Clause 1 - Authorisation of criminal conduct

Part of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:04 pm on 15th October 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 1:04 pm, 15th October 2020

I wish to speak also to amendments 14 to 19, which were tabled in my name and the names of other right hon. and hon. Members.

It is worth reminding ourselves at the start why we are debating the Bill and why it is being proceeded with in all the dispatch that is apparent, what with Second Reading having been just on Monday of last week. As we know, the Government had a bit of a narrow squeak—a legal term—in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, and that case is now going off to the Appeal Court. We are now getting what many of us, including those in Reprieve who brought the case to the IPT, have long asked for, and that is a regulatory statutory footing on which the very difficult decisions undertaken by the police, special branch, the security services and others should be done. That is something on which there is broad consensus, which was reflected in the attitude of the House, for the most part, on Second Reading. However, as was apparent from the debate on Second Reading, many of us in different parts of the House have serious concerns about the way in which these matters are being put on to this regulatory statutory footing.

Essentially, it seems to me that the Government have been brought to this point somewhat grudgingly. They have said, “Yes, we will put these things on to a statutory footing, but we will do it in such a broad and general way that, in fact, we will be able to continue to do whatever we have done in the past.” They are seen to embrace change in a way that allows them to continue to behave in the way they have always done. I suggest that that is not, in fact, sensible for any number of reasons. It defeats the purpose of putting these things on to a statutory footing, but I am pretty certain that, sooner or later, it means we will be back here looking at a future Bill because this one is not fit for the purpose the Government claim for it.

The point made repeatedly on Second Reading is that many of the concerns that I and others have, which are reflected in the amendments, are in fact covered by the Human Rights Act 1998. One of the difficulties I have with that is that, throughout their pleadings in front of the IPT, the Government said that the Human Rights Act does not, in fact, apply to the actions of those responsible for covert human intelligence. When we eventually hear from the Minister, could he address a couple of points? First, will this new attitude towards the Human Rights Act, in its applicability to the activities of covert human intelligence sources, be reflected in the pleadings of the Government when it comes to the Appeal Court?

Secondly, can the Minister confirm that the Bill will allow these sources to operate overseas? That being the case, what view do the Government take of the application of the Human Rights Act to the activities of these sources overseas? The position of the Government hitherto has always been that the application extraterritorially—overseas—of the Human Rights Act would not cover these instances, so it is difficult to see if there would be any protection at all in relation to activities overseas.