Nick Herbert (Minister of State, Justice; Arundel and South Downs, Conservative)
My hon. Friend is correct about the responsible unit, and that important change has enhanced accountability.
RIPA applies to each of the instances that I have mentioned, because the true nature of the relationship, which involves reporting back covertly to a public authority what has been said or done, is hidden from the other person or people being talked to. In every case, RIPA requires that authorisation is only given if it is necessary and proportionate. RIPA sets out who can make a decision to deploy a covert source and for what purpose the deployment might be made. RIPA codes of practice provide practical guidance on how best to apply the regulatory framework and how to observe the human rights principles behind authorisations. External oversight and inspection is provided by the chief surveillance commissioner, and independent right of redress is provided by an investigatory tribunal for anyone who believes that they have been treated unlawfully.
That is the current system, which was not in place when Lambert was deployed, but does it work? The published annual reports of the chief surveillance commissioner indicate that, in the main, it does, but that has not always been the case. That was shown graphically by the independent report produced by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary earlier this year on the deployment of undercover police officer Mark Kennedy. It showed that there had been failings in the application of the existing system and safeguards, but it went further by making a number of recommendations for ACPO to strengthen both internal review and external quality assurance of undercover officers deployed against domestic extremism. It also invited the Home Secretary to consider the arrangements for authorising the undercover police operations that present the most significant risks of intrusion. In particular, it proposed raising the internal level of police authorisations for the long-term deployments of undercover police officers under RIPA, and establishing independent, external prior approval by the chief surveillance commissioner for long-term deployments of undercover police officers.
The Home Secretary welcomed the HMIC report, and since its publication the Home Office has been working with the inspectorate, ACPO, the chief surveillance commissioner and others on how best to implement its recommendations.