All 9 Baroness Chakrabarti contributions to the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021

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Wed 11th Nov 2020
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Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill Debate

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Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

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Wednesday 11th November 2020

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I welcome the noble and learned Lord the Minister and congratulate him on his new role, and indeed I welcome the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin.

Many things are said about your Lordships’ House and about what it is to be a patriot today of all days. I cannot imagine the purpose of either if not to defend the rule of law. It is not a question of left-wing or right-wing, or leave or remain. There can be no freedom, security or even democracy without it, and one of its most fundamental principles is that the law of the land must apply to everyone equally.

If we were to introduce one law for agents of the state and another for everyone else, surely lawlessness and tyranny would not be far behind, and I know that no one in your Lordships’ House would wish for that outcome. Yet the gravest dangers to the rule of law do not politely announce themselves. More often than not, they come under cover and with the best of intentions, not least preserving security and even the law itself.

It is said that this Bill seeks to put criminal conduct by covert human intelligence sources on a statutory footing, but in truth—and as the Minister has today acknowledged—it goes a great deal further than that. It replaces our legal status quo, whereby criminal acts in the course of undercover intelligence work are nearly always and rightly forgiven in the public interest, with a complete and advance immunity or licence or golden ticket for a raft of agents against prosecution and civil suit, regardless of the harm caused to our people—including completely innocent people—in the process.

It is important to remember that the overwhelming majority of these agents are not trained officers of our security agencies or police. They necessarily come from the community, including the criminal community. They include extremely troubled, volatile and vulnerable people, including, as we have heard so many times, even children. A public inquiry that has only just begun is hearing how the agents are capable of abuse and even of inciting crime, rather than preventing and detecting it, even under the present arrangements.

We are told not to worry because those issuing these criminal conduct licences, from inside the relevant agencies themselves, must take into account the requirements of the Human Rights Act. I must point out that such an obligation is weaker than the normal obligation on public authorities to comply with them. Further, while human rights bind states and public bodies, they are no substitute for effective criminal law in both protecting and binding individual people by deterring violence—and sexual violence in particular. There is a wealth of case law to that effect.

Some argue that the great dangers in this legislation might be remedied by external or judicial authorisation of criminal conduct, or by limiting the list of agencies or types of crimes. I am far from convinced that anything other than removing the immunity from these authorisations and restoring them to the appropriate position of public interest guidance to agents, prosecutors and courts will suffice. Once more, in the words of former officer Neil Woods:

“As a former ruthless undercover cop, I see many possibilities of this going wrong. This immunity truly changes everything. It invites criminality into a realm uniquely susceptible to it. Once we go down this route, it will be very difficult ever to return.”


I urge your Lordships to heed that stark warning.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill Debate

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Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

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Tuesday 24th November 2020

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Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, I rather wish this Bill were called the “Authorised Criminal Conduct Bill”. I find it very difficult to get my mouth around this very cumbersome title, and I utterly loathe the term “CHIS”. I wonder if my noble and learned friend who will reply could earn himself undying gratitude from those of us who care about the English language by coming up with something else.

These are probing amendments, and they seek essentially one thing: clarity. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made that very plain in her admirably brief introduction to this short debate. Clarity is of such importance when we are swimming in such murky waters and dealing with such very questionable matters.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, said that he felt the matter of retrospection had probably been dealt with by the remarks of, I think, the Solicitor-General in another place. But there is still a certain lurking doubt, and it would therefore be good to put something on the face of the Bill while it is in your Lordships’ House to make it plain beyond any peradventure that retrospective authorisation is not possible.

I do not want to detain the House any longer, but clarity, I would emphasise, is what we are after here.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I can be very brief, because others have put the point so well and also because of the next debate to follow. I would simply say that this degree of micro-precision becomes particularly important because the Bill goes further than the status quo and creates these advanced criminal and civil immunities. I will leave it at that, because I think we are all really quite keen to hear the Minister’s response.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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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.

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Moved by
3: Clause 1, page 1, leave out line 17
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is linked to the amendment in name of Baroness Chakrabarti at page 1, line 19.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, Amendment 3 is linked to Amendment 5, which is at the nub of all this. I am supported in that amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Warsi.

Over many years, including in recent days, when the devil is in the detail in general and when the rule of law is in jeopardy in particular, your Lordships’ House really comes into its own. This is necessarily the case when, as with this Bill, the proceedings in the other place were so truncated and when such a complex but vital area of policy was not foreshadowed in an election manifesto. I say that to emphasise the importance of your Lordships’ consideration of the detail of the Bill.

I will begin with two preliminary points that are vital background to Amendment 5, in particular. To head off the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, at the pass, I will try to use the phrase “undercover operative” instead of “covert human intelligence source”, or CHIS. I cannot say “undercover officer”, because of course, so many of the people involved in this activity are not officers of any state agency. They are not James Bond or even Constable Bond, they are members of the community, including the criminal community, as we know.

First, I accept that undercover operatives must sometimes commit crimes in the public interest. It is unsavoury, but it is vital sometimes to keeping their cover or just operating. As we heard from the Minister a few moments ago, that includes the offence of being a member of a banned organisation, but might also include being in possession of banned items in such an organisation or in a criminal fraternity of some kind, and the crimes might go further still into minor property offences, and, who knows—subject to the public interest, in a particular, very dangerous but potentially life-saving operation. I want to put that on the record at the outset.

Secondly, I must accept that current litigation still before the courts that challenges the legal foundation of present arrangements whereby undercover operatives will sometimes be authorised and guided in crimes connected with their work potentially risks the viability of current arrangements in a way that would not be satisfactory to me or anyone trying to discharge the burden of government.

This amendment has been drafted with the acceptance that the Bill is necessary to create a clearer statutory foundation than is currently the case, but there is a very important difference between regularising current arrangements—necessary and even vital evils in the public interest—and, on the other hand, violation of the rule of law. It can be a very fine line, and it is that line that I attempt to correct and safeguard with Amendment 5.

Amendment 5 removes the current “lawful for all purposes” civil and criminal immunity used in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and is completely appropriate in that place for the purposes of surveillance; in other words, a necessary and proportionate interference with people’s privacy. It may be perfectly appropriate for surveillance, subject to appropriate checks and balances, but not, I would argue, for other criminal offences. They may be significant property offences or even offences against the person, or other serious interferences with, if not violations of, people’s rights and freedoms. That is why “lawful for all purposes” is not appropriate. We could even be getting into physical harm to people, which does not happen in the case of privacy intrusion or surveillance by themselves.

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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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]
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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.

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Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich (CB) [V]
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My Lords, this group of amendments focuses on compensation for crimes committed pursuant to a criminal conduct authorisation. I suggest that the applicable principles should be these.

First, it would be unfair to expose undercover operatives to personal civil liability for doing something they were expressly authorised by a public authority to do, just as it is generally considered unfair and contrary to the public interest to prosecute them for that. This, despite my profound respect for the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and for all his police experience is my problem with Amendment 6.

Secondly, some means of compensation should exist for injury or loss caused by a crime committed pursuant to a criminal conduct authorisation: not from the person who perpetrated the crime but from the authority which authorised it, or from the state more generally. So what should that means of compensation be?

The first and obvious route, already referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton —but not, I think, responded to by the Minister—is via the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority and its equivalent in Northern Ireland. That is not expressly referred to in these amendments, but can the Minister confirm whether it is available to the victims of crime committed pursuant to criminal conduct authorisations under the scheme of the Bill and if not, why not?

The second possible route to compensation, suggested by Amendment 8, is for the CHIS who perpetrates a crime to be capable of being sued and then, if necessary, indemnified by the authorising authority. I see the attraction of that, but of course criminals are rarely perceived as having deep enough pockets to be worth suing. I can also see considerable practical difficulties in keeping their status as a CHIS secret once the indemnity comes into play. It was interesting to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, that this amendment is based on an Australian model. It would be interesting to know how much that model is actually used.

The third possible route is by proceeding directly against the authorising authority in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. Amendment 71 is designed to give effect to that, but I wonder whether it actually adds to what is already in RIPA. A new subsection (5)(g) is proposed for its Section 65, so as to include conduct authorised under new Section 29B. But new Section 29B will be in Part II of RIPA, which is already specified in Section 65(5)(d).

How would a person be made aware of the possibility of proceedings in the IPT? The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 already requires IPCO not only to inform a person of a serious error, where it is in the public interest to do so, but, by Section 231(6), to inform them of any right they may have to apply to the IPT. By Section 232, IPCO is required to give any necessary assistance to the IPT. So far so good, although I wonder how often, as a matter of practice, it will be considered by a judicial commissioner to be in the public interest to inform a person of a serious error of this kind. To do so will often risk blowing the cover of the CHIS, notwithstanding the fact that the IPT proceedings themselves are very secure.

In short, it seems to me that the Amendment 8 route could be created, and that the Amendment 71 route may already exist, but that both are likely to be hamstrung in practice by the requirements of keeping secret the existence and identity of a CHIS. That rather points up the advantages of ensuring that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority is available to the victims of crimes committed by undercover operatives in the same way as it is to the victims of other crimes. I hope the Minister will feel able to comment.

Finally and more generally, I make a procedural suggestion, following the proposal of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, that a special committee be appointed to take evidence from the police and MI5 on matters considered too sensitive, perhaps, for the ears of the rest of us. I know the Minister is thinking about that proposal, but should it not meet with favour, an alternative might be to task the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation with investigating the position and reporting back. The current reviewer, Jonathan Hall QC, is highly expert in all matters relating to police law, not only counter- terrorism. He is widely respected for his impartiality and has, of course, the very highest security clearance. I recall, as independent reviewer, performing a similar function when the Bill that became the Justice and Security Act 2013 was going through Parliament, and though I cannot commit the independent reviewer, I should be happy to share that experience if others see merit in the idea.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I can be brief on this group—because I gave my views on the importance of removing both civil and criminal immunity in the earlier discussion—save to take the opportunity to wholly welcome the cogent, powerful and accessible report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and to congratulate my noble friends Lady Massey and Lord Dubs, as well as all the other members of that committee. The committee has been one of the greatest success stories coming from the Human Rights Act. Some once thought the Act would be just a recipe for litigation, and human rights would be just a box of lawyers’ tricks to wield in court, but the Joint Committee on Human Rights has been the missing ingredient that allows for human rights principles to be included in the consideration of legislation before it is even passed. I say this knowing that that the Minister will take that report incredibly seriously when he considers his approach to the next stage of the Bill.

On civil immunity, it is worth saying that, for a lot of victims, this is as important as criminal immunity. For a lot of innocent third parties, who may have lost property or even suffered grave injuries through no fault of their own, it is very important that there is the possibility of compensation. It may not be enough for it to be left to the CICA, although I will be interested in what the Minister advises. It would seem completely unconscionable for a state agent to be authorised to commit a crime, for an innocent citizen to suffer grave damage to property or person and for there to be no mechanism for them to have compensation. Further, the civil courts, when combined with investigative journalism, have been a place where a great many scandals and human rights violations of recent decades have been exposed, so “lawful for all purposes” is just as potentially worrying in the civil context as it is in relation to the criminal law.

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Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, this is an interesting pair of amendments, because they go to the territorial extent of the Bill. Does the Bill seek to authorise state agents to commit crimes in foreign countries? That opens a whole legal and diplomatic mess. What happens if somebody is given permission to commit crimes abroad but is then caught and prosecuted in that foreign jurisdiction? Can the UK Government really seek some sort of immunity for their agents in that sort of situation? It raises the further question: to what extent do the Government think this recreates the status quo under the current system? Do they claim to have the ability to authorise crimes by their agents in other countries at the moment?

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, points out an enormous sensitivity, in relation not just to extraterritoriality but to immunity, in the context of Northern Ireland in particular. Noble Lords are particularly jealous in their protection of the Good Friday agreement, as we have seen in other debates, and they should be no less jealous of that precious peace in their consideration of this Bill. As we have just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, it will not just be a problem in relation to the peace in Northern Ireland but will be a significant issue for our diplomatic relations with all sorts of countries and our status in the world, at a particularly sensitive moment for that status, if the Minister is not able to give some reassurance in her reply.

I have no doubt that for ever, a tight group of agents of the state probably have been informally or rather more formally authorised in the context of espionage work—perhaps vital espionage work—to sometimes commit criminal offences. But again, it creates a much bigger problem, including for diplomatic relations, if we are purporting to give immunity not just to direct officers, employees or trained personnel but to “civilians” around the world of necessarily dubious genesis. So I look forward to the reply from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill Debate

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Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

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Lord Rooker Portrait Lord Rooker (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I too regret the split in this debate and certainly hope that it does not happen again. Members were left high and dry with no knowledge of what was happening on the evening concerned. However, that is in the past.

One minor caveat is that I served briefly as Minister of State both in the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office, but I was involved purely in domestic matters—never in anything remotely regarding security or policing.

I applied to speak to this group of amendments only for the specific purpose of supporting Amendments 46 and 73 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. I would have considerable difficulty supporting other amendments in this group, as I will if they come back on Report.

We have heard some powerful speeches about events of the past; in no way do I denigrate these, but this Bill is about the future. We have also heard much about the current inquiry into undercover policing. While I share the concern, and am quite appalled at some of the activities that have been disclosed, I do not see a massive connection with this Bill.

At Second Reading I said that, in the main, I think of a CHIS—a covert human intelligence source—as

“someone who is not an employee of the police or security services, but an outside, undercover informer or agent.”—[Official Report, 11/11/20; Col. 1079.]

No one is seeking a free-for-all. Some years ago, I spent a day in Thames House. Much to my surprise, I came away with the impression of liberal—with a small L—attitudes and, above all, a desire to serve and be accountable to Parliament and the rule of law.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said at one point in his speech that, in the past, he was converted to prior judicial review. I took this to be in respect of the issues he was dealing with at that time, and that has, in the main, been accomplished on other issues. I was also struck by the point he made about the FBI and Canada not using judges for prior approval. This point does not come across in some of the briefings received on the Bill.

Handling a covert human intelligence source is real, practical, person-to-person work, and Amendment 46 is a much better alternative than the others in the current circumstances. The noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, reinforced that, making the point that other alternatives do not seem practical. This was reinforced again by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, who spoke about the work of a CHIS as a specific form of intrusion that required a specialist overseer as it was not a specific one-off act. The work of the CHIS is different from other intrusions such as telephone intercepts or surveillance. It involves fast-changing situations and sometimes volatile, or possibly unpleasant, personalities. In such circumstances, a clear duty of care rests with the handler of the covert human intelligence source. Too little attention has been paid to this aspect.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, speaking in support last week, said that, to date in the debate, there had been some gross distortions of the position of the police. I too think some of the language has been extravagant, and it does not fit the here and now.

This brings me to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller. While earlier speeches in the debate drew on practical experience—in particular, that of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, as a police officer—we can now draw on the personal practical experience of someone who spent 33 years inside MI5 actually running agents in the field and who accepts that there is a life-long duty of care for the agents. Quite correctly, we do not hear much about this, but it is an important point to appreciate. The noble Baroness made a rather telling point, repeated today by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, about MI5 seeking such legislative accountability for running CHIS 27 years ago, before it was a statutory body. Given what I said at the start about what I consider a CHIS to be, it is clear to me that the noble Baroness made a powerful case for Amendment 46, adding to what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said in moving it.

Yes, of course, I accept in principle that prior judicial consent could be supported, but it is simply not practical. We need to think of the position of the agents and their handlers in the current circumstances—of those who are making such decisions today. We need to be supportive of change, accept that the situation is not comparable to telephone intercepts and other aspects of surveillance, and be wholly practical in a way that supports those doing this valuable work for the country. I support Amendment 46, unlike many of the other amendments in this group which are simply not practical.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow so many distinguished Members of your Lordships’ House—not least my noble friend Lord Rooker. The fact that this group has taken so long, has had by necessity to be split over two days and has contained so many distinguished contributions, merely highlights the gravity of the step taken in this Bill to create advanced and complete civil and criminal immunity for criminal conduct by CHIS, rather than putting CHIS itself on a statutory footing; I remind noble Lords of this. It also serves as a reminder of the care with which noble Lords approach this kind of dramatic constitutional exercise.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that this is the first sitting of this Committee since the Government announced yesterday that, once more, the Finucane family will not get the independent inquiry that they have sought for so long into the murder of the lawyer Pat Finucane. This seems highly pertinent to consideration of this Bill.

If after so long, and if after acceptance—even by a UK Prime Minister—that illegal collusion by state agents took place in that murder, and after so much criticism, including at international level, it is still not considered appropriate to have an independent judicial inquiry, that really does beg the question for the future as to whether any Government, of any stripe, at any moment in history, should be trusted with the ability to authorise a whole host of state agencies to subdelegate the power to grant immunities in relation to criminal conduct to a whole host of currently unspecified levels of authoriser or handler, and to do so without some kind of prior authorisation process. The sheer gravity of that new immunity from civil and criminal suit—which has not been the case up to now—is what I believe has caused such a plethora of alternative suggested safeguards, many of which arise in the group of amendments that we have been discussing in recent hours.

It would be invidious to cite particular interventions, because there have been so many; all have been incredibly expert and thoughtful, coming at the problem of safeguards from a great deal of alternative experience. We have heard from the retired judiciary. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, a very distinguished former director of MI5, who of course famously made her maiden speech in your Lordships’ House in defence of civil liberties and against the notion of 42 days’ detention without charge or trial. We have heard from a number of noble Lords who have served at Cabinet level, including my noble friend Lord Hain, who has authorised intrusive activity—necessarily, as a Northern Ireland Secretary—but has also, as he told us quite poignantly last week, been the victim of political manipulation of intrusive power.

My noble friend’s story particularly highlights how a covert human intelligence source is different from other kinds of intrusive power, as has been put eloquently by a great number of noble Lords. A human intelligence source is different because that human is at risk and, as a human, is therefore more precious than a bugging device when at risk. A human intelligence source is also more intrusive and dangerous to those being spied on, because that human will affect behaviour, not just monitor or record it.

In this group, there is a number of alternative authorisation processes and safeguards pre- and post-criminal activity, judicial and political—which, of course, makes me wince slightly. That menu is comparable to the other powers catered for in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

I remind noble Lords that the scheme of this Bill has essentially been grafted on to a pre-existing scheme in the 2000 Act. Any suggestion that there is currently no regulatory framework for CHIS is not the case—there is. Undercover operatives or agents are authorised under RIPA. However, they are not subject to external authorisation. That may be one problem at the heart of this debate—it is actually human intrusive surveillance or CHIS per se, before we even enter the territory of criminal conduct, which ought to be subject to greater safeguards. However, that is outside the scope of this Bill. It is unfortunate that, in this case, the Government have grafted something as drastic as granting advanced immunity to agents on to a pre-existing scheme without allowing legislators the opportunity to look at that wider scheme itself—because, of course, the Long Title of this Bill is so narrow in just being concerned with criminal conduct and not the authorisation of CHIS. That is unfortunate.

I hope that, in future, at the earliest possible opportunity, the Government will consider having another look at what safeguards should be applied to the authorisation or post-authorisation scrutiny of these undercover operatives and agents. That would help to deal with some of the complex arguments about whether it is appropriate for a judge or judicial commissioner to give a pre- or post- or real-time authorisation or scrutiny of actions that, ultimately, lie in the hands of the CHIS themselves. It is very difficult indeed, because of the fast-moving situations that were described by a great many noble Lords, properly to regulate such activity without regulating the operating mind, drive and ethic of the undercover person.

That brings me to my final point: it would be a great deal simpler if, ultimately, as is the status quo and the mechanism that has been so successful and has saved so many lives, we did not leave open what should be a remote possibility that an undercover operative will have their conduct examined after the fact, when it is criminal conduct, by an independent prosecutor and judge in the normal way, with all the defences that public interest will allow.

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Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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My Lords, I listened to my noble friend opposite and his detailed, and quite persuasive, contribution. I mentioned competence in the previous group. It is absolutely vital, but I do not need to say anything further on it, because the noble Lord has covered that in great depth.

The other two amendments—Amendments 16 and 17 —both claim to be more objective, and there is a powerful case for clarity. My only other comment is on Amendment 19. I do not want to be too hurtful but frankly, all it does is complicate the whole issue by a huge margin. For anybody to balance

“the size and scope of the proposed activity against the gravity and extent of the perceived crime or harm”,

they really need to be very experienced in the whole of this market. That is not at all possible.

It is difficult for my noble friend on the Front Bench. I can see that there is a need to get more bite into it, if possible, but it is not an easy issue. The contribution on competence from the noble Lord needs to be taken very seriously.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, during this sitting of the Committee, I have just discovered about the passing of Lord Kerr of Tonaghmore, one of the first members of our Supreme Court and a former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in mourning him and sending our condolences to his family. He was a great judge and human being. Being a senior judge in Northern Ireland when he was created a great deal of risk for him and his family, but I will remember him for his humanity and sense of humour just as much as for his courage and intellect.

On a small preliminary manner, the Minister made a comment on the previous group. Our hybrid proceedings are amazing in so many ways, but they may create confusion on occasion. I apologise to her if I contributed to that because, when we are on Zoom from home, there is no Dispatch Box. There is a metaphorical one but not an actual one. To be clear, in the last group my noble friend Lord Rosser spoke for the Opposition and I spoke for myself. Last time, you heard from my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton and my noble friend Lord Rosser for the Opposition. Shortly, you will hear from my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark, who will speak for the Opposition. That may be easier, because I can see him in the distance via my Zoom; he is physically in the Chamber. I apologise for that—or if the Minister was making a joke at my expense and I have just wasted your Lordships’ time for a couple of minutes.

The amendments in this group are important, not least because of the Minister’s response to the previous group, and particularly to what I will call the Paddick question. Noble Lords will remember a hypothetical put by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, essentially about what happens when things go wrong. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has spoken of everyone’s human frailty, and legislators need to consider, despite all the expertise, brilliance and public service principles of those operating legislation, what happens when things go wrong. The noble Lord put the hypothetical of a criminal conduct authorisation that had been corruptly given, but executed by an undercover agent in good faith. What would happen then? The Bill has a three-way relationship at its heart—a triangle, if you like—between the person who authorises criminal conduct, the person who executes it and any victim of that criminality. Your Lordships are considering a crucial legal relationship.

If I am right, the Minister responded to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, with an answer akin to saying that the person who issued the authorisation—in this example corruptly—would be liable. I think she suggested that there would still be no liability for the undercover agent, because they had acted in good faith, be it on a corrupt authorisation. They had been used, if you like, as the tool of the corrupt authoriser. They would continue to have criminal and civil immunity, but there would be an unspecified liability for the person who issued the authorisation.

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Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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I have two short comments. First, Amendment 21 sounds wonderful on the surface, but who will determine who is appropriate, or is it just the Secretary of State? Would it not have happened in any case? Secondly, on Amendment 81, I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. There is nothing worse than having a situation where the rules of the game—or the provisions or the instructions—are changed in one area without understanding that it has a knock-on effect in another area. As I understand this amendment, it is basically saying that they must all take place at the same time and not at different times. If that is so then I am totally in support of it.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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To be short, my Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. Matters as grave as criminal conduct authorisations for state agents should be regulated in primary legislation and not be subject to delegated powers thereafter.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I am afraid that we have a number of amendments in this group. I have quite a lot of sympathy with Amendment 19A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, but it seems to me that proposed new subsection (4)(c) is not anything like of the same order as proposed new subsection (4)(a) and (b). I read it as being procedural and think that it would not make it more difficult to satisfy the necessity and proportionality requirements. I hope the Minister can confirm that.

Amendment 21 deals with proposed new Clause 29B(4)(c), which provides that the Secretary of State can make an order imposing requirements for the CCA to be authorised, and the person authorising it must believe that there are arrangements which satisfy those requirements. If the Secretary of State believes—if that is an appropriate use of the word, given our last discussion—that further requirements are necessary and would be of wide interest, in the fullest sense of that word, consultation ought to play a part.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 3rd December 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 144(Corr)-III(Rev) Revised third marshalled list for Committee - (1 Dec 2020)
Moved by
22: Clause 1, page 2, leave out lines 27 to 30 and insert—
“(b) for the purposes of preventing or detecting serious crime.(5A) In subsection (5), “serious crime” means a crime triable only on indictment.”Member’s explanatory statement
The amendment is intended to constrain the use of criminal conduct authorisations by precluding their use for the purpose of preventing or deterring minor criminal activities, non-serious disorder, or non-criminal damage to economic interests.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to introduce my noble friend Lord Hendy’s Amendment 22. He is detained in the Court of Appeal—not by the Court of Appeal, you understand. I wish also to introduce other amendments in this group.

Amendment 22 has an object similar to those of Amendments 23 to 31. The intention of all of them in various respects is to limit the conduct for which CCAs can be granted as set out in Clause 1(5) and to exclude their use for the kinds of non-criminal objects of undercover policing that have been revealed in the Undercover Policing Inquiry, which began to hear evidence three weeks ago.

Amendment 22 would remove from the permissible objects of a CCA the prevention or detection of disorder other than disorder which also amounts to a serious crime, such as riot. It would require that the object of preventing or detecting crime is restricted to serious crime.

My noble friend Lord Hendy was particularly attracted to the definition of “serious crime” proposed in Amendment 31, refining it to an offence conviction for which would lead to the expectation that someone over the age of 21 without previous convictions would receive a sentence of imprisonment of more than three years. That amendment also requires that the serious crime involves the use of violence, results in substantial financial gain or is conducted by a large number of people acting in a common purpose. The latter requirement in conjunction with the expectation of a prison sentence of greater than three years is a welcome limitation on the use of the crime of conspiracy, which has been used against trade unions in particular for more than 200 years.

These restrictions on the objects for which criminal conduct authorisations—CCAs—can be given are vital in light of the evidence already emerging in the Undercover Policing Inquiry, in which my noble friend is participating as counsel to a number of trade unions. Several of your Lordships have already highlighted the pointless activities of undercover police officers “penetrating”—that is the term used in the special demonstration squad references—hundreds of entirely peaceful campaigns against perceived injustice, political parties and trade unions, all apparently behaving entirely lawfully in exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association. Notoriously, some of those officers formed intimate relationships based on lies with more than 30 innocent women as cover.

Amendment 22 is designed also to remove from the Bill use of a CCA purportedly

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

This ominous phrase is undefined here but clearly capable of being interpreted as encompassing lawful industrial action, which might inevitably have some adverse economic consequences. Without that amendment, agents could be authorised to commit crimes to prevent, minimise or disrupt legitimate trade union activity. I am sure that your Lordships would agree that that must be totally unacceptable.

Trade unions and industrial action ceased to be criminal in this country 150 years ago, with some cross-party consensus. Industrial action, since it was made lawful in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute in 1906, has been very closely regulated, most recently by the Trade Union Act 2016. Trade unions and their activities are also protected by international law, not least by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The risk to trade unions posed by CCAs granted

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

should be removed.

At Second Reading, it was said that there was no risk to trade union activities in this Bill. The evidence given to the Undercover Policing Inquiry does not inspire confidence on the part of trade unions and trade unionists that they face no risk here from the issue of criminal conduct authorisations. We now know from the inquiry that the Metropolitan Police Special Branch maintained files on trade unions and had an industrial intelligence unit keeping watch on them for apparently no lawful purpose.

The report by Chief Constable Mick Creedon on police collusion in blacklisting in relation to Operation Herne and Operation Reuben describes the industrial intelligence unit:

“Formed in 1970 to monitor growing Industrial unrest, officers from the Industrial Unit used various methods to report on the whole range of working life, from teaching to the docks. This included collating reports from other units (from uniform officers to the SDS), attending conferences and protests personally, and also developing well-placed confidential contacts from within the different sectors.”


The inquiry has heard that undercover officers of the special demonstration squad penetrated both unions and rank-and-file campaigns by trade union members. The undercover officer Peter Francis has apologised to the unions he spied on. One undercover officer testified that the first chief superintendent of the special demonstration squad was of the view that the trade union movement was infested with communists who took their orders from the Soviet Union, and he subsequently joined the blacklisting organisation, the Economic League. No doubt, this view was dated and dismissed when expressed, but the fact is that spying on trade unionists did not cease when he left. We know from the Creedon report that the modern equivalent of the Special Branch industrial intelligence unit is the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit’s Industrial Liaison Unit. It is clear that this kind of process continues.

If the Government do not intend legitimate trade union activity to be within the scope of activity allegedly threatening the economic well-being of the United Kingdom, they ought to amend the Bill in the way suggested and accept Amendment 28 in the names of my noble friends Lord Rosser, Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lady Clark of Kilwinning and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, which is to be debated in a later group. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, it is clear that there is a lot of unease—I choose a mild term—around the House about the threshold for granting criminal conduct authorisations, although there seems to be general acceptance of the ground of national security. My noble friend Lord Paddick will speak about the threshold for disorder, and I will say a word about crime. Economic well-being and other matters that have just been referred to are in separate groups, so I will not anticipate those debates.

To prevent or detect crime without qualification seems to us to be, bluntly, wrong. I appreciate the requirement for proportionality, but the more certainty about what level of crime justifies going to the next stage of assessing whether a grant can be made, the better, and on the face of the legislation. I am sure the Minister will say is not intended that a trivial crime should prompt such an authorisation, but the legislation must make clear the threshold for granting so serious an authorisation.

Amendment 22, in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Hendy and Lord Hain, has chosen

“crime triable only on indictment,”

which is certainly one way of going about this. It strikes me that there might be too wide a mesh in that net. We have proposed a definition of serious crime taken from the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, as authorising intrusive surveillance. Amendment 31 sets out the definition. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, has said to the noble Baroness that he is attracted to this, and I welcome that support.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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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]
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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.

Amendment 22 withdrawn.
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Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, my name is down to speak on this group of amendments by mistake, but I will take the opportunity to support the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and to point out to the Minister that part of the reason we keep arguing back when she gives us information is that her text rewrites history.

Many of us were there 20 years ago when, to give just one example, we challenged the police about police officers sleeping with—almost exclusively—women to infiltrate campaign groups. I was on the Metropolitan Police Authority for 12 years and challenged successive Met commissioners to say to us that that was not lawful and not something that police officers were encouraged to do. They could not do it because all the police who have leaked and whistleblown about doing that sort of thing have said that they were encouraged to do it. It was implicitly and explicitly seen as one of the perks of the job.

So, if we do not listen, it is not because we do not have a lot of respect for the Minister; it is that we know that what she says is rewriting history. It is not true that police officers were told that it was not lawful to sleep with women on campaigns. I cannot emphasise that enough. I challenged the noble Lords, Lord Stevens, Lord Blair and Lord Hogan-Howe, and Commissioner Stephenson on this very issue and none of them could reply. I hate to attack civil servants but the Minister is getting a rewriting of history from them. That is why we argue back: because we know that it is just not true.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, that was a happy accident for the Committee—not that I would ever describe interventions from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, as accidental. It is also a privilege once more to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who is a tireless and humble servant of your Lordships’ House.

This is another wholly sensible amendment. If it is not accepted, it would be really useful to hear from the Minister under which scenarios a perceived threat to the economic well-being of the nation that did not also constitute either a threat to national security or a serious crime would justify not surveillance but criminal conduct. We need to keep returning to the fact that the Bill is not about a mere investigatory power or the authorisation of covert human intelligence, which were catered for long ago; it is about authorising criminal conduct by agents of the state with total immunity.

A point that I did not address previously was proportionality. We have been told a number of times not to worry about the lack of greater restriction and precision because proportionality will always be a requirement, so that will be safeguard enough. But, of course, proportionality will be left to the discretion of the individual authorising person in any number of agencies listed in the legislation. That is a great deal of discretion. The famous American legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin described discretion as

“like the hole in a doughnut”.

He said that it

“does not exist except as an area left open by a surrounding belt of restriction. It is therefore a relative concept. It always makes sense to ask, ‘Discretion under which standards?’; or ‘Discretion as to which authority?’”

In other words, to leave everything to proportionality in the judgment of the person authorising the crime is no real safeguard at all. So it falls to us to be much more precise about the grounds on which, in a democratic society, we allow something as serious as criminal conduct and criminal immunity for agents of the state.

Lord Beith Portrait Lord Beith (LD) [V]
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My Lords, Amendment 27 seeks to qualify the use of the concept of economic well-being as a ground for authorising criminal activity by human intelligence sources. I served on the Intelligence and Security Committee for over 10 years, many of them under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord King, who spoke earlier this afternoon. I did not always agree with him but he was an admirable chairman. The breadth of the term “economic well-being” worried me then. It was an issue that I raised and explored, and that was in relation only to intrusive surveillance and the interception of communications, not the full authorisation of serious criminal offences.

There were some obviously strong candidates for recognition as threats to economic well-being—action by a hostile state or a terrorist or extremist group to destroy or disrupt key elements of our critical national infrastructure, energy supply, transport or banking and financial transaction systems. Now, they would clearly include a major hostile state or extremist action to disrupt public authority or business systems by cyberattack. But would we include Brexit and the negotiations for a deal? That clearly has massive implications for our economic well-being. What about pandemics? What if we get another one and we believe that it is being spread deliberately or recklessly by other countries or organised groups? What about a big overseas defence contract, perhaps involving up to 10,000 jobs, which we fear we might lose, with serious damage to our economic well-being? Any action we take might of course be harmful to other UK businesses participating in a rival consortium bidding for the same contract.

In the preceding debate, we also heard about the way in which economic well-being was used to justify actions against trade unionists, although I shall not repeat the examples or arguments used then. Where do we draw the line and who draws it? Is it an authorising officer? Is it an after-the-event decision taken by those with oversight responsibility, particularly the commissioner?

As I said, I asked these questions when the issue was intrusive surveillance, where the main risk to being found out was international political embarrassment. There are circumstances in which intrusive surveillance might be acceptable but authorising a serious criminal offence is not. Here, we are using a very broad and undefined concept for the authorisation of criminal offences, potentially including very serious offences. Obviously, it can be crucial to have a source of intelligence deep within a hostile state agency, terrorist group or criminal gang which poses a threat to critical national infrastructure. Such a source might have to appear to those around them to be a willing participant in preparing for, or even assisting in, a major crime which it is hoped can be thwarted by law enforcement. But there is potentially a significant difference between authorising a source in a terrorist gang to go along with serious offences in order to help prevent, as we all accept, a dreadful and deadly act and authorising someone with access to cybercrime to carry out a violent offence which might not be necessary in order to put an end to that crime.

The point that I want to make is that the concept of economic well-being is broad, and there is so little understanding of how it will be interpreted by the very wide range of agencies empowered by the Bill that it puts massive responsibility on the authorisation and review processes and on the code of practice. I hope that the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament will, at some point in the near future, undertake a general analysis of how the legislation is working and pay particular attention to the use in this area of the concept of economic well-being.

I am very glad that my noble friend has tabled this amendment, which attempts to limit the scope of economic well-being for this purpose to matters that are relevant to national security, but I think that I know the answer that the Minister will give to the suggestion—that, conceivably, it might exclude some serious threats to the health or livelihood of large numbers of our citizens. However, if we do not find a way of defining more clearly what we mean by economic well-being and limit its application in authorising criminal offences, we will take a serious risk: of leaving the authorising and scrutiny bodies dealing with these decisions with no framework and having to make it up as they go along.

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The Minister promised the other day to consult with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and those supporting his amendment. Clearly, the matter is still in play. I suggest that the Minister consult with the proposers of Amendment 56A to see whether this is not a far better way forward.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I agree with everything that has been said in this group so far. Of course, it comes at the problem from a slightly different angle. We heard in the last group that the purposes for which a CCA may be issued are incredibly broad, with definitions taken from the realms of international law not practicable enough to work at a fairly junior authorising level for something as severe as criminal conduct. This group comes at the same problem from the angle of protecting groups—legitimate political and trade union groups, and so on—which have been, on the evidence, targeted for abusing and intrusive surveillance in the past, and now there is the greater risk that comes with criminal conduct and immunity.

I join others in thanking the Minister for her comments about the victims of undercover police officers who formed intimate relationships, sometimes over many years and sometimes producing children. Her apologies and reassurances will give some comfort to the women in question, but in that spirit of constructive debate and listening, it must be pointed out that there were abuses beyond even those, including the abuses experienced by my noble friends Lord Hain and Lady Lawrence, and others, who were not subject to that sexual intrusion, but were none the less subject to intrusion on the basis of their political views and activities alone. As it stands, there is nothing on the face of the Bill that would protect such legitimate democratic actors from similar or greater abuse in the future, given that what we are talking about now is criminal conduct with total immunity, as we have heard.

I look forward once more to the Minister’s reply to the very constructive suggestions that come in a number of different forms in this group.

Lord Morris of Aberavon Portrait Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I wish to speak briefly to Amendment 28, which I support. I was surprised at the breadth of the debate on Amendment 22 and others, as some of the comments on trade unions might have been more appropriate in this debate. Nevertheless, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made some worrying points in that debate in comparing RIPA and seeking justification for the words in this Bill. I suspect that he will want to return to them, given the inadequacy of the reply of the Minister, who gallantly recognised the points he made.

The state is sometimes minded to intervene in fields where it should not. The words in the clause,

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

may need clarification and, indeed, very close scrutiny. In my view—I think I am quoting Shakespeare—they need to be “cabined, cribbed, confined”. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, also made some pertinent points in rightly parading some historical matters. Can the Minister refer to the precedents for words of this kind? I suspect they may have been used before. If so, it should be looked at very carefully as to whether they should be repeated, because as they stand, they are a licence to do anything. The line is a very thin one, from my past experience, between legitimate activity and activity in which the state is sometimes minded to intervene. In the Bill, there is no qualification of these words, but one is mightily needed.

I have no present interests to declare, but I was for many years a member of APEX, subsequently taken over by GMB, and I was in turn a Member of Parliament sponsored by those unions. As a retired member, I no longer have that interest to declare but, as a practising barrister, I had the privilege of giving legal advice to the south Wales miners during the miners’ strike. My junior counsel was Mr Vernon Pugh, later a very eminent Queen’s Counsel. The circumstances of that particular legal advice escape me—indeed it would not be appropriate to comment any further—but it was during that period that I believe the Thatcher Government crossed the line and intervened in lawful industrial activity. The freedom of the trade unions to assemble, protest, negotiate and represent was a battle that had been won over many years. My noble friends Lord Kennedy—in a very forceful speech—and Lord Judd made reference to these points. Nobody in their right senses would want to return to that and not follow the best practice of ensuring that trade unions are able to do their work.

The amendment seeks, with belt and braces, to protect trade unions from authorisation for a criminal activity. The words are a matter of great concern. It would be a sad day if we in any way return to the state interfering with trade unions and their activities and particularly condoning and authorising criminal offences involving the proper and lawful activities of trade unions. Amendment 28 is a clear warning: keep off the pitch. No normal Government would dream of crossing the line.

Regrettably, we have lived through a period when tempers were frayed, unfortunate incidents occurred and the Government did intervene. What we do not know is how infiltration occurred during that period. It is a fundamental point that we should know more. We are not talking of surveillance; that is the vital difference. Surveillance may be proper in some circumstances, but authorising criminal activity involving trade unions is not. To avoid repetition of what has happened in the past, and with those few words, I support the amendment.

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Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I was originally not going to be present for this debate, and I left the main thrust of the argument to my noble friend Lady Massey. I simply say that I endorse what the Joint Committee on Human Rights has said, and this has set the pattern for many of the debates this evening. I am fully in support of the arguments put forth by my noble friend Lady Massey.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Dubs, I can be short in the light of some outstanding contributions that we have heard from Members of your Lordships’ House. The more I listened to those arguments, the more I was convinced that there needs to be some kind of limit on the nature of criminal conduct that can be authorised with—and I repeat—total advance immunity from criminal liability or civil suit. If in Canada, why not here? It was the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, who dealt with the so-called Sopranos argument on testing with particular dexterity.

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Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. My concern is about authorising corporations to commit criminal acts and the consequences for the individuals who have been somehow enrolled to commit criminal acts and subsequently discarded. Through this amendment, I seek to address those issues.

The Bill permits the relevant authorities to enrol and authorise state and non-state actors to commit criminal acts. None of the relevant authorities listed in the Bill is hermetically sealed; they are not self-contained. They use corporations—private organisations—to further their aims. They interact with others, and there is evidence to suggest that over the years corporations have been authorised to commit what some would say were criminal acts, while others might perhaps say those acts were dangerous. Corporations have become an arm of the state, and all Governments in recent years have had an appetite for outsourcing things. I can see nothing in the Bill that would prevent a Government from outsourcing the commission of criminal acts.

There is a fair bit of research into some of these companies. I want to draw attention to an article, dated 20 December 2018, that is easily accessible on the openDemocracy website. I shall quote part of it:

“G4S, one of the UK’s biggest private military companies, provides pivotal ‘operational support’ to Britain’s military in Afghanistan and such incidents bring back into focus the extent that private military and security companies are present – and sometimes directly involved – in combat … Britain has led this privatisation of modern warfare. It leads the world in providing armed contractors to ‘hot spots’, be it combating terrorism in the Middle East or fighting pirates off the Horn of Africa. Some of their biggest clients are governments; since 2004, the British state has spent approximately £50 million annually on mercenary companies.”


I would add that lots of details are very rarely provided by government officials to Parliament or the public. Over the years, I have tried to look at some of these companies, but it is almost impossible to track them. They are formed and then very quickly dissolved. It is very difficult to track their operations. The article that I have referred to goes on to say:

“Despite the size of this mercenary industry, the entire sector is marked by secrecy. Men trained in the arts of subterfuge and counter-intelligence dominate this sphere, and the result is an industry that operates from the shadows.”


How will the CHIS Bill make this industry accountable? There is clear evidence that these companies have been used for the commission of criminal acts.

One example of this is that in 2007, employees of Aegis Defence Services, based in London, posted footage on the web showing its guards firing their weapons at what was reported at the time as “civilians”. The company said the shootings were legal within the rules of protocol. That company has also been criticised for allegedly employing former child soldiers from Sierra Leone as mercenaries in Iraq. This is a company that is headquartered in London.

As far as I am aware, there is no central database of private military and security companies operating from the UK, and I do not think that there is even any legal requirement for them to register with a governing body. Yet these companies, both in the past and possibly even now, are authorised to commit criminal acts. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent a relevant authority from authorising such companies to conduct these acts.

My concern is that we must not authorise private profit-maximising corporations to commit criminal acts. You could argue that, the more terror they unleash and the more criminal acts they commit, somehow the higher their profits will be; their executives and shareholders will be that much richer. This is simply unacceptable. Their victims receive virtually no compensation or justice, and Governments have simply pretended that they know nothing about the criminal acts being committed in their name. The murk surrounding them was touched upon in the 1996 report of Lord Justice Scott’s inquiry into the arms to Iraq affair, but there was very little clarity.

Corporations provide not only mercenaries and related services; they also operate much of the local infrastructure, including the operation of prisons. Their employees may be persuaded to go undercover into a prison to learn about drug dealing and much more. Presumably, they would need to be authorised to do so by the Home Office to commit such acts. These undercover agents can, intentionally or unintentionally, injure others. In those circumstances, who exactly is to be held accountable? Is it the corporation which has been authorised to commit the criminal act, or is it the relevant authority? As far as I am aware, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner does not have access to the documents and the personnel of these corporations.

There is also the unedifying scenario of a relevant authority authorising a corporation to commit criminal acts, which in turn holds training sessions for its employees, training them to commit murder, torture and other heinous acts. What would happen to those individuals who refuse to obey the instructions of their employers? Would they be able to say that they cannot go along with that? Would they be able to access an employment tribunal to secure redress? I cannot see anything about that in the Bill.

At the moment, people can refuse to commit criminal acts but if the Bill becomes law certain criminal acts would be normalised, though they would need to be authorised. That presents an enormous danger, and we have not sufficiently discussed the implications of corporations being licensed or authorised to commit these acts. Over the years, government departments have not come clean at all about how they have interacted with such corporations.

Today, and in previous debates, many noble Lords have drawn attention to the fact that children and vulnerable people may be enrolled to commit criminal acts. They can be used by the relevant authority and then discarded, perhaps being paid a small sum. However, many of these individuals will have flashbacks for years. They will have nightmares and suffer mental health problems; where exactly will they be able to turn for help? On the other hand, if these individuals are employees of the relevant authority, the employer will owe them a duty of care. They will then have recourse against the employer—namely, the relevant authority—so that they can be supported and compensated. Again, that is an issue.

Corporations should not be authorised under any circumstances to commit criminal acts. In the UK, we do not even have a regulator to enforce company law, never mind anything else the corporations might do—there is no central enforcer of company law in this country. Another benefit of restricting the commission of criminal acts to persons employed by the relevant authority is that that would protect very young children: children under a certain age cannot be employed at all. This will provide extra protection for those individuals. If the vulnerable people are used, the relevant authority has to be accountable for their action.

It is with this kind of issues in mind that I have proposed Amendment 53, which suggests that only individuals directly employed by a relevant authority can be authorised to commit criminal acts. We do not have the power to fully look into what corporations do, and, as I said earlier, there is not even a central regulator.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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I can be brief. My noble friends pose two very important questions that become even more unnerving when run together. I look forward to what the Minister says about, first, the exact detail of this conduct in relation to CCAs—it is vague language; can it be sharpened?—and, secondly, the ability under the legislation as drafted for corporations, rather than individuals, to be licensed to commit criminal conduct or to run CHIS and criminal conduct themselves. If she thinks that the Bill is too broad compared to government policy, will she consider ruling out on the face of the legislation that kind of sub-delegation or outsourcing to corporations?

Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich (CB) [V]
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[Inaudible]—the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I am less concerned than I think she is by the prospect of immunity being accorded to CHIS—at least, human CHIS. I incline more to the view expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, on our first day in Committee that CHIS

“should not risk prosecution for work they are asked to do on behalf of the state, in most cases at considerable personal risk.”—[Official Report, 24/11/20; col. 211.]

Of greater potential concern is the prospect of a general criminal and civil immunity for the authorising officer or body. We look forward to hearing whether, as debated on the first day in Committee, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority will be able to compensate the victim of a crime covered by an authorisation, which would at least be a start on the civil side. We will, I am sure, return to these difficult issues.

Hardest of all is to see what justification there could be for according immunity, in any circumstances, to persons who are neither a CHIS nor employed by the authorising authority.

I welcome the clarification that these amendments would provide and will be interested to hear whether the Minister has anything to say against them. I anticipate that she may not because, as the Advocate-General for Scotland said on the first day in Committee:

“The Bill is intended to cover the CHIS themselves and those involved in the office authorisation process within the relevant authority”.—[Official Report, 24/11/20; col. 151.]


If, as I hope and believe, nothing more is intended, let us ensure that the Bill makes this clear.

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Moved by
41: Clause 1, page 3, line 2, at end insert “; and
(d) is not carried out for the primary purpose of—(i) encouraging or assisting, pursuant to sections 44 to 49 of the Serious Crime Act 2007, the commission of an offence by, or(ii) otherwise seeking to discredit,the person, people or group subject to the authorised surveillance operation.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would prohibit the authorisation of criminal conduct where the covert human intelligence source acts as an agent provocateur.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this amendment is very simple but, none the less, incredibly important to reassure some noble Lords and organisations, which you heard from earlier, about peaceful, legitimate protest and political activity, such as trade unions, environmental movements and so on. This is an important amendment to reassure them against abuses by Governments present and future. No disrespect is intended to a Government of any particular stripe. It has been drafted with some care, because I understand that it is difficult to limit the precise positive purposes of a covert human intelligence source, not least because the Government have chosen in this legislation to cover a wide range of public authorities and their investigatory, regulatory and enforcement work. I have tried to rule out the use of a criminal conduct authorisation for the purposes of agents provocateurs.

I complained on other groups that one of the problems with the legislation, as drafted, is that it grafts criminal conduct—which is much more serious than normal intrusion—on to a legislative scheme designed for intrusion, but not for the greater harms of criminality. It also has a limited Long Title and a limited scope. It is difficult to use amendments to the Bill to improve the RIPA scheme on to which so much weight is now being placed. However, I believe it is possible to do a great deal of good, even within the limited Long Title, in preventing agents provocateurs.

For the avoidance of doubt, and for members of the public watching at home or reading tomorrow, an agent provocateur is a state agent who is placed undercover, quite often in a protest movement, trade union or other innocent, legal, peaceful organisation, for the deliberate purpose either to incite crime on the part of others who would not normally go that far in their protest or for the agent to commit crime, while undercover, to delegitimise the wider peaceful movement in the public’s eyes or to justify a more repressive policing or banning response by the state. This method has been used throughout history and throughout the world, even in the United Kingdom. It was used during the hunger marches and in various trade union activity. We will see what comes from the Undercover Policing Inquiry.

I have no doubt that the Minister does not intend the Bill to allow criminal conduct authorisations—which now come with immunity, as they never did before—to be used to license agents provocateurs. Therefore, it seems to me that she would want to support this amendment, or something like it, which puts it beyond doubt that no CCA is able to authorise agents provocateurs.

The amendment is carefully drafted not to rule out the agent who finds himself or herself joining in with criminal activity to keep their cover or encouraging, assisting or inciting, while in discussions with others, to keep their cover. It prohibits the authorisation for the primary purpose—this is the crucial part of the amendment—of inciting crime, to use the modern definition under the Serious Crime Act 2007, or otherwise seeking to discredit the person or organisation being spied on. That is, they are not inciting it, but they are doing it undercover to discredit that organisation. To me, it seems simple and carefully crafted, if I may say so, but desperately important to reassure those involved in peaceful protest in particular. I beg to move Amendment 41.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, is not participating in this debate, so I call the next speaker, who is the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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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]
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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)
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Will the noble Baroness give way?

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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My Lords, I am afraid that that is not within the rules at present. I apologise to the Minister but we have to let the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, finish.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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I apologise. It is hard to see the Minister’s face or responses from this angle on Zoom. Briefly, in my scenario there is no trial, fair or otherwise, and therefore there is no issue of evidence against entrapment. There is just a CHIS who has been authorised for the purposes of discrediting a movement that may be feared to become violent in the future but is nowhere near doing so at the moment. My amendment seeks to ban a criminal conduct authorisation being issued for that primary purpose.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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Would the Minister care to respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti?

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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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)
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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]
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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.

Amendment 41 withdrawn.
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Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, I have tabled Amendment 43, to exclude the granting of criminal conduct authorisations to children. I am grateful for the helpful meeting with my noble friend the Minister, James Brokenshire and Home Office officials, who talked me through the need for this provision. I am also grateful to Jennifer Twite of Just for Kids Law and Tyrone Steele from Justice for putting the contrary view.

As it stands, the Bill is silent on the role of children in this aspect of law enforcement. It would have been helpful if the child rights impact assessment developed by the Department for Education in 2018 had been undertaken for this Bill. It would have illuminated our debate. The amendment would not prohibit the use of children as covert human intelligence sources entirely. That would have been my preference, but unfortunately it is outside the scope of the Bill. Therefore, the amendment is narrower, focusing on the prohibition of their involvement in criminal activities, for which the case is even stronger.

The Government are asking the Committee to approve the tasking of some of the most vulnerable children in this country, some as young as 15, with infiltrating some of its most dangerous organisations and groups—drug cartels, sex-trafficking rings and, potentially, terrorist cells. Let me address head on the arguments for allowing children to be used as CHIS. These were set out at Second Reading by my noble friend Lord Davies of Gower, whose views I respect as a former member of counterterrorism command at the Met and a former member of the National Crime Squad, by the Minister in her reply to that debate, and by the Minister for Security in another place. My noble friend Lord Davies said:

“The use of children has been much exercised today. It is unpleasant… particularly with issues that have been mentioned, such as county lines, paedophilia and child trafficking. If it has a long-term benefit to other children, I consider that that makes it necessary.”—[Official Report, 11/11/20; col. 1083.]


The Minister basically said the same:

“This may be necessary to stop criminal gangs from continuing to exploit those individuals and prevent others from being drawn into them.”—[Official Report, 11/11/20; col. 1112.]


The Minister for Security, James Brokenshire, stated in a letter to the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 4 November that

“a young person may have unique access to information or intelligence that could play a vital part in shutting down the criminality, prosecuting offenders and preventing further harm.”

In a nutshell, the argument was that the end justified the means—that the imperative of fighting crime overrode normal standards and justified law-breaking. But I do not buy that.

Let us assume, for example, that it could be shown that waterboarding or sleep deprivation of suspected terrorists to extract information would save lives. On that theme, on the “Today” programme recently, Robert Woolsey, a former director of the CIA, said:

“Would I waterboard again Khalid Sheikh Mohammed … if I could have a good chance of saving thousands of Americans or, for that matter, other allied individuals? Yes.”


Would we condone it in legislation? Of course not. Torture was abolished in 1628 and is prohibited under international law. The utilitarian argument is trumped by the moral imperative; torture is a red line. There are no exceptional circumstances where torture is justified, no matter that it might lead to the saving of innocent lives. It is not a price that civilised society is prepared to pay.

Using children as CHIS is not of course torture, but the analogy is apt, as it shows the vulnerability of the argument that the end justifies the means. I say to my noble friend that, for some of us, using children—often vulnerable, yet to come to terms with adulthood, unable to assess properly the risk of what they are being asked to do or even perhaps comprehend the limits of their mission and often being asked to continue in a harmful relationship, to commit crimes and to penetrate criminal gangs—is also a red line. Those under 18 are legally children, and the law accepts that they cannot make good decisions about their lives, hence the ban on marriage, buying alcohol et cetera—activities otherwise legal. How could it be that a child as young as 15 can give their full and informed consent to being placed in a sexually exploitative environment, particularly given the pressures on them to do so from people in authority, people whom they should trust, who might have been expected to save them?

This red line is embedded in our legal system. We are signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 3 of which provides:

“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”


The Children Act 2004 makes this obligation all the more concrete. Section 11 states that public bodies, including the police and other law enforcement entities, must have

“regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children”.

I do not see how we square the circle. Either we safeguard and promote the welfare of children or we do not. How can it ever be in the best interests of a child to be a spy? Far from encouraging children to get further entangled in criminal activities, those who have their best interests at heart should do precisely the opposite: disengaging them from that environment and so helping them to rebuild their lives free from harm. We should be pulling children away from criminality at every turn instead of pushing them into the arms of serious criminals. How is a child protected from danger if a gang discovers that he or she is a CHIS? What would be the public reaction if, heaven forbid, a child CHIS was murdered by the gang he or she was infiltrating? How can a local authority in loco parentis for a child discharge its duties if a social worker is not aware of what is going on?

I make one final point. Under the Children Act 1989, every local authority has the duty to safeguard children in need. Where a local authority suspects that a child is likely to suffer significant harm, it can seek an order from a court to take the child away from those parents and place them into care. This would certainly cover parents encouraging their children to take actions such as drug trafficking or gang participation. How can the local authority perform those duties when another arm of the state, the police perhaps, is doing precisely the opposite? If a parent were putting children into such risky, harmful situations, we would rightly expect the children to be taken into care.

What is happening is that the state is seeking immunity for conduct for which it regularly takes parents to court. It is creating a statutory mechanism to expressly permit the harming of children. Local authorities already find this unacceptable when undertaken by parents; we must concur when the state does it. Noble Lords will have seen the statement by the Children’s Commissioner issued on Monday:

“The Children’s Commissioner remains to be convinced that there is ever an appropriate situation in which a child should be used as a CHIS. She is extremely concerned that this practice is not in the best interests of the child and there are insufficient safeguards in place to protect these vulnerable children. To that end, the Commissioner supports the introduction and adoption of the following amendments: amendment 43.”


My objection is one of principle, but there are other issues to be raised, if the principle is set aside, about safeguards. Those will be addressed by others who propose other amendments in the group. I hope that, at the end of this debate, the Government will be persuaded to think again. They say child CHIS are used very infrequently. I believe it would be best if they were not used at all. In the meantime, I beg to move.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is an absolute privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, to associate myself with every word he spoke just now and to have signed his amendment. Amendment 43 and, to some extent, the others in the group, go to the heart of who we are as a society and, indeed, to the heart of what dangerous, important law enforcement is all about if not, ultimately, to protect children most of all.

It is unconscionable that children should be used as agents per se. Unfortunately, as I have complained before, we cannot do anything about children being used as agents in the Bill, but we can amend it to prevent those children being put in even greater harm’s way by authorising them to commit criminal conduct, which is normally the opposite of the message we send to our children. Indeed, we condemn those who, elsewhere in the world, groom their children for crime or to act as soldiers even in grave situations of war, and such children have often sought refuge in the United Kingdom.

One of my fears in relation to children being used in this way is that many of them are particularly vulnerable children to begin with. Some of them may actually be wards of the state; they may actually be looked-after children who do not have a normal, viable, stable family to protect them. If these children are looked after by the state and then used by the state in this way, that is a double abuse, it seems to me, by all of us as a community.

There must be other ways to ameliorate this problem. There are young people, as I once was, who look far younger than their age well into their early 20s. There must be other, more proportionate ways to do some of the work that needs to be done, exceptionally. It is a very serious human rights violation for any state to put children as young as 15, as the noble Lord, Lord Young has said, into this kind of situation, with long-term consequences for their emotional health and, indeed, for their lives.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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The noble Lord, Lord Young, is very persuasive, and he is right. My noble friends Lord Paddick and Lady Doocey and I have Amendment 52 in this group, and I have also put my name to Amendment 60, because if the outcome of the debates is to restrict but not prohibit the authorisation of under-18s and vulnerable people to commit criminal conduct, then Amendment 60 is the amendment that deals with both groups—I do not really like the term “groups”; they are individuals, but noble Lords will understand what I mean.

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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (Lab)
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My Lords, this amendment is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee. As we have debated at length, authorising a CHIS to commit crime and granting immunity to that CHIS and maybe others involved is a far more serious thing to do than simply deploying a CHIS. We felt that to expect such an authorisation to last for 12 months—and, in the code of practice, with no mandatory review within that 12-month period but purely at the discretion of the authorising officer—was too much; it is far too long for a criminal conduct authorisation to be in place and not be reviewed.

We cast around for what a reasonable period might be and went back to what I referred to before: the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Juveniles) Order 2000, amended by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Juveniles) (Amendment) Order 2018. The initial order changed the period for authorising a juvenile CHIS from one year to one month. The 2018 order amended that to four months with a monthly review, recognising how much more serious it is to deploy a juvenile CHIS than an adult CHIS. Therefore, bearing in mind how serious a CCA is compared with the deployment of a CHIS in other circumstances, we felt that a four-month cut-off for a CCA with monthly reviews was the appropriate limitation to be placed on a CCA in line with the authorisation for juvenile CHISs. I beg to move.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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I will speak briefly in full-blooded support of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and an amendment that seems to me like a no-brainer. The worst abuses of undercover policing, as are emerging in the inquiry, have related to people who have been embedded for a long time without adequate review, and obviously the risk of abuse is greater the longer a person builds their legend and is embedded without proper review.

Given that all time limits are arbitrary, it is right that we look for something relatively short, given the gravity of the line that is being crossed with this legislation for criminal conduct. The noble Lord has come to a very decent compromise with the monthly review and the four-month maximum on licensing people to commit crime.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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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.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Scotland Office

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 10th December 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 144(Corr)-IV Fourth marshalled list for Committee - (7 Dec 2020)
Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is my great honour and pleasure to join the debate. I wish to speak to Amendment 70, which seeks to constrain ministerial discretion to amend the list of relevant authorities.

We all know that, as time goes by, Ministers and Governments are tempted to expand the list of regulators. In this case, they would be tempted to expand the list of relevant authorities contained in the Bill. How would they do that? They could bring about primary legislation and allow Parliament sufficient time to scrutinise it, or they could have a rushed amendment through a statutory instrument. I do not favour the second choice.

I am a relative newcomer to the House, but a little amount of research has shown me that, in the last few years, the Government have made considerable use of statutory instruments to rush through legislation, often with little time or detailed parliamentary scrutiny. Statutory instruments can vary in length and breadth. As my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling noted on 10 January 2019 in the official record, one statutory instrument was 636 pages long and weighed 2.54 kilos.

The increased length of secondary legislation has not been accompanied by commensurate increase in the time and resources available to Parliament. The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, in its report published on 20 February 2019, expressed considerable concern about the extensive use of secondary legislation and argued that it prevents Parliament effectively fulfilling its scrutiny function. The participants in such debates often receive little briefing to help them prepare for the debate beyond the standard explanatory memorandum provided with the draft secondary legislation. This is often at very short notice. The impact assessments which have accompanied some of these statutory instruments have been deficient.

On 22 May 2019, in the other place, the Shadow Chancellor pointed out, at Hansard col. 6, that statutory instruments often contain “deficiencies, ambiguities and errors” which cannot be properly scrutinised by a rushed passage through Parliament. The deficient parliamentary process in turn leads to more statutory instruments to correct previous errors, and thus an overload is created.

The use of statutory instruments diminishes parliamentary powers to scrutinise the Government and their legislation. During the debate on the present CHIS Bill, many noble Lords have indicated their unease at the daunting list of relevant authorities contained in the Bill and their possible scrutiny and public accountability. There have been concerns about the use of children and vulnerable people who may be used and then discarded, left alone with their families to face private nightmares, flashbacks and mental health problems. Noble Lords have raised concerns about the rule of law, the rights of negatively affected individuals, human rights, and much more. Any future amendment to the list of relevant authorities will raise the same issues again. Such matters cannot be dealt with through statutory instruments and minimal parliamentary debates. They require public consultation, primary legislation, full debate and scrutiny by Parliament, which forces Ministers to justify their policies and practices. For these reasons, I urge the House to support my amendment.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow all those who have spoken in this group. The size of the group and the number of speakers are indicative of the seriousness with which the length of the list of agencies is viewed by Members of the House. I thank the Minister for her fortitude and patience on this fourth day in Committee on this important Bill, and for her letter earlier today inviting Members of the House to further briefings.

I repeat that she has made the case for the value of putting this kind of policy on a statutory footing, and I do not think anyone is really disagreeing with that in principle. The problem is that the detail of the Bill, by accident or design, creates a real constitutional over- reach with a grave risk of what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, called unintentional consequences. That is not to impute the Government with bad motives in this respect but it is to be really concerned about the unintended consequences of the overreach contained in various components of the Bill, in part because it grafts a criminal conduct regime on to what was previously just a surveillance regime, with no extra safeguards to speak of in terms of authorisation; in part because it creates no statutory limits on the types of offences that might be authorised; and of course in part because of this very long list of agencies that do very different work.

Ultimately, I say that the real overreach which makes that combination of challenges particularly problematic is that what is at stake is that the status quo, whereby an authorisation leads to a public interest defence—in practice, almost a presumption that the person authorised would not be prosecuted—will be replaced with total landmark immunity, lawful for all purposes, civil and criminal. That is what makes the list of agencies and the ability to amend it by Henry VIII powers so very grave and ripe for abuse well into the future by a Government of any stripe, whether, as I say, by accident or design.

I ask the Minister to reflect on whether Amendment 63, which is my favourite in this group, can be considered for adoption by the Government. I ask the Government to reflect and adopt some constitutional humility rather than overreach, and to accept that we are genuinely trying to help to improve this legislation so that it can do what it needs to, which is to put criminal conduct on an open, accessible, primary legislative footing, but not create the graver dangers of abuse well into the future.

Baroness Whitaker Portrait Baroness Whitaker (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti. I echo her thanks to the Minister for her offer of a briefing. I support Amendments 67 and 70. On Amendment 67, I have little to add to the clear exposition by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. This is a really intrusive provision, and the criterion of economic well-being, to which it seems to be related, is too loose to be safe as far as the liberty of a citizen goes. The authorising officer is not even a relevant professional; it is the chair of the Competition and Markets Authority.

On Amendment 70, my noble friend Lord Sikka has covered the ground most persuasively. I simply add my voice to the alarm, echoing the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, that such procedures, which are important to democracy and to liberty, should be capable of amendment only by statutory instrument outside the full parliamentary powers of scrutiny.

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Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP) [V]
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My Lords, I am afraid I am going to disappoint a lot of noble Lords for whom I have huge respect, but I am afraid I do not think this Bill is necessary. That is not to say that the old system was good, because it clearly was not, but this Bill is worse. It could have been better, but it is not, so I would like to see it scrapped. However, in the meantime, our job in your Lordships’ House is to try to improve it and to get the Government to listen and understand why they are improvements.

In the previous group, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, talked about overreach. That is part of the problem I have with this Bill, but it is not the only part. As some noble Lords have said, it is a dangerous world and we have to do what we can to keep people safe, which is all very true—and all the examples the Minister gave of how to use these powers are very reasonable. However, at some point, we have to ask ourselves, “What are we prepared to lose to keep ourselves completely safe?” In the previous group, the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, talked about liberty and democracy, and those are some of the things we are losing with this Bill. It is an erosion. Your Lordships’ House is very concerned about the erosion of democracy —about more and more powers going into statutory instruments.

The two amendments I have tabled require that unlawful conduct that goes beyond the criminal conduct authorisation, or that should not have been authorised in the first place, be reported to the police or a relevant oversight body—for example, the Independent Office for Police Conduct. My Amendments 75A and 75B reveal a deafening silence in the Bill about what happens when something goes wrong. I hope the Minister can explain that to us. What happens when an authorisation is granted that clearly should not have been? What happens if somebody goes beyond their authorisation and commits additional criminal offences? Amendment 75A would require that the authorising authority refer to the police any criminal conduct that was not authorised. Amendment 75B would require “unlawful or improperly granted” criminal conduct authorisations to be referred to the relevant oversight body—for example, the IOPC.

This is a gaping hole in the Bill: we are talking about state-authorised crime, and the police and other government authorities must not be complicit in criminality that goes beyond the legal authorisation in this Bill. Otherwise, it creates an additional quasi-authorisation where handlers can just sweep things under the carpet when it is dangerous to admit they have done them. They can pretend they did not happen. I hope the Minister will recognise these gaps in the Bill and work to address them on Report.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, once more, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who has brought so much to the scrutiny of this Bill. What I want to say about her amendment is: why not? Why not improve the Bill by providing for greater clarity and specificity about the process that would be employed when things go wrong? In life, in all institutions, whatever the good intentions, sometimes things go wrong. It is our duty as legislators to be clear about what the process would be in those circumstances. Once more, her amendments and the review proposed in Amendment 79 by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, are no-brainers. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about why there should not be greater clarity and specificity about safeguards.

It is also a pleasure to precede the noble Lord, Lord King. Since he is about to follow me, I want to address some remarks to him and the Minister. He spoke incredibly eloquently in the last group about the dangerous nature of our world in these times and incredibly passionately, and eloquently, once again, about all the terrible terrorist and serious criminal plots that have been foiled with the use of covert human intelligence sources—by undercover operatives and agents. With respect, however, the noble Lord, Lord King, seemed to conflate three very distinct propositions that we cannot afford to conflate when discussing this precise legislation.

The first is the concept of using covert human intelligence sources, which I think we all agree have to be used; it is the use of such sources that has presumably helped to foil all those terrible plots and keep us as safe as we can be. There is no such thing as a risk-free society but, of course, we want to be as safe as we can be. That is the first concept: using undercover operatives at all. We all agree that sometimes has to happen.

The second concept is authorising those undercover operatives to commit crimes. The noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, will have to accept that is a further step and is not to be conflated with authorising an agent to go undercover. To authorise him or her to commit criminal offences is, perhaps, a necessary evil to keep their cover, but it is, none the less, a further evil that is a challenge to the rule of law. I agree with him that that already happens, and the suggestion is that should be put on a statutory footing. I will give him that.

However, the third concept that he completely elided with the previous two is that of granting an undercover agent of the state—who may be from the terrorist community but turned, or from the criminal community but supposedly turned—total immunity from civil liability and criminal prosecution. To send them into those situations with an advance immunity that even uniformed police officers and soldiers do not have is what is new in this legislation. That is why the legislation is causing such grave concern. It is not just the status quo on a statutory footing; it is going further. That is the challenge, not just to the rule of law but to the safety of our communities—that anybody, let alone a civilian who may be from the criminal fraternity, should be given this kind of licence or golden ticket to commit crime with immunity. I would be grateful to hear from the very distinguished noble Lord, Lord King, and the Minister on that. The status quo would just be that they had a public interest defence, which is a very strong presumption against prosecution. That is the current system; why should it not be replicated in this Bill?

Lord King of Bridgwater Portrait Lord King of Bridgwater (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for drawing attention to the points I made, and I am sorry if I sounded too aggressive on some of them. The point I did not make, which I shall make now, is on how much crime is committed. One would expect that, in most cases, it would not be the commission of crime so much as association with people while they committed crimes, with the person in question not necessarily being directly involved but having some complicity, which is one of the problems.

The requirements, as I understand them, if they are in that situation and a criminal conduct authorisation is issued, are that it has to be proportionate, it may not be issued if what is sought to be achieved can be done in another way, and it has to be part of an effort to prevent more serious criminality. Those three conditions are perhaps not mentioned very much but are important.

I have left out some issues that I might have discussed. We have just talked about possibly leaving the Department of Health and Social Care out of the Bill. Think of this moment when organised crime, throughout the world, is seeing how it can get into the vaccines business in one way or another. The challenge that that will pose will feature in our news broadcasts and papers in the days ahead. It will obviously be a big issue. One recalls that the NHS was practically brought to a grinding halt from its systems being hacked and disrupted.

There is this, as well, if it is not too dramatic. At the time of Brexit, when we may be moving towards no deal, there is an idea to take from HMRC its ability to keep every possible assistance. In trying to deal with some of the problems it will have, it will need all the help it can get.

My concern about these amendments, and referral to the police or judges to overview the operations of CCAs, is that a clear structure is set up. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner is a very senior judge and the judicial commissioners are very senior. My concern all the way along is that nobody has challenged how vital covert intelligence sources can be, in a range of different fields. The question is whether we can still keep those covert sources coming. The more we expand the range of people who have access to that information, the bigger the danger of leaks, and then there will be fewer sources available in the future. That is why I think the structure set up of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and his judicial commissioners, with a tribunal and an annual report to Parliament on its operations, has important safeguards. Going much further than that starts to undermine the security of the information and imperil the safety of some brave people, who are giving evidence to help keep our country safe, in a range of different fields.

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Lord Rogan Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Rogan) (UUP)
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The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, not for the first time in consideration of this Bill in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Ashley Abbots, comes to your Lordships’ House with an excellent amendment, a very good idea and an even better speech, which I cannot improve on. Transparency does influence conduct, and the information that he suggests ought to be included in reports speaks to common sense. We ought to know on a regular basis the number and nature of criminal conduct authorisations issued under the new legislation, the operational benefits that have been obtained from those authorisations and, crucially, the kind of damage to property and people—the incidental harm—that has come about as a result of those criminal conduct authorisations.

I do not want to labour the point—it has been a long Committee—but I want to have one final attempt at putting a question to the Minister to which I do not think I have yet heard the answer. This is my last opportunity to put this in Committee before we go forward to Report.

Why is it necessary to go further than the status quo in the scheme for this legislation? Why cannot undercover operatives, whether they are highly trained police or MI5 officers, or whether they are—and perhaps they are in greater number—members of the civilian community, including the criminal community, just be subject to the current law, which is that when they are authorised to do this work, including with criminal conduct, they will know that their conduct will be second-guessed after the fact? They currently have the ultimate incentive —and we have the ultimate safeguard—to behave proportionately and as well as possible, which is that they might, just possibly, if they over-step the mark, be subject to legal sanction after the event. That is the law that applies to uniformed police officers and people driving police cars and ambulances at high speed, with a very strong public interest defence. It is probably a presumption against prosecution, but it is that tiny risk of being judged after the fact that makes most people behave well according to the criminal law. Why should that be replaced with a total, advance and blanket immunity from prosecution and civil liability? Why quite go so far and therefore cause some of the greatest concerns that have been excited by this legislation?

I hope that the Minister will not mind me putting that fundamental, simple question one more time. I look forward to her answer, and indeed to our further work at the next stage of the Bill’s passage.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Report stage & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Monday 11th January 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 144(Corr)-R-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Report - (11 Jan 2021)
Moved by
1: Clause 1, page 1, leave out line 17
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is linked to the amendment in name of Baroness Chakrabarti at page 1, line 19.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I shall be speaking to Amendments 1 and 2, which are linked. For the avoidance of doubt, I shall be pressing Amendment 1 and, if necessary, Amendment 2, but they are linked. They are for the purposes of removing the total criminal and civil immunity for undercover agents authorised under this measure and would replace that with public interest defences and public interest consideration.

This seems to me, first, to better reflect in the new statute the status quo in our law and practice, which was originally advanced publicly as the motivation for this legislation. Secondly, therefore, it seems to me to create a better, safer balance between, on the one hand, empowering undercover agents to protect their cover when engaging in very important life-saving undercover operations of a kind that we have heard about at length during the passage of the Bill—and, on the other, protecting all of us, especially wholly innocent citizens, from potentially grave crimes and abuses of power by undercover agents for many years into the future. I remind noble Lords that we are not just talking about intelligence and police officers; we are talking about a much larger number of agents of the state who are members of the community, including the criminal community, whose co-operation is, of course, sometimes rightly sought by state agencies.

At this point in the proceedings, I thank the Minister, the new Advocate-General for Scotland, who is not due to speak in this debate, for his wholly courteous engagement with these amendments, both publicly and privately. By doing so, I emphasise the importance of our ability to disagree well and in good faith with each other, in this Chamber at least.

I have been a student of constitutional law all my adult life, and, in particular, I am an admirer of attempts at embedding the rule of law in great old democracies such as the United Kingdom and the United States. I am sure that I am not alone in still feeling quite shaken by the scenes from the American Capitol last week. They demonstrate, to me, at least, that this is no time for complacency when it comes to democracy and the rule of law; it is no time for any complacency on either side of the Atlantic, even on the part of those public commentators who have said that no such scenes and grave abuses of executive power could ever transpire here. That is not a sensible position.

While I have greatly benefited from the wisdom of all sides of your Lordships’ House during the passage of the Bill, I have just occasionally found some speeches a little complacent when noble Lords have discussed abuses of undercover agents in our own country in the past—for example, in the context of the “spy cops” inquiry, which is still pending and yet to be concluded or to fully investigate the true extent of abuses by undercover police and police agents over many decades.

Some noble Lords have been very crisp, clear and, sometimes, short in expressing their view that that was the past—such abuses by undercover agents are all in the past and should not be raised as a concern for the future. I know that that is well meant and comes from a place of understandable commitment to aspirations such as public and national security, but these are not times for such complacency—certainly not in the context of legislative scrutiny. As such, I disagree with some of those arguments, but I will be clear that I do not for a moment impugn the good faith or the intentions of those who have advocated the Bill in this precise form, however mistaken I may think them to be.

I regret the “shadowy sources” who chose to impugn my own motives and good faith in pressing these amendments in the Guardian this morning. Frankly, I say to those sources, who were sadly reported as being on my own side: they should grow up. Reasonable dissent reasonably put is not disloyalty in a great old democracy such as ours—far from it. With respect, I address opponents of my argument and these amendments, which I do not believe to be wrecking amendments or catastrophic to the principal purpose of the Bill, which is to put criminal authorisations for the purposes of keeping cover on a statutory footing. I say to those who disagree with me: please play the ball—or the argument—and not the woman, or at least put your name, publicly and honestly, to your briefing to journalists and so on because, as we saw last week, rather shockingly, democracy and the rule of law are all-too-fragile treasures.

I followed this kind of legislation in the realm of home affairs for about a quarter of a century, which makes me very junior in my experience and expertise in your Lordships’ House. For my part, at least, as a former government lawyer, a human rights lawyer and campaigner and, much more recently, a legislator, I believe that the Bill, unamended, is one of the most dangerous that I have ever seen presented to your Lordships’ House.

The problem is that this is about a very long list of agents—not just officers—of the state, including some from the community and criminal community and some very vulnerable and volatile people. They will now be capable of being authorised by other agents of the state to commit unlimited crimes—with no limit to the types of crime included—and they will be authorised in advance with total impunity from any second-guessing or civil or criminal consequence after the fact. Forgive me, but I find that proposition quite breathtaking in the United Kingdom.

This is why the cross-party, all-party group Justice—I declare an interest as a member of it, and I know that there are other members from across your Lordships’ Benches—have advised that the Bill, unamended, contains a number of violations of fundamental human rights, including under the European Convention on Human Rights. The Bill has also drawn heavy criticism from Amnesty International and other advocacy groups for human rights, the rule of law and victims—as well as from a number of former police officers, not least the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who will speak in a moment, after many decades of police service. It has also drawn heavy criticism from former undercover police officers and agents who have spoken of their own practical experience and why the Bill, unamended, is so dangerous.

That is not to say that the Bill does not have some very good intentions behind it, but we know about the road paved with good intentions. The good intentions are, no doubt, to put a practice that has been implicit on a firmer statutory footing, not least because it has been challenged.

If people are to be put under cover and sometimes even advised to perpetrate crimes to keep their cover—for example, as a member of a proscribed organisation, handling stolen goods or drugs, or committing speeding offences; things that they must necessarily do to keep their cover—and if they are to be authorised to do that by their superiors and handlers, perhaps that should be put on to a firmer statutory footing. That is ultimately the good intention behind this legislation. However, as we have discussed before, the legislation goes much further and creates this total advanced immunity.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I noticed that the noble Baroness mentioned that point in her speech. The practical application of this will not interfere with the operation of the scheme. She is shaking her head—I do not think she is very satisfied.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has spoken in this debate and was quite humbled by so many of the speeches—both those I agreed with and many with which I disagreed—not just by the kind remarks about me and my intentions with these amendments, but by the sheer eloquence and experience which so many noble Lords displayed on all sides of your Lordships’ House. Please forgive me if I do not pay appropriate tribute to everyone individually, as I am sure your Lordships would not thank me for the amount of time that that exercise would take.

We have been dealing with some difficult realities on this legislation, but also some important principles. That has come across in the nature of this important debate. The noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Naseby, and others, talked about difficult realities from both sides of the argument. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, gave a speech rooted in being, as far as I noticed, the only former police officer who has spoken on the Bill. His picture of handing out banknotes to undercover agents is not a difficult reality, designed to undermine the importance of using undercover agents in the community. It is not designed to undermine the difficult reality of some of those people being current or former criminals—or, indeed, having turned terrorist, for that matter. But it is important to demonstrate that not everyone involved in this kind of activity—in the past, present or future—has been or will be of the character or ability of the finest trained officers and agents. There will necessarily be a variation; that is a difficult reality.

I do not say this to criticise the need to have undercover operatives. It just makes the checks and balances in a democracy founded on the rule of law even more important. I say that to those who are flabbergasted at the idea that I should not just take the Government’s case studies without looking at any other experience, including that of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I think it was the Minister who said, rightly, that undercover agents—or CHIS—are human. They cannot be turned off and on. I absolutely agree; they are human, as we all are, and therefore flawed. They are not robots; they cannot be pre-programmed to cover every situation in the moment. We therefore need to create ethical incentives, not just blanket immunity. We have been dealing with the difficult realities of having to go undercover and keep cover. That will mean engaging in criminal activity, perhaps quite serious criminal activity such as being a member of a terrorist group or dealing drugs, for example.

There are also important principles such as the rule of law, as rightly pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, even if he did not agree with my emphasis or my argument. He is right, and so is the Minister, in saying that the clarity and accessibility of the law are important rule-of-law principles. With that in mind, there is great value in putting these matters on a clear statutory footing. This is so that the public at large understand, in a clear statute for all to see, if they look it up, that sometimes undercover agents of the state will be authorised to engage in crime for the purposes of keeping their cover. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the Minister are quite right to say that that is one attempt towards the rule of law.

However, another foundational principle of the rule of law in any jurisdiction anywhere in the world is equality before the law—as expounded by my noble friends Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, Lady Bryan, Lady Blower, Lord Hendy, Lord Judd, and many others. Equality before the law means that there is one law of the land for Prime Ministers, police officers—uniformed or undercover—and undercover agents or CHIS. That creates a conundrum for us: how can we respect equality before the law but also authorise criminal activity in certain situations in order to keep us safe? That is a genuine conundrum that I accept we are having to engage with here.

How does our current law tend to grapple with such a conundrum? Generally, this is not done by advance blanket licence or immunity, but by defences. Whether reasonable excuse defences or public interest defences are used, these would be taken into account by an investigating officer, prosecutor or, if necessary—and it does not seem to be very often—by a court after the fact. That is the kind of regime which protects all of us, including officers and agents and people who put themselves in difficult situations in harm’s way. This includes the armed police officers who are marksmen and those who protect all of us in your Lordships’ House. Those brave uniformed officers, who have sometimes made the ultimate sacrifice to defend your Lordships’ House, have used whatever reasonable force they could. They have done this, not with advance immunity, but in the knowledge that they were doing what was right and in the public interest. They have reasonable force defences or reasonable excuse defences, and nobody would dream of prosecuting them in the public interest. If it is good enough—

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, but we are making slow progress on the Bill and we have a number of groups to try to reach today. She had time at the beginning of the debate to set out her views. If she would let your Lordships’ House know whether she intends to divide, that would be appreciated.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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I think I made my intention to divide clear earlier and I will say one or two sentences more before I close. I have not heard a good enough explanation as to why we should make what the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, called a “monumental shift” in our rule-of-law arrangements. My noble friend Lady Kennedy called it a “dramatic” change to the legal landscape to license criminality with total immunity for some people in advance and to make their activity lawful for all purposes. The stringent safeguards offered by the Minister, such as Article 3, are not going to operate in sufficient detail in the mind of an undercover agent in real time, in the moment, if they are given total immunity. I shall be seeking to test the opinion of the House.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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There appears to be a technical problem with the voting. I suggest that the House adjourn for 15 minutes until it is resolved.

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Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great relief to follow the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, because I entirely agree with him. Agility, competence and experience in looking at a matter such as this are important. The commissioner has just that, being very flexible and close to the situation.

I have had difficulty in following some of this debate, as well as that on earlier amendments. I cannot believe that it is in accordance with the rule of law that Governments and their officials should ask people to commit crimes. That seems the very reverse of the rule of law, which says that you should not commit crimes and you should do what the law tells you to do as a general and universal rule. This Bill sets out a framework under which certain kinds of necessary activity in relation to the subject matter are defined in respect of day-to-day requirements, so that when the act is performed it is no longer a crime and therefore it is perfectly reasonable for the handler to ask the person in question, the participant, to do it. If it was kept as a crime, it would be breaking the rule of law.

I agree with the view that those initially responsible for activating this procedure need to be trained and experienced, and I have seen evidence that that is so. What I find difficult to be sure of is the exact level at which some help and advice should be given. I am confident that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner is qualified to give a view on the propriety of a particular course of action and whether it should be regarded as a crime.

As was said earlier, those who defend us when we are in the Palace of Westminster have to take serious decisions very quickly against an existing background of law. The problem in this context is that there is no particular background of law except that the actual doing of the thing is a crime at the present time. I do not agree with the view that that is a satisfactory system which should remain, but it is right that, so far as is possible, prescription of what can be done in regard to a matter of this kind should be available to the participant in advance, with as high judicial or legal authority as is appropriate in the circumstances; namely, that time may be of the essence and therefore it may be urgent to obtain advice. I agree with the view that this is best done by the commissioner.

I agree with the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, if it is necessary. I have the feeling that the investigation commissioner has authority to deal with an objection of this kind in terms of the 2016 Act. I do not feel sufficiently confident to contradict the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, on the need for this amendment, but I would be glad to know what the position is on the powers the commissioner has to deal with this matter.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I can be brief on this, currying some favour, I hope, with the Government Whip that will be taken on board when I speak in a later group to my own amendments once more. It is a great privilege to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. Your Lordships heard it from him: when is a crime not a crime—when it has been pre-authorised with immunity attached in advance? That would be a difficult thing to explain to most members of public. However, it is not so difficult, perhaps, when you compare it with intrusions into our privacy, which is where this model comes from.

The complexities of this debate just make me sadder about where we got to in the previous one. We now have to decide about safeguards, because your Lordships have potentially created a breath-taking immunity. Under existing surveillance law, there are different models: it takes a magistrate to authorise an intrusive search of your premises; it takes a Minister to authorise the tapping of your telephone; yet inserting an undercover agent—more intrusive than either of those two measures, because a human will change your behaviour, not just monitor it—is internally authorised. Now, we have gone further, and a crime can be committed, authorised by the Executive, authorised by the police for their agents, authorised by the intelligence services for their agents, and so on.

Clutching at straws for safeguards, I have to support some kind of external authorisation at the very least. If it is good enough for search warrants and telephone taps, it must be even more necessary when criminal conduct, including violent conduct, might be authorised. As for which model, I have heard the arguments either way, and I tend to think political warrantry of something so politically dangerous is problematic, and it has proved so in the past. Former Government Ministers have written in their memoirs about how tired they were when, late at night, they were making endless intrusive surveillance authorisations. It is not about hollowing out the state; it is about trying to insert independence into the realm of criminal law. I admire the thrust of the eloquent speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft: if Government are to do such a thing, they should take some responsibility, not just for legislation but for authorisations.

We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Butler, with his enormous experience, his prediction that there will be some low-level warrants here and a very large number of them. This would present a real problem if it was political warrantry, because Secretaries of State have a lot to do, and there are going to be a lot more warrants under this legislation than those limited to, for example, the security services.

These are all imperfect checks and balances but, on balance, at the moment I prefer judicial authorisation, even though that will, in my view, bring dangers for the judiciary. Post-notification authorisation is a very weak protection but, if it is to happen, I agree completely with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, that Amendment 33 without Amendment 34 is pretty much a nonsense.

Lord West of Spithead Portrait Lord West of Spithead (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. She kept me well aware of civil liberties for three years when I was the Minister with responsibility for security, counterterrorism and cybersecurity, and she did it with complete purity of purpose. I do not think that anyone should have a go at her for anything other than that, so it is a pleasure to follow her.

An awful lot has been said already and time is running short. I am strongly supportive of judicial oversight of these powers. Looking at the package of amendments before us, Amendment 33 appears to be a balanced and practical proposal, and I rather like it. However, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, has convinced me that, in a sense, it has to be looked at in conjunction with Amendment 34, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, because the two sit well together. The Minister needs to look at them, as together they would achieve what we want in this very sensitive area.

On Amendment 16, I have considerable sympathy with having a Minister involved, but there is an issue with how many things one has to sign. I found that, when I was a Minister, I had all the dross and had to pass the really meaty bits up to the Home Secretary, who seemed to think that she was rather overloaded anyway—and that was after I had taken a hell of a lot of the weight away. So there is an issue there.

We also need to look at the wording of that amendment very carefully. Saying that one of these people is “employed” is quite specific and tricky. Similarly, the wording of Amendment 23 is slightly unclear, and we need to be careful. However, the amendment that I really like is Amendment 33, probably in conjunction with Amendment 34.

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Secondly, we really ought to make the legislation clear. We are going to put forward a detailed set of requirements in the Bill, and certainly there should be no exceptionalism by leaving out the requirement of reasonableness.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the request here is very modest and I am sure that the Minister will want to accept the word “reasonable” into the belief required of those authorising this criminal conduct. It must be an objective test. Let us remember that this is about the authorisation, not about a person acting in the moment subject to an authorisation. This is about the calm, rational mind that we are supposed to trust in who is authorising this on the basis that it is necessary and proportionate. It is an incredibly modest request.

In his eloquent remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, points out, very importantly, the distinction between a code of practice and hard, statutory law. Codes of practice have been prayed in aid, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, who will follow me. Codes of practice are no substitute for the statute itself, particularly if they are using language such as “it is expected.” I urge the Minister to accept the word “reasonable”; it does no violence whatever to her stated policy and scheme.

The four months proposed in Amendment 18 seems very uncontroversial, too. Surely, an authorisation of this gravity should not be sitting around to be employed and activated after many months or years. I shall leave it at that.

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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) [V]
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 7, I will speak also to Amendments 8, 9 and 10 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, and Amendment 11 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.

The primary force of this Bill comes from inserting a new clause into the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Section 5 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 deals with the interception of communication warrants that have to be issued by a Secretary of State. It states that the Secretary of State shall not issue an interception warrant unless she believes it is necessary, and it goes on to define “necessary” in subsection (3):

“Subject to the following provisions of this section, a warrant is necessary on grounds falling within this subsection if it is necessary—(a) in the interests of national security; (b) for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime; (c) for the purpose of safeguarding the economic well-being of the United Kingdom”.


There is a paragraph (d), but it is not relevant today. This definition of “necessary” appears at other places in the 2000 Act, including Section 32, on the “Authorisation of intrusive surveillance”.

Section 81 deals with general interpretations and subsection (3) sets out the tests, either of which need to be satisfied if a crime is to be considered a “serious” crime, and they are:

“(a) that the offence or one of the offences that is or would be constituted by the conduct is an offence for which a person who has attained the age of twenty-one and has no previous convictions could reasonably be expected to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three years or more; (b) that the conduct involves the use of violence, results in substantial financial gain or is conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose.”


In previous groups, we have set out why we believe covert human intelligence sources committing crimes is more serious than other forms of intrusive surveillance. Agents or informants are difficult to pull out of a situation if it suddenly changes, whereas listening devices can be switched off. Agents or informants are often placed at continuing personal risk in a way that technicians deploying listening devices are not. Listening devices are deployed against serious criminals, but innocent bystanders are more likely to be caught up in the criminal activity of agents or informants.

The list goes on, and yet this Bill allows criminal conduct authorisations to be granted in order to tackle any sort of crime and any level of disorder. Of course, CCAs have to be necessary and proportionate, but so does the deployment of listening devices, the interception of communication and the interference of equipment as set out in the other parts of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. But in those cases, in addition to being necessary and proportionate, they also have to target “serious” crime.

The Government make great play of the fact that these new provisions should be consistent with existing provisions in this area. In that case, they should agree to our Amendments 7 and 10, which limit the granting of criminal conduct authorisations to serious crime as defined by the 2000 Act. Preventing disorder is not mentioned in any of the existing provisions of the 2000 Act. We believe that a clear distinction needs to be made between, say, lawful protests, marches and demonstrations, and serious disorder. Our Amendment 8 seeks to achieve this.

Amendment 9 takes a slightly different approach, as things have moved on from when the 2000 Act was drafted. The issue of the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom has been considered by this House more recently. In the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, in various places—including subsection (2)(c) of Section 20, which deals with the grounds on which targeted interception warrants are granted—the necessary grounds include it being

“in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom so far as those interests are also relevant to the interests of national security”.

The same definition applies to obtaining communications data, bulk interception warrants, bulk equipment interference warrants and, in fact, every provision for the granting of authorisations in the 2016 Act.

This House considered the same issue in relation to the powers granted to border security officers to stop, question and detain under the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019. Under part 1 of Schedule 3, an “act” is defined in paragraph 1(6) as hostile if, among other things, it

“threatens the economic well-being of the United Kingdom in a way relevant to the interests of national security”.

The same definition, including the additional phrase

“in a way relevant to the interests of national security”,

appears in relation to the power to make and retain copies of articles.

We had exactly the same discussions when it came to those Bills, which post-date the 2000 Act, as we are having now: that the economic well-being of the United Kingdom needs to be qualified to include where that is relevant to the interests of national security. In relation to the 2016 and 2019 Acts, the Government accepted those arguments and changed the legislation. In case the Minister raises it, the definition of “serious” crime in the 2016 and 2019 Acts is almost identical to that in the 2000 Act.

The Minister will have to come up with a convincing argument as to why this Bill is different from both the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 and the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019. Quite clearly, consistency with the 2000 Act was not accepted as a good enough reason when it came to the 2016 and 2019 Acts. If the Minister fails to produce a compelling reason not to accept our Amendment 9, I intend to test the opinion of the House.

On Amendment 11 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, I simply repeat what I said in Committee. For as long as I can remember, the use of an agent provocateur was explicitly prohibited in police guidance on participating informants, and yet it appears nowhere in this Bill, nor in the draft statutory codes of practice.

The only argument that the Minister came up with against this amendment in Committee was that Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects the right to a fair trial, an existing principle of English and Scottish law, and that the use of agents provocateurs could affect a fair trial. He also pointed out that Section 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 allows a court to consider and exclude such evidence. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, convincingly responded to the Minister in Committee, agents provocateurs may be used in circumstances where there is no trial. For example, agents provocateurs may provoke a legitimate organisation to do or say something that undermines its credibility in the eyes of the public, short of a criminal offence, or they may provoke criminal offences that would otherwise not have been committed where no one is arrested or charged. The Government’s argument appears to be that agents provocateurs are acceptable provided that no one faces trial.

Amendment 11 is necessary, and we will support it if the noble Baroness divides the House. I beg to move Amendment 7.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for putting the argument for my Amendment 11, which is supported by him and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I intend to press that amendment.

Forgive me, but I am not being rhetorical here: I do not think this amendment should be controversial in substance. I think the only difference between the Minister and me on this issue will be on whether the amendment is necessary to deliver my intention or whether the protection already exists in the legislation.

I shall briefly make the argument to the Minister. One of the grounds for authorising criminal conduct in what will become Section 29B is

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

We have just said that that belief must now be reasonable. Let us say that I work for one of the security agencies or indeed a police force, and I take the view that a particular environmental movement proposes the most extreme measures in the fight against climate change and that the agenda promoted by this organisation—perhaps not today but in five years’ time—is so extreme a green position that it will severely damage the economic interests of the United Kingdom. I also perhaps believe that, while that movement is yet to become extreme in its direct action, that may well happen in future, and I believe that it is in the economic and possibly even the national security interests of the United Kingdom to head this movement off at the pass and discredit it in the public eye before the damage is done.

Therefore I authorise an agent—a CHIS—to commit crime, not because it is necessary to keep their cover but to discredit the organisation, which to date has not been involved in violence or anything that is actually criminal. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, put it, I then authorise a crime. The agent commits a crime, and the undercover agent is the only person in that group who has committed a crime, but the crime has such consequences that it discredits that peaceful protest movement in the eyes of the media, the public and the Government. It possibly justifies if not a criminal prosecution then perhaps the banning of that organisation. Article 6, and criminal court rules against entrapment and so on, will not help because there is no trial.

It seems to me that currently in the Bill there is nothing to prevent an agent provocateur who is used to incriminate peaceful protest. This is not an academic issue; it is an issue of grave concern to trade unions, the environmental movement, the Black Lives Matter movement and others involved in peaceful dissent. This has been a problem in our country and elsewhere in the world throughout the history of peaceful protest, so I urge the Minister to consider accepting the amendment. It would do no violence to the stated intentions of her policy or the legislative scheme that she is intending to pass.

Finally, I echo the kind words of my noble friend Lord Rosser towards James Brokenshire, who may be in the other House but whom I have experience of being in very heated debates with for the media. He is a kind and gentle man worthy of this House who could teach a lot of us a few things about tone and civility. I am sure that I join the whole House, remote and present, in sending thoughts and prayers and every possible good wish for his speedy and complete recovery.

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Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord McNicol of West Kilbride) (Lab)
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I have received two requests to ask short questions, from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

Okay—there is no Lord Mackay, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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I am grateful to the Minister for her comments, but I fear that she has misread Amendment 11. It does not ban CHIS from encouraging or assisting crime, because of course they would have to do that very commonly as part of keeping their cover. If one looks at Amendment 11, one sees that it is about an authorisation, which cannot be

“for the primary purpose of … encouraging”

crime or “otherwise seeking to discredit” an organisation —that is, an organisation that is not actually committing crime in the first place. Of course, Article 6 will not help if there is no prosecution and trial, so I have yet to see a safeguard against agents provocateurs.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord McNicol of West Kilbride) (Lab)
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Does the Minister wish to reply? No? Okay—I call the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.

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Moved by
11: Clause 1, page 3, line 2, at end insert “; and
(d) is not carried out for the primary purpose of— (i) encouraging or assisting, pursuant to sections 44 to 49 of the Serious Crime Act 2007, the commission of an offence by, or(ii) otherwise seeking to discredit,the person, people or group subject to the authorised surveillance operation.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would prohibit the authorisation of criminal conduct where the covert human intelligence source acts as an agent provocateur.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, as I indicated earlier, I would like to test the opinion of the House on this amendment. I beg to move.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Report stage & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 13th January 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 144(Corr)-R-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Report - (11 Jan 2021)
Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I was very pleased to put my name to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young, and the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and to be in the company of those who have spoken so far. At a point when I thought that the issues around the granting of criminal conduct authorisations to vulnerable people might be lost because of the detail of our procedures, I tabled Amendment 25, but the point was not lost in the amendments from those of us who are not satisfied by the Government’s proposals.

Many noble Lords have been very clear about what ranges from discomfort to the widely held deep anxiety about using a child as an agent, and the even greater anxiety about authorising—which must often be heard as instructing—a child to commit a crime. We know what we think about grooming: we condemn it and we support measures to prevent or, if need be, respond to it. We are aware of the complexities of the development of a child’s brain—indeed, of its development well into an adult’s 20s. The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, was very clear about this at an earlier stage. I am bluntly opposed to involving someone under the age of 18—a child—in such activities. I feel that I would be complicit in something that I abhor by giving conditional approval, and very uncomfortable about applying the art of the possible to assessing what might be agreed by the House in the case of a child. Weighing two moral goods against one another tests anyone.

I understand the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, about prior judicial approval—I fear that that ship has sailed, for the moment, at any rate—as distinct from notification, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. It is, as I said, the art of the possible. However, better that there is something rather than nothing. I am not dismissing explanations of the situations in which only someone very young would be credible, nor of steps taken by the authorities now, to which the noble Lord, Lord Young, referred.

Therefore, while supporting the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Young, I have added my name, on behalf of these Benches, to Amendment 24, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. It covers, as it should, people who are vulnerable—in the words of the amendment—who are often involved in county lines, as cuckoos, for instance, and victims of modern slavery or trafficking, about whom the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, has spoken so clearly.

On the one hand, we want to support and protect the people described in the amendment

“against significant harm or exploitation”.

On the other hand, we are prepared to put them in the way of exploitation or mental and emotional harm, which they are not equipped to deal with. On the one hand, we congratulate ourselves on our world-leading legislation and activities to deal with modern slavery and trafficking, and on what we do to support those who have escaped or been rescued from it. On the other hand, we are prepared to make use of them in such a way as to run the risk of further harming survivors, who need to recover, and whose view of authority figures in Britain needs not to be undermined.

The Minister will direct us to the term “proportionate”. That needs the detail of the factors that apply, hence the words “exceptional circumstances” in proposed new Section 29C(7). Our amendment brings the welfare of the child into the requirements of “necessity” and “proportionality”. The criminal conduct authorisation must be compatible with, and not override, the best interests of the child. More than it being “a primary consideration”, in the words of the convention, I wonder whether the convention’s authors contemplated this situation. All other methods must have been exhausted and, most importantly, there must not be a risk of reasonably foreseeable physical or psychological harm.

The Government’s amendment may at first glance seem beguiling. It does more than double the length of the 2000 order, but it does not even put the safeguards of that order, as it is now, on the face of the Bill—it merely amends the order. This is secondary legislation, or secondary protection, to pinch the phrase used by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. The importance of primary legislation is something that we have alluded to a good deal. Essentially, it deals with CCAs under Section 29B, separately from the engagement of a spy or source under Section 29, without materially adding to the limitations. Incidentally, I am amused, given our debate on Monday, to see that a CCA granted to a child is limited to four months.

I note, of course, Amendment 40, which requires the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to keep under review “in particular” whether authorities are complying with requirements in relation to children’s CCAs. Either this is unnecessary—and we should think so, in the light of what we have heard from the Minister regarding review—or it weakens the IPC’s duties regarding adults.

There is nothing in the amendment about the vulnerabilities of those explicitly and rightly included in the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Young, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. I congratulate the noble Baroness on taking up this baton and arguing the case so powerfully.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and all those who have spoken, but it is a sad one indeed. Before we, to use her words, congratulate ourselves on our caveated, compromised support for children’s rights, I want to be absolutely clear that, during the passage of this Bill, absolutely no one in your Lordships’ House has done more than the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, to truly attempt to protect children’s rights, so my ultimate tribute is to him.

I was also incredibly grateful to my noble friend Lady Massey for her brilliant exposition of the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ views on this aspect of the legislation. Its report on the Bill overall is one of the finest I have seen from any committee of either House when it comes to analysing and apply human rights principles. I offer great thanks to her on behalf of the whole committee, which is chaired by Harriet Harman in the other place, of course.

The road to hell is paved not just with good intentions but with “exceptional circumstances” as well. While the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, also made a very passionate speech, I am afraid that even Amendment 24 contains too many caveats and holes to give proper protection to children from what is, ultimately, I am sorry to say, state-sponsored child abuse. To use a child as a CHIS is, I am afraid, just that. The noble Lord, Lord Young, put it very well when he said that, were there to be a scandal involving a child CHIS, the pendulum would swing very quickly. I hope that this time will come sooner rather than later—without such a scandal and the great damage to, or loss of, a child.

Of course, it has to be said that the scope of this Bill never allowed us to do what we really should be doing: banning the use of children as undercover operatives altogether. We were never allowed that opportunity by the Long Title of the Bill. That is the game that those engaged with drafting government legislation play. I was a Home Office lawyer for some years, and I know that the game is to make the Long Title sufficiently narrow to prevent a whole wealth of amendments. However, we should not have been looking at undercover operatives just in relation to criminal conduct without being able to look at the overall scheme, including judicial authorisation, not just of children or criminal conduct but undercover operatives altogether. As such, we start from a very imperfect place.

I am afraid that even Amendment 24 allows a relevant agency to decide whether an adult, including “the parent or guardian” of the child, is “deemed appropriate”. Crucially, in defining “exceptional circumstance”, the amendment uses the words “necessary and proportionate”—not even the higher human rights standard of “strict necessity”. That is very unfortunate indeed.

I will be clear: the best way—although it is still not perfect—to protect children in this group would be to support Amendments 12 and 13, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ Amendment 14. That package is the best we could do to do right by children—but, of course, I heard the signal from the noble Lord, Lord Young. I hope that both Front Benches will get behind his position, the human rights position. If they do not, I will follow his lead and vote for the sticking plaster over the gaping wound of child abuse that is Amendment 24, but I would do so with an incredibly heavy heart and more than a little embarrassment. I do not blame the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, but, as I say, her speech, at its best, was an argument for Amendments 12, 13 and 14.

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Baroness Morris of Bolton Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Morris of Bolton) (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, has withdrawn, so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I will be short on this, not just to please my friend the Government Whip but because I want us to move to a vote as soon as possible—certainly before the black dog that is conjured in my mind as a result of our not being able to improve the Bill so far overwhelms me. It almost certainly will if we do not achieve some improvement pretty fast. I completely associate myself with the eloquent remarks of my noble friends Lady Massey, Lord Rosser and Lord Dubs in particular, but the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has once more spoken from such a principled position in his constructive criticism of the Bill.

Briefly, the Human Rights Act is not enough to prohibit criminal offences. The European convention and the Human Rights Act require states to have effective criminal law, but if the Act or the convention were enough by themselves, we would need no criminal law at all. Clearly that is a nonsense. These are high-level, international protections that must be implemented in detail by criminal law; otherwise, there will be violations of the very convention rights on which the Government seek to rely.

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con) [V]
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My Lords, this group of amendments is of particular interest to me as, when we first looked at the Bill in Committee, I had great difficulty in understanding why the provisions of this clause extended to the Food Standards Agency and Environment Agency. I was fortunate to have a helpful briefing arranged by my noble friend the Minister. I also looked back to the evidence we took almost 10 years ago in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the other place, when the “horsegate” incident arose—in which horsemeat was passed off as beef and other types of meat. Regrettably, this is a potentially multi-million-pound business, as is fly-tipping, which is the bane of public life in rural areas. As I see it, if this is organised crime perpetrated by criminal gangs, one of the only ways we can tackle it, provide evidence and bring successful prosecutions is by granting agencies the tools under this clause.

I requested case studies and I understand that this is early days and that the provisions obviously have not yet applied—perhaps my noble friend could confirm that. However, it is envisaged that the provisions under this clause would enable the Food Standards Agency to tackle the type of fraud that was experienced in the horsegate scandal and prevent it happening in the future—one hopes, at the earliest possible stage—and the Environment Agency to use the intelligence to bring a successful prosecution in incidents of fly-tipping and other forms of illegal waste disposal.

Against that background, I would like these two agencies to remain in the Bill. I presume that my noble friend will able to confirm in the absence of current case studies—which I understand to be the position—that Parliament will have the opportunity to review the arrangements through the annual IPC report. It would be helpful to have that understanding. If we were to delete the agencies entirely, as is the purpose of Amendment 27, or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, eloquently outlined, to prevent officers of these two agencies granting CCAs, we would be tying their hands in what is a seriously fast-moving crime.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. The nature of our hybrid proceedings allows us to see her beavering away almost by candlelight, keeping warm but still with us. We have not always agreed on this Bill, but she has been a stalwart scrutineer during these proceedings.

The various safeguards that noble Lords have tried to add to the legislation are a patchwork. One could be relaxed about dispensing with some if one had others. I personally would have been much more relaxed, even about this extensive list of agencies, but for not being supported by sufficient noble Lords on that vital constitutional issue of immunity, which I am afraid has completely changed the game on CHIS criminal conduct.

I hear the arguments about the need to protect the environment and the markets, and to protect gambling from corruption et cetera, but if such scandals and organised crime were so serious, the police could be engaged to assist a relevant agency or commission in appropriate cases. That is what happens with powers to enter and powers to arrest all the time. If there was not something special about trained Security Service officers or trained police officers, we would grant a whole range of serious powers to enter and arrest to many more state departments and agencies than we do.

I understand the argument about resources because the police are so pressed, but that is an argument for giving them the financial resources and personnel they need to engage in serious crimes, including those relating to unsafe food and so on. So, I support limiting the agencies in the manner suggested by Amendments 27 and 28. We should leave it to the trained police or the trained security agencies. I would include the National Crime Agency and the Serious Fraud Office, but not a whole host of state agencies and government departments; otherwise, there could be a serious constitutional concern and a great many scandals well into the future.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I first raised this issue at Second Reading and I tabled an amendment in Committee.

I very rarely disagree with my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, but the logic of her argument is that you cannot tackle crime without giving a multitude of bodies the opportunity to enlist people to commit crime. I just do not accept that. I have deleted the bottom five organisations in the list—the ones on which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said in her admirable introduction, people have focused most attention by asking, “Why are they there?”

I completely understand the argument about police forces and the National Crime Agency, et cetera. Having had conversations with officials in the Home Office and HMRC, I even understand the introduction of HMRC into the Bill, but, for the life of me, I just cannot see why, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said a moment or two ago, police forces cannot deal with such bodies as the Environment Agency, the Food Standards Agency and the Gambling Commission.

Having a proliferation of bodies that are able to sanction people to commit crimes sends out a very bad signal. We take pride in our police forces and they should of course have the resources necessary to investigate all manner of crimes. People who commit crimes, whether within the orbit of the Environment Agency or the Food Standards Agency, should be brought to justice and punished if they are found guilty. But I just do not see a justification for this long list in the Bill. I very much hope that, when the Minister comes to reply, she will be able to convert and convince me, but I really do not think that she will. Whether I move my amendment to a vote will depend on what I hear, but I give notice that I might.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Marlesford Portrait Lord Marlesford (Con) [V]
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My Lords, we must consider carefully the extent to which the legitimate functions of the media in a free society may be compromised by requiring journalists to disclose their sources of information. Good government has maximum transparency, subject to national security. Our amendment seeks to maintain at least the present level of such transparency. I refer the Minister to Chapter 3 of the 2012 report into investigative journalism by the House of Lords Communications Committee, which was then chaired by my noble friend Lord Inglewood. I submit that it justifies our amendment.

I must make a clear distinction between the traditional printed or broadcast media and the large number of widespread, rapidly growing—and now, all too often, highly malignant—vehicles of social media. It is from social media that the new concept of fake news emerged. Social media has been weaponised by several authoritarian Governments operating through channels of dark diplomacy and is a threat to western democracies. It is therefore relevant to the objectives of the Bill and I suggest that the Government and Parliament investigate it carefully.

While unregulated social media is by its nature anarchic, traditional media in the UK is already subject to multiple levels of control and invigilation. First, there are the proprietors, who are in business for profit, influence and sometimes vaguer satisfactions. Noble Lords may remember the famous 1931 speech written for him by Rudyard Kipling, when Stanley Baldwin described the press lords as seeking

“power without responsibility—the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages”.

Since those days, we have moved on. Today proprietors are under financial pressure, with more competition for advertisers, as well as from the views of their editors and journalists and, not least, their viewers. There is much greater awareness and intolerance of media misbehaviour than there was 90 years ago. Any statutory power to compel journalists to disclose sources should be defined clearly, with the key protection of independent judicial review on both the need and proportionality in each case.

This amendment proposes a process of adjudication. It starts from the assumption of there being a public interest in non-disclosure and then suggests the need for another overriding public interest before requiring disclosure. More guidance on the nature of this overriding public interest should be introduced by law, and I suggest that there are a couple of principles which should or should not be included in that definition. Embarrassment of privacy should not be included, while national security and the need to assist investigation of serious crime should, of course, be included. Embarrassment can range from media intrusion into private lives through the behaviour of politicians or Governments. The law as it has developed since the Leveson inquiry should confine itself to seeking identification and penalties for any illegal methods of intrusion in seeking information. Whistleblowers on bad practices of organisations, whether public or private, must be protected from identification and consequent persecution. Nor should any law seek to enforce the disclosure of journalistic sources that are claimed to have resulted in the embarrassment of privacy of individuals, all too often people whose lives are focused on maintaining their celebrity status while merely seeking to control the timing of their own publicity. Many so-called celebs employ a publicist to keep them in the public eye.

When we consider national security, there must be a strict test. Some secrets must be kept, especially those in the world of intelligence and nuclear weapons. Open societies must be sensitive to this. On leaks from government and leak inquiries, in my view it is for Governments to keep their own secrets. In practice, leaking is part of the process of politics and sometimes part of the machinery of government. It is rare that there is a public interest dimension against a leak that justifies compelling journalists to reveal sources. Indeed, leaking, even on sensitive issues, can sometimes be in the national interest. The leaking by Foreign Office officials to an out-of-office Winston Churchill that revealed Hitler’s preparation for war is an obvious example of a fully desirable leak.

The Conservative Party has long had a policy of a specific commitment to protect the freedom of the press. The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 provided important safeguards for that purpose. I at any rate intend to hold the Government to that obligation and to resist any attempt to make life easier for Whitehall to operate inside a cocoon of comforting but excessive security.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. I have ringing in my ears his commitment to protecting press freedom and that, he says, of his party. I am happy to support this amendment to protect journalistic sources, and I hope everyone else will.

I hope that my noble friend Lady Whitaker will press the amendment to a vote and that everyone will support it, but when they do, I hope that some will consider why they would support this limited protection for journalistic sources yet they did not support Amendment 11 to ban agents provocateurs, which would have protected journalistic agencies as well as other parts of civil society such as human rights NGOs and trade unions. Never came there once—not from either side, I have to say—an explanation of why that protection was unnecessary.

I have yet to pay proper tribute and give proper thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—although I fear that she may not be on the call any more—because never has there been a more modest or consistent defender of rights and freedoms in your Lordships’ House. I say to her that I share her sense of bleakness about how little we have achieved in providing protections in this legislation. A Rubicon has been crossed and probably will be again. There will be impunity for agents of the state to commit even serious crimes; there is no judicial authorisation; and the agencies were not limited. I feel very bleak about that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, was perhaps the most eloquent voice for security, as she so often is in this debate. Like everyone else, I was moved by her story about a CHIS, an undercover operative, who told her on a radio programme that he did what he did because he had to look in the mirror and be proud of himself. However, as legislators, dare I say it, we have to look in the mirror as well.

While I support this amendment and hope it passes, I feel very bleak about other parts of civil society and ordinary citizens who are losing their very important rule-of-law protection as I speak. I fear that history will not judge us kindly, nor will critics of our unelected House. It is a very difficult system and Chamber to defend but, when I have looked for a defence, I have always thought about the importance of independence, and independent legislators at least having the ability to defend human rights and the rule of law from populist attack. I fear that we have not perhaps done our best or most successful work on this Bill.

That said, I wish this amendment every success and hope that my noble friend Lady Whitaker will press it.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Speaker (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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The noble Lord, Lord Mann, has scratched. Accordingly, I call the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill Debate

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Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

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3rd reading & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 21st January 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 161-I Marshalled list for Third Reading - (18 Jan 2021)
Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich (CB) [V]
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My Lords, as one of the many Cross-Benchers who has applied themselves to this Bill, I record my thanks to the Minister for her explanations and for the discussions with her, which I have enjoyed—no 48-hour weeks for her—and James Brokenshire, who continues to have all our good wishes; to the Bill team; to the police and MI5; to IPCO, whose monitoring function is so vital; and to the NGOs and individuals who campaign on these issues and do their best to keep us all honest. I am particularly grateful to those who brought the Third Direction case. There are issues of great public concern which simply do not come to the attention of Parliament without the spur of litigation, and this is one of them. I have also appreciated not only the speeches of other noble Lords but my informal dialogue with them, intensive at times, which in my experience can be achieved just as easily, if not quite so pleasurably, in a virtual House as in a physical one.

This Bill was not widely consulted on and went from Committee stage to Third Reading in the other place during a single day. It needed the time we were able to give it, and I believe that after seven days of debate we have achieved significant improvement and clarification. I thank the Minister in particular for working with me on real-time notification. I hope we can achieve a satisfactory result on the other excellent amendments that we have passed, including those of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, which improve notification and the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, on juvenile CHIS, while still enabling the Bill to be enacted by the start of the Court of Appeal hearing on 28 January, which I know is the Government’s ambition.

I have great respect for the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and understand her regrets, which are underlined by the withholding of consent by the Scottish Government, but I will not be voting for her amendment to the Motion. For all its difficult and controversial features, the Bill is a clear improvement on the opaque and poorly safeguarded arrangements that preceded it, and it has my support.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I have bled your Lordships’ ears over this Bill long enough, so I can be short. I thank the Minister for her patience and fortitude but my profound fears about this legislation will continue for a very long time, until it is amended or repealed. My concerns are about the signal that it sends but, even more, about the serious human rights abuses that it will herald. It is, quite simply, the most constitutionally dangerous legislation that I have seen presented in this country in my working life.

I am rather ashamed not to have been able to persuade more of your Lordships of the profound dangers of allowing the Executive to grant advance immunity for criminal actions to a whole raft of their agents—not just the brave security services or the hard-pressed police but many other government agencies and quangos, and the members of our communities who inform for or work for them, including even children. It will not even be with prior judicial warrant. This legislation does not put current arrangements on a statutory footing, so it does not merely respond to the litigation mentioned by the previous speaker. As for that litigation, there may be a lesson here for those of us who at times have dabbled in test-case legislation: to be careful what we wish for when provoking the might of the state in this fashion.

Just as our cousins on the other side of the Atlantic are beginning to rebuild their own bedrock of the rule of law, it will take a little longer in our own jurisdiction. A lot is said of patriotism these days. My patriotism is not the love of a flag but, in a nutshell, a love of the NHS and the rule of law. This Bill abrogates the vital principle of equality before the law, which I think all people well understand. It is a very sad day for me. For the moment, like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I can only bear witness for the record—but that I must do. I cannot in good conscience support the Bill being passed off as law.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, always expresses herself firmly and persuasively. That said, I am afraid I could not agree with her less about this legislation. I support the passage of the Bill and want to thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who has been both consultative and a very good listener. She has also shown that she is prepared to move on important issues. Far from what the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said, the Bill puts CHIS on a solid, statutory footing.

It has improved the way in which CHIS are to be dealt with by creating a clear process, all of which is legally enforceable and accountable. The code of practice has been mentioned less frequently in our debates than it deserved. It is absolutely required reading for all who are involved, or perhaps even interested, in how CHIS are handled in this country. One thing to be emphasised about the code of practice is that because it is a code rather than an Act of Parliament, although it has the force of law, it is a living instrument which can be changed as needs must.

The Bill will make a beneficial difference for the authorities, for the CHIS themselves and for public safety. With the changes that have been made, which have been difficult and creative at times, I commend it to the House.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill Debate

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Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

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Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 9th February 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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I hope I have sufficiently set out the Government’s position on each of these issues and demonstrated a willingness to seek agreement where possible. The Government seek to put this Bill on to the statute book as soon as possible and I therefore hope we can reach agreement on all issues today. I beg to move.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, at this stage in the journey of a Bill, I know your Lordships’ House will be mindful of its role as an unelected revising Chamber, but in the context of this Bill I humbly suggest that noble Lords be equally mindful of the serious constitutional, human rights and rule of law implications of the legislation, which was not a manifesto commitment of any party.

While mature democracies the world over have written constitutions and entrenched Bills of Rights, including ultimate strike-down powers with which their highest courts can protect fundamental rights and freedoms, that is not currently the case in the United Kingdom. Instead, the burden of protecting rights and freedoms must be more evenly shared between the judiciary and legislature. While your Lordships’ House lacks the other place’s elected legitimacy, it can in my view justify its existence at all only by having more of the independence of mind required to stand up for the most fundamental human rights of the vulnerable against state oppression, by accident or design, in the form of authorised criminality with total legal impunity.

Furthermore, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has an important role in our unusual constitutional scheme. It has been unequivocal in its critique of the ways this legislation violates the European Convention on Human Rights. Your Lordships took its clear advice, and that of my noble friend Lady Massey, in the form of the amendment banning the authorisation of certain grave crimes, in particular murder, rape and torture. The Government’s rebuttal is both circular and hollow. They argue that the grave offences in this amendment would provide a deadly checklist against which suspected undercover agents might be tested, but they also argue that the convention rights already provide these express prohibitions. This amendment might be either dangerous or superfluous, but it surely cannot be both. Which is it?

In the past, government lawyers have argued that the convention rights do not bind undercover agents of the state, and only recently, in the very litigation that provoked this Bill, they argued that agents are not precluded from committing murder. I am clear in my belief that the Human Rights Act binds undercover agents of the state, alongside the state itself. I would be grateful if the Minister could place her express agreement with that proposition on the record during today’s proceedings.

However, even that would not render this amendment superfluous, as the criminal law provides a clearer and more detailed set of instructions to all our citizens. This is essential to our nation’s compliance with convention rights. What would your Lordships’ House say if this kind of criminal immunity, without detailed limitation even for grave offences, were being passed in Russia, China or anywhere other than here? What would the Government say?

As a matter of conscience, and if only to record our grave concerns for the benefit of the litigators and senior jurists who will inevitably pick up the stitches that legislators have dropped, I will test the opinion of your Lordships’ House.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to Motions A, C and D and my noble friend Lord Paddick to Motions B and E. I thank the Minister and the Government for their engagement on the Bill, which raised far more issues than its slim size might have suggested.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, proposed the way forward on the first point, along with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. They and we on these Benches would have far preferred the new Section 29B to require criminal conduct authorisations to require “reasonable belief” on the part of the person granting them that they are necessary and proportionate and that the requisite arrangements are in place—in other words, for that to be placed in the Bill. Necessity and proportionality are dependent on a belief which, as the Bill is drawn, is subjective, which dilutes the safeguards. The House agreed with us.

The Government have been concerned that, because Section 29 of RIPA—the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act—which deals with authorisation for the conduct and use of covert human sources, requires belief only, the different wording in new Section 29B would throw Section 29 into doubt. I understand the significance of consistency in legislation, but I do not entirely follow the argument in this case, since Section 32A, which was inserted into RIPA in 2012 and deals with authorisations, including those under Section 29—I hope noble Lords are following so far—provides for judicial authority if and only if the judicial authority is satisfied that there were reasonable grounds for believing and so on. Even if the argument is restricted to consistency, our view is that the term should be included in the Bill. The Commons disagreed with this on the basis of inconsistency, which would cast the doubt to which I have referred. The Solicitor-General assured them that

“the legal position is already that the belief must be reasonable, as a matter of public law.”—[Official Report, Commons, 27/1/21; col. 425.]

We have therefore come to the pragmatic solution that the statutory code of practice at paragraph 3.10 should not, as it says in the draft of the code, say that it is expected there should be reasonable belief. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, commented pithily that nothing could be less desirable. A mere expectation should not satisfy the Solicitor-General either. It is to be replaced by the words the Minister has quoted; I would be grateful if she could ensure that Hansard knows there are to be quotation marks around them, because they could have sounded descriptive rather than the text—the same changes are to be made at paragraph 6.4 of the code of practice. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has commented, the police will rely on the code of practice—I hope I have not stolen his line.

On civil redress, during the passage of the Bill there have been different approaches to ensure that someone injured during the course of authorised conduct should be entitled to redress. We were repeatedly assured that no amendment was necessary; the Minister said the Bill did not “in practice” interfere with the criminal injuries compensation scheme, a term which I queried.

The cross-party amendment led on by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, was agreed by the House by a very substantial majority. We now have a Commons reason that it would be

“inappropriate to create an exception to the effect of”

CCAs, which rather makes our point that an amendment is necessary, but I understand the sometimes slightly obscure process of coming to the formulation of reasons. We welcome this amendment, and we are pleased that the Government have found a form of words to cover the issue that they can live with and with which we are happy to live.

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Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
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I understand from the clerks that the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has already indicated that she wishes to press her amendment.

Motion B1 (as an amendment to Motion B)

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti
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Moved by

Leave out “not”.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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[Inaudible]—my noble friend Lord Adonis, in particular with regard to the exchange between them, so I would like to test the opinion of the House.