Nick Pickles is Director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch.
Conservatives have led the debate to give people the protection to defend their property and in opposition led the calls to reduce the number of officials who had the right to enter your home without a warrant.
So why is the Home Office opposing amendments in the House of Lords which would seek to protect homeowners and implement what was Conservative party policy?
Cast your mind back a year and the Conservative Party’s Quality of Life Manifesto had this to say on the issue of non-police officials having the power to enter your home without a warrant:
“A Conservative government will cut back the intrusive powers of entry into homes. Public bodies (other than the police and emergency services) will require a magistrates’ warrant, and approval for such a warrant will be restricted to tackling serious criminal offences or protecting public safety. Labour plans to give bailiffs powers of forced entry into homes to collect civil debts will be revoked.”
As the manifesto pointed out, there are now at least 1,242 state powers of entry in force, of which 587 were introduced by New Labour.
Lord Seldson today will propose to add two simple things to the Protection of Freedoms Bill. Firstly, a list of all the Acts of Parliament that confer powers of entry and secondly, a statutory code of conduct for those exercising these powers of entry.
It seems entirely reasonable that a Bill seeking to regulate powers of entry should include the powers of entry that currently exist, and that any new powers of entry should be presented to Parliament, not decided by civil servants.
The fact that the list of current Acts conferring powers of entry on non-police agents runs to 19 pages of Parliamentary order paper should only reinforce the need for a more rigorous and open debate about who can enter our homes without a warrant or our consent.
Furthermore, it seems equally reasonable that there should be a code of conduct for anyone exercising those powers, and that such a code’s authority should be based on law. The Government is proposing for such a code to be voluntary and not be based on Parliament’s will, yet for an issue of such importance is seems negligent not to use the Protection of Freedom Bill to establish a clear legislative basis for the rules governing how powers to enter our homes are exercised.
A further amendment proposes to introduce the requirement of a warrant being required – which is currently not included in the Bill, but was once Conservative Policy.
The current backlog of House of Lords legislation is no reason to abdicate responsibility on failing to properly protect home owners and to address this issue of real significance.
Those of us who believe the last Government’s attitude towards our civil liberties and privacy were not in the spirit of British democratic principles saw the Coalition as our best hope for restoring freedom. Today it falls on the House of Lords to defend that Freedom and it is simply bizarre it is a Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government standing in the way.