Clause 1 - Authorisation of criminal conduct

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

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Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament 2:15 pm, 15th October 2020

Thank you, Dame Rosie; I shall endeavour to be helpful. It is only by the good fortune, dare I say it, of there having been yet another statement on the covid crisis that many members of the Intelligence and Security Committee are able to take part in this debate at all. I have written to the Leader of the House about this, and I appeal to the Government’s business managers in future not to schedule legislation of this sort, which is directly relevant to the Intelligence and Security Committee, on the same day that it is known that the Committee has an immovable meeting. I am grateful to Mr Jones for being willing to leave our main meeting early, so as to be sure that new clause 3 could be covered, and I will now make some remarks about that new clause.

The Intelligence and Security Committee, as was stated on Second Reading, strongly supports the principle behind this legislation. CHIS play a vital role in identifying and disrupting terrorist plots. They save lives, often at great risk to themselves. Sometimes they must commit offences to maintain their cover, and their handlers must be able to authorise them to do so in certain circumstances and subject to specific safeguards. We welcome the Bill, which will place the state’s power to authorise that conduct on an explicit statutory footing.

However, concerns were raised on Second Reading that the Bill does not provide for sufficient safeguards and oversight measures. The ISC agrees. There is a clear role for the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, and it is absolutely right that the commissioner is able to use his judicial oversight powers to ensure that those powers are used only with due care and consideration by the agencies that authorise criminal conduct.

The Bill, as it stands, does not provide for any parliamentary scrutiny of the use of these authorisation powers, so the amendment that the ISC has tabled—new clause 3—proposes not to duplicate the role of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner in any way, but instead to require the Secretary of State to provide the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament with an annual report of information on the number of criminal conduct authorisations that have been authorised by the agencies that the Committee oversees as well as on the categories authorised. All we are looking for is a simple table saying that these are the categories of offences that have been authorised, those are the totals in each category and this is the grand total.