John Redwood’s contribution to the Third Reading of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, 11 Oct

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I rise to support the Bill. I am very pleased that the Government wish to strengthen our civil liberties. It is the prime duty of this House to be the fount of our democracy and its principal defender, and part of our democracy is the right to a fair trial, the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and the right to be treated with respect as a citizen of this country. Many of us feel that in recent years too many powers have been taken away from our citizens and that the presumption of guilt was visited upon those who had not stood a fair trial. Indeed, some people were detained with no trial ever in prospect, which I found profoundly shocking.

As someone who is well aware of the threat of terrorism, having been on terrorist death lists when we had a different kind of terrorism, I understand the need to tackle it, but I have never felt that we should tackle it at the expense of the civil liberties of the British people. Having watched this House give away all too many of its powers to do good to the Brussels bureaucracy, I find it an extraordinary paradox that that went alongside taking away more and more powers and rights from the British people, when we should have been the very origin of their liberties and the first line of defence of their freedoms.

I take issue with only one thing the Home Secretary said in her admirable speech: she said that liberties had not only been taken for granted, but been achieved without violence. Unfortunately they had to be fought for in this country, but it was so long ago that we no longer remember those who died in those conflicts. There was a civil war in this country in support of freedoms and rights, there were other battles, riots and rebellions, and over the years the British people expressed their democratic wish. At the heart of that democracy was not only this representative democracy here in Westminster, but the fundamental liberties of the British people: the right to a fair trial and the right not to be detained by the strength and might of the state without cause being given and without movement to trial on a speedy basis.

Of all the measures set out in the Bill, I am proudest of the Government’s decision to roll back the number of days of detention that is permitted without due cause being given, and I hope that the Government will always want to ensure that they arrest and detain people only when they have reasonable evidence and when they intend to move quickly to trial. If the Government are still, understandably, worried about terrorism, surely it is better that we put people under surveillance from a distance, do not arrest them until we are absolutely sure of their part in the potential terrorist cell or threat, and then make the arrest and bring the case. I am distrustful of arresting people on poor suspicion and then not being able to bring any case against them in a court of law. I thought that we were fighting for a democracy where such things did not happen, so I find it unacceptable that for a period of years they did happen in our country, whatever good or well intentioned reason lay behind it.

I am also pleased that the Bill has tackled other irritations and annoyances in our bureaucracy. The Home Secretary is quite right that 1,200 separate powers of entry into our households is unacceptable in a free society, so I am pleased that the Bill makes a modest start in trying to roll them back, but it gives the House an enabling power to get rid of some of those powers of entry by subsequent order. The list in the legislation is small, on the whole historical and will not have much impact, so I hope that my right hon. Friend and her dedicated team of enthusiastic Ministers will now go out and cull that list of 1,200 entry powers and not only agree with me that such activity should not take place in a free society, but be brave enough to come forward with a list of a few hundred such entry powers that we can do without.

An Englishman or Englishwoman should not have to fear the knock at the door. I used to read about that sort of thing in Russian novels, and I do not expect it in my own country, but too many decent, law-abiding, taxpaying and hard-working citizens do now fear the call of the bureaucrat, because they think that some of the legislation is too pernickety, not well intentioned and will be enforced perversely against them—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell) would like to intervene and share his dissent, I shall be very happy to give way, but I hope that he, like me, wishes to belong to a free society and feels that people should be innocent until proven guilty.

Mr Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): It was not like that during the miners’ strike, was it? I remember them coming and knocking on my door several times.

Mr Redwood: I apply exactly the same rules and philosophy to miners as to anybody else. If things were done wrongly, it is quite wrong that they were so done, and the hon. Gentleman would need to show evidence and case, but I believe in the freedoms of the British people. There are too many inspectors who can come to call and too many rights of entry, so we do not just need this piece of legislation. We need to pursue it, coming forward with a sensible list of proposals under this law, so that we can reduce the incursions upon our freedom.

I am delighted that the Home Secretary has listened to the complaints about the way in which some car parks are administered. People are not serious criminals if they have broken parking rules, and sometimes the responses by private operators, whom the Bill addresses, have been way over the top. They can also be over the top from public sector operators, who are meant after all to help the public, not to stop them driving to the shops because of their heavy bags or whatever they need to do. We need a sense of proportion in parking rules, regulations and enforcement, and the Bill makes a welcome contribution to dealing with the issue.

It is also important that the Government have listened to the many representations that we have all received over the months since Labour made proposals concerning the administration of Criminal Records Bureau checks. The thing that caused me most concern about the previous Government’s proposals was the lack of a passport—the lack of common sense. One could have a perfectly good peripatetic teacher, who was going to spend two weeks in one school, three weeks in another and all the rest of it, but they apparently had to go through the cost and palaver of being checked over each time for each assignment, when any sensible person would have issued them with a letter or certificate at the beginning, saying, “This is a peripatetic teacher, at this date they were all clear.”

Obviously, we might want to check up on such people at periodic intervals, but not every fortnight or every three weeks when they change school. The situation was completely crazy, so I am glad that we have a passport and that the Home Secretary has also found a way to reduce the number of such people from 11 million, given that many grandparents, uncles and aunts were tied up in the crazy process because they were trying to help not just the children of their own family, but their children’s friends, and fell foul of the regulations. We needed some common sense and proportionality in all that.

CCTV can play an important role, but I was pleased when the tactics of the police changed in response to the recent looting and rioting. They decided that it was probably easier to arrest people at the scene of the crime so that they were their own witnesses; if several police say that a person was involved and they arrest them on the spot, the court will believe them. That is better than trying to work out who the person was a week or two later from CCTV images that might not have caught the person’s face to best effect.

Mark Tami: Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that a lot of people were caught through CCTV—and through DNA evidence, which the Bill would destroy?

Mr Redwood: I am just making the point that there was an easier way of capturing a lot of those criminals and that what the police decided to do was welcome. I am not saying that there should be no CCTV in future, and I do not believe that that is the intention behind the Bill; its use, however, should be proportionate and sensible.

CCTV should be used in such a way that the law-abiding community feel that it is in their interests and not being used against them. There are now cases in which the law-abiding community feels that CCTV is too intrusive and does not help tackle crime as they would like. Some of that can be tackled by the welcome change in police tactics that we saw recently. It will not all be tackled in that way, because there will be cases in which the robbing, rioting or looting is spontaneous and the police are not there immediately when it breaks out. In those circumstances, CCTV can help.

Mark Tami: Has anyone from the law-abiding community come to see the right hon. Gentleman to ask for CCTV to be removed from their area?

Mr Redwood: Constituents have put to me the case against and in favour; it depends where the CCTV is, what it is going to be used for, whether it is going to be effective and whether it provides value for money. It needs to be properly appraised and used so that people feel that it makes a contribution.

I am also glad that the Government have had another look at stop-and-search; we want stop-and-search powers to be used only when the police have good reason to be suspicious and the response is therefore proportionate. Abusing or over-using the power is not proportionate. Good police would not do that, but the Bill makes the Government’s intentions clear.

I know that other Members wish to speak in the limited time available, so I shall sum up. The Bill is an extremely welcome contribution to restoring the liberties of the British people, and it should be our prime duty to uphold those. I have identified some that I think are most important. If I had to single out just one, it would be the change in the approach to detention without trial or without a proper charge having being made; that is absolutely fundamental to our civil liberties.

The Government can go much further on the intrusion and powers of entry, which have got out of control. One of the reasons why we have so many criminals now is that we have so many laws that make people criminals. It would be welcome if there were fewer crimes in our laws and if we concentrated on the really serious crimes instead of giving the state enormous powers to turn anybody’s conduct into a crime if they do not happen to agree with a particular part of the bureaucracy or if they make a mistake under the bureaucrats’ methods of procedure.

Andrew Miller: How does the right hon. Gentleman square that statement with the fact that crime is falling?

Mr Redwood: If overall crime is falling, that is extremely welcome news, although there are disputes about the figures. But it is obvious that the last Government created an enormous number of new offences, without which we lived perfectly well for hundreds of years. We need to review how many criminal offences are on the statute book.

Stephen Phillips: Does my right hon. Friend agree that we probably did not need the new criminal offence, introduced by the last Government, of impeding an apricot orchard inspector in the course of his duties?

Mr Redwood: My hon. and learned Friend has come up with an admirable example that I did not know about; there are many others, but we do not have the time to list them all. I hope that the Home Secretary and her colleagues will review the number of crimes so that we can concentrate on the serious ones—the ones that most people consider to be proper crimes—rather than spending so much time arguing about and enforcing things of rather less significance, for the convenience of some bureaucrats and not others.

I know that others wish to speak, Mr Speaker—

Mr Speaker: Order. May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman? It is always a great pleasure to listen to his mellifluous tones and the content of his argument. I simply say to him that he is not under any obligation to conclude if he does not wish to. If he does wish to, however, he can.

Hon. Members: More, more!

Mr Redwood: I am grateful for your generous intervention, Mr Speaker, but I have been warned that two other colleagues wish to speak. It would be discourteous to them and the House not to let them, so I draw my remarks to a close.

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6 Comments

  1. Posted October 12, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    I have been threatened face to face by (words left out-ed) in Britain.

    I am glad you do not represent me (still sorrier at the pitiful representation I do receive)

    I fear you are not a conservative, but a dangerous antediluvian.

  2. Posted October 12, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    As usual you make extremely good sense, but how many people were in the house ? If I go into the street outside parliament and ask passers by what they thought of your speech, how many will know what I am talking about ? and sadder again how many would care ?
    Maybe it’s time to grab that sceptre and behead a few wasters.

  3. Posted October 12, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    I am very passionate about civil liberties and your contribution to the Third Reading of the Protection of Freedoms Bill was nothing less than exceptional.

  4. Posted October 13, 2011 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    Your speech being exceptionally well grounded and as usual coming from a commonsense viewpoint, isn’t it about time we had you as leader of our country? Will anyone else agree with me?

    • Posted October 13, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      I do. John, this contributions is simply spot on. You are one of the few politicians, I concede, who do a better job than I could. Er, actually I’m struggling for a second politician….

  5. Posted October 14, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Good morning John,
    Whilst debating freedoms (and the protections of!) when are the health lobby going to be reigned in with this ridiculous anti tobacco stance which is costing this country £bn’s with no effect-as yet. By simply allowing the freedom of choice, a basic fundamental right of every inhabitant of this country, many of the 9,000 businesses already lost to the smoking ban would still be operational-thus bringing in valuable government revenue.
    Licensees know best how to run their business, not Deborah Arnott or Sheila Duffy, who both now sit on lavish publicly funded wage packets whilst those they have slain sit on the poverty line claiming benefits!
    Smoking is a freedom of choice, it will never be stamped out but it can be controlled. The junk science behind the ban is deplorable to say the least and the simplest solution would be to move the control of the ban from the health freaks to the business sector and kick start our internal economy once more-for smokers breathe life (money) into pubs-non smokers have already proven their worthlessness!
    Best wishes
    Phil Johnson
    Pub & Club Liaison Officer
    freedom2choose.info

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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