All 13 contributions to the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

Read Full Bill Debate Texts

Mon 5th Oct 2020
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & 2nd reading
Thu 15th Oct 2020
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Commons Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Committee: 1st sitting & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons & Committee stage & Report stage & 3rd reading
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Tue 24th Nov 2020
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Tue 1st Dec 2020
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 3rd Dec 2020
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 10th Dec 2020
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 11th Jan 2021
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage:Report: 1st sitting & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords & Report stage
Wed 13th Jan 2021
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage:Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 21st Jan 2021
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 27th Jan 2021
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments & Consideration of Lords amendmentsPing Pong & Ping Pong & Ping Pong: House of Commons
Tue 9th Feb 2021
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendmentsPing Pong (Hansard) & Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 24th Feb 2021
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendmentsPing Pong & Consideration of Lords amendments

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons
Monday 5th October 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 Read Hansard Text

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

James Brokenshire Portrait The Minister for Security (James Brokenshire)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This legislation is being introduced to keep our country safe and to ensure that our operational agencies and public authorities have access to the tools and intelligence that they need to keep us safe—safe from terrorists, safe from serious organised crime groups, and safe from others who wish to cause harm to our country and our citizens. Specifically, the Bill deals with participation in criminal conduct by covert human intelligence sources—so-called CHIS. These are agents, or undercover officers, who help to secure prosecutions and disruptions by infiltrating criminal and terrorist groups.

Throughout history, those entrusted to uphold the law or safeguard national security have used covert human intelligence to support and progress their activity. From Sir Francis Walsingham’s use of informers to defend the reign of Elizabeth I from internal and external threats, to the deployments by the newly formed detective units of the Metropolitan police in the latter half of the 19th century, to the double-cross system in the second world war, covert human intelligence has always been a vital part of our national security and law enforcement framework.

More recently, though, CHIS have been critical in identifying and disrupting terrorist plots, drugs and firearms offences, child sexual exploitation and abuse, and other serious organised crime. Since March 2017, MI5 and counter-terrorism police have together thwarted some 27 terror attacks. As the director general of MI5 said when the Bill was introduced:

“Without the contribution of human agents, be in no doubt…these attacks would not have been prevented.”

I have been advised that between November 2018 and 2019 CHIS operations within the Metropolitan police area alone led to 3,500 arrests, the recovery of more than 100 firearms and 400 other weapons, the seizure of more than 400 kg of class A drugs, and the recovery of more than £2.5 million in cash. Similarly, CHIS operations in 2019 alone enabled the National Crime Agency to safeguard several hundred victims of crime, including from child sexual exploitation and abuse. This is an important and unique tactic; by working their way into the heart of criminal groups, CHIS are able to access intelligence that other investigatory powers may simply never detect.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister knows how seriously I take these matters and the equipping of our security services to do the job that they need to do, often in horrendous circumstances that affect the integrity of our country and its individuals, but he will also appreciate that safeguards have to be in place. What does he have to say to those who have raised serious concerns that the Bill, as it stands, does not have the safeguards in place to prevent assault, murder and torture, about which there is an absolute prohibition? He knows that we are a signatory to the convention on human rights, so what does he have to say on those matters?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope I will be able to respond to the hon. Gentleman during my speech, underlining some of the safeguards—the importance of oversight, which we attach equally to this Bill, and the operation of a criminal conduct authorisation, as contemplated by the Bill. I hope he will also have noted the specific reference to the Human Rights Act in the Bill, in order to underline some of the important points he makes about convention rights.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has reeled off an impressive number of statistics, which justify the use of CHIS operations. How many or what proportion of the operations were undertaken by the Food Standards Agency, which will also come under the ambit of this Bill?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Gentleman is drawing me on to talk about some of those wider bodies. I will address that later in my speech, but I point out that the FSA is required to deal with issues associated with misrepresented food—food that may be harmful for human consumption. Therefore the issues of proportionality and necessity are bound within the frame of the Bill, and limit the activities that would be reasonable for such agencies to act upon. Perhaps I can come back to that a little later in my contribution.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have had discussions on the points of concern to me, and my right hon. Friend has given answers to three written questions today, which were helpful indeed. He will understand the importance of the point made by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty): that these are significant powers for us to grant in a democratic society. I believe my right hon. Friend has made the point in the past, but will he confirm today that the Human Rights Act trumps the provisions in this Bill which the hon. Gentleman and I are most concerned about?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention. Again, I intend to draw out this point during my contribution in the House this evening. He rightly highlights the import and implication of the Human Rights Act and what that then imports in terms of the convention rights, which we are clear provide restrictions and inhibitions on how agencies are able to operate.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will give way twice more and then get into some of the important details that I know right hon. and hon. Members would like me to address.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The point surely is that as well as proportionality and necessity, the Bill is particular about specificity, so that those matters that lie outside the specific permission can be challenged in court and can indeed lead to prosecutions. That specificity is at the heart of this measure.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that point. The issue of specifici—I cannot even say it; I shall settle for saying the specific authorisations that are granted. They are tightly bound and that is important. That is why we published the guidance that sits alongside the operationalisation of the Bill at the same time as the Bill—to give that sense of confirmation and clarity on how it will operate.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hear what my right hon. Friend says about the Human Rights Act, but the defence that the Government put up in the legal case that was brought against them said in terms that the state is “not the instigator” of such activity and

“cannot be treated as somehow responsible for it”.

The memorandum to the Bill states that

“it is to be expected that there would not be State responsibility”.

How is that using the Human Rights Act to underpin the rights of our citizens?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that my right hon. Friend, rightly, takes these issues incredibly seriously. The issues we are talking about go to the kernel of our national security, and equally, our confidence in our criminal justice system and the way in which our operatives, who are there to protect us, act. I do place weight on what he has said.

Stewart Hosie Portrait Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way before he moves on?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would quite like to answer the previous intervention before I give way again, and I need to make some progress.

I can say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) that the way in which agencies are required to act under the Bill means that they cannot act in a way that is inconsistent with the convention rights, hence the importation by the specific reference to the Human Rights Act on the face of the Bill to underline that. It is important to state that and be clear as to how the Bill operates and the protections. The hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) has tempted me, so I will give way one final time, and then I will make some progress, because I know that others want to speak.

Stewart Hosie Portrait Stewart Hosie
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the point that the Minister just made in relation to the Human Rights Act, proposed new section 29B(7) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 in clause 1 and proposed new section 7A(6) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 in schedule 1, say, for example, that subsection X is

“without prejudice to the need to take into account other matters so far as they are relevant (for example, the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998).”

Why is it not more explicit that there is an obligation to obey the Human Rights Act rather than simply referring to it as an example?

--- Later in debate ---
James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. Some may argue that the inclusion of those words was not of itself necessary, because those agencies are already bound by that requirement. We take the judgment, because of the very relevant points that have been made during the course of the debate, that being clear on the face of the Bill in that regard is helpful. It is reassuring. It creates the context as to how this regime is intended to operate, and that is why it is included in the way that it is.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy Portrait Bell Ribeiro-Addy (Streatham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the hon. Lady will allow me, I will make some further progress, but I will allow her to intervene on me later.

In order to build the credibility and trust of those under investigations, there are occasions where, in carefully managed circumstances and subject to robust independent safeguards, CHIS may need to participate in criminality themselves. This is an inescapable and essential feature of CHIS use and has always been fundamental to this work. Although I am unable to go into the detail about the specific criminality that a CHIS may participate in, for reasons I will come to, limited examples have been discussed in the public domain. For example, a CHIS may be required to join the organisation that they are seeking to disrupt. This membership alone will sometimes be criminal but will be deemed necessary and proportionate to prevent more serious criminality from taking place. Again, without going into the specifics, the use of that tactic enabled the police and MI5 to disrupt a planned terrorist attack on No. 10 and the then Prime Minister in 2017. The necessity of CHIS participation in criminal conduct has been accepted in the UK and around the world for many years. In December 2019, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal found that MI5 has a lawful basis for this activity and recognised that CHIS participation formed an essential part of MI5’s core activities. I want to reassure the House that this Bill does not confer the power to carry out a new activity, but enables CHIS to continue to deploy the methods that they already use. Notwithstanding those powers, this Bill puts that existing practice onto a clearer statutory footing, putting the matter beyond doubt as to Parliament’s intentions. The Bill provides certainty for CHIS and their handlers and will augment our ability to recruit and retain in the future in this regard. It is important to stress that the Bill does not change the position of CHIS who have previously been properly authorised to participate in criminal activity. It has no retrospective effect.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can the Minister explain one difference between the situation that has applied in the past and the situation that will apply in the future if the Bill goes through as it is? We are now legislating to make properly authorised criminal conduct lawful, rather than continuing with the current position whereby MI5 or another authorising authority is able to argue that it would not be in the public interest for prosecuting authorities to prosecute properly authorised criminal conduct, but there is no guarantee of immunity. What we are now saying is that they are not breaking the law, rather than, as in the past, that they were breaking the law, but that it was against the public interest to prosecute. Why the reason for that change?

--- Later in debate ---
James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Gentleman, the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, makes an important point when he draws that distinction. I say to him that, under the current regime, the Crown Prosecution Service will consider the prosecution of a properly authorised CHIS as perverse. So in essence, the Bill will offer no practical difference in the application of the power, because obviously the conduct will have to be properly authorised, as it does now. If something has not been properly authorised, then clearly the authorisation will not have effect. Where CHIS conduct is outside that authorisation, there will be no impact on the ability to prosecute. Public authorities tightly limit the scope of CHIS criminal conduct, so this will not provide a licence to commit crime outside those stringent limits. In reality, the practical difference between providing a defence and making conduct lawful is limited. Indeed, we say that the provisions actually reflect broader provisions within the current legislative regime, governing all other aspects as well. There is a distinction, which the right hon. Gentleman makes, but in practice, we do not see that there is the fundamentals difference that perhaps some might wish to paint into it.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One of the problems that the Government have today is that, for those of us who like the red meat of law enforcement and law and order, the Minister has forced us to look inside the abattoir, and of course we do not like what we see. On this point about stringent limits, will he explain why there is not more in the Bill to put those limits in place? I cannot imagine Ministers will be authorising killing or torture, so why are those things not in the Bill, so that the public can have very clear confidence that they will not be authorised?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will come on to that issue—this is why, although I wanted to give way to many Members, I wanted at the same time to make progress with my speech. I will not go into the limits of what can and cannot be done because of this issue of what is known as CHIS testing—providing a list against which sources can be tested, which has practical implications to it. What I can say to my hon. Friend is that I will come on to the import of the Human Rights Act in just a second, if he will be patient.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will give way to the hon. Lady, who has been very patient.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy Portrait Bell Ribeiro-Addy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has talked about practices that are already permitted, but does he appreciate that there are many, many questions about those practices? That is why there has been the Pitchford inquiry, which has now dragged on for so long that it is about to be called something else. Are the Government not the slightest bit concerned about laying down such a piece of legislation before the inquiry has reported, given the history of agents provocateurs undermining progressive movements such as our trade unions and deceiving women in intimate relationships? All of these things have been carried out before, and people have major concerns about that. Will the Government explain why they have no concerns whatsoever about laying down a piece of legislation without having looked at what that inquiry finds?

--- Later in debate ---
James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady makes a serious point. First, there is no retrospective effect—it is quite important for me to state that explicitly. Therefore, actions that have occurred in the past and are subject to further inquiry, and potentially further criminal investigation, are untouched by the Bill. On the position moving forward, I have explained the different safeguards. She refers to trade union activity. Trade union activity is lawful. I recognise some of the concerns expressed, and it is important that I state that in order to provide assurance. This is tightly bound—it is about providing the oversight, the governance and the proportionality and setting out the necessity of this for criminal justice, security and other issues that I have already alluded to. I am grateful to her for intervening to allow me, I hope, to be more specific on that point.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the previous intervention, there are real concerns about women who are seeking legal redress for sexual assaults at the hands of police officers in the spy cops inquiry. Can the Minister guarantee that if those situations were to occur again, survivors of sexual assault could seek legal redress?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can certainly say that there are clearly ongoing inquiries in relation to this important and sensitive issue. I have highlighted the lack of any retrospection, and I point the hon. Gentleman to what has happened since then and what the police themselves have underlined in this regard. There is an enhanced regime of what are known as relevant sources—in other words, undercover police officers—and the criminal conduct authorisation is in addition to the regime to authorise and approve a CHIS covert source in the first place.

It has never been acceptable, as the police have said, for an undercover operative to form an intimate sexual relationship with those they are employed to infiltrate and target, or who they may encounter during their deployment. This conduct will never be authorised, nor must it ever be used as a tactic in deployment. That is made clear through the code of ethics for the police as well as the updated law enforcement agency undercover operative authorised professional practice.

I hope that I have explained what the Bill does and what it does not do, and therefore how it is quite specific. On the point about what is on the face of the Bill, it is about locking in the existing regime and other safeguards on the authorisation of a source in the first place. That has to happen first, and then, if it is warranted, justified and fits within the boundaries of the Bill, there is the criminal conduct authorisation that sits alongside it, which has to be subject to the earlier authorisation.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that sexual assault and rape are clearly prohibited by article 3 of the Human Rights Act? Does he recognise that the importance of the Human Rights Act in providing a safeguard to this Bill means that it would be helpful to hear wider support for the purposes of the Act from across his Government, not just from him on the Front Bench?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Obviously there is the specific reference on the face of the Bill that I have alluded to, and therefore there is that requirement. As the right hon. Lady will know what the convention rights say, for operational and other reasons I will not go beyond what the convention says. There are very clear issues that I will now, I hope, come on to in that regard that will help to draw this out.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will give way one last time and then make further progress.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister; he is being very generous. He has been clear that sexual assaults on women such as the ones that have been referred to are entirely prohibited and not allowed, but they have obviously happened. In the past, those cases have been brought forward for proper review. How will they be brought forward in future under this Bill?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have drawn out the separate regime that operates in relation to the authorisation of, for example, undercover officers, as well as the tight remit, the ambit and some of the additional oversight that is provided in respect of that regime. Again, that is all subject to the supervisory nature of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and can, therefore, as with the provisions proposed through the Bill, be drawn out through that route. However, I will hopefully make some more progress and be able to get into how the Bill works and some of the further assurances. I may not be quite as generous with interventions, so that I can hopefully make progress and let other right hon. and hon. Members in.

The Bill amends the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 by inserting a new section to provide a power for public authorities to grant a criminal conduct authorisation. Equivalent amendments are also proposed to the equivalent legislation in Scotland, subject to ongoing constructive engagement with the Scottish Government.

A CCA may be granted only where it is necessary for one of three statutory purposes: national security, the prevention or detection of crime, or in the interests of the economic wellbeing of the UK. It must also be proportionate to what it is seeking to achieve, and consideration must be given to whether the objective could be achieved by conduct that is not criminal. These authorisations will be tightly bound and granted by a highly trained and experienced authorising officer. They must also be compliant with our obligations under the Human Rights Act, including the right to life and the prohibition of torture or subjecting someone to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Again, I will expand a little further shortly.

A CCA can also apply only where the deployment or engagement of the CHIS has already been authorised under the existing section 29 of RIPA, and is subject to the limits that that section provides. As such, there is a two-stage process: first, the authorisation of the use of a CHIS and, secondly, the separate authorisation of that source to carry out criminal conduct in the tightly prescribed circumstances proposed by the Bill.

It is worth highlighting that, alongside the Bill, we have published draft provisions of the CHIS code of practice, which provides further detail as to how the authorisation process will work and the factors an authorising officer must consider before granting an authorisation. To be clear, all authorisations are precise and explicit. A CHIS will never be given unlimited authority to commit any or all crimes. The effect of an authorisation is to render the authorised conduct lawful. This model is consistent with the approach we have taken for other investigatory powers. Of course, where a CHIS commits any criminality outside the tight parameters of the authorisation, the prosecuting authorities can consider this in the normal way.

Members will understand that, because of the clandestine nature of their work, there are limits to what I can say publicly about the role that CHIS play in saving lives and property, without exposing sensitive information about their methods and techniques. I know that there are concerns about the Bill somehow providing a licence to kill or to commit torture. Let me be clear that there are upper limits to the activity that can be authorised under the Bill, and those are contained in the Human Rights Act. That includes the right to life and the prohibition of torture or subjecting someone to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It is unlawful for any public authority to act in a way that is incompatible with the European convention on human rights, and the legislation makes clear that nothing in the Bill detracts from a public authority’s obligations under the Human Rights Act. Therefore, an act that would be incompatible with the ECHR could not lawfully be granted under this Bill.

We do not believe, however, that it is appropriate to draw up a list of specific crimes that may be authorised or prohibited. To do so would place in the hands of criminals, terrorists and hostile states a means of identifying our agents and sources, creating a potential checklist for suspected CHIS to be tested against. That would threaten the future of the CHIS capability and result in an increased threat to the public. Protecting CHIS from prosecution will have achieved little if we cannot also protect them from being identified by the terrorist and criminal groups they inform against, placing them at personal risk.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am listening very carefully to what the Minister is saying, but will he be clear? This is all predicated on our continued membership of the European convention on human rights and on the Human Rights Act staying as it is, and at the moment we have an Attorney General who has made very clear her intentions towards both those instruments. Can he make it clear that we will stay in the ECHR and that the Human Rights Act will stay as the bedrock of the guarantees on this, but also that other international conventions we are signatories to, including the convention against torture, would also apply in restricting actions that could be authorised under this Bill?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have been pretty clear about the way this Bill operates and the manner in which agencies and the different bodies that can be authorised are able to act. Clearly, I cannot bind this House for the future, but I am very clear that we stand by our ECHR commitments, which is why this has been expressed in the way that it has in the Bill. I hope that is helpful to him.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What my right hon. Friend has described is, in effect, a wish not to provide a terrorist checklist, as it were, to test a member of such an organisation. Did he read the article in The Times this morning by probably one of the best Directors of Public Prosecutions of modern times, who would probably know more about this than all of us in this House? It was scathing about that analysis and said it simply did not stand up?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to respond to that point specifically. We are not suggesting that there is routine testing of suspected CHIS in all criminal groups, but there is evidence that this does occur more than infrequently, and I say that in clear terms. We are asking CHIS to put themselves in difficult positions to help the state investigate these criminal groups, and it is our judgment that we need to make sure that we can best protect them, and that means avoiding the provision of a checklist of crimes that can be tested against. I note that this risk is not just to CHIS, but to people who are not CHIS but may be suspected of being so.

Julian Smith Portrait Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the independent commissioner, established under the 2016 Act by this House, has, in the 2018 report of the analysis on MI5 and other agencies, written very positively about the processes, the applications for CHIS and the rigour that these organisations go through? It is important that the House realises that these processes are rigorous, detailed and already in place.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making that point. With his experience as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he knows the importance of these national security issues in the context of Northern Ireland. He is right, and this point about safeguards and oversight is precisely what I was about to come on to. It is about the rigorous and careful way in which the agencies operate and the focus that they attach to this, as shown in the response the commissioner provided in his 2018 report and equally by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal when it reflected on this.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will give way, but this is probably the last time as I am conscious of time and of getting others in.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In the 2018 report by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, one of the issues that raised concern was the sheer prevalence of human error. We are rolling this out to further Departments. Surely, we are also rolling out the potential for further human error.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Lady makes an important point about training and about ensuring that the high standards necessary here are applied. I would say to her that, equally, such focus needs to be applied to those who operate this regime in order to get this right because of the potential criminality that sits alongside it. There are obligations to report errors to the commissioner, and equally the commissioner will report on those too. Rigorous standards are necessary to ensure that criminal conduct authorisations are made appropriately and well, and the way in which that operates now and will operate for all agencies—whether the Security Service, policing or some of the other agencies—is subject to that clear oversight, and the Bill draws that out and makes it explicit.

As I have said, it is important to state that, in view of the restrictions on what can be disclosed publicly, the Government also recognise the importance of robust independent oversight. The authorisation of CHIS participation in criminal conduct is and will continue to be subject to this robust oversight of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. The IPC—

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very conscious that I am now eating into the time of others who may wish to speak, so I will perhaps make some more progress, and we will see where we get to.

The Investigatory Powers Commissioner, and his judicial commissioners, have all held high judicial office. The current IPC, Sir Brian Leveson, was most recently president of the Queen’s bench division and is entirely independent of Government. The commissioners are supported by expert inspectors and others, such as technical experts, qualified to assist the commissioners in their work.

The IPC conducts wide-ranging inspections of public authorities and publishes an annual report on the findings from those inspections. The IPC himself sets the frequency of those inspections, and public authorities are required to provide unfettered access to documents and information. The Bill strengthens the IPC’s role by providing that the IPC must explicitly keep CCAs under review and include information on the use of them in his annual report. The most recent report from the IPC found that in all instances MI5’s authorisations of CHIS participation in criminal conduct were proportionate to the anticipated operational benefits and met a high necessity threshold.

Further, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament has statutory responsibility to oversee the UK intelligence community. Hon. and right hon. Friends on the Committee have a vital role in scrutinising the work of the intelligence agencies, and I am grateful to the Committee for its support for the legislation and welcome its expertise as the House considers the Bill in detail. I also note that Select Committees will equally play an important role in scrutinising the work of law enforcement and wider public authorities.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On that note, I give way to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful to the Minister, who has been very generous with his time. Clearly he makes the case that we need to continue with covert intelligence, particularly on extremist groups that may be proscribed. Associating with them in any way is currently a crime, so clearly he makes a strong case for legislation to ensure that such intelligence can continue in the interests of national security. I know that he recognises, though, that having safeguards is also in the interests of national security and of the intelligence agencies and the police.

The safeguards in place on the Investigatory Powers Commissioner in the Bill are still very vague. It is very broad and very much retrospective, as opposed to concurrent assessments. Will the Minister look again at the potential for amendments on authorisation and very timely oversight, and on strengthening the measures on Investigatory Powers Commissioners, so that it is possible to get the details of the legislation right?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Obviously, we will have continued debate during the passage of the Bill. I believe that it provides strong oversight and governance, but I will continue to reflect. Judicial approval is an important safeguard for the operation of some of our investigatory powers; however, it is not the only way to provide a robust oversight of a power. It is important to recognise the context of this: we are talking about human beings. Some challenging issues operate around this space, which is why we judge that robust retrospective oversight is the right approach, but I will keep the timeliness of that, and how it operates, under reflection so that perhaps further reassurance can be provided, specifically on the point of how soon oversight can occur after an authorisation has been made.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is being generous. At what level will the original authorisation take place in the various organisations? From reading the Bill, it seems to me that the level in the police is a relatively junior police officer. In view of the seriousness that such authorisation leads to, should it not be given at chief constable level, and why can it not be given through a warrant overseen by a judge?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have responded to the latter point on the judgment that we have made in relation to this regime and how we believe that deep retrospective oversight is the right approach. This is distinct from phones or cameras. The use of CHIS requires deep expertise and close consideration of the personal qualities of that CHIS, which then enables very precise and safe tasking. There are different elements to how this operates, and the experience and highly trained nature of the authorising officer in some ways informs the relevant authorising level that is specified within the guidance. Robust retrospective oversight is provided equally by the commissioner himself, to give further assurance.

If I may, I shall turn to a separate point about specific public authorities’ ability to grant a criminal conduct authorisation. The RIPA already lists a range of public authorities that use CHIS for general investigative purposes. Far fewer public authorities will be able to grant a criminal conduct authorisation. Only those public authorities that have demonstrated a clear operational need for the tactic are able to use the power. These are the intelligence agencies, the police, the National Crime Agency, the armed forces, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and 10 other public authorities. Pausing momentarily on this list, I want to highlight the role that these wider public authorities also have in investigating and preventing serious criminal activity. The Environment Agency, for example, investigates the illegal dumping of toxic waste that can permanently harm our environment. The Serious Fraud Office investigates complex fraud cases that risk costing the public millions of pounds. The Food Standards Agency investigates deliberate mislabelling and the sale of unsafe food to the public. HMRC tackles the money laundering and trafficking of illicit goods that would risk significant damage to the economy.

We expect the wider public authorities to have only limited use of this power, because a criminal conduct authorisation can be granted only where it is necessary and proportionate to the criminality it is seeking to frustrate. There will, however, be occasions where CHIS will be critical in providing the intelligence to prevent, detect and prosecute serious crimes. This is increasingly important as organised crime groups expand into areas overseen by these public authorities.

This is an important and necessary Bill—

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Steve Baker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister allow me, before he finishes?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will, for one final time, then I will wrap up.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am extremely grateful. He mentioned the armed forces very briskly there. Could he clarify why the armed forces might need to engage in criminal conduct? I suspect it is because they each operate their own military police, and that those police might need to have covert operations, but I would be grateful if he clarified that, because there will be suspicious souls out there worrying that there is some other motive for the armed forces being authorised to break the law.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend highlights one particular aspect of the role of the Ministry of Defence. It is difficult to go into detail, but one further example I would give is that it might be necessary to access a proscribed organisation. As I say, the reporting regime is quite specific. Indeed, the oversight that is envisaged—and the oversight in the existing legislation—draws this out quite carefully and clearly for the issues that I have highlighted, on proportionality and necessity, as well as those specific aspects in the Bill, stating that it can relate only to national security, criminality and economic wellbeing. It has to anchor to those three elements, as well as to the Human Rights Act application that we have debated at length this evening.

This is an important and necessary Bill. It is not about providing agents with an unfettered ability to break the law and commit any crime. There are strict requirements that must be satisfied, and robust and independent oversight will be in place. The Bill is really looking to achieve just one thing, which is to ensure that our intelligence agencies and law enforcement bodies with important intelligence functions are able to continue to utilise a tactic that has been, and will continue to be, critical to keeping us all safe. Accordingly, I commend the Bill to the House.

--- Later in debate ---
Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), both of whom made important and powerful speeches. I agree with what both of them said, and the two are not irreconcilable.

It seems to me that the Government, having brought forward a necessary and appropriate measure—it is right to put these matters on a statutory footing—need to bear in mind the need to tighten up the language in a number of places. I support the basic thrust of the Bill, but there is nothing more profound than to authorise the agents of the state to break the criminal law. That can be done only in the most exceptional circumstances, and those circumstances are not things that can be trailed in public, so obviously we need a degree of discretion about how we do it. I will deal swiftly with just a few matters.

First, given that principle, I am concerned about how we deal with the pre or post-authorisation arrangements. Having put the matter on a statutory footing and having previously established the independent commissioner and then the tribunal, I would be worried about the exclusion of pre-authorisation save in the most exceptional circumstances. I am not saying that every type of criminal offence should be excluded at this stage, but when we come to Committee, we should examine whether we should in any circumstance contemplate setting on the face of an Act of Parliament provision for someone committing the offence of murder, for example, or something equally extreme, other than when they would probably be entitled to run the defence of self-defence anyway.

Given the ability of any High Court jurisdiction to deal immediately and swiftly with interlocutory matters, there is no reason to think that the same arrangements cannot be made in relation to the commissioner. The quality of the commissioners— Sir Adrian Fulford and now Sir Brian Leveson—is of such an extent that I would have thought that their early authorisation would be a great support to our security services in doing what they have to do. We must think about where the balance lies.

The second point I wish to deal with is the list of organisations. The obvious ones are there, and of course they must be supported. Like others, however, I question the need to list bodies such as the Food Standards Agency and, up to a point, the Financial Conduct Authority. Is this really a Bill about counteracting terrorism and life-or-death threats, or is it actually just about enabling the National Crime Agency—a worthy body in itself—to deal with economic crime? That may be a legitimate concern, but I do not think it should be put in this type of legislation, unless it is spelled out a bit more carefully.

The Minister of State and I have personal and shared casework experience relating to constituents of overreach and mission creep on the part of Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise, which frankly behaved appallingly. Ultimately, it was overridden by the courts, but I am worried that it might be thought that the imprecise definition of serious crime could be stretched to cover some of the cases we have dealt with. The Minister looks as though he thinks that is impossible, but serious crime is not defined in statute; it is a matter of fact and degree. It requires either a definition or, more likely, a more robust pre-application process.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate the contribution that my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Justice Committee, is making and perhaps we can continue this conversation. I point him to the issues of proportionality and necessity, the requirement to consider matters that are not criminal to the end itself and the safeguards that the Human Rights Act provides, which I set out earlier. Therefore, there is a strong framework, as well as the subsequent oversight, but I will listen carefully to what he says. I am reflective on some of the timeliness of oversight, as I indicated, and I appreciate his points.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand the spirit in which my right hon. Friend makes that point. I suspect that many of those fears could be set at nought if we can do this sensibly. The point is that without either having an obligation to comply with the ECHR on the face of the Bill and certain most grave offences being excluded in the Bill, or, on the other hand, greater clarity on the timeliness and the way in which that will work, there are still issues that we need to deal with.

--- Later in debate ---
Michael Ellis Portrait The Solicitor General (Michael Ellis)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let me start by thanking colleagues across the House for the constructive way in which Members have approached today’s debate. I think we all agree that national security and preventing serious crime is an area in which we want to ensure that operational agencies are best equipped to protect us and keep us safe, and this Bill does just that. It is in that spirit that we have engaged many Members in advance of this debate, and I can assure Members that we will look to continue to work together as the Bill passes through Parliament.

If I may, I will respond briefly to some of the points made during the debate. My right hon. Friend the Security Minister has already responded to a number of interventions, but turning first to safeguards and oversight, I agree with those colleagues who have emphasised the importance of ensuring that there is robust oversight of the use of criminal conduct authorisations, or CCAs. That is why we have a world-leading investigatory powers regime, and it is why there is significant, independent oversight of the use of those powers; few other countries in the world, if any, have such a regime. With regards to safeguards within the public authority, all authorising officers are highly trained. My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) spoke about training a few moments ago, and I can say that these officers are experienced and have clear and detailed guidance that they must follow in deciding whether to grant an authorisation for criminal conduct.

In response to the point raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), let me confirm that the code of practice sets out that there does need to be a reasonable belief that an authorisation is necessary and proportionate. All authorising officers must be appropriately trained, and the independent Investigatory Powers Commissioner can identify if any public body is failing to train their officers or assess them to a sufficiently high standard. To respond specifically to the point raised by the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), I can confirm that an authorisation must be granted before activity commences. The Bill does not seek to enable the retrospective granting of a criminal conduct authorisation; this is not a retrospective Bill.

I turn now to independent oversight. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner is entirely independent of Her Majesty’s Government and has wide-ranging powers to support his crucial oversight functions, which include the ability to inspect all the public authorities able to grant a criminal conduct authorisation at a frequency of his choosing. Public authorities are required to provide unfettered access to all of their documents and information, and the results of those inspections are published within his annual report. A public authority must then take steps to implement any recommendations made by the IPC. This Bill looks to provide robust independent oversight, while ensuring that such oversight does not result in a loss of operational effectiveness. Authorisations may need to be granted at short notice, and here I want to emphasise the human element of CHIS, unlike other investigatory powers. That human element means that these decisions cannot really be retaken; they impact directly on the safety and welfare of covert human intelligence sources.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

While dealing with safeguards and scrutiny, can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the tribunal has the ability to deal with any complaints about inappropriate use of these powers? Furthermore, will he do as I did when I took the Act through the House and give an absolute assurance that this will not be applied to civil society organisations, including trade unions?

Michael Ellis Portrait The Solicitor General
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes I can, and I will come to that point in a moment.

          I have been listening to the views expressed in the debate by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam and the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) that providing the Investigatory Powers Commissioner with more real-time oversight would strengthen that oversight. We have always been clear that we are willing to engage with workable proposals; I understand the spirit in which these remarks were made and I am listening carefully.

I thank the members of the Intelligence and Security Committee for their support for the Bill and recognise the important role they play in providing oversight of our intelligence agencies. The Committee’s oversight role is complemented by the work of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who is tasked with providing information on public authorities’ use of the power.

The shadow Home Secretary made a specific point regarding the disproportionate impact on women or members of the BME community. Those under investigation are targeted because of their criminal or terrorist activities, not on the basis of such characteristics. If there are any specific concerns, I am of course happy to discuss them further, but I can confirm that that is the case.

Regarding limits, I understand the concerns expressed by colleagues around the House, but let me be clear: covert human intelligence sources will never be provided with unlimited authority to commit all or any crime. They will never be provided with an authorisation that is contrary to our obligations under the Human Rights Act. The Bill makes that specifically clear. This is not a “licence to kill” Bill. An authorisation is tightly bound: it must be necessary, and it must be proportionate to the activity it seeks to prevent.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and others set out, creating a specific list of prohibited activity, were we to do that, would place into the hands of criminals, terrorists and hostile states the means to create a checklist against which suspected covert human intelligence sources could be tested. That would threaten the future of CHIS capability and consequently increase the threat to the public. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner has wide-ranging powers to ensure that the requirements of the legislation, which have been clearly set out in the House today, are adhered to.

Let me deal with some international comparisons. Different countries have different legal systems, threat pictures and operational practices; simply comparing legislation, therefore, gives only a partial picture. However, with regard specifically to Canada—our strong ally, which has been mentioned a number of times this evening—our understanding is that the parts of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act to which Members have referred do not actually relate to covert human intelligence sources. The specifics of what a CHIS may be tasked by the agency to do in Canada—the information some say is contained in the Canadian Act—is not on the face of their legislation. That is our understanding.

Regarding the point made about trade unions, economic wellbeing is of course one of the established statutory purposes for which the covert investigatory powers may be deployed by public authorities. That is to recognise the threats to the economic wellbeing of the United Kingdom and that they could be immensely damaging and fundamental in their effect. For example, such threats may include the possibility of a hostile cyber-attack against our critical infrastructure, our financial institutions or the Government itself. However, it is not the intention in the Bill to prevent legitimate and lawful activity, including activity by trade union organisations. Preventing such activity would not be necessary for the purpose of economic wellbeing. Trade unions have historically been a bastion of rights in this country and they are, of course, a lawful authority.

In response to concerns about the Bill’s impact on potential victims’ ability to seek compensation, it is not the intention of the Bill to affect any individual’s ability to pursue a claim for compensation where appropriate. It is not the case that any or all conduct by a CHIS could be exempted from civil liability under the Bill regime.

Finally, I have heard several Members, including the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), question the need for wider public authorities to have the power. These public authorities have important investigative and enforcement responsibilities. It is right that they are given the necessary powers to undertake these functions themselves. Very briefly, I could perhaps give an example to do with the Food Standards Agency, which has been mentioned a number of times.

The Food Standards Agency is tasked with protecting consumers and the food industry from food crime within food supply chains. Examples of food crime include the use of stolen food in the supply chain, the unlawful slaughter of animals, the diversion of unsafe food not fit for human consumption, adulteration of foodstuffs, substitution or misrepresentation of foodstuffs, and document fraud. The continuing presence of an individual within a workplace may necessitate them actively participating in presenting, packaging and relabelling produce in order to misrepresent its quality and fitness for consumption, which would be criminal offences. As I say, all public authorities will be subject to the same robust safeguards and oversight and it is right that we equip them all with the powers they need to protect us.

In closing, we should not underestimate the immense contribution that covert human intelligence sources have made, and continue to make, to protecting the public and this country. We can never publicly set out the exact details of what they do on our behalf, but let me assure hon. and right hon. Members that without them lives would have been lost. They are exceptional people, courageous and devoted, and we are all grateful to them. It is right that covert human intelligence sources, their handlers and the public authorities to whom the Bill relates have the certainty and clarity to continue to use this tactic. It is also right, however, that this is subject to robust safeguards and independent oversight. This legislation will achieve both those things and ensure we can continue to bring to justice those who want to do us harm.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

21:42

Division 125

Ayes: 182


Conservative: 179
Democratic Unionist Party: 2
Independent: 1

Noes: 20


Labour: 19
Plaid Cymru: 2
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 1

Bill read a Second time.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Committee: 1st sitting & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons
Thursday 15th October 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 15 October 2020 - (15 Oct 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

James Brokenshire Portrait The Minister for Security (James Brokenshire)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not know whether this will be helpful to the right hon. Gentleman, but I just draw his attention to paragraph 3.10 of the supported guidance, which underlines that the person granting the authorisation should hold a “reasonable belief” that the authorisation is necessary and proportionate. The important point he makes is addressed through the guidance.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister does help me and I am grateful for his assistance, because if that reasonable belief is in the guidance, there is absolutely no reason why it should not be in the Bill. As I said to the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), guidance can be changed without any meaningful oversight from this House. The Minister makes the point for me very well, so perhaps amendment 14, which I had thought modest, is more significant than I realised. I look forward to hearing his acceptance of it—if we could do that without a Division, it would be all the better. [Interruption.] God loves a trier.

Amendment 15 deals with the issue of economic grounds. As things stand, the Bill allows crimes to be authorised if they are necessary

“in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.”

That conjures up all sorts of delicious prospects. If it is decided that we need a different Governor of the Bank of England, can we authorise a CHIS to wipe him out? Could we use this if we decided that a no-deal Brexit was not in the UK’s economic interests? There are at least two or three good Netflix series in this; the possibilities are almost endless. What crimes might be authorised in order to entice a foreign investor to bring their money to the UK or a car manufacturer to keep its UK plant open? There is nothing here to prevent corruption or bribery from being used in these circumstances. Amendment 15 would restrict these grounds to cases that are relevant not only in an economic sense, but to national security. There is precedent for this approach, because amendment 15 matches exactly the amendments the Government themselves made to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill last year, after my noble Friend Lord Paddick raised similar concerns about detaining people in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom. If it was good enough for that Bill, there is no reason why it should not be good enough for this one.

Amendments 18 and 19 involve oversight by prosecutors and would require criminal conduct authorisations to be shared with prosecutors before they take effect, to allow for proper independent oversight of these decisions. The amendments cover the same sort of grounds as many others have in their amendments, most notably the Mother of the House, and I believe the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) will cover this in her contributions. They all come to the same point that there has to be independent oversight where matters are as serious as this.

Amendments 16 and 17 deal with the number of different bodies that can be authorised under the Bill as it currently stands. At present, it extends well beyond the obvious candidates and includes: MI5, the police, the security services, the Food Standards Agency, the Gambling Commission, and the Department of Health and Social Care. With these amendments, we seek to reduce the list to the National Crime Agency, the Serious Fraud Office and the intelligence services.

Mr Evans, you and I have visited an abattoir in the past and we know that there is plenty of blood in an abattoir already without actually adding to it by empowering meat inspectors to be authorised to spill even more of it. We all know, as we complete our tax returns every year, that taxation can be a tortuous business, but I do not think that we should be giving the taxman the power to apply the thumbscrews.

The need for these extra bodies to be given authorisation under these provisions has never been properly explained from the Treasury Bench. Their inclusion demeans the seriousness of those acts, especially by the security services, the police and the Serious Fraud Office that could well be required to use them in very difficult circumstances. It looks to me, almost certainly, as if these provisions have been put in the Bill with a view to giving up the fight when the Bill gets to the other place, which, I suggest, demonstrates a lack of respect not just for them, but for this House as well.

Finally, I wish to touch on other amendments that have been moved by other right hon. Members. I have added my name to the one from the Mother of the House covering the approval of the judicial commissioner and the one removing economic interest grounds and I support their inclusion in the Bill. Amendment 13 in the name of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), which removes murder, torture and others, would be one of the most obvious amendments that could be made to this Bill to render it genuinely fit for purpose. It is the purpose of this Bill that commands unity; it is the detail of it that requires still so much improvement.

--- Later in debate ---
Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), and I agree with much of what he has said. I think there is agreement in this Chamber that we need this legislation, because the hallmark of a grown-up democracy is that it does not shy away from taking the necessary actions to keep a country safe, and nor does it say, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” This legislation puts on a statutory footing those practices that are part and parcel of security in this country. The question for all of us is whether it also provides the necessary accountability and oversight to ensure that they are just. I recognise that covid and the speed with which this legislation has been brought through militate against our doing our job properly on this, because we are doing it so quickly, but today I want to flag up one particular issue of concern. I suspect that it will be in the other place that we will see progress on these issues.

We know that this is a narrow Bill with a specific role around criminal conduct. I also recognise and understand the concerns that my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) raised—I am sorry that she is no longer in her place—about the ongoing inquiries and the timing of this legislation. I hope the Minister will address those points in his comments and tell us what the Government would do, should those inquiries come back with further requirements for support. I also want to put on record my support for amendment 13 and for the Front-Bench amendments from my own party.

We recognise that there are genuine concerns about the Human Rights Act. In other debates in this place, people have talked about rewriting the Act, and I hope the Minister will deal with that issue. Also, it is a circular argument to suggest that the practices set out in amendment 13 and the amendments from my own Front Bench are already covered, if the Government will not accept amendments to ensure that they are part of how this legislation is dealt with.

I also hope that the Minister will talk about the equalities impact of the legislation. I represent a community that has, at best, a tangled relationship with many of the agencies that will have these powers. We are in a position of privilege in this House, so it is right and proper that we have oversight of those who do not share those same benefits.

I rise to speak in particular to new clause 8—especially the issue at the heart of this legislation, which for me is about the people who can consent to be a covert human intelligence source. It is worth looking at the definition:

“Someone who maintains a relationship for the covert purpose of providing information to another person”—

that is, not just someone who has a one-off conversation with our security services or police about something, but someone who is asked to maintain what is potentially a position of harm to support an investigation.

The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden talked about the James Bond code. In most of our discussions about CHIS, we have envisaged those James Bond figures—the people from our security services or police conducting covert investigations. But I want to talk about those who are not the James Bonds: the children and vulnerable people who become covert human intelligence sources and who need us to make sure in this legislation that they are properly protected.

For the last year, there has been a legal challenge to the Government about how children have been used as covert human intelligence sources. It was settled last week in the High Court, when the Government agreed to update their guidance and code of practice on how children could be involved in this legislation. It is worth taking a step back at this point to reflect on that: we are talking about young people—children being asked to do what we previously envisaged James Bond doing. I hope that I am pushing at an open door with the Minister with the new clause because that code of practice and the recognition at the High Court that there was a case to answer reflect the fact that we need to get this right.

Our first instinct may be that no child should ever be involved in intelligence work in this way, and I sympathise with that. But when we look into the cases where it has happened, we see that there may be exceptional circumstances in which a child may become an informant. It is right, therefore, that we should have incredibly strict guidelines that have the interests of that child at heart when that happens. I am open to the idea that understanding what constitutes those exceptional circumstances is very difficult, but the new clause comes from the belief that the child’s primary interests should be, as a matter of fact, at the heart of any engagement with state services.

Let us talk for a minute about the children we are discussing. For many of us who represent communities where issues such as county lines are a real problem, they are the children in the gangs and those who have been part of child sexual exploitation, who may know valuable information and have relationships with those exploiting them. For the police and the security services, they become incredibly valuable sources of information.

Those are important investigations—nobody is suggesting otherwise. But the new clause recognises that there may be a conflict of interest between the investigation and the best interests of an incredibly vulnerable person. A young child drawn into county lines who knows the people organising things and has been given a gun—I can think of such cases—is still a child. We have a duty to that child to ensure that they are not exploited, even if people feel that the investigation is merited.

The Minister will say that that happens very rarely. The Government’s own figures show that 17 children in 11 jurisdictions were used in this way in the past couple of years. One of them was just 15—a 15-year-old child being asked to continue a relationship that puts them at harm because that helps an investigation. What troubled me was that one of the other Ministers told the court that we should actually make more use of children in such circumstances—that they could be valuable because they were getting involved in criminal activity themselves.

Again, take a step back and think that through. In other parts of our legislation, we recognise that when children engage in harmful practices it is our duty to stop that. Yet in that court case and this process with CHIS, Ministers are saying, “Actually, we might want to maintain that because it will help with an investigation”—the children would have “unique access” as “juvenile undercover agents”. They are children, Minister, and it is absolutely right that we act to protect them and see them as children first. That is what new clause 8 seeks to do.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will respond to the hon. Lady formally in my winding-up speech, but I would like to stress that all public authorities that task juvenile CHIS must have regard to their safety, welfare and wellbeing, as required under sections 10 and 11 of the Children Act 2004 and the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. It is important that I state that. The hon. Lady is making some important points, which I am listening to intently, but I think it is right that I put that on the record.

--- Later in debate ---
Conor McGinn Portrait Conor McGinn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I always take seriously the advice of a senior and distinguished Member of the House. I am confident that, given the amendments that we have tabled today, as the Bill makes further progress through the House, our colleagues in the other place will be cognisant and take note of that. That is why we are asking the Government to listen carefully to what we propose in our amendments.

In that vein, I give my strong support to new clause 5, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy). It seeks to ensure that a CCA cannot be applied to a trade union and, specifically, to blacklisted workers. Of course, it was the previous Labour Government who made blacklisting illegal in 2010.

On the issue of oversight and accountability, I wish briefly to mention new clause 3, which was tabled by the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and members of the Intelligence and Security Committee. With the additional scrutiny, oversight and accountability that are at the heart of the right hon. Gentleman’s sensible proposal, the Secretary of State would be compelled, at the end of each relevant 12-month period, to make a report to the ISC that contains key information on both the number of CCAs authorised and the categories of the conduct authorised. That seems to me to be an eminently reasonable and sensible proposal.

On new clause 2, given the nature of some of the networks that the Bill looks to disrupt, there are clear concerns about its impact on communities and vulnerable individuals throughout our country. One important example is the gendered impact of actions taken by covert human intelligence sources. The Minister must commit, today, that the Government will seek to uphold the highest possible standards on gender impact.

New clause 8 was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). I have some experience of campaigning with her and know how formidable she can be on these issues. Her new clause raises another crucial point, which is the need to safeguard the welfare of children, vulnerable individuals and victims of modern slavery and trafficking. It would achieve that by ensuring that a CCA is authorised for a child or vulnerable adult only in certain exceptional circumstances, and by ensuring that an appropriate adult is present at meetings between the source and those representing the investigating authority.

As outlined in new clause 2, we propose to compel the Secretary of State to prepare and publish an annual equality impact assessment on the use of criminal conduct authorisations in covert operations involving women, children and black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. A motion should then be put to the House within three months of the assessment being published.

In conclusion, the Opposition are committed to working in the national interest to keep people, their families, our communities and the country safe. I entirely understand that some colleagues on both sides of the Chamber have an interpretation of what the Bill does that is different from mine and have arrived at a different view. I think they are wrong, but that does not mean that I do not respect the arguments they put forward. That is particularly the case in relation to my hon. Friend—and my actual friend—the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden). He will know that I once resigned on a point of principle. I hold him and his family in high esteem. The decision he took today to make the points he made was a difficult one. He has my respect, continuing friendship and affection.

This is uncomfortable territory for the whole House. Many of the issues raised by the Bill are felt deeply personally. All I would say, gently, is that those who oppose the Bill in its entirety do not have the monopoly on principles, nor are they the sole moral arbiters when it comes to forming a view on the measures in the Bill. The position reached by the Leader of the Opposition—who literally wrote the book on human rights—and me is a principled one and comes after careful consideration and detailed discussion of the Bill.

It is also our view that we have a duty, as legislators, to meet our responsibility and acknowledge that it is not just the Government who have to make difficult decisions. We want to be in government so we have to take difficult decisions, too. When we are in government, we will return to the Bill based on the principles that I have outlined. That is why we have taken the approach that we have taken: to acknowledge the importance of putting CHIS activities on a statutory footing; to robustly and responsibly scrutinise the way in which that is done; and to place national security, human rights and support for victims at the centre of our attempts to improve the safeguards in the Bill. We will continue to do that as it progresses through Parliament and are confident that the other place will assist us in that task if our amendments are not made today.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This has been a very informed, considered and thoughtful debate on the various amendments to the Bill that have been tabled for consideration. As right hon. and hon. Members will know, covert human intelligence sources play a crucial part in preventing, and safeguarding the public from, many very serious crimes, including terrorism, drugs and firearms offences, and child sexual exploitation and abuse. In performing that role, it is essential that they can build credibility and gain the trust of those under investigation. At times, that may mean they have to commit criminality in order to maintain that cover.

I hear very clearly the points that have been made about needing to see those powers put on an express legal basis. Indeed, that is the essence of what this Bill is all about. It puts that on a clear statutory footing, putting beyond doubt Parliament’s intentions on the matter. From the contributions we have heard on all sides of the House, I think that that point is recognised—the seriousness of that and its implications for our own security in ensuring that the capability is maintained in order to keep us safe in the future, as it has done in the past, but also recognising the need for confidence in and assurance about how those agencies that act to protect us do so in an appropriate way.

Let me deal with the various amendments, because I do want to make as much progress on that as possible, and where I can I will give way to right hon. and hon. Members in doing so. First, in that context, there is the issue of oversight. The Government’s priority is to provide these public authorities with the powers they need to keep the public safe, while also ensuring that there are appropriate safeguards. This is the balance that the Bill seeks to provide. We do not believe that prior judicial approval, as proposed in amendment 7 and new clause 7, strikes that balance, as it risks the effective operation of the capability. This is a point we discussed at length on Second Reading. There are ways in which we can provide that safeguard and assurance, and prior judicial approval is not the only way to provide effective oversight of investigatory powers.

Members may find it helpful if I set out in more detail why this capability is different from other powers, such as interception or equipment interference. Put simply, human beings are more complex. Any decision on how to use a CHIS has immediate real-world consequences for that covert human intelligence source and the people around them. This requires deep expertise and close consideration of the personal strengths and weaknesses of the individual, which then enables very precise and safe tasking. These are not decisions that have the luxury of being remade. It is even more critical than for other powers that these decisions are right and are made at the right time.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is not the plain truth of the matter that if we define the role and method of those whose mission is to keep us safe who are covertly operating on our behalf, we will, among those they have infiltrated, make known what they are doing and possibly who they are, putting their lives at risk? Is not the principal power and the pivotal power of Government to protect their people? Indeed, it is the defining power of the state.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend makes a very powerful and important point about the issues at stake here. That is why we judge that there is, of course, a need for robust oversight to give confidence and to ensure that the powers available here are done in the right way, and we judge that the proposals in the amendments do not achieve that and actually have an impact on the operational effectiveness of what is needed.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister will know that many of us are concerned about new section 29B(5)(b) and (c) in clause 1(5). He has rightly stressed the importance of clarity, but it seems to many of us that the clarity around the words “preventing disorder” and around what constitutes “the economic well-being of the United Kingdom”, such that a criminal conduct authorisation can be given, is very vague indeed. He rightly insists on clarity, so could we have it here, please?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The language that is used in what would become new subsection 5 of section 29B is reflective of existing provisions within the Investigatory Powers Act. I will go into more detail on the hon. Gentleman’s point about disorder and economic wellbeing.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The point made by the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) was dealt with very ably earlier in the debate by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) under reference to the letter from the previous DPP, when he said that this was a bit of a Sopranos argument. Our Five Eyes partners manage to delineate the crimes that a CHIS can commit without having these worries, so isn’t this really a false worry?

--- Later in debate ---
James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that the hon. and learned Lady was unable to partake in the Second Reading debate, but I will repeat what I said there. We are not suggesting that there is routine testing of suspected CHIS in all criminal gangs, but there is evidence that it does occur more than infrequently, so this is not a fanciful argument. This is a matter that we take very seriously and one that I think is relevant. I would just pick up on the constructive discussions that we have had with the Scottish Government and I can say to her that it still remains my firm intention that we should reach a position where a legislative consent motion can be achieved. I can certainly assure her and her colleagues in the Scottish Government that we will continue with our discussions in order to reach that conclusion.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that the Minister has a lot of faith in the security services, but some of us know too much about them to have any faith in them. If this Government have so much faith in the behaviour of the security services, why will they not announce a full public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate the seriousness of the point that the hon. Gentleman has made, and he will know more than anyone in this Chamber about the huge issues involved and, equally, about the statements that have been made by the Government in relation to that appalling murder. I am sure there will be other opportunities to debate that matter further, but I hear the point that he makes. Obviously, this has been considered at length before, but that does not in any way cut across the statements that the Government have made in condemning, underlining and apologising for what happened.

The use of the CHIS—the covert human intelligence source—does, as I say, underline the need for this oversight to be provided by an experienced and highly trained authorising officer, but it is about more than that. It is about the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who already has wide-ranging powers to support him to carry out his oversight functions, and about the real role that he has. This is why we judge that deep and retrospective oversight is the most appropriate way to provide oversight of this power. This includes regular and thorough inspections of all public authorities that use the power, to ensure that they are complying with the law and following good practice. The frequency of these inspections is decided by the commissioner, and inspectors must have unfettered access to documents and information to support those functions.

Amendment 12 from the Opposition would require a judicial commissioner to be notified of an authorisation within seven days of its being granted. I have underlined the role of the commissioner, which means that we will not support the amendment today. We also believe that amendment 7 and new clause 6 would impact on the operability of the regime. However, I can say to all hon. and right hon. Members that I am giving careful consideration to how this retrospective oversight could be strengthened further, and to how this might be addressed in the Bill’s passage in the other place.

Amendments 18 and 19 relate to oversight by prosecutors. A correctly granted authorisation will render conduct lawful for all purposes, so no crime will have been committed. There is therefore no need to introduce a requirement for prosecuting authorities to play a role in the authorisation process. However, the IPC, supported by judicial commissioners and inspectors, ensures public authorities’ compliance with the law through inspections and investigations. That could lead to information being passed to prosecutors if they felt that that was necessary. I would also highlight that where a CHIS commits criminality outside the tight parameters granted by the authorisation, prosecutors can consider a prosecution in the normal way.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister be addressing the point that I put to him about operations overseas and the application of the Human Rights Act? That is important.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UK will comply with obligations under the Human Rights Act, including when they arise extraterritorially. The UK is also bound by obligations under international human rights law.

I wanted to speak to the new clause tabled by the Intelligence and Security Committee and I thank its members for their support for the Bill. I think that underlines the role for the ISC in the scrutiny that they apply. Indeed, as the Minister who took the Justice and Security Act 2013 through Parliament, I recognised, in the creation of that Committee, its role in providing that rightful scrutiny and confidence in relation to this matter. I welcome the spirit with which new clause 3 has been tabled to emphasise the important role of the Committee, which I respect and appreciate.

I have written to the Committee Chair, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), to underline ways in which I believe we can provide the information that has been sought by the Committee, and I will place the letter in the Library to provide that certainty and clarity. I would say to my right hon. Friend that operational agencies will consider requests and specifics in the usual way, and I can commit to them considering that through the 2013 Act. The fact that it may relate to a live operation should not preclude that information’s being shared. I hope that that will be helpful to him in underlining the importance of the information’s being forthcoming.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Lewis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I accept that assurance in good heart. In the letter, the Minister said, “Such information as is requested in order for the ISC to provide effective oversight of these policies relating to these authorisations shall be provided to the Committee,” so I take it he is saying that we will not get refused those statistics when we want them.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I take in equally good faith the way in which my right hon. Friend and the Committee have approached this, and it is firmly my intent that information will be provided. He knows the debate and discussion over live operations and being bounded in that way, but I would want to ensure that information is given to his Committee, so that they can fulfil their oversight function and also, I think, give confidence to the House. He and his Committee have raised an important point, and I recognise the contribution that they make.

I turn to the issues of redress in relation to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), in amendment 2, the Leader of the Opposition, in new clause 1, and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland in amendments 20 and 21. Let me be clear: there is no barrier under the Bill for affected persons seeking a judicial review of a decision made by a public authority. Similarly, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal already has jurisdiction in relation to conduct to which part 2 of RIPA applies, which will include the amendments made by the Bill. I am, though, listening to concerns expressed by Members about the Bill’s potential impact on routes of redress, and I am happy to consider whether anything further is needed.

I shall now discuss the amendments that seek to place further limits on what can be authorised. The limits that other countries have chosen to place on the face of their legislation have featured prominently in this debate, as they did at Second Reading. Further to the Second Reading debate we have continued, for example, to engage with our Canadian friends with regard to their limits on the conduct of their covert human intelligence sources. The Solicitor General and I agree that it is correct to say that limits are found on the face of their legislation, but it is not straightforward to make comparisons between what we are proposing here and what might exist for other countries. We have our own legal systems; our operational partners each have their own practices and functions; and—perhaps most importantly—we have a very different threat picture.

For example, our friends and partners, such as Canada and the US, are not signatories to the European convention on human rights. We are the only members of Five Eyes that are bound by the convention and the obligations that it comes with. Again, I reference clause 1(7)—it has been focused on quite a lot during today’s debate—which makes specific reference to the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998 being taken into consideration. Placing explicit limits on the face of the Bill risks creating a specific list of prohibited activity that would place into the hands of criminals, terrorists and hostile states a means of creating a checklist, as I have explained and as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) set out so clearly in his contribution. Therefore we cannot accept amendments 8, 13 or 22.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will give way to the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown, just to be fair.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is the Minister saying that criminals will not be able to read the Human Rights Act 1998 to realise that these crimes are not permitted to be authorised, or is he saying that actually those serious crimes will be permitted to be authorised? I am confused about this contradiction that he presents us with.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I reiterate again that a covert human intelligence source is not able to commit any and all criminality. I made that point on Second Reading. There are limits to the activity that can be authorised under the Bill and they are contained within the Human Rights Act 1998. The covert human intelligence sources code of practice also sits under this legislation and provides additional guidance and safeguards that apply to the authorisation of such activity.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have two minutes left and I still have a few more amendments I would like to discuss.

On the issue of the economic wellbeing of the United Kingdom, it is an established statutory purpose for investigatory powers. It recognises that threats to the economic wellbeing of the UK could be immensely damaging. It might include the possibility of a hostile cyber-attack against our critical infrastructure, our financial institutions or the Government. Similarly, preventing disorder is an important and legitimate law enforcement function found in all investigatory powers legislation. Where illegal activity takes place, public authorities listed on the Bill have responsibility to take action that is necessary and proportionate.

Turning to new clause 8, I do not underestimate the concerns expressed about the use of juvenile or vulnerable individuals as covert human intelligence sources. There are provisions contained within the code and the guidance, as the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) knows, and I have sought to discuss those issues with her outside of this place. The provisions also highlight the role of an appropriate adult, but I will continue discussions, because I recognise that there are concerns across the House. In good faith I would be pleased to continue those discussions to see whether there are other issues there.

On the issue of undercover officers and the authorisation of sexual relations, I will reiterate what police leaders have already said publicly: it is never acceptable for an undercover operative to form an intimate sexual relationship with those they are employed to infiltrate and target or may encounter during their deployment. That conduct will never be authorised, nor must it ever be used as a tactic of deployment.

Equally, we discussed trade unions on Second Reading, and I re-emphasise that the Bill does not prevent legitimate and lawful activity, which is precisely what trade unionism is all about. That is why the code of practice is explicit on that. Indeed, section 20 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 in another context also highlights that.

We must not forget the human element of this capability. We are not talking about machines and equipment, which is why the Bill is framed in this way. They are real people who are making significant personal sacrifices, and they must be able to continue living their lives safely and securely. That is what this Bill is about. Through the information they provide, lives are saved, which is why the measures in this Bill matter so much.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The House has had a debate this afternoon that has been both good and frustrating at the same time: good because of the quality of speeches and the thoughtfulness of those who have made them; frustrating because it needed so much more time. As the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee and the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee said, this is really no way to go about this sort of business. The difficulty for the Minister is that it is counterproductive, because all he has done in railroading our proceedings today is give a green light to those at the other end of the building, who lack our democratic mandate, to crawl all over this and fillet his Bill, which they most assuredly will do. I will seek to divide the Committee and test its opinion on amendment 16, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

--- Later in debate ---
16:00

Division 138

Ayes: 256


Labour: 191
Scottish National Party: 46
Liberal Democrat: 10
Independent: 3
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Conservative: 1
Alliance: 1

Noes: 317


Conservative: 314
Democratic Unionist Party: 2
Independent: 1

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
--- Later in debate ---
16:16

Division 139

Ayes: 256


Labour: 192
Scottish National Party: 46
Liberal Democrat: 10
Independent: 3
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Conservative: 1
Alliance: 1

Noes: 316


Conservative: 312
Democratic Unionist Party: 2
Independent: 1

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
--- Later in debate ---
16:31

Division 140

Ayes: 65


Scottish National Party: 46
Liberal Democrat: 8
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Independent: 2
Democratic Unionist Party: 2
Conservative: 1
Alliance: 1

Noes: 311


Conservative: 310
Independent: 1

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
--- Later in debate ---
16:46

Division 141

Ayes: 255


Labour: 191
Scottish National Party: 46
Liberal Democrat: 10
Independent: 3
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Conservative: 1
Alliance: 1

Noes: 314


Conservative: 310
Democratic Unionist Party: 2
Independent: 1

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
--- Later in debate ---
17:02

Division 142

Ayes: 313


Conservative: 310
Democratic Unionist Party: 2
Independent: 1

Noes: 98


Scottish National Party: 46
Labour: 36
Liberal Democrat: 8
Independent: 3
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Conservative: 1
Alliance: 1

Bill read the Third time and passed.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 11th November 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 15 October 2020 - (15 Oct 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Moved by
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con) (Maiden Speech)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a pleasure to open this debate. I am struck by the importance of the legislation on which I will make my first contribution to the House.

Before commencing, I wish to express my thanks to the House for the warm welcome I have received since taking up my appointment. I owe particular debts to my supporters, my noble friends Lady Goldie and Lord McInnes, for their good humour and encouragement; to Black Rod, Garter and the clerks of Parliament for their patience and tolerance; and to my noble friend Lord Courtown for his wise guidance in the customs and practices of this place. Your Lordships will, I hope, realise that, should I offend against these, the cause lies in my obtuseness rather than in my noble friend’s instruction.

I recognise that I am filling the place of my noble and learned friend Lord Keen of Elie. I am too new in this place to speak of his reputation here, but I can say that his high standing in our profession is a consequence not only of his matchless forensic skills but of the kindness and courtesy that he shows to all and the care with which he led the Scottish Bar as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates.

I hope I will not trespass further on the patience of the House if I take the opportunity given by my maiden speech to make some reference to myself and to the place from which I have taken my title: the village of Dirleton, in East Lothian. It is a place of great beauty. Moreover, there are aspects of its history and geography which may provide your Lordships with matter for reflection.

I know that many of your Lordships are familiar with the area. Some of your Lordships may have tested your skills against the famous golf courses which lie round about. There are other diversions too: yachting and skiff rowing from North Berwick around the islands just off the coast, which fired the imagination of the young Robert Louis Stevenson. The islands may be viewed from the fine beaches, looking across to the Kingdom of Fife at magnificent and ever-changing vistas of sea and sky.

All sorts of sporting clubs and associations of other sorts flourish. At the recreation ground and elsewhere in North Berwick, I played bowls, hockey, football, rugby, highland games, tennis and, not least, cricket—a sport which suffers in East Lothian not so much from want of enthusiasm among its players but from the shortness of the season and the unpredictability of the weather.

Dirleton lies in an area of rich, fertile soil, and we can anticipate that our farmers may soon be able to take advantage of new opportunities arising out of the implementation by this Government of their popular mandate. We can anticipate, too, that more boats may set out along the waters of the Firth of Forth to work fisheries which will be richer, better managed and replenished by the more directed and more sustainable management policies which the policy of this Government will allow to be established.

The village of Dirleton features the castle—set in beautifully landscaped grounds—a village green, a primary school and two hotels, where visitors may regain their strength ahead of more sightseeing. The parish church in Dirleton dates from the 17th century. Inside is a list of the names of those of the parish who fell in two world wars. The church is set in surroundings of especial beauty, north of the village green and north of another smaller green, on which stands the war memorial where, again, the names of those who fell are inscribed.

This 11th day of the 11th month brings to mind those names on the war memorial, so familiar to me from their being called over at Remembrance Sundays. Some are the names of families who flourish in East Lothian to this day. But today calls to mind also those others who lie in the churchyard and the cemetery on the way out of the village—names from the rest of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and allied countries. Those graves remind us of service and sacrifice in a common cause to preserve our institutions and to keep alive our common hope for a brighter future. We will remember that the sacrifice in that common cause continued after those great wars were brought to an end, and continues today—sacrifice of life, of mental health and of emotional well-being.

Watching the business of the House and the range of expertise and experience your Lordships bring to the scrutiny of that business, I am conscious of the honour done to me by admission to your number. I am conscious, too, that I have no family history of service in this place, as do some of your Lordships, and that I have been appointed to my place, whereas many of your Lordships come here after having sought and won popular mandates from electors, whether in local or devolved government or in the other place. But I seek to assure your Lordships that in my role as law officer, I will seek not only to uphold the law but to try to maintain the spirit and traditions of your Lordships’ House.

The legislation we bring forward is a necessary piece of legislation; it will ensure that our intelligence agencies, law enforcement bodies and those public authorities that also have vital investigative functions are able to continue to deploy tools they need to keep us safe from harm and to prevent serious crime. The recent incidents in Nice and Vienna, and the increase in the threat level here in the UK, show that the need for robust tools with which to tackle terrorism remains as important as ever.

Covert human intelligence sources—I will use the convenient, if inelegant, acronym, CHIS—are agents: undercover officers who help to secure prosecutions by infiltrating criminal and terrorist groups. This technique has been used to disrupt terrorist plots, including one by Zakariyah Rahman against the then Prime Minister in 2017; drugs offences, including enabling the largest ever seizure of heroin destined for the United Kingdom in 2019; and child sexual exploitation and abuse, including attempts by individuals to take indecent images of children.

It is appropriate to reflect today on the role that our intelligence agencies play in war and conflict. A notable success of the intelligence agencies was the discovery and arrest of German spies in the United Kingdom at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914—a success built on the effective use of what we now call CHIS, alongside other techniques. The courage and ingenuity of the double-cross network, a CHIS network which did much to protect allied lives in the Second World War, often at grave cost, comes to mind also as we pause to remember today.

In order to build credibility and the trust of those under investigation, there are occasions where CHIS may need to participate in criminality themselves. This is an inescapable feature of CHIS use. Without this, it would not be possible to utilise CHIS as an intelligence tactic. The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill seeks to ensure that there is a clear and consistent statutory basis to authorise participation in conduct which could otherwise be criminal, where this is necessary and proportionate to what is sought to be achieved. Let me say at the outset that the purpose of this Bill is not to extend the range of activity which public authorities are able to authorise—the Bill does not do this.

The Bill amends the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to provide an express power to authorise CHIS to participate in conduct that, but for the authorisation, could be criminal. This is known as a criminal conduct authorisation. The effect of an authorisation is to make the conduct lawful for all purposes. I recognise that this is a departure from the existing approach, whereby authorised criminality can still be considered for prosecution by the prosecution services. This approach is a deliberate policy decision. It aligns with other investigatory powers and the approach taken elsewhere in RIPA, including other CHIS authorisations. It also provides greater certainty for CHIS that they will not be prosecuted for activity the state has asked them to commit. We think it is right and fair to provide this certainty, and it may also help to recruit and retain CHIS in the future and maximise the intelligence we can gather through this technique.

Of course, this is not a blanket immunity from any criminal prosecution. Criminal conduct authorisations are tightly bound with strict parameters which are clearly communicated to the CHIS. A CHIS will never be given authority to participate in all or any criminality and were they to engage in criminality beyond their authorisation they could be prosecuted in the usual way.

While it is right to provide this certainty to CHIS and to their handlers, it is of course important—vital—that this is subject to robust and independent safeguards. Let me briefly set out how the Bill ensures this.

All authorisations are granted by an experienced and highly trained authorising officer, who will ensure that the authorisation has strict parameters and is clearly communicated to the CHIS. Authorising officers have clear and detailed guidance that they must follow in deciding whether to grant an authorisation. We have published draft updates to the code of practice alongside this Bill that sets out some of that detail. I encourage all noble Lords to read that. The updates to the code will be subject to a full consultation and debate in both Houses in due course.

Authorisations are then subject to robust, independent oversight by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner—the IPC—who conducts regular and thorough inspections of all public authorities and published an annual report of his findings. The IPC sets the frequency of these inspections himself, and public authorities must provide unfettered access to documents and information. The IPC will report on the use of criminal conduct authorisations in his annual report, and this will identify any errors, provide statistics on the use of the tactic and may identify whether there are any training needs. Public authorities must take steps to implement recommendations given by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office—IPCO—with progress assessed at the next inspection. The IPC also has powers to provide independent remedy; for instance, to inform a person if they have been the subject of a serious error, or to refer a matter to the independent Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

I know that some will think that we need to enhance the role of the IPC in this process. The Government are committed to ensuring that there is robust oversight of criminal conduct authorisations, but that this is not at the expense of ensuring that the tactic remains operationally workable and reflects the live and complex human elements of CHIS, which we do not see in our other investigatory powers. For this reason, we do not think that prior judicial approval is appropriate for this tactic and believe that the authorising role best sits with the highly trained authorising officer within the public authority, as it does at present. The authorising officer will be able to consider the necessity and proportionality of the conduct, but will also consider the safety of the CHIS and the human element of the specific situation. The IPC then provides an important retrospective oversight function, which I have set out.

I want also to draw attention to the additional safeguards in place for vulnerable individuals and juveniles. These safeguards are clearly set out in the CHIS code of practice. It makes clear, for example, that juveniles or those who are vulnerable are authorised as CHIS only in exceptional circumstances. However, there may be occasions when these individuals are able to provide intelligence to disrupt criminal groups. I know that might sound uncomfortable, but it might be necessary to stop criminal groups continuing to exploit those individuals and prevent anyone else being drawn into them. In these instances, significant additional safeguards are in place to ensure that the best interests of the juvenile are a primary consideration in all operations. Those are set out in detail in the code of practice, which has legal force and includes a requirement for an appropriate adult to be present at all meetings where a CHIS is under the age of 16 and to be considered for 16 and 17 year-olds, and the rationale documented if an appropriate adult is not present.

I turn briefly to the upper limits of conduct that can be authorised. These are contained in the Human Rights Act 1998. It is unlawful for any public authority to act in a way incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and the legislation makes clear that nothing in the Bill detracts from a public authority’s obligations under the Human Rights Act. We have not drawn up a list of specific crimes that may be authorised or prohibited as to do so would place into the hands of criminals, terrorists and hostile states a means of identifying a CHIS, creating a checklist for suspected CHIS to be tested against. That would threaten the future of CHIS capability and result in an increased threat to the public. We have taken this approach in response to a detailed assessment of the specific threats we face in this country. No two countries face the same threat picture or, indeed, have identical legal systems. In particular, we must consider the specific counterterrorist effort in Northern Ireland. However, through the safeguards and the independent oversight that sits alongside an authorisation, there are checks in place to ensure that no activity is authorised that is in breach of human rights obligations or, indeed, activity that is not necessary or proportionate.

Let me, finally, just pause on the list public authorities that can authorise this activity. The number of public authorities able to authorise this conduct has been restricted from those that can authorise the use and conduct of CHIS generally. We expect wider public authorities to be low-volume users of this power because an authorisation can be granted only where it is necessary and proportionate to what is sought to be achieved. However, there will be occasions where CHIS play a critical role in providing the intelligence needed for these wider public authorities to identify and prevent criminal activity. These authorisations will be subject to the same safeguards and independent oversight I have already outlined, including by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. We have published case studies that give examples of the use of this tactic by wider public authorities. I give the example of where the Food Standards Agency may authorise a CHIS to participate in criminal conduct. This may relate to the relabelling of produce to misrepresent its quality and fitness for consumption. Those are criminal offences, but by authorising a CHIS to participate in this activity the Food Standards Agency might be able to gather intelligence to seize unfit produce and identify those responsible for the fraudulent activity.

It has been a pleasure to make my maiden remarks on this issue. I am of the strong view that this Bill is both necessary to ensure that our operational agencies are able to keep us safe, and welcome in that it provides legal clarity through an express power and sets out the robust safeguards to ensure that an authorisation is tightly bound, necessary and proportionate. CHIS do a difficult and important job in providing intelligence that other investigatory tools cannot access. This Bill provides certainty that operational agencies can continue to utilise this tactic and that they are able to best ensure that they keep us all safe. I beg to move.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank noble Lords not only for speaking in this debate but for some of the discussions that we had prior to the debate. They were very thoughtful and constructive. I look forward to exploring some of the issues that were raised today in further detail in Committee.

I have the very nice job of starting by thanking all three speakers who made their maiden speeches today. They were all excellent and quite different. All three noble Lords will be a great asset to this House. I start with my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart of Dirleton. It was an absolutely superb speech—almost poetic. It transported us for a brief moment into the beautiful area where he lives, and I am sure that in future he will regale us further with some of his words. He has clearly had a glittering career and it seems that he has another one to come. If he is from the same faculty of advocates as my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, I know that he will be an excellent asset to your Lordships’ House.

My noble friend Lord McLoughlin has spent 33 years in Parliament, 30 of which have been on the Front Bench. I must confess that he looks very good on it. If I had to do another 23 years, I think that I would have to be carried out. He has had a great career, having spent 17 years as a Whip, and also as Transport Secretary and chairman of the Conservative Party. One of my favourite things that I have at home is a little postcard of his election where he is wearing his miner’s hat. I know that he will be a great contributor to your Lordships’ House. I am delighted to hear that he is a fan of HS2; he knows my views as a fellow fan.

Finally, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walney, was absolutely wonderful. I want to put on the record that I think he is a brave and principled man. As the noble Lord, Lord Mann, said, he stood up for his colleagues when others did not, and that is a great accolade. He has shown independence of character, spirit and strength through what he has suffered for probably far too long, but I think that he knows that in this House he is surrounded by friends on all sides. I look forward to hearing some of his views on nuclear submarines, coastal erosion and other things.

I thank all three noble Lords, who made great speeches today. They have set the tone for the debate in many ways.

I think that we are all in agreement—bar perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, who I do not think will support anything that we put forward—that we need to ensure that our intelligence agencies, police and public authorities have access to the correct tools to allow them successfully to safeguard the public from criminal and terrorist groups that would seek to do us harm and undermine our way of life here in the United Kingdom. The raising of the UK’s threat level to severe last week reminds us all of the threats that we continue to face as a nation. I give my thanks to those in the public authorities, who work so hard and often put their lives on the line on behalf of us all to keep us all safe.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, started his speech by outlining the number of terrorist attacks that have been thwarted since 2017. As he said, there have been 27, nine every year. This activity saves lives. He also pointed out CHIS activity in the NCA disruptions that we have seen in the last year, as well as proscribed organisation infiltration—as he said, the Bill brings into law things that have been going on for years—and we thank all those concerned.

One of the major topics of discussion has been on safeguards and oversight of activity. They have rightly been a recurring topic. I pay tribute to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and his team of judicial commissioners. They provide rigorous oversight of all our investigatory powers, including covert human intelligence sources, and will continue to play an important role under the Bill. On the percentage of authorisations currently overseen by the IPC—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead—the IPC is able to examine any authorisation, and he sets the frequency of those inspections.

There have been calls for prior judicial approval by commissioners, including from the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Beith. The Bill currently replicates the existing model, whereby any criminal activity undertaken by a CHIS, as I will now call them, is signed off by an authorising officer, who is highly trained and experienced. They will know the CHIS, not just as anonymous assets but human beings with unique strengths and, of course, weaknesses. The officer will know the context in which the CHIS are operating, including the risk to the CHIS themselves and the public. Authorising officers are best placed to make that judgment on whether the proposed criminality will meet the necessity and proportionality threshold, while considering the specific duty of care for the CHIS and the specific live environment. However, we have been clear that if there are ways in which to provide greater reassurance on the safeguards and independent oversight of the regime, while ensuring that it does not affect the operational workability of the tactic, the Government are willing to consider that issue. I listened very carefully to the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Carlile, and would welcome a further opportunity to discuss the matter with them.

The noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, also asked about oversight by the Intelligence and Security Committee. It might be helpful for me to repeat the commitment made by the Security Minister in the other place in a letter lodged in the Library, which he stated that, in line with its remit and the provisions of the Justice and Security Act, such information as is requested in order for the ISC to provide effective oversight of these policies shall be provided to the committee.

Virtually every noble Lord who spoke raised the subject of the use of children and vulnerable people as CHIS. It is an uncomfortable area, and I agree that it is imperative that we ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place for the rare occasions—I repeat they are rare—where there is a need to authorise young or vulnerable people to participate in criminality. This may be necessary to stop criminal gangs from continuing to exploit those individuals and prevent others from being drawn into them. Noble Lords mentioned county lines gangs.

The then Investigatory Powers Commissioner previously confirmed that, in practice, juveniles are not tasked to participate in criminality in which they are not already involved, and that decisions to authorise are made only where that is the best option for breaking the cycle of crime and the danger for the young person.

The use of juvenile CHIS and additional safeguards have been debated previously in this House and the courts. We will extend those safeguards to ensure that they also apply in any proposed authorisation of criminal conduct. Juveniles and vulnerable individuals will be authorised to act as CHIS only in exceptional circumstances. This is emphasised in changes to the CHIS code of practice, a draft of which has been published alongside the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, please read it because not only is it a good document but it will be subject to full consultation and debate in both Houses. The safeguards are also set out in statute in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Juveniles) Order 2000, which was debated by this House in 2018 and subsequently updated.

Let me be clear in response to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel: the code has legal force, so any authorisation must legally comply with the safeguards in it. The circumstances under which juveniles and vulnerable persons are asked to undertake criminal activity will be tightly controlled and subject to stringent risk assessments that will account for and seek to mitigate the risks of physical and psychological harm to them. All individuals will be risk-assessed, and their individual circumstances considered, before being tasked as a CHIS. Victims of crime will never be coerced into becoming a CHIS, but in some cases they may decide that they wish to play a role in bringing perpetrators to justice.

Any authorisation of juveniles requires a more senior level of authorising officer and a shorter authorising period, with reviews of the authorisation taking place at least monthly. For any juvenile CHIS under the age of 16, an appropriate adult must attend all meetings with the handlers. These safeguards seek to ensure that juveniles are appropriately protected when they play a vital role in undermining and disrupting the criminal or terrorist groups that seek to exploit them. I recognise that it is very important that noble Lords and the wider public have confidence that we have the right safeguards in place. I am very happy to discuss this further.

Many noble Lords talked about the limits. An authorisation will be tightly bound and specific. In response to the noble Lord, Lord West, I can confirm that this Bill will not widen the scope of activity which can be authorised. However, I appreciate why some noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Rosser, question why we cannot clearly write in the Bill the crimes that CHIS will never be authorised to commit, as is the case in Canada.

Every country has its own unique circumstances, be they in legal systems, public bodies or threat picture. The United Kingdom is the only Five Eyes country that is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. We also have our own threat picture; the unique challenges we face in Northern Ireland in particular mean that our operational partners advise that CHIS testing is a very real possibility. However, there are limits to the conduct which can be authorised under this Bill, and they can be found in the Human Rights Act. This is set out explicitly in the Bill.

The requirement for conduct to be necessary and proportionate also places limits on what can be authorised. I emphasise the point on necessity and proportionality: an authorisation can be granted only if it is considered necessary for one of three statutory purposes and proportionate to prevent more serious criminality. Within this framework, I assure noble Lords—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Hain—that nothing in the Bill will prevent or limit legitimate and lawful activity, including activity by political groups or trade unions. The noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Mann, pointed that out very well.

I also stress that our operational partners have publicly stated—I reiterated this the other day—that it is never acceptable for an undercover operative to form an intimate sexual relationship with anyone they are tasked to investigate or may encounter during their deployment. The conduct will never be authorised; nor must it ever be used as a tactic of deployment.

I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts that while the activity that will be authorised under the Bill is UK-focused, the same safeguards will apply for authorisations for both UK and overseas activity. A CHIS will never be given authority to commit any and all crimes. The UK complies with all obligations under the Human Rights Act and is also bound by obligations under international human rights law.

I turn briefly to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about the potential for the Bill to have a disproportionate impact on women or members of BME communities. These characteristics will never be a consideration in why a person is under investigation.

I turn to the issue of redress. Authorisations are very tightly bound and, as part of the necessity and proportionality test, collateral damage will be considered. This minimises the risk of those who are not the intended subject of the operation being impacted. In the rare case that an individual is unintentionally impacted, there are number of routes for redress available to them to challenge the validity or lawfulness of the authorisation and seek appropriate remedy. An affected person could seek a judicial review of a public authority’s decision to authorise criminal conduct. The Investigatory Powers Tribunal also has jurisdiction to investigate and determine complaints against a public authority’s use of this power, and any person or organisation is able to make a complaint to the IPT. The Investigatory Powers Commission also has an obligation to inform a person of a serious error that relates to them, where it is in the public interest. This would include situations where the commissioner considers that the error has caused significant prejudice or harm to the person concerned.

Moving to the range of public authorities, there were diametrically opposed views—that there were too many and not enough—but all those included in the Bill already have the power to authorise the use and conduct of CHIS, and we have restricted the number of public authorities able to then authorise participation in criminal conduct based on operational need. I welcome, in particular, the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on this issue. I urge noble Lords to read the case studies that I think I provided yesterday to explain why these public authorities require the use of this power. All public authorities will receive appropriate training to ensure that authorising officers understand the strict necessity and proportionality parameters that must be met before authorising a CCA, and will be subject to independent oversight provided by IPCO.

On immunity, and the point raised by several noble Lords that we should simply continue to leave decisions on the prosecution of CHIS to the CPS or other prosecuting bodies, it seems unfair and unreasonable for the state to ask an individual to engage in difficult and potentially dangerous work while leaving open the possibility of the state prosecuting them for the exact same conduct. That tension has existed for many years and it is right that we use the Bill to resolve it. It is also undesirable to create an express power for public authorities to authorise activity that remains criminal. I refer noble Lords to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, on this point, but I reassure noble Lords that if a CHIS were to undertake criminal activity that fell outside the strict parameters of a CCA, that will have been clearly explained to the CHIS by their handlers. The prosecuting authorities are in a position to consider whether to bring a prosecution. This has been done before and will be done again if required.

I am committed to ensure that Members of this House and the wider public can have confidence that there is not an unfettered and unlimited power for public authorities to authorise criminality. The legislation certainly does not do that, but it is right that we debate and consider the safeguards and the oversight in place. We must ensure that we do not pass legislation that unnecessarily restricts our operational agencies from utilising the tactics they need to keep us safe. That is the balance that this Bill seeks to strike, and the key principle that we should be operating to. This is important and necessary legislation and I look forward to debating and considering it further.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 24th November 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 144(Corr)-I(Corr)(a) Amendments for Committee (for Second Marshalled List) - (24 Nov 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As drafted, the Bill refers to criminal conduct as conduct

“in the course of, or otherwise in connection with”

the conduct of a covert human intelligence source, and as

“conduct by or in relation to the person”

who is specified as the covert human intelligence source. As has been said, the amendments would establish that criminal conduct is conduct by the covert human intelligence source in the absence of any explanation as to why the additional words to which I have referred are needed, and what the consequences would be, and for whom, if they were not in the Bill. A further amendment in this group also puts on the face of the Bill that a criminal conduct authorisation cannot retrospectively give clearance for behaviour that has already happened before the date the authorisation is given.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights also raised these issues in its report on the Bill when it said that the definition of what amounts to “criminal conduct” for the purpose of an authorisation is wider than simply criminal activity by a covert human intelligence source, and referred to the wording which the amendments in this group would delete. The only explanation for this which the Joint Committee on Human Rights could find was in the draft code of practice, which states that

“a criminal conduct authorisation may authorise conduct by someone else ‘in relation to’ a

covert human intelligence source,

“namely those within a public authority that are involved in or affected by the authorisation.”

No doubt the Government will wish to respond in some detail setting out why the words “in connection with” and “in relation to” are essential, what exactly they mean and, giving examples, explaining why it is considered necessary to enable a public authority to authorise criminal conduct by someone other than the covert human intelligence source, which some might feel is rather at odds with the title of the Bill.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, having made my maiden remarks at Second Reading, it is a pleasure now to assist the House in scrutinising the detail of this legislation. I hope to reassure noble Lords with regard to the scope, safeguards and limits to conduct that can be authorised under a criminal conduct authorisation. I recognise the feeling of the House on the last appearance of the Bill as a recognition of the complexities and difficulties which attach to this field of criminal investigation.

With regard to the remarks by my noble friend Lord Cormack, he will perhaps recollect that when I spoke at Second Reading I recognised the inelegance of the expression “CHIS”, and I fully share his concerns about it. However, until such time as we have evolved a suitable replacement, if that is possible, I trust I will not trespass on his patience if I continue to use the expression.

The Bill is drafted to allow things to be authorised which are certainly connected to the conduct of the CHIS but not the same thing as it: actions which are connected to the activities of the CHIS but which are not the CHIS activities themselves. This is deliberate and it is to allow for activity which facilitates and supports the core conduct of the CHIS, most obviously to allow the CHIS to avoid detection in order to remain in place and to provide the intelligence needed. The purpose of the expressions “in connection with” and “in relation to” is to ensure that such activity may be authorised. This language also serves the function of ensuring that the scope of a criminal conduct authorisation is properly limited. It helps to make it clear that it is not the case that any and all criminality by a CHIS may be authorised. It cannot be some private venture that the CHIS has involved himself or herself in. The criminal conduct to be authorised must be connected to the conduct of a CHIS and to the criminal conduct authority.

--- Later in debate ---
Secondly, what is the position in relation to criminal injuries compensation schemes? If it is rendered lawful, does the victim of such a crime have the right to make a claim under the scheme? Thirdly, if it is rendered lawful, that brings to an end the right to civil liability. Why is that not a breach of the obligation on the state to protect victims of crime under the Human Rights Act? Surely, the right course is not to deprive the victims of any remedy but, if necessary and appropriate, to ensure that the CHIS, acting in accordance with a due authority, is indemnified in respect of any liability he or she may have to a victim.
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Amendments 3 and 5 from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, seek, as she said, to maintain the status quo but on a statutory footing. They would maintain the existing legal position whereby an undercover operative, a CHIS— I demur from the noble Baroness’s use of the phrase “police spy”, which, in addition to pejorative overtones, carries an undercurrent of the 19th-century Russian novel—could still be prosecuted for the activity that the state had tasked them to do.

In answer, first, to the point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, it has been a deliberate decision to draft the legislation in a way which renders correctly authorised conduct lawful in order to provide greater certainty and protection to undercover operatives—CHIS—where they are carrying out activity that they may have been authorised to undertake. To expand that in answer to the matters raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, this approach is in keeping with other powers in relation to the investigation of crime, such as interference with equipment, interference with property, and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, including an underlying Section 29 covert human intelligence source use and conduct authorisation.

As noble Lords have accepted—and they have not needed to be persuaded—our position is that it is grossly unfair and unreasonable for the state to ask an individual to engage in difficult and dangerous work to frustrate serious crimes while leaving open the possibility of the state prosecuting them for that very same conduct. That answers a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, in his contribution to the debate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has framed her argument in terms of an illustration: a passer-by breaking into a house to save a neighbour. The analogy is that, in that position, the passer-by would have had available to them legal defences, and that the undercover operative—the CHIS—should simply rely upon the discretion of prosecutors rather than enjoy at the outset the full protection of the law for activities carried out within the narrow and tightly constrained boundaries of the criminal conduct authorisation.

We consider the analogy drawn by the noble Baronesses inapposite. The CHIS is not a mere passer-by stumbling across wrong-doing, but rather is placed deliberately in the company of wrong-doers by the state to help the state, or is someone who may have come into contact with wrong-doers and gone on to offer assistance to the police or investigating authorities. In so doing, such a person will often be asked to go along with the criminal activity of those people to earn their trust, so that their criminal activity may be frustrated. They do so in the public interest and often at risk of harm. Our position is that if the state thinks that it is right to ask them to act in this way and can consider the matter in advance, it is not comparable to the situation of a member of the public acting as a good citizen, responding to an unexpected event and going to the assistance of a fellow citizen in danger.

It is a credit to the skill of the handlers, and to the commitment and trust of covert human intelligence sources, that they have been prepared to continue with the prospect of prosecution always alive. However, as we understand the situation, we must accept that we have lost intelligence and failed to recruit undercover operatives because we have not been able hitherto to give them confidence that the state will not prosecute them for the things that the state has asked them to do. This tension has existed for many years and it is right that we use the Bill to resolve it. In fact, making this legal position clear is likely to help with the recruitment and retention of human intelligence sources.

It would also be undesirable from a legal perspective to create an express power for public authorities to authorise activity which remained criminal. However, I reassure the noble Baroness that where a CHIS, or an undercover operative, commits any criminality outside the tight parameters of the authorisation, the prosecuting authorities can of course consider it in the normal way. The Bill does not prevent those impacted by an authorisation seeking redress. I include in that the matter raised by noble Lords in relation to civil redress. The Investigatory Powers Tribunal has the same powers to grant remedy as other courts.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, were concerned that the Bill may be seen as something which allows a CHIS carte blanche to commit criminal activities. That is not the case. Criminal conduct authorisations are tightly drawn. Persons acting undercover will be working within a relationship with their handler, who is trained and experienced in conducting such work, and subject to a powerful oversight regime. A CHIS will never be granted carte blanche to commit any or all crimes. This is communicated clearly to people finding themselves in that situation, appointed to that position or recruited to that position. Where a covert human intelligence source commits criminality outside the tight provisions of the authorisation, the prosecuting authorities will consider the matter in the usual way.

In response to the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Blower, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, it is the case—as I think the noble Lord acknowledged, albeit with substantial caveat—that covert human intelligence sources acting outside authorised conduct have been prosecuted in the past. The Bill ensures that that can happen in future if the boundaries of the authority under which they work are transgressed. It is precisely to combat the sort of outrages identified by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that the Bill is framed. That is why it seeks to build on the oversight of the commissioner and the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, asked about the visibility of authorisation forms and the effectiveness of the regime. I assure him and others in the Committee that there will be oversight of the new regime. That is the role the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office plays in overseeing all authorisations. That body will provide public commentary on the effectiveness of the regime as part of the reports which it prepares. It has access to all documents and all information bearing upon the CCAs about which we were speaking.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blower, spoke about the situation applying according to the law of Canada. We have looked carefully at the provisions applying in countries with legal systems similar to ours. However, similar though the legal system of Canada is, none the less there is a different regime of control, as the security imperatives in Canada are different from ours.

Finally, I shall comment on the observations by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. We consider that the status quo is not desirable in the current situation. We acknowledge the decisions in the Third Direction case. We look to place the activities of people fulfilling these necessary functions on a statutory basis. I think—if I have gauged correctly the views of the Committee—that placing these powers on a statutory footing is more or less universally considered desirable. Clearly where we will potentially be at odds is in the framing of the terms of the statute. However, my respectful conclusion is to say that the continuation of the status quo is not desirable.

For the reasons that I have identified, we consider it desirable—in spite of the qualifications and concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, and others—to render the situation whereby criminal conduct, tightly defined in individual circumstances, will be identified in advance rather than excused retrospectively.

Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have received one request, so far, to speak after the Minister. I call the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.

--- Later in debate ---
Finally, can the Minister address what my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford described as the brown envelope issue, where, for example, a member of an armed gang who is an informant appears in the dock alongside the fellow criminals and, out of sight, the judge is tipped off that the informant helped the police and so should be treated more leniently? What happens when that member of the gang does not appear in the dock with all the others, clearly giving away the fact that he is a police informant and placing his life at risk?
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Lord clearly heard what I said about the view that we have lost intelligence and failed to recruit CHIS, and that failing to introduce a power in these terms is likely to impair the recruitment and retention of CHIS. I do not have to hand the figures that he seeks, but I undertake to write to him.

On the “brown envelope” scenario, when it is drawn to the attention of a presiding judge passing sentence that a member of a criminal organisation—a gang, a conspiracy or whatever—has actively assisted the police and the investigating authorities in bringing the prosecution, it is important that we maintain a proper boundary. A person becoming aware that the police are aware of criminal activity, who elects to go to the police in their own interests in order to assist them, and by so doing earns a degree of mitigation, is very different from a person becoming a CHIS in the course of criminal activity, or one who is associated with criminal organisations for that direct and specific purpose. The noble Lord shakes his head, but I insist that we must maintain boundaries. A person who, during or prior to a prosecution, assists the prosecution and the police, is different from a person inserted into an organisation with the purpose of deriving intelligence about its activities.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, spoke about the appointment of a committee to look into these matters; as he said himself, this was a matter which occurred to him shortly before this debate. I will look into the implications and communicate further with him.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This Committee has made it a privilege to be a Member of your Lordships’ House, which today I have heard at its best, expressing with great care and detail the sheer strength, depth and wisdom of noble Lords’ concerns about the Bill in its current form. Many other noble Lords have similar concerns, but for various reasons were unable to participate. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, rightly pointed up the Northern Ireland experience, and with all matters of human rights and the rule of law, we ignore that voice and that particular experience at our peril.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, rightly pointed out that supporters of these amendments come from all sides of the House. That should give the Minister pause for thought. So much has been said in these polarised times in our nations about extremism versus moderation. Sometimes I do not even know what these words mean any more, save that the ultimate moderation that holds our nations together is the rule of law. My friend—if not my noble friend—the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, rightly describes this as a very conservative principle and tradition. However, equally for liberals and progressives, there can be no human rights or even democracy without the preservation of the rule of law.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, pointed to our legal traditions, but also made a particular point about successful work of his own at the Bar deconstructing the mens rea of someone who had no criminal intent because they were acting in the public interest; that ties in with my amendment very well indeed. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, may have used colourful language which offended the Minister, but it is how many members of the public will feel about what is being provided for here without the safeguard of the amendments that I have put forward.

My noble friend Lady Bryan was right to point up the excellent briefing from Justice. I neglected to declare an interest as a member of Justice, but I hope that noble Lords will forgive me, because I suspect that many of them, particularly noble and learned Lords, are members of that wonderful law reform organisation. My noble friend Lady Bryan made the crucial point: where are the hard cases of undercover operatives who are just doing their work and doing no more than necessary being prosecuted by rogue prosecutors against the public interest and common sense, because we have not seen them?

Of course, there is only one thing better than one Lord Thomas, and that is two Lords Thomas contributing so eloquently to a debate, particularly when one of them is the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. I will let that hang in the air for a moment, because I know that the Minister will not have ignored that very powerful intervention from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. What is wrong with the current law? Where is the evidence? How can we do our duty without the ability to examine the case for moving from the status quo that has served our nations so well in this difficult and grey area and held the ring for so long?

My noble friend Lord Hendy was absolutely right to bring up the ongoing Mitting inquiry, in which he represents some of those who have been subject to abuse of power. There have been abuses under the current law; how much greater will the possibility of abuse be if we cross this Rubicon into granting blanket advance immunities to so many agents of the state, including from the criminal fraternity?

What of the victims, as my noble friend Lady Blower so rightly pointed out? She reminded us of perhaps the greatest jurist of my lifetime: Lord Bingham, who articulated equality before the law as a vital rule of law principle. She also reminded us that Article 13 of the ECHR requires an “effective remedy” for victims of crime. I know that the Minister attempted to address this, but how can “lawful for all purposes” possibly square with giving an appropriate remedy to a victim of a crime that is suddenly rendered no longer a crime?

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has been a police officer for 30 years, and, as my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer suggested, that gives his practical experience in the field particular weight. I imagine that noble Lords listening and those who will read his intervention tomorrow will be very careful to consider his wholesale dismantling of the argument against maintaining the so-called tension, which operates as a safeguard against the abuse of power. It is good for operating on the mind and ethical framework of any CHIS or undercover operative, particularly one who is not even an officer of the state but is a mere agent and, I repeat, quite possibly from the criminal fraternity.

My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer also rightly took us to the very powerful report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which expresses so many concerns about the Bill in its current form. There is so much potential for violations of human rights and abuse if the Bill is unamended. I have tried to engage constructively by way of this amendment, which does minimal violation to the scheme of the Bill and addresses the problem posed by the ongoing litigation but, none the less, preserves the status quo that has served us so well and is about preserving the rule of law.

It is said to be a breach of the rules of theatre to break the fourth wall, but, for all its beauty and glory, your Lordships’ House is not a theatre; it is a legislature. I want to be fair to the Minister, who is new to your Lordships’ House and to this Bill and who cannot possibly have been involved in the earlier stages of the policy formulation that led to its precise drafting. It is very difficult to be in the Chamber for one of these Committees, to listen to all the arguments—particularly when they are so powerful and come from all sides—and to respond on the spot, on your feet and immediately, as he has had to do. None the less, I hope that he will listen to the sheer breadth and depth of concern, which might well be addressed by way of my amendments or something like them.

The noble and learned Lord takes issue with my analogy about other citizens and passers-by. He says that these agents of the state are not mere passers-by, but that argument cuts both ways. The mere passer-by is mostly not from the criminal fraternity and normally does not have a vested interest, of whatever kind, in getting a particular outcome, quite possibly, even as an agent provocateur, as we have seen in the past. Why should an undercover operative, a CHIS, quite possibly a civilian or even someone from the criminal fraternity, have a protection in law that even a uniformed police officer does not have when he or she puts themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis? The so-called tension is a healthy one, and it should not be resolved by way of the absolute immunity that is the ultimate evil in this Bill.

Finally, I am beginning to suspect that the “lawful for all purposes” formulation was not adopted with a great deal of deliberation. I am beginning to suspect that it was used because it was used before and is in the framework of RIPA, where it is, pretty much, appropriate because that is about surveillance. As the Minister has said, it has been used in certain narrow confines before, but this Bill authorises unlimited criminal conduct and, potentially, very serious crimes, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights has pointed out. Therefore, a “lawful for all purposes” advance immunity that is appropriate for bugging, surveillance and minor criminal damage is simply not acceptable or conscionable in this case.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti, who has made a real contribution to the quality of the debate in this Committee and will make a real contribution to the changes necessary to the Bill. I shall speak particularly to Amendment 71, in the name of my noble friends Lord Rosser and Lord Kennedy. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, previewed, it seeks to make it clear that there is a jurisdiction in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal to give compensation to people.

This group concerns compensation for innocent victims. It seems to me that innocent victims can take two forms. One is somebody who is completely innocent and, pursuant to a crime authorised by a CHIS, gets beaten up, for example, by the CHIS. What remedy does that person have? Secondly and separately, there is the person who is a target of CHIS activity; for example, somebody who, it is thought, might be about to commit a crime and their premises might be burgled, pursuant to an authorisation under the Bill. What remedy does that person have? Let us assume, particularly, that the whole authorisation was wrongheaded from the start because, as everybody accepts in this process, errors get made. So, there is the innocent victim of crime on one hand and, on the other, the target of CHISery who is the wrong target and a judicial review would be allowed in relation to that.

On the face of the Bill, if it is all lawful, then there is no remedy at all. Will the Minister please explain what remedy there is? The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, made it clear that he thinks activities under Part II of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which this is amending, already provide a remedy. Indeed, in the Commons in answer to this amendment, the Security Minister replied:

“Let me be clear: there is no barrier under the Bill for affected persons seeking a judicial review of a decision made by a public authority. Similarly, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal already has jurisdiction in relation to conduct to which part 2 of RIPA applies, which will include the amendments made by the Bill. I am, though, listening to concerns expressed by Members about the Bill’s potential impact on routes of redress, and I am happy to consider whether anything further is needed.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/10/20; col. 613.]


It would be helpful to have, first, a repetition of the assurance that the IPT covers judicial review-type relief—on the basis, presumably, that the original authorisation is unlawful—and therefore the reference to the fact that whatever is done under the authority is lawful does not apply to the original grant of the authority.

Secondly, will the noble and learned Lord deal with the issue of the innocent victim of the crime when there is a lawfully authorised criminal conduct authorisation, and the consequence of that is that somebody is, for example, severely beaten up? What remedy does that totally innocent victim have in such circumstances? The effect of the Bill is to say that the conduct is rendered “lawful for all purposes”. It cannot mean that. It cannot mean that the totally innocent victim, who has other remedies, is deprived of all those remedies because it is authorised under a criminal conduct authorisation: it cannot have intended that.

As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, said, it may be key that we focus on the public authority which provided the authorisation and do not lose sight of the person giving the authority by focusing on the liability of the CHIS themselves. This point was clearly considered by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in suggesting its amendment to try to deal with this.

People are very concerned about the innocent victims. I strongly invite the noble and learned Lord to deal also with the practical issues referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. For all the remedies in the world you create, if you can never tell the victim what has happened, how does that person get a remedy? That is an important point.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Amendments 6 and 8 seek to remove the exemption from civil liability for CHIS criminal conduct. While I understand the intent behind these amendments, which is to allow those impacted by a criminal conduct authorisation to be able to seek civil redress, there are good reasons why the Bill has been drafted in this way.

I explained in response to amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, why the Bill has been drafted to render correctly authorised conduct lawful for all purposes. Those reasons apply equally to criminal and civil liability. An authorisation will have been granted because it was deemed necessary and proportionate to tackle crime, terrorism or hostile state activity. Where that authorisation has been validly and lawfully granted, it is right that criminals or terrorists cannot then sue the undercover operative—the CHIS—or the state for that same activity.

I appreciate that the spirit of these amendments is to ensure that any innocent persons impacted by an authorisation can seek redress where appropriate. I reassure noble Lords that all authorisations are, in the first place, very tightly bound and, as part of the necessity and proportionality test, the authorising officer will consider any other risks of the deployment. An authorisation must consider and minimise the risk of impacting those who are not the intended subject of the operation.

The Bill does not create an exemption for all and any civil liability. For example, the conduct that is the subject of the Undercover Policing Inquiry would not be exempt from civil liability under the Bill’s regime.

I also seek to offer reassurance that routes of redress will be available to those who have been impacted by a criminal conduct authorisation where that authorisation has been unlawfully granted, following the observations from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, on the situation where the wrong stems from the authorisation granted being improper or too broad. The Bill does not prevent affected persons from seeking a judicial review of a public authority’s decision to authorise criminal conduct. If a judge concluded that the decision had not been lawfully made, the affected person could seek a remedy through the courts. The noble and learned Lord referred to the statement made in the other place on this. Equally, as with other investigatory powers, any affected person or organisation can make a complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal which will then be independently considered by the tribunal.

A further important safeguard is the obligation on the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to inform a person of a serious error that relates to them, where it is in the public interest. This includes situations where the commissioner considers that the error has caused significant prejudice or harm to the person concerned. The commissioner must also inform the person of any rights they have to apply to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. That is an example of the commissioner actively seeking out persons who have been wronged as part of their remit to consider all documentation, facts and circumstances surrounding the granting of a CCA.

Amendment 71, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is unnecessary. Any person or organisation can already make a complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal with regard to conduct under Part II of RIPA; that complaint will be considered independently by the tribunal. The IPT operates one of the most open and transparent systems in the world for investigating allegations that agencies have breached human rights. It hears cases in open where possible and publishes detailed reports on its work and rulings. This will remain unchanged under the Bill.

These criminal conduct authorisations are very tightly bound so that they meet the necessity and proportionality test. A number of routes of redress will be available to persons wronged to challenge the validity or lawfulness of the authorisation and then seek the appropriate remedy, whether through judicial review or a complaint to the independent tribunal.

The matter of applications to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and others. I regret to advise the House that I do not have information specific to the CICA in front of me, but I will write to him and others who have expressed an interest on that point.

On a point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, it is important to bear in mind that RIPA already excludes civil liability for authorised CHIS conduct, so what is introduced in the Bill is not new.

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The remedy lies in the approach to the tribunal and the obligation on the commissioner to notify a person who is wronged of their right.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can the Minister confirm that the totally innocent victim can go to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal and make a claim for damages for assault and battery?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to confirm that.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. In speaking to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, I do not want to get into an argument over who has more respect for whom, but I have the utmost respect for him and his experience as a former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. There is a fundamental disagreement he has surfaced with the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and me over what was described in a previous group as the tension in the fact that a CHIS committing a crime is potentially subject to criminal prosecution and being sued for civil damages. I note that the noble Lord does not believe that is right, whereas the noble Baroness and I think it is.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Morris of Bolton Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Morris of Bolton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I now call the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I am sorry not to have heard the end portion of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, but I am sure he will come back once his wi-fi is restored and I have responded.

Amendments 7 and 9 seek to remove the provision that allows for a criminal conduct authorisation to be granted in relation to conduct that takes place outside of the UK. The activity that will be authorised under the Bill is UK focused, but of course there will be times when the activity begins in the UK and progresses overseas. It does not remove the possibility of criminal prosecutions overseas, but an authorisation will only, and can only, take effect under UK law.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, asked if the UK will inform the Irish authorities. I can tell her that, although the content of the Bill is reserved in Wales and Northern Ireland, we have consulted with the devolved Administrations and their respective devolved agencies about their inclusion in the Bill. It is up to the respective devolved agencies to determine whether there is an operational need to be included.

It is important that we do not restrict the ability of our public authorities to tackle what are often international crimes. If we removed this provision, it would hinder our public authorities’ ability to tackle what are often very serious crimes, including drug transportation, human trafficking, et cetera. Noble Lords do not need to be told that crimes do not respect borders.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, asked if this is a “licence to kill” Bill. The Bill is constrained by both the ECHR and the Human Rights Act, so these are the two constraints on activity. We have heard quite a lot today from noble Lords about undercover police making people pregnant, et cetera. This was never lawful; the sort of activity the noble Lord talked about is not lawful and would not be lawful in the future.

To go back to the case studies that I produced to accompany the Bill, one of them relates to the important overseas work by HMRC to tackle the illegal importation of goods from abroad. In this scenario, an HMRC covert human intelligence source is engaged with an organised crime group to import counterfeit tobacco from overseas. They might be required to travel abroad to meet with members of the group, undertake other preparatory work or even transport the goods to the UK. Without that ability to authorise criminal conduct authorisations for the full scope of the activity, the effectiveness of this and similar operations would be undermined.

Authorising the activity not only ensures that those involved are protected as a matter of UK law but, importantly, means that the safeguards contained in the regime apply consistently and in relation to all CHIS criminal conduct, both in the UK and overseas. If we prohibit the authorisation of activity overseas, we risk displacing activity to these jurisdictions. Criminals might then seek increasingly to conduct part of their activity in other countries, and our ability to tackle it would be constrained.

The amendments risk having serious unintended consequences, including impacting on our public authorities’ ability to keep the public safe from harm, and it is for that reason that we cannot accept them. I forgot to mention: the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, talked about the extraterritorial jurisdiction on things like domestic violence; we do exercise that jurisdiction. With that, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Baroness Morris of Bolton Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Morris of Bolton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I think we have managed to re-establish connection with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 1st December 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 144(Corr)-III(Rev) Revised third marshalled list for Committee - (1 Dec 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

There have been many questions raised and points made during the debate on this group of amendments, which relate to the oversight arrangements that should be in place for the authorisation of criminal conduct by covert human intelligence sources, not to whether these should exist. I hope that the Government, in their response or subsequently in writing, will give their answers to all those points and questions, as well as giving careful consideration to the concerns expressed, and then move from their current position, as set out in the Bill, on this key issue of the necessary oversight arrangements.
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for contributing to what has been quite a lengthy debate on this very important group of amendments. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett: it is a shame that we had to break the debate last time. Of course, these things are agreed through the usual channels, and it may well be the case that we have to do so again, but it did slightly break the flow, so I will refer back to what was said at the end of last week as well. I begin by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that I was slightly confused; it felt like the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, was making the points from the Front Bench, but I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. If one or both of them could confirm that, that would be fantastic.

I start with the comments that my noble friend Lord King started with, which were echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. Basically, they asked how covert intelligence has stopped terrorism, stopped serious and organised crime and led to thousands of people being arrested who would otherwise do this country harm. I first thank noble Lords for the debate on the role of judicial commissioners in providing that independent oversight of criminal conduct authorisations. The Government’s priority with this legislation is to provide public authorities with an operationally workable regime to help to keep the public safe. We recognise that this needs to be subject to robust—I will go on to the meaning of that word later—and appropriate safeguards, and that is the balance that the Bill seeks to provide. During this debate, I have been pleased to hear noble Lords unite in recognising the importance of this balance.

The amendments of the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Dubs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, all require the prior approval of a judicial commissioner before an authorisation can be granted. We do not think—and other noble Lords have articulated why—that prior judicial approval strikes the balance between safeguards, which my noble friend Lord Naseby talked about, and an operationally workable power, as it risks the effective operation of this vital capability. My noble friend Lord King and the noble Lords, Lord Janvrin, Lord Rooker and Lord Paddick, all concurred. I do not think that any noble Lord would argue that this is not a vital capability, but prior judicial approval is not the only way to provide effective oversight of investigatory powers.

Noble Lords might find it helpful if I set out in more detail why this capability is unique. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, outlined, the use of a covert human intelligence source is different from other powers, such as interception or equipment interference. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made that point, and the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, pointed out that human beings are more complex than phones or cameras. Any decision on how to use a covert human intelligence source has immediate real-world consequences for that CHIS, as we call them, and the people around them.

Every one of these decisions that impacts on the safe deployment of the CHIS is made by experienced, highly trained professionals, guided by the code of practice, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, keeps telling us, is very good supplementary reading to the Bill. The use of a CHIS requires deep expertise and close consideration of the personal strengths and weaknesses of that CHIS, which then enables very precise and safe tasking. These are not decisions that have the luxury of being remade; we are dealing with people’s lives, very often, and it is critical that these decisions are right and made at the right time.

The Bill’s current clarity of responsibility and resulting operational control are the best method for protecting the covert human intelligence source, officers and the public. Even with provision for urgent cases, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, which would reduce one operational challenge of this model, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, has said, it is best that the authorising officer considers the necessity and proportionality of conduct alongside the operational specifics and safety of the CHIS. That is why deep and retrospective oversight is the most appropriate way to provide oversight of this power.

I have listened to remarks, including by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that retrospective oversight lacks “teeth”, to use his word. I reassure him that the IPC will pay particular attention to criminal conduct authorisations, and that his oversight role includes ensuring that public authorities comply with the law and follow good practice. The Bill is clear on this, but it further underpins this in the code of practice. Public authorities must report relevant errors to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office—for example, where activity has taken place without lawful authorisation or there has been a failure to adhere to the required safeguards. These will be investigated by IPCO, and rightly so.

The IPC will then make recommendations to public authorities in areas that fall short of the required standard. A public authority must take steps to implement recommendations made by the IPC. The IPC could also advise the public authority that it ought to refer matters to the appropriate authorities, or ultimately report it themselves, subject to the statutory process set out in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will agree that that is a robust process.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, to which the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, referred, is similar to those requiring prior approval by a judicial commissioner but requires prior approval by the Secretary of State. It creates the same challenges as prior judicial approval and, equally, cannot be accepted.

I also want to address concerns that the authorising officer cannot be trusted to undertake these duties without independent approval and the examples that noble Lords raised around the conduct subject to the Undercover Policing Inquiry and the appalling murder of Pat Finucane. We also heard reference to events at Orgreave and personal accounts from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I note—the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, mentioned this—the update that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland provided in the other place yesterday on Mr Finucane’s murder. These are difficult and utterly unacceptable cases and it is right that they continue to be scrutinised. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, so clearly articulated and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, echoed today, they are examples from the past.

The situation and framework within which CHIS operate today is not the same environment as it was then. There is stringent internal and external oversight in place and robust training to ensure that this activity is handled and managed properly. The policies and procedures used to authorise and handle covert human intelligence sources are subject to regular review and external scrutiny.

We now have the Human Rights Act 1998; authorising officers are trained in its application and how to communicate the tight limits of an authorisation to CHIS. We have also been clear that CHIS will never be authorised to form an intimate sexual relationship and the relevant sources regime places additional safeguards to protect against this in future. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner has oversight of authorisations; he will identify any misconduct by a public authority and take action accordingly.

Noble Lords have spoken about some of the horror stories from the past in the absence of a clear and robust framework. The situation is now different, and the Bill provides further clarity. As the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, my noble friend Lord King and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, mentioned, this is a long-overdue piece of legislation that places this activity in a clear and consistent framework.

I understand the concerns that have been raised on judicial oversight of journalistic material and sources in Amendment 77. I reassure the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lady Clark and Lady Whitaker, that additional safeguards already exist in the CHIS code of practice for the protection of confidential journalistic material. To echo again the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, I ask noble Lords to please read the code of practice to understand the detail that sits underneath the Bill. These protections will apply to criminal conduct authorisations as well as the wider use and conduct of a CHIS.

The safeguards include a requirement for authorisation at a more senior level than that required for other CHIS activity, reflecting the sensitive nature of such information. Confidential journalistic material, or that which identifies a source of journalistic information, must also be reported to the IPC as soon as reasonably practicable, if it has been obtained or retained other than for purposes of destruction.

The amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Anderson, would require an authorisation to be notified to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner within seven days. I listened very carefully to the points made on notification to the IPC. The Bill as drafted replicates the current oversight role of the IPC in ensuring that he has unfettered access to information and documents that enable him to inspect any public authority at any frequency of his choosing. However, it is clear that providing for independent oversight which is closer to real time—I think most noble Lords mentioned this—would strengthen the oversight regime for criminal conduct authorisations by providing independent review of every authorisation soon after it has taken place.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her typically courteous and thoughtful response, particularly her offer to talk to a number of my noble friends and other noble Lords about possible oversight that would be acceptable to the Government. Could she look again at Amendment 15? I and my noble friend Lord Blunkett worked very closely with the Security Service, in my case when I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—including with the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller—GCHQ, and, when I was in the Foreign Office, with MI6. I have authorised warrants, as I have explained, for vital work in surveillance and interception, and worked with undercover officers.

I appeal to the noble Baroness to meet my noble friend Lord Blunkett and myself informally to discuss the terms of Amendment 15, because it is very practical. It can happen in real time; I have been involved in authorising warrants in real time, including one on Islamist bombers planning to attack London when the operation was live. So, it does deal with her point. It is practical; in some respects, it is the most practical of all these oversight measures. It would give greater legitimacy to and authority for the deployment of undercover officers for the purposes that she is quite properly seeking. They can play vital roles in combating terrorism, for example. I ask her to look again at this and perhaps meet us to discuss it.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Lord knows how I operate, so he can be absolutely sure I would be happy to meet noble Lords to discuss some of these amendments. I was particularly attracted to the post-facto oversight, because operationally —I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, is going to say something about this—prior authorisation could be very difficult. To get that notification as close to real time as possible is, I think, what we are all seeking.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In the light of the answer the Minister has given, including her willingness to talk with my noble friend Lord Hain, I am happy to withdraw.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Try as I might, that was very difficult to hear. I think that the noble Baroness—I know that she will intervene on me again—made the following three points. In fact, I meant to pull out from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, her first point: that authorising is done not by the handler but by a senior authorising officer. The second point was that training for CHIS handlers is extensive. She may have said “expensive” but I think she said “extensive,” because it would have to be extensive for this serious an operation.

I think the noble Baroness’s third point was that details of numbers have to be top secret to maintain and protect the welfare of the CHIS. I referred to the IPC report because I think that the noble Lord, either last year or the year before, gave numbers on juvenile CHIS, which gave a flavour of the numbers that we were talking about.

Lord Marlesford Portrait Lord Marlesford (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I want to make a point on Amendment 77 on journalistic sources, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. As I mentioned to my noble friend last week, Parliament already has an effective equivalent to judicial review. I referred to the Economist case of 1975, when the House of Commons Committee of Privileges imposed a personal penalty on the editor and a journalist—who happened to be me—of the Economist due to the premature publication of the draft report of the Select Committee on a Wealth Tax and our refusal to reveal our sources. The House of Commons debated this on the Floor of the Chamber for more than two hours and voted not to impose the penalty.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the only response to that is to thank my noble friend for taking the time to explain it to noble Lords.

Baroness Whitaker Portrait Baroness Whitaker (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In thanking the noble Baroness for her characteristically thoughtful response and her offer to meet noble Lords, I ask her also to include a discussion of journalistic sources, because the code of practice left me with some questions. I assume that the meeting will be before Report.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very happy either to write to the noble Baroness and outline what I said in more detail or meet with her before Report.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for what she has said. I accept what she and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, said about it being a senior officer. In urgent cases, however, the police officer who actually grants the criminal conduct authority would be only at inspector level, which is not very senior. Criminal or civil liability would probably rest with the handler because the handler is the one who made the request to the senior officer—but I am glad that that has been clarified.

The Minister dismissed our Amendment 47 on the basis that it looked like prior judicial approval. It is not prior judicial approval at all and it deserves to be looked at. The Minister said that retrospective oversight is the best solution, but once a criminal conduct authority has been granted, so has legal immunity. So what if the CHIS has been corruptly tasked to commit a crime and commits a crime that should not have been committed? With only retrospective oversight, that CHIS and that handler are still immune from prosecution. How can that be right?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If I understand the point from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that the CHIS is authorised to commit something that is later deemed unlawful, my understanding of it—I will stand corrected if officials tell me differently—is that the person who authorised the unlawful conduct would themselves be liable for the deployment of the CHIS. Clearly, what the CHIS did would also be looked into post facto, but the person who authorised the deployment would be liable for that conduct in the deployment, I think.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have looked carefully at the amendments in this group. Amendment 16 moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and consequential Amendments 18 and 20, all seek to remove the reference to “belief” in relation to a criminal conduct authorisation to make clear that it must be necessary and proportionate. I understand the point that she is making, including on consistency in the Bill and accompanying guidance; I know what she is seeking to do and have sympathy with it. However, I looked carefully also at Amendment 17 from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, which seeks to insert “reasonably”. I concluded that that is probably a better way to achieve what the noble Baroness seeks.

These are matters of judgment at the end of the day, and we have all been careful in our consideration. However, in this case, I found the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, more persuasive and likely to find more favour with the Government, if, as they say they are—and I have no reason to doubt them—they are seeking to reach agreement with the Committee on these very difficult issues and ways in which we can all improve the Bill. For me, reasonable belief would be a belief that an ordinary and prudent person would hold in the circumstances, judging the situation in the light of the law and the information before them. That is the right way forward.

Amendment 19 in the names of my noble friend Lord Rosser, myself and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, simply seeks to place in the Bill the proposals advised in the code of practice, including determination of proportionality. It is important to provide that certainty in order to allay concerns raised across the Committee. I take on board the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on this matter but they are covered in the guidance, and placing those matters in the Bill is the right way to go. I hope that that provides the reassurance noble Lords are looking for. We would be interested to hear from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, where he thinks he can go on these issues if he cannot accept the amendments in their present form.

In his response, will the noble and learned Lord address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on the motivation and experience of those authorising such activity? There has been some suggestion that although it may be very senior officers, in some cases, in the heat of the moment, those involved perhaps would not be so experienced. That is a fair point and we need to address who is authorising this conduct.

Amendments 32 and 33 from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, have been tabled to ensure that the necessity and proportionality tests are not weakened. I understand the points being made, and we deserve a full explanation from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart.

It was good to hear from my old and dear friend, the noble Lord, Lord Mann, who made some very effective points about trade unions, following his work in the trade union movement, to which I can attest. He referred to the nonsense of infiltrating groups that are no threat to the national security of our country but are a bit of a nuisance. There are plenty of those about, but they are not a threat to national security and, frankly, are probably more a threat to themselves than anyone else. They can be a bit of a nuisance around the factory gate or power station gate, but investing time and money on these people is a complete and utter waste of time. Who would authorise activity in relation to those groups? That is worrying. Some senior people have authorised others to waste their time going into those organisations.

On the other side of the coin are the appalling and disgraceful abuses that have taken place. Equally, we need to ensure that that will never happen again. We need reassurance on those matters. The inquiry will have to consider how we deal with them in the future.

My noble friend Lady Chakrabarti asked the important question of where people go to when their rights have been abused. We of course hope that that never happens again, but where would people go if it did? We need to know that people will be protected when they find themselves in a situation that has gone wrong. If there has been proper authorisation but an offence has been carried out, how do people seek redress?

I look forward to the Minister answering those points and others raised in the debate.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by discussing the question of the test of necessity and proportionality. That test is well recognised and understood in investigatory powers legislation. The drafting in the Bill is consistent with the existing legal framework within which it will be incorporated. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, for his amendment which seeks to add a requirement for the authorising officer’s belief in the necessity of proportionality for an authorisation to be a reasonable one.

New Section 29B, which provides for criminal conduct authorisations, has been drafted to align with the existing Section 29 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which provides the underlying authorisation for the use and conduct of a covert human intelligence source. In setting out that a belief must be reasonable only for criminal conduct authorisations, the amendment would risk creating inconsistency and cast doubt on the test to be applied for other authorisations. I refer your Lordships to section 3.10 of the updated CHIS code of practice, which sets out that the person granting the authorisation should hold a reasonable belief that it is necessary and proportionate.

Amendment 16 from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, seeks to change the test set out in the Bill for considering whether conduct is necessary and proportionate. Again, the drafting of the Bill is in keeping with the rest of RIPA, where the test for authorisation is that the person granting it holds the belief that the activity is both necessary and proportionate. To remove the reference to “belief” risks introducing inconsistency and casting doubt as to how other provisions should be interpreted.

It would also be wrong if the necessity and proportionality test were not based on the belief of the authorising officer. A number of contributions have been made in the debate today, and on the previous occasion when we discussed this matter, regarding these decisions being taken in the context of live environments, affecting real people, often in dangerous situations. Decisions will need to be taken based around the particular and specific facts of a case at a particular time, and the specific environment in which covert human intelligence sources find themselves. I seek to reassure the Committee that the authorisation process is intended to be, and has been designed to be, robust—I appreciate that the adjective “robust” has come in for some scrutiny in your Lordships’ House today—and to support those involved in the decision-making process in making the right assessment.

Your Lordships were concerned with the level of training of CHIS handlers. They and their authorising officers are experienced and must be highly trained. I defer to the personal experience of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. However, to anticipate what I will say shortly, it is important to bear in mind that we are taking matters forward from today, as opposed to dwelling on the failings of the past. CHIS handlers and authorising officers will have clear and detailed guidance that they must follow in deciding whether to grant an authorisation for criminal conduct. The test for necessity and proportionality is well documented and understood by authorising officers. In addition, the material setting out the rationale of the authorising officer will also be available to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner as part of his oversight function.

I turn to Amendment 32. The Bill sets out that, in deciding whether an authorisation is both necessary for a defined purpose and proportionate to what it seeks to achieve, the authorising officer must consider whether the intended outcome could be achieved by some other non-criminal conduct. The amendment seeks to ensure that this does not undermine the requirements of the necessity and proportionality test contained in the Bill. It does not. In fact, it enhances the rigour with which the proportionality test will be applied by specifying a factor that must be taken into consideration when proportionality is assessed.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his supplementary question. I apologise for having omitted to answer specifically the detailed point that he made in the course of his submission earlier—something I have been guilty of in the past in my appearances in your Lordships’ House.

Amendments 17 and 72 would insert a requirement for the authorising officer to hold a reasonable belief that conduct is both necessary and proportionate. As the noble Lord has identified, the position is that the amendment cannot be accepted as the Bill has been drafted in line with the requirements of the rest of RIPA, including that for the underlying Section 29 use and conduct authorisation. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, identifies a conflict between the terms of the code of practice that I quoted, at 3.10, and the terms of the Bill, and, more to the point, I think, identifies a potential conflict in what was said in the other place in debating these subjects. In those circumstances, I would be very happy to engage with the noble Lord and write to him on the matter.

I am being reminded just now that we have already included wording in the updated code of practice to set out that it is expected that the belief should be a reasonable one, and that the Security Minister confirmed this during the debate in the Commons.

Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not sure we want exchanges in this manner. Minister, are you complete or are you continuing?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With your leave, I was about to indicate that I think it better in the circumstances—and where there has been an exchange across the floor of the House—if I were to clarify my remarks in writing to the noble Lord

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to make just a couple of points. I do not accept the noble and learned Lord’s point that, if you put things in the Bill, you risk leaving things out. It is possible to craft an amendment, to go on the face of the Bill, that covers those eventualities. There is always a concern that, when things are left to guidance and codes, sometimes they do not have the certainty and force of legislation. I think that an amendment can be crafted that covers both: you get the certainty of the main things but leave the door open, accepting that things can change. Both can be done, and that is a better way forward rather than leaving it all to guidance.

The noble and learned Lord also made the point that we should be looking forward and not back. I get the point of looking forward, and I accept it, but, equally, in looking forward, we are informed by what has happened previously. It is important that we take that on board as well. We need to ensure that the Bill is doing the job it needs to do, and that is addressing issues that happened in the past; not just the issues mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mann—which were, frankly, ridiculous—but, more importantly, the real issues of wrong-doing, abuse and great hurt that have taken place. We need to ensure that the Bill stops that in the future.

The other point that we will keep coming back to is the whole issue of what will happen if the CHIS has immunity and someone has something wrong done to them. Where do they get redress? That is a fundamental issue: how do they get redress if the person who has done something wrong has immunity? That is a question we need to answer in the next few days.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am obliged to the noble Lord for that final submission. We do, I acknowledge, need to address these matters over the next period of time, as the Bill moves forward. I acknowledge to the noble Lord, and others who have contributed, that mistakes were made in the past around blacklisting and the penetration of bodies that need never have been penetrated, or of bodies that were engaging in legitimate activities. Acceptance of that will inform the manner in which we proceed further.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My noble friend Lord Paddick has been using his experience of the past—experience is, by definition, the past—to inform and improve the future. That was rather what my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford was talking about, with his reference to the range of organisations from which authorisations for criminal conduct may come. He mentioned people entitled to give authorisations who will not have the same experience as those in the police and intelligence services.

I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not refer to every contribution that has been made, though I am grateful for all of them. However, I want to pick up the point about considering the position if things go wrong. That is a very large part of our task in this House, in scrutinising legislation, and it will necessarily mean positing hypotheticals. I will certainly want to pick up the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Mann, when we come to consider the term “economic well-being”.

I remain concerned about Section 29B(6). We have the test of necessity; you cannot really strengthen necessity but you could weaken it. If subsection (6) is to have any meaning, then I am worried that it must weaken it.

To go to the heart of all this, the argument from the noble and learned Lord is that we should be consistent with Section 29 of RIPA, which is about the authorisation of covert human intelligence sources. New Section 29B is about criminal conduct authorisations. I would regard that, as other noble Lords have said during the Bill’s passage, as much more serious than what is covered by the current provisions of RIPA in terms of covert intelligence and intrusive investigation as well. Yes, it will be a fast-moving, live environment, but I do not think that that is an excuse not to act reasonably. I really feel that we have to get the Bill right, and that means importing objectivity.

I have still not understood the points made in response to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about why we should not have the term on the face of the Bill. I think that the noble and learned Lord said that it would not be appropriate, but I might not have noted that down correctly. He did say that it would not be efficient. I hoped that he might develop that point, but we will have to pursue that after this afternoon’s debate. We are clearly gathering round Amendment 17 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and I think that Amendment 72 is its Scottish equivalent. My noble friend and I are very happy to cede the ground to those amendments; we went a bit far, but I cannot conceive of an answer to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. We have not heard one so far, so would be delighted to support him if he pursues the matter at the next stage of the Bill, which we very much hope that he will. It will soon be 5 pm, so I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 16.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the amendments in this group would variously remove the power for the Secretary of State to impose requirements restricting when a criminal conduct authorisation can be granted, require the Secretary of State to consult with such persons as are appropriate before imposing requirements, and require regulations in which the Secretary of State imposes additional requirements that must be satisfied before a criminal conduct authorisation is granted to be subject to the affirmative procedure. There is also an amendment in this group which would restrict the power of the Secretary of State to bring different provisions of the Bill into force at different times and in different areas, to ensure that all the safeguards provided in the Bill always apply.

We will await with interest more detail from the Government in their response as to the nature, extent, purpose, reasons for and frequency of the requirements that the Secretary of State might wish to impose by order before a criminal conduct authorisation can be granted, and why it would not have been possible to include this greater detail on the face of the Bill to reduce the possibility of this power being exercised at any time in the future in an inappropriate manner. We also want to hear the Government’s response to the concern about safeguards always being applicable, which has led to the amendment restricting the power to bring different provisions into force at different times.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, turning first to the order-making powers, addressed first by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, the ability of Parliament to scrutinise statutory instruments is a broader topic than this debate permits me to go into. As to the order-making powers in this Bill, these powers allow for additional requirements to be imposed before a criminal conduct authorisation may be granted, or for the authorisation of certain conduct to be prohibited. I assure the Committee that they can only be used to further strengthen the safeguards that are attached to the use of criminal conduct authorisations. They could not be used to remove any of the existing safeguards. I particularly seek to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, on that point. The requirements that can be imposed under these powers concern matters of practicality and detail, and therefore it is appropriate that they be contained in secondary legislation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked whether there was a precedent for such powers to be subject to the negative procedure. The equivalent powers in Section 29 of RIPA are both subject to the negative procedure. Taking similar powers in respect of criminal conduct authorisations to those already contained in Section 29 will allow the Secretary of State to make equivalent provision for Section 29 authorisations and criminal conduct authorisations, where appropriate, so that similar arrangements are in place for both. There is a high degree of interrelationship between the two provisions. While the Government do not have any particular safeguards or limits in mind, such requirements may arise in the future that will need to be legislated for.

An example of the past use of the Section 29 powers is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Covert Human Intelligence Sources: Matters Subject to Legal Privilege) Order 2010, which imposes specific additional requirements that must be met regarding the authorisation of a CHIS in connection with material subject to legal professional privilege. Were any changes proposed in the future, the relevant persons would of course be consulted prior to those changes being made. Amendments 21 and 58 are therefore not considered necessary.

Turning to Amendment 81, the Bill contains provision to commence the Act for different areas on different days, to allow time to make any necessary secondary legislation, issue guidance, undertake appropriate training and put the necessary systems and procedures in place, as appropriate. I assure the Committee that this power will not be used to delay commencing those sections relating to safeguards. The power could not lawfully be used to frustrate the will of Parliament in this way.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, even those who did not agree with me. It was lovely and very heart-warming to hear the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, agree with a Lib Dem Peer, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for her support, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her sympathy and exposition of the whole group, which I perhaps should have done myself. I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made an extremely good point in asking why there should not be greater detail in the Bill now.

The Minister made a very nice and emollient response, but there is always the problem, not in distrusting the Ministers we have here, in your Lordships’ House—we trust them to have good will and be ethical—but in distrusting the Government, as many of us do. I imagine that possibly a majority in the country distrust the Government at the moment. So I do not feel completely reassured, and will think about bringing this back on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 3rd December 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 144(Corr)-III(Rev) Revised third marshalled list for Committee - (1 Dec 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Amendment 22, moved by my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti with the support of my noble friends Lord Hain and Lord Hendy, seeks to limit the use of criminal conduct authorisations to serious crime—and by that they mean indictable offences that must be tried in Crown Court before a judge and jury.

The amendment seeks to remove subsection (5)(c) in respect of economic well-being in the United Kingdom. It would be helpful if, in her response, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, were to set out examples of what this provision is seeking to do and what it is not seeking to do. There are concerns about this, as I am sure the noble Baroness has heard, from around the House, during discussion of this group.

Can the Minister also explain why the list of necessary grounds given in this Bill—as listed in subsection (5)(5)—is slightly different from those listed in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act? In that Act, the reasons listed are that the activity threatens national security, threatens the economic well-being of the United Kingdom in a way relevant to the interests of national security, or is an act of serious crime. Why not use the same words? Not to do so is surely a recipe for confusion when you are dealing with such serious matters. We want to see clarity from the Government; clarity about what they intend to bring into law is very important. Why is a form of words that was acceptable to the Government two years ago, when they put the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act on the statute book, changed in this Bill? Surely there is a risk of some overlap between these two pieces of legislation. Will the noble Baroness clarify this when she responds to the debate?

Amendments 23 and 26, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, add the word “serious” in order to limit a criminal conduct authorisation to issues of serious crime. I have listened carefully to the arguments from the noble Lord and have some sympathy with them, so I will be interested to hear from the Minister the case for why these amendments are not necessary. The noble Lord referred to the number of times we have talked about serious crime over the years, and the various definitions of “serious”. That is a fair point and it needs to be answered.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, raised the question as to why preventing and detecting crime would not be enough, on their own, as reasons for the powers in the Bill to be deployed. We also need reassurance about what will not happen when powers are given by Parliament, so it is important for the Minister to set out what will not be impacted.

Noble Lords may not like it, but the right to withhold one’s labour and to strike is a hard-won right that we should all defend. We need guarantees that the powers in the Bill would never be used to undermine lawful, legal trade union activity in respect of strike action or campaigning activity. My noble friend Lady Chakrabarti raised the important point regarding trade unions, as did my noble friend Lady Bryan of Partick and many others. We have to get the balance right; lawful activity must not be undermined by the state with the use of undercover activities.

We have heard about the policing inquiry. Some terrible things have happened that I am sure we all regret, which have undermined legitimate activity. It must never happen again. Those are the questions the noble Baroness needs to reassure the House on: how will this Bill ensure that never ever happens again?

I am a proud trade unionist. I was a member of USDAW for 12 years when I first left school and I have been a member of the GMB for the last 30 years. I never rose very high in the GMB ranks; I got as fair as the chair of the Labour Party senior staff sub-branch for a couple of years. I spent probably more time arguing with the rest of the staff in the Labour Party about where we wanted to get to. But I certainly think that the unions are very important. For example, USDAW—a union I am very close to—is a great trade union with great campaigns that I always support. It is important that we support the work that unions such as USDAW do.

At this point, I pay tribute to my old friend John Spellar. John was first elected to public office 50 years ago today, in a St Mary Cray by-election on 3 December 1970. John has served as a councillor, trade unionist, trade union official, MP and Minister. John would have nothing to do with any extremism of any sense whatever; anyone who knows him would know that. He has also run a news service for many in the Labour Party called “Spellar News”. We get it two or three times a day: early bird, evening round-up and news flashes. John is actually retiring the news service today, which I am very sad about. He has done great work as a trade unionist and is a great example to many of us in the Labour Party.

I was also sorry to learn that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has been arrested on demonstrations. I have been on a few demonstrations in my time as well. I have avoided being arrested, but I must admit that I have also been demonstrated against. When I was a councillor, many times things that we did on the council provoked some annoyance. I remember once that I put up the fees of the traders in East Street Market and drew their wrath for a number of weeks. There were lots of unpleasant signs about me.

What is important here is that, if you are a trade unionist or a campaigner, nothing in the Bill must ever undermine legitimate work. It is really important for the Government, and for the noble Baroness, to reassure the House and Parliament that nothing legitimate will ever be undermined when this goes on the statute book, and that actually it will be supported. I think she can see from the comments of people around the House today that we are not convinced that is the case. She needs to reassure us now in responding to the debate.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and pay tribute to anyone who has been in politics—and indeed the trade union movement—for 50 years. I have heard of John Spellar in dispatches, but unfortunately not the person that the noble Baroness, Lady Bryan of Partick, referenced.

Turning to public authorities, they have different functions, the ultimate outcome of which is to keep the public safe from harm in a variety of ways. It is very important that they can lawfully deploy CHIS to fulfil those responsibilities. These amendments seek to restrict the statutory purposes available to public authorities under the Bill.

The structure of new Section 29B closely resembles that of Section 29, which authorises the use and conduct of CHIS, as there is a high degree of interrelationship between the two provisions. That is why a Section 29 authorisation is required to be in place before a Section 29B authorisation can be granted. The statutory purposes that will be available for a criminal conduct authorisation are linked to those available for a use and conduct authorisation. It is not operationally workable to have different grounds for authorisation between the provisions. For example, we would want to avoid a situation where a CHIS’s use and conduct has been deemed necessary for the prevention of crime, but the linked criminal conduct authorisation for the same CHIS and the same activity may be only on the basis of preventing a serious crime, as my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater pointed out.

My noble friend also pointed out the words of my right honourable friend James Brokenshire about the sheer amount of activity that has been done under covert means—it led to 3,500 arrests and the recovery of more than 400 firearms, 100 other types of weapons, 400 kilograms of class A drugs and £2.5 million-worth of cash. But first and foremost, and most importantly, is the fact that it safeguarded hundreds of victims from child sexual abuse and other heinous crimes.

To restrict the prevention of “crime” to “serious crime”, as Amendments 22, 23 and 31 propose, would mean that public authorities would be less able to investigate crime that, while not amounting at the time to serious crime, actually has a damaging impact on the lives of its victims—so the outcome is serious, to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. An example of this would be food crime: the extension of meat durability dates, leading to out-of-date food being consumed, is damaging and can be very dangerous to public health.

Of course, the necessity and proportionality requirements mean that an authorisation must be proportionate to the activity it seeks to prevent. This provides an important safeguard against authorisations of serious criminality being granted to prevent less serious, but equally important, crime. However, it is surely right that public authorities have access to the most effective tools to ensure justice for victims of these crimes and to prevent their occurrence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, referred to some of the examples that we have heard in this Chamber of sexual relationships between undercover police and women, and some of the actually quite devastating consequences of that. I think I have said before in this Chamber that that was not lawful, is not lawful and would never be lawful.

In response to the1 amendments seeking to remove economic well-being, this is one of the established statutory purposes for which covert investigatory powers may be deployed by public authorities. It recognises that threats to the economic well-being of the UK could be immensely damaging and fundamental in their effect. It might, for example, include the possibility of a hostile cyberattack against our critical national infrastructure, our financial institutions or, indeed, the Government. It is important that law enforcement bodies and intelligence agencies can deploy the full CHIS functionality against such threats where it is necessary and proportionate.

Similarly, preventing disorder is an important and legitimate law enforcement function. Where illegal activity takes place, public authorities listed in the Bill have a responsibility to take action as is necessary and proportionate. An example of this could be managing hostile football crowds, which does not involve lawful protest but causes harm to the public.

To be clear to noble Lords concerned that either economic well-being or preventing disorder could be used to target legitimate protest or the work of the trade unions, an authorisation can be granted only if it is proportionate to the harm or criminality that it seeks to prevent. Therefore, this would not include—to use the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti—“legitimate and lawful activity”. The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Bryan of Partick, also gave examples of activity by political groups or trade unions. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked me about the difference between the wording in this Bill and the CT Act. It goes wider, basically, and it is consistent with RIPA.

With those words, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful for what the Minister has said and appreciate that she has to stick to her script, but it gives the impression on occasion that there is no point in making contributions to debate because what I have said appears, from what she has said, to have been completely ignored. I will repeat exactly what I said. I said that of course the Government may say that in addition to being necessary the granting of a CCA must be proportionate—the issue that she mentioned—and it would not be proportionate to deploy a CHIS if the criminal activity was minor. That is almost word for word what she said. However, I went on to say that the same argument applies to the interception of communications in RIPA, where necessity is limited to serious crime, as defined in our Amendment 31. That second point seems to have been completely ignored by the Minister. I accept that that is probably because she has, understandably, just stuck to her script. It comes back to the point that I made, which is: what is the point of making speeches in debates if what noble Lords say is ignored by the Minister?

The Minister said that these amendments would limit how CHIS could lawfully be deployed and seek to restrict their deployment, and authorities would be less able to investigate crime. This Bill is about criminal conduct by CHIS, not their deployment. It is about giving authority to agents and informants to commit crime, and grant complete legal immunity to CHIS in those circumstances. There is a world of difference between deploying a CHIS and authorising them to commit crime, and then granting them immunity from prosecution. Yet the whole basis of her argument, from what I understood her to say, is that there is no difference between the two. In which case, what is the purpose of the Bill?

I say again: why is the interception of communications limited to serious crime if there is no need to limit the deployment of CHIS, who are going to be authorised to commit crime? Why should they not be limited to serious crime? That is a question that the Minister has failed to answer.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Lord, with whom I am actually good friends, makes a valid point: what is the point in making speeches if points are ignored? I often find that I make the same points over and again, and they are completely ignored because such is the will of people to make their opposite points. However, on this occasion, he is absolutely right. I did not address his point about RIPA and it being confined to serious crime. In the interception of communications, we are dealing with machines. In the deployment of humans, we are dealing with something else. I apologise to him for not answering his point.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for the care with which they have approached this group, which once more highlights the gravity of the development of this legislation to enable statutory criminal conduct authorisations with total immunity for the first time in our law. I will not rehearse the various arguments, most of which I agree with, but I will respond to the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, a distinguished statesman for whom I have a great deal of respect, and to the Minister. It is their opposition to these amendments and the thinking behind them that I must address, because the issue is so serious.

At various times in the debates on the Bill, some noble Lords have expressed irritation that one should hark back to past abuses including those in the Undercover Policing Inquiry, or the treatment of my noble friends Lord Hain and Lady Lawrence, as if they belong in a bygone era and would never happen again. Other examples include the treatment of the Greenpeace women and so on. One can cast those abuses aside by saying they would never happen again but, of course, we know that as legislators we have the precious duty—the sacred trust of those who have appointed us to this role—to learn from the past and legislate for the future, informed by the dangers that past activities have exposed. It is right that we take some care and employ forensic precision in refining provisions in legislation as serious as this.

With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, and the Minister, there has been an element of blurring classes of activity that should not be blurred in legislation of this kind. In particular, there has been blurring, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, highlighted, on authorising undercover operatives, which is perhaps the most serious kind of intrusive surveillance—because humans are human, not machines, to quote the Minister. Yes, they need more protection but we also need more protection from them because they will change our behaviour and not just record it.

Undercover operatives are important but dangerous, even under the present law. There is a new category of authorisation in this legislation, which is about criminal conduct by those agents and criminal conduct with total immunity after the fact. That is completely novel. It is important to understand how we got here, not just regarding the vital need for these operatives or the abuses of the past but the jurisprudential and legislative train that got us to this station.

Article 8 of the convention on human rights guarantees the right to respect for private and family life, stating that:

“Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”


But of course there are exceptions. Article 8(2) is crucial in this debate. It states:

“There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”


That is a necessarily broad exception. Why? It is because that exception exists in international and human rights law to cover any privacy interference at all. Any camera on a high street or requirement to fill out a tax form is an interference with privacy. It includes any interference on a prisoner’s privacy or the privacy of a schoolchild—any interference at all. Therefore, that category of exception is broad. However, it is too broad for intrusive surveillance, which is why, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, we start to introduce further restrictions for intrusive surveillance. It is not just about the duty to fill out a tax form any more; we are now talking about much greater intrusions—serious crime rather than just any crime.

Economic well-being is vital, for example, for the tax form; but it is too broad a category for authorising agents of the state to commit crimes against me, my friends or my associates. That is the Article 8 wording, which is too easily copied and pasted. Then we have the slightly tighter definitions in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, on to which today’s scheme is going to be grafted. That, serious though it is, is intrusive surveillance, but this is intrusive surveillance plus criminal activity plus total civil and criminal immunity. That is why the justifications in this Bill need to be tighter still than those in RIPA, not broader, and certainly a great deal tighter than the exceptions to Article 8 of the convention. I hope that I have made that clear, and I hope it rings true with most of your Lordships’ House.

To return to the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, I say that nobody is under any doubt that covert human intelligence sources are absolutely vital tools of public protection. Under the current law, we have no doubt that they have protected many of us and saved many lives. However, that was on the basis of a law where these people acted on the basis of guidance, but without this absolute immunity; but now we are told that they need absolute immunity—not a public interest defence and not what they have had until now. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable to at least probe the possibility of, if not to insist on, much tighter regulation and safeguards than are currently provided in the Bill. Having had that discussion, however, for today at least I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Amendment 27 is tabled in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I am not going to speak for long because we discussed some of these issues in the previous group. We have mentioned numbers in the various pieces of legislation and I have made the point about consistency. I know that when I mentioned the counter-terrorism Act, the noble Baroness was spot on and I will look at what she said in the earlier debate. However, we need to be sure that we have consistency in the various bits of legislation that we are talking about today. That is very important.

A number of colleagues have talked about the need to get the balance right here. The concerns that have been raised by Members of the House show that it is one thing when you are dealing with terrorists from another state or people who for various reasons are looking to undermine the economic well-being of the country, but on the other side of that are quite lawful campaigners. We might not like them and we might think that what they are doing is wrong or irritating, but they are acting in a perfectly lawful way. That is the area in which we need reassurance and it is what this debate comes down to. People have the right to protest, to be annoying and irritating, as long as they do it lawfully. We have to be sure that we get this right and that is what we are worried about.

Equally, I turn to the whole question of trade unionists, who have been mentioned many times. Trade unionists have the right to campaign and to know that they can do so without having agents put in to undermine their activities. You could argue that others might undermine their activities, but they do not need people in their own ranks who are sent in to do that.

As many noble Lords have mentioned, in the past undercover officers have been sleeping with campaigners. That is totally out of order. I am sure that it will be said that that will never happen again, but people need to be reassured that it is, as I say, totally out of order. While the Government are saying that this will never happen again, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has challenged a number of police commissioners—three of them are now Members of this House—and has never had an answer; that is also a concern. These things are totally wrong.

The Minister has a job here to find a way of reassuring the Committee that these things will not happen again, but how can we be sure about that? That is the issue that we have to deal with, because of course we thought that they could not have happened before, but clearly they did and we have only found out about them years afterwards. We want legislation that is right and proper so that people are protected, but, equally, legitimate campaigners have to be protected as well so that they are not abused and wrong things done to them. This, I think, is the crux of the issues we are debating today and I look forward to the response of the noble Baroness.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I will start with the comments of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Chakrabarti, and the point about listening to what each other is saying. I have never tried to skirt around the issue of the disgusting behaviour of some 30 years ago. I do not know whether police officers were not told that it was illegal and the inquiry is clearly establishing the ins and outs of that. But it was not acceptable and it was never lawful, and it cannot be authorised under this Bill. I hope that I have made that very clear. I do not dismiss what those women went through—including, indeed, what the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, went through—and I hope that the inquiry will vindicate an awful lot of the people who suffered, complained and were simply ignored in the past. The inquiry will get to the bottom of something that was never lawful in the first place. I digress, but I must add that operational partners are very clear that that sort of behaviour could not be authorised under this Bill.

I shall move on to the substance of Amendment 27. I will not repeat the points I made in response to the last set of amendments, but I will emphasise that economic well-being is one of the established statutory purposes for which covert human investigatory powers may be deployed by public authorities. We recognise that threats to the economic well-being of the UK could be immensely damaging and fundamental in their effect. That might include, for example, the possibility of a hostile cyberattack against our critical infrastructure, as I said earlier, attacks on financial institutions or on the Government themselves. I gave examples in my previous speech of the victims of CSA, cash and drugs activity, so they may not be solely related to issues of national security.

We have agencies such as HMRC, the NCA and the Serious Fraud Office whose mandate includes mitigating broader threats to the UK’s economic well-being. These threats are real, emerging and go beyond the remit of national security. We cannot tie our hands in response to such threats by limiting the statutory purposes available to tackle these issues. Of course, there are also examples of where economic well-being is not restricted to national security, as set out in other parts of the Investigatory Powers Act and the Security Service Act.

I hope that I have given a full explanation of why Amendment 27 should be withdrawn.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, if the noble and learned Lord was referring at the beginning of his contribution to the term “economic well-being”, I hope that the references made during the earlier debate will be helpful. I certainly agree with him about the breadth of what is in the Bill and the distinction between surveillance and authorising criminal conduct.

The amendments in this group raise the issue of whether we are concerned about the activity or the actor. My noble friend Lord Paddick questioned Amendment 29 and the term “legitimate political activity”. I had in fact made a note that that quite attracted me, but he and I have not had the opportunity to thrash this out between us. We may get it on the floor of the House if the noble Baroness brings the matter back at a future point.

On Amendment 78, on the equality impact assessment, frankly, the Government would be ill advised to resist this. I am mindful of the need to avoid the identification of agents. The noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, was very clear about that the other day but, as the amendment is worded, I do not think that there should be such risks—although of course I am not experienced in this area.

In Amendment 56A, my noble friend has stood back to look at the purpose. Again, it is the broader point of addressing the principle rather than producing a list or a detailed prescription. I hope that the Minister will accept that we are keen to address the problems that the Bill throws up without undermining it. I am sorry that, today at any rate, I will not get the chance to speak after she has responded to my noble friend, but I believe that he has come up with a formula that is well worth pursuing.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this group of amendments. I start with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about people in this House with experience. This is important, because your Lordships’ experience in such a wide variety of areas makes legislation in Parliament better.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I have just one question. She said that the scenario I suggested could not happen because police forces had dedicated source units. Can she point to where in the Bill or in the codes of practice it says that that has to be the case? If not, the Bill or the code of practice is defective.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Lord will appreciate that not every Bill contains every minute detail of issues such as this, but I hope that, with my having made the statement on the Floor of the House, the noble Lord is satisfied that there cannot be conflict. However, I would be very happy to speak to him about this before Report.

Baroness Clark of Kilwinning Portrait Baroness Clark of Kilwinning (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to withdraw Amendment 29.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There are a number of amendments in this group relating to human rights. They variously provide that a criminal conduct authorisation: may not authorise activity that would be incompatible with convention rights; may not authorise murder, torture or rape, or a person under the age of 18 to engage in criminal conduct; cannot authorise causing death or grievous bodily harm, sexual violation or torture; and cannot authorise causing death or grievous bodily harm, perverting the course of justice, sexual offences, torture or depriving a person of their liberty.

There is also an amendment in my name and that of my noble friends Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that would also put explicit limits in the Bill on the types of criminal behaviour that can be authorised. These limits cover causing death or bodily harm, sexual violation, perverting the course of justice, torture, detaining an individual or damaging property where it would put a person in danger. There is an amendment to my amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, the purpose of which, as he has explained, is to explore whether the proposed regulatory regime provides adequate safeguards for operations carried out overseas.

The amendments all follow a similar theme, namely, wanting to include in the Bill clearer and tighter wording in respect of the criminal conduct that can be authorised by a CCA, so that there can be no doubt over what is a permissible criminal conduct authorisation and, more significantly, what is not. The Government’s position appears to be that criminal offences that are contrary to the Human Rights Act are already precluded, given that all public authorities are bound by the Human Rights Act, and thus authorising authorities are not permitted by the Bill to authorise conduct that would constitute or entail a breach of those rights.

Interestingly, the Bill states in new Section 29B(7) in Clause 1(5), on criminal conduct authorisations:

“Subsection (6) is without prejudice to the need to take into account other matters so far as they are relevant (for example, the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998).”


But what are the words “to take into account” meant to mean in this context as regards adhering to the requirements of the Human Rights Act? One can, after all, take something into account and then decide that it should be ignored or minimised in whole or in part. What do the words,

“so far as they are relevant”,

mean in relation to the requirements of the Human Rights Act? In what circumstances are those requirements not relevant in relation to criminal conduct authorisations?

Turning to an issue that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, addressed, the Government have maintained that specifying in the Bill offences that cannot be authorised places at risk undercover officers and agents on the grounds that to do so would place into the hands of criminals, terrorists and hostile states a means of creating a checklist for suspected CHIS to be tested against. However, as has been said, the Canadian Security Intelligence Act authorises criminal conduct similar to that proposed in the Bill, and my amendment reflects the wording in the Canadian legislation on the type of serious criminal conduct that cannot be authorised.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has pointed out that the Bill gives the Secretary of State power to make orders prohibiting the authorisation of any specified criminal conduct and that, in line with the Government’s argument, whatever might be prohibited by such an order could presumably also be used by criminals as a checklist against which to test a covert human intelligence source. The JCHR comments in its report:

“If limits can be placed on authorised criminal conduct in publicly available secondary legislation without putting informants and undercover officers at undue risk, it is unclear why express limits cannot also be set out in primary legislation.”


The JCHR report also states:

“If a criminal gang or terrorist group was familiar enough with the relevant legislation to test a CHIS against it, they would presumably be equally able to test them against the guarantees and protections set out in the”


Human Rights Act.

Perhaps, in their response, the Government could say whether they are still committed to the Human Rights Act, since following their 2019 election manifesto commitment to ensuring that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, national security and effective government—which suggests that the Government do not think that is the present position—they have announced that there is to be a review into the operation of the Human Rights Act.

If the Government intend to argue that the Human Rights Act will provide protection in the years ahead against unacceptable use of the powers in this Bill, there needs at least to be a clear statement from the Government that they are committed to the Act and will not be altering its provisions.

It could be claimed with some justification, however, that the Human Rights Act has not prevented previous human rights violations connected to undercover investigations or covert human intelligence sources. I await the Government’s response to this group of amendments and to the contributions that seek more specific wording in the Bill, to put clear limits on the type of criminal behaviour that can be authorised.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their very thoughtful contributions to a discussion of the upper limit of what can be authorised by a criminal conduct authorisation.

I will first address comments—because they have been the most numerous—that propose to replicate on the face of the Bill the limits that the Canadians have set in the legislation governing their security service, and Amendment 42, from my noble friend Lord Cormack, which prohibits murder, torture or rape. I totally recognise why noble Lords want to ensure that this Bill does not provide authority for an undercover agent to commit any and all crime. It does not. I reiterate once more: there are already clear limits on the criminal activity that can be authorised and they can be found within the Human Rights Act—which, by the way, was not in place when some of the activities that noble Lords have described were carried out.

Nothing in this Bill undermines the need to comply with that Act, as is made clear by new Section 29B(7). Further limits are placed on the regime by the need for the authorising officer in all public authorities to confirm that there is a demonstrable need to authorise a CHIS by making a clear case for its necessity and proportionality. I understand questions about why we cannot place explicit limits in the Bill, as they do in other countries, notably including—as noble Lords have said—Canada, and I will explain our reasoning.

We think that placing express limits on the face of the Bill is not necessary. The Human Rights Act already provides these limits and the amendments that replicate the limits in Canadian legislation do not prohibit any criminal conduct which is not already prohibited by the ECHR and HRA, as encompassed by the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, made a point about undercover police who have sexual relationships: if gangs knew that that was unlawful, would they then test against it? I would say that although that behaviour would be unlawful in that context, it is very distinct from rape. I have been trying to talk to my noble friend who is a QC and perhaps I will set my answer out in more detail in writing.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Amendment 39 in the names of my noble friends Lady Massey of Darwen and Lord Dubs removes from the definition in the Bill of authorised criminal conduct the words

“by or in relation to”

the specified covert human intelligence source. It replaces those words with a more detailed definition; namely, that it is conduct by

“the covert human intelligence source”

or by a person who holds a rank, office, or position in the public authority that is granting the authorisation and is assisting in the behaviour of the covert human intelligence source. As my noble friend Lord Dubs said, this amendment was recommended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Under the terms of the Bill, authorised conduct is not limited to the conduct of the covert human intelligence source. The code of practice says that a criminal conduct authorisation may also authorise conduct by someone else in relation to a covert human intelligence source, with that someone else being those within a public authority involved in or affected by the authorisation.

If the Government do not accept Amendment 39, they need to set out in their response the reasons why they consider it necessary to provide for the authorisation of criminal conduct by someone other than the covert human intelligence source; the parameters of that criminal conduct by someone other than the CHIS that can be so authorised; and the safeguards in the Bill to ensure that the person authorised to commit criminal conduct—who is someone other than the covert human intelligence source—is not also involved in any way in the authorisation process to which that criminal conduct relates.

I shall listen with interest to the Government’s response to Amendment 39 and to the pertinent questions raised by my noble friend Lord Sikka in speaking to his amendment.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken in this debate.

Amendment 39 seeks clarification on who can be authorised under the Bill. The intention behind the Bill is to provide protection both to the CHIS themselves and to those involved in the authorisation process within the relevant public authority. There are a range of limitations on what can be authorised under the Bill, including the conduct being necessary and proportionate. This means that it would not be possible to grant an authorisation for criminal conduct unless that conduct was by a CHIS for a specific, identified purpose, or involved members of the public authority making, or giving effect to, the CHIS authorisation.

Amendment 53, from the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, seeks to restrict those who can be granted a criminal conduct authorisation to employees of the public authority. The Government cannot support this amendment as it would significantly hamper our public authorities’ efforts to tackle crimes and terrorism. While CHIS are often employees of the public authority, they also can be members of the public. The real value of CHIS who are members of the public is in their connections to the criminal and terrorist groups that we are targeting. This is often the only means by which valuable intelligence can be gathered on the harmful activities which we are seeking to stop. Employees of a public authority will not have the same level of access. I reassure the noble Lord that the authorising officers within the public authority set out clearly the strict parameters of a criminal conduct authorisation. Were a CHIS to engage in criminality beyond their authorisation, that conduct could be considered for prosecution in the usual way.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked whether the CHIS and their handler could be prosecuted. Obviously, every situation will be different, but if the CHIS acted beyond their authorisation, they would have to answer for that. Equally, if the CHIS handler acted inappropriately or in a way that might endanger the CHIS, they could also be liable for that conduct.

The noble Lord, Lord Sikka, talked about security guards being undercover operatives. The noble Lord will know that we have published the list of bodies that can run undercover operatives. In addition to this, the criminal injuries compensation scheme is not undermined by this Bill, and I understand that anyone can approach the IPT if they feel they are due civil compensation. I think that is right, but I will write to noble Lords if that is wrong.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have received a request to speak after the Minister, and hand signals suggest it may be the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her explanation. I am not sure I explained myself well enough to her in terms of who is covered by legal immunity. It is not if the CHIS goes beyond the CCA, but if the CHIS remains within the CCA. So, if the CHIS operates exactly in the way the handler has told them to, and the handler tells them only what the authorising officer has authorised them to, but it is not necessary or proportionate, it is corrupt or a mistake, who is covered by the CCA? Who is covered by the immunity, even though the CHIS has not gone beyond what they were asked to do?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I say again that each situation will be different, but I understand the noble Lord’s point that if the CHIS is acting as instructed, but the handler has gone beyond where they should have gone, it would be the handler’s authorising officer who would be liable for that activity. There would be an investigation, but at that point, we are talking about a theoretical case. If it was the handler who had acted beyond their purview, the handler would be liable for that handling activity, or the authorising officer. It is late, I am tired, and I have suddenly forgotten my thread.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed to the debate. I have to lead with what the Minister said. I feel that her interpretation of the part of the Bill we are talking about was nearer to the spirit of the amendment than the wording of the clause itself. That is why I want to have a look at it. As for what my noble friend Lord Sikka said, I was not aware that a person in the Bill could be a corporate body. I fear he has an important point, but maybe it is not quite in the scope of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, my contribution on this amendment will be fairly short. I hear the point that my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti makes and I note the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that this issue is not mentioned in the Bill. Therefore, I am not quite clear whether the amendment is necessary. It would help us if, when the Minister responds, she could say something about the detail of the authorisations in a CCA.

Behind all the amendments today are concerns and worries about what may or may not have happened in the past. People want reassurance going forward, but they are not seeing it. I see that theme across all our discussions today. At some point, the Government will probably have to go a bit further to provide that reassurance, although I do not know how they will do that.

All these issues have been raised because of concerns that people have had in the past. As my noble friend said, we do not know whether we can stop this in the future, but I hope that the Minister can go a bit further. I cannot see any particular issue but, if I am right, the reason behind an authorisation would have to be recorded and shared with the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. That is the issue on which we need reassurance, as we move forward and give people new powers.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank noble Lords. I hope to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about why we do not need this amendment.

I have already stressed the requirement for all CHIS authorisations to be given in line with the Human Rights Act. Article 6 of the ECHR protects the right to a fair trial. The article restates a fundamental principle of English law and, I understand, Scottish law: that a court has a duty to ensure a fair trial. The use of an agent provocateur could be seen as affecting the fairness of a trial, and rightly so. A court already has the requisite power in law—under Section 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—to consider and exclude such evidence. The relevant entrapment principles are set out in the leading House of Lords case of Loosely from 2001, which also opines on the convergence of English law in this area with our Article 6 commitments. I hope that that provides reassurance.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I apologise: I perhaps have not made myself clear enough. It is late and we have all been at this for a while, but I do not think that I explained myself well enough either to my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark or to the Minister.

Agent provocateurs are not limited to the trial process. In fact, the scenario that I have painted could apply where nobody is brought to trial, so Article 6 and evidential rules against entrapment are no protection. I shall try again.

The scenario is like this. Some hours ago, the noble Lord, Lord King, spoke about the possibilities—suspicions or fears perhaps—that in the future environmental or race equality movements might become involved in more militant or violent action against people or property. That is a concern that he already has, and maybe some other people do too. Given that the Bill allows economic concerns to be a justification not just for CHIS but criminal conduct, what would happen if a CHIS were authorised to enter such a protest movement and misbehave in order to discredit it when that movement had not yet, or at all, engaged in that more violent, militant or illegal activity?

In my scenario, it is possible that only the CHIS himself is committing a crime, but because he is doing so within that movement, the organisation is now discredited in the public mind or the Government might choose to prohibit the organisation in some way. It is quite possible that in that scenario nobody will have been brought to court and there will be no Article 6 fair trial issue and no entrapment/evidence issue.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the noble Baroness give way?

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I apologise for intervening at an inappropriate moment. I was trying to clarify whether the noble Baroness was suggesting that a CHIS would be authorised to entrap. I do not think that authorisation would be valid.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Forgive me, but in the scenario that I have just painted there is no entrapment because nobody is prosecuted. There is just criminal behaviour by a CHIS for the purpose of discrediting in the public imagination an otherwise peaceful protest movement, for example; it could be an environmental movement. At the moment I see nothing in the Bill that bans a criminal conduct authorisation being made with the primary purpose of discrediting an otherwise peaceful movement that perhaps poses a challenge to some people’s idea of the economic well-being of the nation.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think that we are coming to the end of this debate, but entrapment in and of itself would have been committed.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we can disagree on that, but perhaps before Report the Minister and her colleagues might reflect on what I am trying to achieve. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this is one of those debates where you can stand up and quite honestly say you agree with every single word that has been said from across the House. I am sure the noble Baroness understands that this presents particular problem for the Government, because I am sure that, in addition to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, who made an excellent speech, many other members of the Government’s own party will agree with all the points that have been raised here today.

This group of amendments brings the House back to an issue that was first raised by my noble friend Lord Haskel on a statutory instrument, to which the noble Baroness responded. I remember sitting in a much more packed House, and there was lots of concern around the House—“What is this?” People were quite shocked to learn that children were being used in such a way, and that shock and concern has continued, which is why we have come here today.

Everyone around the House is very worried. That is certainly why I signed Amendment 60, which was so ably spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey. Other noble Lords have spoken, and all these amendments are excellent, but I hope that we can hone this down to one. I particularly like Amendment 60, but I think we can see the concern expressed by the House, and we need to deal with this. Our Amendment 60 does not rule out child CHIS completely, but it certainly restricts them. I accept that in very limited circumstances, you might have to use a child, but it must be a very limited, rare occasion.

I am confident that the House will pass an amendment on this issue. Ideally and hopefully, it would be a government amendment, but I am confident that the House will pass an amendment by a large majority on this issue, which is about children. As you have heard, people under 18 can be quite streetwise—certainly, children think they are quite streetwise, although I do not know if they are; they are not quite as streetwise as they think they are. It is about that ability to give informed consent.

We are asking these children to take part in, be involved in and inform and report back on some very dangerous situations. This can be terrorism, drug dealing, sexual abuse or paedophilia: all sorts of really appalling, terrible things. We have to ask ourselves the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham: how is that individual child protected? What would be said if a child CHIS is authorised and that child dies? That would be appalling—what would we say then? I think we have to take note of and be concerned about that, as well as the comments of the Children’s Commissioner in respect of using child CHIS.

Of course, sometimes—we have had this before—the child CHIS can be asked to pass information back to their handler, who can be a member of their own family. There are often situations when they are involved in a crime family: it could be their own father or mother. It is not always the case that the child is in care and hanging around the streets before getting involved; sometimes, it can be members of their own family, who can be very dangerous people. We are putting people in very difficult situations, and we must be even more careful about the individual child in those situations. These children have rights, and we need to ensure that, as the state, we protect them even more. As I said, if you are under 18, you are legally still a child and deserve protection from the state.

The right reverend Prelate made the point again about children, and I fully support his comments, as I do the points about mental capacity made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, which are very important. I also support the point of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that, sometimes, you can have quite a streetwise child and, equally, an older adult who is not that streetwise, so there is an issue there as well. These are things that we need to consider.

I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to tell the House that she fully understands the situation—and I know she is concerned about this. I hope that she will work with the House and, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell, says, can see the concern and genuine desire to agree something. I hope that she will welcome noble Lords from around the House and that we will come back with an amendment that, hopefully, we can all sign up to on Report, allowing very limited circumstances where a child may need to be used—very limited. Equally, I want to see much more protection for people. I hope that, when the noble Baroness responds, she will be able to give the House that information.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I start with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and absolutely confirm that I fully understand what all noble Lords have been talking about this evening. Of course, I will continue to work with the House, as I have done to date, in discussing what is, for me, the most difficult part of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked me: would I like to be a CHIS? No: I would be utterly terrified. Could I see my children being deployed in such activity? It would be incredibly difficult for me.

We need to put ourselves in the shoes of those children, who, as every noble Lord has said, are fairly vulnerable people in the sense that they might have been involved in, or their home life might be the site of, criminal activity. This is a very difficult area indeed. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Russell, Lord Paddick and Lord Kennedy, and my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham—and any noble Lords who are behind me—who have taken the time to come and speak to me about this aspect of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell, put to me the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about sessions in private. We are thinking about the best way to ensure that people have some of the information they need, although noble Lords will understand that some of that is sensitive to the point that it cannot be given out. I hope that noble Lords will appreciate that I have taken the time to have a one-to-one session with any noble Lord who requested it, on any aspect of the Bill. That said, these issues are very difficult, and I totally understand the concerns that have been raised. Nobody likes to think of children or young people being involved in these horrible areas.

Noble Lords may recall that the issue of juvenile CHIS, including whether they should be authorised at all, was discussed extensively in Parliament in 2018. The noble Lord, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, asked me why there was no child impact assessment of the Bill. As a result of concerns being raised about the use of juvenile CHIS, the IPC himself launched a review of all public authorities that have the power to authorise CHIS, to ensure that there was a comprehensive record of how often these powers were used in relation to juveniles. The conclusions of the review were reported in March 2019 to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I have discussed them before, including the numbers, on the Floor of this House.

On the basis of these detailed reviews, the IPC was satisfied that those who grant such authorisations do so only after very careful consideration of the inherent risks, and that concerns around the safeguarding of children and the public authority’s duty of care to the child are key considerations in the authorisation process. He also noted that public authorities are reticent to authorise juveniles as CHIS unless the criminality and the risk of harm to individuals and communities that the authorisation is seeking to prevent is of a high order and cannot be resolved in less intrusive ways. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, put that challenge to me.

The IPC also highlighted that juvenile CHIS are not tasked to participate in criminality that they are not already involved in and that becoming a CHIS can, potentially, offer a way to extricate themselves from such harm. The decisions to authorise were only made where this is the best option for breaking the cycle of crime and the danger for the individual, much as that might sound contradictory.

As well as the IPC investigation, the High Court considered the issue of juvenile CHIS last year. Mr Justice Supperstone set out his view that it was clear that the principal focus of the framework for juvenile CHIS is to ensure that appropriate weight is given to a child’s best interests and that the practical effect of the enhanced risk assessment is that juveniles are,

“only utilised in extreme circumstances and when other potential sources of information have been exhausted.”

I hope that that goes some way to reassuring noble Lords that the decision to authorise a young person to act as a CHIS, or participate in criminality, is never taken lightly.

I will now set out the additional safeguards that apply to the authorisation of juveniles as CHIS, and which will equally apply when criminal conduct is being authorised. These include authorisation at a more senior level, a shorter duration for authorisations—four months, rather than 12 for adult CHIS—with monthly reviews, and a requirement for an enhanced risk assessment. There must also be an appropriate adult present at meetings between the public authority and the CHIS for those under 16 years of age. To answer another question, appropriate adults are always independent of the police or other investigating authorities. This must be considered on a case-by-case basis for 16 to 17 year-olds.

These safeguards are contained within the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Juveniles) Order and the updated CHIS code of practice, where the safeguards for juveniles have been further strengthened. The revisions to the code will be subject to a full consultation before they are finalised and will have legal force.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her very full reply. I asked whether the approach of my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich in 2016 to the scrutiny of the Investigatory Powers Act, as it went through both Houses, might not be a model to follow. In our meeting last week, the Minister discussed with myself and those of us who are sceptical about the use of child CHIS for evidence the requirement for this. To convince us, she was kind enough to indicate that the 17 cases that we know of through IPCO produced a result that was deemed, in the balance of all things, positive and justified the use of those cases. In the absence of that sort of evidence, those of us whose primary concern is the best interests of the child are understandably very cautious and a little sceptical. We are willing to be convinced but we need the evidence to be convinced, please.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will reiterate what I said, which is that I am trying to work out a mechanism for sessions that might be helpful but not leaked, and perhaps where we can give some working examples—again, perhaps in private. We will try to do that if not before Report then during it, but before we come to this amendment.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Actually, I have nothing to ask. The noble Baroness answered my point right at the end, after I had asked the clerk if I could speak, so I will leave it there.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will be brief. I see the point that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is making on the need for review, but I am not convinced that it needs to be in the Bill. I am not persuaded that it is the right thing to do, although I see the point of a review. When the noble Baroness responds, maybe she can tell us about the detail of future authorisations. Would it be built into the authorisation itself? That would seem the better place for it, but I will wait to hear what the noble Baroness says. As it is, I am not convinced by the amendment or that the issue should be in the Bill.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I hope to provide the clarity that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, seeks and persuade the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that this is not necessary in the Bill. The current authorisation period of 12 months is consistent with the authorisation for the use and conduct of CHIS, which will need to be in place before criminal conduct can be authorised. Keeping the Bill consistent with the powers laid out in Section 29 will ensure that this power remains operationally workable for the public authorities listed in the Bill.

In the updated CHIS code of practice that accompanies the Bill, it is clear that a criminal conduct authorisation should be relied upon for as short a duration as possible. There is also a requirement on authorising officers to undertake regular reviews to assess whether the authorisation remains necessary and proportionate, and is justified. An authorisation must be cancelled when that is no longer the case.

Authorisations will be specifically and narrowly drafted and, in many cases, the specificity of the authorisation will mean that the criminal conduct authorised is in effect narrowly time-limited. However, there will be occasions when this conduct necessarily extends longer than a four-month period; CHIS who are members of proscribed organisations is a good example of this.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for what she just said and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for her support. I do not quite understand the position of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. If 12 months is specified as the length of a CCA in the Bill then why, if we want to change it to four months, should it not be in the Bill? The Minister is saying it is consistent with the period for authorising CHIS, but not the period for authorising juvenile CHIS. It is a much more serious issue than simply authorising CHIS, as we have discussed. Authorising someone to commit a crime and giving them immunity from prosecution is far more serious than simply deploying CHIS.

To say that it makes it easier if the length of time is the same for one as it is for the other is to ignore the seriousness of this deployment—authorising CHIS to commit crime. If you were to follow the noble Baroness’s argument to its logical conclusion, you would not need the Bill to authorise CHIS to commit crime, as it would be just the same as deploying CHIS. No doubt we will return to this on Report but, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 10th December 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 144(Corr)-IV Fourth marshalled list for Committee - (7 Dec 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Amendment 50 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Gower, seeks to amend the Bill to allow for a criminal conduct organisation to retrospectively authorise action if it was to save someone from harm. Clearly, the noble Lord speaks with considerable knowledge and experience from his time as a serving police officer. I have great respect for the work that he has done in the past, and I pay tribute to those brave officers whom the noble Lord referred to, who every day put themselves at risk of considerable harm to protect us and keep us safe, and who also work to turn people so that they become informants. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, the whole question of child CHISs has been discussed, and we will return to it on Report. These are very serious issues.

So I see the point that the noble Lord is making, but we should not use this Bill, when it becomes law, to retrospectively authorise conduct. That would not be right. I see the point that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made, but on previous conduct we have a position now, and that must be the position going forward. I do not see this Bill being used for what the noble Lord seeks to do. I hope that the Minister when he responds will set out the Government’s thinking on this. I hope he will say that they do not support the amendment as it stands, because it would not be the right thing to do, but will set out carefully how the Government will address this issue in the future

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Davies has called for the Bill to enable an authorising officer retrospectively to authorise conduct in certain situations. The noble Lord referred to his experiences in the field, as it were, and it will have been obvious to all noble Lords that he drew on a considerable wealth of practical wisdom which informed his thoughtful contribution to this debate.

We on this side thank him also for his thoughtful engagement with the Minister in the other place on this matter. However, while I understand the concerns behind this amendment, it is not the intention of the Bill to allow any retrospective authorisations. All criminal conduct authorisations are granted by an experienced authorising officer, who will scrutinise each authorisation to ensure that it has strict parameters, that it is necessary and proportionate to the threat it seeks to disrupt and that the criminality authorised is at the lowest level possible to achieve the aims of the operation.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and other noble Lords asked for an outline of the Government’s position. It is clear that this must be a matter of balancing. We consider that, by allowing retrospective authorisations, we remove the ability of the authorising officer to scrutinise the criminal conduct before it takes place, or we remove from the centre of our consideration that advance consideration. While I share the sentiment that we would not want undercover operatives to be placed in difficult positions simply for acting in the public interest, none the less, one of the key components in the present arrangement is control. The authorising officer must have confidence that proper thought has been given to the consequences of the authorisation, and we do not believe that an after-the-fact analysis, when the activities were not under the control of the public authority, should be retrospectively authorised where an authorisation has such an important legal