Clause 1 - Authorisation of criminal conduct

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:15 pm, 15th October 2020

I am sorry that, having been present for the whole debate, my hon. Friend did not get to make a full speech, so I am happy to take his intervention. I hope that the Minister will reply to the valid and valuable point that he makes.

We understand that in a fast-changing intelligence landscape, a degree of operational flexibility is right and necessary, but I urge the Minister to provide some clarity and assurances that the requirements for certification will not simply become catch-all terms, and that there are clear and robust limits to their applicability.

The Bill already states that authorisation may not be granted unless the person believes that the conduct is proportionate to what is sought, but our amendment 11 intends to create a proper framework for that assessment. It ensures that the person must take into account several important questions before being granted any criminal conduct authorisation and provides rigorous assessment to ensure that such decisions are not taken lightly. Similarly, our amendment 10 is specifically about ensuring that the circumstances in which a criminal conduct authorisation is necessary must not include the activities of trade unions.

As we have heard from Labour Members, we understand the value of collective action, mutual support, campaigning, and giving power and voice to the powerless. That is what trade unionism is about. I came to the Labour party through the trade union movement, and this legislation must not be used to undermine those hard won principles of a free and democratic society. As we made clear on Second Reading, the aim of the legislation should be to keep people safe and bring dangerous criminals to justice. Although we appreciate the Minister’s assurances to date that the Bill is not in any way designed to disrupt trade union activity, that should be made clear in the Bill.

Our amendment 8 seeks to set specific limits on the conduct and activities that the Bill permits within criminal conduct organisations. It makes it clear that nothing—nothing—justifies murder, torture, sexual violence and other serious offences that would harm people. One of the biggest concerns about the Bill is that there is nothing in it to limit or specify the kinds of offences covered—only that they are to be necessary and proportionate. Similar concerns, I know, are shared across the House. Although the Bill is explicit that the Human Rights Act is applicable in all circumstances, we would like it to go further.

This country should be setting the gold standard for oversight and accountability, yet the powers in the Bill are not as strong as those of our intelligence partners in the United States and Canada. In Canada, recent legislation governing the use of agents by the Canadian intelligence services has put clear legal limits on what crimes their agents can become involved in; in our amendment, we have similarly set out clear legal limits to ensure that there can be no ambiguity. Our amendment 12 sets out that people granted criminal conduct authorisations must inform the Investigatory Powers Commissioner within seven days of the granting of the authorisation. We believe that is vital to ensure the immediate accountability of the authorisation and enable the commissioner to undertake proper scrutiny of decisions. There should be no reason why authorisation cannot be registered within that timeframe, and the amendment would provide a clear and efficient process of record.

The Bill aims to legitimise and clarify the actions of covert human intelligence sources in a recognition that has previously operated in a murky space. There have been times when the law has been broken in a way that was not proportionate or justifiable. Just as the Bill should clarify permissible action for agents working to keep us safe, so it should ensure that victims are properly protected, too, and able to seek redress and compensation if those boundaries are broken. We have heard many examples of that today.

Our new clause 1 would ensure that innocent victims are able to seek adequate redress from the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. Given the chorus of concerns about this, I urge the Minister to engage with us on the issue and take our amendment seriously. All victims deserve an unimpeded pass to attaining justice, which is why we need to get this right. I reiterate our party’s support for many of the campaigns referenced today, including about Orgreave, the murder of Pat Finucane, the Cammell Laird shipyard workers, the Shrewsbury 24, the Hillsborough families and the spycops women.