Amendment 27

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 3rd December 2020.

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Baroness Hamwee:

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

27: Clause 1, page 2, line 30, at end insert “so far as those interests are also relevant to the interests of national security”Member’s explanatory statementThis would only allow a criminal conduct authorisation to be granted on economic grounds if it is also relevant to the interests of national security.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration)

My Lords, we have covered a good deal of the ground of Amendment 27 in the previous debate. I will try not to repeat too much of that. The basis for a criminal conduct authorisation under new Section 29B(5)(c) is the economic well-being of the United Kingdom. Amendment 27 seeks to qualify that with the words,

“so far as those interests are also relevant to the interests of national security”.

I said that I was not going to repeat too much of the previous debate, but I have made a note that I want to echo the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. Of course, today is not the first time that Parliament has been presented with grounds for doing something that it considers unappetising or justifiable only in quite extreme circumstances or where it is concerned that the grounds are too wide. I am not referring only to today, but the range of public authorities that fall into this Bill is wider than we have seen before by quite some margin.

Under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which allows for bulk acquisition warrants to be issued for the acquisition of data, if the Secretary of State considers it necessary in the interests of national security, the warrant is authorised. It is also authorised for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime or in the interests of the economic well-being of the UK, and then the words in Amendment 27 follow. Those qualifying words were not in the Bill as it was introduced. They were introduced and added after amendments and debate. I cannot now recall why we did not end up simply relying on the original national security grounds to cover economic well-being as well. These were words that the Government accepted; they were also words to be found in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy referred, in the definition of a hostile act that entitles questioning and detention at the border.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has said, the subject of this debate and this Bill is at the extreme end of what is being authorised. Perhaps we should simply have aimed for the deletion of new paragraph (c), but my noble friend Lord Paddick and I wanted to be constructive about this. Of course, however, we have to address the wide variety of issues that come within the umbrella of the country’s economic well-being. In considering the qualifications that anyone granting an authorisation must consider, and which would be considered in the supervision of the use of these powers, I refer not just to the general qualifications, but to the fact that under new Section 29B(6), which tells the grantor what must be taken into account, this is only in considering requirements under new subsection (4)(a) and (b). I am sorry: I am misreading my notes, partly because it is getting very dark here, so I shall leave that.

I have noted what the Minister for Security said in the Committee in the Commons, when he defended the economic well-being provisions as

“an established statutory purpose for investigatory powers”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/10/20; col. 613.]

If the words are familiar to the Minister, it is because she has just said exactly the same thing, so my response is the same. The examples were used of cyberattack, critical infrastructure and financial institutions: yes, but qualified in the way that I have explained.

The noble Baroness talked about the full CHIS function: function, yes, but not the use of powers. As my noble friend Lord Paddick has said, there is a world of difference between deploying a CHIS and granting the right to use criminal conduct with immunity. There is an established statutory purpose, but I refer again to the existing qualification in the Investigatory Powers Act, and that is the threat to national security. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 3:15 pm, 3rd December 2020

My Lords, my name is down to speak on this group of amendments by mistake, but I will take the opportunity to support the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and to point out to the Minister that part of the reason we keep arguing back when she gives us information is that her text rewrites history.

Many of us were there 20 years ago when, to give just one example, we challenged the police about police officers sleeping with—almost exclusively—women to infiltrate campaign groups. I was on the Metropolitan Police Authority for 12 years and challenged successive Met commissioners to say to us that that was not lawful and not something that police officers were encouraged to do. They could not do it because all the police who have leaked and whistleblown about doing that sort of thing have said that they were encouraged to do it. It was implicitly and explicitly seen as one of the perks of the job.

So, if we do not listen, it is not because we do not have a lot of respect for the Minister; it is that we know that what she says is rewriting history. It is not true that police officers were told that it was not lawful to sleep with women on campaigns. I cannot emphasise that enough. I challenged the noble Lords, Lord Stevens, Lord Blair and Lord Hogan-Howe, and Commissioner Stephenson on this very issue and none of them could reply. I hate to attack civil servants but the Minister is getting a rewriting of history from them. That is why we argue back: because we know that it is just not true.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, that was a happy accident for the Committee—not that I would ever describe interventions from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, as accidental. It is also a privilege once more to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who is a tireless and humble servant of your Lordships’ House.

This is another wholly sensible amendment. If it is not accepted, it would be really useful to hear from the Minister under which scenarios a perceived threat to the economic well-being of the nation that did not also constitute either a threat to national security or a serious crime would justify not surveillance but criminal conduct. We need to keep returning to the fact that the Bill is not about a mere investigatory power or the authorisation of covert human intelligence, which were catered for long ago; it is about authorising criminal conduct by agents of the state with total immunity.

A point that I did not address previously was proportionality. We have been told a number of times not to worry about the lack of greater restriction and precision because proportionality will always be a requirement, so that will be safeguard enough. But, of course, proportionality will be left to the discretion of the individual authorising person in any number of agencies listed in the legislation. That is a great deal of discretion. The famous American legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin described discretion as

“like the hole in a doughnut”.

He said that it

“does not exist except as an area left open by a surrounding belt of restriction. It is therefore a relative concept. It always makes sense to ask, ‘Discretion under which standards?’; or ‘Discretion as to which authority?’”

In other words, to leave everything to proportionality in the judgment of the person authorising the crime is no real safeguard at all. So it falls to us to be much more precise about the grounds on which, in a democratic society, we allow something as serious as criminal conduct and criminal immunity for agents of the state.

Photo of Lord Beith Lord Beith Liberal Democrat

My Lords, Amendment 27 seeks to qualify the use of the concept of economic well-being as a ground for authorising criminal activity by human intelligence sources. I served on the Intelligence and Security Committee for over 10 years, many of them under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord King, who spoke earlier this afternoon. I did not always agree with him but he was an admirable chairman. The breadth of the term “economic well-being” worried me then. It was an issue that I raised and explored, and that was in relation only to intrusive surveillance and the interception of communications, not the full authorisation of serious criminal offences.

There were some obviously strong candidates for recognition as threats to economic well-being—action by a hostile state or a terrorist or extremist group to destroy or disrupt key elements of our critical national infrastructure, energy supply, transport or banking and financial transaction systems. Now, they would clearly include a major hostile state or extremist action to disrupt public authority or business systems by cyberattack. But would we include Brexit and the negotiations for a deal? That clearly has massive implications for our economic well-being. What about pandemics? What if we get another one and we believe that it is being spread deliberately or recklessly by other countries or organised groups? What about a big overseas defence contract, perhaps involving up to 10,000 jobs, which we fear we might lose, with serious damage to our economic well-being? Any action we take might of course be harmful to other UK businesses participating in a rival consortium bidding for the same contract.

In the preceding debate, we also heard about the way in which economic well-being was used to justify actions against trade unionists, although I shall not repeat the examples or arguments used then. Where do we draw the line and who draws it? Is it an authorising officer? Is it an after-the-event decision taken by those with oversight responsibility, particularly the commissioner?

As I said, I asked these questions when the issue was intrusive surveillance, where the main risk to being found out was international political embarrassment. There are circumstances in which intrusive surveillance might be acceptable but authorising a serious criminal offence is not. Here, we are using a very broad and undefined concept for the authorisation of criminal offences, potentially including very serious offences. Obviously, it can be crucial to have a source of intelligence deep within a hostile state agency, terrorist group or criminal gang which poses a threat to critical national infrastructure. Such a source might have to appear to those around them to be a willing participant in preparing for, or even assisting in, a major crime which it is hoped can be thwarted by law enforcement. But there is potentially a significant difference between authorising a source in a terrorist gang to go along with serious offences in order to help prevent, as we all accept, a dreadful and deadly act and authorising someone with access to cybercrime to carry out a violent offence which might not be necessary in order to put an end to that crime.

The point that I want to make is that the concept of economic well-being is broad, and there is so little understanding of how it will be interpreted by the very wide range of agencies empowered by the Bill that it puts massive responsibility on the authorisation and review processes and on the code of practice. I hope that the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament will, at some point in the near future, undertake a general analysis of how the legislation is working and pay particular attention to the use in this area of the concept of economic well-being.

I am very glad that my noble friend has tabled this amendment, which attempts to limit the scope of economic well-being for this purpose to matters that are relevant to national security, but I think that I know the answer that the Minister will give to the suggestion—that, conceivably, it might exclude some serious threats to the health or livelihood of large numbers of our citizens. However, if we do not find a way of defining more clearly what we mean by economic well-being and limit its application in authorising criminal offences, we will take a serious risk: of leaving the authorising and scrutiny bodies dealing with these decisions with no framework and having to make it up as they go along.

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) 3:30 pm, 3rd December 2020

My Lords, Amendment 27 is tabled in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I am not going to speak for long because we discussed some of these issues in the previous group. We have mentioned numbers in the various pieces of legislation and I have made the point about consistency. I know that when I mentioned the counter-terrorism Act, the noble Baroness was spot on and I will look at what she said in the earlier debate. However, we need to be sure that we have consistency in the various bits of legislation that we are talking about today. That is very important.

A number of colleagues have talked about the need to get the balance right here. The concerns that have been raised by Members of the House show that it is one thing when you are dealing with terrorists from another state or people who for various reasons are looking to undermine the economic well-being of the country, but on the other side of that are quite lawful campaigners. We might not like them and we might think that what they are doing is wrong or irritating, but they are acting in a perfectly lawful way. That is the area in which we need reassurance and it is what this debate comes down to. People have the right to protest, to be annoying and irritating, as long as they do it lawfully. We have to be sure that we get this right and that is what we are worried about.

Equally, I turn to the whole question of trade unionists, who have been mentioned many times. Trade unionists have the right to campaign and to know that they can do so without having agents put in to undermine their activities. You could argue that others might undermine their activities, but they do not need people in their own ranks who are sent in to do that.

As many noble Lords have mentioned, in the past undercover officers have been sleeping with campaigners. That is totally out of order. I am sure that it will be said that that will never happen again, but people need to be reassured that it is, as I say, totally out of order. While the Government are saying that this will never happen again, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has challenged a number of police commissioners—three of them are now Members of this House—and has never had an answer; that is also a concern. These things are totally wrong.

The Minister has a job here to find a way of reassuring the Committee that these things will not happen again, but how can we be sure about that? That is the issue that we have to deal with, because of course we thought that they could not have happened before, but clearly they did and we have only found out about them years afterwards. We want legislation that is right and proper so that people are protected, but, equally, legitimate campaigners have to be protected as well so that they are not abused and wrong things done to them. This, I think, is the crux of the issues we are debating today and I look forward to the response of the noble Baroness.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I will start with the comments of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Chakrabarti, and the point about listening to what each other is saying. I have never tried to skirt around the issue of the disgusting behaviour of some 30 years ago. I do not know whether police officers were not told that it was illegal and the inquiry is clearly establishing the ins and outs of that. But it was not acceptable and it was never lawful, and it cannot be authorised under this Bill. I hope that I have made that very clear. I do not dismiss what those women went through—including, indeed, what the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, went through—and I hope that the inquiry will vindicate an awful lot of the people who suffered, complained and were simply ignored in the past. The inquiry will get to the bottom of something that was never lawful in the first place. I digress, but I must add that operational partners are very clear that that sort of behaviour could not be authorised under this Bill.

I shall move on to the substance of Amendment 27. I will not repeat the points I made in response to the last set of amendments, but I will emphasise that economic well-being is one of the established statutory purposes for which covert human investigatory powers may be deployed by public authorities. We recognise that threats to the economic well-being of the UK could be immensely damaging and fundamental in their effect. That might include, for example, the possibility of a hostile cyberattack against our critical infrastructure, as I said earlier, attacks on financial institutions or on the Government themselves. I gave examples in my previous speech of the victims of CSA, cash and drugs activity, so they may not be solely related to issues of national security.

We have agencies such as HMRC, the NCA and the Serious Fraud Office whose mandate includes mitigating broader threats to the UK’s economic well-being. These threats are real, emerging and go beyond the remit of national security. We cannot tie our hands in response to such threats by limiting the statutory purposes available to tackle these issues. Of course, there are also examples of where economic well-being is not restricted to national security, as set out in other parts of the Investigatory Powers Act and the Security Service Act.

I hope that I have given a full explanation of why Amendment 27 should be withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration)

My Lords, I am grateful to those noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. My noble friend Lord Beith posed a number of new scenarios and he is right to prompt us to be thoughtful about these issues.

I have to say that I find it difficult to envisage what economic interests there might be which would justify a criminal conduct authorisation that do not fall within national security interests or the prevention or detection of what we think should be limited to serious crime. I do not want to repeat the arguments that I and others made in the previous debate or indeed in this one, but I will say in response to the Minister that she has introduced an element that perhaps we have not dealt with before: the need to anticipate what might happen. I may have got her words wrong, but that is the meaning I took from them. I would point to the word “preventing” crime as set out in subsection (5)(b).

I am sorry that we have not been able to progress this any further, but clearly at this moment I should beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 27 withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 28. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.