Clause 1 - Authorisation of criminal conduct

Part of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 15th October 2020.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 2:45 pm, 15th October 2020

There was a time when I used to like Dan Carden, when he was a young researcher here. There is nothing sinister happening—it was the fact that the Intelligence and Security Committee sat this morning. I was going to move the amendment because the Committee was still sitting, and that is why it was done. It is nothing against the individual personally, and he knows I have a lot of respect for him.

I support the Bill, and obviously the new clause in the name of the ISC, because it gives a legal framework to cover this area of work. Having been on the ISC for a number of years, I have seen transcripts of some of the evidence from CHIS. Is it information that we could get in any other way? No, it is not. There is a misunderstanding that somehow now with modern technology, telecommunication intercepts and everything else, we can get all the information that we require. We cannot. The best is still from human sources. Certainly, with the cases I have seen and the transcripts for terrorism cases relating to Islamic terrorism and the ones for Northern Ireland, the work that the security services do to protect us all—including all communities, and that includes marginalised communities—could not be done without that CHIS involvement.

There has also been a misunderstanding—I think it gets crossed over in the Bill—between what is happening now and what happened in the past. I am no defender of what happened in the past, in terms of some of the things that were referred to in Northern Ireland or even the spy cops issue. Under this legislation, we will have the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s oversight of the situation, and there is a big difference between police officers, in terms of this authorisation, and civilians. Police officers will come under the Bill, but remember, more importantly, their conduct is also covered by other legislation.

I know that the spy cops case is cited, as though this would legitimise them. It would not because police officers would still have to come under the legislation that covers their conduct. They are more controlled than the civilians or individuals we will recruit both for organised crime or national security issues, who will have to commit crimes on occasions to ensure that their cover is not blown. I have seen the transcripts, and although I cannot refer to individual cases, I have seen one where an individual was part of a proscribed organisation for many years. His actions have not only led to a major disruption of that organisation, but, I think, saved lives. Therefore, is it right that this should be on a legal footing? Yes it can.

My hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy said that this would give carte blanche for the security services and police to do what they want. I am sorry, but it does not. We have to look at the guidance, which many people have not looked at. I know that some Opposition Members have been saying that they will vote against the Bill on principle. Well, I am sorry, but I do not see anything principled in weakening the ability of our security services to protect us or of the police to protect trafficked women and children, or in the fact that it will make the situation worse for some of the most vulnerable people in our society, who are preyed upon not only by organised crime but terrorism groups.

All I say to Members is please read the Bill and read the guidance, because the guidance is important. I have some problems with the Bill in the sense that it could be improved. My right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper made a very good point that this is probably not the way to do it. We should have had more time, and perhaps debated it in Committee upstairs, which would have been far better. It is important that we get this right, but the idea that the security services do not have any oversight is not the case. In fact, they will have more oversight. May I just say this: the individuals who are running CHISs are not just the office boys in MI5; they are senior officials who not only have training on the guidance, but know the difficult situations that are being dealt with on the ground. I say to Members: please do not go for headlines; look at what happens in the Bill. The Bill can be improved, which is why I support the oversight proposed in new clause 3.

I agree with Mr Carmichael on one point—a point that was also raised by my hon. Friend Stella Creasy in her contribution in which she made some other very legitimate points. The Bill would be strengthened if the guidance was actually in the Bill. I have no problems with the guidance as it is written at the moment, because it is both strong and robust. The right hon. Gentleman’s point was that if it were in the Bill, it could not be, as he said, tinkered with or changed afterwards.

I also ask Members to look at the present, rather than at what went on in the past. My right hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn is right: we cannot justify what some of the agencies did in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s without any scrutiny—whether for the police or the security services. As for blacklisting, the Bill will not lead to a situation in which blacklisting is not given a red light. If Members read the guidance, they will see that that would fall out of the scope of that guidance. Likewise, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner will be able to look at those individual warrants. Moreover, as a former trade union official, I know that blacklisting existed, but certain members of trade unions do not have a great history in terms of their collusion, on some occasions, with employers in certain industries to blacklist trade unionists. I feel passionate about this in the sense that it is wrong, but it cannot all be necessarily put down to the employers.

May I touch on two other points? The first is the issue around amendment 7 in the names of those on the Labour Front Bench. I have problems with it. I accept that, as the Bill is written, it is looking backwards at these cases. Operationally, from the cases that I have seen, the idea that we could get a judge to cover the scope of potential criminality in certain areas would be difficult. Let us say, as an example, that we have someone who has been authorised to get involved in the drugs trade, but then they are asked to carry out a burglary. A very broad warrant would have to be issued to cover quite large things. I think that it is perhaps better leaving it in the guidance and with the officer. I have seen evidence that there are occasions when the security services will withdraw authorisation from a CHIS, and they do so because people are getting involved in things that are quite clearly not in the public interest and are not followed by the guidance. That does happen.

I have one final point, which again has been raised and which I still struggle with. Why have other organisations been lumped into the Bill? I am quite content for the police and the security services to be covered by this legislation, but I am less at ease with the Food Standards Agency and others being given authorisation. There is a level of expertise now, both in the police and in the security services, in terms of being able to authorise, train and run CHISs, which might not be there in the other organisations when, perhaps, they are dealing with very small numbers of cases over a period.

The Bill is an improvement on what we have at the moment, because it will bring in a legal framework. Can it be improved? I think that it can be, but, again, I urge people to read the Bill and read the guidance and to look at them in terms of what is happening today rather than what has happened historically.