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 David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden 1:30 pm, 15th October 2020

I will pay attention to your encouragement to be brief, Mr Evans. Although I support the intent of the amendments in the name of the Mother of the House, Ms Harman, Mr Carmichael, and the hon. Members for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), I will focus solely on amendment 13.

There is no doubt that there is a need for a Bill like this. Infiltrating terrorist gangs and going under cover as an informant is dangerous and risky work which often requires breaking the law, and the Bill enables authorisation of those breaches of the law. However, amendment 13, in my name and in those of others, explicitly exempts the most serious crimes of murder, torture, rape and others from powers in the Bill. The Government argue that that is not necessary because the Human Rights Act already limits their actions. The question before the House today is this: do we believe that? Do we think that that is sufficient?

Back in the early 1990s, I was one of the Ministers who took the Intelligence Services Act 1994 through the House. Section 7 of the Act enabled MI6 officers abroad to commit crimes in the interests of the state. Inevitably, in the tabloid press, it became known as the James Bond clause, but that is precisely what it was not. It was not a licence to kill. It was a licence to bribe, burgle, blackmail and bug, but it was not a licence to kill. Nevertheless, within a decade, section 7 was being used to authorise rendition, torture and the mass invasion of innocent people’s privacy—crimes that were never countenanced when the Act was put in place. I know that, because I did all the work behind it. It should be understood that the authorisation of those crimes, often within the United Kingdom, occurred after the Human Rights Act had been passed—indeed, while the ink was still wet on its pages in some cases—and it provided precisely zero protection. Likewise, the European convention on human rights, the international convention on torture and the 1949 Geneva convention, to all of which we are signatories and some of which are absolutely binding in law, provided no protection whatever.