Amendment 34

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 3rd December 2020.

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Baroness Hamwee:

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

34: Clause 1, page 2, line 36, leave out “(for example, the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998)”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would provide that conduct in reach of the Human Rights Act could not be authorised.

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

My Lords, we have both Amendments 34 and 36 in this group, the latter being the substantive amendment. I apologise that the explanatory statements as published refer to conduct “in reach” of the Human Rights Act; that should have been “in breach”—or, of course, not in breach. I can spell; it is just that my typing is not very good, though I suppose that “in reach” is what we were aiming at.

The other amendments in the group list what is outlawed—which of course we would support—but we prefer to go back one step to the overarching reason for the outlawing and not to risk an omission. Our amendments focus on the Human Rights Act.

As the Joint Committee on Human Rights has reported, there needs to be “clear legal authority” when there is a risk of interference with human rights. It further states:

“More specifically, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) … requires any power that interferes with a qualified right to be ‘prescribed by law’.”

Amendment 36 states not only that conduct incompatible with convention rights may not be authorised but that the conduct of a source—a CHIS—should be deemed to be the conduct of a public authority. As I read it, the ECHR memorandum published with the Bill by the Government is concerned with those authorising the use of a CHIS and the granting of a CCA. It tells us that training on human rights and on how public authorities approach agent participation is important. It states:

“Special training is given to those who work with CHIS on how to select, train and assess CHIS to ensure that CHIS are fully aware of the strict limitations of their authorised criminal conduct and the consequences of engaging in criminality that is not authorised. Ultimately, a CHIS stands to be prosecuted for his or her participation in crime where this goes beyond what is authorised.”

When I read that, I thought, “This is really very tough on a CHIS, who has a tough experience anyway, both as to what he is required to do and, more so, if he is wrong.” The JCHR, whose report I quote from again, says:

“The process of authorising criminal conduct will engage state responsibility. The State will be responsible … for human rights violations carried out by its agents ... The State will also be responsible if it fails to take reasonable steps to protect an individual from an anticipated breach of Article 2 (the right to life) or Article 3 (prohibition on torture) by a third party. Furthermore, ‘the acquiescence or connivance of the authorities of a Contracting State in the acts of private individuals which violate the Convention rights of other individuals within its jurisdiction may engage the State’s responsibility under the Convention.’ Criminal conduct may also impose obligations on the State to investigate … violations and to provide an effective remedy to those whose rights have been abused.”

I have been confused by some comments from the Government about the applicability of the convention and how it fits with the authorisation and with how the conduct is carried out. Hence, an important limb of this amendment would require that the actions of the individual authorised were deemed to be those of a public authority.

There are a number of other amendments in this group, including Amendment 42, which extends to the issue of whether under-18s can be used for this purpose and granted such an authorisation. We have amendments later, so I shall leave comments on that until a group which more broadly deals with under-18s. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 4:45 pm, 3rd December 2020

My Lords, I do not dissent from what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, but I shall concentrate my remarks on the amendment in my name, to which the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, have kindly added theirs. Just so that colleagues are precisely aware, my amendment says:

“A criminal conduct authorisation may not authorise … murder, torture or rape, in any circumstances, or … a person under the age of 18 to engage in criminal conduct”.

I tabled this amendment because, during the debate at Second Reading, a number of people expressed very considerable concern about minors, those under the age of 18, being authorised to commit crimes. A number of colleagues including, perhaps most notably, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, talked about Canada and other countries where there is a specific list of crimes that are definitely not in any circumstances able to be authorised. I regard this as a probing amendment, and I intend to return to the subject on Report, if the Government do not give me what I think is a satisfactory response. It is a probing amendment because I think it may be that the approach of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is the one that the Government prefer. I do not know, but I think these points should and must be addressed.

I make it absolutely plain at the outset that I listened very carefully indeed to what my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater said in the earlier debate this afternoon. He talked about the important work that these agents perform in the national interest. I do not dissent from that, nor from the very warm words of approval in a notable speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, on Second Reading, where she stressed the bravery of agents. However, we are swimming in murky waters here and, as I have said before, it is important that we recognise the implications of this very far-reaching legislation.

I think it is splendid that we have the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—he is briefly away from his seat—bringing his experience of the Met, but I wish that one or two of the former commissioners who sit in your Lordships’ House would give us the benefit of their advice as we move on to Report. We are very privileged in this House to have true experts with enormous collective experience, and it would be good to hear from them on this very important subject.

What I am seeking to do through this amendment is to achieve a balance between the absolute requirements of a civilised society and making that society safe. There are things that one should not do in any circumstances and still claim the rights of a civilised society. Torture, of course, stands out as perhaps the foremost among those, but I think a civilised society also has to be careful about what it allows its young people to do. One of the tragedies of the last 50 years —the time that I have been in Parliament—is that childhood innocence has been, to a large degree, destroyed. The principal culprit in recent years has been social media. That is something, way beyond the scope of the Bill, that the Government have to give further priority to.

If, in dealing with county lines and so on, we are going to authorise young people under the age of 18—indeed, I understand that some of them are under the age of 16—to engage in criminal conduct, that is really not a hallmark of a civilised society. I appreciate the difficulties, and I would like to hear more about them. That is why I said, a moment ago—and I am glad he is back in his place—how much we welcome the presence and participation of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and how helpful it would be if some of the former commissioners of the Met who are in your Lordships’ House took part on Report because, clearly, he and they know far more about this than I do. I try to look at this from a civilised perspective, and it troubles me deeply that young people should be authorised to commit crimes, and sometimes very serious crimes indeed.

I hope the Minister, who has been meticulous in seeking to answer the very legitimate points made by colleagues in this debate, will be able to devote some time and attention to this. I would welcome the opportunity of discussing these things with her before Report. We need the Bill; I accept that. Some of those we will be authorising are, indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, said, among the bravest of the brave, but there are others who have a criminal background themselves and, while I would not necessarily question the validity of their work, I might question the validity of some of their motives.

I think we have to get this, as we are legislating. Up to now, we have not, although we all know it has happened. As this very important, far-reaching Bill is before your Lordships’ House, and as it was not given the scrutiny in another place that we are giving it, I want us to be able to send it back to the other place significantly improved. I hope that, as in so many cases, the Government, recognising the validity of points made in your Lordships’ House, will themselves introduce amendments that we will be able to welcome and endorse, to create a Bill that is truly workable and that achieves that balance I talked of a few moments ago. I hope it goes back to the other place and does not come back to us after that, because I hope the other place will accept the improvements made to it. I commend this, as a probing amendment, to your Lordships’ House.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, whose amendment I have signed. It is a very important amendment about putting limits on what can be authorised, excluding rape, torture and murder. Quite honestly, it is astonishing that this even has to be debated; we really ought to be free of that sort of threat to ordinary people, quite often.

The Government say that amendments such as these are not necessary, because of the complex legal web of proportionality and the Human Rights Act. That argument might carry more weight if the Government were not constantly fighting a culture war against human rights lawyers. However, one does not need to be a human rights lawyer to understand that rape, murder and torture are never justified, so these restrictions have to be in the Bill.

Then there is the Government’s circular argument that we must not ban specific crimes from being authorised, because undercover agents would be tested by the criminals to prove themselves by doing prohibited acts. The circularity of that argument is that if the Human Rights Act already prohibits something, they can already be tested. I would like that cleared up if possible.

Finally, we have to think about the victims of these crimes—the survivors. Women have been raped by undercover police officers, and the Bill would prevent future victims getting any compensation or legal redress for those crimes.

I have also signed the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I support all the amendments, but especially those by the noble Baronesses, Lady D’Souza and Lady Massey of Darwen, which are superb. I hope we will come back to this on Report. There is the extra element of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on not authorising children to be undercover agents. We will revisit that later this evening; I will say more about it then.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 5:00 pm, 3rd December 2020

My Lords, I shall speak warmly in support of the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. It is succinct and brief, and it clearly spells out the issues at stake. He explained why they matter so much. I am also glad to support other amendments that develop that theme with reference to activity in the same sphere.

I am also glad that the importance of the European Convention on Human Rights and our commitment to it is underlined again in this group of amendments. The convention is there to safeguard the future of a stable society. It was written in the context of what we had experienced in that bitter Second World War. People saw that these things mattered for a stable society. It is when the going gets tough and the demands get challenging that our adherence to those principles and to the convention becomes more important than ever.

The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, referred warmly and rightly to the bravery and courage of the many people in the security services. I endorse that totally; I have great admiration for what is being done by much of the security services, for what they have achieved and for the way they have safeguarded people—men, women and children—from unacceptable action. In taking that argument seriously, one of our jobs is to uphold those in the security services, and other services such as the police, who believe fundamentally in being part of a free, liberal society, which they are there only to uphold. It is easy, by not upholding the best and highest principles of those people, to begin to undermine the services. It is corrosive, and we must not let it happen. That is why the amendments are so important. We have in our midst the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who demonstrates what decent, imaginative and responsible people in that sphere of public service are trying all the time to uphold and demonstrate. I listen always with profound respect to what he has to say.

There is only one other point I want to emphasise. In this unpleasant time in which we live, with so many challenges to our way of life and to what we want to be able take for granted, and with our anxieties about the well-being of our families and so on, we are involved—as I have said before in our debates—in a battle of hearts and minds. I am totally convinced, with all the evidence of recent decades, that terrorism and extremism gain hold and thrive when there is a climate of doubt among a significant number of people and a worry that the state is abusing its power. That is why it is so important that we demonstrate all the time that when we have to take action of the kind the Bill deals with, it is demonstrably justified by what is essential for the well-being of our society. That is why we have talked so much about judicial supervision and so on, which matters in this context. We must not allow ourselves to give ammunition to those who try to manipulate society by building up that climate of doubt and anxiety among ordinary, decent people. These amendments deal with how we approach and win the battle for hearts and minds. We are about a different kind of society.

On that final note, matters such as murder, torture and rape have no place whatever in the kind of society that we claim to be and that we want to protect. That should be a fundamental guiding principle, and that is why I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, spelled this out so well. Also, the use of children is unthinkable when so many of them come from vulnerable backgrounds and are vulnerable themselves, and when you consider what we are doing to them as individuals and to their potential to be decent and positive citizens. No, the use of children is not acceptable. I also believe that when we slip into that sort of activity we give ammunition to the people we are determined to defeat. We must not do that. Underlying that principle is not just that it is a tactical necessity—I believe it is a necessity—but that we demonstrate all the time what the values of our society are, and how we are different from these people who want to undermine it and have very little respect for all the things we hold dear.

This is an immensely important group of amendments, and I am glad they are there for our consideration. I plead with the Minister, for whom I have great respect as an individual, to take them as seriously as she should.

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, I have Amendment 45 in this group, which is slipstreaming along behind Amendment 44 tabled in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Rosser, Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. That is a body of Members of your Lordships’ House that I hold in the highest regard, but not one that I often slipstream along behind, to be honest—but I am glad to do so today. I assure them that my purpose is not to impede their amendment, but just to make clear beyond peradventure that the provisions that they seek apply equally when CHIS operations take place overseas.

The amendment follows from some of the remarks I made at Second Reading, and because, during the debate in Committee a couple of days ago on Amendment 7 —moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick—in which I did not take part, the Minister made clear in reply at col. 193 of the Official Report that the Government believed that the ability to operate CHIS and CCAs overseas was essential to the proper operation of the Bill.

This is the first time I have spoken in Committee, and again I want to touch briefly on something else that I said at Second Reading. In picking up here the strictures of my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater, also picked up on by my noble friend Lord Cormack, of course I understand the duty and importance of the Government keeping us safe, that we send men and women often into danger, and that that may require the undertaking of some actions which might be described at least as being “disagreeable”. But equally I argue—as other noble Lords have done—that in a democratic society there must be a limit to how disagreeable these things can be. That is the balance that other noble Lords referred to, and to which this amendment and others we shall discuss later tonight are directed.

I also need to make it clear that I do not have any legal or operational experience of covert operations. My views are drawn from a number of years serving as an officer of two all-party parliamentary groups—one on drones and the other on extraordinary rendition. I want to make sure that the practices used in those two areas cannot, will not and must not be allowed to morph over into the operation of CCAs overseas.

Let me deal with drones first. Drones obviously provide a long arm for military and other surveillance purposes. It is a somewhat surreal experience to go to an RAF station outside Lincoln, sit in a portakabin set in the corner of a huge hangar created to house Lancaster bombers in the Second World War and watch a pilot flying a drone thousands of miles away in the Middle East. But while it is surreal, it is also deadly serious, because this is the means for carrying out what has sometimes been called extrajudicial killing.

It is not widely known just how extensive these operations have been. In terms of the RAF’s Operation Shader, which covers Iraq and Syria, the MoD tells us that there have been over 8,000 sorties, 4,400 bombs or missiles released, 3,964 enemy fighters killed and 298 wounded—and how many civilians? Just one. That could indicate extraordinarily accurate targeting by the RAF, but the US Defense Department has to reveal to Congress the number of civilian casualties caused by US forces, and in the recent figures sent to Congress they made it clear that they specifically excluded deaths caused by non-US forces, of which there were at least 14. If you press the Government on this area, the answer is that no answers can be forthcoming because of national security. My noble friend will quite rightly say that this is a Bill about covert operations, not drone strikes. I understand that, but I want to be reassured that, down the road, the blanket refusal based on national security will not be available as a response to an inquiry looking into problems with an individual CCA undertaken overseas.

Secondly, I turn briefly to the issues surrounding extraordinary rendition and the role of the Armed Forces, which are one of the relevant authorities listed in new Part A1 in the Bill. None of the three largest parties in your Lordships’ House has clean hands on this murky issue. Following very considerable pressure, the coalition Government approved Sir Peter Gibson, the Lord Justice of Appeal, to hear an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding extraordinary rendition. But the Government drew the terms of the inquiry very carefully to ensure that any consideration of actions of the UK’s Armed Forces was excluded from Sir Peter’s inquiry. It was, and is, widely felt that the drafting had been necessitated because UK forces had handed individuals over for interrogation by others, notably US forces.

Again, my noble friend will no doubt say that this is a Bill about covert operations, not rendition—and again that is true. But the key question I would like to hear an answer on is whether the new regime on CCAs overseas can take place at one remove. To what extent can an individual operating under a UK-granted CCA, but operating overseas, bring into play or make use of another individual who may not be subject to the same legal and other constraints?

The Committee so far has explored CCAs working within the geographical confines of the United Kingdom. Once one moves to different countries, with different time zones and different patterns of law and custom, the potential problems and challenges to their proper supervision becomes greater, and that is why I have tabled Amendment 45.

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench 5:15 pm, 3rd December 2020

My Lords, Amendment 55 in my name is in this group. The amendment seeks to place on the face of the Bill a clear prohibition on three grave criminal acts, namely murder, torture and sexual violations. It is narrower in its application than other amendments in this group, to avoid any confusion about the scope of these prohibitions. Therefore, references to “too broad” and “too open to interpretation”, such as threats to economic well-being and damage to property, are omitted. An added clause, referring to the discretion of the state not to prosecute the commission of even these major crimes, provides a further lack of restriction in exceptional cases.

Of course, there is no doubt of the need for the Bill to protect informants in their often dangerous but vital work. But the Bill as it stands puts the executive authorities and their agents above the law, a concern widely expressed at Second Reading. No state should authorise serious crime without limits. The Government’s justifications for allowing these grave crimes have still not been fully dealt with—for example, why the Human Rights Act, according to previous statements on the part of the Government, would not apply to informants’ criminal actions, or why listing prohibitions would somehow expose informants to additional danger. These are among the remaining ambiguities in the Bill.

We might learn from the original RIPA legislation, which necessitated later additional amendments to prevent its scope inexorably increasing over the years. The law must be accessible and clear. There is an opportunity here and now to make this Bill fit for purpose by incorporating the three main prohibitions limiting the sanctioning of grave crimes which are themselves contrary to the terms of the ECHR, to which the UK is party. To omit these limits, the Bill damages the integrity of criminal law and suggests that the state may tolerate, or even encourage, the most serious offences in the UK law.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

My Lords, these amendments have at their heart the question of whether there should be a list of offences which can never be authorised. The Government say not, claiming that countries which have such lists do not experience the same type of criminality that we do, especially in Northern Ireland; that to have such a list would mean that CHIS were tested against it; and that the Human Rights Act provides sufficient protection in any event. Despite the briefings which the Minister and the Security Minister have kindly arranged for me, I am afraid that I am yet to be fully convinced.

First, I wonder whether the nature of serious crime in this country is really so different from that in Canada, Australia or the US, each of which has some sort of list. Northern Ireland is mentioned, but given historical experience, it might be thought that the public reassurance given by a list would be of particular value in Northern Ireland. The principled objection to a list is rather diminished by the fact that the new Section 29B(10)(a) will empower the Secretary of State to create just such a list in secondary legislation. This, however, is no merely technical or topical concern, such as might justify the Government in reacting on the hoof to some future scandal. The content of the list is surely something that Parliament should consider coolly in advance, and not just to debate but to amend.

As for the Human Rights Act, it is unfortunate that there seems to be no easy way for the police or anyone else to translate what the Government characterise as its protections into clear and comprehensible operational advice. I have a good deal of sympathy with each of the various points made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in chapter 4 of its report, some of which have already been echoed in this debate. Though I do not repeat them here, I very much hope that, before Report, we will see a detailed and convincing response to all of them. Included in that, I suggest, should be a fuller explanation of paragraphs 14 to 16 of the ECHR memorandum, which has, perhaps understandably, generated a degree of concern.

What of the argument based on the testing of CHIS? The more I think about this, the less I understand it. Suppose that we amend the Bill to say, “CHIS cannot be authorised to rape.” Suppose then that the gang asks an individual to rape and that the individual refuses. What does that tell the gang? One possibility is that the individual simply has scruples that he is unwilling to set aside. Another is that he may be a CHIS whose authorisation does not stretch as far as rape or who has been advised by his handler not to rape. Whether or not the crime of rape features on a prohibited list has no bearing on the issue, unless one assumes, absurdly, that every CHIS will be authorised to commit all types of crime not on the prohibited list and will make full use of that authorisation whenever the opportunity presents itself. The reality surely is that CHIS will continue to be authorised in only limited respects, no doubt falling far short of sexual crime, and that a refusal to rape, murder and torture cannot, therefore, be a meaningful indicator of CHIS status.

It is hard to understand why a short list, bearing no relation to the types of crime that will routinely be authorised, should increase the risk to a CHIS or make it more likely that he will be successfully outed as a CHIS by the criminal group in which he is embedded. If public reassurance requires it to be known that undercover police may not form intimate relationships, as it evidently does, then why should it not be known that CHIS cannot be authorised to commit—at least—the trio of torture, murder or rape mentioned in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack? I look forward to any guidance that the Minister can give on this point. This is important stuff, and if the Government are right, we really need to understand why.

I venture to suggest that the extensive powers in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 were endorsed by Parliament because they were accompanied by equally strong safeguards, and also because the agencies and others were prepared to go to unprecedented lengths to explain why they were needed. They explained their case fully and frankly, at a detailed operational level, to trusted interlocutors such as the team that produced the bulk powers review in 2016 under my leadership. They also explained it as fully as they properly could to Parliament and the public as a whole. I hope that that lesson has been fully learned, because, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, has already indicated, it may be needed on this Bill too.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 56 on behalf of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member. This report was derived from consultations with many knowledgeable and concerned participants. My noble friend Lord Dubs, also a member of that committee, has already contributed significantly to these debates. Unfortunately, he is otherwise engaged this afternoon in unavoidable commitments, but I hope that he will be here to present Amendments 39 and 63.

Amendment 56 establishes a prohibition on the authorisation of serious criminal offences in similar terms to those appearing in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act 1985. The Joint Committee on Human Rights expressed concern that even the most serious offences, such as rape, murder, sexual abuse of children and torture, which necessarily violated basic human rights, were not excluded on the face of this Bill. Noble Lords today and previously have expressed grave concerns about this issue. The Home Office considered this necessary because it feared it created a checklist for suspected CHIS to be tested against. The Government’s position is that the Human Rights Act provides a guarantee against certain criminal conduct. However, it is noted in paragraph 40 of our report that, if a criminal gang or terrorist group were familiar enough with the relevant legislation to test a CHIS against it, they would presumably be equally able to test them against the guarantees of protections set out in the Human Rights Act. The committee did not consider it appropriate to legislate by providing open-ended powers while relying on the Human Rights Act as a safety net.

The report noted that the Human Rights Act has not prevented previous human rights violations by undercover investigators, or CHIS. For example, the Human Rights Act was in force for much of the period when undercover police officers from the National Public Order Intelligence Unit were engaging in intimate relations with women involved in the group that they had infiltrated. The committee also noted that other countries with similar legislation, including Canada, the US and Australia, had expressly ruled out CCAs ever enabling the most serious offences. I realise that this has been referred to before today. The report therefore concluded:

“There appears to be no good reason why the Bill cannot state clearly that certain offences or categories of offences are incapable of authorisation.”

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The next speaker on the list, the Lord Bishop of Carlisle, has, sadly, withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, I was originally not going to be present for this debate, and I left the main thrust of the argument to my noble friend Lady Massey. I simply say that I endorse what the Joint Committee on Human Rights has said, and this has set the pattern for many of the debates this evening. I am fully in support of the arguments put forth by my noble friend Lady Massey.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Dubs, I can be short in the light of some outstanding contributions that we have heard from Members of your Lordships’ House. The more I listened to those arguments, the more I was convinced that there needs to be some kind of limit on the nature of criminal conduct that can be authorised with—and I repeat—total advance immunity from criminal liability or civil suit. If in Canada, why not here? It was the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, who dealt with the so-called Sopranos argument on testing with particular dexterity.

If, as the Minister has now said more than once in Committee, performing fraudulent but otherwise so-called consensual sexual relationships with a subject of surveillance will no longer be permitted and cannot under any circumstances be authorised under this legislation, how can it be permissible for crimes such as murder, torture and rape be authorised? If the Minister is going to reassure us in her remarks that those crimes cannot be authorised, why not place such a reassurance in the Bill? Why rely on administrative arrangements on Pepper v Hart reassurances in your Lordships’ House, rather than, in the interests of the rule of law, place such restrictions and reassurances in primary legislation?

The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots, was right to remind us that the Bill has extraterritorial effect and of the abuses of the recent past, not just in relation to undercover policing in the UK but to the horrors of the so-called war on terror. It is not just the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who brings so much to these debates. I hope noble Lords will all agree that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, spoke with particular wisdom and balance. I shall stop there and look forward to, no doubt, further wisdom from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee) 5:30 pm, 3rd December 2020

My Lords, I shall speak briefly as my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich has almost precisely expressed the views that I share.

I support the more specific amendments, particularly the first paragraph of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza. I do not address the under-18 issue because that is a separate and difficult point. What we are concerned with is the question of serious crimes such as murder, sexual offending and serious violence. This point only arises or becomes of any importance if there is no pre-authorisation provision. I considered each of the arguments that have been outlined as to why this is unnecessary, first, as regards human rights. I must say, in respect of the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that to frame something in terms of the Human Rights Act in this area is fraught with difficulty and uncertainty. Framing it in terms that ordinary people can understand and follow is difficult.

My noble friend Lord Anderson dealt with the testing argument and I need say nothing more about that. Perhaps the Minister can assure us regarding what the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has just said and put an assurance into the Bill.

I want to deal with one further matter: the position of the IPC. Of course it can be said that if a serious crime of the kind we are contemplating were ever to be committed, it would immediately come to light by a post-occurrence investigation by the IPC. However, I cannot imagine anything more damaging to the security services, the police or any other body than for them to be put in such a position. It can never be necessary or proportionate to murder or torture, and it can never be necessary to commit rape. It would bring enormous confidence to everyone in the security services, for which I have the greatest admiration, as do many noble Lords who have spoken, if it were known that there are certain things that those bodies can never be authorised to do. I cannot understand why the Government are so reluctant to concede on that.

There may of course be matters that I or Members of the House do not know about, which is why it becomes important to consider the matter that I raised on Tuesday—namely, asking for a report from a trusted body or individual or to a Select Committee where the evidence justifying such a course that the Government appear to want to take could be explained.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

There are a number of amendments in this group relating to human rights. They variously provide that a criminal conduct authorisation: may not authorise activity that would be incompatible with convention rights; may not authorise murder, torture or rape, or a person under the age of 18 to engage in criminal conduct; cannot authorise causing death or grievous bodily harm, sexual violation or torture; and cannot authorise causing death or grievous bodily harm, perverting the course of justice, sexual offences, torture or depriving a person of their liberty.

There is also an amendment in my name and that of my noble friends Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that would also put explicit limits in the Bill on the types of criminal behaviour that can be authorised. These limits cover causing death or bodily harm, sexual violation, perverting the course of justice, torture, detaining an individual or damaging property where it would put a person in danger. There is an amendment to my amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, the purpose of which, as he has explained, is to explore whether the proposed regulatory regime provides adequate safeguards for operations carried out overseas.

The amendments all follow a similar theme, namely, wanting to include in the Bill clearer and tighter wording in respect of the criminal conduct that can be authorised by a CCA, so that there can be no doubt over what is a permissible criminal conduct authorisation and, more significantly, what is not. The Government’s position appears to be that criminal offences that are contrary to the Human Rights Act are already precluded, given that all public authorities are bound by the Human Rights Act, and thus authorising authorities are not permitted by the Bill to authorise conduct that would constitute or entail a breach of those rights.

Interestingly, the Bill states in new Section 29B(7) in Clause 1(5), on criminal conduct authorisations:

“Subsection (6) is without prejudice to the need to take into account other matters so far as they are relevant (for example, the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998).”

But what are the words “to take into account” meant to mean in this context as regards adhering to the requirements of the Human Rights Act? One can, after all, take something into account and then decide that it should be ignored or minimised in whole or in part. What do the words,

“so far as they are relevant”, mean in relation to the requirements of the Human Rights Act? In what circumstances are those requirements not relevant in relation to criminal conduct authorisations?

Turning to an issue that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, addressed, the Government have maintained that specifying in the Bill offences that cannot be authorised places at risk undercover officers and agents on the grounds that to do so would place into the hands of criminals, terrorists and hostile states a means of creating a checklist for suspected CHIS to be tested against. However, as has been said, the Canadian Security Intelligence Act authorises criminal conduct similar to that proposed in the Bill, and my amendment reflects the wording in the Canadian legislation on the type of serious criminal conduct that cannot be authorised.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has pointed out that the Bill gives the Secretary of State power to make orders prohibiting the authorisation of any specified criminal conduct and that, in line with the Government’s argument, whatever might be prohibited by such an order could presumably also be used by criminals as a checklist against which to test a covert human intelligence source. The JCHR comments in its report:

“If limits can be placed on authorised criminal conduct in publicly available secondary legislation without putting informants and undercover officers at undue risk, it is unclear why express limits cannot also be set out in primary legislation.”

The JCHR report also states:

“If a criminal gang or terrorist group was familiar enough with the relevant legislation to test a CHIS against it, they would presumably be equally able to test them against the guarantees and protections set out in the”

Human Rights Act.

Perhaps, in their response, the Government could say whether they are still committed to the Human Rights Act, since following their 2019 election manifesto commitment to ensuring that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, national security and effective government—which suggests that the Government do not think that is the present position—they have announced that there is to be a review into the operation of the Human Rights Act.

If the Government intend to argue that the Human Rights Act will provide protection in the years ahead against unacceptable use of the powers in this Bill, there needs at least to be a clear statement from the Government that they are committed to the Act and will not be altering its provisions.

It could be claimed with some justification, however, that the Human Rights Act has not prevented previous human rights violations connected to undercover investigations or covert human intelligence sources. I await the Government’s response to this group of amendments and to the contributions that seek more specific wording in the Bill, to put clear limits on the type of criminal behaviour that can be authorised.

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

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their very thoughtful contributions to a discussion of the upper limit of what can be authorised by a criminal conduct authorisation.

I will first address comments—because they have been the most numerous—that propose to replicate on the face of the Bill the limits that the Canadians have set in the legislation governing their security service, and Amendment 42, from my noble friend Lord Cormack, which prohibits murder, torture or rape. I totally recognise why noble Lords want to ensure that this Bill does not provide authority for an undercover agent to commit any and all crime. It does not. I reiterate once more: there are already clear limits on the criminal activity that can be authorised and they can be found within the Human Rights Act—which, by the way, was not in place when some of the activities that noble Lords have described were carried out.

Nothing in this Bill undermines the need to comply with that Act, as is made clear by new Section 29B(7). Further limits are placed on the regime by the need for the authorising officer in all public authorities to confirm that there is a demonstrable need to authorise a CHIS by making a clear case for its necessity and proportionality. I understand questions about why we cannot place explicit limits in the Bill, as they do in other countries, notably including—as noble Lords have said—Canada, and I will explain our reasoning.

We think that placing express limits on the face of the Bill is not necessary. The Human Rights Act already provides these limits and the amendments that replicate the limits in Canadian legislation do not prohibit any criminal conduct which is not already prohibited by the ECHR and HRA, as encompassed by the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, made a point about undercover police who have sexual relationships: if gangs knew that that was unlawful, would they then test against it? I would say that although that behaviour would be unlawful in that context, it is very distinct from rape. I have been trying to talk to my noble friend who is a QC and perhaps I will set my answer out in more detail in writing.

Next, however, I will address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who is worried that the Government are not committed to human rights legislation. As we set out in the 2019 manifesto, the Government will

“look at the broader aspects of our constitution”, including the

“balance between the rights of individuals … and effective government.”

As part of this manifesto commitment, we pledged to update the Human Rights Act, which is now 20 years old. This does not change the fact that the UK is committed to human rights and will continue to champion them at home and abroad. Furthermore, let me be clear: the UK is committed to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Some noble Lords will still call for us to be more explicit on the limits of conduct which can be authorised. To do so would be to risk CHIS testing, by spelling out for our adversaries exactly what crimes a CHIS will never be authorised to undertake under any circumstances—knowledge that is then used as a checklist to test for suspected undercover operatives. This is a particular risk in the UK, where operational partners see testing attempted by groups in Northern Ireland in particular.

We all have a responsibility to ensure the safety and security of our undercover operatives, who are tasked by the state to gather information and intelligence in order to safeguard the public from terrorism and crime. We must also accept the regrettable truth that in providing an explicit list of limits for CHIS we run the risk of handing criminal and terrorist groups a means of initiating new recruits into their ranks. We must not be so naive as to think that certain organised crime groups, in seeking to ensure that their ranks are not infiltrated by undercover operatives posing as prospective new members, will not insist that new recruits undertake heinous crimes that they know a undercover operative could never undertake.

We should also question what happens when a criminal or terrorist group asks someone suspected of being an undercover operative, who in fact is not one, to undertake a proscribed crime in order to test them. In a bid to protect themselves, could a person falsely accused of being a CHIS be more likely to undertake a crime that they might otherwise not commit?

I will also address what might appear a contradiction: saying on the one hand that these are sophisticated groups that could test for CHIS were there to be explicit limits on the face of the Bill, and on the other that activity contrary to the Human Rights Act is prohibited. The people and groups who are the subject of CHIS operations are many and varied. Some are very sophisticated and capable organisations that will invest real effort in understanding and frustrating our covert capabilities. Those groups, which include hostile states, will go to lengths to try to convert the Human Rights Act obligations into specific offences which they can then test against. They may feel that they have reached clear conclusions on some offences but will not know for certain in every case that their analysis is sound. This margin of uncertainty can be enough to keep our CHIS working safely and effectively.

At the other end of the spectrum of our opponents are individuals and small groups that are no less committed to their crimes, but are unsophisticated. Their effectiveness may often lie in their willingness to act quickly and violently. Such a group will not have a sound understanding of the Human Rights Act, or any other deep legal analysis. If, however, we simply presented them with a list of offences, we are certain that many of them would use that as a means to try to identify the undercover operative. They would often get that wrong, meaning that negative consequences would fall on people wrongly suspected of being a CHIS, as well as on the CHIS themselves.

I know that those are all uncomfortable scenarios but they are ones that we must consider very seriously. We must put public safety first.

I now turn to Amendments 34 and 36. Even without specific reference to the Human Rights Act in the Bill, the obligations under the Act would still apply to the authorisation of criminal conduct. On the introduction of the Bill to this House, I signed a statement confirming compliance with the ECHR, while Section 6 of the Human Rights Act sets out that it is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a convention right. The use of the wording “for example” when naming the Human Rights Act in the Bill is intended to demonstrate that this is just one of a number of considerations that the authorising officer must take into account before granting a criminal conduct authorisation.

Amendment 36 also seeks to confirm that conduct in breach of the Human Rights Act cannot be authorised. There is no need for this amendment because authorising officers must already comply with the Human Rights Act, and the Bill does not do anything to undermine the protections in the Act. All criminal conduct authorisations must meet strict necessity and proportionality parameters before being signed off by an authorising officer. If the required parameters were met and an authorisation was properly granted, the public authority would of course stand by this authorisation, as it would with any other tasking of a CHIS.

My noble friend asked whether activity can be authorised for a CHIS and one removed. The actions of each individual CHIS must be explicitly authorised and lawful. He also asked me about ETJ effects. Any deployment will comply with the Human Rights Act, even if it is extraterritorially applied. Of course, we are also bound by international human rights law.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, asked about the JCHR report. We will respond to it in due course and will address the points made in the report. Noble Lords will of course have an opportunity to consider the response.

With that, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration) 5:45 pm, 3rd December 2020

My Lords, I will pick up a number of points, if I may. First, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, raised important issues, although the whole of this debate is important. I think he will know that I agree with him because I have previously referred to rendition in this context.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, I cannot believe that crimes in the UK are worse or more intractable than those in other countries that are mentioned—although what do I know? He referred to new subsection (10)(b). I am interested that he reads the word “requirements” as being a prohibition. I find it a difficult word and am quite curious as to why it is not spelled out rather more clearly.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I find new subsection (7) curiously expressed, or, if I might put it this way, certainly less than whole-hearted. The Minister says that nothing in it undermines the Human Rights Act, but why is it given as an example of matters

“so far as they are relevant”?

I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, that it is important to make our legislation accessible and understood by people who do not know the detail of a technicality, but a breach of human rights may be such a nuanced matter that, on this occasion, I have some hesitation about that. The Government refer to training, which I mentioned at the beginning. Although I also put it in a slightly quizzical way, we have been given that assurance.

Perhaps following on from that point, does listing outlawed conduct risk permitting what is not listed? I certainly do not share the view that it would be a checklist, because you could equally well test against the Human Rights Act, or indeed test an individual, without being technical about it, as to how far a suspected CHIS is prepared to go. I think that that really covers most of that issue but others may think that there is more sophistication to the point.

If, as I suspect we might, we gather round the JCHR amendment proposing new subsection (8A), I hope that we might add to it that it does not limit the other provisions of the section. I am looking ahead, of course, to the next stage.

These are not easy issues. On previous Bills, I found myself saying that it is hard to deal with arguments that amount to, “You don’t know what we know about how all this operates”, but I am pretty certain that we will return to this issue at the next stage. As of now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 34 withdrawn.

Amendments 35 to 38 not moved.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 39. 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 this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate. I should inform the Committee that, if Amendment 39 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 40.