Amendment 22

Part of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 3rd December 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing) 2:45 pm, 3rd December 2020

My Lords, Amendment 22, moved by my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti with the support of my noble friends Lord Hain and Lord Hendy, seeks to limit the use of criminal conduct authorisations to serious crime—and by that they mean indictable offences that must be tried in Crown Court before a judge and jury.

The amendment seeks to remove subsection (5)(c) in respect of economic well-being in the United Kingdom. It would be helpful if, in her response, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, were to set out examples of what this provision is seeking to do and what it is not seeking to do. There are concerns about this, as I am sure the noble Baroness has heard, from around the House, during discussion of this group.

Can the Minister also explain why the list of necessary grounds given in this Bill—as listed in subsection (5)(5)—is slightly different from those listed in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act? In that Act, the reasons listed are that the activity threatens national security, threatens the economic well-being of the United Kingdom in a way relevant to the interests of national security, or is an act of serious crime. Why not use the same words? Not to do so is surely a recipe for confusion when you are dealing with such serious matters. We want to see clarity from the Government; clarity about what they intend to bring into law is very important. Why is a form of words that was acceptable to the Government two years ago, when they put the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act on the statute book, changed in this Bill? Surely there is a risk of some overlap between these two pieces of legislation. Will the noble Baroness clarify this when she responds to the debate?

Amendments 23 and 26, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, add the word “serious” in order to limit a criminal conduct authorisation to issues of serious crime. I have listened carefully to the arguments from the noble Lord and have some sympathy with them, so I will be interested to hear from the Minister the case for why these amendments are not necessary. The noble Lord referred to the number of times we have talked about serious crime over the years, and the various definitions of “serious”. That is a fair point and it needs to be answered.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, raised the question as to why preventing and detecting crime would not be enough, on their own, as reasons for the powers in the Bill to be deployed. We also need reassurance about what will not happen when powers are given by Parliament, so it is important for the Minister to set out what will not be impacted.

Noble Lords may not like it, but the right to withhold one’s labour and to strike is a hard-won right that we should all defend. We need guarantees that the powers in the Bill would never be used to undermine lawful, legal trade union activity in respect of strike action or campaigning activity. My noble friend Lady Chakrabarti raised the important point regarding trade unions, as did my noble friend Lady Bryan of Partick and many others. We have to get the balance right; lawful activity must not be undermined by the state with the use of undercover activities.

We have heard about the policing inquiry. Some terrible things have happened that I am sure we all regret, which have undermined legitimate activity. It must never happen again. Those are the questions the noble Baroness needs to reassure the House on: how will this Bill ensure that never ever happens again?

I am a proud trade unionist. I was a member of USDAW for 12 years when I first left school and I have been a member of the GMB for the last 30 years. I never rose very high in the GMB ranks; I got as fair as the chair of the Labour Party senior staff sub-branch for a couple of years. I spent probably more time arguing with the rest of the staff in the Labour Party about where we wanted to get to. But I certainly think that the unions are very important. For example, USDAW—a union I am very close to—is a great trade union with great campaigns that I always support. It is important that we support the work that unions such as USDAW do.

At this point, I pay tribute to my old friend John Spellar. John was first elected to public office 50 years ago today, in a St Mary Cray by-election on 3 December 1970. John has served as a councillor, trade unionist, trade union official, MP and Minister. John would have nothing to do with any extremism of any sense whatever; anyone who knows him would know that. He has also run a news service for many in the Labour Party called “Spellar News”. We get it two or three times a day: early bird, evening round-up and news flashes. John is actually retiring the news service today, which I am very sad about. He has done great work as a trade unionist and is a great example to many of us in the Labour Party.

I was also sorry to learn that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has been arrested on demonstrations. I have been on a few demonstrations in my time as well. I have avoided being arrested, but I must admit that I have also been demonstrated against. When I was a councillor, many times things that we did on the council provoked some annoyance. I remember once that I put up the fees of the traders in East Street Market and drew their wrath for a number of weeks. There were lots of unpleasant signs about me.

What is important here is that, if you are a trade unionist or a campaigner, nothing in the Bill must ever undermine legitimate work. It is really important for the Government, and for the noble Baroness, to reassure the House and Parliament that nothing legitimate will ever be undermined when this goes on the statute book, and that actually it will be supported. I think she can see from the comments of people around the House today that we are not convinced that is the case. She needs to reassure us now in responding to the debate.