Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill - Committee (2nd Day)

– in the House of Lords at 1:32 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Relevant documents: 10th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 19th Report from the Constitution Committee

Clause 1: Authorisation of criminal conduct

Debate on Amendment 11 resumed.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour

My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 77, I should first declare that my daughter wrote on this subject in a book on powers of investigation and human rights. I should also add that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, very much regrets that he is unable to speak to this amendment, which he warmly supports.

I do not have much to add to the expert introduction of my noble friend Lady Clark of Kilwinning. I simply emphasise, as a former member of the NUJ, that this amendment bears particularly on investigative journalism and the exposure of illegal, exploitative or anti-social activity: writing that could arguably impact on economic well-being or disorder and which we need to protect, in the public interest, as a keystone of democracy. The confidentiality of journalists’ sources is protected by Article 10 of the ECHR’s guarantee of freedom of expression, as my noble friend Lady Clark said. Further, any statutory provision allowing the circumvention of the existing legal protection of journalists’ sources is also dangerous because it will deter those sources from coming forward.

The Secretary of State for Justice, when Solicitor-General, said that the ability of sources to provide anonymous information to journalists needed to be protected and preserved. This will not happen if those sources are at the mercy of the wide range of covert intelligence agents that the Bill would casually authorise with no judicial oversight.

As my noble friend Lady Clark said, the Investigatory Powers Act requires prior judicial authorisation as essential when any application is made to identify confidential journalistic sources. When he was a Home Office Minister, Nick Hurd MP confirmed that these protections were necessary to comply with the Government’s obligations under Article 10, that the police require a production order from a circuit judge, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and that they must, in addition, satisfy the conditions of confidentiality. We should not dilute this kind of obligation. I hope that the current provisions are not yet another attempt by this Government to muzzle, challenge and undermine one of the democratic pillars of freedom.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I agree with everything she said. I also have a daughter who is a journalist so, for me, this is quite personal. I also care very much about the truth, and journalists are often the people who give us the truth in any particular situation.

I have signed Amendment 77, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Clark of Kilwinning, for it. It is slightly awkwardly included in this group, but it addresses the specific issue of protecting journalism and journalistic sources. We need that in the Bill. We have put it into other Bills, such as counterintelligence or counterterrorism Bills, and it would easily go into this one as well. It would make sure that we have a clear commitment to journalism. I realise that this is not particularly comfortable for this Government, which have criticised a lot of lefty journalists—as well as lawyers—but it is incredibly important.

This group generally shows broad support across your Lordships’ House for the principle that judicial authorisation must be built into the Bill. It must not be arbitrary or a rubber-stamping exercise; it has to be the real stuff. In many ways, comparing it with search warrants issued by a magistrates’ court is much too weak a comparison. High-level crimes can be authorised in the Bill, with deep and lasting consequences. There must be high-tier judicial oversight and approval to match.

The question is whether we can build consensus around a way forward. Amendment 61 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, is perhaps the easiest solution to this problem. It sets up the judicial commissioner as the proper overseer and sets out the legal test that must be met to grant an authorisation. In particular, it tests the reasonableness of granting authorisation and explicitly protects against breaches of human rights, which we will come to later. Overall, the Government are being offered a selection of solutions to a problem. I hope that they take one of them.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

I will speak to Amendments 12 and 61 in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. I am grateful to the Law Society of Scotland for its briefing. I am not particularly well qualified to speak on these issues, as many who have already spoken have direct experience in this regard, but I believe in due process and natural justice. I am concerned that we are reversing activity that was criminal and making it legal.

As the Law Society of Scotland has pointed out, scrutiny of the exercise of these powers lies with the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who is required to produce an annual report. However, this is scrutiny after the event. It will be limited and may not provide us in Parliament with the robustness that the exercise of these powers commands. Therefore, given the nature of the policy, there should be checks and balances to ensure the effective operation of these organisations to ensure that there is public confidence in the use of these powers by providing limits on their use and adequate scrutiny.

I am attracted to Amendments 12 and 61, which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, referred to, as well as to Amendments 46 and 73 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, which have many elements that commend themselves. Amendments 12 and 61 ensure that criminal conduct authorisations receive prior approval from a judicial commissioner. In the debate last week—which seems a long time ago— there was a great coalition of views around whether approval should be given by a judge, a judicial commissioner or a member of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office. I would be guided by those with much greater experience than I have in that regard.

However, it is important for there to be greater scrutiny before criminal conduct authorisation is granted, rather than after the event. In terms of due process, it should not be for the organisations, in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of the Shaws, to mark their own homework. The issue should not be simply for a senior official in the departments—I am particularly concerned about the Food Standards Agency and the Environment Agency—and we will come on to explore those in greater detail. In the words of the Law Society of Scotland,

“The Bill authorises persons within the relevant organisations to act with impunity where authorised by indicating that the criminal law will not apply to them in undertaking acts which would otherwise result in prosecution and conviction. In most circumstances, what will happen is that justification of the criminal conduct will be sought after the event”.

I put it to the House this afternoon that that is unacceptable, and authorisation should be granted—preferably judicial authorisation, in the best format possible—before the act that would otherwise deemed to be criminal actually takes place.

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has withdrawn, so the next speaker will be the noble Lord, Lord Naseby.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

My Lords, in many ways, subsection (5) of Clause 1 could well be the most important part of the Bill. I should make it clear that I support MI5. Its focus and dedication to working in the national interest is second to none.

Criminal activity has to be limited and defined, but the most difficult area is defining the methodology. Who should give clearance? I am not convinced that a judge, however senior, necessarily has the right experience. In my judgment, we need someone with specific experience in this challenging area. In reviewing this matter, we should look at what other countries do, particularly the USA and Canada, as other noble Lords have mentioned. Both appear to be pretty successful in this area. I am not qualified to make a judgment on that, but I should be interested, too, in what Australia does. Reference has been made to a close friend of mine, the late Desmond de Silva, who carried out marvellous work for the UN in Northern Ireland. In that context, he produced a framework of control, which needs to be looked at because it includes areas that merit serious consideration.

Part of what we are considering is the future security of our country, which brings me to the integrated review of foreign defence, security and development policy announced recently in the other place. I shall quote from the penultimate paragraph, which states:

“I can announce that we have established a National Cyber Force, combining our intelligence agencies and service personnel, which is already operating in cyberspace against terrorism, organised crime and hostile state activity. ”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/11/20; col. 489.]

It is clear to me and, I imagine, your Lordships that life in the 21st century will be quite different from anything we have yet experienced.

Against that background, the control proposed in Amendments 46 and 73 may be the way forward. They need refining and the contributions of my friends, the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Carlile, should be considered. Noble Lords should make no mistake: this is a crucial area for the future security of our country.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour 1:45 pm, 1st December 2020

My Lords, it is a pity, although entirely understandable, that we had to break the debate last week because not only were the contributions extremely informative and, in some cases, profound, they set the context as we continue the debate on this group.

I want to pick up a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, in relation to making the illegal legal. We are here because we want to provide a regulatory framework and powers to ensure that what was undertaken previously is set in the context of legal and authorised actions. Phone tapping, interception and surveillance were all illegal until they were authorised in a regulatory framework, which happened only in recent decades. What we are trying to do here is fill a hole to ensure that we have a grip on this and know what is being done on our behalf and that it is being done in an acceptable fashion.

That is why I want to speak to Amendment 15 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hain, who spoke powerfully and from the heart last week about his experience. I also support the concepts in Amendments 46 and 73, ably spoken to by the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Butler, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, who I worked closely with when she was head of the Security Service. When I was Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, was surprised to receive a phone call from me asking him to have oversight on terrorism, which I was pleased to do. In a non-partisan way, I say to the Minister, who does not carry responsibility for this matter, that she might take the message back to her colleagues in the Cabinet that it sometimes helps not to be seen to give your friends all the jobs. I just lay that on the table.

There is also a great deal of merit in the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Clark, and spoken to by my noble friend Lady Whitaker. We have seen important exposés by people embedded in homes for people with learning disabilities, children’s homes and retirement homes. We must be careful not to infringe on legitimate investigations.

However, I want to return to the debate on Amendments 15, 46 and 73. I thought that some very good points were made in relation to the proposals put forward by my noble friend Lady Kennedy. I understand why, but there is a real contradiction in putting a judge up front in charge of legalising something rather than having them act as a commissioner in reviewing a decision that has been taken. As was said last week, it misunderstands the role of the judiciary—even barristers can sometimes misunderstand the role of the judiciary—not only in terms of its profound and important role in our legal, criminal justice and constitutional life, but in terms of the skills and experience that members of the judiciary gain in building to the point where they take on the job, and the experience that they have in the job. It is worth looking at the role of the Home Secretary or, in the case of my noble friend Lord Hain, the equivalent in Northern Ireland. Their important role is legitimised by their being elected and they are accountable in the sense that they can be held to account if they report back to the two Houses of Parliament. Perhaps this proposal could be integrated with those in Amendments 46 and 73.

As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said last week, a behind-the-scenes, behind-the-Chair discussion before Report might be a way forward. The Minister would be able to seek agreement from her colleagues so that there was sufficient movement to enable us to agree and to provide the legitimacy and accountability that everyone is seeking in this group of amendments. If we could do that, we could move forward with some confidence that we will put right something that should have been put right. Although the issue was not prevalent at the time, I accept my part in not having filled every hole in the process of ensuring that we scrutinise and have a mechanism to review, and therefore legitimise, what has taken place. I am really pleased that we have been able to continue the debate this afternoon. I hope the Minister will be able to pick up not only on the comments this afternoon but on the very substantive issues raised last week.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee)

My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who has brought to bear his own experience on this issue. I would like very briefly to speak in favour of all these amendments. In essence, there are five main proposals before the House, some with variance. They are as follows: first, leave it as it is and rely on the discretion of the prosecutor; secondly, have authorisation in all cases either by the secret services or by the Competition and Markets Authority, or any of the authorities, and, in due course, review by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner; thirdly, pre-authorisation either by a judge or by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner or a Secretary of State; fourthly, pre-authorisation, except in an emergency, by the same people; and, fifthly, real-time notification.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, about the comment made last week by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—who spoke very wisely, as he often does, in saying that we should attempt to find the best solution. The difficulty is knowing how to do that without evidence as to the pros and cons. None of this is easy and getting it wrong will be very damaging to all concerned. Perhaps I may illustrate that by taking one of the alternatives and saying what it would be helpful to know. I shall take the example of real-time notification.

The first question I would like answered is: if the authorities can tell the Investigatory Powers Commissioner within seven days, why is it not possible in most cases to notify in advance? It would certainly be far safer to do that. Secondly, if this course is adopted, will each change have to be notified? Thirdly—this is the most serious question—what will happen if the Investigatory Powers Commissioner says that the authority should not have been granted? Will the authorisation cease immediately; and if it did not, what would the consequences be under the Human Rights Act, for example, for those affected? Presumably, any disallowance or contrary views by the IPC would not be retrospective. Fourthly, would not the report at the end of the year identifying that authority should not have been granted be more damaging than trying to stop that mistake in the first place by pre-authorisation?

Should this real-time notification apply to everyone? Like the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, and many others who have spoken, I have the greatest admiration for the security and secret services. But is the same true of the Competition and Markets Authority and the Food Standards Agency? We have to be careful of what can happen on people’s coat-tails.

Finally, I really do think it would be useful to have the views of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner himself on this idea. He has to operate it; does he think it practicable, and what is to happen?

I could, drawing on my own experience, try to give some more details in respect of these matters, but I fear that in doing so I might be at risk of transgressing, as would other noble Lords, by inadvertently saying something very sensitive. That is why in our previous sitting, in the debate on the second group of amendments, I suggested finding a means of ensuring that there is evidence before the House to enable it to understand the deficiencies in the present law which need to be corrected, and to scrutinise the proposals for reform and try to ensure that the proposals, if necessary as amended, will work well for the future. My general experience has been, in relation to both the police and the security services, that they are rightly reticent about putting matters into the public domain. But it is often possible to put sufficient into the public domain without damage to security and methods of operation. However, you cannot do that unless you know enough about the issues and the evidence.

It is also my experience that subjecting issues of this kind to independent scrutiny and not relying on conclusions that are put forward is in the overwhelming interest of the security services, the police and the other bodies. That is because these are difficult issues of judgment that need to be scrutinised externally and independently and then addressed so that the risk of future errors is minimised and confidence maintained. That is why I would hope that means can be found to enable the House to carry out the constitutional function I have outlined. I have suggested referring either the Bill or specific issues to a Select Committee, under Standing Order 8.118, which can take evidence in private and publish a report, or—an alternative as suggested by my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich —to seek a report from an individual. I would hope that the report would enable us to do our constitutional duty, find the right answer and be able to reassure everyone that we had, on this extraordinarily difficult issue, made a decision where the safeguards were right and that was practicable. I have written to the Minister and discussed this with her. I very much hope that a way forward can be found.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative

I am very pleased to follow the noble and learned Lord, who ended by saying that he wanted to ensure that the solution was practicable and workable. I strongly agree. This is the first time that I have had a chance to speak on the Bill. I straightaway echo very strongly the comments of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which recognised that, in an increasingly dangerous and unstable world, covert intelligence has a vital role to play in protecting our country from terrorism, organised crime and the growing threats to our national well-being. I was very impressed by the information that James Brokenshire, the Minister for Security, gave on Second Reading in another place. In the year to November 2019, in London alone, covert intelligence led to 3,500 arrests and the recovery of 100 firearms and 400 other weapons, half a ton of drugs and £2.5 million in cash. I note also the evidence given that, in 2017, covert intelligence foiled an attack on No. 10 Downing Street. Having myself been a victim of the mortar attack 30 years ago on No. 10, I am sorry that we did not have better covert intelligence then.

I also recognise that this vital tool must be put on a proper statutory basis. I have to say again that it is not before time, because it was 26 years ago that the Secret Intelligence Service and the Intelligence and Security Committee, which I had the privilege to lead in its early years, was put on a statutory basis.

My concern is that in giving this vital aid to law enforcement and putting it on a statutory basis, we so surround it with a host of additional conditions that seriously limit its effectiveness. The Minister was challenged earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about the number of covert agents and whether there were more than in earlier years or fewer. If we do not produce a good, workable and safe basis for such sources to operate, there will certainly be fewer, and the country will be much more exposed to the risks that covert intelligences sometimes prevent us from.

This is why I do not support Amendments 11, 12, 14 and 15, which propose prior approval by a judge or even—my goodness—a Secretary of State. In many of these cases, the covert intelligence source risks his own life to pass vital information to his handler. His willingness to do this has depended on his confidence that his identity will be totally protected and that he would be able to behave as a normal member of a gang or terrorist unit in which he is involved. He must have total confidence in his handler and be able to turn to him if sudden changes arise and nobody can get a quick response from him. If he and others find that they cannot get that support, then the willingness of people to come forward will be seriously undermined, and there will be fewer and fewer covert sources. If when he calls for help, his handler has to turn to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who in turn has to apply to a judge or the Secretary of State, how many more people will become privy to his existence, and how much greater will the risk that he faces be?

It has been suggested that judges are always available at short notice, and that if the one who gave the original authority is not available, there are plenty others able to step in who are good at mastering a brief quickly. However, that ignores the point that someone who had no previous knowledge of the matter would now have some knowledge of the agent’s existence and activity. How many others would too? That is why I support Amendments 46 and 73, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Butler, Lord Anderson and Lord Carlile of Berriew, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, a quartet exceptionally qualified to advise your Lordships on this issue. They do not propose prior authorisation by a judge or by the Secretary of State, but that when a properly authorised handler issues a criminal conduct authorisation, he should be required to pass it at the earliest possible moment to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner—incidentally, a distinguished judge—who, together with the handler, operates under the code of practice, which will be approved by Parliament.

Obviously, this puts a very heavy responsibility on handlers, and their selection and training is a crucial ingredient, but provided that it is successfully achieved, it is much the safest and best way to ensure that the vital source of intelligence that has protected our country in so many different ways over the years is not lost.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour 2:00 pm, 1st December 2020

My Lords, I will confine my remarks on this Bill to the thrust of Amendment 46. I declare an interest as a former member of the ISC from 1997 to 2001, under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, who has just spoken and who equally supports Amendment 46. I am not a lawyer, but I ran with the hounds in the Commons during the Peter Wright affair of the 1980s. In doing so, I developed an interest in authorisation procedures, which I followed up as a member of the ISC.

As I read it, it is uncertainty over compliance with the Human Rights Act, the ECHR and the implied powers therein that is driving legislative reform. The problem is only aggravated by the inclusion of a raft of new bodies, some presumably with marginal quasi-professional experience of covert action. My problem is the inadequacy of post-event assessment. An annual report from the Investigatory Powers Commissioner is not enough. An onerous system of prior authorisation is too much. We need a robust, uncomplicated procedure of prior scrutiny, not authorisation, where the rights of individuals and the state are fully recognised.

I place on record the statement from Andy Erlam, the principal complainant in the Tower Hamlets v Rahman case, which exposes deficiencies in the current CHIS-bases system: “An attempt was made to recruit me as a CHIS some time ago. I had taken a successful election petition against the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman. The police officer who met me was from the Metropolitan Police. He said he was employed by the Department for Professional Standards but that he had a national role in supervising CHISs. He asked me to recruit CHISs, and documentation exists to confirm that this meeting took place. I learned that the officer who had authorised the approach to me was the same officer in charge of the two Metropolitan Police criminal inquiries into Mr Rahman, and that the commission and the City of London Police inquiry all found insufficient evidence. Yet the campaign in Tower Hamlets which I led exposed extensive corruption. I suspect that the police were compromised in some way. I experienced police harassment and an attempted arrest in the middle of the election High Court trial, an election case which I later won. If the use of undercover operations can be justified in some cases, I do not think they should ever pervert the course of justice. I believe this approach was an attempt to compromise me. Police officers who I know informally state that the use of CHISs leads to lazy policing, and it is never clear whether the police are using the CHIS or the CHIS is using the police. The current proposal to extend legal immunity to cover CHISs carrying out criminal activities is a matter of considerable concern.”

Erlam is questioning a whole CHIS-based system. I do not, but on accountability he is right. We need a far more robust system of prior evaluation and scrutiny. In this debate, we have heard demands for prior judicial authorisation, judicial commissioners, the use of prosecutors and judges, and a prosecutorial approach with warrants, and the Government are saying no—although there was a slight movement from the Government in last week’s debate, a hint at reconsideration. Anyhow, whatever the position, the Government will have their way, with their 70-seat Commons majority, so a compromise must be found, and I propose a compromise.

I have two alternatives. First, I propose that the remit of the chairman of the ISC be extended in the way that I have previously suggested during ISC debates, to give him or her prior access to intelligence-based CHIS operational activity—a prior scrutiny role, not an authorising role—in the handling of all CHIS. It would mean restoration of the prime-ministerial lock on ISC chairmanship appointments. Under this proposal, the chairman would be able to release CHIS information to the ISC only where it is agreed to do so with the agency heads, including the wider list of agencies currently being proposed.

It could be argued that to include the Food Standards Agency et al could be stretching the duties placed on the ISC chairman, and potentially in a much limited form on the committee, far too far. I say that as we simply do not know the volume of CCAs. If that was a problem, the Speakers of both Houses could be asked to nominate an agreed alterative person or persons, depending on the volume of CCAs, to carry out the function. I suggest a Member of this House, their role being prior scrutiny of CHIS operational activity, not authorisation. I believe that we have people in Parliament who, as former chairmen of the ISC or other respected Members of this House, are as worthy of access to information in the deepest recesses of the various intelligence communities et al as any agency head.

Another way forward could be to appoint a scrutiny group comprising either two or three persons as part of the same prior scrutiny process. Such a group should comprise at least one member of a legislature of high standing—again, appointed by the Prime Minister but ratified by Parliament. In my mind, a member of a legislature must—I repeat “must”—be party in one form or another to whatever process is selected. In the USA, the defense appropriations subcommittee is, by law, according to Wikipedia, “fully and currently informed” of intelligence activities. This includes being kept informed of covert actions and any significant intelligence failure. I am not even asking for that. Wikipedia goes on to say that, under certain circumstances, the President may restrict access to covert activities to only the chairman and vice-chairman of the committee. I will settle for that. I am asking, in compromise, for a lesser form of accountability under a less onerous arrangement.

Under my second way forward, the second and third persons could be judiciary-drawn and/or departmental accounting officers. To me, the appointments under both options are particularly important in this new world of heightened tension, international trafficking, greater sophistication in fraud and organised crime. We cannot underestimate these dangers.

Equally, we need a commensurate increase in accountability. After over 40 years in public life, I have learned that transparency, by its very nature, influences conduct and thereby, to some extent, control to varying degrees. I support the thrust of the amendments that extend accountability, if not the detail, as proposed in the Committee today.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Labour

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, whose expertise in this area is well known and has been for many years.

There are many profound constitutional issues in the Bill, and many of them have been debated in this long group of amendments. I speak in support of Amendment 76, in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. My noble friend and I agree that this is not a profound constitutional amendment but we argue that it is important none the less.

Noble Lords will recall the highly effective speech of my noble friend Lord Hunt last week in which he argued that police and crime commissioners should have some standing in relation to the annual inspection of police forces by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and not just be excluded from playing any part. Of course, I must declare my interest as the elected and full-time police and crime commissioner for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. I will try not to repeat my noble friend’s arguments but will attempt to persuade the Committee to reach the conclusion that, as with all inspections of a police force, it is essential that a police and crime commissioner plays some part.

Why do I say “essential”? Many noble Lords will remember the passage through Parliament of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. The then coalition Government, in setting up elected police and crime commissioners in place of appointed police committees, were clear that the role of a police and crime commissioner was to represent the public and hold the force to account for its effectiveness, its efficiency and, importantly, its legitimacy.

How wide is that obligation? The protocol to the legislation said that police and crime commissioners were responsible for “the totality of policing”—a phrase that by any definition is not narrow or confined but self-evidently broad and large in scope. So, for example, where police operations of course remain a matter for the chief constable, a police and crime commissioner is duty-bound to examine and ask questions about their success or otherwise.

Similarly, legislation insists that, following an inspection report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, the chief constable must submit to the police and crime commissioner his or her comments on the report, and the police and crime commissioner must then prepare to publish his or her own comments alongside the chief constable’s comments within 56 days and must produce a copy to Her Majesty’s inspectorate and the Home Secretary. This obligation is exactly what Parliament intended and is an accepted part of every police and crime commissioner’s responsibilities.

All my noble friend’s amendment asks is for Her Majesty’s Government to consider allowing police and crime commissioners to have a role in regard to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s annual report regarding CHIS. As my noble friend pointed out, all that is asked for is some strategic oversight role in the IPCO inspections of local police forces. It would have to be strategic, obviously, because of sensitivities, and there would have to be a debrief to understand urgent issues and how the force needs to address them. Otherwise, who holds the chief constable to account? What happens if the inspection is unsatisfactory? This would be appropriate for the accountability role of the police and crime commissioner, instead of what is, I would argue, a pretty glaring lacuna in that area. The Bill represents an opportunity to deal sensibly with that issue.

Some role in this area as part of the totality of policing is surely appropriate. If it is not appropriate, it might be legitimate to ask whether Her Majesty’s Government remain committed to their much-repeated claim that they support the wide powers deliberately given to police and crime commissioners on behalf of the people they represent who live in their force area. I know that the noble Baroness the Minister who will respond to this group is a friend of police and crime commissioners. She made a very successful visit to me in Leicester some time ago. I hope that she will be equally sympathetic today and I look forward to her response.

Photo of Lord Janvrin Lord Janvrin Crossbench 2:15 pm, 1st December 2020

My Lords, I support the case for strengthening oversight as put forward in Amendments 46 and 73, and I add my voice to those questioning the case for prior judicial approval of criminal conduct authorisations.

I speak not as a lawyer or practitioner but as another former member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, where we had plenty of evidence of the importance of covert human intelligence sources. I share the view that we need to get the balance right between, on the one hand, constructing a rigorous legal framework to support the activities of our intelligence and security agencies while, at the same time, still giving them the practical operational flexibility to carry out their difficult work effectively.

I have listened carefully to the strong arguments in favour of prior judicial authorisation. It is, as has been pointed out, what is required for other activities of the intelligence services and police. Should we not follow the practice of communications interception or search warrants? There are important differences. The person authorised to tap a phone or search a premises will be a public servant: an agent of the state. The person being given a criminal conduct authorisation may be a private citizen—possibly but not necessarily—from the margins of society, acting almost certainly from a complex set of motives and probably knowing that they are putting themselves in danger.

In the first case, authorisation seems to be essentially a judgment about compliance with the law. However, a criminal conduct authorisation requires, in addition, personal knowledge of the agent concerned and human relationships involved in complex circumstances. It is about making a judgment, possibly urgently, on human motivation, limitations and behaviour, and about operational context and risk. Therefore, on balance, I share the view that the handler or controller is better placed than a judicial commissioner to make that judgment call on what should and should not be authorised. Obviously, I am in no way against judicial authorisation in principle; it is about getting the best decision.

I would add a small point. For the handler to know that he or she is the authorising officer makes him or her more clearly accountable. It concentrates the mind to sign something off. As my noble friend Lord Anderson observed, it also concentrates the mind to know that your decision will be scrutinised immediately and rigorously. I therefore strongly share the view the present oversight arrangements should be significantly strengthened in the ways put forward in Amendments 46 and 73 to allow immediate scrutiny by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. My noble friend Lord Anderson and colleagues from the Cross Benches have spoken with much greater experience than me on the need for real-time oversight. I find the arguments persuasive. Indeed, there may be a case for giving judicial oversight powers more teeth—perhaps along the lines of Amendment 47 or something similar.

Finally, I said at the outset that we are looking to get the balance right between a robust legal framework and operational flexibility. Obviously, this applies across the Bill. I ask the Minister to consider whether, by strengthening significantly the oversight arrangements, she will mitigate some of our other concerns around, for example, immunity or the serious crimes threshold in this important Bill.

Photo of Lord Morris of Aberavon Lord Morris of Aberavon Labour

My Lords, I support Amendment 14. I was sorry that I was unable to attend Second Reading. I was sitting on a sub-committee of the EU Select Committee and was therefore unable to welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, and congratulate him on an impressive maiden speech. He gave the impression that he had been introducing Bills in your Lordships’ House all his life.

I welcome the Bill, which provides for authorising offers to be given express powers to authorise criminal conduct that would otherwise be illegal. They carry a heavy responsibility, hence the need for supervision. Given the history of direct government intervention in coal mining disputes many years ago, I look forward to debating amendments in the names of my noble friends dealing with trade unions. Powers given

“in the interests of the economic well-being” of the state will need close scrutiny. I am proud that, in a small way, I was able to give a little legal advice to the south Wales miners during the miners’ strike—for the most part, pro bono—many years ago. During my time as a law officer for England and Wales, and separately as Attorney-General for Northern Ireland, although the Attorney-General has general oversight and appropriate clearance, I was not troubled on any issue arising from the Bill. As the House will know, law officers have general oversight and supervision of the offices of state concerning both the rule of law and other matters.

I wish to endorse and reinforce the points made by my noble friend Lord Rosser in his Second Reading speech about the need for judicial oversight prior—I emphasise “prior”—to the event. There is no argument that there should be supervision. The only issues are, first, who should supervise, and secondly, whether it should be post or prior the event. I believe that the arguments for proper prior supervision are fundamental. In our legal processes, we have judges available 24 hours a day. This particularly includes the long vacation— indeed, any time, any place, throughout the year. They can adjudicate from home if necessary; I am told that that is not unusual. Provided a judge is given the right information, a proper judgment can be given. The same applies down the line to the magistracy, which performs a very vital role. Before a warrant is issued, evidence in one form or another is given and judicial authority is given.

I was never involved as counsel on these procedures during my time as a criminal practitioner, but I can give a personal example of the availability of magistrates on family matters. My wife sat for 18 years in the London juvenile courts. Part of her duties involved the care of children who were, or might be, vulnerable. I recall many occasions when I had to leave the sitting room of our London house at the request of a welfare officer so that she could hear evidence, hear witnesses sworn in and adjudicate, pending the following morning when a proper courtroom could be convened. It was vital that there was availability. My point is that there has never been an issue with non-availability of a court sitting at any level. The Minister is not very persuasive in his brief comment in Column 1046. I need to be persuaded why you can have judicial intervention and a judicial decision in so many other fields but not in this one.

We are dealing with very serious matters. Authorising criminal conduct is important and a departure from the ordinary rules of law. If there is any problem about the security clearance of a particular judge, I would be surprised if that could not be achieved. If a High Court judge cannot be trusted, who can? It would not be beyond the administration of justice to have a panel of designated judges with experience in this field who adjudicate from time to time and can authorise the necessary activities.

This brings me back to the key question: who is to guard the guardians? This is not to denigrate the experience of the highly trained authorising officers, nor the retrospective—I emphasise “retrospective”—oversight of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. Prior judicial authority is the best safeguard to ensure that, where there is a departure from the rule of law in ordinary circumstances, there is proper supervision of the activities.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour 2:30 pm, 1st December 2020

My Lords, I too regret the split in this debate and certainly hope that it does not happen again. Members were left high and dry with no knowledge of what was happening on the evening concerned. However, that is in the past.

One minor caveat is that I served briefly as Minister of State both in the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office, but I was involved purely in domestic matters—never in anything remotely regarding security or policing.

I applied to speak to this group of amendments only for the specific purpose of supporting Amendments 46 and 73 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. I would have considerable difficulty supporting other amendments in this group, as I will if they come back on Report.

We have heard some powerful speeches about events of the past; in no way do I denigrate these, but this Bill is about the future. We have also heard much about the current inquiry into undercover policing. While I share the concern, and am quite appalled at some of the activities that have been disclosed, I do not see a massive connection with this Bill.

At Second Reading I said that, in the main, I think of a CHIS—a covert human intelligence source—as

“someone who is not an employee of the police or security services, but an outside, undercover informer or agent.”—[Official Report, 11/11/20; Col. 1079.]

No one is seeking a free-for-all. Some years ago, I spent a day in Thames House. Much to my surprise, I came away with the impression of liberal—with a small L—attitudes and, above all, a desire to serve and be accountable to Parliament and the rule of law.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said at one point in his speech that, in the past, he was converted to prior judicial review. I took this to be in respect of the issues he was dealing with at that time, and that has, in the main, been accomplished on other issues. I was also struck by the point he made about the FBI and Canada not using judges for prior approval. This point does not come across in some of the briefings received on the Bill.

Handling a covert human intelligence source is real, practical, person-to-person work, and Amendment 46 is a much better alternative than the others in the current circumstances. The noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, reinforced that, making the point that other alternatives do not seem practical. This was reinforced again by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, who spoke about the work of a CHIS as a specific form of intrusion that required a specialist overseer as it was not a specific one-off act. The work of the CHIS is different from other intrusions such as telephone intercepts or surveillance. It involves fast-changing situations and sometimes volatile, or possibly unpleasant, personalities. In such circumstances, a clear duty of care rests with the handler of the covert human intelligence source. Too little attention has been paid to this aspect.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, speaking in support last week, said that, to date in the debate, there had been some gross distortions of the position of the police. I too think some of the language has been extravagant, and it does not fit the here and now.

This brings me to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller. While earlier speeches in the debate drew on practical experience—in particular, that of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, as a police officer—we can now draw on the personal practical experience of someone who spent 33 years inside MI5 actually running agents in the field and who accepts that there is a life-long duty of care for the agents. Quite correctly, we do not hear much about this, but it is an important point to appreciate. The noble Baroness made a rather telling point, repeated today by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, about MI5 seeking such legislative accountability for running CHIS 27 years ago, before it was a statutory body. Given what I said at the start about what I consider a CHIS to be, it is clear to me that the noble Baroness made a powerful case for Amendment 46, adding to what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said in moving it.

Yes, of course, I accept in principle that prior judicial consent could be supported, but it is simply not practical. We need to think of the position of the agents and their handlers in the current circumstances—of those who are making such decisions today. We need to be supportive of change, accept that the situation is not comparable to telephone intercepts and other aspects of surveillance, and be wholly practical in a way that supports those doing this valuable work for the country. I support Amendment 46, unlike many of the other amendments in this group which are simply not practical.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow so many distinguished Members of your Lordships’ House—not least my noble friend Lord Rooker. The fact that this group has taken so long, has had by necessity to be split over two days and has contained so many distinguished contributions, merely highlights the gravity of the step taken in this Bill to create advanced and complete civil and criminal immunity for criminal conduct by CHIS, rather than putting CHIS itself on a statutory footing; I remind noble Lords of this. It also serves as a reminder of the care with which noble Lords approach this kind of dramatic constitutional exercise.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that this is the first sitting of this Committee since the Government announced yesterday that, once more, the Finucane family will not get the independent inquiry that they have sought for so long into the murder of the lawyer Pat Finucane. This seems highly pertinent to consideration of this Bill.

If after so long, and if after acceptance—even by a UK Prime Minister—that illegal collusion by state agents took place in that murder, and after so much criticism, including at international level, it is still not considered appropriate to have an independent judicial inquiry, that really does beg the question for the future as to whether any Government, of any stripe, at any moment in history, should be trusted with the ability to authorise a whole host of state agencies to subdelegate the power to grant immunities in relation to criminal conduct to a whole host of currently unspecified levels of authoriser or handler, and to do so without some kind of prior authorisation process. The sheer gravity of that new immunity from civil and criminal suit—which has not been the case up to now—is what I believe has caused such a plethora of alternative suggested safeguards, many of which arise in the group of amendments that we have been discussing in recent hours.

It would be invidious to cite particular interventions, because there have been so many; all have been incredibly expert and thoughtful, coming at the problem of safeguards from a great deal of alternative experience. We have heard from the retired judiciary. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, a very distinguished former director of MI5, who of course famously made her maiden speech in your Lordships’ House in defence of civil liberties and against the notion of 42 days’ detention without charge or trial. We have heard from a number of noble Lords who have served at Cabinet level, including my noble friend Lord Hain, who has authorised intrusive activity—necessarily, as a Northern Ireland Secretary—but has also, as he told us quite poignantly last week, been the victim of political manipulation of intrusive power.

My noble friend’s story particularly highlights how a covert human intelligence source is different from other kinds of intrusive power, as has been put eloquently by a great number of noble Lords. A human intelligence source is different because that human is at risk and, as a human, is therefore more precious than a bugging device when at risk. A human intelligence source is also more intrusive and dangerous to those being spied on, because that human will affect behaviour, not just monitor or record it.

In this group, there is a number of alternative authorisation processes and safeguards pre- and post-criminal activity, judicial and political—which, of course, makes me wince slightly. That menu is comparable to the other powers catered for in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

I remind noble Lords that the scheme of this Bill has essentially been grafted on to a pre-existing scheme in the 2000 Act. Any suggestion that there is currently no regulatory framework for CHIS is not the case—there is. Undercover operatives or agents are authorised under RIPA. However, they are not subject to external authorisation. That may be one problem at the heart of this debate—it is actually human intrusive surveillance or CHIS per se, before we even enter the territory of criminal conduct, which ought to be subject to greater safeguards. However, that is outside the scope of this Bill. It is unfortunate that, in this case, the Government have grafted something as drastic as granting advanced immunity to agents on to a pre-existing scheme without allowing legislators the opportunity to look at that wider scheme itself—because, of course, the Long Title of this Bill is so narrow in just being concerned with criminal conduct and not the authorisation of CHIS. That is unfortunate.

I hope that, in future, at the earliest possible opportunity, the Government will consider having another look at what safeguards should be applied to the authorisation or post-authorisation scrutiny of these undercover operatives and agents. That would help to deal with some of the complex arguments about whether it is appropriate for a judge or judicial commissioner to give a pre- or post- or real-time authorisation or scrutiny of actions that, ultimately, lie in the hands of the CHIS themselves. It is very difficult indeed, because of the fast-moving situations that were described by a great many noble Lords, properly to regulate such activity without regulating the operating mind, drive and ethic of the undercover person.

That brings me to my final point: it would be a great deal simpler if, ultimately, as is the status quo and the mechanism that has been so successful and has saved so many lives, we did not leave open what should be a remote possibility that an undercover operative will have their conduct examined after the fact, when it is criminal conduct, by an independent prosecutor and judge in the normal way, with all the defences that public interest will allow.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:45 pm, 1st December 2020

My Lords, this has been a lengthy and complex debate, and I blame the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, for that; we tried to split this group to make it more manageable, but his will prevailed.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, amendments in this group are on prior authorisation by a judge; by an investigatory powers commissioner; by an investigatory powers commissioner unless it is urgent; by an investigatory powers commissioner if a criminal conduct authority is to be used to identify a journalistic source; and by a Secretary of State. Another amendment requires that an investigatory powers commissioner be notified

“as soon as … practicable, and in any event within seven days” and that the police authority be involved in holding the chief constable to account as a result of the investigatory powers commissioner’s annual report on the use of CCAs.

It is understandable that noble Lords want prior notification—and why the police should not, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, said, mark their own homework. On the advice of one noble Lord, I read the code of practice that goes with this Bill. I have held both ranks that could grant a criminal conduct authority under this Bill. In urgent cases, that is an inspector, who can not only grant a criminal conduct authority but also grant immunity from prosecution. I was an inspector at the age of 24. I was also, subsequently, a controller of covert human intelligence sources. I spent 18 years as a uniformed officer. On the Friday I left the office as a uniformed chief inspector and on the Monday morning I was a detective chief inspector in the role of a controller. The Government may say that all the people involved in the matters considered by this Bill will be experienced and highly trained, but that is not always the case in my experience.

We should listen very carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, who articulated why prior authorisation is not practical, a point also made by the Minister for Security in another place and by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. From my experience I agree, although the description of MI5 handlers and agents as beyond reproach is not, in my experience, universally applicable to police handlers and informants.

Any prior authorisation would instruct CHIS to operate within strict parameters, which may no longer be necessary or proportionate once they are deployed, or may not be adequate once they are deployed, because they are being deployed into rapidly changing scenarios in an uncontrolled environment, often involving chaotic individuals. The most common use of CHIS in policing, for example, is to counter drug dealing. As the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, has said, you cannot turn an agent on and off like you can a listening device.

Even the most experienced undercover officer may have to necessarily and proportionately go beyond the strict parameters of a CCA because the situation has dramatically changed in ways unforeseen by the handler. If he were to strictly adhere precisely to a CCA, he could put himself in danger of losing his life. As we will hear in later groups, children are increasingly being used as covert human intelligence sources, some of whom have chaotic lifestyles. Sometimes they are drug users or drug dealers. To expect such people to operate within the strict and precise boundaries of a CCA in such turbulent situations is not only unfair and unreasonable but completely unrealistic. To determine the strict parameters of a CCA to cover every possible scenario, in the middle of a rapidly changing situation, and when the legal immunity of both handler and CHIS depends on it, is unfair and unreasonable to both handler and CHIS.

Those proposing prior authorisation by judges, Investigatory Powers Commissioners and government Ministers may say that any conduct outside the strict parameters of a CCA will be looked at by the prosecuting authorities and a decision made whether to prosecute using the public interest test. In that case, why can the prosecuting authorities not look at all the actions of the CHIS and the handler and decide whether to prosecute?

Amendment 46, for which there seems to be a good deal of support around the House, suggests that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner should be given notice where a person grants a criminal conduct authorisation as soon as practicable and, in any event, within seven days—but, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, so what? What power does the Investigatory Powers Commissioner have to intervene? What happens if the handler corruptly tasks an informant to commit crime? As the authority has already been granted, both CHIS and handler have legal immunity, even if the handler informs the Investigatory Powers Commissioner six days later. A wronged party may be able to claim compensation from an Investigatory Powers Tribunal but criminal offences may have been committed for which the perpetrators should be prosecuted. That is why we have added to Amendment 46, to the effect that legal immunity is dependent on the CCA being approved by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. If the actions of the handler or the CHIS are not within the limits set out in the Bill, neither are immune from criminal prosecution or from being sued.

I understand completely why noble Lords do not want a criminal conduct authority to be granted without prior judicial or ministerial authorisation because of the potential for abuse. However, as others have said, it is not practical. We believe there is a way to prevent abuse without prior authorisation of a CCA, including protecting journalistic sources, which we will come to in a future group. We have listened very carefully to this debate and have come up with a new amendment; because we were part way through this debate we cannot debate that amendment in this group, but we will come to it in a couple of groups’ time. What must not happen in any circumstances is the granting of legal immunity without judicial oversight. That is what our Amendment 47 attempts to do.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

Amendments 14 and 75 in my name and the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark provide that authorisations may not be granted under this section until a warrant has been issued by a judge. An application to a judge must be made in writing and provide details, including the reasons why it is required, who it covers, the length of time it will be active for, and previous applications covering the same individual. Our amendments also provide that a person who grants a criminal conduct authorisation must inform the Investigatory Powers Commissioner within seven days of granting the authorisation. We seek to strengthen both prior and post-authorisation oversight.

Amendment 77 in the name of my noble friends Lady Clark of Kilwinning and Lady Whitaker and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, calls for prior judicial approval before an authorisation can be granted

“for the purposes of identifying or confirming a source of journalistic information”, and is in line with our amendment providing that authorisations may not be granted until a warrant has been issued by a judge. Amendment 46 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, Lord Butler of Brockwell, Lord Carlile of Berriew, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, is very similar to our Amendment 75 requiring a person who grants a criminal conduct authorisation to inform the Investigatory Powers Commissioner within seven days of granting the authorisation. However, all the amendments we have been discussing in this group reflect a strong feeling that the oversight arrangements set out in the Bill for the statutory power by public authorities to grant criminal conduct authorisations are inadequate and do not provide reassurance that the likelihood of this power being misused or exceeded is reduced to a minimum.

What exactly has been happening under the present arrangements is far from clear, although we are assured that they have enabled threatened terrorist atrocities and other serious crimes to be thwarted and our safety to be secured. We have no reason at all to doubt that. However, we do not know the extent to which powers have or have not been misused or exceeded since there is no means of that information consistently coming to light. Without proper oversight to act as a firm check there is a risk that some may become somewhat overzealous in how they exercise and interpret the powers they are given under the Bill, including what might be regarded as acceptable covert human intelligence activity, and against what and whom.

We believe there should be prior judicial authorisation, with authorisations not being granted until a warrant has been issued by a judge. Having to obtain a warrant before action can be taken is nothing new. Bearing in mind the potential gravity of the decision to authorise criminal conduct, the necessity to obtain a warrant beforehand seems even greater than it is in relation to other existing actions or activities requiring a warrant at present. It is a prior safeguard and check to minimise the likelihood, in what is self-authorisation by an agency or other body, of a potentially ill-judged or just plain wrong authorisation of criminal conduct, with all the consequences that might have.

Objections have been raised that sometimes authorisations are needed in a hurry but equally, access to a judge, as happens in some other spheres, can be arranged in a hurry—a point made by my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. Urgency can arise because of a rapidly developing situation that could not have reasonably been foreseen, but it can also arise because a public authority has left things later than it should have done before seeking the criminal conduct authorisation. Perhaps the Government can, in their response, give some indication of roughly how many such authorisations are currently granted on average each year, how many are needed urgently and what the definition is of urgently. Can the Government also give a general indication of the extent to which authority to commit criminal conduct is given, in a typical year, to those who have been previously involved in or who are currently engaged in unauthorised—[Inaudible]—said that all authorisations

“are granted by an experienced and highly trained authorising officer, who will ensure that the authorisation has strict parameters and is clearly communicated to the”,—[Official Report, 11/11/20; col. 1045.] covert human intelligence source. The phrase “experienced and highly trained” sounds fine, but what do the Government intend it to mean in practice in relation to the granting of criminal conduct authorisations under the Bill? What is the definition of an

“experienced and highly trained authorising officer”, a description the Government were happy to use at Second Reading? How much experience is meant, and in what? How much training is meant, and in what? How many experienced and highly trained authorising officers will there be in each authority that will have the power to grant criminal conduct authorisations, and how frequently are they likely to determine whether to grant such authorisations?

At Second Reading, the Government also said that authorisations would be subject to

“robust, independent oversight by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner”.—[Official Report, 11/11/20; col. 1045.]

“Robust” is a frequently used word in politics. Can the Government explain what the words “robust, independent oversight” in relation to oversight of authorisations actually mean in practice? How soon after an authorisation has been given will this “robust, independent” authorisation by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner take place? What form will it take? Will it involve the Investigatory Powers Commissioner or his or her staff speaking to the authorising officer about the reasons for their decision, or will it be a paper exercise?

What will happen if the Investigatory Powers Commissioner does not agree with a decision to grant an authorisation? Will the Commissioner take any action beyond reporting it in the annual report? Will such an authorisation then become invalid, with no protection for the covert human intelligence source committing the criminal conduct that has been authorised? What would be the position of the “experienced and highly trained authorising officer” if the Commissioner disagreed with a decision to grant an authorisation or felt it had given excessive scope for committing criminal offences? Would the authorising officer be open to prosecution by the prosecuting authority, or would the public authority concerned be open to prosecution by the prosecuting authority?

There have been many questions raised and points made during the debate on this group of amendments, which relate to the oversight arrangements that should be in place for the authorisation of criminal conduct by covert human intelligence sources, not to whether these should exist. I hope that the Government, in their response or subsequently in writing, will give their answers to all those points and questions, as well as giving careful consideration to the concerns expressed, and then move from their current position, as set out in the Bill, on this key issue of the necessary oversight arrangements.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 3:00 pm, 1st December 2020

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for contributing to what has been quite a lengthy debate on this very important group of amendments. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett: it is a shame that we had to break the debate last time. Of course, these things are agreed through the usual channels, and it may well be the case that we have to do so again, but it did slightly break the flow, so I will refer back to what was said at the end of last week as well. I begin by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that I was slightly confused; it felt like the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, was making the points from the Front Bench, but I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. If one or both of them could confirm that, that would be fantastic.

I start with the comments that my noble friend Lord King started with, which were echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. Basically, they asked how covert intelligence has stopped terrorism, stopped serious and organised crime and led to thousands of people being arrested who would otherwise do this country harm. I first thank noble Lords for the debate on the role of judicial commissioners in providing that independent oversight of criminal conduct authorisations. The Government’s priority with this legislation is to provide public authorities with an operationally workable regime to help to keep the public safe. We recognise that this needs to be subject to robust—I will go on to the meaning of that word later—and appropriate safeguards, and that is the balance that the Bill seeks to provide. During this debate, I have been pleased to hear noble Lords unite in recognising the importance of this balance.

The amendments of the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Dubs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, all require the prior approval of a judicial commissioner before an authorisation can be granted. We do not think—and other noble Lords have articulated why—that prior judicial approval strikes the balance between safeguards, which my noble friend Lord Naseby talked about, and an operationally workable power, as it risks the effective operation of this vital capability. My noble friend Lord King and the noble Lords, Lord Janvrin, Lord Rooker and Lord Paddick, all concurred. I do not think that any noble Lord would argue that this is not a vital capability, but prior judicial approval is not the only way to provide effective oversight of investigatory powers.

Noble Lords might find it helpful if I set out in more detail why this capability is unique. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, outlined, the use of a covert human intelligence source is different from other powers, such as interception or equipment interference. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made that point, and the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, pointed out that human beings are more complex than phones or cameras. Any decision on how to use a covert human intelligence source has immediate real-world consequences for that CHIS, as we call them, and the people around them.

Every one of these decisions that impacts on the safe deployment of the CHIS is made by experienced, highly trained professionals, guided by the code of practice, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, keeps telling us, is very good supplementary reading to the Bill. The use of a CHIS requires deep expertise and close consideration of the personal strengths and weaknesses of that CHIS, which then enables very precise and safe tasking. These are not decisions that have the luxury of being remade; we are dealing with people’s lives, very often, and it is critical that these decisions are right and made at the right time.

The Bill’s current clarity of responsibility and resulting operational control are the best method for protecting the covert human intelligence source, officers and the public. Even with provision for urgent cases, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, which would reduce one operational challenge of this model, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, has said, it is best that the authorising officer considers the necessity and proportionality of conduct alongside the operational specifics and safety of the CHIS. That is why deep and retrospective oversight is the most appropriate way to provide oversight of this power.

I have listened to remarks, including by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that retrospective oversight lacks “teeth”, to use his word. I reassure him that the IPC will pay particular attention to criminal conduct authorisations, and that his oversight role includes ensuring that public authorities comply with the law and follow good practice. The Bill is clear on this, but it further underpins this in the code of practice. Public authorities must report relevant errors to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office—for example, where activity has taken place without lawful authorisation or there has been a failure to adhere to the required safeguards. These will be investigated by IPCO, and rightly so.

The IPC will then make recommendations to public authorities in areas that fall short of the required standard. A public authority must take steps to implement recommendations made by the IPC. The IPC could also advise the public authority that it ought to refer matters to the appropriate authorities, or ultimately report it themselves, subject to the statutory process set out in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will agree that that is a robust process.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, to which the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, referred, is similar to those requiring prior approval by a judicial commissioner but requires prior approval by the Secretary of State. It creates the same challenges as prior judicial approval and, equally, cannot be accepted.

I also want to address concerns that the authorising officer cannot be trusted to undertake these duties without independent approval and the examples that noble Lords raised around the conduct subject to the Undercover Policing Inquiry and the appalling murder of Pat Finucane. We also heard reference to events at Orgreave and personal accounts from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I note—the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, mentioned this—the update that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland provided in the other place yesterday on Mr Finucane’s murder. These are difficult and utterly unacceptable cases and it is right that they continue to be scrutinised. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, so clearly articulated and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, echoed today, they are examples from the past.

The situation and framework within which CHIS operate today is not the same environment as it was then. There is stringent internal and external oversight in place and robust training to ensure that this activity is handled and managed properly. The policies and procedures used to authorise and handle covert human intelligence sources are subject to regular review and external scrutiny.

We now have the Human Rights Act 1998; authorising officers are trained in its application and how to communicate the tight limits of an authorisation to CHIS. We have also been clear that CHIS will never be authorised to form an intimate sexual relationship and the relevant sources regime places additional safeguards to protect against this in future. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner has oversight of authorisations; he will identify any misconduct by a public authority and take action accordingly.

Noble Lords have spoken about some of the horror stories from the past in the absence of a clear and robust framework. The situation is now different, and the Bill provides further clarity. As the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, my noble friend Lord King and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, mentioned, this is a long-overdue piece of legislation that places this activity in a clear and consistent framework.

I understand the concerns that have been raised on judicial oversight of journalistic material and sources in Amendment 77. I reassure the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lady Clark and Lady Whitaker, that additional safeguards already exist in the CHIS code of practice for the protection of confidential journalistic material. To echo again the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, I ask noble Lords to please read the code of practice to understand the detail that sits underneath the Bill. These protections will apply to criminal conduct authorisations as well as the wider use and conduct of a CHIS.

The safeguards include a requirement for authorisation at a more senior level than that required for other CHIS activity, reflecting the sensitive nature of such information. Confidential journalistic material, or that which identifies a source of journalistic information, must also be reported to the IPC as soon as reasonably practicable, if it has been obtained or retained other than for purposes of destruction.

The amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Anderson, would require an authorisation to be notified to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner within seven days. I listened very carefully to the points made on notification to the IPC. The Bill as drafted replicates the current oversight role of the IPC in ensuring that he has unfettered access to information and documents that enable him to inspect any public authority at any frequency of his choosing. However, it is clear that providing for independent oversight which is closer to real time—I think most noble Lords mentioned this—would strengthen the oversight regime for criminal conduct authorisations by providing independent review of every authorisation soon after it has taken place.

The fact that the judicial commissioner will see all forms would provide reassurance on what is being authorised. However, it would still maintain the important balance of keeping the decision-making role with the authorising officer, who, as I have already outlined, is best placed to consider not only the necessity and proportionality assessment, on which they will be highly trained, but the duty of care to the CHIS and the specific personal circumstances of a live operational or investigative environment.

We have been consistently clear that we want this important legislation to command the confidence of Parliament and the public and are thus willing to consider proposals which provide greater reassurance on oversight but do not impact operational effectiveness. An amendment providing for judicial notification appears to do this. I would like to work with the noble Lords, Lord Anderson, Lord Rosser, Lord Carlile and Lord Butler, the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, and other noble Lords on this.

Amendment 47 seeks to add additional requirements to the notification amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. The Government cannot support these requirements as they seem akin to prior judicial approval, for which I have already set out the associated challenges.

Finally, Amendment 76 would require the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to provide relevant information to local policing bodies. I reassure the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Bach, that—as he describes is the case in the West Midlands—police and crime commissioners should already be able to arrange access to such material by consultation with their respective chief officer. The information contained in the commissioner’s annual report is published and available for the relevant bodies to view. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about numbers. In previous reports from the IPC, he talked about numbers where he felt they would be relevant.

With that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:15 pm, 1st December 2020

My Lords, I have had six requests to speak after the Minister, from the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Blunkett, the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I call the noble Lord, Lord Hain.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her typically courteous and thoughtful response, particularly her offer to talk to a number of my noble friends and other noble Lords about possible oversight that would be acceptable to the Government. Could she look again at Amendment 15? I and my noble friend Lord Blunkett worked very closely with the Security Service, in my case when I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—including with the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller—GCHQ, and, when I was in the Foreign Office, with MI6. I have authorised warrants, as I have explained, for vital work in surveillance and interception, and worked with undercover officers.

I appeal to the noble Baroness to meet my noble friend Lord Blunkett and myself informally to discuss the terms of Amendment 15, because it is very practical. It can happen in real time; I have been involved in authorising warrants in real time, including one on Islamist bombers planning to attack London when the operation was live. So, it does deal with her point. It is practical; in some respects, it is the most practical of all these oversight measures. It would give greater legitimacy to and authority for the deployment of undercover officers for the purposes that she is quite properly seeking. They can play vital roles in combating terrorism, for example. I ask her to look again at this and perhaps meet us to discuss it.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

The noble Lord knows how I operate, so he can be absolutely sure I would be happy to meet noble Lords to discuss some of these amendments. I was particularly attracted to the post-facto oversight, because operationally —I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, is going to say something about this—prior authorisation could be very difficult. To get that notification as close to real time as possible is, I think, what we are all seeking.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour

In the light of the answer the Minister has given, including her willingness to talk with my noble friend Lord Hain, I am happy to withdraw.

Photo of Baroness Manningham-Buller Baroness Manningham-Buller Crossbench

My Lords, I am not going to repeat what I said in my speech, but I want to make three small points—[Inaudible.] The first is to correct an impression that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, largely corrected: that the decision to authorise is made by a handler. It is not. In MI5, it is made by a senior manager who may be several grades above the handler, so it is a twofold process.

Secondly, there has been a certain amount of reference to training. I am out of date but the training in MI5 for someone to be permitted to run covert human intelligence sources certainly involved extensive residential courses and frequent refresher training.

Thirdly, I just hope that, as we come to look in the amendments in more detail at later stages of the Bill, noble Lords will bear in mind that the details and numbers of this activity must remain top secret and cannot be revealed, because the lives of covert intelligence sources are at risk. If sufficient information can be pieced together to point to their existence or encourage people to look for them, they will be exposed and potentially killed. I know that noble Lords understand that; I hope that they will forgive me for repeating it. I am not going to engage with other points at this stage because the Minister has summed up well and I know that there will be further discussions between her and Members of your Lordships’ House.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

Try as I might, that was very difficult to hear. I think that the noble Baroness—I know that she will intervene on me again—made the following three points. In fact, I meant to pull out from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, her first point: that authorising is done not by the handler but by a senior authorising officer. The second point was that training for CHIS handlers is extensive. She may have said “expensive” but I think she said “extensive,” because it would have to be extensive for this serious an operation.

I think the noble Baroness’s third point was that details of numbers have to be top secret to maintain and protect the welfare of the CHIS. I referred to the IPC report because I think that the noble Lord, either last year or the year before, gave numbers on juvenile CHIS, which gave a flavour of the numbers that we were talking about.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, I want to make a point on Amendment 77 on journalistic sources, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. As I mentioned to my noble friend last week, Parliament already has an effective equivalent to judicial review. I referred to the Economist case of 1975, when the House of Commons Committee of Privileges imposed a personal penalty on the editor and a journalist—who happened to be me—of the Economist due to the premature publication of the draft report of the Select Committee on a Wealth Tax and our refusal to reveal our sources. The House of Commons debated this on the Floor of the Chamber for more than two hours and voted not to impose the penalty.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I think the only response to that is to thank my noble friend for taking the time to explain it to noble Lords.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour

In thanking the noble Baroness for her characteristically thoughtful response and her offer to meet noble Lords, I ask her also to include a discussion of journalistic sources, because the code of practice left me with some questions. I assume that the meeting will be before Report.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I am very happy either to write to the noble Baroness and outline what I said in more detail or meet with her before Report.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for what she has said. I accept what she and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, said about it being a senior officer. In urgent cases, however, the police officer who actually grants the criminal conduct authority would be only at inspector level, which is not very senior. Criminal or civil liability would probably rest with the handler because the handler is the one who made the request to the senior officer—but I am glad that that has been clarified.

The Minister dismissed our Amendment 47 on the basis that it looked like prior judicial approval. It is not prior judicial approval at all and it deserves to be looked at. The Minister said that retrospective oversight is the best solution, but once a criminal conduct authority has been granted, so has legal immunity. So what if the CHIS has been corruptly tasked to commit a crime and commits a crime that should not have been committed? With only retrospective oversight, that CHIS and that handler are still immune from prosecution. How can that be right?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

If I understand the point from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that the CHIS is authorised to commit something that is later deemed unlawful, my understanding of it—I will stand corrected if officials tell me differently—is that the person who authorised the unlawful conduct would themselves be liable for the deployment of the CHIS. Clearly, what the CHIS did would also be looked into post facto, but the person who authorised the deployment would be liable for that conduct in the deployment, I think.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour 3:30 pm, 1st December 2020

My Lords, I am grateful for the way in which the Minister so helpfully explained the Government’s position and made a concession on one of the amendments. Like everyone else, I regret that the debate was split over two days. It gave me the slight advantage that I could read the whole transcript of the first day’s discussion on this amendment, but I am not sure that it has helped me very much in the short contribution I want to make.

We have heard some very impressive contributions indeed to this debate, and I cannot match for a second the enormous legal experience or the experience of our security services, as evidenced by my noble friend Lord Hain, former Secretary of State, and other senior Ministers. All I can do is say that my Amendment 11 stems from the Joint Committee on Human Rights report, which I still believe is a very helpful background to this debate and points the way forward, in ways that are not entirely in line with the speech that the Minister just made.

It seems to me that the nub of the issue in this group of amendments is still whether approval should be prior or after the event, or in real time, as has been said. I cannot help feeling that the argument for prior approval has not been put forward as widely as I would have hoped. We are told that prior approval would prejudice an effective operation. I am really not convinced by that argument—or at least I do not have the experience to understand it fully.

My noble friend Lord Rooker said we are not talking about history. There is a reason some of us mentioned the investigation by the police into the Lawrence family after the racist murder of their son Stephen, and why we are concerned, as my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti said, about the lack of an inquiry into the Finucane case, as announced by the Northern Ireland Secretary yesterday. The reason we cite those two is because they are the two that are in the public domain and that we know about. Other Members of this House have experience of a wider range of cases that, for obvious reasons, they cannot talk about in any detail. I make no apology for saying that, if any one of us in this House had had prior oversight of the investigation into the Lawrence family following the murder of their son, we would all have said, “No, that is unacceptable”. After all, the only point of prior oversight is that it can stop something in its tracks; otherwise, it is no better than after the event. Everybody would have said that that was wrong, and yet it happened.

We all owe a great debt to the security services—they have saved many lives—but now and again, something goes wrong and things are not right. It is because that might happen—very rarely, but it might just happen—that we are concerned about the method of approving this type of activity. That is the argument.

Similarly, with the Pat Finucane case, clearly any of us would have said no. The way that appears to have happened was wrong, and it would not have been allowed. Now we are told that there cannot even be an inquiry into it, for reasons which we will have to look into on another occasion. So I am still worried.

We are dealing with incredibly serious powers: powers to permit criminal activity, which we do not do with any other legislation, as far as I am aware. We are told that this prior approval cannot be given by judges, because judges do not have the insight into human nature that some of the more experienced people would. I do not know very much about judges, although I have had the pleasure of meeting some as colleagues in the House, but I think that, particularly those in criminal law, they have had a great deal of experience of human nature. I would have thought they would be in a good position to make the judgment, as indeed could Secretaries of State, as evidenced by the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Hain.

I am not convinced by the arguments against what the human rights committee proposed. I am not convinced that prior approval is not a good idea, whether it is done on the Lord Hain model, the Joint Committee’s model or the Joint Committee’s model as amended by my noble friend Lady Kennedy. All of these are ways of doing it, and I am not convinced that these are not better alternatives than having approval only retrospectively. However, we have had a long debate, and I want to reflect on what has been said before we get to Report. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 11 withdrawn.

Amendments 12 to 15 not moved.

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 16. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate, and anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate. I inform the House that if Amendment 16 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 17.