Amendment 22

Part of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:03 pm on 3rd December 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour 2:03 pm, 3rd December 2020

My Lords, it is a pleasure to introduce my noble friend Lord Hendy’s Amendment 22. He is detained in the Court of Appeal—not by the Court of Appeal, you understand. I wish also to introduce other amendments in this group.

Amendment 22 has an object similar to those of Amendments 23 to 31. The intention of all of them in various respects is to limit the conduct for which CCAs can be granted as set out in Clause 1(5) and to exclude their use for the kinds of non-criminal objects of undercover policing that have been revealed in the Undercover Policing Inquiry, which began to hear evidence three weeks ago.

Amendment 22 would remove from the permissible objects of a CCA the prevention or detection of disorder other than disorder which also amounts to a serious crime, such as riot. It would require that the object of preventing or detecting crime is restricted to serious crime.

My noble friend Lord Hendy was particularly attracted to the definition of “serious crime” proposed in Amendment 31, refining it to an offence conviction for which would lead to the expectation that someone over the age of 21 without previous convictions would receive a sentence of imprisonment of more than three years. That amendment also requires that the serious crime involves the use of violence, results in substantial financial gain or is conducted by a large number of people acting in a common purpose. The latter requirement in conjunction with the expectation of a prison sentence of greater than three years is a welcome limitation on the use of the crime of conspiracy, which has been used against trade unions in particular for more than 200 years.

These restrictions on the objects for which criminal conduct authorisations—CCAs—can be given are vital in light of the evidence already emerging in the Undercover Policing Inquiry, in which my noble friend is participating as counsel to a number of trade unions. Several of your Lordships have already highlighted the pointless activities of undercover police officers “penetrating”—that is the term used in the special demonstration squad references—hundreds of entirely peaceful campaigns against perceived injustice, political parties and trade unions, all apparently behaving entirely lawfully in exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association. Notoriously, some of those officers formed intimate relationships based on lies with more than 30 innocent women as cover.

Amendment 22 is designed also to remove from the Bill use of a CCA purportedly

“in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom”.

This ominous phrase is undefined here but clearly capable of being interpreted as encompassing lawful industrial action, which might inevitably have some adverse economic consequences. Without that amendment, agents could be authorised to commit crimes to prevent, minimise or disrupt legitimate trade union activity. I am sure that your Lordships would agree that that must be totally unacceptable.

Trade unions and industrial action ceased to be criminal in this country 150 years ago, with some cross-party consensus. Industrial action, since it was made lawful in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute in 1906, has been very closely regulated, most recently by the Trade Union Act 2016. Trade unions and their activities are also protected by international law, not least by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The risk to trade unions posed by CCAs granted

“in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom” should be removed.

At Second Reading, it was said that there was no risk to trade union activities in this Bill. The evidence given to the Undercover Policing Inquiry does not inspire confidence on the part of trade unions and trade unionists that they face no risk here from the issue of criminal conduct authorisations. We now know from the inquiry that the Metropolitan Police Special Branch maintained files on trade unions and had an industrial intelligence unit keeping watch on them for apparently no lawful purpose.

The report by Chief Constable Mick Creedon on police collusion in blacklisting in relation to Operation Herne and Operation Reuben describes the industrial intelligence unit:

“Formed in 1970 to monitor growing Industrial unrest, officers from the Industrial Unit used various methods to report on the whole range of working life, from teaching to the docks. This included collating reports from other units (from uniform officers to the SDS), attending conferences and protests personally, and also developing well-placed confidential contacts from within the different sectors.”

The inquiry has heard that undercover officers of the special demonstration squad penetrated both unions and rank-and-file campaigns by trade union members. The undercover officer Peter Francis has apologised to the unions he spied on. One undercover officer testified that the first chief superintendent of the special demonstration squad was of the view that the trade union movement was infested with communists who took their orders from the Soviet Union, and he subsequently joined the blacklisting organisation, the Economic League. No doubt, this view was dated and dismissed when expressed, but the fact is that spying on trade unionists did not cease when he left. We know from the Creedon report that the modern equivalent of the Special Branch industrial intelligence unit is the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit’s Industrial Liaison Unit. It is clear that this kind of process continues.

If the Government do not intend legitimate trade union activity to be within the scope of activity allegedly threatening the economic well-being of the United Kingdom, they ought to amend the Bill in the way suggested and accept Amendment 28 in the names of my noble friends Lord Rosser, Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lady Clark of Kilwinning and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, which is to be debated in a later group. I beg to move.