Clause 1 - Authorisation of criminal conduct

Part of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 15th October 2020.

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Photo of Bell Ribeiro-Addy Bell Ribeiro-Addy Labour, Streatham 1:30 pm, 15th October 2020

I will have to respectfully disagree, but I will come to that point.

Let me start with our amendments that deal with trade unions and blacklisting. Amendment 5 and new clause 4 lay out that a criminal conduct authorisation cannot be granted to a covert human intelligence source within a trade union. Similarly, amendment 6 and new clause 5 seek to prevent the powers in the Bill from being used for blacklisting. Although I understand that the Bill is not about the authorisation of surveillance, in both instances I and my hon. Friends believe it is important to explicitly remove trade unions and blacklisting activity from the powers in the Bill. We cannot and will not simply accept the Government’s assurances, because trade unions are absolutely right to be alarmed. As my hon. Friend Kate Osborne explained to the House last week, since 1968, over 3,000 trade unionists have been blacklisted, over 1,000 organisations have been spied on by undercover police, and tens of thousands of ordinary citizens have had files held on them by special branch.

Similarly, for the purpose of protecting legitimate political protest, amendments 3 and 4 seek to remove “preventing disorder” and the

“interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.” as legitimate grounds for the authorisation of criminality. These grounds are ill defined and wide-ranging, not to mention open to outright political abuse. Again, I point to where they have already been abused. We know that using undercover police, allegedly posing as protesters, to commit crimes and provoke violence, including a violent response from the authorities, has been reported as an ongoing tactic and been discussed in the public domain in recent years, including more recently in the past few months, with regard to the Black Lives Matter protests and climate change and G20 demonstrations. All of these necessarily constitute an unlawful interference.

That is also why I have tabled amendment 1, which seeks to ensure that discrimination on the grounds of protected characteristics are taken into account before any such allowance for criminal conduct is given. I point to that because we know that, in the spy cops scandal, women were unfortunately discriminated against through the way in which they were coerced into sexual relationships, and as we know, ethnic minorities are disproportionately the victims of state violence. As my hon. Friend Apsana Begum said last week, it is not hard to see that this Bill is just another iteration of the expansion of state surveillance of marginalised communities.

I should also point out that Members from across the House routinely disagree on what is in the interests of the economic wellbeing of this country. Could my disagreement with capitalism be perceived to fall under the auspices of the Bill? Before anybody says, “That’s absolutely ridiculous,” I would remind the House that Labour Members have been subject to surveillance, and no doubt vague and wide-reaching arguments were used at the time. Where does this end?

To respond to my right hon. Friend Mr Jones, is it not also the case that Ministers cannot assure members of the public by saying that the Human Rights Act guards against abuses, as it cannot be applied to individuals, only to organisations? This Bill would permit crimes to be committed in contravention of the European convention on human rights and the individual perpetrators could not be prosecuted, although the UK itself might subsequently be found in breach of the ECHR—a theme that is becoming all too common in the Government’s approach to legislation.