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 James Sunderland James Sunderland Conservative, Bracknell 2:00 pm, 15th October 2020

My key point is that the Human Rights Act does provide those protections, but in the context of operational service at the point at which decisions have to be taken I believe that those protections are needed.

Unlike most of our conventional forces, operators often work isolated and alone, making snap decisions that allow them to maintain trust and avoid detection. Rather than isolate them further—this goes back to my previous point—they need to know that their decisions and actions, when made in good faith and often under extreme stress, will be supported when the time comes. It is that discretion that lies at the heart of what they do, and more fool us in this place should we choose to undermine them or hang them out to dry from the sanctity of our courtrooms.

The recent evidence on why the Bill is necessary speaks for itself. Since March 2017, MI5 and counter-terrorism police have thwarted at least 27 terror attacks on home soil. In 2017, covert operations infiltrated a criminal organisation to stop a planned attack on Downing Street. In 2018, the National Crime Agency disrupted more than 30 threats to life, seized over 3,000 kg of class A drugs, safeguarded more than 200 people, and removed almost 100 firearms and 4,000 rounds of ammunition off the streets. Between 2017 and 2019, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has prevented hundreds of millions of pounds of tax loss, with one case alone estimated to have saved the Treasury over £100 million. Such is the wider utility and benefit of our intelligence sources across a range of authorised bodies, what else do we not know?

I am sympathetic to new clause 3 about oversight of the ISC, but I am not convinced that the equality impact assessment cited in new clause 2 or the blacklisting cited in amendment 6 and new clause 5 would be feasible. I am sympathetic to new clause 8 in respect of CCAs being granted to under-18s and vulnerable people, but I think it would be difficult to implement in the field.

It is not always ours to reason why from the privilege of this place, nor to cast judgment on those who face more danger on a daily basis than we can imagine. I cannot agree with those who insist via amendment 7 that a criminal conduct authorisation should only be provided once a warrant has been issued by a judge or that a time limit be given. Similarly, for those who seek to balance the size and scope of the proposed activity against the gravity or the extent of the perceived crime, I regret that our operators will rarely have the luxury of doing so when danger is upon them. Given that our primary responsibility in this place is to keep our people safe and to allow those entrusted to do so to operate as they must, I will vote today for the passage of this Bill.