Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, the regulatory framework governing the use and authorisation of investigatory techniques provided for by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, or RIPA, ensures that the public authorities empowered to use these important techniques do so in compliance with the right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Noble Lords will be aware of how important these provisions are, along with those in related legislation, including the Investigatory Powers Act, to the vital work undertaken by the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, as well as by other public bodies with enforcement or regulatory functions. These Acts allow for the authorisation of investigative techniques that are used by investigators to obtain intelligence and evidence to disrupt the activities of serious and organised crime groups, prevent terror attacks, establish guilt, and ensure that our agencies can locate and safeguard vulnerable and missing people.
The RIPA framework ensures that there are strong, transparent safeguards in place that are appropriate to the intrusive nature of these investigatory powers, so that they are used lawfully and proportionately. This is developed further by the significant strengthening of safeguards and changes to the oversight of all investigatory powers brought about through the Investigatory Powers Act. These strengthened safeguards, therefore, together with the clear requirements set out in the codes of practice and the rigorous independent oversight provided by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, establish clear limits around the use of these powers, and ultimately provide reassurance to the public that the powers are being used in ways that serve the best interests of us all.
The Investigatory Powers (Codes of Practice and Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2018 introduces three revised codes of practice, as well as making some amendments and updates to the public authorities authorised to use surveillance powers under RIPA. The order also makes a minor technical amendment to provisions on the use of combined warrants under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, is keen that we also discuss today the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Juveniles) (Amendment) Order 2018, which amends the existing authorisation regime for the use of people under the age of 18 as covert human intelligence sources. I thank him for giving the Committee the opportunity to hear about the extensive safeguards in place.
The revised codes of practice provide guidance on covert surveillance, property interference, covert human intelligence sources, or CHISs, and the investigation of protected electronic information—activities which are regulated by RIPA as well as by the Police Act 1997 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994.
First issued in 2002, the CHIS and covert surveillance codes of practice were last updated in 2014. They, along with the investigation of protected electronic information code, which was introduced in 2007 and has not been updated since, have all been updated, mainly to reflect the changes brought about by the Investigatory Powers Act. These include the creation of the new Investigatory Powers Commissioner, the changes made by the introduction of equipment interference as a technique separate from the existing property interference powers, and the need to mirror the strengthened safeguards for the handling of confidential and privileged material.
Other updates and clarifications have been made to the guidance to reflect and improve current operational practice. We consulted publicly on them at the end of last year. For instance, the guidance on procedures to be followed where investigators use the internet for covert investigatory purposes or where covert surveillance is undertaken by means of drones, and the provisions intended to reinforce the safety of covert human intelligence sources, have all been expanded.
In addition, we are updating the lists of the public authorities and officers able to authorise the use of directed surveillance and covert human intelligence sources. These updates ensure that public authorities can continue to authorise the use of investigatory powers following changes to their organisational structures and remove any authorities that no longer require the powers, and are in themselves a safeguard against the inappropriate or indiscriminate use of the investigatory powers. They ensure that their use is limited to specified public authorities and can be authorised only by specified officers within those authorities who have sufficient authority and expertise.
Lastly, we are correcting a technical error in the Investigatory Powers Act provisions for authorising a combined warrant, reflecting Parliament’s clear original intention that warrants should last for six months, rather than the clearly far-too-short period of two working days. This timely improvement will assist our intelligence services in their work of identifying and disrupting threats to our national security.
All the changes to the codes of practice and the authorisation framework for the powers ensure that the highest standards continue to be required of those using the powers and that they are underpinned by ever-stronger safeguards against their misuse. I commend the order to the Committee and hope that during the debate I can provide reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, and others on the use of juveniles as CHISs. I beg to move.
I thank the Minister for introducing the order and for raising the question of the juveniles order. I think it would be of convenience to the Committee if we debated them together.
I sit on your Lordships’ Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Our task is to consider and scrutinise all the Government’s regulations and orders—what is known as secondary legislation. We report weekly on what we think would be of interest to the House and what gives us cause for concern. Normally we do this on paper, but we thought that the regulation regarding juveniles warranted further debate.
Our committee is a mixed bunch. Our chairman—the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne—and other members of the committee are here. We are from all sides of the House. There are some old hands, like me, and some welcome new faces. Some have had experience in government. But the one thing that most of us have in common regarding this order—and I include Jane White, our experienced and effective adviser, who worked on the order—is that we are parents and, as parents, we know that young people in their mid to late teenage years are going through a time of great change, when they are vulnerable and often need support. Our concern is that the order does not provide that necessary support and understanding.
We wrote to the Home Office, saying that the Explanatory Memorandum—EM—explained why this extension of one month to four months was administratively convenient. Yes, the Explanatory Memorandum acknowledged the need to take account of the welfare of the young people. But it was not clear how this would be achieved. We wrote to the Minister for Security and Economic Crime about this concern. In reply, he justified the use of these young people, explaining that young people are increasingly both perpetrators and victims of crime and so are increasingly able to assist in the prevention and prosecution of crime. He certainly acknowledged the need to look after the young people’s welfare and said that the code was being updated—that is the code of which the Minister has just spoken.
The Explanatory Memorandum has indeed been updated. It mentions some of the safeguards and says why they are needed. But what is still missing is exactly how the welfare and safety of these juveniles will be achieved.
Working undercover can be made to look very attractive to a juvenile, but what about the risks? There is the risk of being beaten up, of sexual exploitation, of reprisals, as well as the impact on their education and on their mental health. The Home Office reports that it has to deal with an increasing number of mental health problems. The Minister is also silent on the number of young people involved in this undercover work, so we ask: is it right to put one juvenile in jeopardy for the greater good?
The use of children as covert human intelligence sources is not new. Similar concerns were raised in Northern Ireland, and I am most grateful to Rosalind Comyn of Rights Watch UK for its brief based on some of its experiences. It points out that, as well as enjoying the full protection of the human rights framework up to the age of 18, these young people are due special protection under the Children Act 1989. The Act requires that the best interests of the child should be paramount. Indeed, local authorities have safeguarding obligations in this area. How are they carried out, if at all, within the existing safeguarding arrangements? There seems to be no requirement for an independent social worker, a psychiatrist or a safeguarding practitioner to be involved in the process. The order requires an appropriate person to be with the juvenile at various meetings, particularly with their handler, but “appropriate person” remains undefined. Surely their role, qualifications and status need to be defined in terms of the part that they will play in looking after the interests of the juvenile.
Then there is the whole matter of the juvenile’s consent. A passing reference is made in the code of practice to the need for the risks to be understood, but consent is not specifically mentioned. Safeguards need to be in place to ensure that the juvenile’s consent is fully informed, that it is free from undue influence and pressure, and that the decision is voluntary. There are also implications for parental responsibility, especially where the juvenile’s parent or guardian is not informed, perhaps for ideological reasons.
I am advised that all individuals under the age of 18 are legally children and should be given the protections and entitlements set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as the European Convention on Human Rights. This is not dealt with in the Explanatory Memorandum. It could be that the order is in breach of the conventions, and this is what gives rise to our concern. The welfare of these juveniles should take precedence and their rights are clearly expressed in the conventions. I therefore propose that in order to satisfy these concerns, Ministers should ask the Joint Committee on Human Rights to scrutinise and advise on this order before it goes any further. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have been watching the Met Police moderately intensely for nearly two decades. I genuinely thought that I could not be surprised, but I have been surprised by this. I congratulate the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee on bringing this to our notice, and the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, on explaining the situation so eloquently and passionately.
I was surprised and shocked to find out that the police and other public authorities are legally allowed to use children as spies, doing police work. I found out only because the Government want to change the rules so that rather than authorising a child to spy for only one month at a time, they can be authorised for four months. I want to state this very clearly because, like myself, most people will not know it: children are being used by the state to infiltrate criminal groups and do dangerous police work. I do not see how this can be considered acceptable.
The Home Office Minister has linked child spies with terrorism, gang violence, child sexual exploitation and county lines drug rings, and appears to have suggested that the impact on the child spies can be outweighed by the benefit to potential victims. I am frequently infuriated, even confused, by the things that the police and security services do, but to me this is absolutely staggering, especially when you realise how little safeguarding is in place for the affected children. The authority using the child spy has to conduct a risk assessment and then consider whether it is justified to expose the child to the identified risks. Someone has to be in charge of the day-to-day welfare and monitoring of the child spy, but we already know how badly the police have failed in such duties in the past.
For example, the ongoing “spycops” public inquiry has highlighted how the police can lose track of people and turn a blind eye to things that are potentially highly illegal and dangerous. Trained undercover police officers have gone rogue and acted beyond their authority, forming sexual relationships with women in campaign groups and even fathering children, before disappearing, never to be seen again. If this can happen when the police are watching trained police officers, what worse things could happen when children are at risk? How can we trust the police to perform their duty to the child spies whom they are recruiting and putting in danger?
How many child spies have been deployed under the power in Section 29 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000? What assessments have been conducted of how effective child spies are, what dangers they have been exposed to and what tangible results were obtained by their deployment? What rights and remedies do child spies have if something goes wrong or if they feel that they have been let down by their police handlers? I know the answer: almost nothing. They have no protections. We have heard from the Minister about safeguards but I would argue that not enough safeguards are in place. I think that most people would be shocked to learn that children are being used as spies and being exposed to such unimaginable risks. I doubt that it leads to any serious results in terms of fighting crime, while exposing children to real danger. This is yet another example of the inhumanity in our current system. We in your Lordships’ House have a chance not only to expose this but to attempt to correct it.
My Lords, I want to intervene briefly. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, for bringing this important issue of the use of juveniles for covert intelligence gathering to your Lordships’ attention. I have the honour of being the chairman of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, was kind enough to point out. He is an experienced and distinguished member of the committee and I am grateful for his contribution to our work.
Earlier this month, the committee considered this order, along with the associated code of practice, and we decided to report the instruments not only on the grounds of policy interest but because we were disappointed by the quality of the explanatory material laid in support. The effect of the order is to increase the period for which a juvenile can be authorised for covert intelligence purposes from one month to four months. What was of particular concern was that the original Explanatory Memorandum accompanying the order appeared to justify the increase on the grounds of administrative convenience, rather than focusing on the welfare of the young person concerned.
As chairman, I therefore wrote to the Minister, Mr Wallace, to express what I described in my letter as the committee’s “considerable anxiety” about using young people in this way. The Minister told us that juveniles, in acting as covert intelligence sources, would be able to assist in both preventing and prosecuting offences such as,
“terrorism, gang violence, county lines drugs offences and child sexual exploitation”.
That may be so, but these are all very serious offences. The use of juveniles—young people under the age of 18—in such a dangerous environment is, therefore, a profoundly serious matter.
In these circumstances, the Committee will, I think, wish to hear in detail what assurances my noble friend the Minister can offer about how the welfare of the juveniles involved in covert intelligence is protected, both while it is happening and in the longer term.
My Lords, until last August, I was for two years the Chief Surveillance Commissioner—an office that no longer exists under the current legislation. I will echo one or two, but not all, of the points that have been made so far. If I may say so, I thought that the Explanatory Memorandum for this proposal in relation to juveniles was thoroughly inadequate and, if it had been adequate, would have said a good deal to allay the concerns that have been expressed today. I did not think that the letter from the Minister allayed those concerns—it did not address them, it seemed to me.
There is in fact an extremely careful system for supervising, organising and taking responsibility for all CHIS. There are very few juvenile CHIS, for all the reasons that have been given; I do not think the figures have been kept, but I can say this. What may not be apparent to many people in the Committee today is that each police force is examined and inspected by independent inspectors, answerable to a judicial figure, and the inspections cover every form of intrusive investigation that has gone on and all issues relating to the use of covert human intelligence. I can say from my own experience—it is not a state secret—that in relation to any CHIS activity involving juveniles, the inspectors pay particular attention to see that the issues of welfare and so on have been properly addressed. All this could have been explained and made available to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which would then have formed whatever view it thought appropriate.
There is, however—I could go on for some time about this—one point that needs consideration if the Government, decide to follow the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel. Within the surveillance process, in relation to authorisation for intrusive surveillance, such an order, however made—even by the chief constable himself or herself—does not take effect until it has been approved by a judicial commissioner and when the notice of that decision has been given to the person who granted the authorisation. It might just be worth giving some thought to using that particular additional safeguard when we are considering the rare occasions when a juvenile CHIS is being used.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining these orders, and other noble Lords for their contributions. There are some issues around the Investigatory Powers (Codes of Practice and Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2018 that I would like clarification on before we get on to the major issue of the use of juvenile covert human intelligence sources. I therefore ask the Committee for a few moments to deal with those other issues.
I understand that this instrument brings into force the three revised codes of practice regarding the functions carried out under RIPA 2000, and that these need to be updated, not least because of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 and the additional safeguards it introduced. One of the phrases in the Explanatory Memorandum—changes to “cover current practice”—is a little worrying, as it stands. I hope the Minister can reassure the Committee that the codes of practice have not been altered simply because law enforcement and intelligence agencies have changed how they do things. Surely the codes of practice are there to ensure compliance with government-defined best practice, not the other way around.
In relation to,
“changes to strengthen protection for juvenile covert human intelligence sources”,
or informants, as they used to be known—or spies, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, calls them—I am concerned that an appropriate adult is not required when the CHIS is under 18, only when they are under 16. This is stated in the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Draft Revised Code of Practice paragraph 4.3. The law recently changed to ensure that all criminal suspects under 18 are treated as children, and cannot be interviewed without an appropriate adult. Yet, as we have heard, a potentially more detrimental activity to the young person—operating as a CHIS—does not require the presence of an appropriate adult, unless the young person is under 16. I will return to the issue of juvenile CHIS in a moment.
Will the Minister confirm that in revising the list of authorised authorities, and the prescribed offices within those authorities, authority levels have not been lowered as a result of these changes? Will the Minister also clarify the situation in relation to combined warrants? Previously, under RIPA, if an intrusive surveillance warrant was applied for by any of the intelligence services and a Minister was not available to sign the warrant, a senior official could sign instead. In such circumstances, however, the warrant would be valid for only two working days, instead of six months. Now, because of the additional safeguards provided by the Investigatory Powers Act—the “double lock” of approval by both the Secretary of State and a judicial commissioner—if such a warrant is included in a combined warrant, there is no need to limit a warrant signed on behalf of the Secretary of State by a senior official to two days, provided that the official has been “personally and expressly” authorised to do so by the Secretary of State. This is my understanding of the changes. How does the judicial commissioner know that the Secretary of State has personally and expressly authorised the senior official to sign the warrant on the Minister’s behalf? Was the previous safeguard—a two-day limit—designed to ensure that the Secretary of State had authorised the warrant by requiring the Minister to sign it within those two working days?
I am very grateful to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for its 35th report. As has been already been said, it does extremely important work, and this is a classic example of that. We should all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Haskel—a member of the committee—for saying that this needed to be debated, rather than just received as a report from the committee.
This debate is about the regulation of the Investigatory Powers (Juveniles) (Amendment) Order 2018. I declare an interest, in that during my 30-plus years as a police officer I spent some time as a detective chief inspector in the Metropolitan Police Service, and during that period was responsible for CHIS—or informers, as we called them then.
The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, made some extremely important points: these young people are teenagers going through a very difficult time; and it is not clear what the arrangements are, or need to be, to ensure the safety and welfare of these young people. It raises a fundamental question: if the Children Act 1989 says that the best interests of the child must be paramount in every situation, it is difficult to see how being used as a covert human intelligence source can be in the best interests of the child. It may conflict with the interests of the wider public, but it is a very important question and therefore the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, of referring this to the Joint Committee on Human Rights seems to be a good one.
As for what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said, it is perhaps not quite as she suggested: these are not innocent teenagers who are being picked on by the police and told to go into gangs to act as covert human intelligence sources. What usually happens is that these are gang members who have been arrested and who volunteer, who offer to help the police by reporting back what is being said and done within that gang environment. It is still a very dangerous situation, clearly, but not quite as some people might interpret what the noble Baroness said.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, but I think it is important that that misinterpretation is not put on it.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said, yes, the Explanatory Memorandum is clearly inadequate, as is the letter from the Minister. It is almost contemptible in failing to address these issues. Clearly, it would be different if the Grand Committee had known in advance about these independent inspections of the use of CHISs, and the particular importance that inspectors pay to juvenile CHISs; but the fact remains that these inspections are post-event. These are not procedures that could prevent a juvenile being put into a dangerous situation beforehand.
The managing of informants, or CHISs, as they are now called, is one of the most sensitive areas of policing, fraught with danger—and that is just for adults. Using juveniles as CHISs is an order of magnitude more dangerous, as other noble Lords have said. Young people, through their immaturity and inexperience, are far more at risk when being employed effectively as spies, as the noble Baroness said, in criminal enterprises. They are far more likely to make mistakes and to blow their cover than mature and experienced adults. Law enforcement and other public agencies have always recognised this, and that is why, in the police service, the extraordinary step—and it is extraordinary—of employing a juvenile CHIS has to be authorised by an assistant chief constable, a commander or a more senior officer.
Until now, the authority has lasted one month. Clearly, the longer the CHIS is undercover, the greater the chance of being exposed and the greater the potential psychological strain and therefore risk of harm the young person might be subjected to. For that to be extended to four months without an officer of such seniority being asked to renew that authority is putting the young person in grave danger, in my personal and professional judgment. These decisions were always taken with the greatest care and consideration, and it was ensured that the case for engaging and renewing was taken by a very senior officer, several levels above the investigating officer, and therefore with objectivity and independence, crucial to ensure the safety of that young person.
The world is a much more dangerous place than it was when I was a police officer, let alone a detective chief inspector. As the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has said, the Explanatory Memorandum talks about child exploitation, terrorism and gang and drug crime involving more and more young people. There is a real danger that juvenile CHISs could become victims of child sexual exploitation, or the discipline meted out to members of gangs by other members of the same gang, including sexual assault, rape and being stabbed in the leg. These levels of violence among juveniles were rare in my time as a police officer but are now far more common.
At a time when the threat to CHISs is increasing and the threat to an immature and inexperienced CHIS is even greater, the Government are seeking to reduce the safeguards for these vulnerable young people. That is unacceptable. I do not want it on my conscience that a juvenile CHIS has been killed or seriously injured as a result of relaxing the necessary safeguards that are in place at this time. I seriously ask the Government to rethink this provision, not least because the consultation on these changes does not appear to have included organisations or specialists in the welfare of children such as those who work with gangs, ex-gang members, or child psychologists.
Given more notice and time and at a different point in the parliamentary timetable, I would have prayed against this provision and divided the House. It is not too late for the Government to withdraw this order, at least until the Minister has satisfied herself that appropriate advice has been taken on the potential risks associated with these changes.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for presenting the order to the Grand Committee. I also thank my noble friend Lord Haskel for moving his Motion and, in doing so, highlighting the issues of concern that have been raised by the members of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in its 35th report published on 12 July. They have highlighted an issue of very serious concern for all members of the Grand Committee this afternoon.
The Grand Committee and the House are grateful for the work done by the committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in scrutinising every instrument that is laid before the Parliament. That is a very important job, getting into the nuts and bolts of what these orders are doing. It is able to get at what a particular instrument does and, through its engagement with Ministers and through its reports, bring matters to the attention of the House.
Covert surveillance is an important tool for our law enforcement agencies, the police and security services. It is a tool that can be used to provide evidence, to detect and prevent crime and, of course, to bring the perpetrators of crime to justice. It is a very important tool to keep us all safe. It is necessary, as there may be no other way to gather the intelligence needed. Having said that, we have to have proper codes of practice in place. When intelligence-gathering involves young people under the age of 18—people who are legally children, as we have heard—that is of serious concern to Parliament and to the Grand Committee today. How are their rights protected? Are adequate protections in place to take care of their physical and mental well-being? Is care taken, and what risk assessments are undertaken to ensure that that is the case?
As we have heard, the order before the Grand Committee today proposes to extend the period for which a person under the age of 18 can be used as a covert human intelligence source—what a name—from one month to four months. Terms such as “administrative convenience” from the Home Office do nothing to reassure members of the Committee that the Government have got the balance right here.
What should be of paramount importance is the welfare of the child who is being used as a covert intelligence source. Does the Minister accept that to seek to extend the term from one month to four months, you need to have clear reasons and to better explain what is being done, demonstrating that the welfare of the child is properly taken into account, other than it will be administratively convenient for the department? Further, can she tell the Committee how the Government have satisfied themselves that these proposals satisfy Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK ratified in 1991? Could she also say something about how the safeguarding and protection of these children is delivered while involving them as covert human intelligence sources? I accept the point that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made on individual children and the wider community, but how we balance that out is very important.
On the issue of risk assessments, how are the rights of the child protected? Is there a requirement for a social worker, psychiatrist or safeguarding expert to be involved—and what is the process that they are involved in? If there is not, what specific training or expertise would a police officer, security officer or intelligence officer have in respect of understanding the needs and rights of the child as opposed to gathering evidence by using the child as a covert intelligence source? There are two very different things involved there. What I am looking for here is some explanation and considerable reassurance that not only are the rights of the child important but that, in the decision-making process, the protections and rights of the child have been built in. So far, I am not seeing that as much as I would have expected.
The order refers to an “appropriate person” who is qualified to represent the interests of the child and who should be present at meetings between the young person and their handler. Can the Minister say why it is not “must” rather than “should”? That is an important distinction. What would be the circumstances when it would be acceptable for there not being someone present who could represent the interests of the young person? Can the Minister also deal with the issue of consent? How do we make sure that consent is appropriately understood and given, both when the child’s parents are informed and in those cases where the parents are not informed or aware of what is happening? Those are two very different situations.
Can the Minister further explain why there is less protection for a young person aged 16 to 18 than there is for a young person aged under 16? As noble Lords have heard, in this country, if you are under 18 you are legally a child. These are young persons who, as my noble friend Lord Haskel said, are going through all sorts of changes and may be particularly vulnerable. One of my best friends has two young children. We saw them recently, and she said, “My daughter is 15 going on 25”. However, they are still very young people, and we must never forget that.
In conclusion, this is a very sensitive matter and an important area of policy affecting vulnerable people, but also involving the detection and prevention of crime. They are very difficult issues and I do not underestimate them at all. We need to be reassured by the noble Baroness that appropriate protections are in place. I hope that she will be able to give that reassurance to the Grand Committee.
The comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, were very illuminating. It may be that if the comments to which the noble and learned Lord referred were in the initial scope of the Committee and the Minister, we might be having a different debate today. Sometimes the department needs to tell committees what they can, and going a bit further might have reassured us and given us all that we needed to know. In the end, these children seem to be unpaid undercover intelligence officers. That might all sound very exciting when you are 15, running around doing that—but it is very dangerous. Some of the people involved are extremely dangerous. We have heard about gangs, drugs and sexual exploitation. These are not people you want to be around. While the young people may have been involved in some activity initially and have then been recruited, they are still children and need our protection. That is very important. We need to make sure that they are looked after.
Can the Minister further confirm that this is for serious offences alone and not for general offences? I assume that this is not used for things like shoplifting—that it is for very serious offences. On one level, if that is the case it is good; but, equally, you are then particularly exposing the children, because if they are discovered to be spies and that they are informing, the risk to life and limb is very serious. With that, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, who introduced some of the committee’s concerns. I apologise for the quite unsatisfactory Explanatory Memorandum, about which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and to a certain extent the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, gave very good explanations and far more of the context, which is a learning point for me and for the Home Office. I repeat the point that all noble Lords made about the welfare of the child been paramount. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said that he is a parent; I am too. It is the most important thing that we are discussing.
I will start by addressing the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Juveniles) Order 2018, which the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee expressed concern about and which has, in the main, been the subject of interventions today. Over the past 18 months, at the Security Minister’s instigation, the Government have been conducting a review with operational partners of the covert human intelligence source, or CHIS, authorisation framework to consider whether it is working as effectively as it could. This included consideration of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Juveniles) Order 2000 which put in place a set of enhanced safeguards that apply specifically to the authorisation of a CHIS under the age of 18, demonstrating that the ability to authorise people under the age of 18 as a CHIS is not something new. That has become clear in the course of discussions.
While investigators might wish to avoid the use of young people as a CHIS, we must recognise that, unfortunately, some juveniles are involved in serious crimes both as perpetrators and as victims. Consequently, young people might have unique access to information that is important in preventing and prosecuting gang violence, terrorism and child sexual exploitation offences. Noble Lords will undoubtedly be aware of reporting in the media recently—this was mentioned in the debate—on the escalating county lines phenomenon which, along with the associated violence, drug dealing and exploitation, has a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and, of course on the communities they affect.
The existing juvenile CHIS regime allows for the use of a juvenile CHIS to be authorised for just one month at a time as compared to a 12-month authorisation for those over the age of 18. This can make their deployment more difficult to manage, which in turn can be unhelpful both to them and to law enforcement. It can also act as a deterrent to law enforcement seeking CHIS authorisation in some circumstances where immediate results might not be obtained during a one-month period, even if a longer, carefully managed deployment could provide a significant operational dividend.
To reduce the pressure to obtain immediate results from such an authorisation while still ensuring the protection of the juvenile, we are increasing the maximum length of a juvenile CHIS authorisation from one month to four months, requiring an authorisation to be reviewed at least monthly which will enable these deployments to be conducted in a more measured way. I will go into more detail on that in a second. Additionally, we have strengthened the protections around the appropriate adult required to be present at all meetings between the source and the public authority tasking them, and we are keeping the existing prohibition on all sources aged under 16 being tasked in relation to a parent or person with parental responsibility, which reflects the increasing independence of young people between the ages of 16 and 18 and that parental authority reduces accordingly—the point about 15 going on 25. I hope that reassures noble Lords that these changes are not about administrative convenience.
We think that these amendments will improve the operational effectiveness of the juvenile CHIS regime, while strengthening the protections for young people in this area and the safety and welfare of young people undertaking this important and dangerous role. This remains absolutely paramount.
Can the Minister explain how deployments are more difficult to manage if they are authorised for only one month? Presumably the deployment can continue and there is a review by an assistant chief constable or a commander to renew the authorisation, without interfering with the juvenile or the deployment. In those circumstances there would be no pressure to produce results within a short space of time if all we are saying is that the authority can be renewed by this more senior officer at the end of one month on an ongoing monthly basis, but it is very important that somebody of that seniority—that removed from the investigation—objectively decides that that authorisation should continue.
For the convenience of the Committee, I will go through the process. Authorisations for the juvenile CHIS should be granted at an enhanced level, which is set out in annexe A of the code of practice. For example, for a police force this would be by an assistant chief constable, in comparison with the adult CHIS, where an authorisation would be considered by a superintendent. The code of practice requires that, where possible, the authorising officer who grants the authorisation should be responsible for considering subsequent reviews and renewals. That is how each month the whole thing is revisited to continue for a further month, up to four months. But all these processes need to be documented and considered by the handler, the controller and the authorising officer within the public authority and will be fully open to inspection by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner as well. This creates, in our view, a comprehensive framework of safeguards which ensure that the conduct is necessary and proportionate to protect the interests of that young person. With regard to increasing the maximum, they may not be able to finish off what they started within just one month and hence a monthly review, up to four months, is in place. The noble Lord is looking slightly confused so I will let him intervene.
I am very grateful to the Minister. At the moment, an assistant chief constable or a commander can authorise a juvenile CHIS to be deployed for a month. At the end of that month there can be an application from the handler to the senior officer to renew the authorisation so that it has the effect of continuing for another month, and so forth, for as long as it is necessary. The new system that the noble Baroness is suggesting is a four-month authorisation with a review by the commander or assistant chief constable at the end of each month. What is the difference between the two systems?
I think I have the answer now. Removing the requirement for the activity to be authorised at monthly intervals removes the need for investigators to push for early results to justify re-authorisation—that is what I understand—thereby allowing the juvenile CHIS to be managed in a way that better suits the long-term investigation and reduces the risks to the young person.
Perhaps I can assist. The handler decides that the CHIS needs to be in a gang for three months. The handler will know that, under the current system, at the end of each month, for three months, they will have to go back to the commander or assistant chief constable to renew the authorisation. What is the problem with that system that is overcome by the changes being suggested?
I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, because he seems to put things so clearly. I get the noble Lord’s point. Perhaps I may think about it and write to noble Lords, because I now understand exactly the point that the noble Lord is making—thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge.
I will now move on to the appropriate adult point. We have strengthened the protections around the appropriate adult required to be present at all meetings between the source and the public authority tasking them. I think that I have already said this. We are keeping the existing prohibition on all sources aged under 16 being tasked in relation to a parent or person with parental responsibility. This reflects the increasing independence of a child approaching the age of 18.
I will now touch on the issue of consistency of approach.
I am very sorry; I know that it is late. I quoted from the draft revised code of practice. Paragraph 4.3 states:
“Public authorities must ensure that an appropriate adult is present at any meetings with a CHIS under 16 years of age”.
An appropriate adult has to be present at the interrogation of a criminal suspect under 18 years of age. My question was: why is there a difference between the two?
The noble Lord did ask that and I did not answer it satisfactorily. I will write also on that point.
Perhaps I could move on to the oversight regime. The independent oversight of these investigative powers was first legislated for by the Police Act 1997, and the powers are now overseen by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who also oversees the powers provided for in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. The commissioner, like those oversight commissioners his role has replaced, provides the guarantee of impartial and independent scrutiny of the use of these tactics. The oversight commissioners have published reports annually, and, in his final oversight report in 2017, the Surveillance Commissioner commented that,
“standards of compliance have steadily improved in my view, and addressing it generally, they are high”.
The Government accept that the Explanatory Memorandum originally laid alongside the juvenile CHIS order did not go far enough and, as the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said, the revised version was laid last week. It provides greater detail on the changes made by the order and on the use of juveniles as CHISs more generally. However, I have to make it clear that the Explanatory Memorandum should not be read alone. As I have set out, those charged with authorising and handling young people who act as CHISs have access to extensive guidance available to them to ensure that juveniles are safeguarded. The Explanatory Memorandum is clearly not the right place for the detail that the code contains. Such detailed guidance on the use of these sensitive tactics is necessarily not in the public sphere, as to do so may undermine operational practices and have the potential of putting the CHIS in harm’s way.
The fact that these two orders were laid at the same time is not a fluke—rather, it is the continued development of a suite of statutory safeguards and associated guidance, revised and updated to ensure that these powers are used proportionately and in accordance with the law.
I will now turn to some of the issues which were raised by noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, talked about using children as spies—and this relates to the numbers. I can say to noble Lords that the numbers are extremely low. We do not disaggregate by age, but as I say, the numbers are low.
As I understand it, while we do not distinguish between different age groups, we know from discussions with public authorities that the number of juvenile CHISs is low as young people would not normally be deployed in this role, unless there is absolutely no other way to achieve the same result. That is how we know that the numbers are low.
Consideration will always be given to whether the same result could be achieved by other means, and only if it cannot is it necessary to authorise a CHIS. The police and other public authorities must conduct a risk assessment before a juvenile is deployed as a CHIS. That assessment must take into account the risks to their physical and psychological health, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said. The codes of practice make it clear that the welfare responsibilities continue after the deployment ends.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about amending the combined warrant provisions. We are making this amendment because one effect of the IP Act is that certain combined warrants that include an authorisation for intrusive surveillance that has been signed by a senior official rather than the Secretary of State would last for only two days. The shorter duration is appropriate under pre-existing legislation, RIPA, where the signature and issue of such an authorisation personally by the Secretary of State is a key safeguard. When that does not happen, the warrant has a shorter duration unless renewed by the Secretary of State personally. However, in the context of such an authorisation being included as part of a combined warrant under the IP Act, which is subject to the additional safeguard of judicial commissioner approval, it is not necessary or appropriate to limit the duration of the warrant to two days.
On consultation with organisations involved in safeguarding, there is no requirement to consult publicly on changes to the 2000 order. We did consult broadly with the operational community and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s office, which was involved in these discussions. All those who use juvenile CHISs have a duty of care to the CHIS and duties to safeguard children and young people. This was taken into account as part of the consultation with intelligence and law enforcement agencies. We consulted on the changes to the code of practice in late 2017 and, while that version of the code did not reflect the changes we have since made in respect of juvenile CHISs, no respondents to the consultation commented or raised any concerns about the use of juvenile CHISs more generally.
I think that I might finally be able to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about who can be a responsible adult for a juvenile under the age of 18. The existing 2000 order puts in place a requirement that all discussion with a juvenile CHIS under the age of 16 must take place in the presence of an appropriate adult, who must be a parent or guardian of, or person with responsibility for, the young person, or any other adult. The order strengthens the safeguard by amending the definition of “appropriate adult” to prevent a person with no links to the young or any appropriate qualification from acting as an appropriate adult. In future, an appropriate adult would have to be a parent, guardian or person, such a youth social worker, who is otherwise qualified to represent the young person’s interests. The appropriate adult is an important safeguard to ensure that the young person is comfortable with what they are agreeing to. I have talked about the distinction between 16 year-olds and 18 year-olds and those aged under 16. Although there is no statutory requirement for those aged over 16 to be accompanied to meetings, the decision on whether to inform a parent or guardian of a sourced aged over 16 is taken on a case-by-case basis.
All noble Lords have referred to human rights. All public authorities must act in compliance with the ECHR as a result of the Human Rights Act 1998. The human rights obligation has been in force since 2000. As a result, the human rights of the CHIS must be complied with.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, asked about the double lock of a judicial commissioner’s approval. The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 followed three reviews into powers relating to obtaining communications. The Act, and therefore the safeguard of judicial commissioner approval, relates to those powers and does not extend to the powers being debated today.
I thought that these draft regulations were meant to make things better. If it was thought to be a good idea, surely it would not be beyond the bounds of regulation-writing to write the regulation accordingly. I am on my feet, which I know I should not be. It will not be beyond the bounds of difficulty or take very long for a record to be made of every CHIS aged under 18—although not to find out how many CHISs have been aged under 18 in the past, because no records have been kept. Then we will know the facts. Next year, we should know and be able to come back and say, “Good heavens, there are far too many”, or, “Okay, there were only two, and they have been looked into”. I should have limited myself to my first point.
I take the noble and learned Lord’s point.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked about undercover police work. The CHIS code confirms that police officers deployed as undercover officers in England and Wales must comply with and uphold the principles and standards of professional behaviour as set out in the College of Policing code of ethics introduced in 2014. The code specifies that officers must,
“not engage in sexual conduct or other inappropriate behaviour when on duty”,
“not establish or pursue an improper sexual or emotional relationship with a person with whom you come into contact in the course of your work who may be vulnerable to an abuse of trust or power”.
Of course, this instruction applies as much to undercover officers as to any law enforcement officer.
The noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Kennedy, asked about the best interests of the child. The code of practice requires that any public authority deploying a CHIS takes into account the safety and welfare of that CHIS and that a risk assessment is completed by the authorising officer before any tasking takes place. The order retains the requirement of the 2000 order that these risk assessments for juvenile CHISs are enhanced risk assessments. Furthermore, the code requires that the ongoing welfare and the security of the CHIS after cancellation of the authorisation be considered and reviewed throughout the duration of the deployment and beyond. These authorisations must be reviewed at least monthly and records maintained for at least five years.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked whether we are changing this because of law enforcement agencies. This is not about seeking to legitimise practice that was non-compliant with previous codes of practice; it is about reflecting the fact that new investigative techniques are being used by the police. He asked about the code changes. The overall impact of the changes to the codes will be to strengthen the safeguards provided in the codes and improve the guidance for practitioners. The changes reflect current practice and aim to improve operational practice, including expanded guidance to assist investigators in their use of these powers in an online context. It is important that investigators are able to make full use of the internet to assist their work, and equally important to take into account the privacy of people using the internet.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked a very pertinent question about why parents might not be involved. It is true to say that in some circumstances it may not be appropriate that parents of a young person deployed as a CHIS are informed: for instance, where they support the ideology or, indeed, the criminal intent of those against whom the juvenile might be employed. He asked whether it is just for serious offences. There is no specific limitation on seriousness, but the strict tests of necessity and proportionality apply—the point about shoplifting should be seen in that context. He asked about the differentiation between “should” and “must”. The 2000 order requires that an appropriate adult “must” be present, and we have not changed that requirement.
I apologise once again for the less than satisfactory quality of the Explanatory Memorandum and for my inability to answer certain questions, but at this point I beg to move.