaks, as I said, with such great experience in these matters.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for offering a meeting. There are clearly also other subjects to discuss: what form of records schools commonly have about parenting and guardianship arrangements; whether those are sufficient to deal with the requirements of the Bill; whether the Bill allows sufficient flexibility to deal with occasions when parents should not be communicated with; and how commencement is proposed. The Bill will introduce a considerable process of adjustment even if it is taken carefully. As the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, said, it threatens effectively to make these systems inoperable and therefore to require schools at considerable expense and in a great hurry to put other systems in place and make alternative arrangements. The way in which this section of the Bill is to be commenced is quite important.
I would be delighted to have a meeting; I would be delighted if the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, wanted to join me, because it is clear that we have common concerns about how this will work in practice and a common suspicion that what the Government are about is trying to ban these systems all together. However, for now and particularly with regard to Amendment 85, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 85 withdrawn.
Amendments 86 to 92 not moved.
Clause 26 agreed.
Clause 27 : Exceptions and further provision about consent
Amendments 93 to 95 not moved.
Clause 27 agreed.
Amendment 96 not moved.
Clause 28 : Interpretation: Chapter 2
Amendments 97 and 98 not moved.
Clause 28 agreed.
Clause 29 : Code of practice for surveillance camera systems
99: Clause 29, page 22, line 7, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
“(1) The Secretary of State must establish an independent inquiry into the use of surveillance camera systems in England and Wales.
(1A) Having considered the recommendations of that enquiry, and following a report on those recommendations to Parliament, the Secretary of State must prepare a code of practice containing guidance about surveillance camera systems.”
Amendment 99 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to commission a full independent inquiry into the use of surveillance camera systems in England and Wales, as recommended by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, which also recommended statutory regulation. Amendment 110 would require a similar inquiry before any steps were taken to extend the code of practice into the private sector, as provided for by Clause 33(5)(k).
In its evidence to the Public Bill Committee, the Association of Chief Police Officers questioned the assertion that there are 4.2 million CCTV cameras in the UK, as is commonly cited, estimating that the figure was much closer to 1.8 million. Such wildly different estimates indicate the lack of information that exists on the extent and nature of closed-circuit television cameras and surveillance systems in this country. Where real evidence and information are lacking, misinformation will often move in to fill the gap.
The code of practice that the Government seek to introduce would place additional regulatory burdens on cash-strapped local authorities that could see a reduction in the use of CCTV technology and in the detection and apprehension of crime by the police. Yet a fundamental assessment of the extent and varying nature of CCTV use in the UK and its value has not been undertaken. My noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon, whose name is also on the amendment, visited Stevenage last month to see the hugely impressive system developed by the council there for the safety and security of residents. The idea that these surveillance systems should be targeted for further regulation is surprising.
Stevenage Council, like others, was in fact approached by the Home Office when it was drawing up the existing guidelines, and local authorities have led the drive for the highest standards within the industry. In particular, it was noticeable that cameras positioned to cover public space that overlooked private property blanked out the part of the image that would have displayed areas of private property. Indeed, that council conducts an independent inspection of its surveillance systems in order to ensure that the highest standards are met and is now providing services that are a model of best practice across the county and adjacent boroughs. The local police rely on this information for the real-time apprehension of criminals and as a vital source of evidence.
This experience of the responsible and effective use of CCTV by local authorities is borne out across the country. The interim report by the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel into the August riots note:
“Use of CCTV footage has proved very important in bringing rioters to justice”.
The panel recommended:
“Local authorities and other relevant organisations should review local CCTV coverage and consider if it needs to be extended”.
The Local Government Association and ACPO estimate that the surveillance cameras that will be required to have regard to the new code of practice will be just 3 per cent of the total number of cameras. By and large, these cameras conform to the highest standards of data protection and privacy safeguarding as well as image quality. Indeed, the recently published government consultation on the scope of the CCTV code notes, on page 1:
“Not all respondents recognised the references to concern over the invasion of personal privacy and state intrusion into people’s lawful business. … The number of serious documented cases of misuse or ill considered deployment was regarded by some as having been miniscule in relation to the vast overall volume of CCTV data that has been captured … Others considered the suggestion that civil liberties have been eroded as a result of increased numbers of CCTV cameras is a result of grossly exaggerated media reports”.
The Government assure us that they do not believe that local authorities and the police have some sinister use for CCTV. Instead, the rationale provided in the recently published response to the consultation on the introduction of such a code within the public sector first states:
“This is not to imply that there is any greater need for progress to be made by local authorities and the police. It is to recognise that their behaviour can be a powerful driver of public confidence and of standards in other sectors”.
Amendment 99 would ensure that the code of practice is founded on a comprehensive understanding of the current state of UK surveillance. It has been difficult to assess the full extent of the impact of the Government’s proposals because of the absence of detail on what a future code of practice would, or would not, contain. We note the Government’s release of the results of the first consultation on the scope of the code of practice, but while this provides more detail on the nature of the code, the lack of detail on what it will contain—on the impact that it is expected to have on the use of CCTV by local authorities and the police and the associated advantages and disadvantages and how those are to be assessed—does not help in coming to conclusions. By requiring a full and independent inquiry into the use and extent of CCTV cameras in the UK before the introduction of any code of practice, the Government would be ensuring that any further and future regulation of this sector was evidence led.
Amendment 110 provides for a similar prior independent inquiry into the use of surveillance camera systems should the Secretary of State in future choose to utilise the order-making power contained within Clause 33 to extend the code of practice to the private sector. The fact that we have so little information on the use and extent of surveillance cameras by private operators should be reason enough to require a comprehensive review.
I hope that the Minister can agree to these proposals. I beg to move.
My Lords, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I suddenly realised about the extension into the private sector, which I had not really worried about. Presumably, that is going to mean door-entry systems, systems where you might be watching a childminding camera over the internet from somewhere else and security things which were in private use. It suddenly occurred to me that we have to worry about how far this could extend. That sudden thought came to my mind.
My Lords, I have asked more questions on CCTV cameras in your Lordships’ House than anybody, I think, and I have been confused. The figure of 4.2 million was introduced twice by Labour Ministers in the past; there was also a code of good practice. It was estimated that there were 400,000 cameras in the London area alone. Some of the other estimates which led to private television cameras said that there was one for every three office buildings. I therefore support in principle the proposal that we should have more information. By my own knowledge from throughout the continent of Europe, we are the only country that has no knowledge of how many CCTV cameras we have, or of the latest technology that comes with them.
I will give your Lordships only one example. French policemen now have wonderful helmets, partly British designed, which have two cameras in the front and two in the back. As the French do not charge you for having a licence for a car, they make quite a lot of money out of some speeding offences but that technology is quite remarkable. I find it strange that we have not yet embarked on any programme to determine how many cameras there are and who they might belong to.
My Lords, I should first declare an interest as I have CCTV cameras around my house. My main point is that the emphasis has perhaps very much been on what is to some extent a sort of fear and constraint: “Let’s find out how much”. I can see that, absolutely. However, CCTV is actually one of the great advances in protection, liberty and freedom and in having a safer society. I would always caution against standing against it. I recollect very well that many years ago when Citizens’ Band radio first came out, the Home Office in those days was very opposed to it. It reckoned that radio communications were for the broadcasting authorities, the military, the emergency services and itself. For a long while, people were illegally using CB radios but eventually the Home Office came round to recognising that CB radios, and any other intercom system by wireless, was a perfectly legitimate method of life. It is now in the ultimate in the mobile phone.
I can see that information is always interesting to get, but sometimes a survey such as this can be very expensive. There could be a commercial interest; no doubt, companies who supply mobile phone networks and, indeed, the hardware for mobile phones do a great deal of market research in order to maximise their sales all over the world. However, one wants to be quite careful before one takes something which has become an absolutely standard method of life and starts to spend a lot of money—public money in particular—in making great inquiries into it. I am happy for the commercial people to spend their money.
The example of the police in France was fascinating, and I had not heard about that. I do not think that we must do anything which stands in the path of progress in using modern technology. CCTV is not a particularly modern technology but it is an absolutely everyday technology. All of that said, there must of course be constraints on abuse or misuse of a technology. That is all I would like to say.
My Lords, I can be quite brief on this. I start by agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that CCTV is a vital tool in fighting crime. I believe that the public and the police are generally supportive of its use. The provisions in the Bill build on that support and will, I hope, maintain public confidence in the use of CCTV. However, as we saw with Project Champion in Birmingham—the noble Lord will remember this—such confidence can be very rapidly undermined if CCTV systems are seen as spying on local communities, rather than as a tool that helps keep them safe and secure. Therefore, we propose that our code of practice—for which guidance is set out in Clause 29—will form a coherent framework that will enable the public to challenge any system operator over how and why they use CCTV. It will also assist operators in maximising the effectiveness of their systems.
Calling for an inquiry is not only a very expensive option, as suggested by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, at a time when we do not want to spend money on such things, but also adds very little other than delay to the proposed code of practice, which will help to ensure the right balance between protecting the privacy of the citizen and the security and safety of the public. Our approach is designed to make sure that those using CCTV do so appropriately, proportionately, transparently and effectively. I think that was broadly endorsed by the various responses to our consultation.
My Lords, the Minister helpfully referred to the responses. The Local Government Association develops guidance for member local authorities in many areas of activity. What was its view of this process for getting a code? Will it be fully involved in looking at how a code would work?
I cannot at this stage remember precisely what the LGA’s response was. However, I can assure the noble Baroness—who, with her local government background, is presumably a distinguished former member of the LGA—that we will certainly want to listen to its views as we get that code of practice sorted out. The Secretary of State must prepare it, as set out in Clause 29. We want to make sure that it is appropriately, proportionately, transparently and effectively designed to ensure that the right approach is taken in dealing with these things and we get—dare I say it again—the balance exactly right. I believe that there is consensus that further regulation is necessary. However, there is also consensus that there should be no further delay in this matter.
I object to the amendment, although I am grateful to the noble Lord for tabling it because it is useful to discuss the code, because we want to move ahead with getting that code of practice right. We will consult not just the LGA on that but a great many other bodies. However, having the inquiry, as suggested by the noble Lord’s amendment, would not achieve much. It might be that other inquiries will take place later but, for the moment, we want to get the code right and that is exactly what we will do. I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Maybe my noble friend could help me with something. I have asked previously how many cameras are registered. The answer was that all cameras should be registered with the Information Commissioner. I then asked how many cameras are registered with the Information Commissioner and the answer was none. Presumably my noble friend will be introducing a new form of commissioner who will register certain cameras. Could he perhaps explain the difference between the new system and what was meant to be the old system?
The noble Lord has me there at the moment because I cannot assist him. We will be discussing further commissioners in due course. As regards the number that are registered, the noble Lord is ahead of me because he has seen that answered by one of my predecessors. I prefer to write to my noble friend about the details of his inquiry. Perhaps we can have further discussions between now and Report.
My Lords, the Minister said that his concern is about delay, and I will come back to that in a moment. If that is his concern, it does not explain why he does not accept Amendment 110, which relates to the private sector and those who may be covered by Clause 33(5)(k), since there is no intention at the moment of introducing it into these areas, and therefore it would be possible without causing a delay to agree to an inquiry there. I take it that in view of the fact that the Minister has not accepted it in relation to Amendment 110, it is a fundamental objection to an inquiry, not simply about delay, because Amendment 110 would not result in a delay.
That is not the only aspect. There is also the cost. The noble Lord has not said who is going to pay for this inquiry.
If the Minister would care to tell me how much he thinks it is going to cost, perhaps we could discuss that issue and look at some of the other things that the Government are spending money on.
Our concern is that the code of practice—when it is drawn up, and we have not seen it yet—will act as a deterrent and prove to be something of an exercise in bureaucracy and additional cost. Additional cost is obviously an issue that is of considerable concern to the Minister. We do not sense that this Government look particularly favourably towards CCTV and that that may be one of the motives behind this proposal. We do not know, and the Minister has not told us, what the code will contain or what its impact will be on the use of CCTV. He has remained silent on that issue. The advantage of an inquiry is that it would show the extent or otherwise to which CCTV is being abused, and the Minister referred to that, so clearly he considers it an issue. It would also identify quite clearly the advantages and disadvantages of CCTV and what it has achieved, because some of us think that it has achieved a not inconsiderable amount. At least when the code was being drawn up, it would be drawn up against the background of a proper inquiry having taken place and looked at some of the allegations that are made. Therefore the code would be relevant and would address hard evidence instead of views or perceptions, and it would also make sure that the code would not in any way go over the top. That is why we are putting forward this proposal.
We note that the Minister has rejected it. He said that it was on grounds of cost as well as delay and had to agree that Amendment 110 would not cause any delay. Our argument is that when he draws up his code of practice, it may well lead to additional costs and a reduction of CCTV in areas where it would be beneficial for it to continue. However, we note what the Minister said. I will not pursue that matter any further at this stage, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 99 withdrawn.
100: Clause 29, page 22, line 19, after “to” insert “and operational practices of”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 101, and there are other amendments in this group. My amendments are quite simple. They are probing amendments. Clause 29(3) provides that provision may, in particular, be made in the code about standards applicable to persons using systems or processing information. When I read that, I hesitated and wondered what was meant by “standards” in this context. My amendment proposes inserting a reference to operational practices because it seems to me that they are relevant, rather than the people who are using or maintaining the systems as individuals. I beg to move Amendment 100 in order to help me understand the clause a little better.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 102, 106 and 112A. I thank the noble Lord for ensuring that the results of the first consultation on the proposed CCTV code of practice were published before the Committee stage in order to ensure proper scrutiny. The opposition amendments in this group seek to probe the Government’s thinking in this area and to tease out more detail of the shape of the final code now that they have reflected on the results of the consultation.
On Amendment 102, we are concerned that any future code should not force local authorities and police forces into disclosing the location of cameras. The consultation notes that some respondents,
“considered that there ought to be public access to a full list of camera locations and data retention periods”.
I note that the Government, although not committing to such a view, stated in response:
“The Government intends that the Code of Practice will increase transparency over the operation of surveillance cameras”.
It is right that, in some cases, CCTV locations are made public. Indeed, many cameras are clearly visible to the public and their visibility acts as an important deterrent to crime. However, it must be right that local authorities and police should reserve the right to conceal the location of other cameras, particularly those positioned in sensitive locations and deployed temporarily in order to apprehend criminals. There is also a real concern that, by disclosing the location of cameras and surveillance centres, there is a risk that these will become the targets of vandals and criminals wishing to prevent the detection of crime. Will the Minister give a clear assurance to the Committee that any future code of practice will not include a blanket requirement to disclose the location of surveillance cameras?
Amendment 106 probes the Government’s intentions with respect to the code of practice in relation to CCTV and ANPR footage that is used as evidence in court. Clause 33 currently provides:
“A court or tribunal may, in particular, take into account a failure by a relevant authority to have regard to the surveillance camera code in determining a question in any such proceedings”.
In fact, this would appear to be the only real enforcement tool at the disposal of the Government. Local authorities will be required to have regard to the surveillance camera code but they will commit no criminal or civil offence if they fail to adhere to it. The implication is that the Government envisage that local authorities and police forces will feel compelled to comply with the code for fear that otherwise evidence provided by their cameras will not be admissible in court.
This view is reinforced by the response to the consultation in which the Government note that the failure to comply can be tested in judicial proceedings. It is one thing to conclude that evidence should be inadmissible on the basis that it violates requirements under the Data Protection Act; however, it is quite another to jeopardise whole trials on the basis that, for instance, the location of the camera in question was not adequately disclosed to the public. What assurances can the Minister give to the Committee that enforcement of the code in this way will not lead to the police being hamstrung in their use of key evidence derived from CCTV cameras?
Finally, Amendment 112A seeks again to probe the Government’s intentions with regard to ensuring that there is clarity for local authorities on the overlap of existing requirements under the Data Protection Act and those under the proposed code of practice. This point was raised by a number of sources when the Bill was debated in another place. Indeed, the Information Commissioner has himself expressed concerns about the implementation of the code in this area. In a letter to my noble friend Lady Royall on 22 November the Information Commissioner noted:
“There is potential overlap between these provisions, including my role, and those set out in the bill relating to the Secretary of State’s Code of Practice and the activities of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner”.
In his memorandum to the Public Bill Committee, the commissioner goes further, stating that,
“there is a risk that regulation becomes frequently fragmented, confusing and contradictory, especially if commissioners take different approaches … there will be overlaps in their responsibilities running the risk that commissioners may adopt differing interpretive approaches and guidance on each other’s statutory provisions”.
The Government’s consultation recognises that there is an issue to be dealt with, and states:
“We shall take note of the concern expressed by respondents in the way we develop the role of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner and how this interacts with that of the Information Commissioner and the Surveillance Commissioners”.
To prevent unnecessary bureaucratic burdens and confusion in the public sector, I ask the Minister to take this opportunity to expand on how the Government aim to ensure maximum clarity and minimum overlap in the roles and requirements of the two commissioners.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hamwee moved Amendments 100 and spoke to Amendment 101, and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, spoke to Amendments 102 and 112A.
In the amendment that we have just dealt with, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, complained that we knew nothing about the code. Obviously, we do not know about the code at this stage because it has not yet been prepared. Some detail is given in Clause 29 about what the code may include particular provision about; we lay it out in subsection (3), which says:
“Such a code may, in particular, include provision about”,
and then goes from paragraphs (a) to (i). Subsection (4)(a) then provides that such a code also,
“need not contain provision about every type of surveillance camera system”,
and subsection (4)(b) says that it,
“may make different provision for different purposes”.
We have amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, dealing with that.
I start by dealing with my noble friend’s amendments, which seek to extend the list of matters that may be covered by the surveillance code of practice. As I have said, subsection (3) is intended to set out a very broad framework in the Bill for which issues may be covered in the code of practice. We have deliberately adopted a very flexible framework so that the code of practice can be revised over time in the light of experience and to reflect the wide range of circumstances in which surveillance cameras are used. For these reasons, the list of matters that may be included in the code is not intended to be prescriptive. Nor is it intended to be an exhaustive or exclusive list. The nature of such non-exhaustive lists is that they inevitably attract debate as to why this or that matter has not been included. Certainly, on first seeing Amendments 100 and 101 from my noble friend, I was unsure what she had in mind. However, I am grateful for her explanation that she wanted a degree of reassurance about what might be included. She also expressed concerns about standards and how they could concern not only the competence of an operator of CCTV but whether the operator was a fit and proper person. Those standards might also apply to operational processes but the code is intended to provide a degree of advice, rather than absolute prescriptive requirements. With that reassurance in mind, I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that, as we develop the code further, we can consider her points and make sure we get it right.
My Lords, it may be helpful if I address this issue now so that we do not need to come back to it later. The wording is “standards applicable to persons”. Is the Minister saying that this refers to the standards used by persons but it is not applicable to them? If anything, it is about them: it is not who they are but how they work and the standards that they use. It reads as though it is much more personal.
I think that my noble friend has got it right. If she has not, I will certainly write to her. The point I was trying to get across is that the standards apply to the process and not just to the person. I expect my noble friend is a better draftsman than I am—I give her an assurance that I did not draft this myself—but Parliamentary draftsmen are a law unto themselves. If we have not quite covered the point that my noble friend is making, we will look at it.
I was slightly surprised that Amendment 102 was spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, but I appreciate that it is a probing amendment and seeks to find out what we are trying to do. I repeat that the Government, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, are committed to supporting the use of CCTV and ANPR—automatic number plate recognition—as very effective crime-fighting tools and to their being used with the support and confidence of the public. That is the important point we must remember. We need the support and confidence of the public, and that is why I mentioned the experience of Birmingham when debating an earlier amendment.
Such support will be dependent on transparency on the part of the system operator about the purpose of their camera deployment and the area in which the cameras are being used. Not only would Amendment 102 send a signal that operators can be more covert about their use of CCTV but, more fundamentally, it is likely to run contrary to the Data Protection Act. The Information Commissioner’s existing CCTV code of practice is very clear on the general requirement to let people know that they are an entering an area with CCTV coverage. The guidance states:
“The most effective way of doing this is by using prominently placed signs at the entrance to the CCTV zone and reinforcing this with further signs inside the area. This message can also be backed up with an audio announcement, where public announcements are already used, such as in a station. Clear and prominent signs are particularly important where the cameras themselves are very discreet, or in locations where people might not expect to be under surveillance. As a general rule, signs should be more prominent and frequent where it would otherwise be less obvious to people that they are on CCTV”.
As I said earlier, we saw in Birmingham that public confidence can very rapidly be undermined if the police and others are seen to be imposing these systems without the appropriate public consultation or support.
That is not to say that there will not be occasions when covert surveillance needs to be conducted using CCTV. We are not ruling that out. However, in such cases the surveillance will need to be properly authorised under RIPA. Clearly, in such cases there would not be the same expectation that the location of the relevant cameras was publicly disclosed.
On Amendment 106, I appreciate that it stems from a concern that justice might be prevented or denied in a criminal trial where the defence argued successfully that a small technical breach of the code is sufficient to demonstrate that CCTV or ANPR evidence is flawed and not of a sufficient evidential standard. From that starting point it might be possible to construct a scenario where, in an attempt to invalidate that evidence against their clients, lawyers would be falling over the detail of a relevant authority's performance against the code and seeking auditable records of any decisions made. We believe that that evidence may be very valuable in any trial, but it is rarely going to be the only source of evidence. I find it difficult to foresee a scenario where a case would be dismissed just because CCTV evidence is argued as inadmissible due to the system operator being in some way non-compliant with the code. The amendment should be seen in the context of a code that is intended to be a reference document to help ensure that surveillance cameras are used proportionately and effectively but which does not impose absolute requirements on operators. Against that backdrop, we do not believe that the provisions will give rise to the fears expressed by the noble Lord.
On Amendment 112A, I have a degree of sympathy for the spirit that underpins it. It seeks to ensure coherence between the requirements in the surveillance camera code and the Data Protection Act and I can see why there might be concerns about overlapping guidance in this area. Those concerns are precisely the reason why we are proceeding with the development of the code through close discussion with the Information Commissioner and his office. The Information Commissioner is keen to work with us to help ensure that there is effective regulation of surveillance cameras with clarity and coherence for both system operators and the public. I believe that that work will ensure that not only the code of practice but the roles and responsibilities of the two commissioners fit together and everyone can be directed to the right place for guidance, information and advice.
I think that I have dealt with the point raised by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, and I hope I have dealt with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Indeed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 100 withdrawn.
Amendments 101 and 102 not moved.
Clause 29 agreed.
Clauses 30 to 32 agreed.
Clause 33 : Effect of code
103: Clause 33, page 24, line 36, leave out “any such” and insert “criminal or civil”
My Lords, the amendments in this group are intended to ask a short trio of questions about how line 36, which is about the admissibility of evidence, will work. First, I want to be sure that it covers civil as well as criminal proceedings because an awful lot of surveillance camera evidence is used in, for instance, parking ticket or traffic enforcement, which are civil proceedings. It is important that if there are rules and regulations being passed about how these cameras should be used, they and the guidance should be equally effective in dealing with traffic enforcement as in dealing with a mugging.
Secondly, if one goes by not general, but certainly frequent, local authority practice, local authorities will rely in civil cases on the fact that most people do not appeal, so the case never comes to court. People pay their fines. Knowing that whenever a particular breach of the code comes to the tribunal the local authorities lose their case, they will none the less continue enforcing because they are losing only 1 or 2 per cent of revenue and the rest of the people are paying up as usual. What the guidance in the code is supposed to do is nullified by the fact that there is no mechanism for spreading the opinion of the tribunal more widely than the individual cases which reach it.
Amendment 104 is intended to propose such a mechanism so that a tribunal can say, “No, you have to stop this. We have seen this five times already and each time we have found for the appellant. You must cease enforcing until you have put this right. We will not allow you to issue any more tickets on the basis of something which we consider to be an unreasonable breach of the code”. The other end of it is that where a tribunal has found a local authority to be in frequent breach of the code and has on each occasion found for the appellant, none the less the local authority will have extracted a very large amount of money out of other people who have not appealed because there is a very substantial disincentive to appeal. If you lose an appeal, you double your fine. There is also a large amount of time taken up in the process of appeal.
I would like to see some mechanism where a tribunal can say to a local authority, in particular, or to other people who are seeking to use camera evidence as the basis of fines, that they must repay not only the appellant but all the other people on whom penalties have been imposed on the basis of the practice that the tribunal disapproves of. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for explaining and introducing his amendments. I recognise that he is focusing on the specific use of surveillance camera technology, particularly in its use for enforcement of parking and traffic regulations. It is probably worth me pointing out for the benefit of the Committee that the surveillance camera code of practice is not intended to include any speed camera technology. I know that my noble friend—
My Lords, I am not talking at all about speed camera technology.
My Lords, I was just about to say to my noble friend that I know that he was not talking about speed camera technology at all. It was just for the benefit of the rest of the Committee. I thought it was an appropriate point for me to make that clear, in case anybody else might not be as clear as my noble friend is on this matter.
I refer first to my noble friend’s Amendment 103, which, as he has explained, seeks to clarify the drafting of Clause 33(3). I believe that the meaning of that subsection is already clear, as “such proceedings” unambiguously refers back to “criminal or civil proceedings” in subsection (2); we simply do not need to repeat those words in subsection (3).
My noble friend’s Amendment 104 suggests that this Bill takes away the right to seek redress where a court has ruled that the code of practice has been breached. We believe this would have significant implications for litigants. In the context of civil proceedings—just to be clear, for example, we might be talking here of someone seeking to enforce the payment of parking charges—a claimant should be able to present all relevant evidence in support of his or her case. Given that the surveillance code of practice will set out guidance rather than rigid requirements for the operation of surveillance camera systems, it would in our view be disproportionate to prevent, as a matter of course, CCTV evidence being presented where a court or tribunal has ruled that there has been a breach of the code.
Clause 33(4) makes it clear that the court should have discretion in taking into account a failure by a relevant authority to have regard to the surveillance camera code in determining a question in any such proceedings. In the context of criminal proceedings, the ramifications of the amendment in terms of the overall fairness of the process are potentially more significant. The effect of the amendment might be to exclude key prosecution evidence or evidence that might exonerate the accused. Our general approach, as I have already explained, should be to leave decisions about the admissibility of CCTV evidence to the court or tribunal in question.
Amendment 105 proposes that if the organisation levying the penalty is a “relevant authority” under Clause 33, and the court rules that it has in some way breached the proposed code of practice, it could require it to repay moneys that it had received through those notices. There are already existing powers and procedures under the Traffic Management Act 2004 for appealing penalty charge notices issued in designated civil enforcement areas. These are well established and provide every opportunity for justice to be done effectively and proportionately. These powers and procedures apply equally to all parking and enforcement agencies issuing penalty charge notices under that Act and provide adequate safeguards for the public from any operator who steps over the line in issuing penalty charge notices.
My noble friend’s amendment would create a two-tier arrangement that would deny a “relevant authority”, as designated in the Bill, access to justice and place substantial financial risks on it, but would not affected other operators in the same way. A further unintended consequence of the amendment is that it would define the nature and content of the code of practice from the perspective of establishing a judicial assessment of compliance. That is not our intention. The code of practice should provide clear and practical advice about when and how such systems should be used and how to get the best use out of them. Given the wide range of purposes for which surveillance cameras can be deployed and the settings in which they are used, it would not be desirable to prescribe absolute standards for interpretation by the courts in determining such profound consequences for any breach.
One of the functions of the Surveillance Camera Commission is to encourage compliance with the surveillance camera code. I would expect the commissioner to have a central role in ensuring that any relevant judgments in respect of the code were widely publicised.
I hope that I have provided enough information to my noble friend for him to consider not pressing his amendments.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for that answer, particularly the sudden inspiration which struck her at the end and which gave me great comfort so far as Amendments 104 and 105 are concerned, which I agree were pushing it a bit. However, I still have concerns on Amendment 103.
I agree that Clause 33(3) refers back to Clause 33(2), but the latter refers to the acts of people who are running surveillance cameras, not to the acts of people who are caught on surveillance cameras. It is not clear to me that the inference that she suggested should be imported into Clause 33(3)—that the civil and criminal proceedings in Clause 33(2) apply—is justifiable, given that they refer to completely different sets of court cases. One is cases taken against people who are using cameras and the other is cases against people who are caught on camera. I should be very grateful if the Minister could write to me to answer that point in detail if she does not have an answer in front of her now.
My Lords, I would be very happy to take away the points that my noble friend has raised and will, of course, write to him in due course.
My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 103 withdrawn.
Amendments 104 to 106 not moved.
107: Clause 33, page 25, line 1, at end insert—
“( ) any government department or any other public body or authority in receipt of money provided by Parliament,”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 107, I will speak also to Amendment 109 in my name and to Amendment 108 in the name of my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lady Hamwee, as these amendments really provide a set of options. These probing amendments seek to ensure that the range of bodies that will be subject to the code is clarified by the Government. They also seek to find out whether there are intentions to widen the range of bodies involved beyond the local authorities and the police, as specified in the Bill. I realise that Clause 33(5)(k) gives the Secretary of State power to widen the scope. This may indicate a gradualist approach on the part of the Government, which I will touch on later.
Amendment 107, which gives the widest interpretation of the options provided by these three amendments, suggests that any body in receipt of public money should be subject to the code. Among many others, that would encompass quangos, a host of arm’s-length bodies, schools, colleges and universities, plus the devolved Administrations and their associated bodies. It might be argued that, once you introduce a code for some bodies, there is no logical way of dividing up public bodies and quasi-public bodies between those that should follow the code and those that need not do so. The amendment would require all bodies in receipt of public money to abide by the code.
Amendment 109 gives a detailed description of a variety of educational institutions, hence narrowing down the first tranche of bodies to be subject to the code as a possibility for the Government to pursue. Thus amended, the Bill would apply not just to local authorities and the police but to educational institutions as well. Of course, the Bill does apply to schools in other respects.
Amendment 108 has raised concerns, because schools will not be required to have regard to the code of practice on the use of CCTV in the same way as is required of other organisations. Research done for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in 2008 found that 85 per cent of teachers worked in schools with CCTV. I venture to suggest that, with that research now three years old, the percentage is now probably higher. Of those questioned, while 98 per cent of teachers believed that the cameras were there for security purposes and to monitor vandalism, more than half of them said that the cameras were there to monitor the behaviour of children in school. In other words, there was confusion in the minds of the teachers themselves as to the proper purpose of the cameras. More than three-quarters of the teachers questioned reported that cameras were being used at school entrances, which is understandable. Worryingly, 10 per cent said that the cameras monitored the school toilets.
Although anyone who has ever been involved in education will know that toilets can be a good place to hang out if you are trying to avoid a lesson, it is very concerning that the privacy of young people is being infringed on in this way. As the Government say, I strongly believe that there is a place for CCTV in our lives; it has an important role to undertake. But the issue of proportionality has to come into it. The same research showed that it was reported in February this year that one school in Coventry had installed 112 CCTV cameras. To my mind, that shows that CCTV use can go over from the reasonable to the unreasonable.
The question that I come to in relation to this amendment is why the cameras are there in schools. For whose safety is it? Is it to provide evidence of breaches of school discipline or to provide for the safety of the pupils? Is it to provide for the safety of the staff? The inclusion of schools and education institutions in general is very important to provide clarity in this respect.
When I first read the Bill, I was very surprised by the very limited reach of the code specified in Clause 33. In my experience as an elected Member, before I became a Member of this House, I came across two very serious cases of abuse of CCTV camera surveillance. One was on the property of the National Assembly for Wales and the second in a hall of residence in a university. The abuse in both cases was the misuse of CCTV cameras to spy into bedrooms—in one case in the hall of residence and in the other case in a neighbouring residential property. The cause of the problem here was insufficient training and supervision of the staff involved, and access to the cameras and recordings being far too freely available. We have in these amendments singled out educational institutions in particular, because this is where young people are particularly and persistently vulnerable.
I was also involved in the production of some legislation in the National Assembly on provision of school transport, which included a requirement for CCTV cameras on school buses. This sparked a considerable debate and deep thought about the use to which the footage could be put and who should have access to it. Was the CCTV camera requirement there to protect children or the drivers? Was it there to encourage good behaviour on the buses? Supposing that a child was accused of shoplifting at a particular time in the afternoon and could prove that he was on the school bus at that time, because of the use of the CCTV footage, would that be a legitimate use of the CCTV footage? That is the kind of complexity that we are moving into.
The issue of which body should be subject to the code was raised by the respondents to the Home Office consultation, who asked for a definition of public and semi-public space. Can the Minister address the issue of how far the Government envisage that this code will be extended to bodies other than those specified at this moment? If the Government adopt the incremental approach which paragraph (k) seems to suggest, how long do they envisage it will be before the impact of the code is fully felt? I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this group of amendments, but with a degree of confusion as to just what the Bill provides. If one looks at Clause 29, which introduces the code of practice, there is no reference there at all to relevant authority. There are two references in subsections (3)(f) and (3)(g) simply to “persons” operating a CCTV system. The more my noble friend introduced the group of amendments, the more I wondered why on earth this code is not applicable to all users of CCTV systems, be they public, private or whatever. Why, for example, in a shopping mall with endless numbers of CCTV cameras should they not be subject to the code requirements, just as any of the relevant authorities as defined in Clause 33 are? My noble friend the Minister might like to ask her officials whether Clause 29 was indeed drafted to apply to all those operating CCTV systems, and why Clause 33 itself refers twice to relevant authorities but in subsection (2) simply refers to a
“failure on the part of any person to act in accordance with any provision”,
of the code.
My Lords, the dilemma in front of us is basically to do with the application of CCTV, its value and the safeguards related to its value. I have peculiar experience of this, having headed up an organisation which had probably one of the largest CCTV installations in the UK. I have to say it was introduced before anybody thought about any sort of code, and we built up practice. Our experience was that the benefits massively outweighed the disadvantages. Our other experience was that acceptance by the general public simply grew with time. In London, people are used to CCTV on transport systems, in public spaces and so on. We think that the benefits are enormous.
We are not against the general concept of introducing a code, but we have all made it clear that we think the way this code is being introduced is wrong. The right thing to do is to have an inquiry to understand the extent of the problem, to start working up criteria and so on. However, if the Government insist on introducing this code more rapidly than that, we would be against its extension to all publicly funded areas and to schools and colleges. This is not because we are against extension of the code—as has been rightly pointed out, there are many privately owned CCTV cameras that could sensibly fall within a comprehensive code. What we are against is the extension of that code until the right amount of experience has been gained and investigation has taken place. Otherwise, these crucial areas, particularly schools and colleges, where CCTV is so valuable, will be burdened with a bureaucratic nightmare until we achieve a code that gets the right balance of being bureaucratically light while achieving the effective objectives of public engagement and acceptance. Therefore, in this Bill at this time we do not support these amendments.
My Lords, I shall start by picking up where the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, left off, and by making the point that there is a lot of support for CCTV in this country. As my noble friend has already made clear today, the Government are certainly not in any way trying to restrict the use of CCTV through the introduction of this Bill. We are trying to introduce a code so that the use of CCTV is clear, and that where it is used the public have clarity in their understanding of its purpose.
I shall address, first, my noble friend’s Amendment 107, which proposes extending the code to all public bodies in receipt of money provided by Parliament. Given the incremental approach that we are adopting, we are not persuaded that the duty to have regard to the code should apply more widely than to local authorities and the police from the outset. All operators of public space CCTV are subject to the requirements of the Data Protection Act. We see local authorities and the police as the operators of publicly owned CCTV systems in public space, and as the bodies who are well placed to set the example for standards of operation. They frequently work in partnership with other CCTV operators and we see their behaviour as a powerful driver for positive change elsewhere.
To place a duty to have regard to the code on every publicly funded body from the outset would be premature. We should see how the code beds in and, drawing on the advice from the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, consider in due course whether the duty should be extended and, if so, to which bodies. Clause 33 contains a provision to enable the duty to have regard to the code of practice to be extended to other bodies by means of secondary legislation, so we do not need to settle this question now. We will not hesitate to make use of this provision if we deem it necessary and beneficial. Any order made to this end will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, and so will need to be debated and approved by both Houses.
At this point, I should refer to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Phillips about the period of review of the code. Subject to any further advice that I receive, I refer him to Clause 35, which refers to reports by the commissioner. Subsection (2)(b) makes it clear that the commissioner will be required to report every 12 months. On that basis, I suspect that any advice or proposals that he might want to make about the extension of the code would therefore be covered in his reports.
I turn now to my noble friend’s Amendment 109, which refers explicitly to educational establishments—schools, colleges and universities. I accept that the use of CCTV in schools and colleges is a potentially emotive issue for a variety of reasons. Some of the examples that my noble friend outlined certainly illustrate that point most clearly. As with any other establishment, we would expect any decision to install CCTV in an educational establishment to be very carefully considered, and the reasons for so doing tightly defined. The new code is intended to assist with these considerations. While we are not proposing that schools be covered by the code at the outset, it is there for all organisations that wish to install CCTV to use and be guided by in determining the purpose of that CCTV, precisely as the noble Baroness says. It is very important that, if a school introduces cameras, it should be clear about why it is choosing to do that.
The public consultation that we carried out earlier this year received over 100 responses, which are available on the Home Office website. Analysis of the responses received found that comments on the use of CCTV in schools were minimal. While there were some respondents who argued that the code should be made mandatory for all operators, none put forward a specific case for compliance with the code to be made mandatory for schools. Similarly, in relation to the amendment of my noble friend Lady Randerson regarding higher education institutions, there were no calls in the public consultation relating to universities or further education colleges and there are no specific concerns that we are aware of.
I assure your Lordships that the detail of the code will be developed in consultation with interested parties and, as part of that dialogue, we will consider whether any issues associated with surveillance camera systems within schools or healthcare settings require specific reference within it. When using CCTV on their premises, schools, colleges, universities and indeed all public bodies—including government departments—must adhere to the requirements in the Data Protection Act. Noble Lords will be well aware of the existing powers of the Information Commissioner to enforce compliance through a regulatory action policy.
There are therefore already safeguards in place for the privacy of students and the wider public. We trust the proprietors of schools, colleges and universities and their heads of institution to comply with those requirements, and for schools, where appropriate, to consult with parents on any deployment of CCTV.
I hope that by giving the assurance that we recognise the importance and value of CCTV; by outlining that the introduction of the code is to provide some clarity in terms of its use; and by explaining that there is an option to extend the code beyond the relevant authorities outlined already in the Bill but that we will not do so prematurely, I have addressed all the points that have been raised by noble Lords in the debate today. I hope my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I thank my noble friend for that answer. I realise that every organisation concerned is subject to the Data Protection Act, but the point about the code is that one prevents the kind of problems to which I referred; one prevents breaches of the Data Protection Act by encouraging public bodies to follow good practice, behaviour and procedures.
I ask the Minister to give further consideration to the issue of schools and educational institutions. She referred to the lack of response in the consultation on the issues associated with schools, but perhaps the Government may consider that in many people’s minds when they talk about local authorities, they encompass schools as well. However, in the modern world that is less and less so.
It is clear from the legislation that the Government are not including schools at this stage but I would ask them to give further consideration to the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 107 withdrawn.
Amendments 108 to 110 not moved.
Clause 33 agreed.
My Lords, before calling Amendment 111, I must point out that there is an error in the Marshalled List—the omission of the vital word “from”. It should read:
“Page 26, line 2, leave out ‘from’ beginning to”,
and so on.
Clause 34 : Commissioner in relation to code
111: Clause 34, page 26, line 2, leave out beginning to “as” and insert “Her Majesty by Letters Patent shall appoint an independent person”
My Lords, I am grateful for that clarification. Under Clause 34, the Secretary of State is to appoint the Surveillance Camera Commissioner. My amendment proposes that the appointment instead be made by Her Majesty by Letters Patent. The reason for this amendment is that the Information Commissioner, to whom we have referred several times this afternoon and previously in Committee, and who before holding this office was in a previous incarnation the Data Protection Commissioner and before that the Data Protection Registrar, is appointed through the process which I propose here. The roles of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner and the Information Commissioner seem to be complementary; there is a lot of common ground and certainly they have quite a lot of mutual interest. My amendment seeks to understand the distinction in the modes of appointment. Are the Government seeking to create some sort of hierarchy or, briefly, why is there a difference?
Before he had to leave the Committee the Earl of Erroll came over and said that he supported my amendment. Possibly his support is greater than the thrust of my amendment, at any rate at this stage, but I thought I should report that to the Committee. I beg to move.
I am grateful to my noble friend for her amendment and for her explanation of what it is about. I am also grateful that she assured us that she had the support of the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, who I think has some very important hereditary role in Scotland which probably influenced him in his view of insisting that this should be a matter for Her Majesty rather than the Home Secretary.
I will make just a few remarks about the role of the commissioner which I hope satisfy her concerns. It is a role which will be pivotal in promoting first the new code of practice, and in assessing its effectiveness and impact. In particular, the commissioner is charged with encouraging compliance with the code, reviewing how it operates, and providing advice on the code. Precisely how the commissioner decides to fulfil those duties will be a matter for him, but it will involve an impartial and independent assessment of all the issues. Independence is something we want to stress.
As we have already made clear, as did my honourable friend when he debated these matters in another place, our intention is to combine the new role of the commissioner with that of the existing Forensic Science Regulator. The existing regulator, Mr Andrew Rennison, was appointed by the previous Government as the interim CCTV regulator. He therefore already has considerable grounding in this area, and he has established a wide range of contacts with interested parties. That will be helpful in his new role of promoting and monitoring the code of practice.
At the same time his work as the forensic regulator will provide a useful complement, as well as much relevant background, in the area of seeking to improve the consistency of use and standards of performance of CCTV. Improving the evidential value of camera usage and images is also an important area, and one which cuts across both roles.
At the moment—and I will come on to this—I appreciate that sometimes these matters are dealt with by the Home Secretary and sometimes by the Crown. However, I do not see the need to depart from the normal practice, that is that the appointment is made by the relevant Secretary of State, in this case my right honourable friend. As with any other statutory office holder, we would expect the Surveillance Camera Commissioner to discharge his responsibilities independently of ministers and without fear or favour.
As with other public appointments, the appointment process will be overseen by the Public Appointments Commissioner and from April 2012 it will be regulated by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments code of practice. This will be the case whether the appointment is made by my right honourable friend or by Her Majesty on advice from the Government.
The amendment would not actually provide a materially different outcome in terms of independence of the officeholder. I appreciate that my noble friend has drawn a comparison with the Information Commissioner, suggesting that there is some sort of hierarchy between different appointments as to who makes them. However, that office has a somewhat wider remit and plays a key role in regulating the Government itself. The additional assurance provided by the appointment by Her Majesty is therefore justified in that case but I do not think it is warranted here, given the somewhat narrower focus of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, and would not lead to a different outcome.
I hope that that assurance is sufficient for my noble friend. I assure her that we will want a robust, independent commissioner dealing with surveillance cameras and that the appointment process provided for in the Bill will secure that outcome. Although I appreciate that there are occasions when it is appropriate that Her Majesty should make the appointment on the advice of the Government, there are other occasions when it is just as appropriate that it should be by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. I hope therefore that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, that response is helpful, particularly the comment about the Information Commissioner regulating the activities of the Government. Of course, the Minister will understand that we think that the way the Government use cameras should also be regulated, as in my noble friend’s Amendment 107. I accept that there will not be any difference in reality in the process, except for that last stage. It is important to have had the assurance that there is not a hierarchy in importance or in powers. I was concerned that there should not be, given the potential mutual interest—as I said, it is not quite an overlap—and I think we have had that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 111 withdrawn.
Amendment 112 had been retabled as Amendment 112A.
Amendment 112A not moved.
Clause 34 agreed.
Clause 35 agreed.
113: After Clause 35, insert the following new Clause—
“Commissioner’s report on alteration or replacement
As soon as the Commissioner considers it practicable but in any event not later than three years after the date provided by section 35(2)(a)(i)—(a) the Commissioner must prepare a report about the alteration or replacement of the code which shall in particular include reporting on extending the code to operators not initially subject to it;(b) the Secretary of State must lay a copy of the report before Parliament; and(c) the Commissioner must publish the report.”
My Lords, this amendment proposes that the commissioner should, within three years, prepare a report about the extension of the code to other operators. We have already touched on this in referring to Clause 33. My noble friend Lord Phillips, who has been taxing me with notes asking me to justify the drafting of this section, which is not my responsibility, asked under a previous amendment not about the extension of the code but about which operators were subject to it. He was asking why this chapter starts by appearing to be quite general and then becomes more restrictive once we get into the detail of Clause 33. He is nodding; I hope that I am interpreting him correctly.
My understanding of this is that because, under Clause 33(5)(k), more persons can be added to those who come within the definition “relevant authority”, Clause 29 and the succeeding clauses are drafted in that slightly wider way. I share my noble friend’s concern that “relevant authorities” should extend to a wider group of operators than are listed in Clause 33(5)(a) to (j).
A similar question was asked during the Committee stage in the Commons, and the Minister, James Brokenshire, said:
this is the regular report to the commissioner—
“will be an instructive and formal means for the commissioner to telegraph clear recommendations about the code, its application and whether it is achieving its intended objectives”.—[Official Report, Commons, Protection of Freedoms Bill Committee, 26/4/11; col. 364.]
My amendment takes the matter wider to those who operate the code.
It occurred to me only during this debate that it will be helpful to have—and I am sorry to be technical, but the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, will probably tell me that I am not accurate in this question—reassurance that the sui generis rule does not apply and that by having a list that is very specific we are not stuck to those organisations and persons who are similar to those listed in paragraphs (a) to (j) of Clause 33(5). Clearly there is concern that a much wider group of persons—private companies do not quite come within this—and all operators of CCTV, those who run shopping malls, for instance, should not be brought within the scope of the code. We know how the concerns have started, but the more we talk about it, some of us feel that there should be a code that is observed by all operators. While I understand that getting experience of the use of the code under one’s belt might be a good thing, I think that we would like to know that the position will be reviewed in fairly short order. I beg to move.
My Lords, I would just like to add a few points to those made very effectively by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. I regret to ask the Minister some questions, because it always seems churlish to spring technical questions upon a well meaning Minister, but I hope he gets advice from his rear quickly.
First, Clause 34 “Commissioner in relation to code” states that in Clause 34(2)(b) that the commissioner has the function of,
“reviewing the operation of the code”.
I agree with my noble friend Lady Hamwee that that does not, on the normal reading of those words, extend to consideration of the exercise of power to specify new bodies to be caught by the code under Clause 33(5)(k).
Secondly, will the Minister confirm that there is nothing in Clause 35 “Reports by Commissioner” that appears to authorise the commissioner in making reports to consider the point of extension of the code, which I would have thought justifies Amendment 113?
Finally, all those arguments would count for nought if in Clause 33(5)(k) the proper construction of “any person” is to confine “any person” to bodies comparable to “relevant authorities”. My own view is that it does not. In view of the opaqueness of the drafting of this part of the Bill and, as I said earlier, the fact that Clause 29 refers twice to “persons” but not at all to relevant authorities, I feel we need to be very clear of our ground here. In my humble view, there is a lot more concern about the operation of CCTV cameras by private interests than by public ones. I cannot think, for example, that the Sub-Treasurer of the Inner Temple is likely to abuse the CCTV cameras within his or her purview, but I am afraid I can foresee that some private operators might get up to things that are extremely undesirable.
The end of all that is whether the Minister can say to us now that he will take this away, look at it and if necessary bring forward his own amendment at the next stage of the Bill. I hope he might do that. I apologise again for springing this rather nasty group of questions upon him, but I was unprepared for the debate as it has evolved.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, mentions the Sub-Treasurer of the Inner Temple and assures the Committee that he does not think that he would act improperly in any way. I hope he would extend that to the Under Treasurer of the Middle Temple, my own Inn, because I am sure she would act in an equally proper manner. I see my noble friend Lord Faulks, who I think is a bencher of the Middle Temple, nodding in agreement on that matter.
I give him that assurance from my heart.
I thank the noble Lord for that. I hope I can deal with some of his queries, and I hope I can assure him that I do not believe that the drafting here is opaque in any way whatever.
When we look at Clause 33(5), it is pretty clear that we have all the classes listed in paragraphs (a) to (j), including the Council of the Isles of Scilly, the Common Council of the City of London and, in effect, all local authorities. Then we have paragraph (k), which states,
“any person specified or described by the Secretary of State in an order made by statutory instrument”.
That is as clear as clear could be that it can be extended by the Secretary of State after consultation with the appropriate people who might be affected. Those people could be public, they could be private, or whatever.
The Minister will have observed that Clause 33(2) states:
“A failure on the part of any person to act in accordance”,
with the code. That does not seem to sit comfortably with the much wider interpretation in the same clause of the same phrase.
No, my Lords, it is very clear. In Clause 1, we are talking about any “relevant authority” and relevant authorities are listed in subsection (5). That could be extended. If it was extended, to use “relevant authority” in subsection (2) would not include paragraph (k) of subsection (5). The noble Lord is making a mountain out of a molehill. As I understand it, it is quite clear. Should it be extended, it would then be:
“A failure on the part of any person to act in accordance with the provision”;
“person” in its legal sense would include paragraphs (a) to (j), but would also include paragraph (k) if my right honourable friend had extended those who are covered by it by using subsection 5(k) so to do.
I promise that this will be my last intervention, but it is important to get this as right as we can. I am afraid the Minister’s argument does not hold because Clause 33(5) starts by saying:
“In this section ‘relevant authority’ means”,
and that includes any extension under paragraph (k). I put that to him, and I would be grateful if he would review this later.
Obviously, I will take advice from those who are skilled in drafting, which is a skill that I have never learnt and I have no way round it. To me, it is quite clear that there is a relevant authority, and we list the relevant authorities, but “relevant authority” can be extended by subsection 5. Relevant authority is mentioned in subsection (1), but “any person” in subsection (2) would include all those in subsection (5)(a) to (j) and paragraph (k) when it expands the role of paragraphs (a) to (j). I suspect that we will not get very far by arguing this now, but it might be that we could discuss it later. It might be something that I can assure my noble friend that we will look at with the relevant drafting authorities to make sure that we get it right if he thinks that we have got it wrong.
I shall move on to the other questions that my noble friend asked about Clauses 34 and 35 and what the commissioner can do and how he can review the code. My noble friend felt that Clause 34(2)(b) on,
“reviewing the operation of the code”,
and Clause 34(2)(c) on,
“providing advice about the code”,
limit what the commissioner can do. Again, I stress that the commissioner is independent and it will be up to him to decide in the light of what is in statute. He will also have the ability to go beyond that should he so wish. The question that we come back to with the amendment concerns what sort of review we should have. I agree with my noble friend Lady Hamwee that it is quite right that we should keep the code under review, but I believe that the Bill provides adequately for that.
Clause 34 sets out the functions of the commissioner in some detail. They include encouraging compliance with the code and reviewing its operation. The commissioner is also asked to report annually on the exercise of those functions, and those reports will be laid before Parliament. In discharging those functions, we fully expect the commissioner to consider whether the code needs to be revised in any way and, no doubt, to offer advice and include recommendations to that effect in his annual report. We would also expect the commissioner to review from time to time whether the duty to have regard to the code should be extended to other operators, be they public or private, given that the extension of this duty is one of the ways in which he will be able, under Clause 34(2)(a), to encourage compliance with the code. Again, this is something that we want to do. Although the code will initially be binding on the relevant authorities only, we hope that others will look to it as the model by which they act. The commissioner will report annually on his functions so, again, we do not need to wait for up to three years, as suggested by my noble’s friend amendment.
With those assurances and that explanation, and accepting the point that we will certainly look again at what my noble friend Lord Phillips had to say about the drafting—I do not agree with him, but I might be wrong; I frequently am—I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, the Minister referred to compliance by relevant authorities and others who might look at how it is working. That takes us straight back to Clause 33(5)(k) and whether the person referred to there is to be construed in the normal meaning of that language. I have been trying to catch the eye of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, to tempt him to enter into this, but he has resisted, which is probably quite right. I see now that he is not going to resist.
Everyone who is mentioned in subsection (5) is either an individual or a corporate body and would fall within the meaning of the word “person”.
I think that might assist us. We are concerned that private corporations, if that is a concept that one can have, should be caught within the term “person”. The example that I used was the operator of a shopping mall. However, perhaps it is not fair to continue this debate in public. My noble friend Lord Phillips and I have made our concern very clear, and this debate is a little circular, so at this point the best thing I can do is to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 113 withdrawn.
Clause 36 agreed.
114: Before Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—
“Independent inquiry into use of investigating powers under RIPA
(1) The Secretary of State must establish an independent inquiry into the use of investigatory powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
(2) The inquiry will examine in particular the use of directed surveillance and possible limits to its use.
(3) The inquiry will examine possible exemptions to the Act relating to the under-age sale of alcohol and tobacco and anti-social behaviour.
(4) Recommendations from that enquiry shall be reported to Parliament.”
This amendment relates to investigatory powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. On reading the Government's impact assessment, one could perhaps be forgiven for being a little puzzled about the need that Clauses 37 and 38 seek to address, because the assessment says:
“The coalition is committed to stop local authority use of RIPA … unless it is for serious crime and approved by a magistrate”.
It goes on:
“This stems from perceptions that local authorities have misused RIPA powers particularly in relation to low level issues”.
Thus we appear to see in this Bill that the Government are happy to spend money on the basis of perception, as their impact assessment states, rather than any proven need—despite their stating that money is in short supply. The cost of judicial approval for local authorities to use powers to gather communications data and undertake direct surveillance is apparently £250,000 a year, according to the Interception of Communications Commissioner. Yet we have a situation where the Government claim that they are acting to address public perception.
In his evidence to the Public Bill Committee as head of the independent Review of Counter-Terrorism and Security Powers, the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, while supporting the requirement for judicial review, stated:
“The overwhelming preponderance of evidence gathered by the review showed that local authorities were using their powers quite proportionately and in quite important areas of business”.—[Official Report, Commons, Protection of Freedoms Bill Committee, 22/3/11; col. 27.]
The Interception of Communications Commissioner stated in his evidence that judicial review is,
“wholly unnecessary and will cost money”.
He continued that he had,
“audited a very large percentage of the applications over the last six years and there is simply no evidence of abuse, so there is no problem on which to spend £250,000 a year”.—[Official Report, Commons, Protection of Freedoms Bill Committee, 22/3/11; col. 37.]
In the main, these powers are used for investigating matters such as the sale of alcohol and tobacco to minors, antisocial behaviour, trading standards breaches, serious fire safety breaches and such issues. The amendment proposes that the independent inquiry that it provides for should look at exempting the RIPA powers in relation to underage sale of alcohol and tobacco and antisocial behaviour from this Act because they are areas where those powers are most frequently used and where the adverse impact and additional costs under the Bill will be most keenly felt. We are not opposed to the principle of judicial review, since this provides a check on executive power. However, we are opposed to spending money unless it addresses a clearly identified problem, backed up by hard evidence, when in other areas difficult choices are having to be made about cuts to vital services.
Against that background, Amendment 114 places a duty on the Secretary of State to commission an independent inquiry into the use of investigatory powers under RIPA. Amendment 114 does not require an inquiry before the commencement of Clauses 37 and 38. It would not delay implementing this part of the Bill, if the Government are determined to introduce it as soon as possible. It would, though, provide proper hard evidence of the areas, if any, that are in need of regulation—hard evidence which, at the moment, appears to be somewhat lacking. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is very interesting that the Opposition have chosen to table a fairly narrow amendment to RIPA to explore these issues. In fact, the criticism from the very moment that it was conceived, let alone drafted or passed into law, was that it was poorly drafted and had many problems which I shall enumerate more fully under my Amendment 128.
It is interesting that the Opposition have chosen to table such a narrow amendment. Have they ignored all the other constructive suggestions that have been made? They are focusing their attention simply on this one issue when, in fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has pointed out, it is probably the area of RIPA with the least problems.
My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention from my noble friend Lady Miller.
The measures in Clauses 37 and 38, together with the changes that we propose to make through secondary legislation, will deliver the coalition commitment to limit local authority use of RIPA—a commitment we made when the coalition came into being following the last election. The Bill also gives effect to the conclusions of the counter-terrorism review which was published in January. That review recommended two changes to the use of RIPA powers by local authorities.
First, these clauses will require that the exercise of RIPA powers by local authorities be subject to prior judicial approval. The second change, which will limit local authority use of directed surveillance to the investigation of offences which carry a maximum six-month sentence, will be implemented through secondary legislation made under RIPA. That will ensure that direct surveillance cannot be used to investigate relatively low-level matters, such as littering, dog fouling and schools enrolment, while still allowing it to be used against large-scale matters such as fly-tipping or waste-tipping, extensive criminal damage and serious or serial benefit fraud cases.
In response to representations received during the review, we have decided to make an exception to the seriousness threshold for offences relating to the underage sales of tobacco and alcohol. The investigation of those offences relies heavily on the use of directed surveillance and so in these circumstances the review concluded that it was appropriate to have a limited carve-out so that trading standards officers could continue to take effective action against businesses which seek to flout the law on age-related sales.
The conclusions of the counter-terrorism review were endorsed by my noble friend Lord Macdonald, who provided independent oversight of the conduct of the review. However, the amendment seeks a rather wider review of RIPA. I will say straightaway that, although the Government agree that it is essential that people’s privacy is protected from any unnecessary or disproportionate access by public bodies discharging their duties, this is precisely why RIPA was introduced, debated and passed by Parliament. And it is precisely why the way it is working is kept under constant review—not just by the Home Office but by the independent commissioners who report to the Prime Minister and publish annual reports which are laid before Parliament.
In bringing forward the current proposals to limit local authority use of RIPA, we are responding to public concern about a specific area in which the law operates. The measures are intended to restore confidence and ensure that any fears of future misuse are unfounded. But there is no well-founded indication that there is a need for much more fundamental reform of RIPA. Indeed, any regulatory regime would need to be built on precisely the same principles and contain the same human rights safeguards as RIPA is built on.
No one should be complacent about how our right to privacy is safeguarded. The measures before us come from one review and were endorsed by a public consultation. We need to get on and deliver them, but I put it to the noble Lord that another review before we have delivered the recommendations of the first would be premature and no doubt expensive—I do not know how many other reviews he will propose during the passage of the Bill. We will continue to monitor how the new arrangements are working in practice and adjust our approach if necessary. The developments will be reported on also by the independent RIPA commissioner, whose published reports, as the noble Lord will be aware, are laid before Parliament each year. We are confident that the measures in the Bill, together with the associated secondary legislation introducing the seriousness threshold, will prevent local authorities using RIPA in a way that undermines public confidence. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, in drawing up the amendment, which the Minister said was quite wide-ranging in relation to RIPA, we were seeking to address in particular that part of the Act relating to local authorities, since the coalition has made it—and the Minister has reaffirmed it—one of its objectives. It is stated in the impact assessment that the provision stems from perceptions that local authorities have misused powers rather than, apparently, hard evidence. Bearing in mind the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s view that expenditure of £250,000 will be incurred on something that is apparently regarded, certainly as far as local authorities’ use of the powers is concerned, as a perception, it did not seem unreasonable to suggest that there should be an investigation to get some hard evidence so that we might all be clear on precisely what problem we were seeking to address.
However, I have taken note of what the Minister has said. We will reflect further on the matter. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 114 withdrawn.
Clause 37 : Judicial approval for obtaining or disclosing communications data
115: Clause 37, page 27, line 8, leave out “relevant”
My Lords, the first seven amendments in this group would enable the Committee to examine a little further the existing complicated system for administrative authorisation. Where the Bill refers to judicial authorisation, one imagines that somebody from the judiciary will authorise whichever investigatory power is being used. However, in the section in the Bill to which my amendments apply, the administrative officer and his superior agree that surveillance is necessary, and the initial authorisation remains an administrative decision that does not come into effect until the approval of a magistrate is given. However, the magistrate will not examine why authorisation is being applied for or anything about the individual concerned; it will be just a review to make sure that the process has been reasonable.
The amendments examine whether the Bill will make the system any more transparent and whether it will be any easier to challenge unfair applications through the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. They examine also whether the system will become more efficient or cheaper. I welcome the Government’s desire to bring judicial authorisation more into the system, but I wonder whether it is sufficient.
Amendment 128 is much wider. I heard the Minister reply to the previous amendment to the effect that the misuse of the Act has been sufficiently addressed, but Amendment 128 has been tabled to probe the Committee’s view on the urgency of reviewing the whole RIPA fabric. This is for several reasons. First, since RIPA was conceived back in the late 1990s, technology has moved on enormously and things are able to be done now which were unimaginable then. It has nothing to do with phone hacking and the News of the World issue—which is still illegal—but with technical and storage capacity. In the 11 years since RIPA was passed, both of those areas have changed out of all recognition.
On re-reading that Act, there appears to be an enormous patchwork of different authorisation schemes, of which this is just one example. That does not seem an efficient way to proceed. The Minister referred to the expense of reviewing. There may be an expense in the inefficiency and patchwork of systems, but what concerns me most is that there are sufficient safeguards against unnecessary and disproportionate use of the surveillance powers.
As to the sheer scale of the use of the powers, we have come to accept that their use is necessary for serious crime and terrorism issues. However, since the Bill was passed, there have been some 3 million decisions made under it by public bodies; 20,000 warrants; 4,000 authorisations for intrusive surveillance and 30,000 for directed surveillance—and that does not include the intelligence services because those figures are not made public. So there is an issue with the scale of what is happening.
The Minister may feel that an inquiry will be expensive and he may be correct—obviously it will incur some expense—but there may be savings to be made if we consider whether the kind of umbrella that RIPA provides is adequate for purpose. It seems to be an umbrella that is full of holes, not only in the authorisation process but in its classification of the different kinds of intrusions—for the sake of the Committee’s time I shall not go into them—which are immense. For example, a phone call that is listened to from outside a house and one that is listened to from inside a house with a bug are different kinds of intrusions and carry different authorisations. As far as the public are concerned, that is a complicated regime—it may be necessarily complicated—and it can pose enormous problems in the complaints procedure if an individual has been subject to that intrusion.
If, as a member of the public, you want to complain about unfair investigatory powers, it is obviously extremely difficult. I have mentioned the figure of 3 million. Out of that, 1,100 complaints have been heard by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, of which only 10 have been upheld. That tends to suggest that there is a problem.
I am sure that many Members of the Committee have seen the thorough Justice report, Freedom from Suspicion: Surveillance Reform for a Digital Age, which lays out the issues in a detailed manner and gives all the references. Given the evidence that is presented in that report alone, Parliament has a duty to hold the kind of inquiry that Amendment 128 seeks. I beg to move.
Perhaps it will be for the convenience of the Committee if I explain that in an earlier edition of the groupings all the Amendments 115 to 128 were grouped. In a later edition there are two groups: first, Amendments 115 and 120 to 128; and then a second group with Amendments 116, 117, 118, 119 and 122. So there are two groups.
My Lords, I support my noble friend on this group of amendments. I was the unfortunate person who was the main spokesman for these Benches on the original Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill, and what a nightmare it was. Indeed, what a nightmare RIPA 2000 still is. It is one of the paradoxes of human rights law these days that it is for every man and every woman but the way in which it is framed—and, to some extent, I suppose, has to be framed—means that it is almost inaccessible except to a handful of specialist lawyers. This Bill is an exemplification of that on stilts.
A few moments ago, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, moved Amendment 114, calling for an independent inquiry into the use of investigative powers, which has some commonality with Amendment 128. Despite what the Minister said, I believe that RIPA is important, and getting more important given the advances in technology in so complex and fast-moving a world. We have the Leveson inquiry at the moment looking into breaches in one corner of this surveillance market. I believe that despite the expense—and it is fair never to ignore the expense and time involved in these investigations, inquiries and reviews—this is a warranted proposal.
The existing RIPA is internally inconsistent. Its implementation is certainly widely inconsistent. I believe that we need to be highly sensitive to the issue of civic trust because in the surveillance society there is a culture that is extremely unhealthy to democracy and in which citizens feel that their lives are not their own. If one wanted one most vivid example of the state of affairs that I am trying to describe, it is the reaction of the public to the Milly Dowler affair, which still reverberates. That was a fair reflection of the degree of sensitivity that exists in relation to intrusive surveillance and so on. Because of the points so well put by my noble friend Lady Miller, I think that despite the cost and the fact that the commissioners make annual reports, at this stage, more than 10 years after the passage of RIPA in 2000, the Government should think hard about standing back from this legislation and the amendments that will be introduced by this Bill and look at RIPA hard and long and carefully, and with wide public consultation that goes beyond the usual suspects and gets to the sort of people who were so frantic about some of the revelations that have been before us in the past year or so and are being rehashed in the Leveson inquiry.
For those reasons, I support this group of amendments and the increase in judicial oversight of the whole apparatus of intrusive, directed and covert surveillance that we have heard about today.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 126 and the other amendments. I support my noble friend Lady Miller. This subject is, unfortunately, one of my hobbies. I am totally opposed to people entering other people’s property without permission or court orders and I am totally opposed to this form of surveillance, even if it is called observation. I declare an interest as former secretary of the Parliamentary Space Committee; I am involved in space and privy to certain information about advanced technology that makes me even more nervous.
RIPA was a great idea when it started—like most things with initials that you cannot remember—but, even when it is amended, I will be concerned about public bodies and, in particular, covert activities. However, public bodies can get round the safeguards that are there by accepting evidence gathered by non-public bodies. That leads us to the fear that in these sorts of covert operations a public body, all in good faith, may find that it has an opportunity to obtain from a third party information that may be offered to it, not necessarily by a hacker but by some person who finds that he has something of value that could be sold. The amendment proposed is that one should not be able to use that information in prosecutions.
I will not go too far on this but we know that the listening devices that are around are extremely sophisticated and can be programmed from many miles away. Aerial surveillance is also possible from satellites in real time—not the Google thing of showing a picture of your house from above but information that can be picked up.
The purpose of Amendment 126 is to introduce a safety clause. I think that the Minister may be prepared to accept it. Once amended by the Protection of Freedoms Bill, public bodies will be able to get round the safeguards by accepting evidence gathered by non-public bodies using covert surveillance that could not have been authorised by the public body itself. This may mean that the public body, in good faith, is offered information or materials that could be helpful in pursuing its course by a private sector or non-public body. The question is therefore whether the public body has any responsibility for this and for the information provided. The suggestion here is that if freedoms are to be protected the loophole must be closed and it must not be acceptable for information to be gathered covertly without proper authorisation and used for prosecution. That means that the public body must take responsibility for any information that may be gathered and its name must be linked to it. Thus any information that is gathered that the public body has not itself authorised or been associated with should be excluded from any efforts of prosecution.
We know that many examples of this are being pushed around at present. The amendment is relatively simple; it says that anything that is done in the name of a public body, or is misused in the public body’s name, must be the responsibility of the public body, which should be responsible for making sure that everything is in order.
My Lords, just to make sure that I get things right, I should make it clear that it is my understanding from the intervention from the Deputy Chairman of Committees that we are dealing with Amendments 115 and 120 to 128, but not with those in the name of my noble friend Lord Phillips, which start at Amendment 116, those being a separate group.
Amendment 122 is in the second group.
I take that correction. I do not know how long we will spend finishing off this amendment, but perhaps this one or the next should be the last one that we deal with today, because I think we have made pretty good progress. We have will have a relatively short list of amendments to discuss for the next day and will have no problem finishing off Committee stage when we return after Christmas.
I am grateful to both my noble friends Lady Miller and Lord Selsdon for setting out their arguments in support of these amendments and I shall briefly deal with them. I start with Amendment 115 and the amendments associated with it—Amendments 120, 121, 123, 125 and 127—which leave out “relevant” or “relevant person”. We are introducing a judicial approval mechanism to restore public confidence in local authorities’ use of covert techniques. Local authorities will no longer be able to self-authorise or to use directed surveillance in trivial cases, thereby further safeguarding personal privacy. Such public concern does not exist for the use of covert techniques in cases of serious crime or national security. In a judicial review it will be for the magistrate to approve the authorisation for local authorities to use such techniques only where he or she believes that use of the technique would be both necessary and proportionate.
Imposing judicial approval on all public authorities, law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which the amendment of my noble friend Lady Miller seeks to do, could seriously impair the operational effectiveness of such organisations. Having to seek a magistrate’s approval may, given the extent to which such techniques are used, result in operational delay, which could have grave consequences. Furthermore, it is wholly inappropriate for the sensitive nature of these cases to be disposed to a local magistrate.
RIPA authorisations for the most sensitive techniques, such as intrusive surveillance and interception, which may be used only by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, are already pre-approved by a surveillance commissioner or the Secretary of State. The Government will continue to keep the use of RIPA under review and respond in the most appropriate way if there is evidence of misuse. If in the future there is a compelling case for extending the requirement for prior judicial authorisation for certain other public authorities, these clauses confer an order-making power to enable this to happen.
On the second part of Amendment 128, my noble friend Lady Miller suggested that there should be a further review by an independent reviewer. I appreciate that the concern behind the amendment is that the Act is now some 10 years old and that the pace of technological development during this time has been unparalleled, a point to which my noble friend Lord Selsdon referred. I agree that how this legislation is performing and keeping pace with these developments is something on which we would naturally all seek assurance.
At its heart, RIPA is human rights legislation; it contains human rights safeguards to ensure that it carries on working as Parliament intended. Those safeguards include the appointment of independent bodies to oversee, inspect and redress wrongs. As the Committee will be aware, there are three independent commissioners—all of whom have held some of the highest judicial offices in the land—to examine various aspects of how RIPA is working and to publish their findings. Their inspection teams visit public authorities using RIPA powers and provide valuable advice on interpreting the law correctly, and surveillance commissioners authorise some of its more invasive techniques. In addition, those commissioners produce annual reports on their findings which are laid before Parliament each year. So we already have an effective mechanism for ongoing scrutiny and reporting the findings to Parliament. The commissioners will continue to inspect local authorities and will report on how the judicial approval provisions are working in practice.
As to the wider question of changing the law to permit intercept material to be used evidentially—which is currently prohibited by Section 17 of RIPA—that is already being independently reviewed by Sir John Chilcot, who is leading a cross-party group of privy counsellors to examine how a model to permit this could work in practice. The Government will bring the subject before Parliament again once the cross-party committee has finished taking evidence. When it does so is a matter over which I have no control, but I look forward to being able to debate these matters in due course.
I turn finally to Amendment 126 in the name of my noble friend Lord Selsdon. I understand the concerns that he has raised about the perceived lack of regulation of non-government organisations and private individuals conducting covert surveillance. I hope that I can offer some reassurance to my noble friend.
On the narrow point, I think that decisions on the admissibility of covert evidence should properly rest with the court. However, having listened to his concerns, I would be prepared to have a further look at the issue. If my noble friend would be happy not to press his amendment on this occasion, we could have further discussions about it between now and Report—which, as we know from assurances that I gave earlier, is unlikely to be before the end of January—and see whether we might come forward with some suitable change at that stage.
I hope that the assurances and explanations that I have given to my noble friend Lady Miller are sufficient and that she might therefore feel able to withdraw her amendment. If that was the case, and with the agreement of other Members of the Committee, it might then be a suitable point at which to adjourn the Committee and continue with it on another occasion.
My Lords, I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, on his success in having his amendment taken forward to the next stage. Every small move in this direction is very important, because, as my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury said, this is a matter of civic trust. I thank the Minister for his reply. The issue of civic trust comes up because of the inability of current legislation to deal with the scale of interference in areas such as internet use. The intelligence agencies and the police have better systems in place; I have in mind instances where people do not know about the interference, such as in the BT and Phorm case. A natural tension exists: it is the duty of government to consent to intrusion in the interests of security and crime prevention, but it is the duty of Parliament to make sure that those intrusions are proportionate. Although I shall on this occasion withdraw the amendment, I hope that we will return to it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 115 withdrawn.
My Lords, with the agreement of the Committee, this might be a convenient moment to adjourn until Thursday at 2 pm.
Committee adjourned at 7.03 pm.