Amendment 22

Part of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:15 pm on 3rd December 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Bryan of Partick Baroness Bryan of Partick Labour 2:15 pm, 3rd December 2020

My Lords, it is a real pleasure to take part in this debate. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Dubs will not be joining us, but I am speaking before my noble friend Lord Judd—they have both spent many decades of their lives fighting for civil liberties. They will remember, I am sure, Maria Fyfe, who entered Parliament in 1987 and did so much over the years to champion women’s representation, but who sadly died this morning. I am sure that they and others will join me in sending condolences to her family and comrades in Scotland.

I shall speak specifically to Amendment 22 in the names of my noble friends Lord Hendy and Lord Hain, and moved very able by my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti, but I also support the other amendments in this group which argue that, should this Bill become law, CCAs could be used only to prevent or deter serious crime. The terms “preventing disorder” and being

“in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom” are so imprecise that almost any campaigning group or trade union could be included. These criteria are potentially political and could be used simply to defend the status quo against anyone who challenges it.

It seems quite odd that this legislation could not wait until the findings of the Undercover Police Inquiry. As the inquiry progresses, it is hearing that police have been used to spy on any number of groups that were deemed to be “anti-establishment”, even when they were humanitarian organisations such as Operation Omega, which tried to provide humanitarian aid to then East Pakistan. One police officer sent into the group has said:

“They weren’t hurting anyone, they weren’t disturbing anyone. Okay, you could argue that we don’t like to see these things posted on our lampposts, you know, stuff like that.”

He was then asked:

“Did you hear them promote or encourage public disorder?”

He replied:

“That’s a difficult one to answer, because a lot of organisations recommend demonstrations and activity that would bring their cause to the attention of the press and thereby to the rest of the population.”

A demonstration is of course a legitimate form of campaigning, but it is unfortunately seen as illegitimate in some quarters.

The undercover work extended into the trade union movement. Trade unions are a legitimate and essential part of our democracy, as guaranteed by the ILO since 1949. Member countries, including the UK, are required to guarantee the existence, autonomy and activities of trade unions, and to refrain from any interference that would restrict this right or impede their lawful exercise. Despite this, the Metropolitan Police Special Branch established the industrial intelligence unit in 1970 to monitor what it saw as growing industrial unrest. There is, we understand, a present day equivalent in the industrial liaison unit of the national domestic extremism and disorder intelligence unit.

I have no idea what justification could possibly have been used to send spies into humanitarian organisations, political parties or trade unions, but I suspect that preventing disorder and it being in the interest of economic well-being of the United Kingdom will have been used. There can be no justification for this and it should be removed from the Bill.

On Monday we heard the Statement in the other place that there would be no inquiry at this time into the murder of Pat Finucane—even though there is no doubt that there was state collusion in his assassination. After 30 years, the Government will still not shine a light on this atrocious event. His death should serve as a reminder that Governments and their agents can lose the capacity for moral judgment when they convince themselves that only they serve the greater good.

We were told on Tuesday that these examples happened a long time ago and that things have changed. But while the Bill continues to cover more than serious crimes and includes subjective actions such as disorder and economic well-being, it is a danger to anyone involved in politics and trade unionism. We should never grant the legal right for covert actions against citizens whose only crime is to disagree with the Government of the day. This amendment would go some way to achieving that.