Clause 1 - Authorisation of criminal conduct

Part of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:00 pm on 15th October 2020.

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Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 2:00 pm, 15th October 2020

I recognise what the Minister says. The challenge is that we already know of children and vulnerable young people who have been in this position under that legislation, but the paramount needs of the child or vulnerable person have not always been at the forefront of the minds of those involved in these investigations.

What am I talking about? I am talking, for example, about a 17-year-old girl who was in a relationship where she was sexually exploited, but she continued in that relationship because it was beneficial to the police investigating the person she was in a relationship with. She ended up witnessing a murder and being party to destroying evidence about that murder. We would be responsible for the situation that she was in.

New clause 8 does not say that there will never be a circumstance in which we might work with children, but it does say that it is right to see them as children first and to have a second pair of eyes to uphold that principle. The Minister will tell me that that is written into the guidance, but the new clause puts it in the Bill so that it is beyond doubt that somebody would take responsibility for a vulnerable person’s welfare. It also extends to vulnerable people who might have been trafficked, for example—people who may not see themselves as vulnerable but who, we would recognise, could be exploited. It is right that we have that check and balance of the appropriate adult—somebody who looks at that vulnerable person and gives an alternative perspective on what is happening to them, independent of the investigation.

The Minister may say that he cannot accept the new clause in this format, but I ask him to look seriously at this issue and to ensure that when we pass necessary legislation to formalise such powers, we take a step back and see the person we might be drawing into criminality. These people are not all James Bond and can consent freely to being involved in criminal activity and then be held accountable by RIPA. Some of them will be very vulnerable people who need us in this place to stand beside them and ensure that their interests are protected and that they have an appropriate adult to act for them.

I hope the Minister will listen to the concern that has been expressed across the House—the new clause is signed by Members from across the House—and introduce that protection into the Bill so that we put it beyond doubt. The reality is that if it is just in a code of guidance, it will not always be followed. Let us send the message that children should be children, not child spies.