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 Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith 3:00 pm, 15th October 2020

We have heard many excellent speeches in support of amendments that would substantially improve the Bill—God knows it needs improvement—and we have had some excellent briefings from Reprieve and others on what the deficiencies are. It is therefore appalling that we are so constrained by time and by the attitude of Government in pushing this Bill through, possibly to score political points, or just in a cavalier fashion.

In reality, there could be a great deal of consensus on the Bill. I am always wary when I see this Minister winding up for the Government because he radiates reasonableness and is therefore usually sent out to defend the unreasonable. I think there is a real consensus around the fact that the measures in the Bill are needed and that statute is the best way to authorise covert operations, but it is defective in lacking the safeguards and limitations on that action.

I am sorry that I do not have time to speak to the many excellent amendments, but I will mention what I think is the most important one, and it is certainly the one that most of my constituents have been concerned about: amendment 13, in the name of Mr Davis, which I have signed. Amendment 8 in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and amendment 22 in the name of the Mother of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman, have the same effect, which is to ensure that the most serious offences and those actions we would not wish to see carried out are prohibited in the Bill.

The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden dealt perfectly with the issue of the Human Rights Act. Yes, it could prevent those offences being authorised, but it may well not, and it has not in the past, so we have that dilemma. He also dealt well with the Sopranos gambit, if I can put it that way. The thinness of the objection shows that the Government are on very weak ground. I hope that I am wrong and that the Government will support putting those measures into the Bill in that way. It is terribly short-sighted to push through a Bill like this because, as many Members have said, we are going to have to come back to it very shortly. It may last the three or four years until we get a Labour Government. I doubt it will even last that long.

I cannot support the Bill today, despite the fact that I see the need for a Bill on this subject. I will not vote against it because I think we do have to have a Bill. However, the Government still have time, now or in the other place, to reform and put right a lot of what is wrong with the Bill and to achieve the consensus that means that it could go forward with more certainty and in a better form.