Amendment 22

Part of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 3rd December 2020.

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Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative 2:30 pm, 3rd December 2020

My Lords, unlike, I think, every other speaker to these amendments so far, I do not support them. I see in them, once again, attempts to impose yet more conditions that may affect the effectiveness of the operation of undercover support and sources doing what I thought was generally agreed to be vital work in the interests of enforcement and the life of people in our country. I say at the start that a number of these things, and the worry about how these powers may be exercised, do not pay respect to the fact of the code of practice, which many have said should be required reading for everybody taking part in these debates. The importance of that code of practice is that it is going to have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. That will be a very important protection, because it is under that code of practice that authorising officers issuing CCAs, and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, will obviously be required to act.

I make no apology for repeating what I said on an earlier amendment in quoting James Brokenshire, the Minister for Security, when he gave the astonishing figures for a single year in London alone. The use of undercover sources resulted in 3,500 arrests, the recovery of more than 100 firearms and 400 other weapons, the seizure of more than 400 kilograms of class A drugs and the recovery of more than £2.5 million in cash. It also enabled, which I did not mention, the National Crime Agency to safeguard several hundred victims of crime, including from child sexual exploitation and abuse. Those figures alone, just from London in one year, surely leave nobody in any doubt of the importance of this vital source of support for preserving an orderly and law-abiding society. I make this point because, under the code of practice, which includes this question, others are seeking to add the word “serious” to “crime”. How does an authorising officer react when an informant comes and says, “There is a group of people who are starting to get together, I am not quite sure what they are up to, but I think there is a real risk that it could turn, later on, into something much nastier”?

When one looks at those figures I quoted from James Brokenshire, how many lives have been saved; how many people’s lives have not been disrupted; how much misery and poverty that might otherwise have entailed has been prevented? For these reasons, I am not persuaded of the need to add “serious” to crime; I think it might inhibit the operation of a properly authorised issuer of a CCA, who obviously has to use his judgment, and has to persuade the IPC as well that his judgment is correct and is in line with the code of practice.

I should also say a word about preventing disorder. We are living in extremely difficult and dangerous times at the moment. We know that the power of social media now makes it possible, in an instant, practically, to organise major demonstrations which may, in fact, be based on that new and horrid ingredient “fake news”. These may disrupt many people’s lives and may cost people’s lives. Although there are many very worthy causes—whether it is Black Lives Matter or Extinction Rebellion—pursuing very understandable and admirable objectives, none the less we also know that around the fringes of those organisations, or in the confusion that some of their demonstrations cause, other sources of crime can easily emerge and it often makes opportunities for gangs to commit many more crimes as well. So I would not delete “preventing disorder”, provided it is properly covered within the code of practice.

The other thing I would just add is about economic well-being. I totally support trade unions—I always have done and, as Secretary of State for Employment, I was obviously closely involved—and legitimate trade union activity. However, we all know that, within our lifetime, we have had one or two instances where that has not been the case. One instance was the miners’ strike, when Mr Arthur Scargill said that one of his objectives was to bring down the Government, and he was not averse, in the process, to accepting money from the Soviet Union in pursuit of that objective. It is to the credit of Neil Kinnock, now the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, if I may say so, that he would not support him at that time, because Mr Scargill had not put the issue to a vote of the whole trade union movement.

I think we have seen here, and I understood at the beginning of this, that virtually all noble Lords recognise the vital importance of undercover source information and for there to be a proper system, a statutory system, under which they would operate. That is what I wish to see. I wish to see a thoroughly effective code of practice, thoroughly trained issuing officers and rapid and close contact with the Investigatory Powers Commissioner as they carry out their work.