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 Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 2:45 pm, 3rd December 2020

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and pay tribute to anyone who has been in politics—and indeed the trade union movement—for 50 years. I have heard of John Spellar in dispatches, but unfortunately not the person that the noble Baroness, Lady Bryan of Partick, referenced.

Turning to public authorities, they have different functions, the ultimate outcome of which is to keep the public safe from harm in a variety of ways. It is very important that they can lawfully deploy CHIS to fulfil those responsibilities. These amendments seek to restrict the statutory purposes available to public authorities under the Bill.

The structure of new Section 29B closely resembles that of Section 29, which authorises the use and conduct of CHIS, as there is a high degree of interrelationship between the two provisions. That is why a Section 29 authorisation is required to be in place before a Section 29B authorisation can be granted. The statutory purposes that will be available for a criminal conduct authorisation are linked to those available for a use and conduct authorisation. It is not operationally workable to have different grounds for authorisation between the provisions. For example, we would want to avoid a situation where a CHIS’s use and conduct has been deemed necessary for the prevention of crime, but the linked criminal conduct authorisation for the same CHIS and the same activity may be only on the basis of preventing a serious crime, as my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater pointed out.

My noble friend also pointed out the words of my right honourable friend James Brokenshire about the sheer amount of activity that has been done under covert means—it led to 3,500 arrests and the recovery of more than 400 firearms, 100 other types of weapons, 400 kilograms of class A drugs and £2.5 million-worth of cash. But first and foremost, and most importantly, is the fact that it safeguarded hundreds of victims from child sexual abuse and other heinous crimes.

To restrict the prevention of “crime” to “serious crime”, as Amendments 22, 23 and 31 propose, would mean that public authorities would be less able to investigate crime that, while not amounting at the time to serious crime, actually has a damaging impact on the lives of its victims—so the outcome is serious, to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. An example of this would be food crime: the extension of meat durability dates, leading to out-of-date food being consumed, is damaging and can be very dangerous to public health.

Of course, the necessity and proportionality requirements mean that an authorisation must be proportionate to the activity it seeks to prevent. This provides an important safeguard against authorisations of serious criminality being granted to prevent less serious, but equally important, crime. However, it is surely right that public authorities have access to the most effective tools to ensure justice for victims of these crimes and to prevent their occurrence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, referred to some of the examples that we have heard in this Chamber of sexual relationships between undercover police and women, and some of the actually quite devastating consequences of that. I think I have said before in this Chamber that that was not lawful, is not lawful and would never be lawful.

In response to the1 amendments seeking to remove economic well-being, this is one of the established statutory purposes for which covert investigatory powers may be deployed by public authorities. It recognises that threats to the economic well-being of the UK could be immensely damaging and fundamental in their effect. It might, for example, include the possibility of a hostile cyberattack against our critical national infrastructure, our financial institutions or, indeed, the Government. It is important that law enforcement bodies and intelligence agencies can deploy the full CHIS functionality against such threats where it is necessary and proportionate.

Similarly, preventing disorder is an important and legitimate law enforcement function. Where illegal activity takes place, public authorities listed in the Bill have a responsibility to take action as is necessary and proportionate. An example of this could be managing hostile football crowds, which does not involve lawful protest but causes harm to the public.

To be clear to noble Lords concerned that either economic well-being or preventing disorder could be used to target legitimate protest or the work of the trade unions, an authorisation can be granted only if it is proportionate to the harm or criminality that it seeks to prevent. Therefore, this would not include—to use the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti—“legitimate and lawful activity”. The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Bryan of Partick, also gave examples of activity by political groups or trade unions. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked me about the difference between the wording in this Bill and the CT Act. It goes wider, basically, and it is consistent with RIPA.

With those words, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.