House of Lords
Tuesday 1 December 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.
Retirements of Members
My Lords, I should like to notify the House of the retirements, with effect from today, of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, and of the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I should like to thank both of them for their much-valued service to the House.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. Oral Questions will now commence. Can those asking supplementary questions keep them short and confined to two points? I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
HIV: Ending Transmissions
My Lords, the Government remain fully committed to achieving zero new HIV transmissions in England by 2030. This is why we endorsed the HIV Commission, which was established by the Terrence Higgins Trust, the National AIDS Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and we welcome its report, published today. I reassure noble Lords that we will consider all the recommendations carefully, including an interim milestone of an 80% reduction in new HIV transmissions by 2025, and how we can expand testing. We will use the insights of the report to shape our upcoming sexual and reproductive health strategy and HIV plan.
I thank the Minister for that reply. I am very proud to a member of the party which, before anybody else, advocated that there be services for people with HIV and AIDS, and we will be there until this report is fully implemented and the fight against AIDS is won. Will the Government move to introduce a system of opt-out testing so that all people, including men and women from black and minority ethnic communities, can know their status, and we can get sooner to the point where they can get treatment and stop transmission?
The noble Baroness refers to one of the most interesting of the recommendations of the commission’s report. I took a briefing from the commission yesterday; members made that point very clearly, and their arguments were extremely persuasive. We have learned a lot during the Covid pandemic about opt-out testing; I completely understand the value of it, and I will take that recommendation to the department to look at it very closely.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the long-standing work of the Lord Speaker on HIV and AIDS. I have campaigned beside him in South Africa and have seen the passion with which he devoted himself to this role over many years.
Does my noble friend the Minister agree that the HIV Commission’s recommendation for a plan that the Government should commit themselves to is a wise one which they should adopt? After all, it is D minus 10 now—10 years before AIDS should be beaten, according to the SDG. We have the tools, now we need to implement them.
I reiterate the tribute of my noble friend to the Lord Speaker. Over three decades, he has campaigned tirelessly on these issues, and was instrumental as Secretary of State for Health and Social Security in launching the ground-breaking “Don’t Die of Ignorance” campaign, which made an indelible mark—its impact is remembered today. The tenacity that he has shown in making evidence-based decisions in the fight against HIV is a model for us today.
My noble friend makes a very valid point on the need for a plan. We will issue a sexual health and an AIDS plan in short order; they have been delayed by Covid. He reminds us that it is D minus 10, a goal that we take extremely seriously.
We know that stigma, even fear, can often prevent people going for tests. What does the Minister think we can do to improve the uptake of testing, particularly from those who are at the highest risk of contracting HIV? What does he think we can do to improve the training of those who provide testing to make sure that in future people are more likely to take tests?
My Lords, we have made great progress in the area of tests, hitting the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target for the third consecutive year, with 94% of those living with HIV diagnosed, 98% of those diagnosed getting treatment and 97% of those undergoing treatment having an undetectable viral load. The noble Baroness is entirely right: one of the greatest challenges is those who are not tested because they do not know that they should be tested. Part of that is stigma and part of it is encouraging people to step up to get tested. That is the focus of the recommendations in the HIV Commission’s report, which we take very seriously. It has clear recommendations on marketing, which we will be looking at very carefully.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria warns that additional support is badly needed to prevent a reversal in “hard-won gains”. Will we, as a lead funder, join Germany, Italy, Canada and South Africa to increase our contribution to the fund as a matter of urgency? A Written Answer will suffice if that is not in the Minister’s briefing notes.
The noble Baroness makes a very good point. The UK Government will continue to be a world leader in our HIV response through our considerable investment in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as well as through supporting the Robert Carr Fund to advocate for the rights and needs of the most marginalised groups, such as LGBTQ people and sex workers. In relation to reassurance on the point she asks about, I cannot provide that from the Dispatch Box, but I reassure her that our commitment to these international causes remains robust.
My Lords, this is a global fight, and, as the noble Lord mentioned, this target is for the SDGs that apply throughout. If we are to meet the global agenda of no new transmissions of HIV by 2030, how will the Government work with all major funders, as he mentioned, to collectively invest the £36.49 billion needed for HIV programming for key populations over the next decade?
My Lords, I have already precisely outlined some of our commitments to international funding. Two other areas where we contribute are, first, through our example: by marching resolutely towards the zero transmissions target, we set an important global example, which should not be underestimated. The second is the contribution of our science community, which has been profound and has contributed huge medical insights to the scientific progress on antiviral drugs and in the fight against AIDS.
Does my noble friend agree that one of the biggest barriers to meeting the 2030 target is the stubbornly high rate of late diagnosis, which not only has serious repercussions for the individuals concerned but contributes significantly to health inequality? Does he support the following recommendation in the HIV Commission’s report:
“Every late diagnosis must be viewed as a serious incident requiring investigation … and a report produced to drive change in local health systems”?
My Lords, I noticed the recommendation that every late diagnosis should be regarded as a major contagion, reported and followed up by an authority such as PHE. This is something for PHE to consider for itself, but I will certainly write to it to raise the recommendation and ask it to respond to me.
My Lords, the doubling of mother-to-child transmissions around the world is just one of the implications of this year of instability in health services around the world caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In my experience around the world, one of the greatest fears of those living with HIV is instability, whether that is caused by climate change, conflict or pandemics. What are the Government going to achieve by cutting £4 billion in overseas development assistance when these great crises need so much attention at this time?
The noble Lord speaks with great humanity and compassion, but I perhaps need to give a bit of perspective. I am not sure if our UK aid budget is enough to solve all the problems that he describes. The UK remains extremely committed to international aid. In the Covid epidemic and recession, we have reduced our commitment in a small way and have promised to revisit it at a later date. That commitment is very clear, and we will do that in due time.
My Lords, cuts to local authority public health budgets of some £700 million in real terms over the last five years have led to sexual health budgets being cut by 25% in this period. The King’s Fund has estimated that restoring spending to the former level
“would require additional investment of £1 billion.”
Given the Government’s commitment to zero new HIV transmissions by 2030, will the Minister tell the House what plans they have to increase investment in HIV preventive services delivered by local authorities? Can the Minister also confirm that there will still be national funding for a prevention programme?
The Covid epidemic has disrupted things, but I reassure the noble Baroness that in the spending review 2020 we have confirmed that the public health grant will be maintained into next year, enabling local authorities to meet pressures and continue to deliver important public services. DHSC will confirm final allocations in the coming week, including the position on HIV PrEP. I reassure the noble Baroness that PrEP has proved to be an enormously valuable contribution to our fight against transmissions, and we continue to back it.
HIV: Pre-exposure Prophylaxis
My Lords, the Government recognise the huge impact that HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis plays, as part of a combination of prevention interventions, in reducing HIV transmission. That is why we have provided £11 million to local authorities during this financial year for routine commissioning of PrEP. We are continuing to work closely with local authorities and other stakeholders to support the rollout, which will benefit tens of thousands of people.
[Inaudible]—study has shown that they are 100% effective when taken properly and there is no difference in reports of condom use. More importantly, contradicting the claim that access to PrEP would somehow encourage an increase in risky sexual behaviour, there are no other STIs. Therefore, given that one of the key barriers to increasing access to PrEP is it being delivered exclusively through sexual health clinics, what discussions have the Government had about expanding access to PrEP to other healthcare settings such as gender clinics, maternity units, GPs and pharmacies?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a completely fair point. There is absolutely no question of there being a social stigma associated with taking PrEP or any kind of moral cloud over those wishing to take this important therapy. That is not in any way our purpose. He makes a valid point that there are good arguments for the supply of PrEP to be not just through GUM units but also through GPs and perhaps pharmacists. These are arguments that we hear and that we are looking at very closely. I hope that, at some point, I will be able to update the noble Lord on our progress on this matter.
I remind the Minister, with regard to his last answer about funding, that just because you cannot solve all the world’s problems does not mean that you should not try to solve some of them. On that basis, can the Government provide an update on the rollout of PrEP in England? Is the Minister aware that there are local authorities that are still not providing the drug? When the ring-fenced funding for PrEP runs out in March 2021, will the Government commit to at least the £16 million per annum to make this happen for the future?
The noble Baroness makes a fair point. The rollout of PrEP has reached a great many local authorities but not all of them. The funding for it, at £11 million, has made a big impact but it has not covered all the ground. We are aware that this funding package runs out next year and we are in active engagement with local authorities in order to find a new mechanism going forward before July, when the funding will change. That said, our commitment, as I said earlier, to the principle of PrEP and its impact on reaching our targets for transmission remains resolute. I look forward to being able to announce a resolution of this funding formula.
My Lords, access to sexual health services has always been more difficult in far-flung areas such as Cumbria and Cornwall. Often, young gay men do not like approaching the GPs they have known since childhood. The Minister referred in an earlier answer to PrEP. Is he confident that there are adequate alternative opportunities to get local access to PrEP? Will he commit to talking to those in the department who deal with the plan, and will he write to me with a date when PrEP might be easily accessible all across England and put the response in the Library?
The noble Baroness makes an entirely fair point. Access to PrEP is not as even as it could or should be. It is a very important tool in our fight against the transmission of HIV, and it is a programme that we support wholeheartedly. However, it takes time to roll out a therapeutic such as this through the entire healthcare system. We have focused its supply through sexual health units because they are the most thoughtful and reliable places for the kind of consultation and expertise needed for a delicate new therapeutic like PrEP. However, she raises a good point that perhaps this should be and could be updated.
The noble Lord will be aware that there is a detailed conversation with local authorities about ensuring that we get exactly the right balance for funding. As the noble Baroness rightly pointed out, we need to make sure that the supply of PrEP is conducted in a way where there is good consultation and where those who are applying for the therapy are given good advice. That is best done with help from local authorities, and we are trying to hammer out a deal to ensure that that is done thoughtfully. That deal has been delayed by Covid, but we are looking forward to announcing a resolution of that before the next funding round finishes.
My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Government are collecting information on who is accessing PrEP in England? It is obviously crucial to ensure that there is equity among the groups given the currently limited supply, unlike the situation in Scotland and Wales, to which the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, has just referred. Will the Government commit to publishing the data on who is accessing PrEP?
I am not sure that I can give the reassurances that the noble Baroness is looking for. These are very delicate and private matters. I am not sure if it is right that the details of who is accessing PrEP are necessarily for are public domain, but I would welcome any suggestion that she might have in correspondence about what exactly she is looking for.
My Lords, in January 2016, the results of the PROUD study, in which I was a participant, showed a 90% reduction in HIV infections in those who took PrEP and no increase in other sexually transmitted infections. Why did it take the Government four years from the publication of these results to make PrEP available in England? What are the Government doing to increase the awareness of PrEP among women and the black community?
I am afraid that I was not a Minister in the period that the noble Lord is talking about, so I cannot account for that. However, I agree with him that, on the point he raised about access to PrEP among women and the black community, we have a case to answer. I completely acknowledge that, particularly among the black community, this is one of the most difficult areas that we have to tackle in order to hit our objective of zero transmissions by 2030. We are working extremely hard to try to reassure those who are hesitant about taking on such therapies that they are safe, accessible, private and relevant. We need to win that battle in order to hit our target.
Covid-19: Domestic Abuse of Older People
My Lords, the Government are committed to supporting all victims of domestic abuse. The You Are Not Alone campaign signposts support to all victims, and the Government have allocated more than £116,000 this year to the charity Hourglass, which supports the elderly. The Government are working closely with domestic abuse organisations, including those representing elderly victims, to assess ongoing needs.
Is the Minister aware that the situation facing older victims has deteriorated significantly since the pandemic, as they are faced with an impossibly cruel situation in which they are afraid to go out for fear of contracting Covid and afraid to stay at home for fear of being abused? Will the Minister ensure that the needs of older victims are recognised in the Domestic Abuse Bill, especially those over the age of 74, about whom no data is collected? There is an urgent need for support for that age group.
My Lords, we are acutely aware of the issues the noble Baroness points out, and we are trying to assist older people, in particular, as this pandemic goes on. We talked about the over-74s recently in Oral Questions, and we need to work with the ONS to get a true picture of what they are facing in, as the noble Baroness says, neither wanting to go out nor wanting to stay in their homes for fear of abuse.
My Lords, as the Minister has commented, at present, we only collect data on those aged between 60 and 74. While she is making a commitment to work with the ONS to collect data on those aged over 74, will she commit to removing this age limit so we can highlight the experience of this older demographic?
To correct the right reverend Prelate’s assertion that we only collect data on those from the ages of 60 to 74: it is up to the age of 74. The issue we need to get to the heart of is robust data. There is no attempt to exclude that age group; there is a lack of statistically significant data. I commit to working with the ONS so we may provide, perhaps in another way, the robust data we need.
My Lords, Covid has taken lives and inflicted havoc on many. For some, this tragically means becoming victims of a destructive, and sometimes dangerous, domestic environment. While this affects the young as well as the old, I think we would all agree that the risks are intensified for older people due to lockdown, as others have said. Does the Minister agree that we should seek to build a support structure around them? A good place to start is with the policy championed by the former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt when he committed to named GPs for frail patients to ensure that help was just a phone call away to someone they trusted and knew. Are the Government still committed to that worthwhile policy?
It is sheer happenstance, but I was talking to a GP’s wife yesterday, particularly about elderly people’s access to their GP—a need acutely enhanced by the pandemic. She said to me, and I am sure it is true throughout the country, that she was happy to ring or email her GP, but older people really value face-to-face support for all sorts of reasons, whether they are victims of domestic violence or not. It certainly is one good way for GPs to ascertain whether somebody is vulnerable. I also point to the troubled families programme, in which agencies work together to spot signs of problems within family situations.
My Lords, domestic abuse, including that of the elderly, is on the increase due to the pressures of Covid-19, in all communities, including—[Inaudible]. Would the Minister agree that a simple, broad-brush approach to tackling domestic violence is not enough, and that close, informed co-operation between the Government and movers and shakers in these communities is needed in addition to the less productive, routine, round-table meetings?
A bit of the noble Lord’s question was missed out but I heard him saying that we could not just adopt a “one approach fits all” method in terms of domestic abuse. I heard him say that it is on the increase during lockdown, and we certainly have had more calls to helplines. I agree that we need to think carefully about certain sections of our communities—those who might be isolated because of age or other reasons—and stand ready to support them. I hope that the Domestic Abuse Bill will be that landmark occasion that changes the lives of many people.
Does the noble Baroness agree that in order to prevent abuse, we must provide as much support as possible in caring situations? Social care services are already under huge pressure, with many curtailed or withdrawn due to the pandemic. Many of the care staff employed to provide these services are from the European Union and will not be available in the new year. What provision is the noble Baroness’s department making to replace these vital workers?
The noble Baroness points to a situation which has gone on for far too long where we have imported some of our domestic labour at lower wages. We—and certainly providers of social care services—need to think about paying decent wages to do what is an incredibly valuable job.
The Home Office’s You Are Not Alone initiative, which the Minister referred to, failed to include the needs of older victims of abuse. The message encouraging victims to leave home and seek refuge, despite lockdown rules for over-70s, did not take into account the complexity of leaving home and an abusive environment for older people, which is a solution only if there is appropriate alternative accommodation and their care and support needs can be met. Given the shocking figures, will the Minister ensure that the Home Office works with charities to include and develop targeted activity and awareness for older people as part of the “You are not alone” campaign and ensure the inclusion of the needs of older people in the Domestic Abuse Bill?
The Domestic Abuse Bill in fact includes domestic abuse against anyone regardless of age or sex. The noble Baroness is absolutely right about considering the needs of older people. Even without the data, we know that people of all ages face domestic abuse within their homes. Therefore, on that basis, it is paramount that that support is available.
My Lords, as the Minister pointed out last week, older people do not tend to fill in the self-completion module of the National Crime Survey, as it is done on a tablet. In agreeing to find a solution with the ONS, might the Government consider something as simple as a written questionnaire?
I think it might come to that, because there is definitely a problem when we have data for only a certain section of the population. Since my noble friend asked that last time, I have brought it back to the department. We need to find a way through for this problem, because we simply do not have the database from which to provide that support. We know it happens; we just do not know how many people it happens to.
My Lords, the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales has launched a strategy with 27 organisations to identify gaps in data collection across organisations to analyse and identify trends and key issues for older people. It means the Welsh Government’s performance data collection on safeguarding will be shared with Public Health Wales’s data collection on the experiences of older people. This will lead to direct action and a more co-ordinated response from services. Would the Minister agree that a strategy that gathers robust, clear and age-disaggregated data can be used to better understand the experiences of older people who are at risk of experiencing abuse at this time?
My Lords, the Government have introduced a raft of temporary measures to support those hardest hit, including the furlough scheme, the Self-employment Income Support Scheme and the £20 UC uplift. With the uplift confirmed until the end of March 2021, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out last week why it is right that we wait for more clarity on the national economic and social picture before he decides on the best way to support low- income families from 1 April. I stress to the House that discussions are very much ongoing with Her Majesty’s Treasury.
If those who lost their jobs last April could not be expected to live on £73 a week, will the Minister explain why it is enough for people losing their jobs next April? There is overwhelming support for the £20 uplift for the poorest families in the country. Why are the Government changing the rules in the middle of a pandemic and a recession? How will they address children going hungry?
I understand the noble Baroness’s concern over those hardest hit by the pandemic, especially their income, but it is not right to say that we are changing course. All we are confirming at the moment, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out last week, is that we wait for more clarity on the national economic and social picture before making the decision on the best way to support low-income families.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has stressed that this is under current review, because if these payments are not maintained at a time when we can see what is happening in many low-paid jobs—even today in retail in particular —the evidence is that half a million more people will go into deep poverty and more than that will be brought into poverty. There is some urgency though, because people need to know where they stand as they see debts building up and struggle to take themselves through Christmas, so I hope that Ministers will take an early decision on this and not wait till the last minute.
I note the point about the timing of any decision, but that is with my friend in the other place, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Government are redoubling and trebling our efforts for those people who have found themselves in difficulty, including the people from Debenhams and Arcadia who are concerned for their futures, to get people back to work. We are completely focused on it. We have doubled the number of work coaches; we have Kickstart; we have the youth offer; we have sector-based work academies; and the Jobcentre Plus staff, the work coaches and the employment teams are engaging with employers to make sure that we have every vacancy we can get and we get people back to work as quickly as we can.
My Lords, we should keep at the forefront of our thinking that universal credit was designed not to trap people in benefits dependency but to give them every help and incentive to get back into work. This has perhaps never been more important, both for individual morale and to enable economic recovery. What is the DWP doing to support people to get back into employment and enable the economy to recover from the financial impact of Covid?
I thank my noble friend for reminding us about the principles of universal credit and, at the same time, of the difficult circumstances that people find themselves in. I stress again that we are providing help through dedicated work coaches and engagement with employers. We are supporting people back into work in a whole host of ways, not least the 250,000 green jobs that we want to create. We do not want to trap people on benefits; we want to help them.
My Lords, I declare my interest as the chair of Feeding Britain. We estimate that if this £20-a-week lifeline is pulled, up to 700,000 people will be pushed into poverty, including 300,000 kids. The NHS is creaking at the seams, but so is the food bank system that has become so endemic in our country. If the Government are taking this money away, what plan do they have to ensure that hungry kids get enough to eat?
At the risk of repeating myself, I say that we are waiting for the Chancellor to assess the situation before making a decision about how best to support low-income families. As for what we are doing for children, there are free school meal vouchers and we are providing £16 million for food charities to get food to those who are struggling and 4.5 million food boxes for vulnerable people. We are expanding free school meals, establishing a new £1 billion fund to create more high-quality, affordable childcare and putting £35 million into the national school breakfast programme. We are not taking our foot off the accelerator on any support we give.
My Lords, I watched the BBC news report from Burnley last night and I am not ashamed to say that I cried through it. It showed children so hungry that they were ripping open bags of donated food before they hit the floor. There was a vicar sobbing at the level of need around him. People are desperate, so I ask the Minister: has the DWP modelled the impact of cutting £1,000 from the incomes of 6 million families in the middle of a pandemic and a recession, when unemployment is still rising? Will she join me in meeting people who are providing food on the front line to poor communities, so that we can both hear what they really need from their Government?
First, I affirm that, as always, I am very happy to meet people, as the noble Baroness suggested. The Chancellor has said that, once we have a better understanding of the impact of the £20 uplift on the social and economic situation, he will make his assessment and decide what to do.
I can confirm that the DWP continues to support vulnerable groups, such as people with disabilities, through a series of safeguards and easements aimed at simplifying and improving their interaction with the benefits system. For ESA claimants, we have launched the New Style ESA online portal, which allows the majority of people who need to claim to do so online. Everyone infected with Covid-19 or required to self-isolate in line with government guidelines will be treated as having limited capability for work in ESA, without the requirement for fit notes or a work capability assessment.
My Lords, will the Minister consider the plight of families thrown into unemployment because of the pandemic who are subject to the cap? My understanding is that these families have not benefited from the £20 uplift to universal credit. They have very little—perhaps a few pounds a week—once they have paid their rent. Would it not be fair to raise the level of the cap by £20 a week to try to help these desperately needy families?
The Government believe that the benefit cap restores fairness between those receiving out-of-work benefits and taxpayers in employment. The noble Baroness raises an important issue that we should continue to consider, but we ought also to consider that the benefit cap statistics that have come out and show an increase in the number of people impacted are unacceptable, but also not surprising when we have a 600% increase in the number of those who have gone on to universal credit. We have also increased the local housing allowance rates.
Arrangement of Business
Nutrition (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Coronavirus Act 2020 (Expiry of Mental Health Provisions) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020
Motions to Approve
European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Relevant Court) (Retained EU Case Law) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
Scheduled Mass Deportation: Jamaica
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 30 November.
“This charter flight to Jamaica is specifically to remove foreign criminals. The offences committed by the individuals on this flight include sexual assault against children, murder, rape, drug dealing and violent crime. Those are serious offences, which have a real and lasting impact on the victims and on our communities. This flight is about criminality, not nationality. Let me emphasise: it has nothing to do with the terrible wrongs faced by the Windrush generation. Despite the extensive lobbying by some, who claim that the flight is about the Windrush generation, it is not. Not a single individual on the flight is eligible for the Windrush scheme. They are all Jamaican citizens and no one on the flight was born in the United Kingdom. They are all foreign national offenders who between them have served 228 years plus a life sentence in prison.
It is a long-standing government policy that any foreign national offender will be considered for deportation. Under the UK Borders Act 2007, which was introduced and passed by a Labour Government with the votes of a number of honourable Members who are present today, a deportation order must be made where a foreign national offender has been convicted of an offence and received a custodial sentence of 12 months or more. Under the Immigration Act 1971, FNOs who have caused serious harm or are persistent offenders are also eligible for consideration.
Let me put this flight in context. In the year ending June 2020, there were 5,208 enforced returns, of which 2,630, or over half, were to European Union countries, and only 33 out of over 5,000 were to Jamaica—less than 1%. During the pandemic, we have continued with returns and deportations on scheduled flights and on over 30 charter flights to countries including Albania, France, Germany, Ghana, Lithuania, Nigeria, Poland and Spain, none of which, I notice, provoked an Urgent Question. The clear majority of the charter flights this year have been to European countries.
Those being deported have ample opportunity to raise reasons why they should not be. We are, however, already seeing a number of last-minute legal claims, including, in the last few days, by a convicted murderer, who has now been removed from the flight.
This Government’s priority is keeping the people of this country safe, and we make no apology for seeking to remove dangerous foreign criminals. Any Member of this House with the safety of their constituents at heart would do exactly the same.”
My Lords, the Government have said that this charter flight to Jamaica is specifically to remove relevant foreign national offenders. What assurances can the Government give that the mandatory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children left behind—who are innocent in this—has been considered? How many such children will be left behind as a result of the imminent deportations to Jamaica? It has also been reported that some sort of understanding has been reached between the Home Office and Jamaica that people who came to the UK as children under the age of 12 will not be removed on this flight. Is that report correct, or partially correct, and if so does it apply only to the imminent flight or also to all future deportation flights to Jamaica?
The noble Lord will understand that I cannot discuss details of the individuals deported. I cannot, therefore, tell the noble Lord how many children will be left behind, but I can assure him that the welfare of children is of paramount concern to this Government. As for an understanding that might have been reached on under-12s born here, the provisions of the UK Borders Act 2007 have not changed.
My Lords, 50% of decisions on immigration matters have been overturned on appeal. What can we do to restore confidence in decisions taken by the Home Office, and how can we make sure that those facing deportation have sound legal advice? Secondly, what arrangements are made to meet these folk who have been deported to their home country—or what is considered their home country? Are they supported in any way, or are they just left to their own devices, so that they can easily resume a life of crime?
In answer to the question on immigration, the noble Lord is absolutely right about the high rate of appeal success. Quite often, people bring successful last-minute claims; we are trying to get those figures down. This Urgent Question is, however, about the deportation of some pretty serious criminals. On the noble Lord’s other question, people who face deportation have legal advice whenever they need it and arrangements are made for them when they arrive back in their countries of origin.
My Lords, either we believe and trust in our legal system or we do not. We should beware of Parliament being seen as out of touch. I am delighted that the welfare of children will be paramount in this Government’s eyes, but what message does my noble friend think it sends to the general public if we are seen to be putting the rights of murderers, rapists, sex offenders and drug dealers ahead of delivering justice for their victims?
I could not agree more with my noble friend. The types of crime that these individuals are being deported for have had a devastating impact on the victims, and of course on their families, which have been left without sons, daughters, mothers and fathers. The trauma of a violent sexual assault is hard for the victim and their family to recover from, and it has a long-lasting impact on communities. The Home Office’s priority will always be to keep our communities safe for everyone, and one of its key objectives, when legislation permits, is to protect the public by removing foreign national offenders who commit dangerous crimes. That is what we are doing by deporting these foreign criminals.
My Lords, I want to press the Minister a little further on her answer to my noble friend Lord Rosser; she was a little evasive, if I may say so. Can she confirm that her department agreed a request from the Jamaican high commissioner that no one on the flight was under 12 when they first arrived in the UK? Is that true or not? If it is true, can she tell the House what is to happen in future? Does she agree that it should really apply to all those who arrived as children, regardless of their country of origin?
I am sorry if the answer was woolly, but I can tell the noble Baroness that the provisions of the UK Borders Act 2007 still stand, that any criminal who has served a custodial sentence of more than 12 months will be considered for deportation and that they are considered for deportation regardless of their country of origin.
My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister could confirm a number of things regarding this case: first, that these deportations are taking place under legislation passed by the last Labour Government; secondly, that the deportation of foreign criminals to Jamaica makes up a very small percentage of the deportations undertaken every year; and, thirdly, that it is wholly wrong to conflate the scandal of Windrush with this case. The Government are dealing with the fallout from the Windrush scandal but this case has nothing to do with it.
Perhaps I can turn to my noble friend’s last question first, because he is absolutely right; my noble friend Lord Lancaster also alluded to this point. To conflate this flight, which contains some pretty serious criminals, with the people of the Windrush generation who came to this country to rebuild it after the war is an absolute insult to the Windrush generation, so I absolutely agree with my noble friend.
On the second point about the percentage of deportations, he is absolutely right. It is tiny: in terms of deportations to Jamaica, it is some 1%. Thirdly, he is absolutely right about the legislation: the UK Borders Act was passed in 2007 under a Labour Government.
My Lords, the noble Baroness was unusually unforthcoming about the age of people coming to this country and their deportation. Will she look into this, because it does seem very fair to the Windrush generation that it applies to anyone who came to the UK before they were 12? That seems a very decent thing to do. Will she look into this and see if it can be put in a more formal arrangement?
I would say to the noble Lord that nobody due to be on that flight is of the Windrush generation—that is number one. In terms of the age of people coming to the UK, I keep saying that the provisions of the UK Borders Act 2007 still stand; I hope that that answers that question. I will go back and confirm that those provisions still stand and that, no matter what age someone came to this country, if they have committed a serious crime and have been jailed for more than 12 months, they will be under the provisions of the UK Borders Act 2007.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, hybrid proceedings will now resume. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
I will call Members to speak in the order listed in the annexe to today’s list. Members are not permitted to intervene spontaneously; the Chair calls each speaker. Interventions during speeches or “before the noble Lord sits down” are not permitted. During the debate on each group, I invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request and will call the Minister to reply each time.
The groups are binding and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 10th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 19th Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 1: Authorisation of criminal conduct
Debate on Amendment 11 resumed.
My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 77, I should first declare that my daughter wrote on this subject in a book on powers of investigation and human rights. I should also add that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, very much regrets that he is unable to speak to this amendment, which he warmly supports.
I do not have much to add to the expert introduction of my noble friend Lady Clark of Kilwinning. I simply emphasise, as a former member of the NUJ, that this amendment bears particularly on investigative journalism and the exposure of illegal, exploitative or anti-social activity: writing that could arguably impact on economic well-being or disorder and which we need to protect, in the public interest, as a keystone of democracy. The confidentiality of journalists’ sources is protected by Article 10 of the ECHR’s guarantee of freedom of expression, as my noble friend Lady Clark said. Further, any statutory provision allowing the circumvention of the existing legal protection of journalists’ sources is also dangerous because it will deter those sources from coming forward.
The Secretary of State for Justice, when Solicitor-General, said that the ability of sources to provide anonymous information to journalists needed to be protected and preserved. This will not happen if those sources are at the mercy of the wide range of covert intelligence agents that the Bill would casually authorise with no judicial oversight.
As my noble friend Lady Clark said, the Investigatory Powers Act requires prior judicial authorisation as essential when any application is made to identify confidential journalistic sources. When he was a Home Office Minister, Nick Hurd MP confirmed that these protections were necessary to comply with the Government’s obligations under Article 10, that the police require a production order from a circuit judge, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and that they must, in addition, satisfy the conditions of confidentiality. We should not dilute this kind of obligation. I hope that the current provisions are not yet another attempt by this Government to muzzle, challenge and undermine one of the democratic pillars of freedom.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I agree with everything she said. I also have a daughter who is a journalist so, for me, this is quite personal. I also care very much about the truth, and journalists are often the people who give us the truth in any particular situation.
I have signed Amendment 77, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Clark of Kilwinning, for it. It is slightly awkwardly included in this group, but it addresses the specific issue of protecting journalism and journalistic sources. We need that in the Bill. We have put it into other Bills, such as counterintelligence or counterterrorism Bills, and it would easily go into this one as well. It would make sure that we have a clear commitment to journalism. I realise that this is not particularly comfortable for this Government, which have criticised a lot of lefty journalists—as well as lawyers—but it is incredibly important.
This group generally shows broad support across your Lordships’ House for the principle that judicial authorisation must be built into the Bill. It must not be arbitrary or a rubber-stamping exercise; it has to be the real stuff. In many ways, comparing it with search warrants issued by a magistrates’ court is much too weak a comparison. High-level crimes can be authorised in the Bill, with deep and lasting consequences. There must be high-tier judicial oversight and approval to match.
The question is whether we can build consensus around a way forward. Amendment 61 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, is perhaps the easiest solution to this problem. It sets up the judicial commissioner as the proper overseer and sets out the legal test that must be met to grant an authorisation. In particular, it tests the reasonableness of granting authorisation and explicitly protects against breaches of human rights, which we will come to later. Overall, the Government are being offered a selection of solutions to a problem. I hope that they take one of them.
I will speak to Amendments 12 and 61 in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. I am grateful to the Law Society of Scotland for its briefing. I am not particularly well qualified to speak on these issues, as many who have already spoken have direct experience in this regard, but I believe in due process and natural justice. I am concerned that we are reversing activity that was criminal and making it legal.
As the Law Society of Scotland has pointed out, scrutiny of the exercise of these powers lies with the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who is required to produce an annual report. However, this is scrutiny after the event. It will be limited and may not provide us in Parliament with the robustness that the exercise of these powers commands. Therefore, given the nature of the policy, there should be checks and balances to ensure the effective operation of these organisations to ensure that there is public confidence in the use of these powers by providing limits on their use and adequate scrutiny.
I am attracted to Amendments 12 and 61, which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, referred to, as well as to Amendments 46 and 73 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, which have many elements that commend themselves. Amendments 12 and 61 ensure that criminal conduct authorisations receive prior approval from a judicial commissioner. In the debate last week—which seems a long time ago— there was a great coalition of views around whether approval should be given by a judge, a judicial commissioner or a member of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office. I would be guided by those with much greater experience than I have in that regard.
However, it is important for there to be greater scrutiny before criminal conduct authorisation is granted, rather than after the event. In terms of due process, it should not be for the organisations, in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of the Shaws, to mark their own homework. The issue should not be simply for a senior official in the departments—I am particularly concerned about the Food Standards Agency and the Environment Agency—and we will come on to explore those in greater detail. In the words of the Law Society of Scotland,
“The Bill authorises persons within the relevant organisations to act with impunity where authorised by indicating that the criminal law will not apply to them in undertaking acts which would otherwise result in prosecution and conviction. In most circumstances, what will happen is that justification of the criminal conduct will be sought after the event”.
I put it to the House this afternoon that that is unacceptable, and authorisation should be granted—preferably judicial authorisation, in the best format possible—before the act that would otherwise deemed to be criminal actually takes place.
I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has withdrawn, so the next speaker will be the noble Lord, Lord Naseby.
My Lords, in many ways, subsection (5) of Clause 1 could well be the most important part of the Bill. I should make it clear that I support MI5. Its focus and dedication to working in the national interest is second to none.
Criminal activity has to be limited and defined, but the most difficult area is defining the methodology. Who should give clearance? I am not convinced that a judge, however senior, necessarily has the right experience. In my judgment, we need someone with specific experience in this challenging area. In reviewing this matter, we should look at what other countries do, particularly the USA and Canada, as other noble Lords have mentioned. Both appear to be pretty successful in this area. I am not qualified to make a judgment on that, but I should be interested, too, in what Australia does. Reference has been made to a close friend of mine, the late Desmond de Silva, who carried out marvellous work for the UN in Northern Ireland. In that context, he produced a framework of control, which needs to be looked at because it includes areas that merit serious consideration.
Part of what we are considering is the future security of our country, which brings me to the integrated review of foreign defence, security and development policy announced recently in the other place. I shall quote from the penultimate paragraph, which states:
“I can announce that we have established a National Cyber Force, combining our intelligence agencies and service personnel, which is already operating in cyberspace against terrorism, organised crime and hostile state activity. ”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/11/20; col. 489.]
It is clear to me and, I imagine, your Lordships that life in the 21st century will be quite different from anything we have yet experienced.
Against that background, the control proposed in Amendments 46 and 73 may be the way forward. They need refining and the contributions of my friends, the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Carlile, should be considered. Noble Lords should make no mistake: this is a crucial area for the future security of our country.
My Lords, it is a pity, although entirely understandable, that we had to break the debate last week because not only were the contributions extremely informative and, in some cases, profound, they set the context as we continue the debate on this group.
I want to pick up a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, in relation to making the illegal legal. We are here because we want to provide a regulatory framework and powers to ensure that what was undertaken previously is set in the context of legal and authorised actions. Phone tapping, interception and surveillance were all illegal until they were authorised in a regulatory framework, which happened only in recent decades. What we are trying to do here is fill a hole to ensure that we have a grip on this and know what is being done on our behalf and that it is being done in an acceptable fashion.
That is why I want to speak to Amendment 15 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hain, who spoke powerfully and from the heart last week about his experience. I also support the concepts in Amendments 46 and 73, ably spoken to by the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Butler, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, who I worked closely with when she was head of the Security Service. When I was Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, was surprised to receive a phone call from me asking him to have oversight on terrorism, which I was pleased to do. In a non-partisan way, I say to the Minister, who does not carry responsibility for this matter, that she might take the message back to her colleagues in the Cabinet that it sometimes helps not to be seen to give your friends all the jobs. I just lay that on the table.
There is also a great deal of merit in the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Clark, and spoken to by my noble friend Lady Whitaker. We have seen important exposés by people embedded in homes for people with learning disabilities, children’s homes and retirement homes. We must be careful not to infringe on legitimate investigations.
However, I want to return to the debate on Amendments 15, 46 and 73. I thought that some very good points were made in relation to the proposals put forward by my noble friend Lady Kennedy. I understand why, but there is a real contradiction in putting a judge up front in charge of legalising something rather than having them act as a commissioner in reviewing a decision that has been taken. As was said last week, it misunderstands the role of the judiciary—even barristers can sometimes misunderstand the role of the judiciary—not only in terms of its profound and important role in our legal, criminal justice and constitutional life, but in terms of the skills and experience that members of the judiciary gain in building to the point where they take on the job, and the experience that they have in the job. It is worth looking at the role of the Home Secretary or, in the case of my noble friend Lord Hain, the equivalent in Northern Ireland. Their important role is legitimised by their being elected and they are accountable in the sense that they can be held to account if they report back to the two Houses of Parliament. Perhaps this proposal could be integrated with those in Amendments 46 and 73.
As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said last week, a behind-the-scenes, behind-the-Chair discussion before Report might be a way forward. The Minister would be able to seek agreement from her colleagues so that there was sufficient movement to enable us to agree and to provide the legitimacy and accountability that everyone is seeking in this group of amendments. If we could do that, we could move forward with some confidence that we will put right something that should have been put right. Although the issue was not prevalent at the time, I accept my part in not having filled every hole in the process of ensuring that we scrutinise and have a mechanism to review, and therefore legitimise, what has taken place. I am really pleased that we have been able to continue the debate this afternoon. I hope the Minister will be able to pick up not only on the comments this afternoon but on the very substantive issues raised last week.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who has brought to bear his own experience on this issue. I would like very briefly to speak in favour of all these amendments. In essence, there are five main proposals before the House, some with variance. They are as follows: first, leave it as it is and rely on the discretion of the prosecutor; secondly, have authorisation in all cases either by the secret services or by the Competition and Markets Authority, or any of the authorities, and, in due course, review by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner; thirdly, pre-authorisation either by a judge or by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner or a Secretary of State; fourthly, pre-authorisation, except in an emergency, by the same people; and, fifthly, real-time notification.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, about the comment made last week by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—who spoke very wisely, as he often does, in saying that we should attempt to find the best solution. The difficulty is knowing how to do that without evidence as to the pros and cons. None of this is easy and getting it wrong will be very damaging to all concerned. Perhaps I may illustrate that by taking one of the alternatives and saying what it would be helpful to know. I shall take the example of real-time notification.
The first question I would like answered is: if the authorities can tell the Investigatory Powers Commissioner within seven days, why is it not possible in most cases to notify in advance? It would certainly be far safer to do that. Secondly, if this course is adopted, will each change have to be notified? Thirdly—this is the most serious question—what will happen if the Investigatory Powers Commissioner says that the authority should not have been granted? Will the authorisation cease immediately; and if it did not, what would the consequences be under the Human Rights Act, for example, for those affected? Presumably, any disallowance or contrary views by the IPC would not be retrospective. Fourthly, would not the report at the end of the year identifying that authority should not have been granted be more damaging than trying to stop that mistake in the first place by pre-authorisation?
Should this real-time notification apply to everyone? Like the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, and many others who have spoken, I have the greatest admiration for the security and secret services. But is the same true of the Competition and Markets Authority and the Food Standards Agency? We have to be careful of what can happen on people’s coat-tails.
Finally, I really do think it would be useful to have the views of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner himself on this idea. He has to operate it; does he think it practicable, and what is to happen?
I could, drawing on my own experience, try to give some more details in respect of these matters, but I fear that in doing so I might be at risk of transgressing, as would other noble Lords, by inadvertently saying something very sensitive. That is why in our previous sitting, in the debate on the second group of amendments, I suggested finding a means of ensuring that there is evidence before the House to enable it to understand the deficiencies in the present law which need to be corrected, and to scrutinise the proposals for reform and try to ensure that the proposals, if necessary as amended, will work well for the future. My general experience has been, in relation to both the police and the security services, that they are rightly reticent about putting matters into the public domain. But it is often possible to put sufficient into the public domain without damage to security and methods of operation. However, you cannot do that unless you know enough about the issues and the evidence.
It is also my experience that subjecting issues of this kind to independent scrutiny and not relying on conclusions that are put forward is in the overwhelming interest of the security services, the police and the other bodies. That is because these are difficult issues of judgment that need to be scrutinised externally and independently and then addressed so that the risk of future errors is minimised and confidence maintained. That is why I would hope that means can be found to enable the House to carry out the constitutional function I have outlined. I have suggested referring either the Bill or specific issues to a Select Committee, under Standing Order 8.118, which can take evidence in private and publish a report, or—an alternative as suggested by my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich —to seek a report from an individual. I would hope that the report would enable us to do our constitutional duty, find the right answer and be able to reassure everyone that we had, on this extraordinarily difficult issue, made a decision where the safeguards were right and that was practicable. I have written to the Minister and discussed this with her. I very much hope that a way forward can be found.
I am very pleased to follow the noble and learned Lord, who ended by saying that he wanted to ensure that the solution was practicable and workable. I strongly agree. This is the first time that I have had a chance to speak on the Bill. I straightaway echo very strongly the comments of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which recognised that, in an increasingly dangerous and unstable world, covert intelligence has a vital role to play in protecting our country from terrorism, organised crime and the growing threats to our national well-being. I was very impressed by the information that James Brokenshire, the Minister for Security, gave on Second Reading in another place. In the year to November 2019, in London alone, covert intelligence led to 3,500 arrests and the recovery of 100 firearms and 400 other weapons, half a ton of drugs and £2.5 million in cash. I note also the evidence given that, in 2017, covert intelligence foiled an attack on No. 10 Downing Street. Having myself been a victim of the mortar attack 30 years ago on No. 10, I am sorry that we did not have better covert intelligence then.
I also recognise that this vital tool must be put on a proper statutory basis. I have to say again that it is not before time, because it was 26 years ago that the Secret Intelligence Service and the Intelligence and Security Committee, which I had the privilege to lead in its early years, was put on a statutory basis.
My concern is that in giving this vital aid to law enforcement and putting it on a statutory basis, we so surround it with a host of additional conditions that seriously limit its effectiveness. The Minister was challenged earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about the number of covert agents and whether there were more than in earlier years or fewer. If we do not produce a good, workable and safe basis for such sources to operate, there will certainly be fewer, and the country will be much more exposed to the risks that covert intelligences sometimes prevent us from.
This is why I do not support Amendments 11, 12, 14 and 15, which propose prior approval by a judge or even—my goodness—a Secretary of State. In many of these cases, the covert intelligence source risks his own life to pass vital information to his handler. His willingness to do this has depended on his confidence that his identity will be totally protected and that he would be able to behave as a normal member of a gang or terrorist unit in which he is involved. He must have total confidence in his handler and be able to turn to him if sudden changes arise and nobody can get a quick response from him. If he and others find that they cannot get that support, then the willingness of people to come forward will be seriously undermined, and there will be fewer and fewer covert sources. If when he calls for help, his handler has to turn to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who in turn has to apply to a judge or the Secretary of State, how many more people will become privy to his existence, and how much greater will the risk that he faces be?
It has been suggested that judges are always available at short notice, and that if the one who gave the original authority is not available, there are plenty others able to step in who are good at mastering a brief quickly. However, that ignores the point that someone who had no previous knowledge of the matter would now have some knowledge of the agent’s existence and activity. How many others would too? That is why I support Amendments 46 and 73, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Butler, Lord Anderson and Lord Carlile of Berriew, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, a quartet exceptionally qualified to advise your Lordships on this issue. They do not propose prior authorisation by a judge or by the Secretary of State, but that when a properly authorised handler issues a criminal conduct authorisation, he should be required to pass it at the earliest possible moment to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner—incidentally, a distinguished judge—who, together with the handler, operates under the code of practice, which will be approved by Parliament.
Obviously, this puts a very heavy responsibility on handlers, and their selection and training is a crucial ingredient, but provided that it is successfully achieved, it is much the safest and best way to ensure that the vital source of intelligence that has protected our country in so many different ways over the years is not lost.
My Lords, I will confine my remarks on this Bill to the thrust of Amendment 46. I declare an interest as a former member of the ISC from 1997 to 2001, under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, who has just spoken and who equally supports Amendment 46. I am not a lawyer, but I ran with the hounds in the Commons during the Peter Wright affair of the 1980s. In doing so, I developed an interest in authorisation procedures, which I followed up as a member of the ISC.
As I read it, it is uncertainty over compliance with the Human Rights Act, the ECHR and the implied powers therein that is driving legislative reform. The problem is only aggravated by the inclusion of a raft of new bodies, some presumably with marginal quasi-professional experience of covert action. My problem is the inadequacy of post-event assessment. An annual report from the Investigatory Powers Commissioner is not enough. An onerous system of prior authorisation is too much. We need a robust, uncomplicated procedure of prior scrutiny, not authorisation, where the rights of individuals and the state are fully recognised.
I place on record the statement from Andy Erlam, the principal complainant in the Tower Hamlets v Rahman case, which exposes deficiencies in the current CHIS-bases system: “An attempt was made to recruit me as a CHIS some time ago. I had taken a successful election petition against the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman. The police officer who met me was from the Metropolitan Police. He said he was employed by the Department for Professional Standards but that he had a national role in supervising CHISs. He asked me to recruit CHISs, and documentation exists to confirm that this meeting took place. I learned that the officer who had authorised the approach to me was the same officer in charge of the two Metropolitan Police criminal inquiries into Mr Rahman, and that the commission and the City of London Police inquiry all found insufficient evidence. Yet the campaign in Tower Hamlets which I led exposed extensive corruption. I suspect that the police were compromised in some way. I experienced police harassment and an attempted arrest in the middle of the election High Court trial, an election case which I later won. If the use of undercover operations can be justified in some cases, I do not think they should ever pervert the course of justice. I believe this approach was an attempt to compromise me. Police officers who I know informally state that the use of CHISs leads to lazy policing, and it is never clear whether the police are using the CHIS or the CHIS is using the police. The current proposal to extend legal immunity to cover CHISs carrying out criminal activities is a matter of considerable concern.”
Erlam is questioning a whole CHIS-based system. I do not, but on accountability he is right. We need a far more robust system of prior evaluation and scrutiny. In this debate, we have heard demands for prior judicial authorisation, judicial commissioners, the use of prosecutors and judges, and a prosecutorial approach with warrants, and the Government are saying no—although there was a slight movement from the Government in last week’s debate, a hint at reconsideration. Anyhow, whatever the position, the Government will have their way, with their 70-seat Commons majority, so a compromise must be found, and I propose a compromise.
I have two alternatives. First, I propose that the remit of the chairman of the ISC be extended in the way that I have previously suggested during ISC debates, to give him or her prior access to intelligence-based CHIS operational activity—a prior scrutiny role, not an authorising role—in the handling of all CHIS. It would mean restoration of the prime-ministerial lock on ISC chairmanship appointments. Under this proposal, the chairman would be able to release CHIS information to the ISC only where it is agreed to do so with the agency heads, including the wider list of agencies currently being proposed.
It could be argued that to include the Food Standards Agency et al could be stretching the duties placed on the ISC chairman, and potentially in a much limited form on the committee, far too far. I say that as we simply do not know the volume of CCAs. If that was a problem, the Speakers of both Houses could be asked to nominate an agreed alterative person or persons, depending on the volume of CCAs, to carry out the function. I suggest a Member of this House, their role being prior scrutiny of CHIS operational activity, not authorisation. I believe that we have people in Parliament who, as former chairmen of the ISC or other respected Members of this House, are as worthy of access to information in the deepest recesses of the various intelligence communities et al as any agency head.
Another way forward could be to appoint a scrutiny group comprising either two or three persons as part of the same prior scrutiny process. Such a group should comprise at least one member of a legislature of high standing—again, appointed by the Prime Minister but ratified by Parliament. In my mind, a member of a legislature must—I repeat “must”—be party in one form or another to whatever process is selected. In the USA, the defense appropriations subcommittee is, by law, according to Wikipedia, “fully and currently informed” of intelligence activities. This includes being kept informed of covert actions and any significant intelligence failure. I am not even asking for that. Wikipedia goes on to say that, under certain circumstances, the President may restrict access to covert activities to only the chairman and vice-chairman of the committee. I will settle for that. I am asking, in compromise, for a lesser form of accountability under a less onerous arrangement.
Under my second way forward, the second and third persons could be judiciary-drawn and/or departmental accounting officers. To me, the appointments under both options are particularly important in this new world of heightened tension, international trafficking, greater sophistication in fraud and organised crime. We cannot underestimate these dangers.
Equally, we need a commensurate increase in accountability. After over 40 years in public life, I have learned that transparency, by its very nature, influences conduct and thereby, to some extent, control to varying degrees. I support the thrust of the amendments that extend accountability, if not the detail, as proposed in the Committee today.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, whose expertise in this area is well known and has been for many years.
There are many profound constitutional issues in the Bill, and many of them have been debated in this long group of amendments. I speak in support of Amendment 76, in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. My noble friend and I agree that this is not a profound constitutional amendment but we argue that it is important none the less.
Noble Lords will recall the highly effective speech of my noble friend Lord Hunt last week in which he argued that police and crime commissioners should have some standing in relation to the annual inspection of police forces by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and not just be excluded from playing any part. Of course, I must declare my interest as the elected and full-time police and crime commissioner for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. I will try not to repeat my noble friend’s arguments but will attempt to persuade the Committee to reach the conclusion that, as with all inspections of a police force, it is essential that a police and crime commissioner plays some part.
Why do I say “essential”? Many noble Lords will remember the passage through Parliament of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. The then coalition Government, in setting up elected police and crime commissioners in place of appointed police committees, were clear that the role of a police and crime commissioner was to represent the public and hold the force to account for its effectiveness, its efficiency and, importantly, its legitimacy.
How wide is that obligation? The protocol to the legislation said that police and crime commissioners were responsible for “the totality of policing”—a phrase that by any definition is not narrow or confined but self-evidently broad and large in scope. So, for example, where police operations of course remain a matter for the chief constable, a police and crime commissioner is duty-bound to examine and ask questions about their success or otherwise.
Similarly, legislation insists that, following an inspection report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, the chief constable must submit to the police and crime commissioner his or her comments on the report, and the police and crime commissioner must then prepare to publish his or her own comments alongside the chief constable’s comments within 56 days and must produce a copy to Her Majesty’s inspectorate and the Home Secretary. This obligation is exactly what Parliament intended and is an accepted part of every police and crime commissioner’s responsibilities.
All my noble friend’s amendment asks is for Her Majesty’s Government to consider allowing police and crime commissioners to have a role in regard to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s annual report regarding CHIS. As my noble friend pointed out, all that is asked for is some strategic oversight role in the IPCO inspections of local police forces. It would have to be strategic, obviously, because of sensitivities, and there would have to be a debrief to understand urgent issues and how the force needs to address them. Otherwise, who holds the chief constable to account? What happens if the inspection is unsatisfactory? This would be appropriate for the accountability role of the police and crime commissioner, instead of what is, I would argue, a pretty glaring lacuna in that area. The Bill represents an opportunity to deal sensibly with that issue.
Some role in this area as part of the totality of policing is surely appropriate. If it is not appropriate, it might be legitimate to ask whether Her Majesty’s Government remain committed to their much-repeated claim that they support the wide powers deliberately given to police and crime commissioners on behalf of the people they represent who live in their force area. I know that the noble Baroness the Minister who will respond to this group is a friend of police and crime commissioners. She made a very successful visit to me in Leicester some time ago. I hope that she will be equally sympathetic today and I look forward to her response.
My Lords, I support the case for strengthening oversight as put forward in Amendments 46 and 73, and I add my voice to those questioning the case for prior judicial approval of criminal conduct authorisations.
I speak not as a lawyer or practitioner but as another former member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, where we had plenty of evidence of the importance of covert human intelligence sources. I share the view that we need to get the balance right between, on the one hand, constructing a rigorous legal framework to support the activities of our intelligence and security agencies while, at the same time, still giving them the practical operational flexibility to carry out their difficult work effectively.
I have listened carefully to the strong arguments in favour of prior judicial authorisation. It is, as has been pointed out, what is required for other activities of the intelligence services and police. Should we not follow the practice of communications interception or search warrants? There are important differences. The person authorised to tap a phone or search a premises will be a public servant: an agent of the state. The person being given a criminal conduct authorisation may be a private citizen—possibly but not necessarily—from the margins of society, acting almost certainly from a complex set of motives and probably knowing that they are putting themselves in danger.
In the first case, authorisation seems to be essentially a judgment about compliance with the law. However, a criminal conduct authorisation requires, in addition, personal knowledge of the agent concerned and human relationships involved in complex circumstances. It is about making a judgment, possibly urgently, on human motivation, limitations and behaviour, and about operational context and risk. Therefore, on balance, I share the view that the handler or controller is better placed than a judicial commissioner to make that judgment call on what should and should not be authorised. Obviously, I am in no way against judicial authorisation in principle; it is about getting the best decision.
I would add a small point. For the handler to know that he or she is the authorising officer makes him or her more clearly accountable. It concentrates the mind to sign something off. As my noble friend Lord Anderson observed, it also concentrates the mind to know that your decision will be scrutinised immediately and rigorously. I therefore strongly share the view the present oversight arrangements should be significantly strengthened in the ways put forward in Amendments 46 and 73 to allow immediate scrutiny by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. My noble friend Lord Anderson and colleagues from the Cross Benches have spoken with much greater experience than me on the need for real-time oversight. I find the arguments persuasive. Indeed, there may be a case for giving judicial oversight powers more teeth—perhaps along the lines of Amendment 47 or something similar.
Finally, I said at the outset that we are looking to get the balance right between a robust legal framework and operational flexibility. Obviously, this applies across the Bill. I ask the Minister to consider whether, by strengthening significantly the oversight arrangements, she will mitigate some of our other concerns around, for example, immunity or the serious crimes threshold in this important Bill.
My Lords, I support Amendment 14. I was sorry that I was unable to attend Second Reading. I was sitting on a sub-committee of the EU Select Committee and was therefore unable to welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, and congratulate him on an impressive maiden speech. He gave the impression that he had been introducing Bills in your Lordships’ House all his life.
I welcome the Bill, which provides for authorising offers to be given express powers to authorise criminal conduct that would otherwise be illegal. They carry a heavy responsibility, hence the need for supervision. Given the history of direct government intervention in coal mining disputes many years ago, I look forward to debating amendments in the names of my noble friends dealing with trade unions. Powers given
“in the interests of the economic well-being”
of the state will need close scrutiny. I am proud that, in a small way, I was able to give a little legal advice to the south Wales miners during the miners’ strike—for the most part, pro bono—many years ago. During my time as a law officer for England and Wales, and separately as Attorney-General for Northern Ireland, although the Attorney-General has general oversight and appropriate clearance, I was not troubled on any issue arising from the Bill. As the House will know, law officers have general oversight and supervision of the offices of state concerning both the rule of law and other matters.
I wish to endorse and reinforce the points made by my noble friend Lord Rosser in his Second Reading speech about the need for judicial oversight prior—I emphasise “prior”—to the event. There is no argument that there should be supervision. The only issues are, first, who should supervise, and secondly, whether it should be post or prior the event. I believe that the arguments for proper prior supervision are fundamental. In our legal processes, we have judges available 24 hours a day. This particularly includes the long vacation— indeed, any time, any place, throughout the year. They can adjudicate from home if necessary; I am told that that is not unusual. Provided a judge is given the right information, a proper judgment can be given. The same applies down the line to the magistracy, which performs a very vital role. Before a warrant is issued, evidence in one form or another is given and judicial authority is given.
I was never involved as counsel on these procedures during my time as a criminal practitioner, but I can give a personal example of the availability of magistrates on family matters. My wife sat for 18 years in the London juvenile courts. Part of her duties involved the care of children who were, or might be, vulnerable. I recall many occasions when I had to leave the sitting room of our London house at the request of a welfare officer so that she could hear evidence, hear witnesses sworn in and adjudicate, pending the following morning when a proper courtroom could be convened. It was vital that there was availability. My point is that there has never been an issue with non-availability of a court sitting at any level. The Minister is not very persuasive in his brief comment in Column 1046. I need to be persuaded why you can have judicial intervention and a judicial decision in so many other fields but not in this one.
We are dealing with very serious matters. Authorising criminal conduct is important and a departure from the ordinary rules of law. If there is any problem about the security clearance of a particular judge, I would be surprised if that could not be achieved. If a High Court judge cannot be trusted, who can? It would not be beyond the administration of justice to have a panel of designated judges with experience in this field who adjudicate from time to time and can authorise the necessary activities.
This brings me back to the key question: who is to guard the guardians? This is not to denigrate the experience of the highly trained authorising officers, nor the retrospective—I emphasise “retrospective”—oversight of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. Prior judicial authority is the best safeguard to ensure that, where there is a departure from the rule of law in ordinary circumstances, there is proper supervision of the activities.
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.
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.
My Lords, this has been a lengthy and complex debate, and I blame the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, for that; we tried to split this group to make it more manageable, but his will prevailed.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, amendments in this group are on prior authorisation by a judge; by an investigatory powers commissioner; by an investigatory powers commissioner unless it is urgent; by an investigatory powers commissioner if a criminal conduct authority is to be used to identify a journalistic source; and by a Secretary of State. Another amendment requires that an investigatory powers commissioner be notified
“as soon as … practicable, and in any event within seven days”
and that the police authority be involved in holding the chief constable to account as a result of the investigatory powers commissioner’s annual report on the use of CCAs.
It is understandable that noble Lords want prior notification—and why the police should not, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, said, mark their own homework. On the advice of one noble Lord, I read the code of practice that goes with this Bill. I have held both ranks that could grant a criminal conduct authority under this Bill. In urgent cases, that is an inspector, who can not only grant a criminal conduct authority but also grant immunity from prosecution. I was an inspector at the age of 24. I was also, subsequently, a controller of covert human intelligence sources. I spent 18 years as a uniformed officer. On the Friday I left the office as a uniformed chief inspector and on the Monday morning I was a detective chief inspector in the role of a controller. The Government may say that all the people involved in the matters considered by this Bill will be experienced and highly trained, but that is not always the case in my experience.
We should listen very carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, who articulated why prior authorisation is not practical, a point also made by the Minister for Security in another place and by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. From my experience I agree, although the description of MI5 handlers and agents as beyond reproach is not, in my experience, universally applicable to police handlers and informants.
Any prior authorisation would instruct CHIS to operate within strict parameters, which may no longer be necessary or proportionate once they are deployed, or may not be adequate once they are deployed, because they are being deployed into rapidly changing scenarios in an uncontrolled environment, often involving chaotic individuals. The most common use of CHIS in policing, for example, is to counter drug dealing. As the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, has said, you cannot turn an agent on and off like you can a listening device.
Even the most experienced undercover officer may have to necessarily and proportionately go beyond the strict parameters of a CCA because the situation has dramatically changed in ways unforeseen by the handler. If he were to strictly adhere precisely to a CCA, he could put himself in danger of losing his life. As we will hear in later groups, children are increasingly being used as covert human intelligence sources, some of whom have chaotic lifestyles. Sometimes they are drug users or drug dealers. To expect such people to operate within the strict and precise boundaries of a CCA in such turbulent situations is not only unfair and unreasonable but completely unrealistic. To determine the strict parameters of a CCA to cover every possible scenario, in the middle of a rapidly changing situation, and when the legal immunity of both handler and CHIS depends on it, is unfair and unreasonable to both handler and CHIS.
Those proposing prior authorisation by judges, Investigatory Powers Commissioners and government Ministers may say that any conduct outside the strict parameters of a CCA will be looked at by the prosecuting authorities and a decision made whether to prosecute using the public interest test. In that case, why can the prosecuting authorities not look at all the actions of the CHIS and the handler and decide whether to prosecute?
Amendment 46, for which there seems to be a good deal of support around the House, suggests that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner should be given notice where a person grants a criminal conduct authorisation as soon as practicable and, in any event, within seven days—but, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, so what? What power does the Investigatory Powers Commissioner have to intervene? What happens if the handler corruptly tasks an informant to commit crime? As the authority has already been granted, both CHIS and handler have legal immunity, even if the handler informs the Investigatory Powers Commissioner six days later. A wronged party may be able to claim compensation from an Investigatory Powers Tribunal but criminal offences may have been committed for which the perpetrators should be prosecuted. That is why we have added to Amendment 46, to the effect that legal immunity is dependent on the CCA being approved by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. If the actions of the handler or the CHIS are not within the limits set out in the Bill, neither are immune from criminal prosecution or from being sued.
I understand completely why noble Lords do not want a criminal conduct authority to be granted without prior judicial or ministerial authorisation because of the potential for abuse. However, as others have said, it is not practical. We believe there is a way to prevent abuse without prior authorisation of a CCA, including protecting journalistic sources, which we will come to in a future group. We have listened very carefully to this debate and have come up with a new amendment; because we were part way through this debate we cannot debate that amendment in this group, but we will come to it in a couple of groups’ time. What must not happen in any circumstances is the granting of legal immunity without judicial oversight. That is what our Amendment 47 attempts to do.
Amendments 14 and 75 in my name and the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark provide that authorisations may not be granted under this section until a warrant has been issued by a judge. An application to a judge must be made in writing and provide details, including the reasons why it is required, who it covers, the length of time it will be active for, and previous applications covering the same individual. Our amendments also provide that a person who grants a criminal conduct authorisation must inform the Investigatory Powers Commissioner within seven days of granting the authorisation. We seek to strengthen both prior and post-authorisation oversight.
Amendment 77 in the name of my noble friends Lady Clark of Kilwinning and Lady Whitaker and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, calls for prior judicial approval before an authorisation can be granted
“for the purposes of identifying or confirming a source of journalistic information”,
and is in line with our amendment providing that authorisations may not be granted until a warrant has been issued by a judge. Amendment 46 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, Lord Butler of Brockwell, Lord Carlile of Berriew, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, is very similar to our Amendment 75 requiring a person who grants a criminal conduct authorisation to inform the Investigatory Powers Commissioner within seven days of granting the authorisation. However, all the amendments we have been discussing in this group reflect a strong feeling that the oversight arrangements set out in the Bill for the statutory power by public authorities to grant criminal conduct authorisations are inadequate and do not provide reassurance that the likelihood of this power being misused or exceeded is reduced to a minimum.
What exactly has been happening under the present arrangements is far from clear, although we are assured that they have enabled threatened terrorist atrocities and other serious crimes to be thwarted and our safety to be secured. We have no reason at all to doubt that. However, we do not know the extent to which powers have or have not been misused or exceeded since there is no means of that information consistently coming to light. Without proper oversight to act as a firm check there is a risk that some may become somewhat overzealous in how they exercise and interpret the powers they are given under the Bill, including what might be regarded as acceptable covert human intelligence activity, and against what and whom.
We believe there should be prior judicial authorisation, with authorisations not being granted until a warrant has been issued by a judge. Having to obtain a warrant before action can be taken is nothing new. Bearing in mind the potential gravity of the decision to authorise criminal conduct, the necessity to obtain a warrant beforehand seems even greater than it is in relation to other existing actions or activities requiring a warrant at present. It is a prior safeguard and check to minimise the likelihood, in what is self-authorisation by an agency or other body, of a potentially ill-judged or just plain wrong authorisation of criminal conduct, with all the consequences that might have.
Objections have been raised that sometimes authorisations are needed in a hurry but equally, access to a judge, as happens in some other spheres, can be arranged in a hurry—a point made by my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. Urgency can arise because of a rapidly developing situation that could not have reasonably been foreseen, but it can also arise because a public authority has left things later than it should have done before seeking the criminal conduct authorisation. Perhaps the Government can, in their response, give some indication of roughly how many such authorisations are currently granted on average each year, how many are needed urgently and what the definition is of urgently. Can the Government also give a general indication of the extent to which authority to commit criminal conduct is given, in a typical year, to those who have been previously involved in or who are currently engaged in unauthorised—[Inaudible]—said that all authorisations
“are granted by an experienced and highly trained authorising officer, who will ensure that the authorisation has strict parameters and is clearly communicated to the”,—[Official Report, 11/11/20; col. 1045.]
covert human intelligence source. The phrase “experienced and highly trained” sounds fine, but what do the Government intend it to mean in practice in relation to the granting of criminal conduct authorisations under the Bill? What is the definition of an
“experienced and highly trained authorising officer”,
a description the Government were happy to use at Second Reading? How much experience is meant, and in what? How much training is meant, and in what? How many experienced and highly trained authorising officers will there be in each authority that will have the power to grant criminal conduct authorisations, and how frequently are they likely to determine whether to grant such authorisations?
At Second Reading, the Government also said that authorisations would be subject to
“robust, independent oversight by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner”.—[Official Report, 11/11/20; col. 1045.]
“Robust” is a frequently used word in politics. Can the Government explain what the words “robust, independent oversight” in relation to oversight of authorisations actually mean in practice? How soon after an authorisation has been given will this “robust, independent” authorisation by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner take place? What form will it take? Will it involve the Investigatory Powers Commissioner or his or her staff speaking to the authorising officer about the reasons for their decision, or will it be a paper exercise?
What will happen if the Investigatory Powers Commissioner does not agree with a decision to grant an authorisation? Will the Commissioner take any action beyond reporting it in the annual report? Will such an authorisation then become invalid, with no protection for the covert human intelligence source committing the criminal conduct that has been authorised? What would be the position of the “experienced and highly trained authorising officer” if the Commissioner disagreed with a decision to grant an authorisation or felt it had given excessive scope for committing criminal offences? Would the authorising officer be open to prosecution by the prosecuting authority, or would the public authority concerned be open to prosecution by the prosecuting authority?
There have been many questions raised and points made during the debate on this group of amendments, which relate to the oversight arrangements that should be in place for the authorisation of criminal conduct by covert human intelligence sources, not to whether these should exist. I hope that the Government, in their response or subsequently in writing, will give their answers to all those points and questions, as well as giving careful consideration to the concerns expressed, and then move from their current position, as set out in the Bill, on this key issue of the necessary oversight arrangements.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for contributing to what has been quite a lengthy debate on this very important group of amendments. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett: it is a shame that we had to break the debate last time. Of course, these things are agreed through the usual channels, and it may well be the case that we have to do so again, but it did slightly break the flow, so I will refer back to what was said at the end of last week as well. I begin by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that I was slightly confused; it felt like the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, was making the points from the Front Bench, but I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. If one or both of them could confirm that, that would be fantastic.
I start with the comments that my noble friend Lord King started with, which were echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. Basically, they asked how covert intelligence has stopped terrorism, stopped serious and organised crime and led to thousands of people being arrested who would otherwise do this country harm. I first thank noble Lords for the debate on the role of judicial commissioners in providing that independent oversight of criminal conduct authorisations. The Government’s priority with this legislation is to provide public authorities with an operationally workable regime to help to keep the public safe. We recognise that this needs to be subject to robust—I will go on to the meaning of that word later—and appropriate safeguards, and that is the balance that the Bill seeks to provide. During this debate, I have been pleased to hear noble Lords unite in recognising the importance of this balance.
The amendments of the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Dubs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, all require the prior approval of a judicial commissioner before an authorisation can be granted. We do not think—and other noble Lords have articulated why—that prior judicial approval strikes the balance between safeguards, which my noble friend Lord Naseby talked about, and an operationally workable power, as it risks the effective operation of this vital capability. My noble friend Lord King and the noble Lords, Lord Janvrin, Lord Rooker and Lord Paddick, all concurred. I do not think that any noble Lord would argue that this is not a vital capability, but prior judicial approval is not the only way to provide effective oversight of investigatory powers.
Noble Lords might find it helpful if I set out in more detail why this capability is unique. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, outlined, the use of a covert human intelligence source is different from other powers, such as interception or equipment interference. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made that point, and the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, pointed out that human beings are more complex than phones or cameras. Any decision on how to use a covert human intelligence source has immediate real-world consequences for that CHIS, as we call them, and the people around them.
Every one of these decisions that impacts on the safe deployment of the CHIS is made by experienced, highly trained professionals, guided by the code of practice, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, keeps telling us, is very good supplementary reading to the Bill. The use of a CHIS requires deep expertise and close consideration of the personal strengths and weaknesses of that CHIS, which then enables very precise and safe tasking. These are not decisions that have the luxury of being remade; we are dealing with people’s lives, very often, and it is critical that these decisions are right and made at the right time.
The Bill’s current clarity of responsibility and resulting operational control are the best method for protecting the covert human intelligence source, officers and the public. Even with provision for urgent cases, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, which would reduce one operational challenge of this model, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, has said, it is best that the authorising officer considers the necessity and proportionality of conduct alongside the operational specifics and safety of the CHIS. That is why deep and retrospective oversight is the most appropriate way to provide oversight of this power.
I have listened to remarks, including by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that retrospective oversight lacks “teeth”, to use his word. I reassure him that the IPC will pay particular attention to criminal conduct authorisations, and that his oversight role includes ensuring that public authorities comply with the law and follow good practice. The Bill is clear on this, but it further underpins this in the code of practice. Public authorities must report relevant errors to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office—for example, where activity has taken place without lawful authorisation or there has been a failure to adhere to the required safeguards. These will be investigated by IPCO, and rightly so.
The IPC will then make recommendations to public authorities in areas that fall short of the required standard. A public authority must take steps to implement recommendations made by the IPC. The IPC could also advise the public authority that it ought to refer matters to the appropriate authorities, or ultimately report it themselves, subject to the statutory process set out in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will agree that that is a robust process.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, to which the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, referred, is similar to those requiring prior approval by a judicial commissioner but requires prior approval by the Secretary of State. It creates the same challenges as prior judicial approval and, equally, cannot be accepted.
I also want to address concerns that the authorising officer cannot be trusted to undertake these duties without independent approval and the examples that noble Lords raised around the conduct subject to the Undercover Policing Inquiry and the appalling murder of Pat Finucane. We also heard reference to events at Orgreave and personal accounts from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I note—the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, mentioned this—the update that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland provided in the other place yesterday on Mr Finucane’s murder. These are difficult and utterly unacceptable cases and it is right that they continue to be scrutinised. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, so clearly articulated and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, echoed today, they are examples from the past.
The situation and framework within which CHIS operate today is not the same environment as it was then. There is stringent internal and external oversight in place and robust training to ensure that this activity is handled and managed properly. The policies and procedures used to authorise and handle covert human intelligence sources are subject to regular review and external scrutiny.
We now have the Human Rights Act 1998; authorising officers are trained in its application and how to communicate the tight limits of an authorisation to CHIS. We have also been clear that CHIS will never be authorised to form an intimate sexual relationship and the relevant sources regime places additional safeguards to protect against this in future. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner has oversight of authorisations; he will identify any misconduct by a public authority and take action accordingly.
Noble Lords have spoken about some of the horror stories from the past in the absence of a clear and robust framework. The situation is now different, and the Bill provides further clarity. As the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, my noble friend Lord King and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, mentioned, this is a long-overdue piece of legislation that places this activity in a clear and consistent framework.
I understand the concerns that have been raised on judicial oversight of journalistic material and sources in Amendment 77. I reassure the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lady Clark and Lady Whitaker, that additional safeguards already exist in the CHIS code of practice for the protection of confidential journalistic material. To echo again the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, I ask noble Lords to please read the code of practice to understand the detail that sits underneath the Bill. These protections will apply to criminal conduct authorisations as well as the wider use and conduct of a CHIS.
The safeguards include a requirement for authorisation at a more senior level than that required for other CHIS activity, reflecting the sensitive nature of such information. Confidential journalistic material, or that which identifies a source of journalistic information, must also be reported to the IPC as soon as reasonably practicable, if it has been obtained or retained other than for purposes of destruction.
The amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Anderson, would require an authorisation to be notified to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner within seven days. I listened very carefully to the points made on notification to the IPC. The Bill as drafted replicates the current oversight role of the IPC in ensuring that he has unfettered access to information and documents that enable him to inspect any public authority at any frequency of his choosing. However, it is clear that providing for independent oversight which is closer to real time—I think most noble Lords mentioned this—would strengthen the oversight regime for criminal conduct authorisations by providing independent review of every authorisation soon after it has taken place.
The fact that the judicial commissioner will see all forms would provide reassurance on what is being authorised. However, it would still maintain the important balance of keeping the decision-making role with the authorising officer, who, as I have already outlined, is best placed to consider not only the necessity and proportionality assessment, on which they will be highly trained, but the duty of care to the CHIS and the specific personal circumstances of a live operational or investigative environment.
We have been consistently clear that we want this important legislation to command the confidence of Parliament and the public and are thus willing to consider proposals which provide greater reassurance on oversight but do not impact operational effectiveness. An amendment providing for judicial notification appears to do this. I would like to work with the noble Lords, Lord Anderson, Lord Rosser, Lord Carlile and Lord Butler, the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, and other noble Lords on this.
Amendment 47 seeks to add additional requirements to the notification amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. The Government cannot support these requirements as they seem akin to prior judicial approval, for which I have already set out the associated challenges.
Finally, Amendment 76 would require the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to provide relevant information to local policing bodies. I reassure the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Bach, that—as he describes is the case in the West Midlands—police and crime commissioners should already be able to arrange access to such material by consultation with their respective chief officer. The information contained in the commissioner’s annual report is published and available for the relevant bodies to view. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about numbers. In previous reports from the IPC, he talked about numbers where he felt they would be relevant.
With that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have had six requests to speak after the Minister, from the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Blunkett, the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I call the noble Lord, Lord Hain.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her typically courteous and thoughtful response, particularly her offer to talk to a number of my noble friends and other noble Lords about possible oversight that would be acceptable to the Government. Could she look again at Amendment 15? I and my noble friend Lord Blunkett worked very closely with the Security Service, in my case when I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—including with the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller—GCHQ, and, when I was in the Foreign Office, with MI6. I have authorised warrants, as I have explained, for vital work in surveillance and interception, and worked with undercover officers.
I appeal to the noble Baroness to meet my noble friend Lord Blunkett and myself informally to discuss the terms of Amendment 15, because it is very practical. It can happen in real time; I have been involved in authorising warrants in real time, including one on Islamist bombers planning to attack London when the operation was live. So, it does deal with her point. It is practical; in some respects, it is the most practical of all these oversight measures. It would give greater legitimacy to and authority for the deployment of undercover officers for the purposes that she is quite properly seeking. They can play vital roles in combating terrorism, for example. I ask her to look again at this and perhaps meet us to discuss it.
The noble Lord knows how I operate, so he can be absolutely sure I would be happy to meet noble Lords to discuss some of these amendments. I was particularly attracted to the post-facto oversight, because operationally —I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, is going to say something about this—prior authorisation could be very difficult. To get that notification as close to real time as possible is, I think, what we are all seeking.
My Lords, I am not going to repeat what I said in my speech, but I want to make three small points—[Inaudible.] The first is to correct an impression that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, largely corrected: that the decision to authorise is made by a handler. It is not. In MI5, it is made by a senior manager who may be several grades above the handler, so it is a twofold process.
Secondly, there has been a certain amount of reference to training. I am out of date but the training in MI5 for someone to be permitted to run covert human intelligence sources certainly involved extensive residential courses and frequent refresher training.
Thirdly, I just hope that, as we come to look in the amendments in more detail at later stages of the Bill, noble Lords will bear in mind that the details and numbers of this activity must remain top secret and cannot be revealed, because the lives of covert intelligence sources are at risk. If sufficient information can be pieced together to point to their existence or encourage people to look for them, they will be exposed and potentially killed. I know that noble Lords understand that; I hope that they will forgive me for repeating it. I am not going to engage with other points at this stage because the Minister has summed up well and I know that there will be further discussions between her and Members of your Lordships’ House.
Try as I might, that was very difficult to hear. I think that the noble Baroness—I know that she will intervene on me again—made the following three points. In fact, I meant to pull out from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, her first point: that authorising is done not by the handler but by a senior authorising officer. The second point was that training for CHIS handlers is extensive. She may have said “expensive” but I think she said “extensive,” because it would have to be extensive for this serious an operation.
I think the noble Baroness’s third point was that details of numbers have to be top secret to maintain and protect the welfare of the CHIS. I referred to the IPC report because I think that the noble Lord, either last year or the year before, gave numbers on juvenile CHIS, which gave a flavour of the numbers that we were talking about.
My Lords, I want to make a point on Amendment 77 on journalistic sources, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. As I mentioned to my noble friend last week, Parliament already has an effective equivalent to judicial review. I referred to the Economist case of 1975, when the House of Commons Committee of Privileges imposed a personal penalty on the editor and a journalist—who happened to be me—of the Economist due to the premature publication of the draft report of the Select Committee on a Wealth Tax and our refusal to reveal our sources. The House of Commons debated this on the Floor of the Chamber for more than two hours and voted not to impose the penalty.
In thanking the noble Baroness for her characteristically thoughtful response and her offer to meet noble Lords, I ask her also to include a discussion of journalistic sources, because the code of practice left me with some questions. I assume that the meeting will be before Report.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for what she has said. I accept what she and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, said about it being a senior officer. In urgent cases, however, the police officer who actually grants the criminal conduct authority would be only at inspector level, which is not very senior. Criminal or civil liability would probably rest with the handler because the handler is the one who made the request to the senior officer—but I am glad that that has been clarified.
The Minister dismissed our Amendment 47 on the basis that it looked like prior judicial approval. It is not prior judicial approval at all and it deserves to be looked at. The Minister said that retrospective oversight is the best solution, but once a criminal conduct authority has been granted, so has legal immunity. So what if the CHIS has been corruptly tasked to commit a crime and commits a crime that should not have been committed? With only retrospective oversight, that CHIS and that handler are still immune from prosecution. How can that be right?
If I understand the point from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that the CHIS is authorised to commit something that is later deemed unlawful, my understanding of it—I will stand corrected if officials tell me differently—is that the person who authorised the unlawful conduct would themselves be liable for the deployment of the CHIS. Clearly, what the CHIS did would also be looked into post facto, but the person who authorised the deployment would be liable for that conduct in the deployment, I think.
My Lords, I am grateful for the way in which the Minister so helpfully explained the Government’s position and made a concession on one of the amendments. Like everyone else, I regret that the debate was split over two days. It gave me the slight advantage that I could read the whole transcript of the first day’s discussion on this amendment, but I am not sure that it has helped me very much in the short contribution I want to make.
We have heard some very impressive contributions indeed to this debate, and I cannot match for a second the enormous legal experience or the experience of our security services, as evidenced by my noble friend Lord Hain, former Secretary of State, and other senior Ministers. All I can do is say that my Amendment 11 stems from the Joint Committee on Human Rights report, which I still believe is a very helpful background to this debate and points the way forward, in ways that are not entirely in line with the speech that the Minister just made.
It seems to me that the nub of the issue in this group of amendments is still whether approval should be prior or after the event, or in real time, as has been said. I cannot help feeling that the argument for prior approval has not been put forward as widely as I would have hoped. We are told that prior approval would prejudice an effective operation. I am really not convinced by that argument—or at least I do not have the experience to understand it fully.
My noble friend Lord Rooker said we are not talking about history. There is a reason some of us mentioned the investigation by the police into the Lawrence family after the racist murder of their son Stephen, and why we are concerned, as my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti said, about the lack of an inquiry into the Finucane case, as announced by the Northern Ireland Secretary yesterday. The reason we cite those two is because they are the two that are in the public domain and that we know about. Other Members of this House have experience of a wider range of cases that, for obvious reasons, they cannot talk about in any detail. I make no apology for saying that, if any one of us in this House had had prior oversight of the investigation into the Lawrence family following the murder of their son, we would all have said, “No, that is unacceptable”. After all, the only point of prior oversight is that it can stop something in its tracks; otherwise, it is no better than after the event. Everybody would have said that that was wrong, and yet it happened.
We all owe a great debt to the security services—they have saved many lives—but now and again, something goes wrong and things are not right. It is because that might happen—very rarely, but it might just happen—that we are concerned about the method of approving this type of activity. That is the argument.
Similarly, with the Pat Finucane case, clearly any of us would have said no. The way that appears to have happened was wrong, and it would not have been allowed. Now we are told that there cannot even be an inquiry into it, for reasons which we will have to look into on another occasion. So I am still worried.
We are dealing with incredibly serious powers: powers to permit criminal activity, which we do not do with any other legislation, as far as I am aware. We are told that this prior approval cannot be given by judges, because judges do not have the insight into human nature that some of the more experienced people would. I do not know very much about judges, although I have had the pleasure of meeting some as colleagues in the House, but I think that, particularly those in criminal law, they have had a great deal of experience of human nature. I would have thought they would be in a good position to make the judgment, as indeed could Secretaries of State, as evidenced by the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Hain.
I am not convinced by the arguments against what the human rights committee proposed. I am not convinced that prior approval is not a good idea, whether it is done on the Lord Hain model, the Joint Committee’s model or the Joint Committee’s model as amended by my noble friend Lady Kennedy. All of these are ways of doing it, and I am not convinced that these are not better alternatives than having approval only retrospectively. However, we have had a long debate, and I want to reflect on what has been said before we get to Report. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
Amendments 12 to 15 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 16. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate, and anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate. I inform the House that if Amendment 16 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 17.
16: Clause 1, page 2, line 16, leave out “the person believes—
(a) that”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that there is an objective test rather than a subjective test for granting a criminal conduct authorisation.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Paddick and I have Amendments 16, 18, 20, 32 and 33 in this group, which is concerned with the test—the standard or threshold, if noble Lords prefer—for granting a criminal conduct authorisation.
The JCHR made the very good point in the conclusion of its report that
“it would be more effective for a test of objective reasonableness to be applied in the course of an independent judicial approval process”.
It also made the important point:
“If a test of ‘reasonable belief’ were applied to the making of an authorisation, a CCA made without objective justification would be invalid. However, the CHIS acting under the CCA would not know this. This could result in the CHIS being exposed to criminal prosecution or a civil claim, despite the fault being with the individual making the authorisation.”
The Minister has just reminded us of the duty of care to a CHIS.
New Section 29B(4) requires belief as to three matters listed on the part of the person granting the CCA. I am always keen to follow the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and we go a long way together on this group and then part company a little towards the end. Is a simple belief that something is necessary and proportionate an adequate test, or is a simple belief—to read from new Section 29B(4)(c)—that “arrangements exist that satisfy” the Secretary of State’s requirements? We will come later to what those arrangements might be, but it is the same issue. I acknowledge that subsection (4)(c) is probably more procedural than substantive.
A person might honestly believe in all these things but be mistaken. But he could still assert that belief, hence the need for objectivity—at least, an objectively reasonable belief. As the JCHR said, that is a
“standard requirement for the exercise of police powers—from stop and search, to arrest, to applying for a search warrant. This prevents these powers being lawfully exercised without reasonable justification. It is a vital protection against overzealous or misguided officers.”
That is what is in the guidance. Although I of course welcome that, it is worrying that the term is not included in the Bill. I am not clear whether that is a deliberate omission. Certainly, the legislation and the guidance should be consistent.
The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, which was moved by my right honourable friend Alistair Carmichael in the Commons, imports objectivity. We are going further by asking whether the Government should justify why something is not actually necessary or proportionate, or satisfying the Secretary of State’s requirements.
New Section 29B(6) is a gloss on Section 29B(4) and tells us what is to be taken into account in authorising the conduct—
“whether what is sought to be achieved by the authorised conduct could reasonably be achieved by other conduct which would not constitute crime.”
We would take out “reasonably”.
The Government might say that its inclusion is a safeguard for what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and I are seeking in our respective amendments. What concerns us, however, is that anything that spells out how you reach a belief or conclusion is in danger of weakening what is central to authorising a CCA: the necessity and proportionality of it. Both of those contain an element of judgment and we do not want to weaken subsections (4)(a) and (b), hence our Amendment 32.
Amendment 33 is in the same family. It would remove “reasonably” from subsection (6) of proposed new Clause 29B, which I just quoted. That subsection lends itself more to being tested, so I am less concerned about it than other amendments. Perhaps, however, I should make it clear that we are not in the business of trading one “reasonably” for another. Our other amendments are consequential.
On the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser —I think that it will be spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy—we think it preferable not to go down the route of listing matters to be taken into account, as that amendment does. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, could tell us about the case law. Simply, I would not be surprised if the Minister says this too, since she and I have had this discussion on many occasions: a list is bound not to be complete, and the more you list, the less scope there is to take into account something that is not spelled out. With that, I beg to move Amendment 16.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness for at least part of her journey, as she says. I will speak to Amendment 17 and its Scottish equivalent, Amendment 72. They would require that the authorising officer’s
“belief in the necessity and proportionality of a criminal conduct authorisation, and in the existence of satisfactory arrangements, be reasonably held.”
In paragraph 67 of its report, the Joint Committee on Human Rights rightly said:
“It cannot be acceptable for CCAs to be made on the basis of an unreasonable belief in their necessity and proportionality.”
Despite the wording of the Bill, which makes no reference to reasonableness, the Government appear to agree with the Joint Committee. We know this from Second Reading in the House of Commons, when the Solicitor-General stated, in answer to Jeremy Wright MP, that
“the code of practice sets out that there does need to be a reasonable belief that an authorisation is necessary and proportionate.”—[Official Report, Commons, 5/10/20; col. 707].
Is that a sufficient answer? I am afraid not—for two reasons. First, the draft code of practice, as I read it, does not plainly provide that belief be reasonable. Section 6.1 of the draft code, issued alongside the Bill, provides that a criminal conduct authorisation
“may be granted by the authorising officer where they believe that the authorisation is necessary”.
Section 6.3 states:
“The authorising officer must also believe that the authorised criminal conduct is proportionate”.
The requirement that belief be reasonable is not clear, even in the code of practice. Those sections of the code appear quite consistent with the requirement of a merely subjective belief. Secondly, and more fundamentally, the notion of reasonableness is—as I think the Government acknowledge—completely absent from the Bill itself, which the courts will of course treat as the authoritative source.
My point is very simple: why is the position rightly endorsed by the Solicitor-General—that belief should be reasonable—not reflected in the Bill?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. I do not have their legal expertise but even I, a civilian, can understand that the legal tests in this Bill are absolutely inadequate.
I had the pleasure of being on the Metropolitan Police Authority for 12 years when I was a member of the London Assembly. In that time, I met a large number of police officers—some of whom spied on me—so I can understand the sort of people who become police officers. They are incredibly hard-working and very brave, but they are human and make mistakes. They certainly made a mistake when they decided to report on my activities, which were all on Twitter—my own Twitter. In any case, I have no experience of the security services—that I know of—yet but I imagine that they, too, are human. We are all prone to error.
The big problem with this Bill is that the legal tests are too wishy-washy. They give the authorising bodies free rein. If we do not contract those processes in some way, there will be mistakes—there are bound to be. It will become very difficult to challenge even the most obviously wrong authorisations. The crimes will have been committed, the damage will have been done and harm will have been caused—possibly to entirely innocent people, as has happened in the past. The reasonableness test should be included in the Bill; the Government will struggle to argue against that.
We should, however, go beyond reasonableness. That is why I have signed Amendment 19 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. The decision-maker should consider, and show evidence, that they have thought about the alternatives to authorising criminal conduct. Where criminality can be avoided, it should be. I took the point that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made about the fact that, as an inspector aged 24, he was not what I would consider a necessarily appropriate person to authorise immunity from criminal conduct. I am sure that the noble Lord was an incredibly competent police officer but, even so, that is an incredibly young age to understand the impact of what you are doing.
The decision-maker should also demonstrate that they are not using this legislation to bypass other, more appropriate, legal routes to achieving their objectives. They should not be able to authorise criminal conduct where a legal route exists. For example, the legislation must not create loopholes and back doors for the authorities to conduct black ops. They must not be able to recruit a burglar where they should have used a search warrant, or a hacker where they should have obtained a RIPA authorisation. It is not sufficient for such critical issues to be left to the code of practice. It must go in the Bill. I really hope that the Government listen to the noble Lords who understand these processes and accept that we are all human and make mistakes.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I support and will speak to Amendments 17 and 72 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich.
I am sure that my noble and learned friend will be taken back to his law school days, as I have been, by the discussion of what is reasonable and what is the test of reasonableness in any given circumstances. I prefer Amendments 17 and 72 to Amendment 16 and others; I hope that, if they are pre-empted, this can be resolved on Report.
I entirely support what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, said. He has gone through the draft code of practice, as he was invited to do by the Minister. I especially support his argument that the code is missing from the Bill. It is not sufficient as an understanding: I want to see it in the Bill in the circumstances that the noble Lord set out, in both the English and Scottish versions.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, has withdrawn so I call the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford.
My Lords, the first issue to consider is the identity of the person who grants the prior authorisation. The starting point is Section 30 of RIPA, now to be amended by Clause 2 of the Bill. It is for the Secretary of State, by regulation, to specify the persons holding such offices, ranks or position within the relevant public authority as to who will exercise the power to authorise. In addition to the police forces, the National Crime Agency and the intelligence services, the public authorities designated already include the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and a variety of other authorities, as we have discussed.
The list of designated authorities, however, is not final since Clause 2(8) gives power to the Secretary of State to add more public authorities—subject, of course, to the approval of Parliament by the affirmative procedure. It is clear, therefore, that authorisations may be given by people with varying backgrounds and experience, with varying or no training in matters of this kind. If the subjective belief of one of a large number of unidentified people is sufficient to authorise an individual to commit crime, that places in the hands of the authorities an unusual and dangerous power.
What is it that the authoriser has to believe? They have to believe that the authorisation is necessary and proportionate in the interest of three things: national security, preventing or detecting crime or preventing disorder, or the economic well-being of the United Kingdom. There are varying views as to what is in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom. I have no doubt that the individuals who authorised events during the miners’ strike—the unions, as advised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, as he told us, on the one hand, and the Home Secretary on the other—had diametrically opposed opinions on where the economic well-being of the country lay and on what was necessary and proportionate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, was on one side; I myself was engaged in the prosecution of the two miners who killed a taxi driver with a concrete block.
One of the dangers we must bear in mind is that the Bill might solely conjure up a picture that it applies only where well-trained operatives are under the control of senior security officers to go out and fight the baddies. That is the picture painted by the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller. However, as my noble friend Lord Paddick made clear from his considerable experience, these authorisations are much more frequently to be given by a middle-ranked police officer—an authoriser, if you like—or perhaps an authoriser from the Inland Revenue or one of the other designated authorities. These authorisations are given to criminals with a chaotic life who are seeking for their own purposes to ingratiate themselves with authority either for personal gain or to avoid the consequences of their own criminal activity. That is why it is essential that the test of necessity and proportionality should be objective. If it is subjective, it allows an irresponsible official to follow their own course, perhaps—as my noble friend Lord Paddick suggested—corruptly or, through an excess of zeal, to chase their own hobbyhorse or their own dislike, for example, of striking miners or protestors against road or rail development, squatting up in trees. Indeed, they might dislike members of the Green Party, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has reminded us. An objective test is a check that encourages systems of scrutiny, of consultation and of records—the recording of the reasons for the authorisation being given.
Amendments 17 and 71 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, introduce the concept of reasonableness, which is certainly consonant with an objective test. Amendment 19, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, deems the test set out in the code of practice, lauded by both my noble friend Lord Carlile and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, to be necessary reading. Why should the public not read it in the Bill? Why should it not be in the Bill from the point of view of the courts and the juries that might try cases arising under it?
Amendments 32 and 33, in the names of my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Paddick, insist that these tests should not be in any way weakened. This group of amendments conveys the same message that necessity and proportionality are not to be judged by the inclination and values of a shadowy and undefined figure. I hope that on Report, we can consolidate in order to improve this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, have withdrawn, so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Rooker.
As the noble Lord is not responding, I call the noble Lord, Lord Mann.
My Lords, I will speak to a number of these amendments simultaneously, using a different word to the thematics that have come through, but with the same purpose. The word that I refer to is “competence”: the competence of decision-making, and whether the legislation, in the view of the Minister as well as the Committee, is sufficiently precise in ensuring it. We have heard words such as corruption—that is very important—and concepts of reasonableness, which are also important.
I can recall when I and other trade union colleagues had suspicions about an individual who we thought was acting rather strangely over a period of time. He was observed selling Nazi memorabilia in London Bridge Station on a Saturday morning—not a normal activity for trade unionists, even in those days. We were suspicious, and he suddenly moved on. I had a sharp thought that I would handle his pension because it was an accrued pension entitlement that was to be transferred. Rather than leave it to the finance people, who would have handled it in a very financial way, I made the calls myself. I was fairly certain that he was not who he said he was, and that for some reason he decided to look into the heart of moderate trade unionism. The question that it begged to me, rather than being a question of principle, was what a waste of resources it was—what incompetence.
I found later that I was on the Economic League blacklist. I found out why by a fair amount of research. I looked into the case of the—I think it is fair to say—loud-mouthed communist, the very good actor Ricky Tomlinson, whom I got to know over the years. He was stitched up for being an industrial activist for no good democratic reason. He was a communist without any question and he was loud-mouthed, but he was participating in a perfectly normal way in our civil society, and yet he was stitched up.
Mine was much less serious, but I was stitched up by being put on that Economic League blacklist. I know that I was put on it because I was one of the organisers of the national anti-apartheid demonstrations. My role was not very political in that context. It was not glamorous; it was organising stewards and stewarding. I had to have an intricate knowledge of extreme-left groups, because my tasking by the Anti-Apartheid Movement—and through them from the African National Congress—was to ensure that Trotskyist groups did not take over the march to divert from the general messaging of the Anti-Apartheid Movement.
It was very mundane and matter of fact but it was actually quite a complex operation—knowing exactly who the extreme Trotskyists were, what their agenda was, how they would operate and what they would try to do within the march. As part of that, I had to liaise with the Metropolitan Police—one of a small number—on how the march would operate, how it would be stewarded and where it would go. For my pleasure, I ended up a few years later on the Economic League blacklist. I know that only because Ciba-Geigy chemicals in Manchester told me that when it had given me a job, and then had to embarrassingly withdraw it.
The truth of the matter, which was self-evident to anyone around at the time, was that I was not an extremist. But not only was I not an extremist, I was one of the people most active within the Labour Party and the unions in combatting extremism, to such an extent that I was personally responsible for the exposure of the far-left infiltration of the ANC in 1985. The Labour Party, under my report, took action and helped crack that particular problem.
I am looking and thinking about what was going on at the time not in terms of my rights, or anything like that, although those can be important, because it can have—as it did for Ricky Tomlinson—very detrimental effects on your economic well-being, your family and so on. I am not even thinking particularly of principle but of competence. If that resource is being employed in that way, it is not being employed in another way to deal with people who want to cause problems within the state and usurp our democracy.
To jump forward to the more recent scandals we have seen, not least in Nottinghamshire, where so-called green groups were infiltrated by police officers and horrendous sexual abuse took place, there ought to be the right of remedy for those women. That right should be there now, and that scandal is certainly not in any sense a closed chapter. Let me look at it from an angle which has not been discussed: the competence of infiltrating some obscure green group with hardly any members.
When I was an MP at the time, they targeted the two power stations in my area, and they were just an irritation. Do your Lordships know the biggest problem that created? It was me arguing with the power station owners, the police and the local authorities about toilet facilities and the problems of the workers on site if such a group of people are there. Those people—I think I called them “woollybacks” at the time—were not a danger to the state or society but a bit of a danger to themselves, climbing up cooling towers without toilet facilities available. They were a little bit of a public health risk and were hypocrites, turning up not on their bikes or walking but in motorised vehicles, polluting the local area that I live in. I gave them the full whack in terms of the political welcome that they wanted. However, that is not how you disrupt a power station. It is an aggravation, an irritation and a cost, and we should not allow such criminality. But, frankly, that is easy and simple to deal with. In fact, if it had been left to the local people, I could have got a few people to deal with it very easily: trade unionists working inside the power stations, who did not want their economic lives threatened by some eco-protest.
In fact, if you were an eco-warrior of some kind and you wanted to create an economic problem, you would attempt to get employed inside the power station, get in charge, run the trade union and bring it out on some kind of prolonged strike. That is how you do economic damage. Of course, that is not possible, because trade unions have always been the bulwark against such kinds of extremism. That is the whole point of trade unions. They exist to complement capitalism, not to overthrow it, and to battle and share the products of capitalism. Therefore, the whole mindset that would infiltrate trade unions was an absurdity. However, the whole mindset that would put resource for an extraordinary length of time into a tiny group of people who are so obscure and irrelevant that when they come to power stations—as they came to West Burton, near my house—they are only a threat to themselves and not to anybody else, begs the question of competence.
When we talk about reasonableness, I hope the Minister can address that, because that resource ought to have been used at that time in trying to root out the future terrorists and encouragers of terrorism—the ones who are a threat to our society and people’s lives in our society. Therefore, on this question of this competence, the problem or dilemma that we and the Government have is that we are leaving it to people whose mindset may not understand, and certainly did not in the past, what is a threat and what is an irrelevant irritation that a simple bit of policing can handle.
If you look at the groups that were infiltrated, frankly it is a comedian’s hotchpotch of the irrelevancies of the far left—extremist groups where they are all flooding now, back out of the Labour Party, spending most of their time battling with each other about some dead theorist whose view on Libya or something over the last 30 or 50 years is the right one, or whose analysis of the Russian Revolution was the right one. They are back into that. They are easily identified, because they like to publish everything. It used to be newspapers, but now it is online. Frankly, that irrelevance could go on forever—about who they were, where they were and how many have ended up in here. I will not embarrass anyone like that, because they are on all sides of the House; I am not going to do that.
My point on competence is absolutely fundamental to the powers that are there. I hope that the Minister will address that, because it is fundamental and it is the problem of the past, alongside the abuses that took place. It must not be a problem in the future, because that will put us all at risk.
I can be very brief in support of Amendment 17 and its Scottish equivalent. The intention appears to be clear: that the belief of the person has to be reasonably held on an objective basis. It would, in fact, be quite exceptional to have any other provision. It seems to me that the Bill ought to be clear and, on such an important point as this, there should be no room for ambiguity or argument if this matter ever comes before a court.
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.
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.
In the case of corruption that may be clear enough, because there are independent criminal offences in relation to it. One would certainly hope that the corrupt bad-faith authoriser would be liable for offences—misconduct in public office, corruption, et cetera—but what of the authoriser who is not corrupt but is just plain wrong? They may be negligent or they may just be wrong—in good faith, but wrong. They have a belief, but it would not satisfy the European Court of Human Rights. It is not a completely inaccurate or unreasonable belief. Perhaps it would be reasonable in certain circumstances. Perhaps it was formed based on the best information before them, because there is a chain of information in fast-moving criminal operations. None the less, it will not meet the convention tests of necessity and proportionality, because the information was wrong and the criminal conduct authorisation should never have been issued.
The language of “necessity and proportionality” comes from Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights on privacy. But this is not just surveillance. We are now in the territory of potentially quite serious criminal offences against property and the person, and the language of privacy may not be enough. Criminal conduct may have been authorised mistakenly or incorrectly, which will never satisfy a test of necessity and proportionality, because it was just plain wrong. The conduct was serious and possibly had serious consequences for innocent members of the public. The agent of the state, who committed the crime, will now be immune from civil liability and criminal prosecution. Where is the redress for victims of crime? The Minister spoke powerfully in the debate on the importance of tackling criminals—in that case, foreign criminals—but what will be the redress for members of the public when things go wrong with criminal conduct authorisations? Where will the buck stop and the redress come from?
This is incredibly important, because Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights allows people access to justice and is a particularly jealous protection of rights in the context of criminal activity. Noble Lords will remember the awful case of Osman v United Kingdom, where an immunity from serious crime was found to be in violation of the convention. I look forward to the noble and learned Lord’s response, if he has time, and some detail on what the consequences will be for criminal and civil immunity when and if—let us hope it never happens, but we have to consider it—things go wrong.
My Lords, I have looked carefully at the amendments in this group. Amendment 16 moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and consequential Amendments 18 and 20, all seek to remove the reference to “belief” in relation to a criminal conduct authorisation to make clear that it must be necessary and proportionate. I understand the point that she is making, including on consistency in the Bill and accompanying guidance; I know what she is seeking to do and have sympathy with it. However, I looked carefully also at Amendment 17 from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, which seeks to insert “reasonably”. I concluded that that is probably a better way to achieve what the noble Baroness seeks.
These are matters of judgment at the end of the day, and we have all been careful in our consideration. However, in this case, I found the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, more persuasive and likely to find more favour with the Government, if, as they say they are—and I have no reason to doubt them—they are seeking to reach agreement with the Committee on these very difficult issues and ways in which we can all improve the Bill. For me, reasonable belief would be a belief that an ordinary and prudent person would hold in the circumstances, judging the situation in the light of the law and the information before them. That is the right way forward.
Amendment 19 in the names of my noble friend Lord Rosser, myself and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, simply seeks to place in the Bill the proposals advised in the code of practice, including determination of proportionality. It is important to provide that certainty in order to allay concerns raised across the Committee. I take on board the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on this matter but they are covered in the guidance, and placing those matters in the Bill is the right way to go. I hope that that provides the reassurance noble Lords are looking for. We would be interested to hear from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, where he thinks he can go on these issues if he cannot accept the amendments in their present form.
In his response, will the noble and learned Lord address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on the motivation and experience of those authorising such activity? There has been some suggestion that although it may be very senior officers, in some cases, in the heat of the moment, those involved perhaps would not be so experienced. That is a fair point and we need to address who is authorising this conduct.
Amendments 32 and 33 from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, have been tabled to ensure that the necessity and proportionality tests are not weakened. I understand the points being made, and we deserve a full explanation from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart.
It was good to hear from my old and dear friend, the noble Lord, Lord Mann, who made some very effective points about trade unions, following his work in the trade union movement, to which I can attest. He referred to the nonsense of infiltrating groups that are no threat to the national security of our country but are a bit of a nuisance. There are plenty of those about, but they are not a threat to national security and, frankly, are probably more a threat to themselves than anyone else. They can be a bit of a nuisance around the factory gate or power station gate, but investing time and money on these people is a complete and utter waste of time. Who would authorise activity in relation to those groups? That is worrying. Some senior people have authorised others to waste their time going into those organisations.
On the other side of the coin are the appalling and disgraceful abuses that have taken place. Equally, we need to ensure that that will never happen again. We need reassurance on those matters. The inquiry will have to consider how we deal with them in the future.
My noble friend Lady Chakrabarti asked the important question of where people go to when their rights have been abused. We of course hope that that never happens again, but where would people go if it did? We need to know that people will be protected when they find themselves in a situation that has gone wrong. If there has been proper authorisation but an offence has been carried out, how do people seek redress?
I look forward to the Minister answering those points and others raised in the debate.
My Lords, perhaps I may begin by discussing the question of the test of necessity and proportionality. That test is well recognised and understood in investigatory powers legislation. The drafting in the Bill is consistent with the existing legal framework within which it will be incorporated. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, for his amendment which seeks to add a requirement for the authorising officer’s belief in the necessity of proportionality for an authorisation to be a reasonable one.
New Section 29B, which provides for criminal conduct authorisations, has been drafted to align with the existing Section 29 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which provides the underlying authorisation for the use and conduct of a covert human intelligence source. In setting out that a belief must be reasonable only for criminal conduct authorisations, the amendment would risk creating inconsistency and cast doubt on the test to be applied for other authorisations. I refer your Lordships to section 3.10 of the updated CHIS code of practice, which sets out that the person granting the authorisation should hold a reasonable belief that it is necessary and proportionate.
Amendment 16 from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, seeks to change the test set out in the Bill for considering whether conduct is necessary and proportionate. Again, the drafting of the Bill is in keeping with the rest of RIPA, where the test for authorisation is that the person granting it holds the belief that the activity is both necessary and proportionate. To remove the reference to “belief” risks introducing inconsistency and casting doubt as to how other provisions should be interpreted.
It would also be wrong if the necessity and proportionality test were not based on the belief of the authorising officer. A number of contributions have been made in the debate today, and on the previous occasion when we discussed this matter, regarding these decisions being taken in the context of live environments, affecting real people, often in dangerous situations. Decisions will need to be taken based around the particular and specific facts of a case at a particular time, and the specific environment in which covert human intelligence sources find themselves. I seek to reassure the Committee that the authorisation process is intended to be, and has been designed to be, robust—I appreciate that the adjective “robust” has come in for some scrutiny in your Lordships’ House today—and to support those involved in the decision-making process in making the right assessment.
Your Lordships were concerned with the level of training of CHIS handlers. They and their authorising officers are experienced and must be highly trained. I defer to the personal experience of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. However, to anticipate what I will say shortly, it is important to bear in mind that we are taking matters forward from today, as opposed to dwelling on the failings of the past. CHIS handlers and authorising officers will have clear and detailed guidance that they must follow in deciding whether to grant an authorisation for criminal conduct. The test for necessity and proportionality is well documented and understood by authorising officers. In addition, the material setting out the rationale of the authorising officer will also be available to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner as part of his oversight function.
I turn to Amendment 32. The Bill sets out that, in deciding whether an authorisation is both necessary for a defined purpose and proportionate to what it seeks to achieve, the authorising officer must consider whether the intended outcome could be achieved by some other non-criminal conduct. The amendment seeks to ensure that this does not undermine the requirements of the necessity and proportionality test contained in the Bill. It does not. In fact, it enhances the rigour with which the proportionality test will be applied by specifying a factor that must be taken into consideration when proportionality is assessed.
Amendment 33 seeks to amend the necessity and proportionality test so that an authorising officer must consider all alternative non-criminal options that are available to achieve the same outcome, even if those options are not reasonable. Suggesting that the authorising officer cannot grant a criminal conduct authorisation because an unreasonable non-criminal option is available does not seem practical or feasible. We must ensure that these judgments are based on fact and actualities, not unrealistic possibilities. Of course, an authorising officer will need to consider alternatives, and the Bill is clear on that, but I submit that those alternatives need to be feasible and should not cause unintended consequences elsewhere.
In response to Amendment 19 from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the Bill is clear on the need for any criminal conduct authorisation to be both necessary and proportionate. The code of practice sits under this legislation and, as we were reminded previously, has legal force. It provides greater detail and guidance on the considerations that authorising officers need to take into account when granting a criminal conduct authorisation.
I listened with care to submissions from your Lordships about the value of placing matters on the face of the Bill. However, I am reminded that that can sometimes be difficult in that, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, acknowledged, the mere act of making a list means that something is often left out. The tighter the legislator tries to grasp the matters to be taken into account, the greater the possibility that something will slip through the fingers, like trying to grasp sea-water as tightly as one can.
As I said, the presence of the code of practice sitting underneath the legislation provides the greater detail and guidance that I hope will be a security and offer reassurance to your Lordships. We have included in the updated code additional wording on the proportionality test, but we think it appropriate that that remains within the code of practice rather than being embodied in the Bill,
I re-emphasise the need to ensure that the Bill is consistent with the existing statutory framework within which it will sit. To include here detail that is not present for powers in legislation elsewhere risks casting doubt on the application of, in this case, the test that needs to be applied when considering proportionality.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, referred to the undeniable fact that human beings make mistakes and that persons acting as handlers or granting criminal conduct authorisations will inevitably make mistakes. It is not so much a matter of arguing with the noble Baroness as accepting the point that she makes and seeking to defend the protections that the Bill seeks to offer, building on those that already exist and advancing them to your Lordships’ House as sufficient and proper.
There was discussion from my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, about the authorities that will obtain CCAs and their varying backgrounds. They will indeed have varying backgrounds in relation to the matters that they seek to police, reflecting the very different circumstances in which they might be called upon to act. There will also inevitably be varying degrees and types of training for CHIS handlers and those giving authorisations, which, again, will be specific to the work of the authority in question. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, also spoke about the practice of applying CHIS operations in different contexts.
The noble Lord, Lord Mann, spoke as powerfully on this occasion as he did previously about the competence of directing finite resources and skills towards matters that, ultimately, are of little moment. He also spoke powerfully about the role of trade unions in combating extremism and working together as part of society as a whole—something that I wholeheartedly endorse. I am sure that my noble friend Lord McLoughlin will have followed his words and will nod along when he reads them in Hansard.
The noble Lord, Lord Mann, spoke of the abhorrent practice of blacklisting, to which he was subject. This, again, called to mind the personal accounts of others in the House, including the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who spoke not only of his experience of granting authorisations of this sort but of being the subject of authorisations himself. We on this side acknowledge, as I am sure the whole House does, that the actions of the past were occasionally imperfect and caused a great deal of suffering. However, to acknowledge the failings of the past is not of itself to call into question the tests and oversight regime that the Government seek to place over such operations in the Bill.
My noble friend Lord Naseby spoke about competence and the practicalities of such operations. I urge your Lordships to bear in mind once again what has been touched on at other times in the debate concerning the dynamic quality of the environment against which decisions such as these are taken.
The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, began by informing your Lordships of the death of Lord Kerr of Tonaghmore. Although I never had the pleasure either of meeting him in a personal capacity or of appearing before him in court, I am sure that I speak for the whole House in endorsing the warm tribute that the noble Baroness paid to his memory.
The noble Baroness also discussed what happens when things go wrong—a point that she introduced as the “Paddick question”. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on the Bench opposite, picked up that point. I am not altogether sure that I am able to address the broad matter of redress, and I therefore propose to write to noble Lords about it. It seems to me that to address it from the Dispatch Box now would be to presume on your Lordships’ patience, because it would be necessary to take into account a series of matters and to present, and provide answers to, a series of hypotheticals.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on his discussion of Amendment 19, as I said earlier, the position which on reflection we have adopted and urge on the Committee is that placing matters contained in the code of practice on the face of the Bill is not an efficient way of going about things. They are better left where they are.
Finally, and in conclusion, I note that the noble Lord opposite also endorsed the views of the noble Lord, Lord Mann, on the nonsense of infiltrating fringe groups that pose no harm to society. The question of how different people and bodies in society can reach quite opposite views about some matters, such as the economic well-being of the country, was raised on a previous occasion in relation to strike activity. That question is a profound and important one. In answer to that, we lay before the House the presence of this independent oversight regime, under the Investigatory Powers Commissioner.
I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions.
I have received two requests to speak after the Minister, from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, who I will call first, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. I call the noble Lord, Lord Anderson.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his courteous and measured response, but can I press him for clarity on the Government’s position on my Amendments 17 and 72, so that I can work out where to go next?
First of all, as I understood it, the Minister asserted the importance of making the new Section 29B consistent with the existing Section 29 of RIPA, which he said did not require belief to be reasonable. But he then relied on section 3.10 of the code of practice, which in contrast to sections 6.1 and 6.3, which I cited earlier, does, as the Minister put it, imply a requirement of reasonableness. The Minister first pleads for consistency and then identifies an inconsistency between part of the code and the Bill, without undertaking to amend either. I may, of course, be missing something. Could the Minister please explain whether the Government support a requirement of reasonableness, as the Solicitor-General appeared to do in the Commons, in which case will he undertake to amend both the Bill and section 6.1 and 6.3 of the code of practice to bring them into line with section 3.10 of the code of practice, to which he referred? Or are the Government against a requirement of reasonableness, in which case could he explain why?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his supplementary question. I apologise for having omitted to answer specifically the detailed point that he made in the course of his submission earlier—something I have been guilty of in the past in my appearances in your Lordships’ House.
Amendments 17 and 72 would insert a requirement for the authorising officer to hold a reasonable belief that conduct is both necessary and proportionate. As the noble Lord has identified, the position is that the amendment cannot be accepted as the Bill has been drafted in line with the requirements of the rest of RIPA, including that for the underlying Section 29 use and conduct authorisation. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, identifies a conflict between the terms of the code of practice that I quoted, at 3.10, and the terms of the Bill, and, more to the point, I think, identifies a potential conflict in what was said in the other place in debating these subjects. In those circumstances, I would be very happy to engage with the noble Lord and write to him on the matter.
I am being reminded just now that we have already included wording in the updated code of practice to set out that it is expected that the belief should be a reasonable one, and that the Security Minister confirmed this during the debate in the Commons.
I am not sure we want exchanges in this manner. Minister, are you complete or are you continuing?
I want to make just a couple of points. I do not accept the noble and learned Lord’s point that, if you put things in the Bill, you risk leaving things out. It is possible to craft an amendment, to go on the face of the Bill, that covers those eventualities. There is always a concern that, when things are left to guidance and codes, sometimes they do not have the certainty and force of legislation. I think that an amendment can be crafted that covers both: you get the certainty of the main things but leave the door open, accepting that things can change. Both can be done, and that is a better way forward rather than leaving it all to guidance.
The noble and learned Lord also made the point that we should be looking forward and not back. I get the point of looking forward, and I accept it, but, equally, in looking forward, we are informed by what has happened previously. It is important that we take that on board as well. We need to ensure that the Bill is doing the job it needs to do, and that is addressing issues that happened in the past; not just the issues mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mann—which were, frankly, ridiculous—but, more importantly, the real issues of wrong-doing, abuse and great hurt that have taken place. We need to ensure that the Bill stops that in the future.
The other point that we will keep coming back to is the whole issue of what will happen if the CHIS has immunity and someone has something wrong done to them. Where do they get redress? That is a fundamental issue: how do they get redress if the person who has done something wrong has immunity? That is a question we need to answer in the next few days.
I am obliged to the noble Lord for that final submission. We do, I acknowledge, need to address these matters over the next period of time, as the Bill moves forward. I acknowledge to the noble Lord, and others who have contributed, that mistakes were made in the past around blacklisting and the penetration of bodies that need never have been penetrated, or of bodies that were engaging in legitimate activities. Acceptance of that will inform the manner in which we proceed further.
My noble friend Lord Paddick has been using his experience of the past—experience is, by definition, the past—to inform and improve the future. That was rather what my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford was talking about, with his reference to the range of organisations from which authorisations for criminal conduct may come. He mentioned people entitled to give authorisations who will not have the same experience as those in the police and intelligence services.
I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not refer to every contribution that has been made, though I am grateful for all of them. However, I want to pick up the point about considering the position if things go wrong. That is a very large part of our task in this House, in scrutinising legislation, and it will necessarily mean positing hypotheticals. I will certainly want to pick up the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Mann, when we come to consider the term “economic well-being”.
I remain concerned about Section 29B(6). We have the test of necessity; you cannot really strengthen necessity but you could weaken it. If subsection (6) is to have any meaning, then I am worried that it must weaken it.
To go to the heart of all this, the argument from the noble and learned Lord is that we should be consistent with Section 29 of RIPA, which is about the authorisation of covert human intelligence sources. New Section 29B is about criminal conduct authorisations. I would regard that, as other noble Lords have said during the Bill’s passage, as much more serious than what is covered by the current provisions of RIPA in terms of covert intelligence and intrusive investigation as well. Yes, it will be a fast-moving, live environment, but I do not think that that is an excuse not to act reasonably. I really feel that we have to get the Bill right, and that means importing objectivity.
I have still not understood the points made in response to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about why we should not have the term on the face of the Bill. I think that the noble and learned Lord said that it would not be appropriate, but I might not have noted that down correctly. He did say that it would not be efficient. I hoped that he might develop that point, but we will have to pursue that after this afternoon’s debate. We are clearly gathering round Amendment 17 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and I think that Amendment 72 is its Scottish equivalent. My noble friend and I are very happy to cede the ground to those amendments; we went a bit far, but I cannot conceive of an answer to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. We have not heard one so far, so would be delighted to support him if he pursues the matter at the next stage of the Bill, which we very much hope that he will. It will soon be 5 pm, so I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 16.
Amendment 16 withdrawn.
Amendments 17 to 19 not moved.
My Lords, we need to halt our proceedings before too long so that we can move on to the coronavirus regulations, but the next group of amendments is very small with only a small number of speakers. If noble Lords are willing to keep their contributions as brief as possible, that would assist us in finishing this group before we break for the coronavirus regulations.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 19A. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate. I should inform the House that if Amendment 19A is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 20 and 21 by reason of pre-emption.
19A: Clause 1, page 2, leave out lines 22 and 23
My Lords, I have written a very long speech, so I hope I will not hold people up for too long.
There are a lot of things in this Bill that I absolutely loathe. In fact, I probably loathe it in its entirety and I wish the Government had never brought it forward. However, my Amendment 19A is about changing the rules for criminal conduct authorisation by statutory instruments. What we have seen again and again with this Government is little power grabs—little bits of erosion of our democracy—through various statutory instruments that they have consistently brought over the past few months. Their majority of 80-plus in the Commons has simply gone to their heads and they feel that they can run the country without your Lordships’ House, which is absolutely ridiculous.
It is a pleasure to introduce the amendments in this group, and I look forward to all the important points that other noble Lords are going to put. The amendment is quite simple—just that the Government should not be able to change the rules without proper parliamentary scrutiny; and let us face it, statutory instruments are not proper scrutiny. We are talking here about the state being able to authorise people, quite possibly criminals, to commit crimes. Even I will accept that that sometimes has legitimate applications, such as taking down terrorist cells or breaking up organised crime. But let us face it, that will not be all that this is about. It creates a set of extreme ethical, moral and legal dilemmas, so much so that it must be Parliament—not the Government, whom I do not trust anyway—that makes the decisions on when and why this is allowed.
I think that proposed new clause 29B(4)(c) in Clause 1(5) is a tacit admission by the Government that there are insufficient safeguards built into the Bill and that they want to backfill that with secondary legislation and a code of practice. That just is not good enough for something of this magnitude. I want a clear confirmation from the Minister that that is not what is intended and that the Government will in some way accept that and make it clear.
When speaking to an earlier group of amendments, the Minister talked about not dwelling on the failures of the past. That is all well and good, but if you do not dwell a little on the failures of the past you are doomed to repeat them. That is exactly what I have been saying all through our consideration. We have seen repetitions of failures and somehow the police, the Government and the security services do not learn fast enough. I am hoping for a very positive response from the Minister, please. I beg to move.
I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has withdrawn, so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Naseby.
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.
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.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, that the wording that I have used is pretty standard. Civil society, civil liberties organisations and the organisations involved in giving authorisation ought to be consulted. The noble Lord said, “Well, wouldn’t it happen anyway?”, but I think he can guess my answer to that, since it is why we have included the amendment.
Amendment 58 would apply something similar to a proposal for an order prohibiting particular conduct.
Amendment 62 would mean that orders under Section 29B would be subject to the affirmative procedure, for much the same reasons as we have proposed for consultation. The Member’s explanatory statement as drafted refers to “section 29B(4)(c)”, but the amendment would apply to Section 29B(10) as well, so I apologise for that.
Amendment 81 in part anticipates that different relevant authorities will need to consider different matters, and that different things will need to apply to them. I appreciate that it is normal to provide for parts of an Act to come into force at different times, applying to different areas. I can see that it could be necessary to commence the Act at different times for different authorities, but I hope that we end up with fewer in the schedule than we have at the moment, and that, for instance, the Food Standards Agency might need procedures which already exist for the police. Is it right for any provisions to be separated out, provisions which affect the justification for criminal conduct authorisations? Surely this should all be read as a single provision. I could go on, but I will not, in view of the time. Amendment 83 makes the same point applying to transitional and saving provisions.
In short, I hope that the Minister can give us examples justifying Clause 6(2) and Section 29B(4).
My Lords, the amendments in this group would variously remove the power for the Secretary of State to impose requirements restricting when a criminal conduct authorisation can be granted, require the Secretary of State to consult with such persons as are appropriate before imposing requirements, and require regulations in which the Secretary of State imposes additional requirements that must be satisfied before a criminal conduct authorisation is granted to be subject to the affirmative procedure. There is also an amendment in this group which would restrict the power of the Secretary of State to bring different provisions of the Bill into force at different times and in different areas, to ensure that all the safeguards provided in the Bill always apply.
We will await with interest more detail from the Government in their response as to the nature, extent, purpose, reasons for and frequency of the requirements that the Secretary of State might wish to impose by order before a criminal conduct authorisation can be granted, and why it would not have been possible to include this greater detail on the face of the Bill to reduce the possibility of this power being exercised at any time in the future in an inappropriate manner. We also want to hear the Government’s response to the concern about safeguards always being applicable, which has led to the amendment restricting the power to bring different provisions into force at different times.
My Lords, turning first to the order-making powers, addressed first by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, the ability of Parliament to scrutinise statutory instruments is a broader topic than this debate permits me to go into. As to the order-making powers in this Bill, these powers allow for additional requirements to be imposed before a criminal conduct authorisation may be granted, or for the authorisation of certain conduct to be prohibited. I assure the Committee that they can only be used to further strengthen the safeguards that are attached to the use of criminal conduct authorisations. They could not be used to remove any of the existing safeguards. I particularly seek to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, on that point. The requirements that can be imposed under these powers concern matters of practicality and detail, and therefore it is appropriate that they be contained in secondary legislation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked whether there was a precedent for such powers to be subject to the negative procedure. The equivalent powers in Section 29 of RIPA are both subject to the negative procedure. Taking similar powers in respect of criminal conduct authorisations to those already contained in Section 29 will allow the Secretary of State to make equivalent provision for Section 29 authorisations and criminal conduct authorisations, where appropriate, so that similar arrangements are in place for both. There is a high degree of interrelationship between the two provisions. While the Government do not have any particular safeguards or limits in mind, such requirements may arise in the future that will need to be legislated for.
An example of the past use of the Section 29 powers is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Covert Human Intelligence Sources: Matters Subject to Legal Privilege) Order 2010, which imposes specific additional requirements that must be met regarding the authorisation of a CHIS in connection with material subject to legal professional privilege. Were any changes proposed in the future, the relevant persons would of course be consulted prior to those changes being made. Amendments 21 and 58 are therefore not considered necessary.
Turning to Amendment 81, the Bill contains provision to commence the Act for different areas on different days, to allow time to make any necessary secondary legislation, issue guidance, undertake appropriate training and put the necessary systems and procedures in place, as appropriate. I assure the Committee that this power will not be used to delay commencing those sections relating to safeguards. The power could not lawfully be used to frustrate the will of Parliament in this way.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, even those who did not agree with me. It was lovely and very heart-warming to hear the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, agree with a Lib Dem Peer, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for her support, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her sympathy and exposition of the whole group, which I perhaps should have done myself. I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made an extremely good point in asking why there should not be greater detail in the Bill now.
The Minister made a very nice and emollient response, but there is always the problem, not in distrusting the Ministers we have here, in your Lordships’ House—we trust them to have good will and be ethical—but in distrusting the Government, as many of us do. I imagine that possibly a majority in the country distrust the Government at the moment. So I do not feel completely reassured, and will think about bringing this back on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 19A withdrawn.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. I ask Members to respect social distancing. For the debate on the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020, and one other instrument, the time limit is four hours.
Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
My Lords, we know this virus well enough now to know that it is not an inconsequential enemy. It has taken loved ones from us, including my godfather, Alan Williams, who some in this House may know. It has separated us from our friends and families and has left people suffering from its ill effects months after first falling ill. This country has made a great collective sacrifice throughout this year, but it has been integral to combating the virus. Regretfully, much as we would wish it were true, this virus cannot be ignored. It has not mutated into a gentler version of itself or blown itself out in the wind. Instead, it remains on the rampage, highly contagious, malicious and mortal, with the old and vulnerable square in its sights, and anyone potentially affected.
While I know that these measures have been hard, this is the reason why we have taken this course. They have always been proportionate to the threat that we face. However, I reassure noble Lords who might be in any doubt that we do not want to leave them in place for one day longer than we have to. We now judge this to be the right time to come out of the national lockdown and revert to a localised approach to managing the virus. Why is that? It is because coronavirus cases are down by 19% in England and hospital admissions have fallen by 7% compared to a week ago. The data tells us that, after many false peaks, the virus curve is finally flattening. The latest assessment from SAGE is that, having reached the summit, we are now walking down the other side, with the R for the UK between 0.9 and 1. Indeed, in its most recent survey, Imperial College London placed its estimate for England at an impressive 0.88.
This is a monumental achievement. After more than three months of growth, this is the first time the R has been estimated at or below 1 for the United Kingdom since mid-August, so at last we can be confident that the virus is coming into check. Only at that point is the danger of our hospitals being overrun starting to pass.
While this drop in the infection rate is encouraging, and confirmation that our national sacrifice has proved successful over the last few weeks, the picture remains varied across the country. That is why we are introducing a framework of regional tiers so that interventions are suited to the situation in any given area. There will be three tiers that apply to the whole country—but, before I go on to them in more detail, I want to spend a moment on the principles that underpin all three.
First, I reassure noble Lords that schools will remain open to protect children’s education and development. Secondly, we will seek to keep as many businesses open and trading as is reasonably possible, to support the people who work within them and the wider economy.
Beyond these core principles, as the winter plan sets out, there are the five key factors in determining the tier of any region: case rates in all age groups, cases among the over-60s in particular, the rate at which cases are rising or falling, the positivity rate and the pressure on the local NHS. When setting boundaries for these tiers, we have looked not only at the human and physical geographies that determine how the virus spreads but at travel patterns and the epidemiological situation in neighbouring areas. We have listened to the public voice, and noble Lords in this Chamber, to fine-tune the system. As a result, people can practise their faith in places of worship, gyms will remain open, outdoor leisure will be permitted and we are doing everything reasonable to allow businesses to remain open.
I turn to the details of each tier. The aim of tier 3 is simple: to bring down the rate of infection when rates are rising too fast. That requires considerable collective effort. Tier 3 will be used only when necessary, in order to protect the NHS and save lives where the virus is threatening to get out of control. Tier 2 is intended rigorously to manage the spread of the virus, restricting indoor mixing outside your household or bubble, although the rule of six will apply outdoors. Hospitality will be open but with restrictions on opening hours and serving alcohol. We want to help all local authorities to move down to tier 1, the least restrictive tier. It has been designed to contain the virus and limit new potential outbreaks. It will apply in areas where efforts to suppress the infection have been successful, and represents a relative return to normality, including for the hospitality sector, although the rule of six for social contact must be maintained.
I reassure noble Lords that the decision to put areas in these tiers was made according to the best possible data and clinical advice. This system offers a sustainable and enduring framework for controlling the virus, as well as offering consistency, stability and clarity on the steps people should take to control the virus. On the effects of these measures, I draw noble Lords’ attention to the evidence paper on the health, economic and social effects of our approach that was published by the Government yesterday. This analysis recognised that:
“The impacts of COVID-19 to date have been significant on health, the economy and society.”
However, it makes clear that:
“Allowing the virus to grow exponentially would lead to”
“impacts, in terms of loss of life and ill health”
and the economy, and
“that would be considered intolerable for society.”
The analysis provided in our paper has been informed by evidence from SAGE and its sub-groups, the ONS, forecasts from the OBR and data on the epidemiology of the virus. As the paper sets out, the balance of evidence supports the need for our tiered approach.
However, the tiers are not the only weapon in our arsenal. We are launching a major community testing programme targeted on the tier 3 areas with the greatest rate of infection. Test and trace will work with local authorities on a plan to get tests to where they are needed most, using military support where helpful and designing their own incentives to attract the right groups. The tier regulations are supported by an increased focus on enforcement and compliance, which is what the local authority enforcement powers regulations are all about.
Throughout, we have listened to and engaged with local authorities to understand how we can support our partners in local government and make sure that they have the right tools in place to ensure that rules are being followed. We know that these are the right tools because our partners in local government helped us to design and build them. The coronavirus improvement notices allow businesses to be given a clear and consistent notice, outlining what changes must be made to meet specific requirements set out in named regulations.
Local authorities will be able to use the notices as an effective tool to communicate with businesses before a fixed penalty notice is issued. These regulations reflect feedback from business and others, who are doing their utmost to support NHS Test and Trace. The changes will support businesses to comply with the legislation while ensuring that NHS Test and Trace has the information it needs to contact people who may have been exposed to the virus.
Finally, by keeping the virus under control through December, the Government can enable everyone to see more of their family and friends over the upcoming festive season. These regulations make provision for extended Christmas bubbles that will allow three households to mix between 23 and 27 December. When following these new rules, it is vital that we continue to take personal responsibility to limit the spread of the virus and protect loved ones, particularly if they are vulnerable. The year 2020 has proved to be an extraordinary one that has brought a lot of hardship and heartache for everyone. With the winter bank holidays on the horizon, we believe it is important that people are able to see some of their family and friends during this time. We have been living with this virus for too long.
As we go into winter, our emphasis is on reducing the pressure on the NHS at a time when hospital admissions are already considerable. Our approach is guided by the need to mitigate the virus as much as possible. We have considered the needs of the British people and are seeking approval here to implement a system that remains uniform and clear, wherever in England you might be. It also provides a proportionate and measured response to the continuing threat of the virus. The tier system is not just a government policy; it is a national endeavour that we must all continue to be active players in, because this virus threatens us all, so we must all play our part in keeping it under control.
I know that these are tough sacrifices at the end of a year of sacrifices but, to continue to be able to protect education and the economy, we must continue to limit our social contact with other people where possible. I commend the hard work and dedication shown by the British public through these trying times. Hope is on the horizon, with new scientific advances being made every day, but we still have further to go. Until science can make us safe, we must put in place these new rules, which will help us to keep the virus under control. I commend these regulations to the House.
Amendment to the Motion
Leave out from “that” to the end and insert “this House declines to approve the draft Regulations because no adequate impact analysis of the social, economic and health costs of the restrictions to address the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to the benefits of those restrictions, has been laid before Parliament.”
My Lords, this is arguably the worst crisis—certainly the worst economic crisis—of my lifetime. Yesterday, as my noble friend referred to, we had, I am afraid, a totally inadequate government benefit analysis, belatedly produced at very short notice to persuade MPs to back these latest measures. It is a very poor document, and, if anyone does not believe me, they should read it.
However, there are some costs that we know about, and all these decisions regarding the crisis should be based on evidence and facts, not fear or conjecture. The costs were listed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week in an excellent speech, and I shall not repeat his detailed points. His main point was that the
“economic emergency has only just begun”
and that this will be
“the largest fall in output for more than 300 years”—[Official Report, Commons, 25/11/20; col. 827.]
since the Great Frost of 1709, which even I do not recall.
There are pubs and restaurants in particular, as well as innumerable other businesses, large and small, that are closed now and will never reopen. Unemployment will rocket and the young will find fewer vacancies and opportunities for employment. The economy may recover relatively quickly, but future generations—our children and grandchildren—will be saddled with huge debts for decades. In brief, that is the cost: billions and billions. The restrictions we are discussing today are really another lockdown in all but name, and, as Dr Nabarro of the WHO said, lockdowns make
“poor people an awful lot poorer”.
What about the benefits? On 1 October, the Health Secretary said that restrictions were necessary to prevent
“hundreds of thousands of deaths”—[Official Report, Commons, 1/10/20; col. 503.]
Some were sceptical. If it were true, it would be a ghastly scenario and a consequence of not locking down. Last year, there were 623,000 deaths in the UK—hundreds of thousands; on average, 1,700 deaths each day, each of which is tragic and causes immense pain to family and friends who remain. I suspect that most of us have suffered similar pain.
According to the NHS and ONS statistics, a total of 3,123 people under the age of 60 have died from coronavirus in English hospitals. Of these, 349 did not have known pre-existing conditions. Among the under-40s, a total of 247 people have died from the virus in English hospitals, of whom 46 had no known comorbidities. All these deaths are tragic but, every day, an average of 450 people in the UK die of cancer, approximately half of whom are under 75. Suicide is the biggest killer among men under 45. In England and Wales last year, 2,135 men of that cohort killed themselves. Admittedly, coronavirus has only been recognised for some nine months, but younger people under 40 or 45 seem more likely to die from suicide or cancer than from coronavirus. Indeed, the total deaths attributed to coronavirus are dwarfed by deaths from cancer. To make matters worse, cancer-screening and treatment have been curtailed, suicides appear to be on the rise because of isolation, and mental health problems are certainly an increasing concern. If we are destroying our economy to save lives, we should look at all these facts—not vague assertions—and note that the total deaths in England in October were only eight more than in October 2019, which statisticians would call negligible.
Do lockdowns work? Many people suggest not; I do not know. I would imagine that total isolation must surely stop the transmission of infection, but in Leicester, which has been under stringent restrictions similar to lockdown for about five months, it is only now that positive cases are dropping. Why is that? I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister can enlighten me and the House. We were told that hospitals may be overwhelmed without these restrictions. Can the Minister tell us how many hospitals are completely full, and how many beds are occupied above the seasonal norm? Also, how many beds are occupied in the excellent Nightingale hospitals? I have been told that none are.
How many people have actually been infected? I would think that that is a critical statistic in determining policy to combat the virus. The Government’s figure for those who have tested positive is just over 1.6 million, but most people would accept that it must be a lot higher—what with Prince Charles, Prince William, the Prime Minister, half the Cabinet, both my children, et cetera, having had it. Can my noble friend give us any government estimate of the real numbers?
I saw media reports that the average age for Covid deaths in the UK was higher than average life expectancy. This had to be fake news, I thought, but I checked the ONS figures and, indeed, the average age for Covid deaths is 82.4, while average life expectancy is at 81.4. Can my noble friend confirm these figures, and that those dying from coronavirus will actually have lived longer on average than those dying for other reasons?
The Government are in a very difficult position. I understand. This unpleasant virus is highly contagious and killing many people prematurely. I am sorry to hear about my noble friend’s godfather. However, we do not know enough about the virus, so we have to go on the facts. I would be grateful for clear and prompt answers to my questions so that we can see whether there has been any weighing up of costs and benefits.
In the debate on 4 November, it was said that some Peers were putting down amendments to double their speaking times, which seemed “a bit iffy”. It was suggested that some were playing games. I was accused of “having form” in that regard and of disregarding the science. Those of us who really care about our country’s future are not playing games and resent such insulting accusations. Long-standing Members of this House tell me that we should be courteous to each other even when we disagree, so I avoid personal attacks. I just counsel the Member concerned that I have experience of robust comments and can give every bit as good as I get.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that we must learn to live with the virus and not fear it. My young female dentist, who I saw in early November, described the second lockdown as “nuts”. I will listen to the Minister’s response, but currently I intend to divide the House, since it seems to me that there has been no adequate analysis of the costs and benefits of this policy.
My Lords, this promises to be a very important debate, going to the heart of how we are handling this terrible epidemic. I do not support the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, but he is right to pose challenges about the Government’s management of the pandemic, which has been less than consistent. In fact, when one thinks of the Prime Minister’s ducking and weaving, the half promises and the hopes that relaxation will be lifted, it is not surprising that it has not inspired confidence among members of the public; I do not think the impact assessment published yesterday inspired confidence either. It looks very much like a cut-and-paste job, strewn with errors.
A much more accurate assessment of where we are was given in the Financial Times yesterday. It was a very sober analysis, which showed that the UK was spending proportionately more money than any other country in fighting the pandemic, and that we were languishing at the bottom of the league table of economic performance and virus deaths. The conclusion of that analysis is that, essentially, our poor performance came about because we allowed the virus to become prevalent in the spring before enforcing social distancing. That meant that the Government were ultimately forced to impose the more draconian restrictions that undermined the economy so grievously.
The noble Lord referred to the economic difficulties that we will face in generations to come. Noble Lords will know that the OBR said in its central forecast last week that the UK economy was set to shrink by 11.3% in 2020 with a deficit set to hit £394 billion. We are spending more than most G7 countries yet suffering a deeper decline in economic output than any of them —and, sadly, this does not seem to have saved lives, as the current total number of deaths per 100,000 people from coronavirus puts us at the bottom of the international league table. When reviewing the data, Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College, said the errors came in locking down too late in March, allowing the virus to spread in care homes and then delaying a second set of national restrictions well after most scientists had realised this was inevitable.
It is unforgiveable that the Government repeated their error in the autumn. At the 58th meeting of SAGE on 21 September, it was noted that Covid-19 instances were increasing, even though the effects of schools and universities reopening were only just beginning to come through. At that meeting, SAGE asked for a package of interventions including a circuit breaker. As in the spring, however, the Government resisted decisive action.
The advice from SAGE in the run-up to Christmas has once again been clear. It points to the potential threat of substantial mixing of people over a short period of time, representing a significant risk for widespread transmission. This is not the time to relax our guard or underestimate the pressures on the National Health Service.
I would like to suggest an answer to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, about the NHS. I understand there have been a series of comments from Conservative MPs that the NHS is now under less pressure than it was a year ago and, essentially, has the capacity to cope with more patients from a relaxation of social-distancing rules. The analysis published over the weekend by Chris Hopson from NHS Providers offered a very strong refutation. As he said, the NHS is actually at full stretch, juggling the demands from Covid-related care with urgent and emergency treatment for other conditions. Stringent infection controls are required, so every hospital has to be divided into three areas. That has reduced their capacity from between 5% and 20% depending on the conditions in each local hospital. We know that demand for theatre space is hugely outstripping supply and that trusts in areas of high infection rates are losing large numbers of staff because of self-isolation, family responsibilities and staff falling ill with Covid.
Much of this would not show up in hospital demand and bed occupancy data, but the best guess is that today’s 85% total bed occupancy is the equivalent of the normal 95% rate when the NHS is probably overoccupied and going at full pelt. Similarly, ICU capacity is not a good indicator of hospital provision because it accounts for only a small proportion of a hospital’s total bed capacity, with many more Covid patients now being treated in general wards. As for the Nightingale hospitals, it would be fair to say that they were always intended as a last resort. Also, they do not have the staff there; staff would have to be diverted from our other hospitals, which would reduce the standard of care there, so it really is a last resort.
Frankly, the NHS is at full stretch. It has not yet hit the real winter pressures. Vaccines, more testing and new drugs offer us the way out. This is the last moment we should relax our guard. I should also say that a semblance of competence from the Government might help.
My Lords, we are debating more than 70 pages of changes to the Covid regulations with only 24 hours’ notice of the detailed impact statement that many sought and with which, as we have already heard from both sides of your Lordships’ Chamber, people are not happy; we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, that he is particularly unhappy.
From these Benches, we have some differing concerns. Ever since the pandemic made its presence known, we have pushed to follow the best scientific advice. We have pushed Ministers to lock down earlier and have not been heard. We have pushed Ministers to set up an effective test, trace and isolate system locally and fund it right from the start, following the excellent examples set in South Korea, Taiwan and Germany, all of which had a steadier path with Covid-19. Test, trace and isolate, to be kind to the Minster, is still a work in progress. Above all, we have asked for clarity and consistency of message to the public so that each and every one of us can play our part as citizens in the fight against the pandemic.
Despite the apparent reduction in cases because of the lockdown finishing tomorrow, we now face these tougher tiering arrangements. We agree that we have not yet got control of Covid. Perhaps these new arrangements would not have been necessary if the Prime Minister had approved a lockdown three weeks earlier when it was obvious to most of us that we were entering a second wave. People are confused about what they should be doing. A poll a couple of days ago showed that two-thirds of people are worried about how safe they feel under these arrangements.
Although we remain concerned that the Government still have not got a grip on the pandemic, we firmly reject the proposals from others who say that there should be no lockdown arrangements at all. Data yesterday showed a worrying rise in excess deaths. Those with disabilities and learning disabilities still face a particularly tough journey in the pandemic. Can the Minister confirm that those with learning disabilities, many of whom are clinically or extremely clinically vulnerable and appear to fall through the testing net, can now access regular testing?
More worryingly, we are picking up reports that young people with learning disabilities at school and college are being charged by their GPs for a letter to set out their specific category to their education institution. The Down’s Syndrome Association told me today that this is not about one or two cases; it is getting reports from all over the country. Shockingly, one young man was charged £38 for a letter to his college. This is disgraceful. Can the Minister take this up urgently and immediately instruct CCGs and GPs not to charge vulnerable young people?
I am afraid that the same is happening to adults with disabilities, who have been asked by their employers to produce evidence that they should work at home. Can the Minister ensure that there is no charge for letters relating to the pandemic for anyone in the clinically vulnerable group?
Finally, I return to one of my regular topics. The Minister knows that I am on the shielding list—now known as the extremely clinically vulnerable list—along with a million other people. Last Thursday, I looked up the new guidance mentioned in passing by the Prime Minister in his announcement a couple of days before about the new tiers. I wanted specifically to look at the advice about Christmas. I have said in your Lordships’ Chamber before that the previous iterations of advice to shielders were verbose—two-page letters with four pages of detailed explanations as an appendix—but they were short memos compared to the new guidance. It is 16 pages long and full of complex advice about tier 1, tier 2, tier 3 and Christmas. Even my eyes, used to reading formal guidance, glazed over. Therefore, I focused on the Christmas advice. As with previous advice, the message was “Please do not mix with people” and the greater risks were repeatedly evident.
Here I have sympathy with the scientists and civil servants writing this document. The Prime Minster wants families to get together. However, the advice is much more cautious. It says:
“If you do decide to form a Christmas bubble it is advised that you maintain social distance from those you don’t normally live with at all times, avoiding physical contact. Everyone should wash their hands regularly and it is important to keep the space where you spend time with those you don’t normally live with well ventilated and to clean touch points regularly, such as door handles and surfaces. You may want to think about who you sit next to, including during meals, and also consider wearing a face covering indoors where social distancing may be difficult as well as encouraging others to do the same.”
Grandma is going to be really popular, going around the house opening windows, wiping doors, wearing her mask and asking to be moved at the table because she is not convinced that Uncle John understands, or cares about, social distancing.
Will any letter to those shielding be made easier to understand and considerably briefer? Will it be available in all accessible forms, including an easy-to-read version for those with learning difficulties, so that everyone shielding can make informed decisions? If the real advice is not to visit family, please can it say so? Just do not show it to the Prime Minister.
My Lords, first, I apologise to the Minister because IT problems meant that I could not hear some of his introductory speech. What I did hear, earlier this afternoon, was some of the debate in another place on these regulations. No one listening could be left in doubt about the divisiveness of the proposals before us today, especially in relation to boundaries for the new tiers. These have created a deep sense of injustice and division between regions, areas and communities within regions.
For a variety of understandable reasons, the Government abandoned the clarity and sense of the whole nation being subject to the same constraints that we have had since early November. However, they have patently failed to convince people that the variants in restrictions are properly tailored and appropriate to the situations in the communities in which they live and with which they identify. A lack of respect for local leadership, knowledge and capacity has, I fear, been a recurring feature of the response to Covid, particularly in relation to test, trace and isolate. We must not make the same mistakes when it comes to the rollout of vaccinations.
When the tiers are reviewed on 16 December, I would urge a review of the basis of the boundaries so that they are seen to be more justifiable and fairer, which would engender better compliance. Data is available at the district and borough level on incidents, hospital admissions and all the issues that the Government say they will take into account. This data should be used to produce boundaries based much more on social geography and local conditions than on administrative areas. I recognise that, even if there is greater granularity and that reduces the sense of injustice, it will not eliminate it. The Government need fundamentally to improve the information and communication that they present.
For example, as others have said, the impact statement for today’s debate hardly engenders confidence in the very difficult, nuanced judgments the Minister and his colleagues are making, although I have huge sympathy for them. They can afford to be honest with the population. At the beginning of this pandemic, maybe there were many people who thought there would be an answer—that if they followed “The Science”, we would know what to do. We know that is not the case. We know that we must weigh up a number of factors and balance a number of different harms to try to find the least bad solutions to working our way through this. It is a complex and contested field, and the public are grown up enough to understand that.
I urge that in assessing what boundaries we use and the immediate effects on health—the dangers of Covid and how we protect people from it, as against the longer-term and indirect effects on health and well-being from unemployment and lack of access to normal health services—we respect individuals in our society enough to be frank about how those judgments are made and assessed.
Before I finish, I will say two things. First, most people want to do the right thing; they want to protect themselves and those they love. The Government need to help us do that. They need to empower us with access to testing, by ensuring that the test, trace and isolate systems are effective and working, and by making sure that people do not suffer from being good citizens and obeying what they are asked to do if they have been in contact with others.
Lastly, I was struck by what Dame Sally Davies said yesterday. We ask ourselves all the time why we have seen so many deaths and so much difficulty in coping with this as a country. She pinpointed the underlying public health issues this country faces: deprivation, obesity, dependence on alcohol and the issues that lead to social disadvantage and all that bundle of disadvantages that create ill health and vulnerability. When we review what has happened, I hope we will recognise social injustice as an underlying cause. [Inaudible.] This is not just about PPE but about reversing some of the social injustices in our society.