Clause 1 - Authorisation of criminal conduct

Part of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 15th October 2020.

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Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:30 pm, 15th October 2020

I always take seriously the advice of a senior and distinguished Member of the House. I am confident that, given the amendments that we have tabled today, as the Bill makes further progress through the House, our colleagues in the other place will be cognisant and take note of that. That is why we are asking the Government to listen carefully to what we propose in our amendments.

In that vein, I give my strong support to new clause 5, tabled by my hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy. It seeks to ensure that a CCA cannot be applied to a trade union and, specifically, to blacklisted workers. Of course, it was the previous Labour Government who made blacklisting illegal in 2010.

On the issue of oversight and accountability, I wish briefly to mention new clause 3, which was tabled by Dr Lewis and members of the Intelligence and Security Committee. With the additional scrutiny, oversight and accountability that are at the heart of the right hon. Gentleman’s sensible proposal, the Secretary of State would be compelled, at the end of each relevant 12-month period, to make a report to the ISC that contains key information on both the number of CCAs authorised and the categories of the conduct authorised. That seems to me to be an eminently reasonable and sensible proposal.

On new clause 2, given the nature of some of the networks that the Bill looks to disrupt, there are clear concerns about its impact on communities and vulnerable individuals throughout our country. One important example is the gendered impact of actions taken by covert human intelligence sources. The Minister must commit, today, that the Government will seek to uphold the highest possible standards on gender impact.

New clause 8 was tabled by my hon. Friend Stella Creasy. I have some experience of campaigning with her and know how formidable she can be on these issues. Her new clause raises another crucial point, which is the need to safeguard the welfare of children, vulnerable individuals and victims of modern slavery and trafficking. It would achieve that by ensuring that a CCA is authorised for a child or vulnerable adult only in certain exceptional circumstances, and by ensuring that an appropriate adult is present at meetings between the source and those representing the investigating authority.

As outlined in new clause 2, we propose to compel the Secretary of State to prepare and publish an annual equality impact assessment on the use of criminal conduct authorisations in covert operations involving women, children and black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. A motion should then be put to the House within three months of the assessment being published.

In conclusion, the Opposition are committed to working in the national interest to keep people, their families, our communities and the country safe. I entirely understand that some colleagues on both sides of the Chamber have an interpretation of what the Bill does that is different from mine and have arrived at a different view. I think they are wrong, but that does not mean that I do not respect the arguments they put forward. That is particularly the case in relation to my hon. Friend—and my actual friend—Dan Carden. He will know that I once resigned on a point of principle. I hold him and his family in high esteem. The decision he took today to make the points he made was a difficult one. He has my respect, continuing friendship and affection.

This is uncomfortable territory for the whole House. Many of the issues raised by the Bill are felt deeply personally. All I would say, gently, is that those who oppose the Bill in its entirety do not have the monopoly on principles, nor are they the sole moral arbiters when it comes to forming a view on the measures in the Bill. The position reached by the Leader of the Opposition—who literally wrote the book on human rights—and me is a principled one and comes after careful consideration and detailed discussion of the Bill.

It is also our view that we have a duty, as legislators, to meet our responsibility and acknowledge that it is not just the Government who have to make difficult decisions. We want to be in government so we have to take difficult decisions, too. When we are in government, we will return to the Bill based on the principles that I have outlined. That is why we have taken the approach that we have taken: to acknowledge the importance of putting CHIS activities on a statutory footing; to robustly and responsibly scrutinise the way in which that is done; and to place national security, human rights and support for victims at the centre of our attempts to improve the safeguards in the Bill. We will continue to do that as it progresses through Parliament and are confident that the other place will assist us in that task if our amendments are not made today.