My Lords, it is a pleasure to open this debate. I am struck by the importance of the legislation on which I will make my first contribution to the House.
Before commencing, I wish to express my thanks to the House for the warm welcome I have received since taking up my appointment. I owe particular debts to my supporters, my noble friends Lady Goldie and Lord McInnes, for their good humour and encouragement; to Black Rod, Garter and the clerks of Parliament for their patience and tolerance; and to my noble friend Lord Courtown for his wise guidance in the customs and practices of this place. Your Lordships will, I hope, realise that, should I offend against these, the cause lies in my obtuseness rather than in my noble friend’s instruction.
I recognise that I am filling the place of my noble and learned friend Lord Keen of Elie. I am too new in this place to speak of his reputation here, but I can say that his high standing in our profession is a consequence not only of his matchless forensic skills but of the kindness and courtesy that he shows to all and the care with which he led the Scottish Bar as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates.
I hope I will not trespass further on the patience of the House if I take the opportunity given by my maiden speech to make some reference to myself and to the place from which I have taken my title: the village of Dirleton, in East Lothian. It is a place of great beauty. Moreover, there are aspects of its history and geography which may provide your Lordships with matter for reflection.
I know that many of your Lordships are familiar with the area. Some of your Lordships may have tested your skills against the famous golf courses which lie round about. There are other diversions too: yachting and skiff rowing from North Berwick around the islands just off the coast, which fired the imagination of the young Robert Louis Stevenson. The islands may be viewed from the fine beaches, looking across to the Kingdom of Fife at magnificent and ever-changing vistas of sea and sky.
All sorts of sporting clubs and associations of other sorts flourish. At the recreation ground and elsewhere in North Berwick, I played bowls, hockey, football, rugby, highland games, tennis and, not least, cricket—a sport which suffers in East Lothian not so much from want of enthusiasm among its players but from the shortness of the season and the unpredictability of the weather.
Dirleton lies in an area of rich, fertile soil, and we can anticipate that our farmers may soon be able to take advantage of new opportunities arising out of the implementation by this Government of their popular mandate. We can anticipate, too, that more boats may set out along the waters of the Firth of Forth to work fisheries which will be richer, better managed and replenished by the more directed and more sustainable management policies which the policy of this Government will allow to be established.
The village of Dirleton features the castle—set in beautifully landscaped grounds—a village green, a primary school and two hotels, where visitors may regain their strength ahead of more sightseeing. The parish church in Dirleton dates from the 17th century. Inside is a list of the names of those of the parish who fell in two world wars. The church is set in surroundings of especial beauty, north of the village green and north of another smaller green, on which stands the war memorial where, again, the names of those who fell are inscribed.
This 11th day of the 11th month brings to mind those names on the war memorial, so familiar to me from their being called over at Remembrance Sundays. Some are the names of families who flourish in East Lothian to this day. But today calls to mind also those others who lie in the churchyard and the cemetery on the way out of the village—names from the rest of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and allied countries. Those graves remind us of service and sacrifice in a common cause to preserve our institutions and to keep alive our common hope for a brighter future. We will remember that the sacrifice in that common cause continued after those great wars were brought to an end, and continues today—sacrifice of life, of mental health and of emotional well-being.
Watching the business of the House and the range of expertise and experience your Lordships bring to the scrutiny of that business, I am conscious of the honour done to me by admission to your number. I am conscious, too, that I have no family history of service in this place, as do some of your Lordships, and that I have been appointed to my place, whereas many of your Lordships come here after having sought and won popular mandates from electors, whether in local or devolved government or in the other place. But I seek to assure your Lordships that in my role as law officer, I will seek not only to uphold the law but to try to maintain the spirit and traditions of your Lordships’ House.
The legislation we bring forward is a necessary piece of legislation; it will ensure that our intelligence agencies, law enforcement bodies and those public authorities that also have vital investigative functions are able to continue to deploy tools they need to keep us safe from harm and to prevent serious crime. The recent incidents in Nice and Vienna, and the increase in the threat level here in the UK, show that the need for robust tools with which to tackle terrorism remains as important as ever.
Covert human intelligence sources—I will use the convenient, if inelegant, acronym, CHIS—are agents: undercover officers who help to secure prosecutions by infiltrating criminal and terrorist groups. This technique has been used to disrupt terrorist plots, including one by Zakariyah Rahman against the then Prime Minister in 2017; drugs offences, including enabling the largest ever seizure of heroin destined for the United Kingdom in 2019; and child sexual exploitation and abuse, including attempts by individuals to take indecent images of children.
It is appropriate to reflect today on the role that our intelligence agencies play in war and conflict. A notable success of the intelligence agencies was the discovery and arrest of German spies in the United Kingdom at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914—a success built on the effective use of what we now call CHIS, alongside other techniques. The courage and ingenuity of the double-cross network, a CHIS network which did much to protect allied lives in the Second World War, often at grave cost, comes to mind also as we pause to remember today.
In order to build credibility and the trust of those under investigation, there are occasions where CHIS may need to participate in criminality themselves. This is an inescapable feature of CHIS use. Without this, it would not be possible to utilise CHIS as an intelligence tactic. The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill seeks to ensure that there is a clear and consistent statutory basis to authorise participation in conduct which could otherwise be criminal, where this is necessary and proportionate to what is sought to be achieved. Let me say at the outset that the purpose of this Bill is not to extend the range of activity which public authorities are able to authorise—the Bill does not do this.
The Bill amends the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to provide an express power to authorise CHIS to participate in conduct that, but for the authorisation, could be criminal. This is known as a criminal conduct authorisation. The effect of an authorisation is to make the conduct lawful for all purposes. I recognise that this is a departure from the existing approach, whereby authorised criminality can still be considered for prosecution by the prosecution services. This approach is a deliberate policy decision. It aligns with other investigatory powers and the approach taken elsewhere in RIPA, including other CHIS authorisations. It also provides greater certainty for CHIS that they will not be prosecuted for activity the state has asked them to commit. We think it is right and fair to provide this certainty, and it may also help to recruit and retain CHIS in the future and maximise the intelligence we can gather through this technique.
Of course, this is not a blanket immunity from any criminal prosecution. Criminal conduct authorisations are tightly bound with strict parameters which are clearly communicated to the CHIS. A CHIS will never be given authority to participate in all or any criminality and were they to engage in criminality beyond their authorisation they could be prosecuted in the usual way.
While it is right to provide this certainty to CHIS and to their handlers, it is of course important—vital—that this is subject to robust and independent safeguards. Let me briefly set out how the Bill ensures this.
All authorisations are granted by an experienced and highly trained authorising officer, who will ensure that the authorisation has strict parameters and is clearly communicated to the CHIS. Authorising officers have clear and detailed guidance that they must follow in deciding whether to grant an authorisation. We have published draft updates to the code of practice alongside this Bill that sets out some of that detail. I encourage all noble Lords to read that. The updates to the code will be subject to a full consultation and debate in both Houses in due course.
Authorisations are then subject to robust, independent oversight by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner—the IPC—who conducts regular and thorough inspections of all public authorities and published an annual report of his findings. The IPC sets the frequency of these inspections himself, and public authorities must provide unfettered access to documents and information. The IPC will report on the use of criminal conduct authorisations in his annual report, and this will identify any errors, provide statistics on the use of the tactic and may identify whether there are any training needs. Public authorities must take steps to implement recommendations given by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office—IPCO—with progress assessed at the next inspection. The IPC also has powers to provide independent remedy; for instance, to inform a person if they have been the subject of a serious error, or to refer a matter to the independent Investigatory Powers Tribunal.
I know that some will think that we need to enhance the role of the IPC in this process. The Government are committed to ensuring that there is robust oversight of criminal conduct authorisations, but that this is not at the expense of ensuring that the tactic remains operationally workable and reflects the live and complex human elements of CHIS, which we do not see in our other investigatory powers. For this reason, we do not think that prior judicial approval is appropriate for this tactic and believe that the authorising role best sits with the highly trained authorising officer within the public authority, as it does at present. The authorising officer will be able to consider the necessity and proportionality of the conduct, but will also consider the safety of the CHIS and the human element of the specific situation. The IPC then provides an important retrospective oversight function, which I have set out.
I want also to draw attention to the additional safeguards in place for vulnerable individuals and juveniles. These safeguards are clearly set out in the CHIS code of practice. It makes clear, for example, that juveniles or those who are vulnerable are authorised as CHIS only in exceptional circumstances. However, there may be occasions when these individuals are able to provide intelligence to disrupt criminal groups. I know that might sound uncomfortable, but it might be necessary to stop criminal groups continuing to exploit those individuals and prevent anyone else being drawn into them. In these instances, significant additional safeguards are in place to ensure that the best interests of the juvenile are a primary consideration in all operations. Those are set out in detail in the code of practice, which has legal force and includes a requirement for an appropriate adult to be present at all meetings where a CHIS is under the age of 16 and to be considered for 16 and 17 year-olds, and the rationale documented if an appropriate adult is not present.
I turn briefly to the upper limits of conduct that can be authorised. These are contained in the Human Rights Act 1998. It is unlawful for any public authority to act in a way incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and the legislation makes clear that nothing in the Bill detracts from a public authority’s obligations under the Human Rights Act. We have not drawn up a list of specific crimes that may be authorised or prohibited as to do so would place into the hands of criminals, terrorists and hostile states a means of identifying a CHIS, creating a checklist for suspected CHIS to be tested against. That would threaten the future of CHIS capability and result in an increased threat to the public. We have taken this approach in response to a detailed assessment of the specific threats we face in this country. No two countries face the same threat picture or, indeed, have identical legal systems. In particular, we must consider the specific counterterrorist effort in Northern Ireland. However, through the safeguards and the independent oversight that sits alongside an authorisation, there are checks in place to ensure that no activity is authorised that is in breach of human rights obligations or, indeed, activity that is not necessary or proportionate.
Let me, finally, just pause on the list public authorities that can authorise this activity. The number of public authorities able to authorise this conduct has been restricted from those that can authorise the use and conduct of CHIS generally. We expect wider public authorities to be low-volume users of this power because an authorisation can be granted only where it is necessary and proportionate to what is sought to be achieved. However, there will be occasions where CHIS play a critical role in providing the intelligence needed for these wider public authorities to identify and prevent criminal activity. These authorisations will be subject to the same safeguards and independent oversight I have already outlined, including by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. We have published case studies that give examples of the use of this tactic by wider public authorities. I give the example of where the Food Standards Agency may authorise a CHIS to participate in criminal conduct. This may relate to the relabelling of produce to misrepresent its quality and fitness for consumption. Those are criminal offences, but by authorising a CHIS to participate in this activity the Food Standards Agency might be able to gather intelligence to seize unfit produce and identify those responsible for the fraudulent activity.
It has been a pleasure to make my maiden remarks on this issue. I am of the strong view that this Bill is both necessary to ensure that our operational agencies are able to keep us safe, and welcome in that it provides legal clarity through an express power and sets out the robust safeguards to ensure that an authorisation is tightly bound, necessary and proportionate. CHIS do a difficult and important job in providing intelligence that other investigatory tools cannot access. This Bill provides certainty that operational agencies can continue to utilise this tactic and that they are able to best ensure that they keep us all safe. I beg to move.
I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, for his clear explanation of the content and purpose of the Bill. I congratulate him on this, in his fine maiden speech, which I know the House will have appreciated and enjoyed. The noble and learned Lord specialises in criminal law and has already had a distinguished legal career, being called to the Bar in 1993, appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2011 and, last month, being appointed Advocate-General for Scotland, succeeding the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie.
The noble and learned Lord’s title is, as I said, Lord Stewart of Dirleton. Dirleton, near North Berwick, is, as he said, in one of the many beautiful and scenic parts of Scotland, by the coast and adjacent to one of the best-known golf courses in the world: Muirfield. I found his references to the village of Dirleton both interesting and moving.
The noble and learned Lord has joined the relatively small group who have made their maiden speech as a Minister at the Dispatch Box. We welcome him most warmly to this House and look forward to what I am sure will be many further thoughtful and compelling contributions from the Dispatch Box.
Security is a top priority for us. Our first responsibility is to keep this country and our citizens safe. We recognise the importance of our police and security services, including the National Crime Agency, and thank them for the vital work they undertake on our behalf. We also recognise the importance of covert human intelligence sources and the results they achieve. The director-general of MI5 has said:
“Since March 2017, MI5 and Counter-Terrorism Police have together thwarted 27 terror attacks. Without the contribution of human agents, be in no doubt, many of these attacks would not have been prevented”.
In other words, this kind of activity and operation is saving lives by stopping terrorist attacks on our citizens.
The data available also indicates that in 2018, for example, covert human intelligence operations disrupted threats to life, led to the seizure of thousands of kilograms of class A drugs, safeguarded more than 200 vulnerable people, and took firearms and rounds of ammunition off the streets. Covert human intelligence operations also play a significant role in stemming and preventing vile crimes such as child sexual exploitation, and organised black markets in, for example, vital medicine.
The activity the Bill deals with is not new: it has been taking place under existing practices for years. The Bill provides the statutory footing and increased oversight that have so far been missing.
It is well understood that in order to achieve their objective of protecting our citizens from acts of terrorism and vulnerable people from other awful crimes, covert human intelligence sources may need to commit criminal conduct. Being embedded in a proscribed organisation is, of course, an offence in itself. Such activity must be tightly controlled, but it is necessary to achieve the successful infiltration of the activities of criminal and terrorist organisations and networks to gather intelligence and to thwart or bring an end to their activities.
This vital and necessary activity cannot continue in the shadows without boundaries and safeguards. We acknowledge the importance and necessity of putting covert human intelligence sources activity on a proper statutory footing, and we strongly support that aim. This is not the first piece of legislation that brings activities that have been going on in the shadows into a statutory and regulated framework. The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 had a similar purpose in relation to surveillance and phone tapping, and the Bribery Act 2010 also provided for the authorisation of criminal acts in pursuit of those involved in crimes covered by the terms of that Act.
The crucial issues for this Bill are those of safeguards and oversight. We will be pushing to introduce proper oversight, increased scrutiny and further legal protections into the Bill. The question of safeguards and checks on activity of this kind is a serious issue for any democratic society. It is vital, too, that there is public confidence in how our security services and other agencies that use covert human intelligence sources are exercising the power of authorised criminal conduct.
We also have to be clear about what we expect of those engaged in covert human intelligence activity, the standards we should set and how we expect them to be implemented. We recognise that the Human Rights Act is mentioned on the face of the Bill, and that no authorisation should be made in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. The accompanying memorandum to the Bill states:
“Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 makes it unlawful for public authorities to act in a way which is incompatible with Convention rights. Nothing in this Bill detracts from that fundamental position. Authorising authorities are not permitted by this Bill to authorise conduct which would constitute or entail a breach of those rights.”
We will, however, be pressing the Government to go further and will be tabling an amendment, based on the Canada model, to put explicit limits on what can be authorised by placing protections against the most serious crimes, including murder, torture, and sexual violence, in the Bill.
The Government need to make it clear beyond any doubt that the activities of covert human intelligence sources under this Bill are not, and will not ever be, free from Human Rights Act considerations and that there will not be any deliberate attempts to prevent the Human Rights Act from coming into play.
We will be seeking to strengthen both prior and post-authorisation oversight. As it stands, the Bill provides for self-authorisation by an agency of criminal conduct. There is no need to obtain a warrant, for example, beforehand. I am conscious of what the noble and learned Lord said, but we have areas of law at present where judges are available 24 hours a day, and we will pursue the issue of prior judicial oversight in respect of this Bill.
As drafted, the Bill requires the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to include information about public authorities’ use of criminal conduct authorisations in the annual report, including statistics on the use of the power, the operation of safeguards and errors.
It is not sufficient for this somewhat vague requirement to be on an annual basis. Every authorisation should be notified to the commissioner within a few days, and the Intelligence and Security Committee should have more detail about the use of the powers under the Bill, and in what context, if there is to be meaningful reassurance to the public on the operation of safeguards and the use of the powers. We will be tabling amendments on these issues.
The Bill provides that authorisations for participation in criminal conduct may be granted only if it is necessary in the interests of national security; for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or of preventing disorder; or in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom. We need to have clarity about what is within the scope of that framework of the necessity criteria, which cannot and should not encompass any lawful activity, including legitimate trade union activity. We will be pursuing this issue in Committee.
There is also a proportionality test in respect of authorisations for participation in criminal conduct. What must be considered before deciding if an authorisation would be proportionate is covered in the code of practice. There is a question, however, of whether those required considerations should not be strengthened by being written into the Bill—a point that might be relevant to other parts of the code of practice.
On the impact of the Bill on those affected by it, we will be pursuing the issue of the safety of juveniles and vulnerable people acting as covert human intelligence sources. We will also want to be satisfied that there are measures in place to prevent a disproportionate gendered impact, or impact on black, Asian and ethnic-minority communities, of the use of the powers under the Bill.
The issue of a route for redress and civil claims for wholly innocent victims is one we will also be raising in Committee. While those most likely to be affected by the criminal conduct of a covert human intelligence source are those with whom an agent is engaging in order to thwart criminality, there will inevitably be occasions when a wholly innocent person ends up with a material loss as a consequence of the actions of a covert human intelligence source. In addition, we will also want to be satisfied of the necessity for the non-security agencies covered by the Bill to have the power to authorise criminal conduct by covert human intelligence sources.
This is not a retrospective Bill but it has to be made clear that those seeking justice for what has happened in the past can still do so. There is an ongoing inquiry into undercover policing chaired by Sir John Mitting. Its recommendations should be implemented and victims should not be denied access to justice. Likewise, we are committed to a full independent public inquiry into the events at the Orgreave coking plant in June 1984. There are also outstanding issues in relation to the unlawful blacklisting scandal and the finding of the Metropolitan Police’s internal investigation that,
“on the balance of probabilities, the allegation that the police or special branches supplied information is ‘proven’.”
The kind of powers that the Bill covers and their use need to be on the statute book and not, as now, be powers in the shadows.
We are committed to keeping our people and our country safe. To deliver that, law enforcement bodies and our security services have to be able to carry out their vital and necessary work, which includes the activities of covert human intelligence sources and the authorisation of criminal conduct to which the Bill relates. We are mindful that public confidence in our law enforcement and security agencies is dependent on their proven ability to protect us from acts of terrorism and other vile crimes
We will be seeking to improve the Bill, particularly on the vital issue of strengthening safeguards and oversight so that the public can also have full confidence in the covert human intelligence process and how it is being implemented, including the manner and purpose for which the powers are being used on behalf of all of us.
My Lords, I too welcome the noble and learned Lord to this House and congratulate him on his maiden speech and appointment as Advocate-General for Scotland. If noble Lords think that he has been put into bat a little early, I can reassure him that I made my maiden speech the day after my introduction; needs must when the devil drives.
First, I should perhaps explain my experience on these issues. When I was in the police, we used to call most covert human intelligence sources “informants”, who were mainly criminals recruited and run by “handlers”. The way in which handlers used, rewarded and authorised informants to participate in crime was controlled by “controllers”. I used to be a controller. I also had the enormous privilege of visiting MI6 and GCHQ to be briefed on the work of all the security services as part of this House’s consideration of the then Investigatory Powers Bill, including examples of who their CHIS were and how they were recruited and used.
Secondly, I came to my own conclusions about this Bill, having read the Investigatory Powers Tribunal judgment dated 20 December 2019 that prompted it. I am grateful for the briefings from Justice, Reprieve and the NUJ, among others, some of which I agree with and other aspects I do not.
There are two fundamental issues in the Bill on which the Government have, to date, not been as clear as they could be. The first is that it is not just about one issue, and it certainly does not simply maintain the status quo, as the Government have suggested. The reason for the Bill is to give absolute legal clarity that handlers can authorise their covert human intelligence sources to participate in crime. They have been doing that with little difficulty for decades but the Investigatory Powers Tribunal’s split decision called into question whether there was any legal authority for the police and the security services to authorise CHIS to commit crime. If providing that legal authority was all that the Bill did, it would maintain the status quo and I would have no argument with it.
Of course there are peripheral issues that the Bill provides an opportunity for us to address, but on providing legal authority for participating informants, as we used to call them, or criminal conduct authorities as they are now called, there is no argument and I will support the Bill in that respect.
The Bill, however, goes much further—unacceptably far—and makes everything that the covert human intelligence source is authorised to do by the criminal conduct authority “lawful for all purposes”, including immunity from civil liability, and including any conduct that is incidental to what CHIS are authorised to do. For example, had the Bill been in force at the time, the undercover police officer who was authorised to form a relationship with an environmental activist could have argued that sleeping with her was “incidental to” what he had been authorised to do, and that he therefore could not be sued.
The status quo is the following: the Crown Prosecution Service examines what happens in such cases after the event, and independently decides whether a crime has been committed, whether there is a 51% or more chance of conviction, and whether prosecution is in the public interest. Rarely—the Government’s position is never—does the Director of Public Prosecutions grant immunity to a CHIS prior to the event. To date, the status quo has rarely, if ever, caused any problems. It has been put to me that the status quo does cause problems, in that sometimes, when a handler asks an informant to participate in crime, the criminal concerned backs away because they want a promise of immunity in writing, and the handler cannot give it. We need to examine carefully and in detail whether such a cast-iron guarantee is necessary or desirable.
This Bill as drafted would allow a police officer or member of the security services, with no independent judicial oversight, to grant total immunity to a criminal to participate in an armed robbery, for example. Rarely, if ever, would immunity not be given prior to the CHIS being asked to participate in crime—a complete reversal of the status quo. At the moment, the CPS almost always decides that it is not in the public interest to prosecute in such cases, but the Bill makes anything done in accordance with a criminal conduct authority not a crime. What is in law a criminal act becomes a lawful act for the person authorised that would no longer rest on the public interest test. This is not preserving the status quo by any stretch of the imagination.
The Government will tell us that that is akin to granting immunity to those involved in the interception of communications and, indeed, immunity is to be provided by the same section of the same Act that makes properly authorised communications interception “legal for all purposes”. However, interception of communications has to be authorised by a Minister of State in advance, having already been approved by an Investigatory Powers Commissioner against someone suspected of the most serious criminality.
However, under this Act, authorising a criminal to take part in an armed robbery, in which innocent people could be seriously injured, will not be done in advance by anyone outside the police. Even officials in the Home Office, potentially on instruction from government Ministers, could otherwise grant immunity to someone to commit crime, with no prior judicial oversight and little post-event scrutiny. Is that what we want?
The second major issue about which the Government have not been clear is who these covert human intelligence sources are. In their briefings, the Government have placed the emphasis on CHIS being undercover police officers or officers of the security services working undercover. The majority of covert human intelligence sources are criminals, members of terrorist organisations and drug gangs, or those inside other organisations that the police or security services have a legitimate interest in. This legislation, as drafted, will predominantly protect criminals, not undercover cops.
Other safeguards are needed, such as to prevent CHIS from acting as agent provocateurs and to protect child CHIS. We must carefully scrutinise which authorities can grant immunity. Other matters, considered in the other place and recommended by NGOs, such as prior authorisation and limitations on what crimes can be authorised, would be necessary only if the immunity provision remains part of the Bill. It should not remain part of the Bill. This is not a party-political issue; this is a rule of law issue. We have a lot of work to do.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for his thought-provoking speech. I welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, and look forward to many contributions from him in the future. I particularly welcome a fellow criminal lawyer to a senior role here. His maiden speech was both elegant and bucolic.
The proportionate use of CHIS is a necessary component of the fight against terrorism and other serious crimes, including people trafficking and modern slavery. A group of operational case studies has been tabled by the Home Office to accompany this Bill. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for the part that she has played in ensuring that those case studies appeared and for providing as much openness as possible for our debates on the Bill, consistent with legitimate national security considerations.
As we heard, a major inquiry is currently investigating undercover policing. It enjoys the wise leadership of Sir John Mitting. Under examination of the activities of individual police officers and professional managers, this Bill provides a framework—a rulebook—that makes it clear that participating informants of and in crime, including those committing some crime, must be subject to full and rigorous control in the future, and that the use of CHIS is controlled in all circumstances.
No more can there be room for sometimes extraordinarily casual and inexcusably pragmatic decisions which allow vulnerable people to continue to be involved in, and at the same time be victims of, serious crime. The CHIS draft revised code of practice, published in September, is a model of its kind, and I hope your Lordships have read it. It is essential reading for this debate.
Subject to two reservations, the Bill, the code and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office should provide a clear foundation for the proper use of CHIS in the future. I urge your Lordships not to be confused about IPCO’s role. It should be a prompt and rigorous regulator. It should not be transposed to a real-time, operational approval agency. That is not its intended role and, frankly, not its expertise. The Bar Council says that, in respect of criminal contact with the security and intelligence services,
“this Bill is a welcome regularisation of activity which was previously lawful but for which the power and mode of authorisation was opaque and outside the system of quasi-judicial scrutiny which otherwise oversees all intelligence and surveillance activities of agents of the state. It serves to reinforce the rule of law.”
I have two reservations, which Her Majesty’s Government must address. First, amendments to the Bill can ensure that IPCO’s scrutiny role will be accelerated, so that any breaches of the Act and code are negated within the minimum practical full-time period, and it certainly does not have to wait for an annual report. Secondly, in relation to CHIS aged under 18, of which there have been very few, the youngest being 15 years old, I agree with the organisation Justice that authority to commit criminal conduct should be limited to truly exceptional and necessary circumstances, with clear and proactive measures to protect the child’s welfare. All that must be achieved within the provisions and correct interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
I look forward to Committee, which promises improvement of an already very welcome Bill.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, to his office and to his place in this House. We are both members of the Faculty of Advocates, and I am delighted by his present appointment. I am unable to comment on the full state of his speech because I gather that some parts of it were constrained, but I congratulate him warmly on that passage which was his own, and which, as has been said, contained some very moving matters relating to the village of Dirleton, which I know well. I look forward to many contributions from him in this House, and hope and pray that he enjoys his tenure here.
It is with a certain amount of nostalgia that I take part in this Second Reading. In 1992, I was responsible for the first reference in Parliament to a Bill concerning the security and intelligence services, on the invitation of my good friend Lord Hurd of Westwell. I am very sorry that for a long time he has been unable to participate in the business of this House.
I have tried to look at this matter in a somewhat theoretical way, and I entirely accept that much must be discussed in Committee, but it is clear that criminal organisations depend for their success on elaborate machinations, which they strongly endeavour to keep secret. To overcome this secrecy, the forces of law and order have found it necessary to enable covert human representatives to infiltrate these machinations, or to participate in them, thus appearing to breach criminal law.
Apart from a few statutory offences, our criminal law requires, as an essential to conviction, that the accused is motivated by a criminal intention. It is clear that a covert representative of law and order has no such motivation and, therefore, is not guilty of a criminal offence when he or she infiltrates or participates in a criminal operation for the pure purpose of investigating or bringing it to conclusion. Again, it is clear that such an activity may involve danger, and it is obviously right that he or she should not face, as an additional danger, a risk of prosecution. This Bill is a clear and systematic way of obviating that risk—even in a case where the statute which is relevant to the operation does not require a criminal intention for its breach. I support this Bill wholeheartedly, subject to the many detailed considerations already mentioned by your Lordships, which I certainly agree should be thoroughly considered. My point is that, if the real intention of the convert human intelligence is for the purpose of investigating and stopping the criminal activity concerned, they do not have a criminal intention.
My Lords, I too would like to welcome the noble and learned Minister to the House and to his new role. Not many find their maiden speech to be that of introducing a Bill to the House, and I congratulate him on the necessarily blended speech.
I welcome the Government’s move to provide a statutory basis for covert human intelligence sources to participate in criminal conduct, where it is necessary and proportionate to do so for a limited set of specified purposes. We recognise the heavy duty placed on government to protect its citizens, and this Bill is a necessary step so that those undertaking these activities with a view to protecting the public can be clear in their status and duties.
However, while welcoming the intent behind this Bill, I am concerned that safeguards should be properly scrutinised, in particular when they concern the treatment of children. Sadly, we know that children are used and abused in evils such as county lines, child sexual abuse and other serious crimes. In facing these, there is an understandable temptation, however small, to make use of children as assets for the forces of law and order. We should never lose sight of the fact this places and keeps children in situations of harm and of increased risk. The primary concern must always be that, when children find themselves in vulnerable situations, we look after them as children first and foremost rather than assets for fighting organised crime. We must guard against the temptation to undermine that essential principle in the pursuit of security. Regardless of the children’s age—I note that they are usually 15, 16 and 17 and few in number—we must still treat them as legally children. They are not to be used and must be protected.
Therefore, how can using a child as a CHIS and in doing so placing them at greater risk of harm ever be in their best interest? Allowing these children to act illegally only worsens this. It is preferable for children never to be used. I am confident that the majority of noble Lords would agree, including the Minister. However, I recognise that there may be rare instances in which children are being used. If this is to be the case, then fixed protections need to be put in place. Although there are guidelines in the code of practice for children used as CHIS, this requirement should be made statutory so that there is sufficient legal weight. Vague phrases like “exceptional circumstances” must be met with explanation and guidance rather than leaving it open for interpretation and even manipulation.
We trust our law enforcement agencies to act within the law, but we must protect them from themselves when the temptation arises to use children for what appears a greater good. It is unfair on those agencies not to provide clear legal parameters by which they must operate. Let us not settle for compromising the safety of children for the pursuit of a safer nation, for is it not for those very vulnerable children for whom we seek to create this safer nation? If on rare occasions children are to be used as covert human intelligence sources, there must be clear and meaningful safeguards set out in statute. I will be looking in Committee to support amendments in this space.
My Lords, I too welcome the Minister to this House. To declare an interest, I am what is described as a “non-police, non-state core participant” in the Undercover Policing Inquiry, and I am due to give evidence early next year. I was targeted by undercover officers for some 30 years, including when I was an MP. But what troubles me most are the clear abuses practised by undercover officers involving people I know well.
Ecological activist Kate Wilson is not a criminal. She is a principled radical activist. She was at primary school in London with my two sons. Our families shared holidays and often visited each other’s homes. She was targeted by undercover officer Mark Kennedy, who formed an intimate and what she described afterwards as abusive relationship with her over seven years. He even reported back to his superiors on contacts with my family when I was a Cabinet Minister. Why were police targeting Kate instead of drug barons, human traffickers, criminals and terrorists?
Doreen Lawrence, now my noble friend Lady Lawrence, was a law-abiding citizen when her family’s campaign to discover the truth about her son Stephen’s brutal racist murder was infiltrated by undercover officers. Why were they not targeting the racist criminals responsible for Stephen’s murder?
Undercover officers attended anti-apartheid meetings in my parents’ living room from 1969 through the early 1970s and reported back that I was a speaker at anti-racist meetings when I was an MP in the early 1990s. Why were they not targeting those responsible for, among other things, crimes in London of fire bombing and murder by the oppressive actions of the apartheid state? Why did they show no interest whatsoever in discovering who in South Africa’s Bureau of State Security was responsible for sending me a letter bomb in June 1972 capable of blowing my family and our south-west London home to smithereens were it not for a technical fault in the trigger mechanism?
In each of these cases, the police were on the wrong side of justice, on the wrong side of the law and on the wrong side of history: infiltrating the family of a climate change activist instead of helping combat climate change; covering up for a racist murder instead of catching the murderers; harassing anti-apartheid activists campaigning for Nelson Mandela’s freedom instead of pursuing crimes by the apartheid state.
Fortunately, Kate Wilson’s early eco-activism helped make climate change an international treaty. We stopped the 1970 all-white South African cricket tour; we helped bring down apartheid; and Nelson Mandela went on to be elected President. The Anti-Nazi League, of which I was a founding national officer, succeeded in destroying the fascist, racist National Front. But why were undercover police officers trying to disrupt us, diverting precious police resources away from catching real criminals?
However, perhaps I differ from other core participants in the inquiry because I do believe there can be a need for undercover officers. When I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 2005 to 2007, I met undercover officers doing brave work trying to prevent dissident IRA splinter groups from killing and bombing. I also signed surveillance warrants to prevent Islamist terrorists bombing London and was aware of vital undercover work around their cells.
But where to draw the line—if indeed, it is possible to do so? How do you stop that sort of legitimate undercover police or intelligence work sliding over into the illegitimate? Counterterrorism police recently putting non-violent Extinction Rebellion on their list of terrorist groups hardly inspires confidence. Why does this Bill not even begin to answer any of these key questions?
My Lords, speaking from Berwick-upon-Tweed, it is a pleasure to welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, from just up the road in Dirleton. I wish him well in the House.
My interest in this Bill is as a former member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I am in no doubt at all that human intelligence continues to be essential in preventing terrorist attacks, disrupting violent criminal gangs and tracking down prolific sex offenders. I also accept that law-breaking is inevitably a feature of some of those from whom we get human intelligence. In my mind, there is a distinction to be drawn—the noble Lord, Lord Hain, touched on this—between two different kinds of sources. One is described by intelligence services as an “agent” but, as my noble friend pointed out, by police as an “informant”. This is usually a person already involved in a terrorist, criminal or hostile state activity who has turned, induced to give information that may save lives, but they cannot retain their cover among people involved in that activity if they refuse to participate in anything that is against the law.
The other scenario is the undercover police officer who is sent to infiltrate an organisation but is still accountable to the police force for his or her actions. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, pointed to some of the dangers that arise from the misuse of that sometimes necessary process. However, all these activities require some legislative basis. A nod and a wink that, if the intelligence is good, they might not be prosecuted is not adequate, but a general immunity also presents problems, as my noble friend Lord Paddick made clear. Therefore, the Bill is necessary, but it requires further scrutiny and amendment to deal with some of the issues in it, and I want to pick out some of the main concerns.
First, there is a strong case for prior authorisation by a judge of all but the most urgent cases. If it is needed for interception or for a simple search warrant, how much more is it needed for a criminal act—perhaps a serious criminal act?
Secondly, I am unhappy with the range of organisations in the list. If we have to include bodies such as the Food Standards Agency, which sometimes has a need for human intelligence, then ought they not to have to refer to the police and get authorisation from them or from some other external body? The authorising process is so far from the central nature of their activities that it does not seem to me a satisfactory basis for their inclusion.
Thirdly, I have long had concerns about the term “economic well-being”, which features in the Bill. It is very familiar in intelligence legislation but I do not know of a case in which a court has had to define it. It could include so many things: it can include a systemic threat to our banking and financial system but it can also include a major industrial contract that could account for a lot of jobs in Britain, even perhaps a bid for a major international event to be held here. Where do we draw the line? There is too much uncertainty around that.
My fourth point is that, as well as the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, I would want the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament to review on a continuing basis the ways in which these powers are used. It should not be prevented from doing so by an insistence that the issues raised by this work are strictly operational. They are not; they include moral and ethical issues that require parliamentary scrutiny in a secure form, which is what the ISC is for.
I have one final plea. This Bill is a rewrite of RIPA 2000 and the Scottish equivalent legislation. You cannot understand it without a copy of RIPA beside you, so it makes an obvious claim for consolidation as soon as possible. The law really has to be readable and intelligible to those who have to enforce and live by it.
My Lords, I join others in welcoming the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, and congratulating him on an excellent maiden speech. In a crystal clear exposition of the Bill, he reminded us that the use in exceptional circumstances of children as covert sources, including those as young as 15, is already covered by law. This Bill would allow for them to be authorised, in exceptional circumstances that continue to be undefined, to commit criminal offences in order to integrate themselves into groups under investigation and provide intelligence that would not otherwise be available.
I am not the first today, nor will I be the last, to express concerns about the use of children as mechanisms for intelligence gathering, however valuable that intelligence might be. It stands in direct contradiction to what should always be our intention, which is to remove children from situations and relationships that promote criminality, and it almost certainly involves children from already disadvantaged backgrounds, further widening the inequalities between the lives and long-term outcomes of those who have and those who have not. We know that criminals prey upon vulnerable individuals, including children, using their vulnerability as a shield against law enforcement. It seems extraordinary that, rather than ending this exploitation, the law itself would become the next perpetrator of continued abuse through the recruitment of children and vulnerable individuals as CHIS. I argue that they should never be used in this way but, if they are, as the law already allows, every possible safeguard needs to be in place.
The revised code of practice includes several welcome improvements, but there are areas that still need to be strengthened. Clarity is needed on what constitutes an “exceptional circumstance”, and the code should be clear that the protection of an appropriate adult must be available to all children under 18, rather than on a case-by-case basis, as is proposed. This appropriate adult provision is standard practice for police interviews, even for the most minor transgressions. It cannot be right to fail to provide this support when children are taking the serious decision on whether to place themselves in harm’s way.
The revisions to the code add considerably to the section on juvenile sources but not to that relating to vulnerable individuals. The definition of a vulnerable adult fails to include victims of slavery or trafficking. Although paragraph 4.6 of the code stipulates that there must be an assessment of the juvenile’s ability to give informed consent, there is no such stipulation when it comes to vulnerable adults. Anti-Slavery International has questioned the extent to which someone who has been trafficked or exploited is able to give this informed consent, given their traumatic experiences of manipulation and control, and the long-term impact that this can have on their ability to make independent decisions.
There is also no reference in the code of practice to mental capacity and the ability of someone with impaired mental capacity to consent to acting as a CHIS. As mental capacity is not universal but specific to a given decision, and as it can change over time, it presents particular challenges and needs to be specifically covered. This omission is yet another example of legislation and statutory guidance failing to make provision in relation to mental capacity. I would be grateful if, in responding, the Minister could confirm that this omission will be reviewed.
I know that there will be some who argue that these safeguards are best placed in the code of practice rather than on the face of the Bill, but putting them on a statutory footing would send out a clear and unequivocal message about the importance that we place on our responsibility to protect children and the most vulnerable in our society. They are already a target for exploitation by criminals and they should be able to rely on the state, not only for protection but to help break a cycle of abuse that will otherwise echo on through the course of their lives.
My Lords, first, I too congratulate my noble and learned friend the Minister on his maiden speech and welcome him to the House and, indeed, to the Dispatch Box.
It is just over a year since I made my valedictory speech in the House of Commons, on 5 November. I was first elected to the House of Commons in 1986 with a majority of 100. I particularly want to bring that out today because, of course, it is 100 years ago today that the Cenotaph was unveiled and King George V was present in the laying to rest at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey. We must always think of the sacrifices that those people made to enable us to be here today—to debate in this Chamber and in the other place.
I say a very special thanks to all those who have welcomed me to the House of Lords and made my transition here so very easy. I particularly thank Black Rod, the doorkeepers and all the staff of the House in what are very difficult times.
I thank my two sponsors as well; it is easy for me to do so. I first came across my noble friend Lord Cormack some 50 years ago. He had the biggest swing in the country and won a seat called Cannock, where I was at Cardinal Griffin school. He visited all the schools and invited them to the Houses of Parliament. It was on that trip that I thought to myself, “One day, I’d really like to come back as a Member of Parliament”, never expecting really to be able to do so. I am grateful to him for that. It was not something I thought I would achieve. My father died the day after my seventh birthday, on 1 December 1964, and my mother worked in a factory in Wolverhampton and brought the family up as a single mother from then on. I went to work at Littleton colliery, where my father and grandfather had worked before me. Becoming an MP was a dream that I did not expect I would be able to fulfil.
I very much regret the current situation we find ourselves in. One thing I really miss is seeing people visiting both Houses of Parliament and I look forward to the time when that can be restored.
My other sponsor was my noble friend Lord Randall. We do not go back quite so far as those 50 years, but we have been working in Parliament for more than 20 years from when he first joined the Whips’ Office. He eventually became Deputy Chief Whip when I was Chief Whip in the coalition. He would always speak very truthfully to me about what he thought we should be doing. It was a great pleasure for me to ask him to be one of my sponsors when I came into the House. We worked consistently together during that period, although he was for a short time not in the Whips’ Office having voted against the Iraq war.
I loved my time in the Whips’ Office; it was a great pleasure to be there. I did it for some 17 years. David Cameron then asked me to go back to the Department for Transport, in which I started as a junior Minister in 1989. To go back there as the Secretary of State in 2012 was a great honour. I had four years there and it was a tremendous privilege. When I first got there, I was in favour of HS2; I became more strongly in favour of it the more I went into the detail about the need to increase capacity in this country.
In January this year, I applied to become chairman of the British Tourist Authority; it was an appointment I took up. The scene was very different then. Tourism is a very important industry in our country. I look forward to us being able to restore it to its rightful place with the very difficult challenges that it has to face.
I will deal with the Bill. One body I met when I was Secretary of State for Transport was the armed unit of the British Transport Police. The pressure that we put on our police services and our officers in the front line is immense. It is our duty to do everything we can to help them. I too have some slight concerns about the number of bodies covered by the Bill, which seem to go a bit wider, but I am sure that will be addressed in Committee.
For somebody from my background to join your Lordships’ House is an immense privilege. I look at the House, listen to the wide variety of views and see the diversity of where its Members come from. I realise that the experience and knowledge in the House add greatly to our national debate. I hope that in the years to come I can continue adding to that debate as well, always appreciating that we are an appointed House and that the House of Commons is an elected one.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to be the first to commend my noble friend on his maiden speech. For much of his parliamentary career in the other place, he was in the Whips’ Office, notching up a record 17 Trappist years. That meant that we were deprived of his views in the Chamber on public affairs, although he could be more forthcoming in private. Happily, he faces no similar vow of silence in your Lordships’ House, and we look forward to him catching up on those lost 17 years. How appropriate that, as a former Government Chief Whip and master of the dark arts, he should make his maiden speech on a Bill dealing with covert intelligence and the infiltration by agents of the Executive of political activists seeking to do harm to the Government—though I doubt whether in furtherance of that cause he entered into any long-term relationships with Christopher Chope or Philip Davies.
My noble friend was Chief Whip during the coalition, which was probably at its strongest in the Whips’ Office, due not least to his capacity to develop good relationships with those from other parties, a talent particularly welcome in the less partisan atmosphere of your Lordships’ House. He brings to the House a deep affection for Parliament, as we have just heard. He is also chairman of the British Tourist Authority and a former Transport Secretary and will bring an informed view to our debates on those matters, among many others. We look forward to his future contributions.
I do not have any fundamental objections to the Bill but, along with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, I have reservations about its impact on children. Along with other noble Lords, I am grateful to Jennifer Twite and Just for Kids Law for their briefing on the Bill last Friday. I was struck particularly by the evidence of Neil Woods, a former undercover police officer with experience of being a CHIS and handling them. He made two points: first, that 95% of the use of CHIS in his experience was targeted on the drugs trade and, secondly, because county lines were using children as a means of distribution, there was growing pressure to use children to infiltrate the gangs and bring those responsible to justice. I note that none of the case studies which the Minister gave us yesterday involved children. However, as gangs use younger and younger children in county lines so there is a risk of a race to the bottom if younger and younger CHIS are then used to inform on them.
That brings me to the only point I want to make in this debate. We need to get the balance right between, on the one hand, the imperatives of enforcing the law and, on the other, protecting children from danger. I am not sure that the Bill and the undefined “exceptional circumstances” in the code take the trick. We heard for example from Neil Woods about the strain on an adult of maintaining deception. What must it be like for a child? Chapter 4 of the draft code is certainly an improvement, but there is no lower limit on the use of children for entrapment. I wonder whether either the Bill or the code will make it clear that there is a lower age limit beyond which children should never be used for CHIS. For example, I find it indefensible that the social worker of a child in care is not told when that child is recruited. How can a local authority discharge its responsibility to a child already failed by its parents if it does not know that the child has been recruited for dangerous activities? I therefore join other noble Lords in hoping that during Committee we can rebalance the Bill and build in better protection for the country’s children.
I join others in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, to this House and commend them on their maiden speeches. I want to say particularly to the noble and learned Lord, who like me is a Scot but also a criminal lawyer, that I hope he will bring his experience of human rights and civil liberties to bear on his work in this House, because we confront that regularly as criminal lawyers and know the importance of those aspects of our work.
I accept that the practice of our intelligence services and police in covert intelligence gathering has to be placed on a clear and consistent statutory footing. Covert agents may need to commit crimes in the course of what they do—I know that from my own work—but I want to reinforce what was said by my noble friend Lord Hain: the agencies involved should stop this business of spying on legitimate protest and lawful political activity, the stuff of which is so vital to a vibrant democracy. It is not the right use of our policing or of our security services.
As I said, agents may need to commit crime, but it cannot be acceptable or right to authorise the gravest of crimes—murder, torture, sexual transgression. Our security partners in the United States and Canada already place limits on the nature of the crimes that agents can commit. Canada recently passed legislation in this area which is worth looking at because it prohibits those serious offences quite clearly. It looked at what had been happening recently here in Britain with the “spy cops” case, which has been referred to a number of times. Women were lured into relationships in order to provide cover for agents joining political movements. Those women were involved in serious relationships over years and then felt abandoned, abused and ill-used because they loved the men who lived with them; one had fathered a woman’s child. This conduct has long-term, damaging effects on people and should be absolutely impermissible. The FBI in the United States learned from bitter experience that being involved in serious criminality had a cost, and it too has introduced clear guidelines.
The Government argue that there is no need for the Bill to include explicit limits on crimes, set out in any sort of list, because the Human Rights Act is a sufficient safeguard. This argument is a bit rich when Her Majesty’s Government have separately stated, in legal court arguments, and to Parliament, that they do not accept that the Human Rights Act applies to abuses committed by their agents.
The Government should not authorise grave crime. Without limits, the Bill may damage the integrity of the criminal law and suggest to the public that the state may tolerate or encourage such abuse. I am afraid that I see this as another display of the Government’s rather casual and light-touch commitment to the rule of law. We should be setting the gold standard for oversight and accountability and I hope that we do. There have to be clear limits on the permissible crimes, a right to redress for those who are abused or harmed in the course of crimes, and real-time oversight by a judicial commissioner or judge. This is serious, it matters, and I hope that the Government will listen.
My Lords, there are times when breaches of the law by agents of the state should be allowed, in order to avoid some horrific harm to society as a whole, but there are some lines which should never be crossed. One such line is the assumption that children, who are often extremely vulnerable, can be used as agents of the state. Children are not pawns on a chessboard to be sacrificed for the greater good of some checkmate against organised criminals.
This country has a shameful record on vulnerable children. I witnessed this at first hand when I spent eight years as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority. It is shameful that, in 2020, children in care are six times more likely to be sexually exploited, and 12 times more likely to be victims of trafficking, than other children. During the passage of the Modern Slavery Act, I sought a separate section specifically to protect children. The committee on the draft Bill had recommended a specific offence that it be illegal to exploit a child, or to obtain benefit from the use of a child for the purpose of exploitation. For reasons which I still fail to comprehend, the Government disagreed. I will, therefore, be seeking to secure specific protections for children on the face of the Bill. As Just for Kids Law, an excellent charity, puts it,
“it is deeply worrying that children are being asked to participate in covert activity associated with serious criminals without fully considering their welfare and best interests. Not only are the authorities using children—some of them under the age of 16—in covert investigations, but oversight in this area is so inadequate that the government isn’t even aware how many children are affected.”
That is, frankly, shocking.
There are girls left in gangs to act as informants who could be subject to all sorts of abuse, and boys left in drug rings who may be compelled to commit crimes which will haunt them for years to come, if not for the rest of their lives. There is also the temptation for police to avoid doing a trafficking referral if they think that the child is of more use as an informant in a gang or extremist environment. The Government say that children are used only if they are already involved in criminal activity. However, this is a classic two-wrongs-make-a-right argument and completely misses the point that many of these children have not chosen a lifestyle of criminality but have been trafficked into the gangs or will have found security in a gang that their home situation does not provide.
The fact that children are already involved in criminal activity is not, and never can be, an excuse for putting them in a position where they may be the victims of violence or asked to engage in it. This House should make that clear. In addition, where children have any involvement in undercover operations, they must benefit from representation by an appropriate adult, right up to the age of 18. It is quite incomprehensible that a 16 or 17 year-old is entitled to have an appropriate adult with them if they are arrested for some relatively minor crime, but not entitled to the same support if they are helping the state in an investigation. This should be guaranteed.
The way we treat children defines us as a society. This Bill can and must be amended to give them better protection.
I join other noble Lords in welcoming the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, to their place. I do so with open arms, if the Minister will forgive a reference to that delightful Dirleton hostelry.
The Bill, like the litigation which forced it into being, is welcome. I have a wish list, but time requires me to come straight to the nub: the linked questions of immunity, authorisation and oversight. The Bill would give power to police superintendents to confer immunity on members of the public, and of their own organisations, for the commission of crimes. That proposition is startling, and the potential for abuse obvious. There are three central ways in which that potential might be mitigated. The first way is to remove the immunity and retain the existing discretion of the CPS to prosecute for a criminal offence within the scope of the authorisation. I have two questions for those who promote this option. Is it fair for a CHIS who does no more than he is asked by the police to be at risk of prosecution? With that in mind, how often has the CPS considered it to be in the public interest to prosecute a CHIS who has not exceeded his authority? The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, with all his experience, suggested seldom or never. I keep an open mind but wonder whether removing immunity would be a safeguard more apparent than real.
The second way is to provide for prior approval of authorisations by the judicial commissioners of IPCO. I recommended this approach for some other covert powers in my report A Question of Trust, and was glad to see it followed in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. However, context is everything and I will make three comments. Deciding how to task a CHIS, against a nuanced and rapidly changing background of personal relationships and group dynamics, is less obviously within the competence of a judge, or indeed any external person, than a decision to intercept a line or hack a device. Internal, not external, authorisation is provided for by Section 20.1(12) of Canada’s CSIS Act, of which the House has heard mention today, although it is fair to say that some form of external approval for CHIS criminality, whether by judges or lawyers, is required in some circumstances in Australia and the US. Finally, and without being defeatist, it is right to acknowledge that an amendment to require prior judicial approval was heavily defeated in the other place.
That leaves the third way: beefing up oversight by requiring a judicial commissioner to be informed every time a CCA is issued. That solution was adopted in SI 2013/2788, when the spycops revelations first surfaced, to deal with undercover police deployments of less than 12 months.
Having worked intensively with IPCO’s chief inspector for CHIS in the Channel Islands, where I was Investigatory Powers Commissioner until this summer, I have the highest praise for IPCO’s inspection work. Much of it is below the waterline in the form of inspections, oral feedback, classified detailed reports, observations and recommendations requiring speedy action. A sense of it is given publicly at paragraph 5.19 and onwards of IPCO’s March 2020 annual report.
The real-time notification of CCAs to a judicial commissioner would have three further advantages. First, the knowledge that their decision would go straight to the desk of a High Court judge or equivalent would concentrate the minds of authorising officers. Secondly, it would eliminate the gap of up to a year between authorisation and annual inspection, potentially assisting in the termination of any ill-advised authorisations, difficult though that will always be. Thirdly, it would help to promote a culture in which informal advice is sought before an authorisation was issued—something that happens a good deal in practice and is particularly valuable for authorities that do not make much use of CHIS. This third approach is no panacea and will not be strong enough for some, but it deserves at least to be debated and I will table an amendment for that purpose.
My Lords, there are few moments of unalloyed joy in politics but being able to endorse the splendid remarks of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham in congratulating my noble friend Lord McLoughlin is one of them. I, too, remember that visit to Cardinal Griffin school in May 1970, over 50 years ago. I, too, remember the schoolboy coming to the Palace of Westminster. I remember him becoming a splendid local Conservative, having a poster with a miner’s hat when he fought his first constituency. I am always amazed that, when I left the House of Commons 10 years ago, he was my Chief Whip. I bid him welcome with all the warmth at my disposal.
It was very splendid also to have a maiden speech from the Front Bench. My noble and learned friend Lord Stewart of Dirleton spoke with an elegiac love of his constituency. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay indicated, the rest of the speech was not entirely at his disposal; nevertheless, he delivered it with a calm rationality that made me feel that we have a true learned friend in our midst.
Having said all that, while putting on record that I believe that the Bill is necessary and support it, I am troubled. We have to look at this in the context of the times. We are, through no desire of anyone, living at the moment in a benign police state. I cannot go out this evening with my son for dinner; I cannot ask him round to my flat nor go to his home with his wife and children. We are in a very difficult situation. We have the Law Commission proposing that remarks made at the dinner table should perhaps be admissible in a court of law in the prosecution of a hate crime. We therefore have to be careful how far we go. That is why I am troubled, as others have said, about the number of agencies that are allowed to have, as it were, crimes committed in their name. I shall want to look at that very carefully in Committee.
I share the concerns of many colleagues about the position of children. Although it may be tempting to use children in dealing with ghastly county lines, we have to be careful about our overall responsibility for our children.
As we go through the Bill, which lends itself to the forensic examination that it needs and deserves in your Lordships’ House, we must be extremely careful. First, how many agencies can take advantage of it? I think that it is too many. Secondly, how is the regulation on the use of children controlled? Thirdly, we have to look carefully at whether there should be specific limits—as there are in Canada, as we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws—on the type of crimes that we can see committed in the interests of the greater good. That we need to protect our people from terrorism and terrible crimes is self-evident, but we have to be careful how we go.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Young, makes it easy for me to refer to his protégé, the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin. I welcome him to this House and welcome his maiden speech.
I also welcome the Minister. I listened carefully to his speech, and indeed to the speech from my own Front Bench, on why the Bill is needed. I am afraid that I am not as yet convinced. On Monday, this House overwhelmingly expressed its outrage at the Government trying to give themselves statutory immunity from breaching international and national law in, as they call it, a limited and specific sense. Today, the Government now propose giving equivalent protection in criminal law to our own security services and a dozen other state agencies to commit unspecified criminal acts.
Obviously, I appreciate that this is not a new issue; I was a member of the Government when the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 was passed. I remember feeling uneasy about it at the time—I generally did with Home Office initiatives in that era—but I recognised the need for an authorisation framework. Still, this Bill goes much further than that. My noble friend Lord Rosser proposes significant amendments that might make it more palatable to me, but even then I am not yet convinced.
I am not an automatic knee-jerk opponent of the security services and state agencies. I recall many occasions in my life when I have told keen young political activists who complain that the deep state is monitoring them, “Of course they are! That is their job.” I have always felt that society is safer as a result of those agencies; I am glad that they are there. However, the Bill goes beyond the monitoring, surveillance and simple embedding in, and infiltration of, dangerous organisations.
There are issues with the authorisation process itself but I have two main objections. First, the Bill renders such criminal acts legal for all purposes. That appears to mean that victims could not claim compensation in any respect. If, in order to gain trust in an organised crime syndicate by proving himself, a CHIS undertakes a robbery, does that mean that the victim of that robbery is denied not only a criminal process but any compensation or recourse to the criminal compensation scheme because, under this Bill, the action was deemed not criminal? At a minimum, we need to retain or at least describe the right to compensation for victims.
My second main objection relates to the infiltration into political campaigns, particularly trade union ones. As my noble friend Lord Hain said, we know from very recent history that phrases such as “danger to the economic well-being of the UK” or “preventing disorder” can be used to target otherwise legitimate trade union industrial action or political or environmental campaign demonstrations. Such infiltration by police agents has been identified in the past. On occasion, it has been aggravated by agents of the state authorities acting in effect as agents provocateurs—that is, a supposed member persuading his colleagues in the organisation to go further than they would have done previously. Here, we are treating political campaigns on anti-racism, the environment and trade unions in an equivalent way to terrorist organisations. There must be some distinction and some limit to the degree to which we can grant immunity under the Bill.
Unless there are drastic, explicit changes on access to the civil courts, compensation and agents provocateurs, I will not support the Bill.
I congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, on his excellent maiden speech. He referred to many sports in Dirleton, and I was hoping that he might mention the excellent North Berwick Rowing Club. I think he should have a word with his noble friend— I refer to the noble Earl, Lord Courtown—or with my noble friend Lord Paddick, who spoke third in the debate. I promise that, if he joins us in the House of Lords eight, we will overlook his youth. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, to the House, but he should be aware that the West Derbyshire by-election of 1986, where he narrowly but fairly defeated that outstanding Liberal Chris Walmsley, has not faded from memory in some quarters.
This Bill has some extraordinary features. Suppose an official from the Gambling Commission believes, quite unreasonably and without any basis, that, in his view, it is necessary, in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom, to infiltrate a perfectly lawful organisation—say, a trade association or, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned a moment ago, a trade union. Under this Bill, he may authorise a 16 year-old to commit a criminal act and give him full immunity against criminal prosecution or civil liability, removing any consideration as to whether, even in part, he himself had a criminal intent or was incited to the sort of abuses to which the noble Lord, Lord Hain, referred.
It is obviously right that there should be a framework that is open and transparent to control the exercise of state power to authorise the commission of criminal offences, but it must be a tight framework. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, referred to authorisations that will have strict parameters and be tightly bound—but only by the word of the authoriser of the CHIS, his immediate controller.
I will analyse the scenario I set out. What is the rationale for putting into the hands of an official of the Food Standards Agency, or similar organisations, the extraordinary power to authorise criminal acts? Is it for labelling or pursuing dodgy hamburger vendors? This power should be used in the public interest and only in the pursuit of serious crime by professional criminal investigation agencies.
As for immunities, should not the decision as to what is in the public interest remain with the CPS or the Director of Public Prosecutions and not with the initial authoriser? Why should that official, unchecked, exercise this power on his own subjective belief as to its necessity and proportionality? Surely his belief should be, and be seen to be, reasonable? I agree with my noble friend Lord Beith that, as with ordinary warrants, he should be required to obtain the prior consent of a judge or, as in other covert operations, judicial commissioners. A judge would have the power to interrogate the authoriser to establish that he has a rational base in law for issuing an authorisation. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, pointed out, there is a duty High Court judge on hand 24 hours a day.
The Bill permits the commission of crime by an agent or CHIS infiltrating a perfectly lawful organisation —for example, a protest group. If such lawful groups need to be infiltrated to ensure public order, it is curious that this Bill should permit the infiltrator to commit crime. I would like to know from the Minister whether an authorisation issued under the Bill could permit a CHIS to act as an agent provocateur, stirring up crime where none exists. This Bill should be limited to national security and the detection and prevention of crime.
However, the most glaring anomaly is that the Bill would permit authorising the CHIS to commit murder, rape or robbery anywhere in the world without any of the limitations set out in other similar jurisdictions—Canada, the US or Australia—and with immunity from prosecution or civil liability, rather than prosecutorial discretion. Is the European Convention on Human Rights a sufficient safeguard? The Minister will find that his colleagues want to scrap it.
This is a very specific question and I would like the Minister to answer it: do the Government concede at last that convention rights bind an agent of the Crown acting outside the jurisdiction in, for example, Europe, the USA or the Republic of Ireland? The Bill should be clear as to what is or is not within its scope, territorially and in substance. In Committee, I hope to pursue safeguards for children, which other noble Lords have addressed, and redress for victims. I am sure there will be many other issues.
My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier will speak next, but this pause gives me the opportunity to remind noble Lords about the advisory four-minute time limit for Back-Bench contributions. This is only advisory, but it would be a courtesy to the large number of Peers who want to contribute. I hope that my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier will set a fine example.
My Lords, my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart has made both his first appearance at the Dispatch Box and his maiden speech. He spoke kindly and accurately of our noble and learned friend Lord Keen and modestly of himself, but we have already benefited from his being here with us. He is most welcome, and I look forward to meeting him in person before too long. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord McLoughlin on his maiden speech. His work in the other place in government and in opposition over many years, the way he performed it and the content and manner of his speech today suggest to me that we will have much to gain from his arrival here.
This Bill is being debated after the decision of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal last December in the third direction case but before its consideration by the Court of Appeal. Although it has no retrospective effect, it will clear up some of the questions left hanging by that case, which concerned the lawfulness of a secret national security policy apparently authorising Security Service agents to engage in criminal activity, including, according to the claimants, torture and murder.
The facts of any particular operation involving the use of covert human intelligence sources are necessarily kept from the public and even from Parliament. That mystery creates mystique for some and suspicion in others. While the security services can cope with the mystique, some suspicions are better allayed than fomented. I used to think that there was an advantage in keeping things vague so that the Foreign Secretary or Home Secretary and their security advisers could pragmatically, but legitimately, apply their discretion and common sense to the difficult legal and operational problems that come with deploying agents at home or abroad.
In my experience of the senior officers of the security and armed services when I was Solicitor-General, they never wanted to bend or break the law, be it the criminal law, the law governing military action or the laws concerning surveillance and counterterrorism. Indeed, they were meticulous about staying within it, and I really do not think they were just telling me things they thought I wanted or ought to hear. Putting the law into statute would, I once believed, inhibit their ability to take quick decisions and create sclerosis within the chain of command. No one needed reminding not to murder or torture people because it would be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. Intercepting suspected terrorists’ electronic communications was clearly a proportionate interference with their convention rights.
Part of me still thinks that keeping things pragmatically vague is sensible, but I am now persuaded that, even if the operations themselves and the identities of those providing vital information to the security or other services may often have to remain confidential for ever, the law governing their work should not be hidden, largely within the common law, to be revealed only when a judge’s interpretation of the law, often arrived at by necessary implication, is made public, as in the third direction case. It is also right that the government agencies to be covered by this Bill, and some other important questions, are thoroughly scrutinised in Committee.
The security services were put on a statutory footing in the 1990s, and other statutes have followed, but we now need to know what the rules are and to be able to say whether, in a democratic society, we approve of them. Some things must be kept secret, so we need to have confidence in the people who do this work in order that we can trust them, even if we do not know exactly what they are doing. Knowing what is permitted by statute, even if distasteful to some, helps to enhance that confidence. There are some things that, when known to the public, remove suspicion, even if they do not always lead to universal approval, but, in saying that, I do not expect the state to be absolved of all responsibility for its actions. The innocent bystander and his dependants, whose life, limb or livelihood are taken or damaged by someone whom this Bill absolves of particular criminal conduct, should not be left helpless and without remedy.
The preservation of our national well-being sometimes requires us to permit good people to do bad things. Today, especially, we remember that, in war, we justify the doing of terrible things by and to our Armed Forces to protect our freedoms and recognise that, in other fields of national conflict, we must permit that which, on other occasions, we would abhor.
My Lords, I welcome the noble and learned Lord the Minister and congratulate him on his new role, and indeed I welcome the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin.
Many things are said about your Lordships’ House and about what it is to be a patriot today of all days. I cannot imagine the purpose of either if not to defend the rule of law. It is not a question of left-wing or right-wing, or leave or remain. There can be no freedom, security or even democracy without it, and one of its most fundamental principles is that the law of the land must apply to everyone equally.
If we were to introduce one law for agents of the state and another for everyone else, surely lawlessness and tyranny would not be far behind, and I know that no one in your Lordships’ House would wish for that outcome. Yet the gravest dangers to the rule of law do not politely announce themselves. More often than not, they come under cover and with the best of intentions, not least preserving security and even the law itself.
It is said that this Bill seeks to put criminal conduct by covert human intelligence sources on a statutory footing, but in truth—and as the Minister has today acknowledged—it goes a great deal further than that. It replaces our legal status quo, whereby criminal acts in the course of undercover intelligence work are nearly always and rightly forgiven in the public interest, with a complete and advance immunity or licence or golden ticket for a raft of agents against prosecution and civil suit, regardless of the harm caused to our people—including completely innocent people—in the process.
It is important to remember that the overwhelming majority of these agents are not trained officers of our security agencies or police. They necessarily come from the community, including the criminal community. They include extremely troubled, volatile and vulnerable people, including, as we have heard so many times, even children. A public inquiry that has only just begun is hearing how the agents are capable of abuse and even of inciting crime, rather than preventing and detecting it, even under the present arrangements.
We are told not to worry because those issuing these criminal conduct licences, from inside the relevant agencies themselves, must take into account the requirements of the Human Rights Act. I must point out that such an obligation is weaker than the normal obligation on public authorities to comply with them. Further, while human rights bind states and public bodies, they are no substitute for effective criminal law in both protecting and binding individual people by deterring violence—and sexual violence in particular. There is a wealth of case law to that effect.
Some argue that the great dangers in this legislation might be remedied by external or judicial authorisation of criminal conduct, or by limiting the list of agencies or types of crimes. I am far from convinced that anything other than removing the immunity from these authorisations and restoring them to the appropriate position of public interest guidance to agents, prosecutors and courts will suffice. Once more, in the words of former officer Neil Woods:
“As a former ruthless undercover cop, I see many possibilities of this going wrong. This immunity truly changes everything. It invites criminality into a realm uniquely susceptible to it. Once we go down this route, it will be very difficult ever to return.”
I urge your Lordships to heed that stark warning.
My Lords, I, too, welcome--albeit remotely—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, and wish him luck in his new role, and I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin.
I am sure that many people accept that the police and security services need to deploy undercover operatives to disrupt terrorist and criminal activity, and we recognise that difficult decisions have to be made regarding operational effectiveness. There is no need for me to elaborate on the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, except to say that the subject matter and nature of the Undercover Policing Inquiry is relevant not least because it reminds us of some of the critical issues raised by the scope, character and potential for harm of inappropriate and inadequately regulated undercover operations.
In the Bill, one area that causes me and many other noble Lords the most concern is the deployment of those under 18 years old—children of 15, 16 or 17—with no stated lower age limit. As the Minister will be aware from the Young review, which I chaired, from the Lammy review, led by the honourable Member for Tottenham, and from all the reports that preceded them, young black men are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and experience disproportionately poor outcomes throughout the system. I fear that racial disparities elsewhere in the CJS will be amplified in respect of the use of covert operatives. Will the noble Baroness the Minister, when she comes to respond to this debate, inform the House of the Home Office’s assessment of the equality impact reviews of the proposed legislation?
As has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Young, and others, drugs shifted around the country via county lines wreak havoc and violence in our communities. Younger and younger children are recruited and of course we long for effective strategies to mitigate the impact of these activities. Gangs groom young children into becoming drug mules, terrifying and traumatising them in the process, turning often vulnerable young people into criminals. Determined youth and social workers do their best, but it is incredibly hard and getting increasingly so to help out here. It appears that the juveniles recruited as intelligence sources are most often 16 or 17, but we have been informed of at least one 15 year-old being used in this way. I find this shocking. Will the Minister accept that not to have a lower age limit for recruiting children carries substantial risks to those already in harmful situations? In any other circumstances, we would be taking steps to protect such children and remove them from such harms.
My own view is similar to that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and of my noble friend Lady Bull: under-18s should never be used as undercover operatives. I find the whole idea absolutely repugnant rather than uncomfortable. I cannot see how it is legitimate to recruit juveniles as informers and spies in dangerous, violent situations but not to allow 16 year-olds to vote.
Ideally, CCAs for children should be prohibited altogether to limit the risk of serious violations of the rights of the child. At the very least, the Bill should contain an explanation of the exceptional circumstances where it would be appropriate for a child to be given a CCA and of how their welfare would be protected. Appropriate adults should be mandatory, rather than discretionary, for 16 year-olds and 17 year-olds, and a lower age limit should be set.
I have many concerns similar to those of many colleagues who spoke earlier in this debate. Two further concerns are that of immunity from prosecution for those perpetrating criminal acts and the lack of explicit limits on the nature of any criminal act committed; those two are linked, I think. As others have noted, the USA, Canada and Australia place limits on the acts that agents can commit.
The case studies circulated by the Minister yesterday have been referred to. It is interesting that they fall into two categories: hypothetical and real-life. The hypothetical ones are all about the public bodies and do not reveal the extent to which CHIS work with police and are trained. The real-life cases seem straightforward, but can the Minister tell us how the results of those significant prosecutions would be undermined in some way by current legislation and how they would be improved by this piece of legislation? I look forward to debates in Committee.
My Lords, it is an incredible honour to address your Lordships’ House for the first time. I have been touched by the kindness and support of the many dedicated staff in this place: Black Rod, the amazing doorkeepers and Garter, not least for his agreement to my title. I am deeply indebted to my two supporters, the noble Lords, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, one a former NATO Secretary-General and esteemed former Labour Defence Secretary in the other place, the other the fabled analyst and chronicler of the inner workings of the British state. They were always so generous with their wisdom on the UK’s nuclear deterrent when I was the MP for Barrow-in-Furness. Today, I am honoured and still a little starstruck to count them as my friends.
I also want to mention two friends from opposite sides of the House with overlapping territorial designations to mine. The noble Lord, Lord Hutton of Furness, was my predecessor as MP for Barrow and my former boss in Whitehall. The noble Lord, Lord Cavendish of Furness, has shown me such kindness since I became a Member of Parliament. They are both beacons to me and many others in different ways. The noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, will be greatly missed by this House as he announces his retirement.
To my neighbours on Walney Island, which I am proud to take as my territorial designation, I just say this: you kindly took in this off-comer; you elected me three times, and now I will give you a lifetime of service, raising the particular concerns of the island and the wider area. I will remain a firm advocate of the submarines constructed with your expertise, and I hope to make a contribution in due course on the issue of coastal erosion, which could literally split our wonderful island in two in future decades if left unchecked. That would be unconscionable to the near-11,000 residents of the island and would decimate its unique, cherished natural resources.
I have been determined to use my maiden speech to highlight the need for the UK to do more in defending the rules-based order that underpins the freedoms and values embodied in this Chamber and the other place. Much has already been said on that subject this week, but the threat is far deeper than a particular part of a particular Bill. Our international adversaries are intent, with a whole spectrum of means, on unravelling the system of international order that protects our liberty and our interests abroad. As we remember today the struggle and sacrifice of previous generations so that we can live free, let us recognise that this battle will be our generation’s struggle.
I therefore wondered whether it was right to make my maiden speech in this debate on a Bill whose purposes, as we have heard, are to sanction certain individuals to commit what would otherwise be criminal acts. However, the fact that this process of scrutiny is happening at all, and that a legal framework is being constructed, should be seen as demonstrating the strength of Britain’s commitment to the rule of law as a means of upholding our security.
I was pleased to be asked by the Prime Minister, on standing down from the House of Commons, to advise the Government on aspects of counterterrorism. I listened carefully today to the excellent maiden speech by the Minister, whom I congratulate, and to many others. I have seen the strong backing that this Bill has received from the security services and from the Intelligence and Security Minister. I am happy, therefore, to vote to support it tonight in the knowledge that the many pressing issues that have been raised will see further scrutiny in Committee.
I end by briefly addressing the political journey that has brought me to this place, in this House on these non-affiliated Benches. I am proud of the small contribution that I made to stopping what would otherwise have been inflicted on the British people had the general election last year gone the other way. That has strained some lifelong friendships; indeed, it has led to one or two frosty encounters in the corridors of this place. I am happy now, however, to be given the opportunity to put party politics behind me and start a new chapter. Much of the past few years has been difficult, but it has underlined a central tenet of my faith: no one party and no one group within a party holds a monopoly of wisdom. We are all flawed human beings mostly trying to do our best in a complex and conflicted world. I will always endeavour to do my best in this place and it is deeply humbling to be given that chance.
My Lords, I am honoured to follow that excellent and very moving maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Walney. He talked of Walney Island, and I know that area. What he did not mention was that it has an airport built at right angles to the prevailing wind and about as long as this Chamber, so if any noble Lords are thinking of visiting there, they will have a very fun arrival if they go by air.
I have known John, the noble Lord, Lord Walney, for more than 10 years. He is a highly principled man, and I was particularly impressed, first, by his confrontation of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, which he drove through with great vigour; and secondly by his passionate support for an issue very close to my heart and those of his ex-constituents, which noble Lords heard him mention—the UK’s independent deterrent and nuclear submarines. Neither issue made him popular with the last leader of the Labour Party, but he refused to compromise his beliefs. Rather like his namesake in the 17th century, he was martyred, although I doubt that—unlike his predecessor—he will be beatified by the Pope. The noble Lord, Lord Walney, will be of great value to this House. We already got that from what he said, and I look forward very much to working with him.
The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, of which I am currently a member, welcomes this Bill. Agents provide invaluable information and play a vital role in identifying and disrupting terrorist plots. Basically, they save the lives of our people. However, can the Minister assure the House that, in putting the existing powers on a statutory basis—which needs to be done because of the legal shenanigans going on at the moment—the Bill does not extend them in any way at all? It is essential that these powers are properly circumscribed and used only where necessary: they have to be proportionate. They should be compatible with the Human Rights Act—let us face it, we are all responsible for ensuring that—and subject to proper oversight.
The Minister will be aware that the Intelligence and Security Committee proposed an amendment to the Bill in the other place relating to parliamentary oversight. I have lost sight of where that has gone; perhaps the Minister will let us know where that proposal stands. The committee clearly knows the agencies very well, but it has also taken evidence—very sensitive evidence—from the police in a number of its inquiries, and from that knowledge would support their use of these powers. I would, however, need convincing that a number of the other authorities really do need these powers.
The Intelligence and Security Committee strongly supports the Government’s decision not to place limits on criminal conduct in the Bill itself. My own operational experience would reinforce that because of the risks it would place on our agents. Clearly, that means even greater emphasis on the need for robust safeguards. I can offer reassurance to the House that the Intelligence and Security Committee has had comprehensive briefings on how these authorisations are used, and we are reassured and satisfied that they are used appropriately by MI5. Will the Minister say, however, what percentage of criminal conduct authorisations—they have been mentioned already—the Investigatory Powers Commissioner will actually examine?
I reiterate that I strongly support this Bill, subject to the caveats I touched on. I have not had time to go into other areas, such as the use of children, but I hope that these things will be investigated in Committee. There is no doubt that these agents save lives and are at great risk themselves. We must be careful not to pass legislation that, with amendments, leads to agents being killed.
My Lords, I congratulate all three noble Lords who made their maiden speeches earlier. We will benefit greatly from their experience and expertise. My noble and learned friend Lord Stewart of Dirleton made a dignified and personal speech as well as an accomplished Front-Bench contribution. We are fortunate indeed to have him here; his probity will be an asset, not least in the Bill we are discussing today. His opening speech exemplified that.
I know the noble Lord, Lord Walney, from his time in the House of Commons, where he showed himself to be principled and courageous while serving his constituents well. We saw that in his speech just now. Anyone who takes a geographical designation of a place so ornithologically blessed as Walney Island is off to a good start with me; I know that he and his partner greatly appreciate the benefits of nature there.
I was honoured to be a supporter of my noble friend Lord McLoughlin on his introduction to this place. I can honestly say that it was very much a privilege and a pleasure to act as his deputy in the Chief Whip’s Office in the other place. I endorse entirely the words of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, who is another of the best people in this House. My noble friend Lord McLoughlin made a moving speech; one of the few advantages for speaking remotely, for me, is that no one saw me wipe away a tear at his speech. His sage advice and knowledge of parliamentary procedures are exceeded only by his all-round modesty, affability and decency. He was, and is still, held in high regard by all who know him. If some of his advice had been taken by some whom he offered it to, I am sure that recent history might have taken a slightly different course.
My only regret is that I have never succeeded in persuading him about the joys of cricket. I remember him asking me, early on the first day of a five-day test match, who was winning. His response to my reply that it was far too early to know should not be repeated before the watershed, but his love for Derby County Football Club shows that he has a love of sport. I am sure that he will become as popular in your Lordships’ House as he was down the other end of the building.
This Bill is something that we would perhaps rather not have in law, but the world we live in today sadly necessitates these measures. I pay tribute to the courageous men and women who served this country in an unspoken, unseen way in the intelligence services. We owe it to them to give them the necessary powers to undertake that dangerous work. I share concerns about some of the agencies that have been given these powers, although my noble friend’s opening remarks gave me some confidence in those measures—but that is for the other stages of the Bill.
The strength of this Chamber is that it can be relied on ensure that we will give appropriate and proportional authorisation only to those who need it. Therefore, I am happy to allow this Bill to advance in its parliamentary journey and I look forward to further debate on this important measure.
My Lords, I, too, warmly welcome the Lord Advocate and congratulate him on his first speech. It is good to have another Lord Advocate from Scotland, with its own distinct legal system. I also congratulate the other two noble Lords on their excellent speeches.
I warmly support the idea of putting the power of these matters on a statutory basis. I wish to raise three points: first, the role of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner; secondly, the process for immunity; thirdly, the position of bodies other than the security services and the police. The observations that I wish to make on those three points have been drawn from my own experience of sitting on a large number of cases involving CHIS, the setting up of what is now the Mitting inquiry—formerly conducted by Sir Christopher Pitchford—and the setting up of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office. One of the difficulties in making observations is that, in all the hearings on which I sat and when setting up the Mitting inquiry, either the information provided to me was in circumstances of the strictest confidence or the hearings were closed.
It seems to me that three issues require further detailed consideration by this House. First, I would like to understand the reasons why we cannot follow the interception regime, with the IPC having a clear role in approving in advance except when urgency prevents. Obviously, it would have been of great advantage to know what had happened in the many years being investigated by the Mitting inquiry, but I can bring some of my own experience to bear and say that there are strong reasons for a very tight regime, particularly where the authorisation would go hand in hand with immunity. A regime for reporting a few days thereafter, put forward in the excellent speech by my noble friend Lord Anderson, would obviously need detailed consideration but, before we get to that stage, it is necessary to see whether there is justification for moving from a pre-authorisation system. There are real difficulties if the IPC says that the authorisation was wrong.
The second point can be put more briefly: I would like to see the justification for the change from the position where the CPS makes its decision on immunity. There are strong constitutional reasons for the CPS, an entirely independent prosecutor, making decisions on whether someone should be prosecuted. That is the proper constitutional route and entirely consistent with the rule of law. It would be inimical to the rule of law for immunity to be granted by an agency of the Executive, and it would be a bad example to other states.
Finally, if powers are to be granted in broad terms to the police and security services, I would like to understand the justification for granting these powers to the other bodies. It is important that these issues are examined carefully to protect confidence in the security services. We too easily forget the damage that can be done when officers, even fairly senior ones, do not do things properly. The damage, from my own experience in such cases, can be considerable indeed.
My Lords, I congratulate the three noble Lords who made excellent, eloquent maiden speeches today in the House. I look forward to working with them in the period ahead. I pay tribute to the security forces, members of the Security Service and all those involved in counterterrorism for the great sacrifices that they make in defence of our country—acts of heroism that will never be told and suffering for the greater good of society that will never see the light of day. I am grateful for the briefing that I received in the other place in the run-up to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal case, which brought home to me just how important their work is.
As has been said, this Bill is about keeping the country secure and saving lives. It puts on to the statute book what already happens and has been happening for a long time. Lest anyone should doubt the need for CHIS—or agents, as they are better known—we only have to look at some of the statistics outlined by the Minister in the other place about the number of arrests, of firearms, class A drugs and illicit cash recovered, and of potential terrorist attacks thwarted by MI5 and counterterrorism in recent years—27 between March 2017 and today, which is nine each year. Those are staggering figures.
While there have been incredible advances in electronic and digital surveillance, we know that in many cases, such methods of intelligence-gathering are simply not enough in themselves. The Bill addresses participation in criminal activity of agents and legislates for robust, independent safeguards and oversight. The Government have set out clearly why this legislation is necessary to lift and remove any legal uncertainty. There must be no doubt in the mind of a handler, the agent themselves or the organisation responsible about the legal status of what an agent has been ordered to do.
Being from Northern Ireland, my experience as a Member of Parliament for Belfast North for more than 18 years has brought home to me the importance of the proper use of agents in combating terrorism. The recent report of the Intelligence and Security Committee illustrates the very serious threat of terrorism that still pertains in Northern Ireland, where the threat level is set at “severe”. Without covert agents, the safety and security of citizens in that part of the United Kingdom, as well as elsewhere, would be gravely impaired. Often agents in Northern Ireland have had to join an illegal paramilitary organisation, or people within those organisations have had to undertake, at great risk, activities which have been of enormous benefit to the state. These acts are, of course, illegal under normal circumstances, but it is a clear example of what would warrant a criminal conduct authorisation.
Of course, such authorisations must always be for precise and specific purposes, and the Bill sets out very clearly three such purposes. I welcome the fact that the Bill states that at all times there must be compliance with the Human Rights Act. The role of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner is also set out. Robust oversight is crucial, and I welcome the unfettered access that is permitted under the Bill to all documents and information. However, we need to examine carefully in Committee the organisations that are covered in the Bill, and I look forward to discussion in Committee on that. This is about saving lives. It is a sad fact of life that agents are necessary, and I fully support the Government at Second Reading.
My Lords, I welcome the three maiden speeches. In particular, as a fellow member of the club of those who made their maiden speech at the Dispatch Box, I can imagine what the Minister was feeling when he made his maiden speech. I wish him well. The noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, a friend from the Commons, treated me really well when he was the most junior of Ministers in the 1990s and I went to him with constituency cases. As for my noble friend Lord Walney, I sat out the last election—I was on the dark side, in hospital—but I understand he performed a national service, and I welcome him to the Lords.
I am neither a lawyer nor a crime expert: I leave that to others. During my time as a Minister at MAFF and Defra, and as chair of the Food Standards Agency, I was from time to time informed of criminal issues relating to activity undermining food supply and food safety. One thing I can say for certain is that the police were never interested. Yet food is our largest manufacturing sector, we import 50% of what we eat and we have large exporting companies. The scope for criminal activity is very substantial. In a multi-billion-pound food industry, the risk of damage, serious illness and death is very clear. The simplistic view that economic well-being is not connected to serious crime or protection of national security is not one I accept. I therefore do not support the view of the Joint Committee on Human Rights in this respect; so, in general, I support the Bill.
I do not think I was aware of the term “CHIS” until I served on a RUSI panel in 2014-15, the Panel of the Independent Surveillance Review. I have now read several briefings and, in the main, think of a CHIS as someone who is not an employee of the police or security services, but an outside, undercover informer or agent. They may be motivated by a mixture of reasons, not all of which show them to be the nicest of people, but they offer a service that can be valuable and impossible to obtain elsewhere. I sat in on a briefing a few days ago, and I can see there are differences between those who seek prior judicial approval of actions authorised under the Bill and others, “the CHIS runners”, who see very practical issues, including issues of timing, as a key element in ruling this out. I shall be very keen to see the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich.
I do not see the benefit, by the way, of listing crimes which should not be authorised; in fact, I see it as quite negative. It would, of course, help the Government’s case if it were made crystal clear that the UK Government are not abolishing our Human Rights Act, nor leaving the European Convention on Human Rights. The Minister needs to address this, as it will influence decisions on amendments, and nobody trusts the Government at the present time. Our position on the Human Rights Act and the Convention has to be made absolutely clear.
The letter from the Minister on 27 October and the Explanatory Notes say and imply that the Bill simply puts onto a statutory basis that which happens now, and no more. The message is that this is not new activity but a continuation of existing practice, but is that correct? The note from the Bar Council questions that claim, as have some speeches this afternoon. Is there a widening of the separation of powers that exists at present with regard to prosecutions? We need answers to these points in Committee.
I started by saying that I support the wide view of potential damage to the nation. This means that I can support the list of relevant authorities set out in Clause 2. I believe that those people who, for some decades now, have operated a system on the dark side of openness, will see the Bill as a better way of operating in the 21st century. It is our role to see that Parliament likewise sees it as a better system that remains workable and keeps the public safe.
We have had three distinguished maiden speeches this afternoon. First, I welcome my noble friend Lord McLoughlin. The Cardinal Griffin School in Cannock has had a lot of airtime today, but I can tell him that when I visited the school as part of the Peers in Schools programme, there was a large photograph—one might almost say a dominating photograph—in the entrance hall of the school, a fitting tribute to his long and distinguished career in public life. I also congratulate my noble and learned friend on his distinguished opening speech. He reminded us that the underlying purpose of the Bill is to assist in maintaining and building the safety of the citizens of this country: as such, it has my in-principle support. However, it is a support that comes not without limitation: the use of the words “necessary and proportionate” remind us of those limitations.
What are my concerns, which I hope we can explore in Committee? The first is the list of relevant authorities. I share the remarks of several noble Lords about this. I would only add to what has already been said by saying that the greater the number of authorised bodies, some of which may use these powers only rarely, the greater the risk must be of misuse. The second is the extent to which the provisions of the Bill extend outside the United Kingdom. Geographical distance carries its own temptations and dangers, not least in the inevitable limitations on the ability to investigate and follow up fully where matters may have gone astray. My third point concerns what I can best describe as mission creep. I currently chair the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of your Lordships’ House. Our committee has been increasingly concerned about the use of skeleton Bills, where most of the legislative impact will be achieved through regulation. This is undesirable on many levels, not least because regulations have a lower level of scrutiny because, as is well known in the House, they are unamendable. Parliament is left with the nuclear option of complete rejection, a course which the House is often, understandably, reluctant to take.
As I read the Bill, there are at least three areas where mission creep could take place, but there may well be others. However, as I see it, by regulation the Secretary of State, first, may change the list of the bodies that can give CCAs; secondly, change the basis on which those authorisations can be granted; and, thirdly, change the individuals within the relevant authorities that can give CCAs. All of that is done by regulation. It seems that, taken together, these powers could quite radically shift the basis on which the Bill is constructed and on which it will operate.
My final point concerns the investigation of cases where matters have not developed as hoped and expected, and here I take up the points raised by the noble Lords, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Lord Anderson. I note the additional remit of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, and of course those powers are welcome, but I see nothing about urgency. Speed of innovation is critical to achieving a proper outcome before waters, which may well sometimes be deliberately muddied, close over the case. I have been an officer of the All-Party Group on Extraordinary Rendition for many years, and the group has watched as successive Governments—no party has clean hands on this—have ducked and dived. We have to make sure that these sorts of cases cannot arise with this Bill, although it has my in-principle support.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a governor of Coram, part of which includes the Coram Children’s Legal Centre. When I saw that there were going to be three maiden speeches today, my thoughts wandered to whether there is a collective noun for maidens, and the answer is yes: it is a rage of maidens. I am glad to say that we saw none of that today. I think that everyone is saving it for the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill.
My remarks will concentrate on the use of children and vulnerable juveniles under the age of 18 as CHIS—a subject that many other noble Lords have referred to. Understandably, this is a highly sensitive area. I suspect the Government may say that since the number of children and young people used for this purpose is extremely small, since existing safeguards are being reinforced in this Bill and in the revised code of practice, which is going through a consultation process, and since the level of criminal activity in areas such as child sexual exploitation and county lines drug activities continues to rise, the use of juvenile CHIS must be a necessary evil and is, in fact, a public duty. However, if one follows that line of argument, one can see that the temptation for legal authorities to expand their use would be quite strong.
As I considered what I was going to say today, I was struck by an uncomfortable parallel as I thought of the faded black-and-white photographs and flickering cine film of German boys in 1945 being pressed into military service as a hopeless last attempt to resist the allied forces. The use of juvenile CHIS could be seen as evidence of the failure of our state to prevent the criminal activities into which they have been drawn. The evidence strongly suggests that those individuals who are candidates to be juvenile CHIS are often vulnerable, traumatised and acclimatised to a world in which their own freedom of choice and inability to tell right from wrong leave them open to influencing and manipulation. If we reluctantly accept that using a small number of these children in this way is a necessary evil, what can we do to put in the most comprehensive safeguards possible?
First, we are dealing, and will continue to deal, with a very small number of cases. This would make treating them in a particularly comprehensive way much more achievable than with a larger number. Secondly, please could the Government consider very seriously the eminently sensible suggestion of the noble and learned lord, Lord Judge—who, unfortunately, is not able to speak today—for a dual-lock approach such that in addition to the assistant chief constable who must currently authorise a deployment, we add a judicial commissioner with specialist knowledge and training who must also always be involved? Thirdly, could we in addition mandate a procedure such that, at the end of each deployment, the assistant chief constable and judicial commissioner undertake a comprehensive audit to assess the history of the deployment, its outcomes in all areas with a particular focus on the juvenile involved, and an assessment of any and all the lessons learned?
The Minister will be aware that she may be faced with a range of amendments in Committee dealing with child and juvenile CHIS deployments. With her usual courtesy and patience, I know she will be open to working with your Lordships to try to see how we can authorise such deployments with forensic care and an overriding focus on the best interests of the child.
My Lords, in the short time available I will concentrate on Clause 2, which details the authorities able to authorise criminal conduct. The list of bodies included will probably surprise many people, as the justification for the Bill is usually given in terms of serious organised crime and terrorism, and the reason given for why there is no prior authorisation is the imminent danger and urgency of the potential crime. As we have heard, however, the Bill will apply to many bodies. I shall refer to just two of those agencies—the Food Standards Agency and the Environment Agency—and ask whether they need the power to authorise CHIS activity without prior judicial approval and why they need the level of immunity for their actions granted in the Bill.
The Food Crime Strategic Assessment 2020 states:
“There is minimal evidence of any significant involvement of more broadly active Organised Crime Groups … being involved in food crime taking place in the UK”.
The agency’s Manual for Official Controls on enforcement states that authorised officers,
“must not try to get someone to act as an informer or obtain information in an undercover way”.
It therefore seems that the FSA does not want or need these powers.
The Environment Agency says that it would authorise the use of the powers in the Bill only,
“when it is absolutely necessary, proportionate and with great care and scrutiny”.
That surely would give time for judicial approval. However, what the waste disposal industry in general wants is for the agency’s current powers to be used effectively. A lawyer in the field said that the Environment Agency already has the legislative arsenal to hit these criminals, it just needs to use them.
Can the Minister justify why the agencies should be able to grant immunity to members of the public to act illegally without any judicial oversight, but merely on the subjective assertion that they believe it to be necessary? Can she give an example of when a CHIS has been prosecuted after being authorised by one of these agencies? My understanding is that the current test of public interest has protected such activity. So why do they need specific immunity?
Secondly, will the Minister clarify whether members of the public who are damaged during the course of activities covered by immunity will be entitled to compensation? There is genuine concern that immunity will prevent citizens from holding these agencies to account, not because they are fighting terrorism or serious organised crime, but because they have unnecessarily been included in the Bill.
When civil liberties are put in jeopardy there must be a very clear case for it. Many other speakers have expressed their doubts that the Bill can be accepted as its stands. Certainly, the inclusion of the long list of agencies is an additional cause for concern which must be addressed in Committee.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, for his presentation of the Bill this afternoon, while being in at the deep end, as it were, at the Dispatch Box. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord McLoughlin, who I have worked with outside of Westminster on other issues and for whom I have great respect. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Walney, for a very passionate speech—as passionate a speech as we will probably ever hear in this House.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak at the Second Reading of the Bill, which I strongly support. I am afraid that we live in a very real world of terrorism and organised crime. It is, sadly, omnipresent. Criminals deal in any commodity that will give them a financial return. It can be fraud, drugs, people trafficking—whatever. They have no qualms as to where they make their money so we need to be ahead of the game. It is therefore the duty of Parliament to give our security services and law enforcement agencies as many tools as we can to counter terrorism and organised crime.
I believe that this Bill, which provides an express power to authorise covert human intelligence sources to participate in conduct that would otherwise constitute a criminal offence, is long overdue. I say this as someone who has been a member of the Counter Terrorism Command at the Metropolitan Police. I was also a member of the National Crime Squad, the forerunner of today’s National Crime Agency, where I ran a number of such operations. Some aspects of the Bill are clearly unpalatable to Members of your Lordships’ House but it is a Bill that, at long last, recognises the need to provide a statutory power to authorise CHIS to participate in criminal conduct when it is deemed necessary and proportionate to do so.
Although I support the Bill, I want to highlight a couple of issues that are clearly of concern. Human rights issues are paramount but so is our duty of care to all the actors in any CHIS operation. Any authority in its breadth needs to take notice of the practical issues in order to protect the agent. During an operation, a suggestion by the targets to the operative to commit an offence will come in real time and, in all probability, when he or she is out of contact with their handler. The operative needs to know exactly what the limitations of his or her criminal conduct are. There is no provision for retrospective authority, and that creates real difficulty in that the type of conduct suggested may differ from or exceed what has been authorised. For the operative to maintain his or her cover, authority may therefore need couching in terms that allow some discretion as to the precise scope of the remit. This is not to say that an agent has carte blanche to do whatever he or she wishes but there must, for practical reasons, be a level of flexibility built into the system. At present, I am unable to detect that in the Bill or, indeed, the codes of practice. Any illegal conduct will, of course, require justification at a later criminal trial, and it goes without saying that any breach of the absolute rights contained in the ECHR can never be permitted.
The use of children has been much exercised today. It is unpleasant—there is no doubt about that—but at times, in this very real world, I contend that it is necessary, particularly with issues that have been mentioned, such as county lines, paedophilia and child trafficking. If it has a long-term benefit to other children, I consider that that makes it necessary. Also much exercised today is the level of authority and why members of the judiciary should not be involved in the process. Some might say that it introduces a new level of unwanted bureaucracy. I agree with that. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office provides comprehensive independent oversight of the use of investigatory powers as outlined in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. That oversight includes the inspection and authorisation of the use of these powers.
In conclusion, I have some reservations on the public bodies issue. I agree that police could fulfil some of those actions when required. I very much look forward to Committee and further consideration of the Bill.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, and the noble Lords, Lord McLoughlin and Lord Walney, on their excellent maiden speeches. I had the pleasure of welcoming the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, in my capacity as lord president on the very threshold of his career at the Scottish Bar when he was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1993. He has come a long way since then, further than we would have dared to contemplate on that day. It is a real pleasure for me to welcome him once again and to wish him well now that he takes on his new responsibilities as Advocate-General for Scotland.
It has occurred to me, as I have been reading and thinking about the Bill and the dangerous nature of the activities that it refers to, that I have led a very sheltered life. I have not been involved in any way with supervision of the work of the intelligence services, but I have had something to do with torture. When I was working here as a Law Lord, I was a member of the Appellate Committee in two cases that raised issues about it. One was the Pinochet case, in which we had to consider the reach of the UN Convention against Torture. The other was under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The question was whether our courts could rely in terrorism cases on information provided to us by agents from overseas that might have been obtained by torture.
As Lord Bingham said in the latter case, the fundamental nature of the prohibition against torture requires member states to do more than avoid the practice. It is not enough to say that I did not do it, I was not there, I did not see it happening or even that for some very good reason resort to it was necessary. It requires member states to do everything in their power to prevent and avoid it. The torture convention, we must remember, is breached by any act by which severe pain or suffering is inflicted to obtain information or as punishment by or at the instigation or with the consent or acquiescence of a person acting in an official capacity. Article 3 of the ECHR is at least as wide as that.
The reference in new Section 29B to the authorisation of criminal conduct by persons designated for the purposes of that section, and thus acting in an official capacity, seems to fall within the ambit of these provisions. The conditions mentioned in Section 29B(4) and the obligation merely to take account of the Human Rights Act in Section 29B(7) do not go nearly far enough with regard to this particular crime. We need to be very careful—ought it not to be made clear somewhere and somehow that participation in any way whatever in acts of torture will never be authorised? I am not suggesting this should expressly be mentioned as an exception in the statute but somehow, somewhere, a solution to this problem needs to be found.
Of course, to raise that question begs the question of whether we should go further. The right to life in Article 2 of the ECHR is also unqualified. At the very least, clear guidance needs to be read into the code as to when, if ever and for what purposes, participation in murder could be authorised. I also find the idea that children might be authorised to participate in torture or crimes of such gravity—by no means unimaginable given the way county lines operate—deeply disturbing for all the reasons mentioned a moment ago by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. I am sure the Minister will take his comments and his suggestions very seriously.
My Lords, I very much agree with the comments about torture that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, just made. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has just published its report on the Bill, and my comments are based largely on the evidence sessions and the final report.
I say at the outset that it is clearly welcome that the authorisation of criminal conduct by covert human intelligence sources should be put on a statutory footing. The justification is that through covert sources terrorist attempts have been prevented and lives have been saved, class A drugs, firearms and ammunition have been seized, and child sexual exploitation has been thwarted. All that is important, and that is the benefit of this Bill.
On the other hand, there have been some shocking instances of undercover activity in the past which should never be allowed to happen again. For example, there was the murder of Pat Finucane in Northern Ireland with the apparent complicity of undercover agents and, more recently, the surveillance of the Lawrence family after the racist murder of their son Stephen. It is quite unacceptable that a family such as that, victims of a most horrible crime, should be put under police surveillance. There are other incidents in the past, such as during the miners’ strike at the Orgreave coking plant.
As it stands, the Bill leaves open the possibility of serious crimes being committed through the granting of powers to authorise crimes more widely. That risks violating human rights, which surely means we have a responsibility to add many safeguards to the Bill. It should indicate a list of certain types of offences that should simply not be authorised. I am told that, if we had that list—as the Minister said at the outset—it would alert criminals to the way in which they can identify whether there is an undercover person working in their organisation. I think the safeguards can be built in; it has been done elsewhere, such as in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act. If it can be done there, we can surely adopt it as well.
I share the concerns about children. Children must surely be part of this covert process only in exceptional circumstances.
Extending authorisations to situations where there are no criminal threats risks unjustified interference in the activities of trade unions and other legitimate activists, and can affect the right to free expression and free assembly. In passing, I mention the criticism that senior members of the Government have made of “activist lawyers”; are they to be put under this sort of surveillance? I hope not.
The Bill will go way beyond the authorisation of criminal conduct by the security and intelligence services and the police. The power to authorise conduct should be restricted to public authorities whose core function is protecting national security and fighting serious crime. That should not include the Environment Agency, HMRC, the DHSC, the FSA, the Gambling Commission and others. It is also unacceptable for the Bill to provide authorisation of crime with fewer safeguards than exist at the moment for phone-tapping or the authorisation of search warrants. Those require a preliminary process, which is surely a safeguard which should be applied to the authorisation of crime. There should be prior judicial approval, except for urgent cases.
Finally, I am concerned about the victims and civil liability. I appreciate why this is a difficult area, but we should at least include provision for the indemnification of victims, who should be able to obtain compensation for losses suffered as a result of authorised crime.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble and learned friend on his clear and comprehensive maiden speech. He opened today’s debate on a crucial issue of national interest, but also gave the first of three excellent maiden speeches. The others were from my noble friend Lord McLoughlin, who, like me, had the pleasure of serving as chairman of the Conservative Party, and the noble Lord, Lord Walney, whose moving and emotional speech I fully understand and resonate with. It is not easy taking on your own party, colleagues and friends on an issue of principle.
Turning to the Bill, no one can reject the importance of CHIS or the need to protect them. No one can doubt the importance of putting existing practices, the status quo, on a statutory footing. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, based on his real experience in this area, the status quo has rarely caused issues. I therefore support this Bill in principle, to the extent that we have a statutory basis for the current position.
I agree that we need to place a shield in front of CHIS, but we must be careful not to place a sword of blanket immunity in their hands or the hands of those who authorise, especially when the scope of those who can authorise is so widely drafted in this Bill. I ask my noble and learned friend to hear and heed the very personal and powerful contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Hain. Accountability tempers excess, and in this case appropriate authorisation and oversight provide the necessary accountability.
I note what the Bill—and my noble and learned friend in opening the debate—said about our commitment to the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights, but I am sure that he too, in the back of his mind, has concerns about much of the political debate around the Government’s commitment to both. We heard today from noble Lords on torture, murder and sexual offences. If we are clear which activities cannot and must not in any circumstances be authorised because doing so would put us in breach of convention obligations and rights, surely that must be in the Bill. I cannot accept that to do so would simply tip off criminals, terrorists or others, as my noble and learned friend said; as he and other noble Lords will know, those who operate in these gangs and terrorist organisations are far more sophisticated and already prepared for what they may see as potential CHIS activity. To this end I endorse the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws.
I look forward to supporting the principle of this Bill and the Government, but will make sure that I work with noble Lords across the House to ensure that this Bill protects covert human intelligence sources in a manner consistent with hard-fought human rights and the rule of law.
My Lords, I welcome the three new Peers and congratulate them on their maiden speeches. I look forward to meeting them in future, perhaps bumping into them in corridors some time and setting them straight on a few of the issues in this Bill. The Bill is about granting immunity for crimes to criminals whom the Government employ. I will raise five issues today, though I am sure there will be more in future.
I start by highlighting that many victims of undercover policing are currently, finally, giving evidence to the Undercover Policing Inquiry, which is exploring systematic abuses by undercover policing units over a period of 40 years. It is therefore regrettable that the Government are bringing this piece of legislation forward before any lessons have been learned. More can be learned from the public inquiry, so will the Minister undertake to bring forward further legislation in future to deal with any recommendations coming out of it?
Secondly, I want to dispel any notion that this legislation is simply regularising and codifying the status quo. This is simply not true. Most significantly, there is currently no blanket immunity granted to undercover state operatives. There are legal defences which can be relied on, and prosecutors can and do decide that it is not in the public interest to prosecute undercover operatives. However, this legislation seeks to replace that with a blanket system of legal immunity which would be self-administered by the agencies themselves. This undermines victims’ rights and gives them no legal redress when they are harmed by undercover operatives.
Thirdly, there are no limits in the Bill to the criminality that can be authorised. The Government’s response is that the Human Rights Act would prevent these types of crime; even if that is true, it remains this Government’s stated intention to repeal the Human Rights Act. Can the Minister make very clear what the Government’s proposals to change the Human Rights Act are and how they will interact with the Bill? The Bill allows the Secretary of State to place limits, by regulation, on what conduct can be authorised, so the Government have already explicitly conceded in the drafting of this legislation that there is a need for restrictions on what can be authorised. The Joint Committee on Human Rights said it best in paragraph 42 of its report on this Bill:
“The Government should not introduce unclear and ambiguous laws that would, on their face, purport to authorise state-sanctioned criminality that would lead to serious human rights violations such as murder, sexual offences and serious bodily harm.”
Noble Lords can see that we have a problem here.
One does not have to be a human rights lawyer to realise that the Government are not allowed to authorise people to commit such grievous crimes. Parliament should place limits on the face of the Bill. In particular, we must prohibit the use of government agents as agents provocateurs who infiltrate legitimate political campaigns or trade union groups and disrupt their activities or cause them to commit criminal acts.
Fourthly, on the issue of child spies, which I have spoken on many times, I think it is dangerous, unethical and cruel, and I would prohibit it.
Fifthly, I am very concerned about the overlaps of this Bill with already existing legal processes: for example, the risk that authorisation under this Bill could bypass some of the legal safeguards, like search warrants or phone-tapping authorisation, or authorise conduct that interferes with legal processes, such as tampering with evidence, contempt of court or perjury, which could all be argued to be necessary and proportionate.
I look forward to working with other noble Lords across the House to significantly amend this legislation. I believe that if we cannot amend it significantly, then it must be voted against in its entirety.
My Lords, the Bill before your Lordships today has a great many flaws. A case could be made that the Government should simply look at it again and think again. It has been said that the Bill is merely, but importantly, to put on a statutory footing practice which has hitherto operated in the shadows. Alas, as currently framed, the Bill does not fulfil that function, as the Minister himself said. Rather, it seeks to confer immunity from prosecution for criminal conduct. Other noble Lords have argued this point with distinction, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti.
I preface my remarks today by stating that I do, of course, wish to live in a well-regulated society. I therefore accept the need for elements of covert activity in some well-defined circumstances. However, I also want to live in a society in which a high priority is placed on concern for people who are vulnerable, possibly due to a range of circumstances, one of which is the simple fact of being a child.
The UK Government signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in April 1990, and it came into force in January 1992. In 2010, the then Government published a report on how legislation underpins the implementation of the UN convention, given that all policy and practice must comply with it.
Children are not the only vulnerable people who may become CHIS, as outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. However, I propose to confine myself simply to remarks about children. Such children as are recruited will have engaged in risky and quite possibly illegal behaviours, and will therefore be in need of help, support and protection. On this, I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I am aware that the High Court has determined that it may be appropriate to use children where the welfare of the child could be protected, though it is hard for me to see how putting children in harm’s way could be considered to comply with Article 3 of the UNCRC, which provides that
“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private … welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
It is indeed extremely difficult to see how authorities as listed would be able to fulfil the obvious duty of care owed to children if authorities themselves are authorising, or perhaps thereby encouraging, children to commit criminal offences, notwithstanding the reference by the Minister to the safeguards in the uprated guidance. I concur entirely with the briefing from Justice in the view that CCAs for children should be explicitly and expressly excluded. Unless such exclusions are in place, there is the risk of violating both domestic and international law.
CHIS will continue to be necessary in well-defined circumstances. However, this Bill does not put on a statutory footing existing practice, and it does allow for the continuing use of children. The Bill is in serious need of amendment. It should also be the opportunity to put beyond doubt that children should not be used as CHIS, and in this I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has withdrawn from this debate, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
My Lords, I would like to add my congratulations to our three new noble Lords who have made their maiden speeches. I warmly welcome the noble Lord, Lord Walney, to the House and congratulate him on his maiden speech today, which was very heartfelt and personal. He will be a very welcome addition, having served with such distinction in the other place. My noble friend Lord McLoughlin will remember that he was my first Whip when I was first elected to the other place in 1997. I set particular challenges, as I think I was the last MP to serve as a dual mandate MEP at the same time, so I am grateful to him for his kindnesses to me at that time.
I would like to pay a particular welcome to—
I would like to pay a particular warm welcome to my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart of Dirleton, and say what a lovely part of the world he lives in. My father partly grew up in North Berwick, and my grandfather had a pharmacy there, so it is an area with which I am extremely familiar. I would like to join him in paying tribute to his predecessor. I am sure he will serve the House with distinction in his new office, and I look forward to working with him on this Bill.
I have a number of questions that I would like to explore both today and, more particularly, in Committee. In particular, I would like to explore a point raised by my right honourable friend Dr Julian Lewis, who of course is chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee at the moment. He said:
“What we are now saying is that they are not breaking the law, rather than, as in the past, that they were breaking the law, but that it was against the public interest to prosecute.”
And, he asks:
“Why the reason for that change?”—[Official Report, Commons, 5/10/20; col. 655.]
I would like to preface all my remarks with that question, because it would help me understand, in particular, the need for the Bill and why the Bill is coming forward at this time.
I would also like to particularly press my noble friend the Minister, when she sums up the debate, on the inclusion of new agencies. I have some sympathy with the background to this: I served as chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in 2012-13, at the time of the “horsegate” scandal. This was a fraud, passing off horsemeat as beef; it was a multi-million pound criminal scam. So I can understand why the Government are seeking to empower the Food Standards Agency to do more investigations than previously, as it really was better done by the FSA than perhaps the City of London Police at that time.
Equally, the Environment Agency has been given a further power, and I would like to understand, in particular, how that will be used and to ensure that it will not be used beyond the remit set out in the Bill today, particularly for the purposes for which it is necessary. Fly-tipping and other offences are obviously on the increase, and we perhaps do need these powers, but I would like to understand them.
I would also like to understand what the role of the local authorities will be, presumably in working closely with the Food Standards Agency and the Environment Agency and their CHIS agents in performance of the duties under this Bill, and to what extent they might be covered by the Bill.
I also share the concern expressed by others on the better protection for children acting as CHIS under the Bill, and I look forward to exploring these issues during the passage of the Bill.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the three noble Lords who made their maiden Speeches today and add my welcome to them. I cannot agree to a Bill which authorises the state to grant unlimited immunity for future crimes yet to be committed by its agents. That is not consistent with the rule of law. I have no problem with the CPS discretion to excuse crimes after the event, subject to clear criteria, but today I wish to make four other points.
I begin by declaring an interest. I represent a number of trade unions in the undercover police inquiry. Evidence began yesterday. The inquiry will investigate the practice of undercover policing since 1968. My first point is to ask why the Government cannot wait even for the evidence to be given, let alone for the inquiry to report its conclusions, before introducing this Bill. By failing to wait, they choose to dismiss the obvious contribution the inquiry could make to shaping the Bill.
Secondly, under proposed new subsection (5)(c), a crime can be authorised by a CHIS if it is deemed necessary
“in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.”
As my noble friends Lord Rosser and Lord Whitty have observed, this undefined and ominous phrase is clearly capable of being interpreted as encompassing lawful industrial action which, as most industrial action does, has adverse economic consequences. Agents can be authorised to commit crimes to “prevent, minimise or disrupt” legitimate trade union activity. That is totally unacceptable. Trade unions and industrial action ceased to be criminal in this country 150 years ago. Trade unions and their activities are also protected by international law, not least by Article 11 of the European convention.
Thirdly, one justification for the Bill is said to be that it will only regularise present practice. If so, the material so far made public by the inquiry provides no comfort as to such practices. I say no more of the practice by which 30—yes, 30—women were groomed into largely long-term, intimate relationships with undercover police for the purposes of providing them with cover than that those who have so far sued have obtained the admission from the Metropolitan Police that those relationships were
“abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong”.
In relation to trade unions, we have learned that Special Branch had an industrial intelligence unit which maintained, for no apparent lawful purpose, files which contained information gathered by undercover officers with the special demonstration squad who penetrated both unions and rank and file campaigners. Some of the information in the unit’s files was then supplied by police to the blacklist maintained by the Economic League, so barring trade unionists from obtaining jobs.
My final point is that, currently, an undercover officer could not be instructed by superiors to commit a crime. If the Bill becomes law, an officer will be refusing to obey a lawful instruction if she or he refuses to commit a crime when instructed to do so by a superior who has obtained authorisation. That will be a disciplinary offence, potentially justifying dismissal. That is a powerful argument against prior authorisation.
Let me start by congratulating our three maiden speakers on their excellent speeches. Like others who have spoken today, I welcome the intention behind the Bill. Putting on to a statutory basis the authorisation of otherwise criminal acts committed by covert human intelligence sources is now clearly necessary. It is in the interests of both the agents themselves and of those authorising them to engage in what would otherwise be criminal conduct. However, as the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights says, it is essential that such authorisation is
“subjected to careful constraints, exacting scrutiny and effective oversight”,
and those are the areas on which I wish to focus today.
First, there is the scope of the criminal conduct authorisation. Authorising a CHIS to commit murder, torture or sexual violence is pretty hard to swallow. I recognise the difficulties and potential dangers in trying to draw the line between, as it were, crime and abhorrent crime, and I recognise that in difficult and dangerous circumstances, lines can be crossed, but I remain to be convinced that drawing such a line and excluding the gravest crimes from blanket authorisation cannot and should not be attempted. The arguments of my noble and learned friend Lord Hope were highly relevant here.
I raise one specific point. The Government have argued that there is no need to include explicit limits on, for example, murder and torture, because these are prohibited anyway under the Human Rights Act. As I understand it, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, has argued—perhaps I am wrong here—the Government have argued separately that the Human Rights Act should not apply to abuses committed by their agents. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on that point.
I make one final point. If I were an authorising officer, however highly I had been trained and however carefully I had absorbed the code of conduct—which I have indeed read—I would want as much cover and protection as I could get. The arguments for and against prior authorisation clearly need to be examined in Committee, and I certainly see merit in the proposal of my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich that an authorisation should be reported in real time to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner.
My Lords, just over two years ago, it fell to me to voice the concerns of your Lordships’ Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee about extending the authorised time for which juveniles—young people—could be used for covert human intelligence work. Yes, this extension had been authorised in the form of an SI. Fortunately, your Lordships’ committee picked it up and the outcome was that the Minister provided a number of additional safeguards relating to the welfare, well-being and protection of those young people. Here we go again.
I congratulate the Minister on his maiden Speech and the other main speakers. As the Minister said, the Bill will allow young people to conduct criminal activity in pursuit of their intelligence work. As many noble Lords have said, once again, there is a need for better protection. I am grateful to Just For Kids Law, a charity that campaigns strongly for the rights of juveniles caught up in covert activities. It fought for amendments to the code of practice and is active again in preparing amendments to the Bill. Those amendments would ensure that better protection, such as providing for an independent individual who will ensure that the safeguards in the Bill work in practice, and seeking to address the inevitable power imbalance that exists between a juvenile and the police, and the 13—yes, 13—other public authorities who have demonstrated an operational need for this activity.
In her letters of 27 October and 11 November, the Minister justifies this criminal conduct in carefully managed circumstances. She says that the Bill provides additional safeguards for juveniles and strengthens the code of practice. However, it is a code. Does it really have the force of law? She says that juveniles will be authorised to act in only the most exceptional circumstances, with their consent. Is it really informed consent, not just pressure? She assures us that safeguards are in place to promote the best interests of the juvenile. I put it to her that the best interests of the juvenile is not to be involved in criminal activities in the first place. Other noble Lords have reminded us that Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which we are a signatory, states that the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. It seems to me that the primary consideration here is security and catching the criminal, even if the child risks being corrupted.
Therefore, before we start debating amendments in Committee, I ask the Minister, do we really want juveniles to be authorised to carry out this criminal activity, even under the strictest supervision? As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and others have suggested, are we not making a victim of the juvenile, bearing in mind the risk of violence and sexual assault, the emotional and associated mental, physical and psychological damage, and the risk of corruption, which will damage them well into their adult lives. To some, it would appear that these young people are being exploited by our public authorities, leaving it to the rest of us to clear up the mess.
This is not a party-political matter. As many noble Lords have said, it is a human rights matter and a rights of the child issue. In view of all those concerns and in spite of the need, will the Minister consider stopping the use of children in this criminal activity? Then we will not have to argue over safeguards for them.
My Lords, I join the welcome and congratulations to the Lord Advocate for Scotland and the noble Lords, Lord McLoughlin and Lord Walney. I thank the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, for the way in which he gave me and others support when we were under pressure at the height of the issues of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. I acknowledge that what he said in private was far more significant than what he said in public. The noble Lord, Lord Walney, stood on the right side when he did not have to, and took a brave stance. He supported Jewish members of the Parliamentary Labour Party and Jewish Members of the Labour Party. That will not be forgotten, and I thank him.
There have been a number of changes since the 1970s and 1980s. We are no longer fighting countries and armies under rules of engagement in war. We have human rights legislation that we did not have before. Those are significant changes. Since 1997, the strongest trade union organisation in the country is at GCHQ. Being a trade unionist and being loyal to one’s country are not contradictions. The density of membership there is a sign of that. It is part of the checks and balances in the system that makes it work.
We are now in a digital era, which changes many things. In many of the issues that we are talking about today, we are missing the mundanity of the actions that will be required outside the law. Some of the models are rather old-fashioned in terms of approach to what is going on. The mundanity is important to the effectiveness of the powers required.
I particularly want to talk about what happens if we do not do this, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, eloquently pointed out. We go back to the grey area that existed in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s —the shadows, as it was described. What characterised that more than anything was the incompetence of the actions taking place. Nothing could illustrate that better than putting people inside the International Marxist Group or, as we used to call them, the sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie. The only revolutionary thing that that organisation ever did was when some of its members accepted a peerage to come into this place.
The incompetence of the grey area was not in the national interest. There is a worse example. The Economic League sums up the grey area, the shadows and the incompetence. I should know: I was on the Economic League blacklist. When I went to work for the Ciba-Geigy chemical company in Manchester, I got given a job that was then withdrawn because I was on the list. I managed to get hold of the list and found my name on it. That is what happens with a grey area.
The Bill does more than codify; it allows accountability. It does not mean that things will not go wrong and there will not be big issues—there could well be—but it gives us, the people and the victims, the power to do something about it. The grey area is not an option. I want to see the Bill go through.
The noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, will not be speaking in the debate so we will move straight on to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker.
I am afraid we still cannot hear the noble Baroness. I suggest that we come back to her because we are not able to pick up her words. If she has a chat with the people on the other end of the line, we will come back after the next speaker, hopefully when her microphone is functional. I am sorry, but I am going to move directly on to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. We will return to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, next.
My Lords, I offer my congratulations to the three noble Lords, including the Minister, on making their maiden speeches today.
I am afraid I cannot give the Bill approval because it provides people employed by the Government with immunity for carrying out murder and heinous crimes. In fact, it would give statutory effect to legalised criminal offences committed by informants, provided that MI5, the Police Service of Northern Ireland or other UK law enforcement bodies have authorised the informant to commit the crime in advance. I understand that this is known as criminal conduct authorisation.
There are also no express limits set out in the Bill to prohibit informants’ participation in particular crimes that would constitute human rights violations such as murder, torture including punishment beatings, punishment shootings and kidnapping, or acting as agents provocateurs. I think back to the use of agents in paramilitary murders in Northern Ireland. This goes to the very heart of the legacy issues that the Government are currently considering and their very unhelpful Statement of 18 March.
There is a concern that, in addition to criminal conduct authorisations making criminal acts by informants “lawful for all purposes”, the extraterritorial provisions of Section 27(3) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 could also apply, namely that:
“The conduct that may be authorised under this Part includes conduct outside the United Kingdom.”
This would mean, for example, that MI5 could authorise from its Belfast base a serious criminal offence to be conducted by a paramilitary informant in the Republic of Ireland. That offence would be unlawful under UK law but, clearly, this would not change an act being a criminal offence—[Inaudible.] The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred to the murder of Mr Finucane in all these regards. I must ask the Minister some questions. Were the Irish Government consulted on the content of this legislation and on the fact that this proposed activity could take place in their jurisdiction? Were they asked if this would impact on their own police service—the Garda Síochána? Did the Prime Minister discuss this with An Taoiseach when he met him in Hillsborough earlier this year?
It is important that significant amendments are made to this Bill to ensure that the UK’s prosecuting authorities can independently review crimes—[Inaudible.] —and remove the power for MI5 and other public authorities to brand crime “lawful for all purposes”. I cannot accept the extraterritorial nature of this because it places an impact on the bipartisan rule of Britain and Ireland in terms of Northern Ireland.
I understand that we are still not able to return to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker; once her microphone is corrected, we will attempt to do so. We will move straight on to the noble Lord, Lord Sikka.
My Lords, I welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, and the noble Lords, Lord McLoughlin and Lord Walney, to the House. I look forward to meeting them face to face in the not too distant future and working with them.
I have a number of questions. First, the Minister and the Government have told us that we can rely on the Human Rights Act as a way of curbing any excesses of the CHIS Bill, but the difficulty is that the Government have already committed to repealing and revising that Act. We do not know what will be taken out or left in. Surely it would be more prudent for the Government to introduce the revised human rights legislation first and bring the CHIS Bill later? But that is not what they are doing.
Subsection (5)(c) of new Clause 29B, as proposed by Clause 1(5), permits authorised criminal acts
“in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.”
As the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, indicated, the Bill does not say what that actually means. How do we know what is in the long-term economic interest of the United Kingdom? Was deregulation of the financial sector really in the economic interest of the UK? Is anybody calling for deregulation now because it clashes with the government ideology of the day, perhaps? Are they really to be infiltrated by undercover agents and the organisation subverted? It is hard to know.
Some in authority will have argued—they certainly did in their day—that the general march against unemployment and poverty, the miners’ strike, the Dagenham women’s quest for equal pay or the Grunwick workers’ quest for better pay and working conditions were somehow a threat to the economic well-being of the UK. However, with hindsight, we know that they enabled many people to live a fulfilling life. They brought in an era of possible gender equality, at least over pay. Much of our social awareness is due to social organisations such as environmental activists, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, anti-apartheid movements and Extinction Rebellion, which may well operate in the margins of the law from time to time. However, these organisations can easily be classified by the Government as damaging the economic interests of society and thereby perhaps become subject to infiltration by undercover agents.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher referred to the African National Congress as a “typical terrorist organisation”; by definition, she labelled Nelson Mandela a terrorist. Whether the Government sent in any undercover agents to undermine the ANC, we do not know. Nevertheless, the idea that somehow you are going to safeguard national security and economic interests poses particular problems, because the issues tend to be seen through the lenses of the ideology of the Government of the day.
The Bill defines “relevant authorities” but omits an important fact: all the relevant authorities have been outsourcing some of their activities to private corporations. That means that other corporations would also be authorised to commit criminal acts. Where does that leave us in terms of corporate responsibility and the responsibility of corporations under international law to uphold human rights? Who will oversee these corporations? In this country, we do not even have a central regulator to oversee the enforcement of the Companies Act. What happens to the employees of these organisations if they say that they cannot go along with instructions from their employers? What happens to those conscientious objectors? The Bill provides absolutely no guide whatever.
For those reasons, it is impossible for me to support the Bill. I look forward to a number of amendments and a further debate.
The processes through which CHIS are authorised to engage in crime are, at the moment, unsatisfactory. There is a mischief here that requires to be remedied. However, the Bill does not provide a remedy to the mischief; rather, it exacerbates it. It enables the granting of immunity for serious crime to a CHIS by a member of a range of authorities in undefined circumstances. It requires the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, in the exercise of his regulatory powers, to
“pay … attention to public authorities’… power to grant … authorisations.”
It does not provide proper authorisation or audit.
The three grounds on which criminal conduct authorisations will be permitted are defined as national security, preventing or detecting crime or preventing disorder, and the economic well-being of the country. These are very wide-ranging circumstances. National security must include the protection of life, yet the need to prevent crime can leave CHIS in place with authorisations that might lead to deaths because a decision can be made that the need to prevent a greater number of deaths is greater than the need to protect one life. It has happened. Crime and terrorism can be very fast moving. That is why we need to ensure proper authorisation processes, just as we have for the granting of search warrants and other activities under RIPA. Yesterday, the JCHR said:
“This raises the abhorrent possibility of serious crimes such as rape, murder or torture being carried out under an authorisation … There appears to be no good reason why the Bill cannot state clearly that certain offences or categories of offences are incapable of authorisation.”
I have had experience of CHIS activity over some 24 years as a member of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland; as Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland; more recently, as a member of the international steering group for Operation Kenova, which is looking at the agent known as Stakeknife; and in my current work for the Home Secretary. I have seen the good that CHIS can do and the havoc that they can wreak when not properly regulated. The death of Patrick Finucane’s solicitor is a very real example, as are the activities of the IRA agent Stakeknife. I have seen it in other countries too.
The activities of CHIS as a source of information and intelligence are essential in the fight against crime—I fully accept that. The Government are right: their activities require to be regulated. In order to search a property, there is a requirement to get a search warrant and provide information to support the application, swearing to the truth of that information. A person’s right to privacy requires that. Surely a person’s right to life requires more than the distant authorisation of criminal activity by agents of the state, as proposed by this Bill.
As we contemplate the fight against terrorism, which is so real today, we need to learn from our previous experiences, not just in handling CHIS but in the consequences of the actions of the state for respect for the rule of law. When solicitor Patrick Finucane was murdered by state agents in 1989, the people of Northern Ireland recognised what had happened; indeed, David Cameron apologised for the shocking levels of state collusion in his murder. People very quickly lose respect for the law; that is what happened in Northern Ireland. Such criminal activity by agents of the state, and the failure by the state to prevent and investigate crime impartially and effectively, is very damaging to the whole criminal justice system and to community acceptance of policing, which is vital in the fight against terrorism.
The Bill came to this House from the Commons unaltered, but there were serious challenges to it in the other place. As I listened to the Minister, I considered the extent to which criminals recognise the opportunity to exploit lacunae in the law. If the Bill were passed, it would create terrible lacunae. The Minister has said that there will be no authorisation of serious crimes such as murder, but particular crimes in respect of which there is immunity cannot be identified because that would enable criminals to identify the CHIS. If the offences which cannot be authorised are to be identified by reference to human rights law, then if a CHIS refused to participate in a serious criminal act, the criminals would be able to identify them anyway. If it became known that immunity could be secured by a CHIS for a serious crime, this process might well be utilised by the very criminal groups which the state seeks to infiltrate, effectively resulting once again in state-sanctioned crime. Criminals are always on the lookout for opportunities. They are usually very intelligent and use the same countersurveillance strategies and techniques as the state.
As other noble Lords have said, we need better protection for children. We know that criminals do not hesitate to kill, torture and seriously injure young people who get caught up in crime. The Bill provides no real protection for such children. The ex post facto examination of authorisations by the IPT does not prevent or control the inappropriate authorisation of serious crime; it is not enough. Humankind is frail and sometimes decisions are made in the absence of law. That is why the Bill is unsatisfactory.
Finally, the Bill appears to provide power to authorise CHIS to commit crime outside the UK.
The Minister stated that this is needed for the MoD and, no doubt, for the security service. It raises problems for our relations with other states. We need processes to ensure the constant flow of information. To do that, we must amend the Bill.
We have ironed out the gremlins with the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, so we will return live to her.
My Lords, I concur that the Bill is necessary, but it is too loose. It is apparently compatible with the Human Rights Act, but there are other rights which could be breached as the Bill stands. There are considerations relating to public morality and the exercise of democracy—[Inaudible.]
I am sorry, Lady Whitaker. We will try and return to you if we can find a microphone that works. We will go straight on to the noble Lord, Lord Judd.
My Lords, I do hope that we will hear from my noble friend Lady Whitaker; she always has highly relevant things to say. We have heard interesting maiden speeches today. The Minister combined, in a rather attractive way, heart, soul and pretty businesslike and effective professionalism. It will be interesting to see him playing his part in our proceedings.
We need security services and I join with noble Lords who pay tribute to what they do on our behalf. However, we are in a world in which there is a battle for hearts and minds. We must not lose sight of this when considering this legislation. We talk about British values and what matters to the British way of life. We must make this Bill clearly consistent with that. That is why it is so important to get certain principles on the face of the Bill.
We should be strengthening those within the security services, who are determined to operate by the highest standards and who very much have a conviction about what British values are. We must be very careful not to inadvertently play into the hands of the manipulators, who prey on people and build up an area of ambivalence and greyness around what is being done. There must be demonstrable, maximum united public support for what is being done. That is why what is on the face of the Bill is so important. Murder, torture, sexual violence and manipulation are simply not consistent with what we like to proclaim are British values. It is inconceivable not to somehow put on the face of the Bill our total unacceptance of these in any circumstances whatever. Canada has done so; why can we not follow its lead?
My other area of concern is the extent of the agencies covered by the Bill. It is ugly to see vital parts of the social well-being of our society—the Department of Health and Social Care, the Food Standards Agency and others—which are nothing to do with this Bill, being drawn into its orbit. The Minister must give more convincing arguments for why, when this is about national security. We must also hear more convincing arguments about how we can avoid agents provocateurs. My noble friend Lord Hendy spoke very convincingly indeed about the dangers to the trade union movement. Regarding children, where is our imagination and our heart? Most of the children to whom we are referring are deeply troubled, having been through difficult circumstances. We would be very unwise to compound their mental anguish, their difficulties or their instability for the future at goodness knows what social cost.
Justice has put its case very well. We should have prior judicial authorisation. The judicial commissioners are well practiced in making complex assessments of sensitive material in an independent, detached manner, and, where necessary, at speed. Why on earth can we not have prior judicial authorisation, with a role for the judicial commissioners?
I too congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, and the noble Lords, Lord McLoughlin and Lord Walney, for three memorable maiden speeches, and welcome them to this House.
I join this debate having served in the last two parliamentary Sessions on the Intelligence and Security Committee. I welcome this Bill, and the need to give a legal basis to an activity which, as I frequently heard in evidence to the ISC, plays a key role in many operations of the intelligence services and the police.
As with other legislation putting the secret activities of the agencies on a statutory basis, there is a balance to be struck between, on the one hand, constructing a clear and robust statutory framework with effective oversight and, on the other, giving the agencies the ability and flexibility to act very quickly, if necessary, and in difficult and changing circumstances to achieve their objectives.
I will confine my comments to three areas: the gravity of the crimes to be authorised, the public bodies and oversight. On the first point, I certainly understand the argument against spelling out a carefully defined list of serious crimes, but, as others have mentioned—most recently, the noble Lord, Lord Judd—some of our Five Eyes partners apparently do have explicit limits. Do they not have the same concerns about the risks of a checklist? To say that they are not subject to the European Convention on Human Rights does not really answer that question. Like others, I am troubled by the Five Eyes comparison.
Secondly, I join with others to question the public authorities able to grant authorisations. I know that a wide range of public authorities carry out criminal investigations but, if they are running an investigation of sufficient gravity to consider the use of a CHIS with authority to commit crime, surely, the police ought to be aware? If they are, is there not a strong case for them to be responsible for authorising the criminal activity?
Thirdly, I support the view that these criminal activity authorisations should be effectively scrutinised not only by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and IPCO but also by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. It is for the IPCO to examine the detail of individual authorisations, and I look forward to examining what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said about oversight on a more immediate basis. In addition, surely, it is right in principle that the ISC, on behalf of Parliament, should have wider oversight of the use of these authorisations now that they are the subject of legislation? I look forward to a full discussion of these and the many other issues raised in Committee. I take this opportunity to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and her department for the excellent briefings we have had on this Bill. I look forward to her reply.
I take this opportunity to welcome the Minister and congratulate him on his thoughtful contribution and a loving tribute to Dirleton. I also extend my warm welcome to the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, and my noble friend Lord Walney. I was deeply moved by his plain speaking, share his pain at the hands of the party we love and assure him that there are merits in being able to reach out to create new political alliances in this House.
The Bill proposes statutory protection for public institutions to authorise informants and undercover officers to engage in criminal conduct. It does not specify limits or types of crime that may be authorised. I come to this Bill as a rights activist and would like government assurance that obstructing civil disobedience will be excluded. New clauses would enable RIPA power necessary and proportionate for criminal conduct authorisation subject to meeting three tests on grounds of “national security”, “preventing or detecting … disorder” and
“the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.”
It is worth reminding ourselves that RIPA came into being in order to improve oversight of intelligence work, and this Bill must not assume implicit immunity, breaking laws that all other citizens are expected to comply with.
Like many noble Lords, I acknowledge with thanks briefings from rights organisations, which have grave concerns. I am grateful to Reprieve, Just for Kids Law, the Pat Finucane Centre, Justice and WAR. While I do not agree with every single aspect of their views, there is consensus among them that the Bill is regressively flawed. Some go further to suggest that it is a state licence for agents and informants on the public payroll to commit crimes, which may include murder, sexual violence and torture, with impunity and without adequate redress for the victims—the core principle of our criminal justice system. I fear we may be sleepwalking once again into what the former Prime Minister, the right honourable David Cameron, referred to as the unacceptable extent of state collusion in the case of Patrick Finucane. I am troubled by the idea of the state allowing individuals to partake in criminal acts and providing them with immunity from the due process of law. By passing this Bill, I fear that we would be approving serious violations of international human rights norms and obligations. No matter how limited my voice or reach in this Chamber or beyond, I stand against everything that the Bill proposes.
We cannot overlook the lessons of survivors of sexual transgressions by officers, or so-called spy cops, currently subject of the undercover policing inquiry. Paid officers entrusted to uphold laws transcended all moral decency, shattering the lives of their victims. It is a prevalent reminder, if any were needed, of the potential consequences of unregulated individuals interpreting for themselves what their institutions required of them. This Bill seeks merely to legitimise more such acts. Regrettably, we cannot lose sight of the unlawful attempt to discredit my noble friend Lady Lawrence’s family and the families of Hillsborough victims, infiltrated in their campaign for justice for their loved ones.
My most grievous concerns are about the potential use of CCAs for children. While I note cautiously the Minister’s assurances, as a child protection officer of long standing I find objectionable the notion of legally sanctioning the exploitation of children, inciting them to commit criminal offences and placing them in harm’s way for potential abuse and long-term harm to their mental well-being. I seriously question “informed consent” in these contexts, even in exceptional circumstances.
Noble Lords will be aware that Just for Kids Law has issued legal proceedings against the Home Office concerning the use of children as spies by the police and other investigative agencies. Justice and other NGOs are asking for CCAs for children to be prohibited. Will the Government listen to their call and exclude children from the purview of the Bill?
My final point is about the potential influence of the embedded disparities of structural racism, sexism and Islamophobia—
I am finishing, my Lords.
My final point is about the potential influence of the embedded disparities of structural racism, sexism and Islamophobia when CCAs are issued with a view to targeting specific communities and groups in the shadow or clandestine decision-making. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, whose excellent analysis highlighted these sentiments. Given the countless individual experiences of discrimination beyond management’s eyes, there remains a lack of trust and confidence among black and minority communities in the police and intelligence services. Therefore, I do not support any government measures which infringe civil liberties, citizen rights and public trust at the peril of our democratic values and justice. I thank noble Lords for their lenience.
My Lords, I apologise to the House for having to be absent for much of the debate due to a clash with a meeting of our Joint Committee on Human Rights. I regret missing the maiden speeches apart from that of the Minister, whom I congratulate on his aplomb during it.
I shall therefore be brief. I am sure that noble Lords will have covered wisely and in detail the points of contention. I want to state what the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Harriet Harman MP, said in a press release to its recent report:
“This Bill raises major human rights concerns … There should be added to the Bill clear limits on the scale and type of criminality which can be authorised. We cannot pass a law that leaves open the possibility of state-sanctioned rape, murder or torture … The power to authorise crime should be restricted to the public authorities whose role it is to combat serious crime and protect national security and not include bodies such as the Food Standards Agency or the Gambling Commission.”
I just want to emphasise a few points that concern me. First, the Joint Committee on Human Rights report points out that the authorised criminal offences have the potential to interfere with several qualified and absolute rights, including those guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998. Secondly, the Bill contains no specific limits on the criminal conduct that can be authorised. Thirdly, and very importantly, no distinction is made between adults and children for the purposes of CCAs within the revised CHIS code of practice. This would be a serious breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty and therefore legally binding on ratifying countries—the UK ratified the UNCRC in 1990. My noble friend Lord Haskel and others have spoken about this intolerable situation. The rights of the child are paramount, as reflected in the UNCRC. There must be no compromise on this, and the age of a child is 18 and under, not 16 as the Government seem to think.
The Bill does not include provisions for victims of authorised criminal conduct. The Bill needs additional safeguards to ensure that there can be no authorisation for serious criminality. Many agencies, including Reprieve and Justice, and the Bar Council have suggested changes that could be introduced to the Bill. They and the Joint Committee on Human Rights have similar concerns. I therefore hope the Government will take note. I look forward to hearing the Minister.
Most of what I wanted to say has been said, and eloquently said. I will merely emphasise two points before I metaphorically sit down. The Government justify the absence of limits on the potential criminal activity that the Bill enables by saying that to do so might serve to expose active agents. Furthermore, HMG argue that there is no need to include such limitations in the Bill, as has been the case in similar legislation in Canada and the USA, on the basis that the UK is party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which is incorporated in the Human Rights Act 1998, and is therefore bound by the terms of the convention. However, at the same time and in almost the same breath, the Government said, in legal filings, that they do not believe that covert agents should be bound by the terms of the Human Rights Act. Additionally, since the Human Rights Act specifically precludes murder, torture or other degrading behaviour, which surely covers sexual violence, the argument that naming limits might endanger agents rather falls to the ground. Will the Minister clear up these ambiguities?
Secondly, the Bill relies heavily on oversight by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, the right to lodge any complaint with the tribunal and additional oversight —oh, I fear I have lost my text. Forgive me. What I was going to say is basically that dependence on the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, when there are no fewer than 14 authorising authorities bound to ensure that any criminal activity undertaken must be proportionate, necessary and at the lowest level possible to achieve the aims of the particular operation, is surely too much to ask. One could rely on the ISC, but we all know that too often the ISC has not received full or timely information to fulfil its function, and the tribunal itself will obviously take place after the criminal act has been committed. For that reason, I ask the Minister to clear up what seem to me to be ambiguities.
We are going to make a final attempt to return to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. We hope that, on this occasion, the gremlins have finally been removed from the system.
Thank you. As I am on the phone, it probably will work.
My Lords, I concur that the Bill is necessary, but it is too loose. It is apparently compatible with the Human Rights Act, but other rights could be breached as the Bill stands, and there are considerations relating to public morality and the exercise of democracy that lie behind the Human Rights Act which need addressing. It is not satisfactory that the crimes that may be committed are not specified, as they are in Canada and the USA. We need an assurance that the Government will retain the Human Rights Act. Will the Minister please provide that? Following the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, can she confirm that the UN convention against torture could be engaged when any authorisation is made? How will crimes not specified in the Human Rights Act, such as rape or sexual exploitation, be prohibited? This is particularly disturbing when those making the authorisations will be not independent or judicial but members of the very organisation which wants the authorisation.
I will make four specific points. First, allowing any crime in the interests of economic well-being and preventing disorder allows for undemocratic and oppressive activities. How will the cited brake of the Human Rights Act constrain these? Secondly, why is it appropriate for the Competition and Markets Authority to commit crimes? This is intrusive. How will it be accountable? Thirdly, leave to compel access to journalistic sources is a very serious step and should be granted by a judicial figure, not the recipient authority. Fourthly—here I echo very many other noble Lords—is the very disturbing element, not new to this Bill, that children can be invited to cultivate deception and entrapment. How does that accord with the rights of the child and the paramount importance of their welfare, as my noble friend Lady Massey asked? The draft code helpfully provided by the noble Baroness is explicit about the use of so-called juveniles—that is, children—as covert sources. Surely this is justified only when their own safety is at risk from the activities that they are asked to spy on. The draft code says that such authorisations must be given taking account of the best interests of the child. Does fostering morality have no place in welfare or in best interests?
In her helpful meeting on the Bill, the Minister said that we must live in the real world. I hope that one of the differences between these Benches and those of the Government is not trying to make a better world rather than accepting a world where crime reduction depends on the exploitation and debasement of children. I look forward to the noble Baroness’s answers.
My Lords, I join others in welcoming the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, and I say to him that every follower of Lancashire knows the joys of the damp cricket match. I also welcome the noble Lords, Lord McLoughlin and Lord Walney, who bring valuable—if very different—experience to this House.
The Bill is short but raises big issues. Some of them are not new, and we will use the opportunity of the next stage to address whether we are in danger of consolidating provisions that should be reviewed. Some of the issues are new, and my noble friend Lord Paddick has carefully and thoughtfully unpacked the status quo. It has been quite some years since the de Silva review, itself many years after Pat Finucane’s death. Since the announcement of the judge-led inquiry, the Bill is concurrent with the hearings of evidence of that inquiry. I do not need to stress our concern for the rule of law, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has put it so clearly, and seeking to outflank a forthcoming judgment is, in my view, at best unseemly.
A statutory framework is welcome, but we already have a framework—more than a framework—in prosecutorial independence and the discretion applied. The public interest test serves us well, as noble Lords have said. The Minister said that “lawful for all purposes” is deliberate, and the House will note the authority with which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, speaks.
I assume that the test will be used in the case of the handlers of CHIS and their controllers. Or does the immunity extend to inciting crime or being an accessory? Presumably, one cannot authorise oneself.
Perhaps, this is the point at which to ask about territoriality. The Armed Forces are mentioned. Inevitably, I started to think about how one would police, and indeed define, criminal conduct overseas. I thought about rendition, but I assume that this legislation does not, and cannot, authorise criminal conduct outside the UK.
Oversight and independent scrutiny are needed, and investigation and accountability before and after—everything that adds up to transparency to the greatest possible extent. I am tempted to say, “so far as is proportionate and necessary,” but like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, we regard the greatest possible transparency as necessary. These will clearly feature at later stages, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has promised us amendments on this. I dare say he will not be alone. This is all part of the nub mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and I look forward to the amendments he will present to the House.
We must not lose sight of reviews and renewals of authorisations—I am not sure I have heard anyone mention them—or the governance, if you like, of the process. My noble friend Lord Beith made the point about the moral dimension.
Of course, we will consider who are the relevant authorities. My noble friends and I have often made the point about police officers having immigration enforcement added to their role. Today, I say we regard it as the police’s role to enforce the law, whether it is about gambling, food standards or whatever. My noble friend Lord Thomas was clear about that and much else. We are particularly interested in how it is envisaged that a government department should act as a relevant authority. Who within the Home Office will give authorisations? What position does this put the Home Secretary in?
The what as well as the who will certainly feature. On the issue of not providing criminal with a checklist against which a suspected CHIS can be tested, I today ask the Minister: what is envisaged by enabling the Home Secretary, by order, to prohibit the authorisation of, and impose requirements in connection with, conduct? That order will be a public document publicly debated, so its contents will be public. In any event, surely the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act provide a checklist. Like the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, I am troubled by some of the Government’s comments.
It would be helpful if the Minister could explain the Government’s view of the application of the Human Rights Act, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, has asked. Are CHIS agents of the state, or are they independent of the state? Like the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, I find it difficult to reconcile some of the Government’s statements.
As the JCHR points out, authorising criminal conduct has clear potential for engaging human rights, so the Bill must contain effective protections against their violations, including stringent safeguards against unnecessary or abusive authorisations. I look forward to hearing further ideas from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, who rightly raised the issue of torture.
Many noble Lords, including from our Benches my noble friend Lady Doocey, have spoken forcefully of the use or, as the right reverend Prelate said, the abuse, of children—because juveniles are children—and vulnerable adults as CHIS. What does it say about us, as a society, that we contemplate exploiting children—often, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, says, disadvantaged children—in this way?
In a debate a few years ago, I recounted an example of the abuse of a child, and I have periodically been asked for more details. Let me say now that I have no more details, so could journalists please stop asking me. Whether that is out of abhorrence or concern or through some enjoyment of sensationalism, I do not know, but I have been asking myself whether recruiting and directing a child as a covert intelligence source is not itself a type of grooming, with all its predictable outcomes for mental health, development and life choices. I think that the same thought has occurred to the noble Baroness, Lady Young. She and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, made very powerful points, and I look forward to working with all noble Lords who share these concerns.
How can acting as a spy, let alone undertaking criminal conduct, ever be in a child’s best interests? I appreciate that the code deals with appropriate adults in some cases, but can a child give informed consent to these activities? Every child is by definition vulnerable, and a child who is in a position to be used and targeted in this way is by definition very vulnerable. We have progressed in our thinking and views on other vulnerabilities, and we will be discussing the issue of mental capacity and the position of, among others, the victims of trafficking, modern slavery and exploitation whom we should primarily protect.
We recognise—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, pointed out—that in many contexts, perpetrators are victims too. There are also victims who are not perpetrators. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, among the many issues it has raised, has reported its concerns about conduct being “lawful for all purposes” and victims being deprived of civil remedies. In its report, it referred to the Minister for Security, who said that any authorisation found to have been made in breach of Section 6 of the Human Rights Act, which requires public authorities to act compatibly with convention rights,
“would be invalid and the conduct of the CHIS would not be rendered lawful.”
However, the report goes on to say,
“it is not plain on the face of the Bill that this would be the consequence of an authorisation that was inconsistent with human rights. Nor is it clear what would be the consequence of a CHIS carrying out a validly authorised offence in an excessive or disproportionate manner.”
We are grateful to the Minister for circulating the revised code of practice, but—and she will know that this is not a reflection on her personally—how far should we rely on a code? It is not legislation. We have had 54 speakers today and a thoughtful debate on the Bill’s seven pages and two schedules and considerable back- ground. I do not expect subsequent stages to be brief.
My Lords, from the Opposition Front Bench I put on record my thanks to the police, the security services, the National Crime Agency and the wider law enforcement agencies for the work they do to keep us safe. They often put themselves in harm’s way and at real risk. It is important that they know they have our support and our thanks for the work they do every day to protect us and to prevent crime and loss of life.
The work of covert human intelligence sources is vital to fighting crime and thwarting acts of terrorism. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, referred to the necessity of having CHIS operatives to fight crime. However, the existence of such operatives is not on a statutory footing, but it should be. By putting this work on a statutory basis, we will provide for the necessarily robust safeguards and proper protections to be put in place. Both I and my noble friend Lord Rosser will argue those points consistently from the Opposition Front Bench as the Bill progresses through your Lordships’ House.
As my noble friend said, the activity that the Bill deals with is not new but has been going on for many years. My noble friend Lord West of Spithead made the important point that we need to be careful in the legislation we pass and should never pass anything that puts an agent’s life at risk.
This is a relatively short Bill, with seven clauses and two schedules, but it is of the utmost importance. It is a Bill where the House of Lords has an important role in providing the scrutiny enabling the Government to provide the necessary assurances. Where they are unable to do so to our satisfaction, we will seek to amend the Bill, return it to the other place in a much-improved state and ask them to think again.
There is considerable interest in the Bill. Over 50 noble Lords have spoken in this Second Reading debate. I congratulate the three noble Lords who have given their maiden speeches today. The noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, had an impressive career in the other place, holding senior positions in both government and opposition, and representing the beautiful constituencies of West Derbyshire and Derbyshire Dales. I had the pleasure of spending much time there and regularly drove through to get to County Hall at Matlock to attend a meeting of the Derbyshire County Council Labour group, which was always a great pleasure. He must be the only member of the National Union of Mineworkers to have served in a Conservative Government and Cabinet.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, has had an impressive legal career to date and takes on the position of Advocate-General for Scotland. I wish him well in his new responsibilities. I have not had a chance yet to speak to him outside the House and I look forward to doing that. He will be fully aware that there are many impressive legal minds on all Benches, and his skill as an advocate will be much in use in this House to support the Government. I can advise him that that is not an easy job at the moment with some of the legislation coming forward.
I have known my noble friend Lord Walney for many years. I think it is nearly a quarter of a century, which makes me feel very old. We were both working to elect and support the Labour Governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He was subsequently elected the Member for Barrow and Furness in 2010, the same time I was nominated to serve in this House. He was much more successful than me outside Parliament: he got to work in No. 10 Downing Street, while I never got out of Labour Party headquarters. I am conscious that I have never been to Walney Island. I am sure it is a beautiful place—nearly as beautiful as the London Borough of Southwark that I take my title from. The noble Lord is my noble friend and always will be. He is also a dear friend and I look forward to working with him many times in this House.
All three speeches were excellent. I look forward to hearing many more contributions from each of the noble Lords, as they will undoubtedly bring knowledge, skill and experience that will be of much benefit to us all.
I return to the Bill before the House today. It is right that we are very clear on what is and is not authorised by this legislation—what is legitimate, lawful activity, such as the activity of trade unions. They play an important role in the United Kingdom, standing up for people’s rights, campaigning for changes to legislation and changes in working practices and playing their rightful role in our democratic, free society. I have been a member of a trade union since I was 16—first USDAW and, for the last 31 years, the GMB.
My noble friend Lord Whitty raised a number of concerns about the Bill such as compensation for victims of crime and the issue of the legitimate activities of trade unions and other campaigning organisations. We will want to probe these fully in Committee. My noble friends Lord Rosser and Lord Dubs raised the important issue of the call for an inquiry into what happened at Orgreave on 18 June 1984. This again is something I am sure we will come back to during the course of the Bill. My noble friend Lord Hendy raised the issues of the undercover police inquiry and trade union activity. It needs to be clear that nothing in the Bill puts the lawful needs of unions into question. My noble friend Lord Mann made the important point about the restoration of trade union rights in 1997 at GCHQ. People there do work of the utmost importance to the security of our country. You can be both a proud, loyal trade union member and a proud citizen of your country and do work of the utmost importance to national security. There is nothing contradictory there whatever.
It is also important for the House to probe the number and range of organisations that are covered by this legislation and which would take powers from it. A number of noble Lords raised the issue of the Food Standards Agency and other bodies; I am sure that we will come back to that many times during consideration of the Bill.
Human rights protections have always been made; the Government are relying on the Human Rights Act, which is printed on the front page of the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, uses Section 19(1)(a) and says that the Bill is compatible with the convention rights, which is very important. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, raised that issue in his contribution to the debate. It is also clear, however, that many in the Minister’s party have voiced opposition to the Human Rights Act and to the convention itself. I would therefore appreciate a clear and unambiguous statement from the Government on where they stand on this. Many senior members of the Government, such as Mr Gove and perhaps even the Prime Minister himself, have raised concerns about this Act, so we need to be clear what we are doing if the Government are relying on this at the moment.
We also need to be absolutely clear that the most heinous crimes cannot ever be carried out or authorised in the name of the Government. As my noble friend Lord Rosser said, we will table an amendment seeking changes similar to those of the Canada model. The Government need to be clear on the limits of criminal activity to be authorised. The Ministers leading on this Bill will have heard the concern expressed across the House, and we will come back to that in the course of our debates.
What we have been talking about here is the type of crime that the police and other agencies are seeking to disrupt. It could indeed involve, as the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, said, outlining what needs to be done for organisations such as the Food Standards Agency. Crimes such as murder, rape and sexual violence are commonplace in the organisations they would be seeking to disrupt, and we have to have in place appropriate legal safeguards to get closer to what offences would and would not be allowed under this legislation. I know that the area where CHIS work is very difficult, but these are important points.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, my noble friend Lord Haskel, the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, and many others raised the question of child CHIS. The important thing to recognise is that they are children—just that. On the rare occasions that they have to be used to combat crime—if there is no alternative—we have to be absolutely clear that proper and meaningful safeguards are in place. Every possible safeguard must be there, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, said. I pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lord Haskel for first raising this issue in the previous Parliament.
The Bill strengthens the current legal position by putting the power to authorise criminal conduct by a CHIS on an explicit statutory footing. However, my noble friend Lord Hain highlighted serious matters—serious breaches—that should concern all noble Lords in this House. He also outlined the authorisations that he approved as a Minister to use CHIS and said that we need to debate and explore carefully where we draw the line on this issue. Security is absolutely right, and we all support that, but we do not support the abuse of power, and getting the balance right is, of course, a matter that we will come back to again and again. We need clear accountability—the issue of self-authorisation in the Bill needs to be discussed—and we will press the issue of prior judicial oversight, because it is vital that we get the safeguards, processes and structures right. As my noble friend Lord Rosser said, there are procedures for judicial approval 24 hours a day. I listened carefully to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. I agreed that his points and suggested solutions to the concerns need to be debated fully by the House, so I look forward to those amendments being tabled and to debating those issues. We believe in accountability, and authorisation needs to be in as real time as is possible and notified to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner on an ongoing basis.
My noble friend Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick raised points about the activities of paramilitaries and agencies of the state and raised the issue of the murder of Pat Finucane. My friends in the other place—the Members for Sheffield Heeley and St Helens North—have spoken about that and called on the Government to hold an inquiry into his murder in 1989, and I fully support that.
In conclusion, the Opposition understands the importance of the Bill; we have set out the areas on which we have concerns and we will seek to make improvements to the Bill in those areas. We will work constructively with the Government, making our points clearly, and if we think it necessary, we will divide the House on issues to enable the other place to think again. However, we remain hopeful that if we consider these things carefully, considerable progress and improvements can be made by agreement with the Government as the Bill makes its progress through the House.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords not only for speaking in this debate but for some of the discussions that we had prior to the debate. They were very thoughtful and constructive. I look forward to exploring some of the issues that were raised today in further detail in Committee.
I have the very nice job of starting by thanking all three speakers who made their maiden speeches today. They were all excellent and quite different. All three noble Lords will be a great asset to this House. I start with my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart of Dirleton. It was an absolutely superb speech—almost poetic. It transported us for a brief moment into the beautiful area where he lives, and I am sure that in future he will regale us further with some of his words. He has clearly had a glittering career and it seems that he has another one to come. If he is from the same faculty of advocates as my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, I know that he will be an excellent asset to your Lordships’ House.
My noble friend Lord McLoughlin has spent 33 years in Parliament, 30 of which have been on the Front Bench. I must confess that he looks very good on it. If I had to do another 23 years, I think that I would have to be carried out. He has had a great career, having spent 17 years as a Whip, and also as Transport Secretary and chairman of the Conservative Party. One of my favourite things that I have at home is a little postcard of his election where he is wearing his miner’s hat. I know that he will be a great contributor to your Lordships’ House. I am delighted to hear that he is a fan of HS2; he knows my views as a fellow fan.
Finally, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walney, was absolutely wonderful. I want to put on the record that I think he is a brave and principled man. As the noble Lord, Lord Mann, said, he stood up for his colleagues when others did not, and that is a great accolade. He has shown independence of character, spirit and strength through what he has suffered for probably far too long, but I think that he knows that in this House he is surrounded by friends on all sides. I look forward to hearing some of his views on nuclear submarines, coastal erosion and other things.
I thank all three noble Lords, who made great speeches today. They have set the tone for the debate in many ways.
I think that we are all in agreement—bar perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, who I do not think will support anything that we put forward—that we need to ensure that our intelligence agencies, police and public authorities have access to the correct tools to allow them successfully to safeguard the public from criminal and terrorist groups that would seek to do us harm and undermine our way of life here in the United Kingdom. The raising of the UK’s threat level to severe last week reminds us all of the threats that we continue to face as a nation. I give my thanks to those in the public authorities, who work so hard and often put their lives on the line on behalf of us all to keep us all safe.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, started his speech by outlining the number of terrorist attacks that have been thwarted since 2017. As he said, there have been 27, nine every year. This activity saves lives. He also pointed out CHIS activity in the NCA disruptions that we have seen in the last year, as well as proscribed organisation infiltration—as he said, the Bill brings into law things that have been going on for years—and we thank all those concerned.
One of the major topics of discussion has been on safeguards and oversight of activity. They have rightly been a recurring topic. I pay tribute to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and his team of judicial commissioners. They provide rigorous oversight of all our investigatory powers, including covert human intelligence sources, and will continue to play an important role under the Bill. On the percentage of authorisations currently overseen by the IPC—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead—the IPC is able to examine any authorisation, and he sets the frequency of those inspections.
There have been calls for prior judicial approval by commissioners, including from the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Beith. The Bill currently replicates the existing model, whereby any criminal activity undertaken by a CHIS, as I will now call them, is signed off by an authorising officer, who is highly trained and experienced. They will know the CHIS, not just as anonymous assets but human beings with unique strengths and, of course, weaknesses. The officer will know the context in which the CHIS are operating, including the risk to the CHIS themselves and the public. Authorising officers are best placed to make that judgment on whether the proposed criminality will meet the necessity and proportionality threshold, while considering the specific duty of care for the CHIS and the specific live environment. However, we have been clear that if there are ways in which to provide greater reassurance on the safeguards and independent oversight of the regime, while ensuring that it does not affect the operational workability of the tactic, the Government are willing to consider that issue. I listened very carefully to the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Carlile, and would welcome a further opportunity to discuss the matter with them.
The noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, also asked about oversight by the Intelligence and Security Committee. It might be helpful for me to repeat the commitment made by the Security Minister in the other place in a letter lodged in the Library, which he stated that, in line with its remit and the provisions of the Justice and Security Act, such information as is requested in order for the ISC to provide effective oversight of these policies shall be provided to the committee.
Virtually every noble Lord who spoke raised the subject of the use of children and vulnerable people as CHIS. It is an uncomfortable area, and I agree that it is imperative that we ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place for the rare occasions—I repeat they are rare—where there is a need to authorise young or vulnerable people to participate in criminality. This may be necessary to stop criminal gangs from continuing to exploit those individuals and prevent others from being drawn into them. Noble Lords mentioned county lines gangs.
The then Investigatory Powers Commissioner previously confirmed that, in practice, juveniles are not tasked to participate in criminality in which they are not already involved, and that decisions to authorise are made only where that is the best option for breaking the cycle of crime and the danger for the young person.
The use of juvenile CHIS and additional safeguards have been debated previously in this House and the courts. We will extend those safeguards to ensure that they also apply in any proposed authorisation of criminal conduct. Juveniles and vulnerable individuals will be authorised to act as CHIS only in exceptional circumstances. This is emphasised in changes to the CHIS code of practice, a draft of which has been published alongside the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, please read it because not only is it a good document but it will be subject to full consultation and debate in both Houses. The safeguards are also set out in statute in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Juveniles) Order 2000, which was debated by this House in 2018 and subsequently updated.
Let me be clear in response to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel: the code has legal force, so any authorisation must legally comply with the safeguards in it. The circumstances under which juveniles and vulnerable persons are asked to undertake criminal activity will be tightly controlled and subject to stringent risk assessments that will account for and seek to mitigate the risks of physical and psychological harm to them. All individuals will be risk-assessed, and their individual circumstances considered, before being tasked as a CHIS. Victims of crime will never be coerced into becoming a CHIS, but in some cases they may decide that they wish to play a role in bringing perpetrators to justice.
Any authorisation of juveniles requires a more senior level of authorising officer and a shorter authorising period, with reviews of the authorisation taking place at least monthly. For any juvenile CHIS under the age of 16, an appropriate adult must attend all meetings with the handlers. These safeguards seek to ensure that juveniles are appropriately protected when they play a vital role in undermining and disrupting the criminal or terrorist groups that seek to exploit them. I recognise that it is very important that noble Lords and the wider public have confidence that we have the right safeguards in place. I am very happy to discuss this further.
Many noble Lords talked about the limits. An authorisation will be tightly bound and specific. In response to the noble Lord, Lord West, I can confirm that this Bill will not widen the scope of activity which can be authorised. However, I appreciate why some noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Rosser, question why we cannot clearly write in the Bill the crimes that CHIS will never be authorised to commit, as is the case in Canada.
Every country has its own unique circumstances, be they in legal systems, public bodies or threat picture. The United Kingdom is the only Five Eyes country that is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. We also have our own threat picture; the unique challenges we face in Northern Ireland in particular mean that our operational partners advise that CHIS testing is a very real possibility. However, there are limits to the conduct which can be authorised under this Bill, and they can be found in the Human Rights Act. This is set out explicitly in the Bill.
The requirement for conduct to be necessary and proportionate also places limits on what can be authorised. I emphasise the point on necessity and proportionality: an authorisation can be granted only if it is considered necessary for one of three statutory purposes and proportionate to prevent more serious criminality. Within this framework, I assure noble Lords—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Hain—that nothing in the Bill will prevent or limit legitimate and lawful activity, including activity by political groups or trade unions. The noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Mann, pointed that out very well.
I also stress that our operational partners have publicly stated—I reiterated this the other day—that it is never acceptable for an undercover operative to form an intimate sexual relationship with anyone they are tasked to investigate or may encounter during their deployment. The conduct will never be authorised; nor must it ever be used as a tactic of deployment.
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts that while the activity that will be authorised under the Bill is UK-focused, the same safeguards will apply for authorisations for both UK and overseas activity. A CHIS will never be given authority to commit any and all crimes. The UK complies with all obligations under the Human Rights Act and is also bound by obligations under international human rights law.
I turn briefly to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about the potential for the Bill to have a disproportionate impact on women or members of BME communities. These characteristics will never be a consideration in why a person is under investigation.
I turn to the issue of redress. Authorisations are very tightly bound and, as part of the necessity and proportionality test, collateral damage will be considered. This minimises the risk of those who are not the intended subject of the operation being impacted. In the rare case that an individual is unintentionally impacted, there are number of routes for redress available to them to challenge the validity or lawfulness of the authorisation and seek appropriate remedy. An affected person could seek a judicial review of a public authority’s decision to authorise criminal conduct. The Investigatory Powers Tribunal also has jurisdiction to investigate and determine complaints against a public authority’s use of this power, and any person or organisation is able to make a complaint to the IPT. The Investigatory Powers Commission also has an obligation to inform a person of a serious error that relates to them, where it is in the public interest. This would include situations where the commissioner considers that the error has caused significant prejudice or harm to the person concerned.
Moving to the range of public authorities, there were diametrically opposed views—that there were too many and not enough—but all those included in the Bill already have the power to authorise the use and conduct of CHIS, and we have restricted the number of public authorities able to then authorise participation in criminal conduct based on operational need. I welcome, in particular, the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on this issue. I urge noble Lords to read the case studies that I think I provided yesterday to explain why these public authorities require the use of this power. All public authorities will receive appropriate training to ensure that authorising officers understand the strict necessity and proportionality parameters that must be met before authorising a CCA, and will be subject to independent oversight provided by IPCO.
On immunity, and the point raised by several noble Lords that we should simply continue to leave decisions on the prosecution of CHIS to the CPS or other prosecuting bodies, it seems unfair and unreasonable for the state to ask an individual to engage in difficult and potentially dangerous work while leaving open the possibility of the state prosecuting them for the exact same conduct. That tension has existed for many years and it is right that we use the Bill to resolve it. It is also undesirable to create an express power for public authorities to authorise activity that remains criminal. I refer noble Lords to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, on this point, but I reassure noble Lords that if a CHIS were to undertake criminal activity that fell outside the strict parameters of a CCA, that will have been clearly explained to the CHIS by their handlers. The prosecuting authorities are in a position to consider whether to bring a prosecution. This has been done before and will be done again if required.
I am committed to ensure that Members of this House and the wider public can have confidence that there is not an unfettered and unlimited power for public authorities to authorise criminality. The legislation certainly does not do that, but it is right that we debate and consider the safeguards and the oversight in place. We must ensure that we do not pass legislation that unnecessarily restricts our operational agencies from utilising the tactics they need to keep us safe. That is the balance that this Bill seeks to strike, and the key principle that we should be operating to. This is important and necessary legislation and I look forward to debating and considering it further.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.