Clause 1 - Authorisation of criminal conduct

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

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

The Minister does help me and I am grateful for his assistance, because if that reasonable belief is in the guidance, there is absolutely no reason why it should not be in the Bill. As I said to Mr Jones, guidance can be changed without any meaningful oversight from this House. The Minister makes the point for me very well, so perhaps amendment 14, which I had thought modest, is more significant than I realised. I look forward to hearing his acceptance of it—if we could do that without a Division, it would be all the better. [Interruption.] God loves a trier.

Amendment 15 deals with the issue of economic grounds. As things stand, the Bill allows crimes to be authorised if they are necessary

“in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.”

That conjures up all sorts of delicious prospects. If it is decided that we need a different Governor of the Bank of England, can we authorise a CHIS to wipe him out? Could we use this if we decided that a no-deal Brexit was not in the UK’s economic interests? There are at least two or three good Netflix series in this; the possibilities are almost endless. What crimes might be authorised in order to entice a foreign investor to bring their money to the UK or a car manufacturer to keep its UK plant open? There is nothing here to prevent corruption or bribery from being used in these circumstances. Amendment 15 would restrict these grounds to cases that are relevant not only in an economic sense, but to national security. There is precedent for this approach, because amendment 15 matches exactly the amendments the Government themselves made to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill last year, after my noble Friend Lord Paddick raised similar concerns about detaining people in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom. If it was good enough for that Bill, there is no reason why it should not be good enough for this one.

Amendments 18 and 19 involve oversight by prosecutors and would require criminal conduct authorisations to be shared with prosecutors before they take effect, to allow for proper independent oversight of these decisions. The amendments cover the same sort of grounds as many others have in their amendments, most notably the Mother of the House, and I believe Joanna Cherry will cover this in her contributions. They all come to the same point that there has to be independent oversight where matters are as serious as this.

Amendments 16 and 17 deal with the number of different bodies that can be authorised under the Bill as it currently stands. At present, it extends well beyond the obvious candidates and includes: MI5, the police, the security services, the Food Standards Agency, the Gambling Commission, and the Department of Health and Social Care. With these amendments, we seek to reduce the list to the National Crime Agency, the Serious Fraud Office and the intelligence services.

Mr Evans, you and I have visited an abattoir in the past and we know that there is plenty of blood in an abattoir already without actually adding to it by empowering meat inspectors to be authorised to spill even more of it. We all know, as we complete our tax returns every year, that taxation can be a tortuous business, but I do not think that we should be giving the taxman the power to apply the thumbscrews.

The need for these extra bodies to be given authorisation under these provisions has never been properly explained from the Treasury Bench. Their inclusion demeans the seriousness of those acts, especially by the security services, the police and the Serious Fraud Office that could well be required to use them in very difficult circumstances. It looks to me, almost certainly, as if these provisions have been put in the Bill with a view to giving up the fight when the Bill gets to the other place, which, I suggest, demonstrates a lack of respect not just for them, but for this House as well.

Finally, I wish to touch on other amendments that have been moved by other right hon. Members. I have added my name to the one from the Mother of the House covering the approval of the judicial commissioner and the one removing economic interest grounds and I support their inclusion in the Bill. Amendment 13 in the name of Mr Davis, which removes murder, torture and others, would be one of the most obvious amendments that could be made to this Bill to render it genuinely fit for purpose. It is the purpose of this Bill that commands unity; it is the detail of it that requires still so much improvement.