Clause 1 - Authorisation of criminal conduct

Part of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:00 pm on 15th October 2020.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North 3:00 pm, 15th October 2020

The reason I asked to speak later in the debate this afternoon was made clear by the speech by my right hon. Friend Mr Jones. His knowledge and experience from his time on the ISC gives him an insight into the issue that many of us in this House just do not have. I am a very new member of the ISC, and I have a lot to learn, but I know that it is important to listen to those who have that knowledge and experience.

When I spoke on Second Reading, I made a short contribution saying that I supported the law on giving covert sources the right to break the law being set out expressly. I think that is absolutely right. We need to have those legal safeguards set out very clearly, but that also reminded me of those individuals who put themselves at great risk to go undercover to infiltrate terrorist groups, serious organised crime groups or paedophile rings. They are doing that on our behalf, and it is right that we now have a law that gives protection to them for what we are asking them to do.

As has been said already, the Bill could be improved, and I am disappointed that I have not seen much movement from the Government on the improvements that could be made on oversight and additional safeguards. I am also disappointed that consideration is being squashed into a Thursday afternoon to deal with this really important legislation. As the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee and the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee said, the timing of this is not helpful at all.

There has been recognition over several years that our intelligence services have needed to come out of the shadows, and the role of oversight and accountability has developed, not least through the role that Parliament has played in the creation of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Over the past few years it has extended its responsibilities and powers. So I join the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham in supporting new clause 3 in the name of members of that committee, cross-party, to give that further oversight every 12 months of the numbers and categories of authorisations given under the Bill. That would, it seems to me, fit with the role that we already have under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 in the bulk interception power. Having that on the face of the Bill is really important, because it spells out very clearly that Parliament believes that the role of the ISC is to look at issues like this on behalf of Parliament.

The ISC will only be able to review those agencies that we have responsibility for, so I agree with hon. Members who have raised questions about the oversight of some of those agencies included in the Bill. I wonder where that oversight will come from to make sure that the law is being properly applied—for example, by the Food Standards Agency.

I also add my support for the amendments tabled by the Labour Front Bench in good faith to strengthen the Bill and give independent oversight. We all have an interest in making the Bill as clear and as strong as possible, and I am disappointed that we are so limited in our debate this afternoon. I support amendment 7, which would require the use of a warrant issued by a judge when a criminal authorisation order is required. Having that prior judicial authorisation is right. I support amendments 9 and 10—