Consideration of Lords message
After Clause 2
Criminal injuries compensation
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 3B.
With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments 4B to 4J.
I am very pleased to be here today for the final debate on this important Bill before it receives Royal Assent and becomes law.
The Government introduced the Bill in order to provide a clear and consistent legal basis for the rare occasions when, in the course of their important work keeping us safe, it is necessary and proportionate for undercover agents to themselves participate in criminal conduct. That is a long-standing practice that has proved critical, frankly, in identifying and disrupting terrorist plots, drugs and firearms offences, and child sexual exploitation and abuse. For the first time, the Bill places that covert human intelligence source activity on an expressly statutory basis, providing our operational partners with the certainty that they can continue to utilise this tactic as we continue to respond to the evolving threat picture we face as a nation.
The Bill also resolves the tension that has previously existed where the state is asking an individual to engage in the difficult and dangerous work of frustrating crime without providing those self-same individuals with protection from prosecution for doing so. It will therefore benefit our ability henceforth to recruit and retain covert human intelligence sources.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all colleagues, in this House and in the other place, who have contributed to the thoughtful and detailed debates that we have had on the Bill. It is right that the important issues that it raises are subject to scrutiny, and I hope that Her Majesty’s Government have demonstrated a willingness to engage and provide reassurance where possible, including through private briefings with operational partners such as MI5 and others.
I believe that we have a good piece of legislation, which will now move on to the statute book. It strikes an important balance by providing for clear safeguards and independent oversight without jeopardising the operational workability of the regime.
I turn to the amendments that are to be considered today. The Government brought forward an amendment in the other place that provides that the conduct authorised under the Bill does not affect a person’s ability to access the criminal injuries compensation scheme where appropriate. Although the Government believe that the amendment is not actually necessary, as the Bill does not in practice impact a person’s ability to access the criminal injuries compensation scheme, we have listened to the view put forward by Parliament that we could be more explicit on that point. The amendment therefore makes it clear in the Bill that, where appropriate, the criminal injuries compensation scheme remains an available route of redress.
The Government also brought forward amendments in the other place providing additional safeguards in relation to the authorisation of juveniles or vulnerable covert human intelligence sources. I pay tribute to Members on both sides of the House and in both Houses who engaged with the Government and our operational partners on this issue and helped to refine these substantive safeguards.
Let me briefly set out what the amendments do. The Government amendments make it clear that the authorising officer is under a duty to safeguard and promote the best interests of the juvenile, and that the authorisation must be compatible with that duty. That reflects article 3 of the UN convention on the rights of the child. It also applies the same statutory safeguards that are in place for CHIS use and conduct authorisations to the new criminal conduct authorisations, and requires the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to keep those enhanced safeguards under particular review, as they relate to children and vulnerable people. In addition, the amendments also put in the Bill the requirement that a juvenile covert human intelligence source be authorised only in exceptional circumstances. Such exceptional circumstances will exist only where there is no reasonably foreseeable harm to the juvenile as a result of the authorisation, and where the authorisation is believed to be compatible with the best interests of the juvenile.
The amendments further clarify in the Bill that an appropriate adult must be in place in any meetings with any individual under the age of 16 years, and there is a presumption that an appropriate adult will attend meetings with 16 and 17-year-olds, with any derogation from that presumption justified in writing. The amendments also add additional safeguards for vulnerable individuals to the Bill. They require an enhanced risk assessment to be carried out, state that the source must be capable of understanding and consenting to the deployment and any associated risks, and state that consideration must be given to the best interests of the source.
These substantive amendments focus on the wellbeing and safety of the juvenile or vulnerable adult. It is right that there be additional safeguards for those authorisations, and the amendments provide them, but we have also ensured that the amendments do not create any unintended consequences that risk the safety of any individual involved in this covert activity. I am pleased that we have been able to reach positions of consensus on this Bill across both Houses and on both sides of the Chamber. I am reassured that the legal certainty that the Bill provides will soon be in place to ensure that our operational partners can continue their important work to keep us safe.
It is a pleasure to follow the Solicitor General. Given the seriousness and sensitivity of these matters, it is right to recognise the challenging but constructive engagement that we have had with the Government throughout the passage of this Bill. I again pay tribute to colleagues in the other place. The experience and expertise that so well informs their scrutiny has, without a shadow of a doubt, strengthened this legislation and the protections and safeguards in it. I think the whole House can agree that the Bill before us is in much better shape. We welcome the Government concessions that the shadow Home Secretary and Labour Members, as well as other colleagues, have secured during the Bill’s parliamentary passage.
Turning to the amendments in lieu, Lords amendment 3B relates to the criminal injuries compensation scheme and the vital matter of redress for innocent victims. It would properly ensure that victims were protected and unimpeded in obtaining justice if harm came to them during authorised conduct. Throughout this process, we and colleagues across both Houses have stressed the importance of a viable route to redress for innocent victims if boundaries are broken, and we have tabled and supported amendments to that effect. It is an important principle in law that victims of crime can seek recompense, and these circumstances should be no exception. We therefore welcome the amendment and the Government’s change of heart on the need to make it explicit in the Bill that individuals can access criminal injuries compensation whenever appropriate. I pay tribute to colleagues on the Joint Committee on Human Rights for the work that they have carried out on this alongside Lord Anderson and his colleagues in the other place.
Lords amendments 4B to 4J relate to safeguards for juveniles and vulnerable adults. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), noble lords in the other place and many civic society groups, charities and experts who have worked tirelessly on this issue. We maintain that the protections could go further, but none the less welcome movement on this issue. It was very important to Labour Members and colleagues across the House that the heightened protections for children and vulnerable adults outlined in these amendments should make it clear that criminal conduct authorisations can be granted to minors only in exceptional circumstances, and should take into account any potential physical or psychological harm and wider safeguarding issues, as well as the results of an appropriate risk assessment. The amendments also provide that an appropriate adult must be present at meetings with individuals under 16 years old; most 16 and 17-year-olds will have this right, too. I echo Lord Rosser, who said:
“On this issue, we have not achieved everything that was asked for”,—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 February 2021; Vol. 810, c. 201.]
but we are pleased to see the Government have listened to our and others’ concerns, and gone beyond prior commitments.
Labour Members will continue to monitor these matters and work to assess their impact. In addition, following the Bill’s passage, we will keep a close eye on the upcoming consultation on the CHIS code of practice to ensure and, if necessary, enhance safeguards in this arena and make them as effective as possible.
As I have said in this House previously, this is not the Bill that we would have proposed or passed. It is far from perfect, but it has been vastly improved during its passage. The amendments in lieu being considered—and, I hope, accepted—today are proof of that. I reiterate that Labour Members recognise the importance and significance of putting CHIS activities on a statutory footing for the first time through this Bill, while ensuring vital safeguards, accountability and protections.
We are eternally grateful to those in the police, the security services, the National Crime Agency and wider law enforcement who put their safety and life at risk to protect ours—as indeed do covert human intelligence sources. Through this Bill, we have sought to meet our duty to support them. The resolute focus on national security, on tackling serious and organised crime, on human rights and on supporting victims that has guided us throughout this Bill’s passage will continue to be a central tenet of our approach as we seek to keep this country, its citizens and our communities safe.
We have until 6.56 pm to conclude proceedings on the Bill, so if Back-Bench contributions were less than five minutes long, that would enable us to get as many Members in as possible. I do not want to impose a time limit, but I hope that colleagues will be considerate of one another. I call Dr Julian Lewis, Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee.
Right from the outset, the Intelligence and Security Committee has supported the principle behind the Bill, although we have also welcomed attempts by Members in both Houses to improve it. It is a very important Bill. Covert human intelligence sources or agents provide vital information to assist the security and intelligence agencies in their investigations. They save lives. As the head of MI5 recently said, without them, many of the attacks foiled in recent years
“would not have been prevented.”
In working undercover, CHIS need to be trusted by those they are reporting on, so that they can gain the information that the authorities need. CHIS may therefore need to carry out criminal activity to maintain their cover. Their handlers must be able to authorise them to do so, in certain circumstances and subject to specific safeguards. The Bill places the powers that certain organisations have to authorise such activity on an explicit statutory basis—something that we should all welcome.
The Bill before us has been improved since it was introduced in September, and that is a measure of the effective scrutiny of national security legislation by Parliament, including by the ISC. These are very serious powers for the state to exercise, and it is right that they be properly scrutinised. In particular, the ISC welcomes the provisions brought forward in the other place by Lord Anderson, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, requiring all criminal conduct authorisations to be notified to judicial commissioners as soon as possible and within seven days. Judicial oversight is a vital safeguard, and this measure should give the public confidence that these powers will be used only when proportionate, necessary, and in accordance with the law.
The final amendments to the Bill that the House is being asked to approve today are sensible provisions that the House should welcome. The additional safeguards for children and vulnerable people are particularly welcome, and it is clear that the Government have listened to the strength of feeling in both Houses on this matter. Many of the changes made to the Bill will be reflected in an updated CHIS code of conduct, which I understand will be drafted over the coming months. This revised code of conduct will include new language emphasising the important oversight role of the Intelligence and Security Committee in relation to the use of these powers by the intelligence agencies. The Committee welcomes that, and I can assure the House that the ISC fully intends to exercise its oversight powers to ensure that criminal conduct authorisations are used appropriately.
I thank Ministers and those who support them for the constructive way in which they have engaged with the Committee on the Bill. I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, who unfortunately cannot be with us today. I wish him the very best for his recovery, and I look forward to working with him in future. Finally, I pay tribute to the men and women of our security and intelligence agencies and, most importantly on this occasion, to their covert human intelligence sources—individuals whom few of us will ever know, but whose bravery saves lives. We all owe them a great debt of gratitude for their courageous service.
It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and I join him in sending my party’s best wishes to the Minister for Security.
There is absolutely no disagreement about the need for a Bill. These are self-evidently significant, extraordinary and important powers being put on the statute book, and not before time. However, it is precisely because of the significance and importance of these powers that, although we acknowledge the need for a Bill, we could not support one that did not provide proper safeguards, oversight and limitations on these powers. Those points were made at earlier stages by my hon. Friends, including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson), and that is why we ultimately voted against the Bill on Third Reading.
As the Solicitor General set out, the latest round of ping-pong has produced additional protections in cases where authorisations are being considered for covert sources who are children or vulnerable people. It has also ensured that some access to criminal injuries compensation will continue when a person is a victim of the criminal conduct of a covert source. The Bill is certainly better with these changes. In particular, we welcome the work undertaken by Just For Kids Law, and others, in advocating for safeguards for children and vulnerable adults. They could, and probably should have been even stronger, but even speaking about authorising criminal conduct by a child operating covertly feels very troubling. Hopefully those limits will make such occurrences very rare, as they should be, and we must and will monitor risk closely.
Although the amendments improve the Bill, they do not resolve its fundamental problems or answer the serious questions asked about it. The amendments that tried to do that have been taken out. The Government continue to protest that the Human Rights Act is the answer to those questions, yet at the same time they are undertaking a review of that Act, and, significantly, their own European convention on human rights memorandum and legal submissions appear to cast serious doubt on the extent of the protections offered, and whether they cover the actions of covert agents. The memorandum anticipates that there would
“not be State responsibility…for conduct where the intention is to disrupt and prevent that conduct, or more serious conduct…or where the conduct would take place in any event.”
What does that mean? What is its impact in relation to torture, for example? Is there state responsibility if covert agents commit torture? Is it, or is it not, the Government’s view that such acts could conceivably be justified if they might prevent something more serious, or if the torture would have occurred anyway? Those questions require serious answers.
A failure to provide a suitable oversight mechanism is why the Scottish Government did not recommend legislative consent for the Bill regarding devolved issues, and why the Scottish Parliament, including the Labour party, overwhelmingly agreed with that approach. The protections in the Bill are not enough—for example, the Lord Advocate and Police Scotland were clear that a system of prior authorisation was required. It is welcome that on this occasion the Government have respected the devolution settlement and taken the relevant devolved provisions out of the Bill. That they were required to come out of the Bill was unfortunate, however, because the same system of authorisation for devolved and reserved powers would have made life simpler, and there was extensive and constructive engagement between Governments in trying to make that happen.
Ultimately, but not for the first time on issues relating to intelligence and investigatory powers, I believe the UK Government are failing to get the balance right between giving agencies the powers that we all recognise they need, and giving people the human rights, freedoms and protections that they deserve. The amendments would redress that balance a little, but nowhere near enough, and it will now be for the Scottish Government and Parliament to take forward legislation that gets that balance right.
I welcome the Bill and the approach that the Government have adopted. I thank the Solicitor General for his willingness to listen to arguments regarding the amendments, and I join others in paying tribute to my right hon Friend, and good personal friend, the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire). I wish him well in his recovery.
The Bill is important because legal certainty in such sensitive and delicate matters is crucial for upholding the rule of law. That is why the Bill was necessary. There can be arguments about where the balance should be, but I believe a fair balance has now been struck, and it enhances the rule of law and accountability. I also pay tribute to those men and women who operate in extremely dangerous, sensitive and difficult circumstances, and who put their lives on the line for our safety. They deserve a proper legal framework to safeguard their activities. Equally, those who in certain rare circumstances might be the innocent victims of collateral damage caused by such activities ought to have proper redress and compensation. I therefore welcome the Government’s acceptance of the amendment that would make that explicit in the Bill. I understand the points that have been raised, but as the Solicitor General will know, criminal compensation law and procedure can seem quite arcane to the lay person, and it was a sensible and helpful move to put that measure in the Bill.
I also welcome the strengthening of provisions for protection for juveniles. For example, the use of appropriate adults more closely mirrors the protections that we recognise for juveniles elsewhere in elements of the justice system. That is a welcome improvement, and I am confident that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and the judicial commissioners will give full and proper weight to those important safeguards.
I pay tribute to the work of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and the judicial commissioners who work with him. Many of us know Sir Brian Leveson, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, as a judge of the very highest integrity, and the same is true of some of those judicial commissioners who work with him and the staff who support that office. That system of checks and balances is critical to ensuring the rule of law, and it is important that such oversight exists.
On balance, the Bill has been improved by the amendments and by the co-operative approach adopted by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House and in both Houses. I hope that we can leave those who operate on our behalf in this critical manner not only with a greater measure of legal certainty, but with a proper balance to ensure that both access to justice and the rule of law itself are properly preserved in a workable and modernised framework.
I agree with the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) when he said that this Bill has been improved by the work that has been done across the two Houses of Parliament and across the Benches. With that in mind, I will start by acknowledging the work that has been done on the issue around the use of children—the concept of juvenile CHIS. I acknowledge the work of Baroness Kidron, Lord Russell, Lord Young and Lord Kennedy who led the debates and discussions on these issues in the other place, and they have brought us to a much better place as a result. If we are honest, when this Bill first came to us, there was no discussion about children and what might happen if children were used as covert intelligence sources, so it is important that we recognise the work that they did to get us to this place, with the amendments before us.
I also put on record my thanks to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). I do not know whether that is helpful to him, but I know that he is speaking after me. Certainly, it might be of concern to our Whips that I agree with much of what he has said with regard to this Bill. We share the concern that it is important to have the right legislation in place for these issues, because we know that covert intelligence sources are already being used. In that sense, I also want to thank the Minister for Security for listening to our concerns and I wish him well in his recovery.
I also pay tribute to the work of Just for Kids Law and JUSTICE, which have been phenomenal champions of the young people we are talking about today. I also thank the Minister in the other place, Baroness Williams, for her work and the Solicitor General before us today, who has had to step into this debate. I hope that now that he has had time to look at this issue, he will reconsider what he said a couple of weeks ago when he suggested that some of our concerns and examples were not valid and could not have happened, not least because his colleague, Baroness Williams, has acknowledged that those very cases about vulnerable children aged 16 and 17 being exploited and then put at risk and used as covert intelligence sources were in fact real.
With that in mind, I agree very much with the shadow Minister that the Bill is much improved and that the Government have moved on this issue. We now have in the Bill the exceptional circumstances principle—that we should only ever ask children to put themselves in harm’s way and to commit criminal acts in very exceptional circumstances. Indeed, our argument that there should always be an appropriate adult as part of those conversations has certainly moved forward, as has our suggestion that IPCO should be overseeing this. Those are very welcome developments and it is important that we recognise that.
There is an understanding that we need to go further in recognising that appropriate adults are not always part of these conversations and the discrepancies that that creates. If a child is arrested for shoplifting at the age of 16 or 17, there will always be an appropriate adult involved in their conversations with the police, but if a child is asked at the age of 16 or 17 to spy on their parents or to commit a criminal act as part of an investigation there might not always be an appropriate adult. That reflects a bigger challenge that I hope the Minister will take up: that this legislation is obviously looking only at the use of criminal conduct authorisations, and yet what this debate has shown is that across the House and across the different sections of Parliament there is a concern about the use of children at all as covert intelligence sources. I make a plea to him today that the long-awaited code of practice be published—we were promised it during the passage of the Bill, but we have not yet seen it—and that we look at that much bigger concern about ensuring that there is always appropriate welfare and safeguarding protection for children of all ages, recognising that the United Nations and, indeed, this country have signed up to recognising children under the age of 18—so 16 and 17-year-olds—as children who require our protection. We need to extend the principles that we have put in this Bill regarding criminal activities to all their engagement.
I think that everyone recognises that our security services and the police do a phenomenal job and work in some very difficult circumstances. We also recognise our responsibility in this place to those young people that we ask, in these exceptional circumstances, to put themselves in the way of harm. The Bill certainly takes us much further towards having the protections in place that we would all wish, but we know that there is more work to do. I appeal to Ministers to continue to work with organisations such as Just for Kids Law, to listen to the concerns of not just the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden but Members across the House about where we might cut across international standards and welfare protections, and to recognise that the best states are those that protect everyone, including those people that we put in harm’s way, whether they are in our secret services or they are young people.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to participate in this debate and support the hard work of our Members of Parliament on this issue.
I start by sending my wishes, with everyone else’s, to the Minister for Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire). The House would perhaps like to know that I spoke to him this afternoon and he is making very good progress. We are all happy about that.
I also commend, in the strongest possible terms, the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) for the campaign that she has put together, particularly with respect to the Bill as it applies to children. She has proved yet again a formidable campaigner, for which we should all be grateful.
I am still completely against the division between children above and below the age of 16 on whether there is an absolute requirement for an appropriate adult in meetings with the child. Of course, we all know 17-year-olds who are very mature, but we also all know 17-year-olds who are very immature, and in the context of being involved in a criminal investigation, I suspect the latter are far more common than the former. For that reason, I think it entirely wrong that a police officer or officers, no matter how responsible, should be allowed, even in exceptional circumstances, to make judgments about whether an appropriate adult should be present. That being said, the Bill has made significant movements in the right direction—just, I think, not far enough.
The SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), raised the more general question of the extent of the sort of crime that CHISs could be approved to authorise. Since the Lords dropped the amendments that related to that, that ambiguity—namely, the sheer scope of crimes and whether they could include torture, murder and the like—still applies to the Bill.
That ambiguity arises because of the following. On the one hand, the Government have said that the Human Rights Act intervenes to limit what can be done. I quote Baroness Williams who said that the Human Rights Act provides
“limits to the conduct that can be authorised. An authorisation that is not compatible with the Human Rights Act will not be lawful”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 February 2021; Vol. 810, c. 181.]
However, in the court case that precipitated the Bill, that of Privacy International v. the Home Secretary, on 7 May 2019 Mr James Eadie, the Government’s QC, said that
“the state, in tasking the CHIS…is not the instigator of that activity and cannot be treated as somehow responsible for it…it would be unreal to hold the state responsible.”
I have always viewed that as a rather Pontius Pilate statement on this matter by the Government’s lawyer.
That introduces an ambiguity. The Minister, who is an old friend of mine, will understand better than most the standing of what he says since the Pepper v. Hart case of some years ago—namely, that the courts will interpret ambiguous legislation in the light of the way the Minister describes it. I therefore ask him to confirm, in unequivocal terms, for Pepper v. Hart purposes, that authorisation of acts that would breach the Human Rights Act would always be unlawful. I will give way to him now or he can answer when he winds up; I really do not mind.
I will do it at the end.
That is fine. I will say one last thing with respect to that. If the Government do not make it clear and that still hangs as an ambiguity around the Bill, then the Bill, along with the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, could well end up with this country being in the International Criminal Court for reasons that the House did not intend. It is that important that the Minister makes that clear.
I rise to speak on Lords amendments 3B and 4B to 4J. While there are improvements to the legislation, I would like to reaffirm on record that I continue to be utterly astounded at the chilling gravity and significance of this piece of legislation, which seeks to decriminalise criminal conduct by intelligence and undercover agents, representing another departure from the recognised rules of domestic and international law.
Amendments 4B to 4J provide safeguards where children and vulnerable individuals who are involved in criminality become covert human intelligence sources. However, I would have liked this to go much further and, in particular, include safeguards for ethnic minorities, protest movements and trade unions in particular. The amendments outline that no criminal conduct authorisation can be made for a source who is under the age of 18 or is a vulnerable individual unless in exceptional circumstances, yet human rights and the rights of children are absolute in my mind, and I am not sure what circumstance could possibly render this fundamental principle secondary.
As a Muslim growing up in east London, I have experienced the well documented rise in Islamophobia and the steady erosion of civil rights, including the installation of cameras on street corners and increased surveillance. Our communities are too often seen not as citizens worthy of equality and respect, but as a threat viewed with hostility and suspicion. Indeed, Prevent has been widely criticised for fostering discrimination against people of Muslim faith or background. It was developed without firm evidence, and is rooted in a vague and expansive definition of extremism, including overt targeting of Muslim children in schools, which has meant that our Muslim young people in particular are being increasingly viewed through the lens of security. I fear that, as currently drafted, amendments 4B to 4J, while a moderate improvement, do not provide the safeguards for ethnic minority children. They will not protect my constituents from what they increasingly feel to be the lawlessness of undercover agents, which makes our communities feel less safe.
The use of undercover police posing as protesters, committing crimes and provoking violence, including violent responses from the authorities, has been discussed in the public domain in recent years in relation to Black Lives Matter protests, actions on climate change and G20 demonstrations. Lords amendment 3B seeks to ensure that innocent victims are able to seek compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. Throughout its passage, this Bill has triggered alarm bells for trade unions and justice campaigns such as the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, which fear that these latest draconian powers could be used to interfere with the legitimate activities of trade unions. The deployment of agents provocateurs to commit and incite criminal activity, misconduct, malpractice and corruption during the miners’ strike has been well documented—the idea being to sabotage and destroy from within. Lords amendment 3B, while an improvement, falls far short of providing innocent victims with the right to seek justice.
To conclude, it is because I believe in a free and democratic society that I have opposed this Government’s authoritarianism with all my might. Our police and security services should exist to uphold the rule of law, not to break it. Human rights are absolute. The amendments today, despite their relative merit, are unable to counter- balance this legislation’s unprecedented breach of this essential principle.
This legislation is first and foremost about taking risks to save lives. The information acquired by covert human intelligence sources, often requiring great personal sacrifice at the cutting edge of terror, disrupts plots, secures prosecutions and prevents death and destruction, all of which takes courage and skill; sharp minds and brave hearts. As the Chairman of the ISC, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), said, reiterating the advice from MI5, if it was not for the covert intelligence sources, many of the attacks foiled in recent years would not have been prevented, and dozens of individuals presently alive would have been killed and, with them, loves lost and lives blighted.
The Bill before us is timely and necessary. It is right that the Government have engaged with those in the other place and elsewhere to improve safeguards, but in the end, for all the talk of rights, it is wrongs that ruin lives. The people whom we mission to keep us safe expect of us the legal means and mechanisms that are necessary for them to succeed, and by definition, those tasked with infiltration of organisations intent on wickedness are fraternising with individuals and groups capable of ruthlessness, often rationalised as a means to a desirable end. Not only would abject and inflexible refusal to engage in any and all criminal activity by covert human intelligence sources render it impossible to gain or retain trust, it would place those who are defending our interests in direct danger.
I am grateful, therefore, that this Bill provides our brave operatives with legal protection. While carefully authorised participation in criminality has been, for some time, accepted in the UK courts as a necessary and proportionate means to safeguard the public, there remains at present no formal, single, statutory basis for that. This Bill alters that by providing legal clarity, as previous contributors have made clear. It means that the current authorisation to engage in monitored criminal activity, which confers no immunity from prosecution, will be put to an end. By amending the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, we can correct what has, up until now, been an uncertain situation by ensuring that those engaged in preserving and protecting our freedoms and liberties are not themselves treated as common criminals.
Of course, all criminal authorisations by the security and intelligence agencies must be properly circumscribed, absolutely necessary, proportionate, compatible with law, and—most importantly—subject to proper scrutiny, which is what this Bill also does. I am pleased that the Government have added to that scrutiny during the course of the Bill’s consideration and through the amendments they have accepted. Along with other members of the ISC, I have made clear that any and all authorisations must be specifically limited, and any criminal activity outside that expressly approved can, of course, be prosecuted. Moreover, authorisation must be reasonable, and positive and potential outcomes should outweigh criminal conduct. I think all Members of the House will agree that it is essential that criminal conduct authorisations must only be granted by highly trained and experienced authorising officers.
Finally and most importantly, effective scrutiny must underpin the entirety of this legislation. Authorisations must be overseen by the independent investigatory powers commissioner; the ISC should be kept informed of the use of CCAs; and the Investigatory Powers Tribunal will investigate any complaints about public authorities using this power. Lord Anderson’s amendment, accepted by the Government, on the timely referral of these matters to a judicial commissioner is helpful and valuable.
It is the very nature of law enforcement that risks and rewards must be balanced and considered. Few would doubt that access to unique information is essential to the prevention of horrors beyond our dreams but, tragically, not beyond our lived experience. Certain controlled criminal conduct, subject to specific safeguards, is necessary for our protection. This is the pragmatic principle on which the Bill is based, and I am pleased to support it.
This Bill does strike a balance between powers and scrutiny. It strikes a balance between giving those whom we have missioned to defend us what they need, and ensuring that in doing so, they act properly. It clarifies the law protecting operatives, and makes clear the circumstances in which those powers should be used. Its provisions are specific and limited; its purpose is right; and its time is due. It should be supported by all Members across the House.
First, on behalf of my party, I welcome the amendments that have come from the other place that the Government are accepting. These are important concessions, which certainly improve the Bill. It has be said, however, that the Bill as a whole remains inadequate in the protections that it puts in place, and it bears the hallmarks of its history. Let us not forget that the Government did not bring in this Bill because they had a sudden damascene conversion to the need for scrutiny of this particular area of security and intelligence. They brought it in because they thought that they were at risk of losing a case in the Court of Appeal, having had a very close judgment in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.
Essentially, in bringing in the Bill in this way, the Government have tried to recreate in statute the very loose and uncontrolled system that they have had prior to this. I suggest to the House that that will not stand the test of time. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) is absolutely right when he says that we need to hear from the Solicitor General at the Dispatch Box tonight clear undertakings in regard to the operation of the Human Rights Act as it applies to this Bill—soon to be an Act, no doubt.
The ambiguity is not just inherent in the Bill, as the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden correctly said. Actually, that ambiguity can be seen between the way in which the Government have sought to argue their case in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal and the way in which they have presented their case in relation to this Bill. The Government have sought to claim that acts of torture by covert agents could be justified
“where the intention is to disrupt and prevent that conduct, or more serious conduct…or where the conduct would take place in any event.”
That, in itself, is not consistent with the Human Rights Act. It is clearly wrong and has been described as such by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its report on the Bill. The Committee found that covert agents could not be authorised to get involved in abuses such as torture and that
“the intention behind that conduct cannot justify the violation.”
It has also been said, I think by the Intelligence and Security Committee, that the Bill is effectively about the Government outsourcing decisions that they could not take for themselves. That approach should provide us with concern and does worry us, because we know that these provisions will not then stand the test of time, and we will be back in the same territory that we have seen in recent years with other legislation, where the Government have to come back with legislation that is retrospective or seeks to amend the law to catch up with the courts.
I fear that we have a Bill that is not the last word on this matter. The Houses have made significant improvements to it, but it remains some distance from what the country needs and what those who do this very dangerous work on our behalf deserve to have.
This Bill is vital and goes to the heart of keeping communities safe from those seeking to do us harm. Covert human intelligence has been essential in disrupting many of the terrorist plots stopped by our agencies, and I was happy to vote the Bill through on Second Reading, the simple reason being that defence of the realm is the primary objective of any Government.
As we know, a criminal conduct authorisation may be granted where it is necessary for one of three purposes: national security, the prevention or detection of crime, or the interests of the economic wellbeing of the UK. From the relative comfort of this place, it is perhaps not for us to reason why, nor should we dare to understand the pressures that our security services are under, but it is for us to give them the tools that they need to do their job and to allow them the freedom of action that they need to keep us safe. There is a clear distinction, for clipping the wings of the Bill could be, and will be, counter- productive.
Lords amendment 3 allows anyone who has been the victim of a crime under a CCA to remain able to claim compensation under the criminal injuries compensation scheme or Northern Ireland’s CICS. That is fine, but as the Minister has outlined, the Government are listening to ways of providing additional resources to Parliament and the public on what safeguards may be possible and operationally workable. That would be achieved by an amendment in lieu that makes it clear that a person can access the compensation scheme where appropriate, so I am sympathetic to Lords amendment 3B on criminal justice compensation and urge the Government to consider it as a concession, as they now are.
This House disagreed with Lords amendment 4 on the basis that the provision of its safeguards for juveniles and vulnerable individuals would be unworkable. The other place conceded, and in its place has proposed Lords amendments 4C to 4F. Again, the Government have said that although they agree in principle, they cannot support the amendments in their current form because they would create operational issues that risk unintended consequences for the young person or vulnerable adult.
I agree that the requirement in the proposals risks the viability of the power and, crucially, the safety of the juvenile, but I support the Government’s counter-amendments that put into the Bill the requirement for juvenile criminal conduct to be authorised only in exceptional circumstances. I also agree with the decision to tighten the definition of exceptional circumstances, which is welcome. Such circumstances will exist only where there is no reasonably foreseeable harm to the juvenile as a result of the authorisation and where it is believed to be compatible with the best interests of the individual, as per Lords amendment 4, with an appropriate adult in place for meetings with under-16s and the presumption that that would be the same for 16 and 17-year-olds.
To conclude, I will support the Government today, but I urge the Minister to be mindful of the recommendations in Lords amendment 3. I also welcome the compromises in Lords amendment 4.
May I say what a pleasure it is to follow the contributions made by right hon. and hon. Members so far? I put on record my thanks to the Minister and the Government for their efforts in bringing forward this legislation. In particular, I put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) for his knowledgeable contribution to the formation of the Bill.
It is right and proper that a Bill to provide legislation of this magnitude and importance has had the scrutiny that it deserves. The Government’s proposed alternative to Lords amendment 3, providing for access to the criminal injuries compensation scheme, seeks to add a further layer of scrutiny and protection to ensure that there is no exception to the effect of a criminal conduct authorisation. Lords amendment 3B purports to provide for access to the scheme where appropriate.
It is clear from the to-ing and fro-ing that good legislation takes time, and it is my hope that that is what we have achieved today. The Government have set in place a Bill to defeat and disadvantage, internally, criminal and terrorist gangs—as the Minister said, those involved in drugs, guns and weapons and trafficking. I also welcome the direct focus on human rights, to which the Minister and other Members referred. I am greatly reassured that that is in the Bill.
Lords amendment 4 provides for safeguards for children and vulnerable adults—a matter that I have previously raised, along with others. I absolutely agree with and support the Government’s attempt to bring in the desire behind the amendment and, as the Minister said, include significant additional safeguards for authorisation in respect of the relevant groups. The Government have addressed that and brought forward the refinements necessary to safeguard children and vulnerable adults. They have done that in an operationally workable form and I fully support the amendment.
The Government and the Minister have stepped up, and I am very pleased. I put on record my thanks to the Royal Ulster Constabulary—the Police Service of Northern Ireland—the British Army and MI5 for protecting us. Many of us are here today, alive and breathing, because of their work, and we thank them for it.
It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). The legislation that we are debating today is an act of avowal that ensures legitimacy, responsibility and co-ordination. Human agents—CHISs —remain a vital source of intelligence gathering, despite the rise of electronic surveillance. Human eyes and ears will always be critical in complementing other intelligence-gathering methods. Sometimes, only a CHIS on the inside can reveal the aims, intentions and actions of groups and individuals who seek to harm society. That view is widely accepted by experts.
Open and clear legislation in this matter will establish a more effective framework and reduce the collusion activities previously seen in locations such as Northern Ireland. Avoiding such situations requires an objective understanding of what went wrong in the past.
Given the importance of this legislation in allowing open and honest debate, it is important to take on board the points raised about safeguarding children. It is therefore vital that training and implementation are taken just as seriously as the legislation itself. Human error is an ever-present reality. We must ensure that systems are established that ensure that people are properly trained, equipped and supported in making difficult decisions and that a continuous improvement system is in place to investigate and learn from mistakes made, so that they are not repeated.
By way of example, let me point to the 2019 annual report of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. The report highlights some good levels of conformity, including with juvenile CHIS handling. It also highlights good examples of training, as well as areas where training needs to be improved. I recommend that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office adds to its already good work by attempting to identify the reasons behind errors, including the human factors involved, so that corrective action can be more accurately identified.
This legislation goes to the heart of efforts to safeguard our communities. The Bill will set out a framework to help reduce collusion activities, such as those that happened in Northern Ireland, in which agents ended up complicit in murder. It is important to remember that oversight, training and improvement programmes help protect the safety and wellbeing of CHIS agents, especially those classified as juvenile or vulnerable.
Without these agents, we would all be far less safe. I wholeheartedly support them and thank them for their invaluable work, and I thank the Ministry of Justice for its work. I urge all Members to support this necessary Bill.
I thank Members for their contributions to this debate this afternoon. I will be brief in my response, as there has been extensive discussion on these issues during the Bill’s passage. First, in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), I am happy to confirm that an authorisation of conduct that would breach the Human Rights Act would always be unlawful. All authorisations issued under the Bill must comply with the Human Rights Act or they will be unlawful. I can therefore confirm and place on record that the Human Rights Act binds all the authorised activity of undercover agents, alongside the state itself.
The Government have taken a collaborative approach to the passage of the Bill, as the House knows, recognising the seriousness of national security issues, and I thank Her Majesty’s Opposition for their similar approach. Where we have been able to provide greater reassurance in response to concerns raised by Parliament—for example, on oversight—we have done so, either through briefings, amendments to the code of practice or amendments to the Bill itself.
The Bill provides for a substantive oversight role for the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who is independent, giving him real-time sight of every authorisation. It sets out detailed additional safeguards for the authorisation of juveniles or vulnerable adults, which will all be subject to oversight by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. The code of practice that underpins the legislation, which will be subject to debate and vote by Parliament, then sets out the detailed processes that support the Bill and this activity.
Our approach to the Bill has been led by the advice and expertise of our operational partners, who will now implement it. We have sought to ensure that, in seeking to provide greater clarity and reassurance on the safeguards and processes, the Bill is both operationally workable and avoids any unintended consequences for the safety of a covert human intelligence source or, indeed, the wider public. I believe, and operational partners agree, that the Bill does that, and it will now move to Royal Assent.
I close by sending my best wishes to the Minister for Security, as many in the House have done, and expressing my gratitude and abiding respect for our security services and covert human intelligence sources in their work to protect the safety of this realm.
Lords amendment 3B agreed to.
Lords amendments 4B to 4J agreed to.
I will suspend the House for two minutes, to enable arrangements to be made for the next business.
Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill (Programme) (No. 3)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 22 January 2020 (Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill (Programme)), as varied by the Order of 4 February 2020 (Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill (Programme) (No. 2)):
Consideration of Lords Amendments
(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.
(2) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
(3) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Scott Mann.)
Question agreed to.