Lord Dubs (Lab):
Moved by Lord Dubs (Lab)
5: Clause 1, page 2, line 8, at end insert—“(1A) Authorisations granted under this section require judicial approval in accordance with section 29C.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment imposes a requirement for prior judicial approval of CCAs (with provision for urgent cases), and relates to the amendment to Clause 1, page 3, line 16 in the name of Lord Dubs.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 5, I shall speak also to Amendment 23, which is grouped with it. I intend to seek the opinion of the House, unless I get a dramatic concession from the Minister at the end of the debate.
These amendments impose a requirement for prior judicial approval of criminal conduct authorisations, with some provision for urgent cases. I speak as a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Our report, which has been widely applauded in this and previous debates on the Bill, has obviously been very helpful, and I am using a lot of information from it. I am also grateful to Justice, which provided a comprehensive report, with proposals for amendments. I am grateful to the Minister, who arranged for my noble friend Lady Massey and myself to have a briefing with some of the officials and senior police officers. We had a detailed discussion, and although it was directed at amendments relating to children which will be discussed on Wednesday, some of it is nevertheless relevant to the amendments that I am proposing today. I think I may quote from that without pre-empting the discussion about children on Wednesday.
The Government claim that prior judicial authorisation is not necessary because:
“The use of CHIS requires deep expertise and close consideration of the personal qualities of that CHIS, which then enables very precise and safe tasking.”—[Official Report, Commons, 5/10/20; col. 662.]
As I understand it, the Government believe that authorisations are better left to public authorities’ delegated authorising officers, who are, supposedly, more equipped to deal with CHIS than judicial commissioners, who are one step away.
However, the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, who has been quoted more than once in this debate, said:
“There is no comfort in allowing senior figures in the police or the intelligence agencies the power to sanction lawbreaking, without the need to first obtain independent warrants from judges or some other authority.”
That seems pretty clear.
“offers the best guarantees of independence, impartiality and proper procedure.”
This is particularly pertinent to surveillance, which is,
“a field where abuse is potentially so easy in individual cases and could have such harmful consequences for democratic society”.
The court concluded that
“it is in principle desirable to entrust supervisory control to a judge”.
That is part of the basis of this amendment.
Concerns about whether this is feasible do not carry much weight. There is no reason why judicial commissioners could not review CCAs; they are already well-practised in making complex assessments of sensitive material in an independent, detached manner and at short notice, and they are always very senior judicial figures.
The Select Committee looked at all this. It is very clear that the Bill does not provide for any independent scrutiny of criminal conduct authorisations before they are made and acted upon. The report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights noted that, while the process of granting criminal conduct authorisations would be kept under review by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, his
“role in the oversight of CCAs is entirely ‘after the event’ … nor does the Bill provide for the IPC to be informed of authorisations at the time they are made, so that prompt scrutiny can take place.”
The report further noted:
“The lack of prior independent scrutiny for CCAs under the Bill stands in marked contrast to the procedures in place for other investigatory functions”, such as police search warrants and phone tapping. The former Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald—as he then was—has been quoted several times as saying that:
“Under this bill it will be easier for a police officer to commit a serious crime than to tap a phone or search a shed.”
This has been quoted so often it must go in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. The argument in favour of judicial approval is there.
I refer to the Pat Finucane case in Northern Ireland—one of a number of cases—which is also mentioned in the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. There was a real abuse of powers which under my amendment would, I am pretty sure, have been prevented by a judicial commissioner. That case is very much unfinished business. Indeed, there is a plea, which I fully support, for a full independent review of what happened when Patrick Finucane was murdered by, or with the knowledge of, British agents. That is business for another day but, in the meantime, we have this amendment.
Some of these amendments are so crucial to the working of the Bill that it is difficult not to tread from one into the area of another, but this amendment is fundamental. Prior judicial approval for a CCA is absolutely essential to providing the safeguards which were referred to in the previous debate and which we need before we can allow such a Bill to become law in this country. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 16 in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Blunkett, a former Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, to each of whom I am grateful. It is a very straightforward amendment that would add confidence to the deployment of state-employed undercover officers by ensuring that each had to be authorised by a Secretary of State in exactly the same way as existing legislation requires for surveillance operations.
My noble friend Lord Blunkett and I both signed hundreds of warrants for surveillance operations under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which was updated by this Conservative Government in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, at a time when the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, was a government Minister, even if not in her current role. In other words, she and her Conservative Government re-enacted legislation requiring Secretary of State authorisation for surveillance, and so it is a puzzle to me why Ministers have not accepted this amendment.
The amendment endorses the identical principle for CHIS or undercover officer deployment in a way that would add to public confidence, which has been badly damaged by evidence that led to the current inquiry on undercover officers established by Prime Minister Theresa May and chaired by Sir John Mitting, a former High Court judge. It was established because the Conservative Government—in which the noble Baroness was a Home Office Minister at the time—felt undercover policing had got out of control and needed to be made more accountable.
The abuses so far revealed in the inquiry’s proceedings fully justify the Conservative Government’s decision to launch it. I will mention only several. We have learned that the campaign by the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, and her family to discover the truth about her son Stephen’s brutal racist murder was outrageously infiltrated by undercover officers. Why were they not instead targeting the racist criminals responsible for Stephen’s murder? If that deployment had been subject to authorisation by the Home Secretary, would it have happened? I very much doubt it, because surely a question would have been asked of the operational police decision as to why the innocent victims of a vicious racist murder were being targeted and not the criminals responsible.
There are many other examples, including my own personal experience. As confirmed by evidence given to the Mitting inquiry, from 1969 to 1970, a British police or security service officer was at almost every anti-apartheid and anti-racist meeting that I attended, private or public, innocuous and routine, or serious and strategic, such as stopping all white apartheid sports tours and combatting pro-Nazi activity. Why were they not targeting Nazi groups responsible for attacks on black people, Jewish citizens and Muslims?
Why were they not targeting the criminal actions of the apartheid state responsible for, among other things, fire-bombing the London offices of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress in March 1982 and, in 1970, murdering South African journalist Keith Wallace, who had threatened to expose the apartheid security service operations in the UK? In June 1972, why did they show no interest whatever in discovering who in South Africa’s Bureau of State Security sent me a letter bomb capable of killing me, similar to those that had killed anti-apartheid leaders across the world?
A warrant procedure would force police chiefs to stop and ask serious questions before recommending authorisation from a Secretary of State, as this amendment requires, preventing policing from slipping from its primary task of preventing crimes into policing politics.
Such authorisation from a democratically accountable Cabinet Minister would surely also have stopped in its tracks the infiltration by an undercover officer, going under the name of Sandra, of the north London branch of the Women’s Liberation Front between 1971 and 1973. She explained to the Mitting inquiry that she had failed to discover any useful intelligence whatever. She said that some of the meetings were attended by just two activists. She told the inquiry on
“I could have been doing much more worthwhile things with my time.”
That is exactly my point.
The purpose of our amendment is to ensure that policing is focused on what should be its real purpose: catching criminals and terrorists, not political activists pursuing causes like women’s rights, seen as outlandishly radical 40 years ago but now accepted as mainstream. It is striking that almost every example I could cite, and there are countless others, reveals the abuse of the role of covert human intelligence operatives.
To submit that these are all from history and that all is well today would be deeply complacent. Only last year, when the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, was in her present post, it was revealed that counterterrorism police had put non-violent Extinction Rebellion on their list of terrorist groups. That hardly inspires confidence that they know where the line is between legitimate and illegitimate undercover work. Whatever you may think of Extinction Rebellion’s climate change tactics—inconveniencing Parliament, for example—is any government Minister seriously suggesting that they are the acts of terrorists like the London 7/7 underground bombers? I trust not.
When I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and my noble friend Lord Blunkett was Home Secretary, we signed hundreds of warrants to place terrorists and hardcore criminals under surveillance. Sometimes, and this argument is occasionally used against my amendment, these were in real time. I can think of one occasion when I was happy to be woken up in the middle of the night to prevent Islamist terrorists, one of whom I learned had just shaved his hair in preparation to unleash a bomb on London. I underline that these were essential security and policing operations, yet they required ministerial authorisation, in that case for surveillance. Why? Because, ultimately, it brings ministerial responsibility and therefore accountability. The operational decision, quite properly, was for the police or the intelligence services, but the accountability was ultimately governmental and political.
I believe that the time has come to bring that principle into the sphere of undercover policing, because it has involved far too many abuses for decades. If there is not the same kind of accountability as for surveillance, there may well be even more abuses in future. I have direct experience of how undercover officers can perform vital functions to save lives and prevent crimes or terrorist attacks, but also of how their deployment can be terribly abused and can undermine vital civil liberties and constitutional rights.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, was kind enough to invite my noble friend Lord Blunkett and me to discuss our amendment with her last week, and I am grateful for that. It is a mystery that, unless she surprises me, she has not been able to persuade the Home Secretary to accept it, because it would add accountability and therefore—I stress this—legitimacy to CHIS work. Surely we should all share the common aim of deploying the limited resources of undercover police officers, who do dangerous jobs, to catch real criminals, such as drug traffickers, human traffickers, terrorists and criminal gangs, not political activists challenging the prevailing orthodoxy of the time, whether on anti-apartheid, racism, women’s rights or climate change. I will await the noble Baroness’s reply before I decide whether to beg leave to divide the House on my Amendment 16.
My Lords, in speaking to Amendments 33, 37, 44 and 46, which are also signed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Rosser, I first pay tribute to the Minister and the Bill team, who offered to co-operate with me on these amendments and have been as good as their word. They now give more complete effect, in language approved by parliamentary counsel, to the homemade amendments that I moved in Committee. The lead amendment is Amendment 33; Amendment 37 mirrors it for Scotland; and Amendments 44 and 46 are consequentials.
The amendments provide, in summary, not for prior judicial authorisation but for judicial scrutiny of another kind: the real-time notification of authorisations to a judicial commissioner, as soon as reasonably practicable and in any event within seven days. That should be seen very much as an outer limit for notification that should, so far as possible, be in real time. It will be open to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to encourage not only prompt notification but pre-notification for informal guidance, as already occurs in some other surveillance contexts. This might be particularly useful for bodies that do not make frequent use of the power.
The case for real-time notification, as I shall call it, has been put most persuasively by those who signed the equivalent amendments in Committee—the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, and the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Carlile. I shall summarise it as briefly as I can.
My immediate reaction to this Bill was to support prior judicial authorisation. I championed the use of prior judicial approval for other investigatory powers in my report A Question of Trust, and was delighted to see this in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. I accept that it might also be feasible in this context, given sufficient judicial training, yet I have reservations about prior judicial approval in this Bill, not only for the pragmatic reason that the Government have so firmly set their face against it. Handling and authorising a CHIS is a highly specialised function that requires a close and dynamic understanding not only of the details of the operation but of the characters of those involved. That is not something that a judge, let alone a Secretary of State, will necessarily have the capacity to pick up. It differs considerably from the classic judicial exercise of weighing the benefits of tapping a phone or an undersea cable against the associated intrusion of privacy.
The person who tasks a CHIS, including by authorising criminality, effectively takes on a long-term duty of care, not only towards any potential victims of that crime but towards a CHIS for whom exposure could result in injury or death. Perhaps it is for that reason that the American and Canadian models of prior judicial authorisation, both of them inspirations for A Question of Trust, are not applied in either country to the tasking of a CHIS to commit crimes.
The main objection offered to these amendments in Committee was to the insufficient sharpness of their teeth. It is true that real-time notification may mean that the judicial commissioners are powerless to stop a particularly rapid deployment. It is also true that criminal deployments of this kind cannot just be turned on and off like a tap, but I say three things in response.
First, precisely the same result may arise under a system of prior judicial authorisation, for such a system, like its equivalents in other areas of investigatory powers, will inevitably involve an urgency procedure: deploy first, seek authorisation later.
Secondly, there is an existing precedent for real-time notification—the deployment of undercover police under the so-called relevant sources order of 2013, which, judging from IPCO’s annual reports, works well. The knowledge that a CCA will go straight before a senior judge is a useful discipline for authorising officers. My experience of IPCO, and my own work until last year as Investigatory Powers Commissioner in the Channel Islands, is that the prospect of an interrogation, investigation, recommendations and a possible serious error report are, from the police’s point of view, striking enough to encourage a high standard of conduct, but not so intimidating as to encourage the concealment of honest error. Further assurance would be given by Amendment 34 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, which I will leave him to develop but which I support for making this explicit in the modern practice of undercover policing.
Thirdly, though the precise mechanism may still be in dispute, it is clear that neither RIPA nor this Bill provides for complete immunity from prosecution for those who authorise criminal conduct. I mentioned earlier the assurance of the Bill team, which the Minister repeated just now, that nothing in the statute prevents the prosecution of an authorising officer for misconduct in public office—for example, a corruptly obtained authorisation. She has also accepted that such immunity as provided by Section 27 of RIPA will be removed if an authorisation is found by a competent civil or criminal court to be either not necessary or not proportionate.
I propose to move these amendments on Wednesday, subject to one point on Amendment 37, the Scottish one. The Minister updated us on engagement with the Scottish Government during the first grouping. Were the Scottish Government to indicate before Wednesday’s debate that they would not recommend a legislative consent Motion, with the result that Scotland is carved out of the Bill, I would not wish to move Amendment 37.
Amendments 5 and 23, tabled by my noble friend Lord Dubs, provide for prior judicial oversight. They have the Opposition’s support. A criminal conduct authorisation would not have effect until approved by a judicial commissioner, unless it was urgent, in which case it would come into effect immediately but with the proviso that it must receive judicial approval within 48 hours.
Amendment 17 provides that, where a criminal conduct authorisation is granted, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner must be notified of certain details, including the purpose and extent of the deployment, before the CHIS can be deployed. In urgent cases, notification can be given afterwards—as soon as reasonably possible, but within seven days. We will support Amendment 17 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. It provides a further form of prior oversight to help ensure that the criminal conduct authorisation will not be used in an inappropriate manner.
We support Amendment 33 in the lead name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, which provides that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner must be informed of an authorisation as soon as reasonably practicable, and within seven days at the latest. It also represents a significant improvement in the Bill, in which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has played a key role. It enables an effective and powerful independent and impartial check on the use of criminal conduct authorisations, which will help to ensure that the bodies being given the power to authorise criminal conduct by covert human intelligence sources use that power appropriately and lawfully, in the knowledge that they will be held to account, albeit probably afterwards, by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner.
Amendment 34 would make it explicit in the Bill that, if the Investigatory Powers Commissioner thinks an authorisation should not have been granted, the authorisation will be cancelled. We support that. However, there are benefits from prior independent oversight that post-notification oversight does not provide: namely, the opportunity to prevent something out of order occurring before it happens. Prior judicial consideration is about approving or otherwise beforehand what is said needs to happen, and why. Post authorisation, it is about what actually happened and why. Both forms of consideration are important.
The absence of prior independent scrutiny for criminal conduct authorisations under this Bill is not in line with procedures that apply to other investigatory functions, although I appreciate that it has been argued that these investigatory functions are not similar to the authorisation of a CCA. Police search warrants require a magistrate to be satisfied that there are objective reasonable grounds for them. Targeted interception of communications or phone tapping must be approved by the Secretary of State and authorised by a judicial commissioner before being carried out—a double lock which the Investigatory Powers Commissioner says ensures that all investigatory powers warrants issued are necessary, proportionate and lawful. The power to require telecommunications operators to retain communication data for investigatory purposes can be used by the Secretary of State but must be approved by a judicial commissioner.
If these requirements for prior judicial approval, including in some instances a double lock of independent scrutiny, are needed for search warrants, phone tapping and retention of data, surely they are even more necessary for the potentially more damaging human rights violations, including physical violence, that could arise from the authorisation of criminal conduct by a covert human intelligence source.
As my noble friend Lord Dubs said, European Court of Human Rights case law indicates that where public authorities are granted exceptional powers with the potential for affecting human rights, which would include criminal conduct authorisations, protection against inappropriate use of those powers is best provided by prior independent scrutiny by a judge. That can help to ensure that the bounds of necessity are not exceeded. As we already know, the risk of inappropriate use of powers, with potentially harmful and unacceptable consequences, is not simply a figment of someone’s imagination.
There is therefore a strong case for the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Dubs, which requires prior judicial approval of a criminal conduct authorisation. It provides a recognised independent and impartial source as the final key part of the approval process. It helps to ensure that there can be full confidence in the procedure and its ability to ensure that a criminal conduct authorisation is necessary and proportionate and does not stray into areas which the Government have said would be excluded from such authorisations, such as legitimate trade union activity. Such prior judicial approval would also provide a strong safeguard against unreasonable authorisations being granted and a check against a CHIS subsequently finding out that their criminal conduct was not covered by a valid criminal conduct authorisation.
Under the JCHR amendment of my noble friend Lord Dubs, the prior oversight would be undertaken by judicial commissioners who support the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. Such judicial commissioners would not be unaware of the issues surrounding the use of covert human intelligence sources; they would be in a position to judge whether the information they were being given about the need for and use of a criminal conduct authorisation added up and met the criteria for such an authorisation. These would also be among the issues the Investigatory Powers Commissioner would need to consider in looking at such authorisations after the event. It would not be spreading information about the activities of covert human intelligence sources across a wider field.
The amendments we are supporting provide for effective pre-judicial and post-judicial scrutiny of criminal conduct authorisations while still enabling such authorisations to be given when the degree of urgency precludes prior judicial authorisation. In so doing, the amendments provide the balance between the need for flexibility over the procedure for giving authorisations and the importance of prior judicial authorisation to minimise the prospect—in what is otherwise self-authorisation by an agency or other body—of a potentially ill-judged or incorrect authorisation of criminal conduct by a covert human intelligence source, with all the consequences that might have.
My Lords, it is again a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. We agree with the arguments he put forward for the need for additional safeguards, beyond what is contained in the Bill. My noble friend Lady Hamwee and I have Amendments 17 and 43 in this group.
Amendment 43 provides for a senior judge to undertake a review of the use of informants and agents and their participation in crime; in other words, to get answers to the questions, “Why do we need this Bill?” and “How far should it go?”, questions the Government have been unable to provide any evidence for. Contrary to what the Minister claimed in Committee, this review would not duplicate the oversight that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner provides in his annual review of the current use of the powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Instead, it would answer the questions we have been asking at every stage of this Bill that the Government have been unable to answer.
How widespread is the practice of using agents or informants who have been tasked to participate in crime? Who has been involved? Have they been brave men and women whose sole motivation is the public interest, or have they been people who lack civil responsibility, who do it for money and who have been engaged in very questionable activity—or is it both? The evidence we have heard on this point, arguably from equally reliable sources, has apparently been contradictory. To what extent has immunity from prosecution been a factor in the loss of intelligence and in potential covert human intelligence sources being deterred from helping public authorities? The Government have been unable to tell us, but this review would be able to answer the question—fundamental to the provisions of this Bill—of whether they are all needed. It would also answer the other crucial question: are the safeguards adequate?
That brings me to our Amendment 17. We have heard from Members of your Lordships’ House who have had hands-on, practical, operational experience of the issues covered by the Bill, of whom I am only one. I hesitate to use the word “expert” after I was once described as an expert on drugs—a rather dubious accolade—so I shall use the term “practitioners”. What we have heard from practitioners are the operational difficulties of prior judicial or ministerial authorisation. Practitioners have highlighted the differences between the existing provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act—which relate to the interception of communications—and the new provisions, which relate to the use of covert human intelligence sources tasked to commit crime; I will refer to them as “participating informants”.
The former usually involve the use of technology, such as the planting of a listening device or corrupting the software of a mobile telephone or a computer. The stream of information can be turned on and off remotely, without the target even knowing. The latter involves placing someone in an uncontrolled, unpredictable, often volatile situation, where the participating informant often interacts with dangerous criminals and often must use their own initiative to deal with rapidly changing and unpredicted scenarios with no real-time contact with their handlers or authorising officers. The former is passive and controllable intrusion. The latter is interactive and often uncontrollable.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, told us in Committee that he had been
“converted to the idea of prior judicial approval” in the case of communications interception—as he has just restated—but that, again, tasking a CHIS
“requires decisions of a quite different nature based on immersion in the human complexities of fast-changing situations. Those decisions depend on close personal knowledge of a person’s character, which will often be unreliable and volatile, and on assessments of the underworld group in which that person is embedded. The authorisation of criminality is simply one part of that complex human relationship.”
The noble Lord also said that judges were good at assessing
“the likely operational dividend against the likely intrusive effects”.—[
Our Amendment 17 is the result of listening to practitioners—and to those like the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, who has experience of being an Investigatory Powers Commissioner—and coming up with a compromise. The amendment allows the practitioners to do what they are good at: use the close personal knowledge of the participating informant’s character, assess the underworld group in which that person is to be embedded and define the crimes that the participating informant is to be authorised to commit.
However, once the informant has been granted a criminal conduct authority by the authorising officer, that now participating informant cannot be used or deployed unless the Investigatory Powers Commissioner has authorised use or deployment. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner must consider the purpose and extent of the deployment and the type of criminality, in general terms, that it is anticipated the informant will be participating in. If the informant is not to be used to commit crime, IPC authority is not required. It is only once the informant is authorised to commit crime that IPC authority is needed.
If I may use this analogy, if you want to deploy a missile, you need one level of authority—in this case, the authorising officer. If you want to arm the missile with a warhead, you need another level of authority—in this case, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. If the purpose or extent of the deployment changes, or the type of criminal activity in general terms changes, the IPC has to re-authorise the use of the participating informant. Contrary to what some critics have said, it would not be the case that, once given, IPC authority would give the authorising public authority carte blanche to use the participating informant at will.
The amendment allows judges, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and his judicial commissioners, who must hold or have held high judicial office, to do what they are good at: consider the likely operational dividend against the likely intrusive effects, including the potential for collateral damage or injury. If it is necessary to deploy the participating informant urgently, prior approval is not required but notification must be given as soon as reasonably practicable and, in any event, not less than seven days after deployment.
Our amendment attempts to square the circle. How can you have prior judicial authorisation without getting the Investigatory Powers Commissioner involved in the sordid details of participating informants but at the same time safeguarding against the kind of malpractice we have seen in the past, such as that described by the noble Lord, Lord Hain: infiltrating anti-apartheid groups, the Lawrence family support group, legitimate environmental groups and trade unions?
I believe that Amendment 17 provides prior authority by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner in a way that would be more practical in an operational setting. Amendments 22 and 33 lack the power to stop a CCA without Amendment 34; in any event, they do not amount to prior judicial authorisation, which is what many noble Lords have been calling for. As Amendment 17 authorises the deployment once the CCA has been granted, and not the criminal conduct authority itself, I believe that it is consistent with Amendments 5 and 16—that these amendments, if passed, would not pre-empt Amendment 17, which would also not pre-empt any other amendments in this group.
In Committee, the Minister said:
“We have been consistently clear that we want this important legislation to command the confidence of Parliament and the public and are thus willing to consider proposals which provide greater reassurance on oversight but do not impact operational effectiveness.”—[Official Report, 1/12/20; col. 651.]
As a former police officer, I can say that this amendment fits the Bill. I intend to test the opinion of the House when we get to Amendment 17.
My Lords, I do not wish to address at any length the various competing amendments that are being suggested. Speaking for myself, I believe that pre-authorisation in one of the forms suggested is the obvious way forward. I have absolute confidence in the ability of the judicial commissioners to assess and make a judgment and, although I have much sympathy with the view that things are better now than they were in the past, we simply cannot ignore past experience, as we are constantly reminded.
As my second choice, I would go for real-time notification. I tabled Amendment 34—this is the subject on which I wish to speak—to clarify the position as to what happens if, after notification, the judicial commissioner expresses the view, or says, “This should not have happened.” It is clear from the way the Bill is drafted that, as the term “notification” is used, everything that is done prior to any decision by the judicial commissioner would remain authorised. The amendment proceeds on that basis and seeks to make that clear. However, what then happens if the judicial commissioner says, “Well, this should not have been granted”? It is very important when we try to clarify the law and put it on a statutory basis that we do not engage in a fudge. The word “notification” is used deliberately to provide for notification, but it simply does not say what happens when the commissioner makes a decision. This amendment makes it very clear that, if the judicial commissioner says that this should not have been authorised, then, subject to unwinding under a degree of judicial supervision, the activity must stop.
I have had very helpful discussions. I pay tribute to the Minister for organising this and to the officials who have been clear in some of their views. However, it has been explained to me that, in these circumstances, it is thought that, if the activity has not started, it would stop; but if it has started, it must be for the authorising officer to consider what to do. This is plainly not good enough. First, the judicial commissioner is not giving advice but making a determination; although not they are not sitting as a judge, it is as close to a judicial decision as you can get. Secondly, if the judicial commissioner says that this should not have been granted, can the authorising officer say that he is acting lawfully by going on with the activity? Thirdly, in those circumstances, is the officer at risk of committing the offence of misconduct in public office? It would be extraordinarily difficult to see how he could continue. What happens during the process of a criminal trial if a person continues in such circumstances? Does all this have to be disclosed?
Worst of all, what is to happen when the Investigatory Powers Commissioner publishes in his report that he said, “This should not have been granted” but the police or security services went on with it? As I understand it, the justification for opposing this, or saying that it is unnecessary, is, first, that the judicial commissioner is not making a decision but merely giving advice. With respect, that is pure sophistry. Secondly, it is said that you cannot have unwinding under judicial control as judges are not experienced in this sort of matter. I ask those who have doubts about the ability of judges to protect people to read the decision to which I was a party in a case called WV in 2011. In respect of a person who provided very valuable information to the police, the judiciary had to act to protect the person concerned, but in circumstances where in no way could that person be identified.
Therefore, it seems that the question of this amendment is straightforward. If a police officer or a member of the security services who has granted authorisation continues and does not accede to the judge’s decision, this says that we are a country that does not abide by the rule of law. In my respectful submission, it would be very difficult to see how this could be judged internally and it would do our security services great damage if it related to something overseas.
However, as this last remark shows, what I fear for in this is the damage that continuing with activity if the judicial commissioner says no will do to the security services. If the Minister opposes this amendment, I would ask her to set out what is to happen; we cannot leave this point undealt with. If it is possible, I ask her to deal with three of the main scenarios. If no activity has happened, surely the activity must not proceed. If activity has started, it must be stopped and unwound. I would hope for an assurance that, once the views of the judicial commissioner have been expressed, the activity would not go on.
This amendment seeks to deal with a subject that may be uncomfortable for people to face up to: that you have an authorising officer who says, “Yes, I think this is all right” and then a judge says, “No, it wasn’t.” We need clarity. When you think about this question, it shows the dangers of not having pre-judicial authorisation in a system. I suspect what will happen—this is why it is a great pity that we have not been able to go into this in much more detail with examples of what actually happens—is that once a judge says, “This should not have been granted” we will probably gradually move to a system of pre-authorisation.
My Lords, I very much enjoyed the previous speech, which gave me much information about a great number of things. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas.
My noble friend Lord Dubs has set out the parameters of Amendments 5 and 23 and my noble friend Lord Rosser has made incisive comments on them. I will add just a few comments in support of my noble friend’s arguments. Basically, the issues in the amendments are covered in Chapter 7 of the Joint Committee on Human Rights report on CHIS, entitled “Adequacy of oversight mechanisms”—surely absolutely essential. The Joint Committee had several concerns about this part of the Bill.
First, the Bill does not suggest any independent scrutiny of criminal conduct authorisations before they are made and acted upon. Secondly, the process of granting CCAs will be kept under review by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner in the oversight of CCAs after the event. He or she will not be informed of the authorisations at the time they are made, so how can prompt scrutiny take place? It is worth repeating those points, which were made by my noble friend Lord Dubs.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights report quotes Sir Desmond de Silva’s report on the death of Patrick Finucane. He accepts as legitimate the running of agents within terrorist groups as at the heart of tackling terrorism but says that the
“agent-running must be carried out within a rigorous framework. The system itself must be so structured as to ensure adequate oversight and accountability.”
Those conclusions are consistent w\ith the requirements of human rights law. There must be effective safeguards against abuse. The question is: does the Bill provide that rigorous framework of oversight and accountability? The amendments query that. In its submission to the JCHR, the law reform and human rights organisation Justice said that the Bill is
“extremely limited in its oversight mechanisms” and that its safeguards were “woefully inadequate”.
The draft code of practice published with the Bill describes how the CCA practice will operate. Only a designated officer within a public authority may make a CCA, and this must be made in writing unless urgent.
Oversight of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner —who must be a senior judicial figure, of course— applies to CCAs. The IPC has the powers to conduct investigations, inspections and audits, but these are oversight functions only. The IPC does not have the capacity to investigate every time a CCA is used. The IPC role is restricted to covering the use of the power to grant CCAs in the annual report to the Prime Minister. This can be redacted before going before Parliament.
Reprieve has said:
“Once more, the oversight powers in this Bill are far weaker than those operated by the UK’s intelligence partners. The FBI has repeatedly released details of the number of crimes committed by its agents as part of efforts to increase transparency over the use of this power.”
There is currently a lack of prior independent scrutiny or approval for CCAs, as described in the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. This contrasts with, for example, police search warrants and phone tapping.
The Bill requires amendment—and these amendments in particular—to remedy this lack of prior judicial approval for CCAs, with provision for urgent cases, and I strongly support Amendments 5 and 23.
My Lords, for the second time today, I have the great pleasure of following the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, and I am delighted to do so.
There seems to be a degree of consensus among those who have spoken so far. We all believe that oversight at a high level is essential. I have signed the lead amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and I meant to sign Amendment 23, but something went wrong—it certainly must have been my fault—and his amendments offer one route forward. I have joined forces with my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft to offer an alternative: the Secretary of State. I do not have terribly strong feelings as to whether the oversight should be judicial or conducted by the Secretary of State, but they could be complementary—they are not incompatible—and the excellent amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, are certainly not incompatible with Amendments 5 and 23, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, pointed out, having signed all three himself. When we are dealing with matters of life, death and the country’s security, we do not want what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, fears—fudge rather than clarity, as he advocated with particular clarity.
I have a suggestion, and I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take it seriously. She has been very kind in making officials available to many of us. I have much enjoyed the discussions I have had, which have mostly focused on young people being used as CHIS; we will come to that later in our debate. She has been very helpful, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said. I would like her to talk personally to the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Dubs, probably on one of these ghastly Zoom calls where they can all talk together. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain, should also certainly be included. I would like to come out of this an amendment which the Minister can table and introduce at Third Reading, incorporating the best features of all the amendments before us this evening.
Oversight at a high level is essential to create public and parliamentary confidence. Whether that high level is judicial or the Secretary of State, I have a reasonably open mind, but it is important that we try to reach a consensus, so that the Bill commands parliamentary and public confidence and we do not have the sort of fudge the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, feared but, instead, the clarity he so brilliantly advocated.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Hain in his admirable description of what has happened historically and what we need to avoid in the future. Our previous debate was cracked before Christmas because we had a break and started again on another day. I shall try to be brief because I hope that will not happen this evening and that we can move forward with some form of consensus.
In commending the admirable speech of my noble friend Lord Hain, I have to say that we are getting ourselves in a real muddle. Having sat through the earlier debate on the previous group on the very reason why this Bill is necessary, I feel incredibly sorry for the Minister. Not only does she have three major Bills on her hands and all the other day-to-day questions and activity, but she must scratch her head about why something that was taking place without the framework we are trying to develop is now being criticised when a framework is being put in place.
I have a great deal of sympathy with her, and I am grateful that she was prepared to talk to my noble friend Lord Hain and me about this. I was also grateful to the Met, the counterterrorism branch and the security services for the discussion I had with them, refreshing my memory—as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has—about what has taken place over the years since I was Home Secretary and the improvements that have been put in place, including the order passed in 2013 that the noble Lord referred to. I think it was Statutory Instrument 2788.
The other part of the muddle seems to be this: the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is right, in my view, to say that it is probably not appropriate for a judge to make the pre-review, and therefore the authorisation of criminal activity. I too think it is not appropriate, not for the reasons he gave, but because I do not think that judges should authorise criminal conduct and criminal activity. They are then in an entirely different role to the one they were trained to undertake and have our confidence in carrying through independently. That is why the Minister is almost certain to agree to Amendment 33—spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, today and in its previous iteration before Christmas—to make some progress. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, with whom I often agree, that I think there has been some move behind the scenes and that we will see that carried through on Wednesday.
I can understand the concerns of those operating in the field that we should distinguish between, for instance, those taken on as what used to be called “snouts” or informers and placing someone, as a police officer, in a situation of potential criminal conduct, which is very different. I understand that very well. At a higher level, it is really important to see the implications of placing an officer in those situations, which might have a major knock-on effect in terms of the reputation of the Government, never mind the policing and security services.
In those circumstances, it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to authorise the clearance prior to the activity beginning, as happens with phone taps and surveillance. In those circumstances, while this amendment is much tighter than the previous one that I, my noble friend Lord Hain, and others signed, it is desirable to have that level of authorisation for very specific placements of trained officers while giving greater flexibility to what the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has talked about and must have experienced on a day-to-day basis when he operated in the police service.
This is so complicated because these elements do not sit easily with each other. It is not easy to sort out what would be the most appropriate way forward. I simply ask the Minister to consider whether a higher level of authorisation is required for very specific activities where an officer, whether in the police or security services, is placed in circumstances and situations that could lead to considerable reverberations down the line, taking into account the strictures made on human rights and, of course, our duty of care.
I am not sure that I feel comfortable with the amendment moved and supported by my own side, and I will finish on this. There is a wonderful feeling at the moment that politicians are not appropriate for, or capable of dealing with, high-level situations, even though they have been elevated to the highest possible level. I understand that, particularly at the moment, but I cannot for the life of me understand why my own party is so taken with giving the judiciary roles that are not about judgments of criminality or even carrying out reviews, both of which judges are perfectly capable of because that is their role. What is this love of the belief that we should hollow out the state, as we call it in the academic world, so that politicians are seen as incapable of making decisions and taking responsibility for them, but judges are not? I worry about this, because we are getting ourselves into a terrible mess, where eventually politicians will dance to the tune of Covid but very little else.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who speaks with deep personal experience and authority. I listened to the passionate debate on the previous group of amendments, and now on this group. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made his case for Amendment 5 in his usual persuasive manner, but I favour a slightly different approach, not least for the reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. Hence I will speak to Amendment 16, as introduced so effectively by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.
If the state is to grant advance pardon to individuals to commit serious breaches of the law, this should not be a common occurrence, and it is a decision that should be taken at the highest level. To my mind, that should be at the level of government. I accept that there might be occasions when, for matters of national security, criminal acts will need to be committed, but I have not been convinced of the need for change in the status quo regarding the way these authorisations are given. However, as the charity Justice says, it is inconceivable that the Government should not be accountable for serious criminal offences committed with their approval—but if that approval is delegated to officials, who will be accountable?
I have many qualms about this legislation. As many have remarked, the Government have repeatedly failed to make a convincing case as to why such a drastic abandoning of moral norms should be sanctioned. They have certainly failed to provide convincing arguments as to why such a broad set of agencies should need access to criminal conduct authorisation. What undercover activity does the Food Standards Agency, for instance, envisage having need of? However, while I am not comfortable with aspects of the legislation, I have no doubt of the Government’s determination to press ahead with it. It is therefore down to this House to try to make it more palatable.
As ever, the Government are keen to embrace anything that will show contempt for the European Court of Human Rights, and this obviously presents an opportunity to do that. But it is imperative that we try to stop these powers being used with impunity—and how better than by making government directly accountable? It would clearly be wrong for officials to have the power to grant immunity from prosecution to undercover agents on the basis of what they perceive as necessity without external authorisation.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, believes that the judiciary could provide that authorisation; the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, pointed out the flaws in that. I would prefer it to be the Government: the shift in responsibility from Ministers to officials has become a worrying trend. It seems that senior officials are deemed dispensable these days, but Ministers are not; ministerial resignations are now very rare, although I am sure that most of us have a little list of those that we feel are long overdue. The issuing of these orders is a very serious decision, with potentially enormous effects; it would surely be appropriate for a Minister to take ultimate responsibility.
My Lords, in supporting the new clause in Amendment 33 and its consequentials, I am riding pillion to my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich. When I heard his speech at Second Reading, I immediately felt that his approach struck the most practical balance in controlling the activities of intelligence agencies embedded in groups carrying out criminal activities. Following the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, I rather suspect that the scale of this is both at a lower level and in a larger quantity than previous speeches have suggested. One has to see the practicality of that in those terms.
My experience, both when I was in government and when I was on the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, leads me to believe that control of these operations requires three things. First, it requires better precision than there has been so far in the definition of how far agents can be authorised to go in participation in criminal activities. That is fair to them, and it is fair to the authorities. Ever since the case of Brian Nelson, the Northern Irish loyalist informer, to which I referred in Committee, I have felt that it is unsatisfactory that judgments on these matters should be left open and to the discretion of prosecuting authorities after the event, although I have no doubt that the decision to prosecute Nelson—indeed, he confessed—was correct.
Secondly, there is a need for close contact and immediacy in the control exercised. These situations in which covert intelligence agents are involved are often fast-moving. Communication between agent and controller may need to be rapid, and control needs to be agile. I do not believe that that can practicably be provided by a judge or a Secretary of State.
Thirdly, independent oversight is needed in as close to real time as possible. Controllers cannot be the judge and jury in these matters—certainly not the sole judge and jury—since there is an obvious temptation to cross lines in the interests of achieving what are often laudable objectives. I am persuaded that oversight is likely to be best achieved by giving the independent Investigatory Powers Commissioner a more active and immediate role. It seems to me that the provision proposed by my noble friend in the proposed new clause achieves these objectives in a practical way, and I am glad to hear that the Minister is inclined to agree that this is a fair and effective way forward.
The Liberal Democrats’ Amendment 17 takes a similar approach and, to that extent, I am sympathetic to it, but I am sceptical about whether the requirement for “prior approval” by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, even with a get-out clause in circumstances of urgency, would meet the requirement for operational agility—so I will stick with my support for my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, it is a great relief to follow the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, because I entirely agree with him. Agility, competence and experience in looking at a matter such as this are important. The commissioner has just that, being very flexible and close to the situation.
I have had difficulty in following some of this debate, as well as that on earlier amendments. I cannot believe that it is in accordance with the rule of law that Governments and their officials should ask people to commit crimes. That seems the very reverse of the rule of law, which says that you should not commit crimes and you should do what the law tells you to do as a general and universal rule. This Bill sets out a framework under which certain kinds of necessary activity in relation to the subject matter are defined in respect of day-to-day requirements, so that when the act is performed it is no longer a crime and therefore it is perfectly reasonable for the handler to ask the person in question, the participant, to do it. If it was kept as a crime, it would be breaking the rule of law.
I agree with the view that those initially responsible for activating this procedure need to be trained and experienced, and I have seen evidence that that is so. What I find difficult to be sure of is the exact level at which some help and advice should be given. I am confident that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner is qualified to give a view on the propriety of a particular course of action and whether it should be regarded as a crime.
As was said earlier, those who defend us when we are in the Palace of Westminster have to take serious decisions very quickly against an existing background of law. The problem in this context is that there is no particular background of law except that the actual doing of the thing is a crime at the present time. I do not agree with the view that that is a satisfactory system which should remain, but it is right that, so far as is possible, prescription of what can be done in regard to a matter of this kind should be available to the participant in advance, with as high judicial or legal authority as is appropriate in the circumstances; namely, that time may be of the essence and therefore it may be urgent to obtain advice. I agree with the view that this is best done by the commissioner.
I agree with the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, if it is necessary. I have the feeling that the investigation commissioner has authority to deal with an objection of this kind in terms of the 2016 Act. I do not feel sufficiently confident to contradict the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, on the need for this amendment, but I would be glad to know what the position is on the powers the commissioner has to deal with this matter.
My Lords, I can be brief on this, currying some favour, I hope, with the Government Whip that will be taken on board when I speak in a later group to my own amendments once more. It is a great privilege to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. Your Lordships heard it from him: when is a crime not a crime—when it has been pre-authorised with immunity attached in advance? That would be a difficult thing to explain to most members of public. However, it is not so difficult, perhaps, when you compare it with intrusions into our privacy, which is where this model comes from.
The complexities of this debate just make me sadder about where we got to in the previous one. We now have to decide about safeguards, because your Lordships have potentially created a breath-taking immunity. Under existing surveillance law, there are different models: it takes a magistrate to authorise an intrusive search of your premises; it takes a Minister to authorise the tapping of your telephone; yet inserting an undercover agent—more intrusive than either of those two measures, because a human will change your behaviour, not just monitor it—is internally authorised. Now, we have gone further, and a crime can be committed, authorised by the Executive, authorised by the police for their agents, authorised by the intelligence services for their agents, and so on.
Clutching at straws for safeguards, I have to support some kind of external authorisation at the very least. If it is good enough for search warrants and telephone taps, it must be even more necessary when criminal conduct, including violent conduct, might be authorised. As for which model, I have heard the arguments either way, and I tend to think political warrantry of something so politically dangerous is problematic, and it has proved so in the past. Former Government Ministers have written in their memoirs about how tired they were when, late at night, they were making endless intrusive surveillance authorisations. It is not about hollowing out the state; it is about trying to insert independence into the realm of criminal law. I admire the thrust of the eloquent speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft: if Government are to do such a thing, they should take some responsibility, not just for legislation but for authorisations.
We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Butler, with his enormous experience, his prediction that there will be some low-level warrants here and a very large number of them. This would present a real problem if it was political warrantry, because Secretaries of State have a lot to do, and there are going to be a lot more warrants under this legislation than those limited to, for example, the security services.
These are all imperfect checks and balances but, on balance, at the moment I prefer judicial authorisation, even though that will, in my view, bring dangers for the judiciary. Post-notification authorisation is a very weak protection but, if it is to happen, I agree completely with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, that Amendment 33 without Amendment 34 is pretty much a nonsense.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. She kept me well aware of civil liberties for three years when I was the Minister with responsibility for security, counterterrorism and cybersecurity, and she did it with complete purity of purpose. I do not think that anyone should have a go at her for anything other than that, so it is a pleasure to follow her.
An awful lot has been said already and time is running short. I am strongly supportive of judicial oversight of these powers. Looking at the package of amendments before us, Amendment 33 appears to be a balanced and practical proposal, and I rather like it. However, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, has convinced me that, in a sense, it has to be looked at in conjunction with Amendment 34, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, because the two sit well together. The Minister needs to look at them, as together they would achieve what we want in this very sensitive area.
On Amendment 16, I have considerable sympathy with having a Minister involved, but there is an issue with how many things one has to sign. I found that, when I was a Minister, I had all the dross and had to pass the really meaty bits up to the Home Secretary, who seemed to think that she was rather overloaded anyway—and that was after I had taken a hell of a lot of the weight away. So there is an issue there.
We also need to look at the wording of that amendment very carefully. Saying that one of these people is “employed” is quite specific and tricky. Similarly, the wording of Amendment 23 is slightly unclear, and we need to be careful. However, the amendment that I really like is Amendment 33, probably in conjunction with Amendment 34.
My Lords, it is an absolute pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord West of Spithead.
There are some amendments in this group that I object to, and I shall vote against them if they are pushed to a vote. I want to restrict my remarks to two amendments—Amendment 16 and Amendment 33 with its consequentials.
I am a bit confused about Amendment 16 in the same way as my noble friend Lord West has just alluded to. I have massive respect for my noble friends Lord Hain and Lord Blunkett. I operated as Minister of State for each of them for a year—at the Northern Ireland Office, under direct rule, and at the Home Office. In both cases, my role involved purely domestic policy—the only time I got close to anything remotely related to this was at the Northern Ireland Office on two of the 13 duty weekends that I did in a year.
However, as I made clear in Committee, I simply do not agree that the Secretaries of State should be involved in the issuing of authorisations. We are talking here about a level of detail and relationships with people—probably long term, in the case of many CHIS—that means it is just not possible, practical or, in my view, proper for Secretaries of State to be involved. I agree completely with the arguments put forward, both this time and the previous time, by the noble Lord, Lord Butler.
As for paragraph (b), which would require the CHIS to be an employee, as my noble friend Lord West has just referred to, I am at a slight loss to understand it. The Bill is not talking about undercover police officers who are employed as police officers, or undercover security officers employed by the security services. We are talking about a range of people with civilian occupations who are employed by other authorities—I will give some examples in a minute—or about common criminals, who are probably not employed by anyone. So I do not understand the idea that they have to be an employee of the authority. That simply cannot be done; it is a contradiction.
The business case provided by the Minister, which was sent to everyone a few days ago, gives around 20 case studies. As far as I can tell from the careful language that they are written in, the vast majority of the CHIS examples in the case studies are employees of a company committing a crime.
In example 6, concerning the Competition and Markets Authority, the board of directors of a company had been complicit in a price-fixing cartel. It was the board of directors that decided that it was going to get out of that and comply fully with the law—and obviously in order to do that arrangements had to be made.
Two examples concern the Environment Agency. Example 7 involves a maintenance engineer who contacts Crimestoppers to say that their company is up to no good; he or she then becomes a CHIS. The other example is a fisherman, licensed to take a sustainable amount of endangered species, who has become unwittingly involved in criminal activity. Those are not employees of the issuing authority; they are ordinary citizens who have been pulled into criminal activity by the company that employs them, and they do not want to be part of it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, mentioned food. Example 9 concerns the Food Standards Agency. One of the examples given here is of an employee, as you would expect, involved in a food business, who has seen something or been pulled into something that they know to be wrong, and so decides to make a phone call. It is crucial that that person then becomes a CHIS. It is a big business, involving billions of pounds. There is a lot of money to be made in mistreating meat and mislabelling it, and in selling one thing as something that it is not.
You are not going to get employees of local government or the FSA being sent to companies, because they will not know; they are operating on intelligence and on whistleblowing. It is completely impractical, as far as Amendment 16 is concerned, that they be employees of the authority. In that respect, I just do not understand it. It is only outsiders who have the information, and they will not be employees of the authority.
I fully accept that there are consequentials. If I heard the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, correctly, by the way, he wants to accept Amendment 34, so I think Amendments 33 and 34 are a package. I do not want to repeat my speech from Committee when I made the same points and emphasised the impracticality of some of the suggestions about prior judicial review. I am certainly prepared to support Amendment 33; it is the practical solution. We can legislate all we like about the principles and what we would like to see happen, but it is about practical operation and what will work. The Government would be very wise to accept it. From reading it and comparing it to the amendment in Committee, I can see that the parliamentary draftsmen have been involved.
I was very grateful to take up the Minister’s offer of a phone conversation with some of the specialists in this area. I pointed out to them that they needed to give better practical examples from real life for us non-lawyers and those legislators not directly involved in this, so that there could be an understanding of the practicalities. In a way, that is what has happened with the case studies. Very few Peers have referred to the case studies, but I hope they will be studied.
There is one final thing I would like to knock on the head and that is the constant references to “any crime”. I do not understand this. With some of what has been said, I have wished we had ordinary rules of debate because I would like to have intervened. Some of the things I have seen written by noble Lords are absolutely outrageous. The fact is that the notification of the authorisation of a covert human intelligence source must comply, unqualified, with the European Convention on Human Rights. That is the reality. It rules out any crime. The Bill does not allow the legalisation of any crime. For Peers, who are legislators and opinion formers, to say this—frankly, I do not understand it. It is deliberately misleading the public and others. I think they should stop it and go back and read the reality of what we have been provided with.
My Lords, I very much agree with the detail and the general sentiment in the excellent contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. The word “practical”, which he used several times, is a vital word, to which I would add “mundane”, which I think he used once, referring to the mundanity of many of the orders, and the potential volume of those mundane orders. I speak not as any legal expert, but as someone who was on the receiving end of precisely this. I was on the Economic League blacklist, undoubtedly because of the infiltration of the anti-apartheid movement by an agent of the state.
My concern is about the competence of the state. A book was written at the time by an extremist, a Stalinist and supporter of the Soviet Union called Denver Walker. The book is called Quite Right, Mr Trotsky! and it was released in the same year that I was having those problems. In it, he starts by saying that this could be Special Branch or MI5 in terms of what he is doing. He exposes every Trotskyist organisation in the country, naming names, citing examples and explaining ideology in minute detail. At the same time all the organisations he named, bar two, were infiltrated. That is now on the public record. The state was spending resources and putting a priority on infiltrating irrelevant, tiny organisations. The Revolutionary Communist Group, one of the two not infiltrated, is described in the book as being presumed by everyone on the ultra-left to be run by Special Branch. That is actually in his book.
Competence is critical. If we are trying to intervene in, for example, terrorist organisations or organised crime, competence is absolute and fundamental. Yet we have this history, in the 1970s and 1980s, of the most appalling incompetence. We had the targeting of irrelevant people, creating consequences for people who were on the side of the state in precisely the terms on which the state was infiltrating these organisations. What conclusions would I draw from that?
I draw the conclusion that the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, whom I normally agree with, is fundamentally wrong to suggest that the judiciary has the wrong skill set for assessing and authorising such decisions in advance. I would say exactly the opposite. The judiciary has exactly the right skill set, not to know anything about extremist organisations or extremists but to hear and evaluate a coherent case—or an incoherent case, and turn that down if it is—when put forward by one of the agencies to or for which we are giving, clarifying or maintaining powers with the Bill.
If you are incapable, as intelligence services, the police or one of the other agencies, of putting a coherent case together for why you need authorisation, it would seem that the authorisation you need has a rather weak case. If that had happened in the 1970s and 1980s, a lot of that nonsense and wrong priorities would never have got past stage 1. They were based not even on a hunch, but on an irrelevance. If we are to have efficiency in getting into terrorist groups and organised crime, having a system that forces those who wish to do so to explain their rationale for what they plan to do, and why, and having someone able to assess whether that rationale is coherent, seems the right approach. The last people who should do it, therefore, are politicians.
The practicalities and mundanity are what we should be determining these decisions on. Of course there will be cases that are far from mundane in their application, but that does not mean that the same principles are not required in getting an agreement. It therefore seems to me that those amendments which push the Government in that direction should be welcomed by the Government, and those that do not should be rejected—not just by the Government, of course, but by the House.
My Lords, the interesting lesson from the noble Lord, Lord Mann, on the history of the left—it is a pleasure to follow him—has shown exactly why the Government are right to make a root-and-branch reform, and introduce a structure based on statute for the handling of covert human intelligence sources. We have heard a lot about what happened in the past, but an awful lot has changed since the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s. The major changes in this kind of policing started after 9/11, which was like a massive electric shock to the whole system of detecting various serious crimes, because of the arrival of large-scale terrorism on the streets of Europe and in many other countries. An awful lot has happened, too, since 9/11. The methodology has been sophisticated quite enormously, hence the large amount of legislation since the events of 9/11.
I listened with particular interest, because I agreed with what they said, to my noble friends Lord Anderson and Lord Butler and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. I am a great believer in the theory of Occam’s razor, that entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily or, as it is sometimes put, “Keep it as simple as you can”. To start with, this is an operational issue. In the decision to make someone a CHIS, there is usually a very long period of assessment, a decision by management in consultation with the proposed CHIS handler and sometimes, as I said in an earlier debate, some behavioural analysis. This is an operational matter.
I hold my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd in enormous regard, as I am sure he knows, but I fear that on this occasion I disagree with him, and I hope he will forgive me. Judges are not designed for, or trained, or experienced in the operational disciplines of running CHIS. The enormous and genuine skill of judges, which is very different, by the way, from the skills that they had in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, is to review and assess what has been done in the name of the state. The enormous development of judicial review, in which my noble and learned friend has played a distinguished part over the years, is a clear illustration of the role of judges in this kind of setting—to review the behaviour of public authorities. If we hand over the authorisation to the judges so that they make the operational decision, who is going to judge the judges? Contrary to Occam’s razor, are we going to set up another entity, so that there will be a multiplication of the entities we already have?
It seems to me that the framework set out in Amendments 33, 34, 37, 44 and 46, to which I believe—we will hear later—the Minister is broadly sympathetic, provides the right structure. I am shocked that in this debate too, just as in the previous debate, until I raised it, the code of practice has not been mentioned. The code of practice makes it absolutely clear that arbitrary decisions cannot be made; if they are, that is a breach of duty and possibly misconduct in a public office.
Let us keep the structure straightforward, with the operational people properly ruled by a legally enforceable code making the operational decision, with the judiciary carrying out its proper role in reviewing what has been done, and with the courts if necessary intervening at a later stage.
My Lords, I preface my remarks with a very straightforward point, by noting that judicial commissioners, appointed under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, carry out a prior approval function in relation to other covert investigatory activities. While the function of judicial commissioners could be extended to cover the grant of CCAs, I understand why the noble Lords, Lord Anderson, Lord Rosser and Lord Butler, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay, who have proposed Amendment 33, have sought to bring in not pre-authorisation but notification in real time. Why is there a lesser test with regard to the powers under this Bill than there is that extend to other activities covered by prior judicial approval?
Having said that, I entirely endorse and support what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, Lord Rosser and Lord Butler of Brockwell, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern have put forward in Amendment 33. The question that we seek to answer here is about what degree of oversight is required and the level of independence that that oversight should enjoy. I have come to the conclusion that it is better to have judicial oversight as envisaged in Amendment 33 than that to be exercised by a Secretary of State, for the multiple reasons given by many noble Lords who addressed the House earlier this evening.
I would like to see authorisations in real time being sought by such a notification as set out in Amendment 33. I entirely support and endorse the remarks made by the noble Lords, Lord Anderson of Ipswich and Lord Butler of Brockwell, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. There would have to be a very good reason why the Government would not seek to introduce this, especially as, with all the provisions that have been set out in the debate, there should be no reduction in the ability to act swiftly, and therefore that flexibility will not be compromised.
There are very powerful arguments for Amendment 33 and the related amendments, although I am less supportive of Amendment 34 and others in this group. I hope that my noble friend will explain to what extent she can support Amendment 33 and related amendments put forward by its authors.
My Lords, I want to make it perfectly plain that I totally disagree with the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew. Of course, a lot of skilled, professional, operational work has gone in to whatever is being planned. But part of that operational skill, which is professionally done, should be taking full account of what is challengeable under the rule of law. If there is nothing to fear on that front, then there is nothing to fear in terms of the proposal of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd.
If I were asked to pick one amendment from this group that had particularly cheered me, it would be that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd; it seemed to me that he was bringing muscle to bear on the theory and operation of the rule of law. We can all talk about the rule of law, and it is nice to think that in a civilised society we have it, but how can it act in time? We all know what can happen in operations of this kind: so much momentum and impetus build up that one thing leads to another, and it becomes very difficult to reverse. I applaud the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd.
My support has gone to Amendment 7, because the work that we are discussing should not become a matter of convenience in the operation of government. It has to be serious, and if we are making the rule of law essential to our concerns, it has to be dealing with serious crime.
I am also very glad to be associated with Amendment 17 on the relevance of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. It may not be everybody’s immediate cup of tea, but I am very glad to see Amendment 43, with its provisions for the review of authorisations over a period of time. In a democracy, we have to keep a political and active eye on what trend seems to be being established if there are trends, and what they might be.
The amendments in this group dealing with the rule of law and judicial approval, which is crucial, have all been encouraging. I cannot have more respect than I do for some of those who were involved in tabling Amendment 46, and I am sorry, because I respect them, but I hope that they have some time for my concern as a layman.
I am doubtful about the whole concept of special arrangements for the appointment of judicial commissioners in this way. How can we be cast-iron certain that this does not become open to manipulation by the Executive? Either people are judicial commissioners, or they are not. We should keep our minds very much on that principle. This is a terribly important group of amendments, and I wish most of them well.
My Lords, I intervene briefly to support Amendments 5 and 16. The experience of so many noble Lords in this debate has been salutary. In Committee I expressed my views on the need for supervision of authorising conduct under the Bill prior to the event—I emphasise “prior”—preferably by judicial authority. I will not elaborate on what I have already said, save to repeat that from the highest level of the judiciary down, it has been my experience that there is always availability, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I have never had to make an application in the course of advocation as counsel, but I have had to make emergency applications and judges have always been available. In my experience—limited as it was as a law officer not directly involved—I never had any anxiety that there were no judges available to take decisions.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, with his great experience, queried the use of the judiciary, as I understand his speech. I see no difficulty in the Lord Chief Justice selecting a number of High Court judges who, despite the views of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, would have had the necessary skills to adjudicate on these matters. They are probably unsurpassed in the range of decision that they must take: quite a few of them are life or death matters, which I will not elaborate on. Members of the judiciary from the highest to the lowest level must make difficult decisions well beyond their training and well beyond what they had thought that they might have to adjudicate on.
This has been a fascinating debate. At this hour I will not go on, save to say that authorising conduct of this kind is a very serious matter. Trying to square authorising breaches of the law with the rule of law is mind-boggling. I shall not attempt it. All I will say is that I support Amendments 5 and 16.
My Lords, I speak briefly to a number of amendments. First, on Amendment 5, I do not believe whatever I have heard, even from my noble friend who spoke before me, that there is sufficient experience and competence on this kind of activity in a judicial world for a clear decision to be made. Therefore, I do not support having judicial approval.
It is slightly different with a Secretary of State if the issue is clearly one of life or death, or major security. However, even then, as one or two colleagues have said, I am not at all sure that, when the Secretary of State at the time is rung up in the middle of the night on something as vital as this issue, they should have to make an immediate decision. I do see it as perfectly possible, as is suggested in Amendment 20, that the Secretary of State should be informed that something has happened so that he is at least kept in the loop.
I have a couple more points to make. In Amendment 23, proposed new paragraph (4) seems hugely restrictive, while paragraph (5) is no more than double-guessing and should be rejected. Basically, we come down to the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Carlile. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is absolutely right: we live now in a different world from that of the recent past; 9/11 was a watershed. Many of my colleagues will know that I am deeply involved in South Asia, where there is a huge problem of potential terrorism lingering underneath the surface; it is a real problem. We have a similar problem here in the United Kingdom; yes, we have proscribed a fair number of terrorist activities but we should not believe the terrorists have gone away. They are active here, working away. They may find some means of pretending to be interested in democracy, but they are not—they are terrorists.
We should listen to the noble Lord, Lord Butler. He suggested that we should have a better provision, a definition of how far an agent can go in terms of any criminal activity. We need to have control that is agile, that can move quickly and keep some kind of comprehensive check on things. You cannot do that in a structured system that is written into an Act of Parliament. I happen to live in Sandy; there is an airfield down the road from me at RAF Tempsford, which was known as “Churchill’s most secret airfield”. It was running all the behind-the-scenes flights into France and other areas, putting agents in; they would be getting up to nefarious activities, authorised in principle from the top, but controlled only at a local level. Nobody knew what they were doing other than a particular man at a fairly senior level who was keeping track.
I do not pretend that I see an answer in any particular amendment before us this evening. I know only that this work is absolutely vital to the security of this country. I have faith in my friend on the Front Bench, I believe that there have been discussions, and I look forward to listening to her and hearing how we solve this conundrum.
My Lords, there are obvious flaws in any authorisation procedure in which the main safeguard against a public body carrying out unjustified surveillance, for example, or committing serious crime, is a senior official from the same organisation. It just does not make good sense. Even the most diligent individual would struggle to remain objective, particularly if the organisation was under pressure to meet targets, to achieve results or to get the job done. I remember all too painfully as a counsel in the Guildford Four appeal when there was undoubted pressure on the police to produce results and this led to misconduct and very bad judgments.
The Government and supporters of the Bill put forward an argument that prioritises operational need over independent assessment. It is not convincing. I remind the House that there is a significant difference with regard to authorising a CHIS—a covert person in place—who has worked in a factory, as was suggested, and who might have seen unlawful activity or whatever, whistle-blows but stays to give a better account of his or her observations to the authorities. That observing of criminal activities and then reporting on them is very different from the situation where someone is actively involved in criminal activity but is turned by the authorities and made into an agent on their behalf inside a criminal organisation. They may be proactively involved in criminal acts and involved in planning and encouraging them. It is a marked, simple movement for them to cross that line and to go out and commit crimes with other members of the gang. This is a clear, profound and immensely qualitative difference, for which the Government have yet to account.
Some Members have proposed that a form of retrospective authorisation might suffice, and I want to explain why this does not work in practice. Unlike other covert powers, such as bugging a property, the potential harm caused in those circumstances is difficult, if not impossible, to undo. Some harms are difficult to undo once they have been done. If you place a listening device, it can be removed. If you have unlawfully recorded private conversations, they can be destroyed.
But let us think of the example of somebody who is in a county lines drugs gang, pushing heroin into the hands of the young. That heroin is sometimes of the purest form, which will be highly damaging, potentially to someone’s life, or it is contaminated, so that it goes further and makes more money for the criminal gangs, with substances that can be noxious and lethal. Suppose those drugs get into the hands of a vulnerable teenager who ends up dead. It is not a happy thought, but that is what criminal actions are about when you are involved in gang activity.
What if somebody is involved on the periphery of terrorist activities and is informing, but is required to secure items that might be used in the creation of an explosive device—a bomb? How does that make Members of this House feel? How does one undo the damage to innocent individuals, often vulnerable victims who might come into the firing line of gang members or terrorist groups who are armed with a criminal conduct authorisation, as the Bill proposes? What can we say to them if they have their synagogue blown up, or their child physically harmed, or, heaven forbid, people lose their lives? I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay: when does that kind of crime stop being a crime?
It is regrettable to me that the Government are persisting with this policy, but given that they want to go ahead it is vital that independent, prior judicial approval is built into the process to avoid and to mitigate the potential for tragic mistakes or abuses of power. I was very moved and affected by what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said. His view as an experienced senior judge is that, in the end, they will have to come back to prior judicial oversight. His preference, like mine, is for prior judicial approval. I do not agree with the noble Lords, Lord Hain or Lord Blunkett, that the appropriate people are Ministers. My preference would be for it to be the judges. I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said: if the judges who are dealing with other covert activities are considered good enough for that, what is so special about this?
I therefore urge this House to stick with the amendments that have been put forward. I will go with any of the collection of them that involve prior judicial authority. Of course, as a secondary position, I will support the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, with his add-on amendment, which would ensure that it is done in real time. However, my preference is that it is done beforehand. Nothing else will make police officers and those who seek to do this kind of work with people embedded in organisations think carefully about the arguments for doing so.
I laugh when I hear my noble friend Lord Blunkett reiterating something that he has held true, which is his suspicion that the judiciary do not know how the real world works. Today we have a judiciary that is very different from the old one that operated. Happily, it is a different kind of judiciary, which is well aware of the problems and is used to making judgments in these kinds of cases.
What is being suggested in having judicial oversight is not radical but common sense. The European Court of Human Rights in many instances has spoken to the necessity of prior judicial authorisation. In one case, the court held that it offers
“the best guarantees of independence, impartiality and a proper procedure.”
This is particularly pertinent with surveillance, which, according to the court, was a field where “abuses are potentially easy” in individual cases to the extent that it
“could have harmful consequences for democratic society”.
The court concluded that
“it is in principle desirable to entrust supervisory control to” the judiciary. I will say only that as a practitioner I can speak to the quality and speed with which our judges can handle time-sensitive and critical cases. Like other noble Lords who have mentioned it, I have had on occasion to make applications to judges late into the night, and our judges are well capable of making decisions in that way.
We have to get this right. It is incumbent on us to consider the gravity of the powers that Parliament is being asked to create, and we have to strive to ensure that they are exercised responsibly and with sufficient checks and balances. I therefore commend to your Lordships the amendments, which require prior judicial authorisation.
My Lords, it is always a delight to follow my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws.
There are three sides to this argument. What makes this debate so interesting is that they cross party boundaries. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, argues the powerful JCHR case for prior authorisation by a judge, while on the other hand the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is of the view that a judge or a Secretary of State does not have the expertise to task or to supervise a CHIS, a sentiment echoed by my noble friend Lord Carlile and argued more stringently by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, supports post-authorisation notification. My criticism of that process, as I advanced it in Committee, was that this was a solution without teeth, an argument adopted in an excoriating speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, in support of his Amendment 34. If the commissioner says on a post-the-event inquiry, “This should not have happened”, what then? The authorisation must stop. But what about any crime that has been committed before that judgement is given? The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made that point.
What in the Bill as it stands would prevent the authorising officer on the ground from simply shrugging his shoulders? He might ask, “Why should the judge have greater expertise post the event than he had before?” But can the authoriser be acting lawfully if he goes on in the face of a decision deploring the deployment of the CHIS? Does the commissioner’s adverse view of the department have to be disclosed at trial? That is very important. Suppose the CHIS is a witness at a trial and gives crucial evidence in person, or, more likely, evidence which he has obtained by committing a crime is relied on. The prosecutor would have to disclose the decision of the commissioner that he should never have been deployed to get that evidence in the first place.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, suggests that prior judicial authorisation does not match the operational requirements. He argues that it lacks agility, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Butler. But is his solution practical—the test of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker?
The third argument is advanced by my noble friend Lord Paddick, and I am pleased it has the support of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition. Operational uncertainties make it difficult for a judge to authorise the specific crime the CHIS may commit. In any event, it may seem distasteful to make the judge a knowing party to a specific crime before it is committed. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, expressed his reservations as to whether the rule of law is breached.
In the known or anticipated circumstances in which the commission of a crime is authorised, the question really is: what are the necessary or proportional limits to that authorisation? Who decides those limits? Just the authoriser on his own, without any check? When things go wrong, my family motto always comes into play: ar bwy mae’r bai—who can we blame? If the CHIS goes rogue, the Government’s solution is to let the blame rest on the authoriser who has taken the decision to deploy him on his own. The authoriser’s judgment alone will carry the can. To change the metaphor, he can be hung out to dry. Certainly, the Government have certainly evinced no urgency to accept civil liability to compensate anybody who finds themselves in harm’s way as a result of the CHIS’s activities, authorised or not.
We have had the very considerable benefit of personal experience from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain, in these discussions. They have been involved in different protest movements with such success that they drew the attention of the security services. In each of their cases, were the crimes involved—such as breaking into their property to plant a listening device or infiltrating their organisation unlawfully—an intrusion into their private lives that was proportionate and necessary to the danger their protest movements posed?
I prefer my noble friend Lord Paddick’s solution. The whole purpose is to ensure that these decisions to authorise crime are judged, dispassionately and independently and not by an official actively involved in the operation in question, to be proportionate to the threat. The nature, purpose and breadth of the operation and its potential risks should be disclosed to the commissioner on an application being made. My noble friend Lord Paddick pointed out that a main risk is that the activities of a CHIS can be volatile in the changing and dynamic circumstances he finds himself in. A commissioner can decide impartially whether the means to secure an objective in the operation—namely, by the commission of crime, including the anticipated type of crime—are proportionate and justified. What sort of a warhead is being deployed on the covert agent’s head? Balancing the objective sought—the operational dividend—against the extent of the means likely to be employed, and their risks, is a proper judicial function for which judges are trained and have the right experience to decide.
Amendment 43, in the names of my noble friends Lord Paddick and Lady Hamwee, provides for a system of review. It is the forum for hindsight. It could answer the question of whether the authorisation was necessary and whether the safeguards were adequate. Lessons could be learned. I urge the Minister to consult her colleagues and accept Amendments 17 and 43 on the basis that they are the best and most accountable way for dealing with the difficult and ethical problem of state sanction for criminal acts.
I was expecting to follow the former chair of the ISC from when I was there, but I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I do not intend to repeat what I said in Committee, but I want to make a few points—although I realise it is late and we have a lot more to get through.
If the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, is right that judges have changed over the years, so have MI5 and the police. Since I left MI5 13 years ago, oversight, which is the first thing I want to talk about, has strengthened. The double lock now exists: you cannot get a warrant for a telephone intercept or a microphone operation without a judicial signature, as well as that of the Secretary of State. IPCO has assumed a very important and vital role and I read with great interest its recent report, which is very comprehensive and thorough.
Since I left, there have been Independent Reviewers of Terrorism Legislation. I suggest to your Lordships that we are lucky to have in this House the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Carlile. They have deep inside knowledge of these issues and, unlike me, they cannot be accused of a conflict of interest. They came to these jobs and did them objectively.
I welcome this oversight. I am not somebody who feels that too much interference is tricky. It helps keep standards high, it gives confidence to the public and it gives clarity to my former colleagues, which they welcome. When I joined the Security Service there was no law at all governing what we did, and I can tell noble Lords that that was an extremely uncomfortable position.
I support the new clause proposed by Amendment 33, because it seems to be the ideal combination of independent oversight from IPCO and operational expertise—and I believe quite strongly that we should not muddle those two roles.
I had thought that I would try to resist defending covert human intelligence sources, but I cannot allow some of the comments made this evening to stand without my giving an alternative view. Of course I do not defend those involved in the murder of Finucane, and of course I regard the undercover police who grossly abused their trust as culpable. But I have met many undercover agents—as very few Members of your Lordships’ House, apart from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, have done. I have to say that my experience is different from the noble Lord’s. Mine have not been engaged in activity regarded as undesirable. They have not been venal or self-interested, receiving brown envelopes of cash. So the earlier point about whether the legislation is right for all of us is interesting, but my experience is very different.
This is where I will repeat myself from Committee. I have met brave men and women who risked their lives—I underline that—to save other lives. Yes, they are occasionally authorised to commit crimes, but lesser crimes than the ones they seek to prevent. It is risible to suggest that they have carte blanche or should be involved in setting bombs. They have saved thousands of lives. They will never get public recognition or thanks, but I take this opportunity to thank them. We have a moral obligation to respect them, protect them and keep them safe, because many of us depend on their work. I am also very reassured that a recent IPCO report said that the way MI5 ran covert human intelligence sources was “highly professional” and “mindful” of the ethical issues.
If the House will forgive me, I will take a slight deviation to tell noble Lords about one particular human source. A few years ago, the BBC “Today” programme asked me to guest-edit a Christmas programme, which I did. I asked my former colleagues in MI5 if they could produce an agent—a CHIS—to talk to the BBC home affairs editor, to be played by an actor, and explain why they were working for the authorities in this way. MI5 produced an agent who was a British Muslim, and he described what he was doing: reporting on ISIS and related terrorism. He was asked how he justified this to himself, and he said, “I look in the mirror every morning and I know I am doing Allah’s work.” I do not know what intelligence he produced or his name—I know nothing about him. But it was a very compelling interview.
On prior authorisation, whether judicial or political or, in today’s terms, probably a combination of the two, I said in Committee that this is superficially attractive. I still think this; it would give confidence and reassurance to many. But I am afraid that I also share strongly the views of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that it is unfortunately not practical. Why?
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, described—in some ways better than I have done—some of the complex aspects of running covert human intelligence sources. As I think the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said, they are not robots. As I said a minute ago, we have an obligation to their safety first of all, under the ECHR and any other criteria. Running them is complex—there is the care for their welfare, and before they are taken on there is the involvement of in-house lawyers, security advisers and behavioural scientists. Some of them work for many years at great risk to themselves. It is quite different from microphone and interception operations, which can be switched on and off and the product from them retained or destroyed.
The handlers, who are not the people who authorise criminal activity, will have deep knowledge of the individual: their family; their history; their motivation, which will vary; their access; what intelligence they are going to get; what training they have had; what instructions they have been given; what limits have been put on what they do; what the agreed rules of their deployment are; their contacts for emergency; and if they need to be extracted. CHISs trust the handlers to protect their identity, possibly in perpetuity.
When I was head of MI5, I very rarely knew the name of a CHIS. I knew them by a number, and I knew what access they had. The authorisation for criminal activity is a small and rare part of a much broader relationship, often long-term, and running them deals with fast-moving and unpredictable circumstances. I am again reassured by IPCO’s independent view that the handling of cases involving criminality has been proportionate and necessary, and I think some of the suggestions of what CHISs might be authorised to do are just unrealistic and alarming.
I would like to pick up on Amendment 34 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. It is difficult for me to imagine that if a judicial commissioner raised a serious concern about an authorisation, it would continue. But it might not be able to stop immediately. There would have to be some discussion, because the safety of the covert human intelligence source would be paramount. Their right to life is as important as the right to life of the public who, in many cases, they seek to protect.
I was expecting to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, but I am even more delighted, with no disrespect to him, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller. Obviously, I have had some personal involvement with her, and I can pay tribute to her huge experience in this field. I certainly endorse her final point, which is, of course, the issue about the security of people involved as covert intelligence sources.
That is why I support the approach that has been taken by the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Butler, and others in trying to find the most sensible way through this difficult challenge. I make it quite clear that I am not in favour of pre-judicial authority. That is in no sense a criticism of the judges, or any suggestion that they are incapable—unable to master a brief or very quickly to bring themselves up-to-date with the various evidence and issues—but it is vital here to have a flexible, agile system. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, referred to operational agility, and that is a very good phrase.
Some have talked as though each intelligence source is a major political, international incident. I refer the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who said that the Government have produced no information, to the speech of the Minister for Security, James Brokenshire, in the House, which I have quoted twice, about the amazing scale of crime. I make no apology for citing the figures again. The use of undercover resources, in London in one year alone, 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. If the judges are happy to get themselves involved in signing off every one of those activities, I do not think it is the most effective use of their time. Some of them may be on night duty—making themselves very available—but not so familiar with the approach needed for these cases.
I say to my noble friends who are members of the former Secretaries of State club who suggest that that is the right way to go that we may have a quiz question: if it comes to the Secretary of State, how many hands does it go through beforehand? If we want the tightest possible security and are worried about protecting people’s lives and ensuring that they are not at risk, rather than thereby undermining the enthusiasm of others to contribute to this important work, limiting the number of people who have access to the most secret information is obviously very important. Although it has been suggested that it must be in ministerial hands because it could affect the whole relationship of the United Kingdom with other states, so many of these cases are on a much lower level and would not possibly involve the need to consider such issues. In a properly constructed new arrangement for the authorisation of CCAs and the judicial commissioner, I hope that there would be a recognition by those authorised to issue CCAs that where there was some much wider international political relations issue, it would need to be referred and people would understand the balance of that.
After all of which, it is no secret to say that I do not support pre-judicial authority and I certainly do not support the Secretary of State being required to authorise every CCA, but I think we can all accept the practical experience of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, who, we know, has previously worked extensively in this field, and his constructive approach, which has been much respected in our debate in your Lordships’ House today. His amendments for a workable, effective system that still ensures that we can get the benefits of covert sources for law and order in this country and protection against terrorism and other organised crime are well worth supporting.
My Lords, it speaks well of the House that there is such concern about safeguards to buttress criminal conduct authorisations while, on the whole, accepting their use. Noble Lords identify the need for external validation and the oversight of the activities of different agents—of course, here we are dealing only with criminal conduct authorisations, not the whole of what they do—who are not identical across all the “public authorities”, as they are called, that fall within the Bill. We need to deal with all of them.
In most amendments, noble Lords identify the importance of someone with the authority of high judicial office, who therefore commands confidence, as well as the need to be practical, putting their arguments in the context of operational demands and realities, and paying attention to the timeframe. Of course, there are different proposals. I recall a discussion in a Select Committee a while ago about how, when you are a Minister, having to sign things off brings home to you that you are accountable—you have to answer for your decisions. We have heard from colleagues who have held high political office—of course, I have not had experience of this or judicial office. We support judicial authorisation.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, asked who judges the judges—but there is always that question, in the same way that there is always the question of who scrutinises the scrutineers. I have had the impression that the very experience of considering something after the event equips one for considering issues in advance, and commissioners are judges as well.
My noble friend spoke to all the amendments, including our Amendment 43, which is an outlier, not because it is inconsistent with the others—it is not—but because it is about a review of the regime rather than particular grants of CCAs. We do not suggest that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner is not alert to how CHIS may be used, but Amendment 43 would provide for a review of the regime—or the scheme, if you like—in the round, as distinct from tweaking legislation, which is what we are doing now, in response to court proceedings. As my noble friend said, it attempts to square the circle.
In their response to the JCHR, published this morning, the Government said on the issue of review that the current process
“provides for systemic review of all public authorities’ use of the power and allows for continuous improvement” and so on. I think that “systemic” is probably not a typo, but I wondered whether it meant “systematic”; maybe it means both. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, would say it means “systemic”.
On Amendment 17, my noble friend stood back to consider the process as a whole; if he sets the grant of a CCA in the context of the deployment of the CHIS, it applies to agents used by the police and the intelligence services—not in exactly the same situations, of course—and provides for urgency.
We sought in Committee to answer the question of what follows with our own amendment to that of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. Amendment 34, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, addresses the need for an outcome. His amendment is clear about determination, and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said he would accept it. I was interested in the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, about how the matter might evolve. We do not oppose Amendments 33 and 34, but notification is not approval, as noble Lords have noted, so they are different issues, and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and our amendment are compatible. My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford was very persuasive on the possible fallout if there is no prior notification. The breadth of his speech has spared me, and therefore your Lordships, having to wind up on that, so I am grateful to him.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, spoke of
“operational practicality together with rigorous scrutiny.”—[
I would summarise amendments on the subject of this debate as indicating that we prize independence, objectivity and respect for the rule of law—the protection of the citizen against the state as well as by it. We particularly support, of course, Amendment 5 and our Amendment 17.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this long but worthwhile debate. First, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I could have just referred noble Lords to his speech then sat down, because he made his points so succinctly and brought out some case examples. My noble friend Lord King talked about the recent NCA operation that managed to yield so much thanks to undercover operatives.
I also echo for a moment the summary by the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, and join her in thanking some of the undercover operatives who, as she said, literally risk their lives. I do not know, as I have not met any of them, but she is an expert in this area and, if she says that, I join her in tribute to them. There are no motives ulterior to keeping the public safe. She talked pertinently about oversight combined with the expertise provided for by this Bill and made the point that, when she started, there was no law at all governing the framework of this activity. She also talked about the Independent Reviewers of Terrorism Legislation—the two that were in our House and have contributed so much to this Bill, the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Anderson—and made the true point that there can be no exact accusation of conflict of interest with them. She talked about the vital role of the IPC—the report he does on a regular basis and the independence of the role. She talked about the double lock and made the point that judges have changed over the years, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, said, but so have the police and MI5. Noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Hain, in particular—will talk about some of the things that happened that under our new legal framework would not be either necessary or proportionate and would be ruled as such.
I shall start with the Investigatory Powers Commissioner: I want to welcome his most recent annual report, which was published during the passage of this Bill. He already plays an important role in providing independent oversight of this activity. But I have always been clear that the Government are willing to listen to the concerns of noble Lords and consider amendments to strengthen the Bill, providing they do not have an adverse effect on the ability of public authorities to do their job and keep us safe.
The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, which will require all authorisations to be notified to the IPCO as soon as reasonably practicable and within seven days, strikes this balance well, as many noble Lords have already articulated. It provides for greater oversight by the IPC, by making it close to real time, but keeps the authorising role in the hands of the authorising officer, who is best able to consider the specifics of the CHIS and the live environment when making what can be very urgent decisions. My noble friend Lord King, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay referred to the agile capabilities that they require. The Government will therefore support this amendment. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for his contributions to this and all preceding debates, as well as all others who supported this approach, including the Opposition Front Bench.
This amendment will mean that judicial commissioners will be able to consider each authorisation very soon after it has been granted. This will enable independent commissioners to ensure that every case complies with the wide range of other safeguards attached to this power, including the Human Rights Act and the necessity and proportionality considerations. They will also be able to ensure that any low users of the power are suitably trained and taking necessary and proportionate decisions. Where a commissioner has any comments on that authorisation, the authorising officer will take them into account. As noble Lords might expect, serious weight is given to the views of a judicial commissioner.
Noble Lords are familiar with the reasons why the Government cannot support Amendments 5 and 23, which require prior judicial approval of authorisations, and Amendments 16 and 20, which require involvement of the Secretary of State in the authorisation process. The authorising officer is best placed to make these decisions, which are very specific to each CHIS, based on their strengths and weaknesses, their experience and the particular environment in which they operate. As I have said, humans are different from machines and we do not have the luxury of remaking any of these decisions.
We must also ensure that we create a process that is workable for our operational partners; for example, sending all authorisations to the Secretary of State would be problematic in urgent situations. My noble friend Lord King outlined some of the issues there. These operational decisions are best made by those with operational experience. That is not to say that oversight by the Secretary of State is absent from the Bill.
I was pleased to meet the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Blunkett, for the chance to discuss this the other day—by Zoom, my noble friend Lord Cormack will be pleased to know. The nub of the issue is that they want some political sighting of exactly what is going on operationally to have a regular view of whether the power is working as intended. I promised the noble Lords that I would go back, and I confirm that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister will consider both the open and closed parts of the annual report from the IPC, which will include information about criminal conduct authorisation. If that identifies any issues that the Ministers feel are important to address, I reassure the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Blunkett, that they would look to address them.
Section 232 of the Investigatory Powers Act also provides judicial commissioners with the power to provide information to any person on the matters for which they are responsible. This provides another route, closer to real time, for any issues to be referred to the Secretary of State, as appropriate. I hope that this provides reassurance that political oversight of the overall regime will exist under this Bill.
IPCO also has an important independent oversight function, which would be strengthened by the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and we think this is the right approach.
I note the call from my noble friend Lord Cormack to get all the proponents of the different amendments together and agree a way through. The Opposition Front Bench proposes prior approval by judicial commissioners and then those same commissioners reviewing the conduct they have just authorised, together tonight with a third type of oversight as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. It may be because I am a simple soul, but I would be grateful for clarification from noble Lords of how they think a regime of notification and prior judicial approval and a division of authorisations would work in practice, as this approach seems incompatible. I would say, in short, that it fails the Occam’s razor test that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, posed to us.
I encourage noble Lords in the Opposition, who clearly see the merit in judicial notification, to support that amendment, which I think a majority of the House agree is a good approach. We are fortunate to have such experienced practitioners in this House, and to have those words from the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Carlile, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller—the list is quite extensive, and includes the my noble friend Lord King and the noble Lord, Lord Butler. I take their points very seriously.
I turn to the amendment suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who proposes an alternative solution, which would divide authorisation into two distinct components: the necessity and proportionality of participation in criminal conduct, and the specific and tactical tasking and deployment of the CHIS, with the judicial commissioner approving only the former.
The two components, however, influence each other to such a degree that they cannot be separated. You cannot disentangle decisions about operational dividend, which can be intrinsically tied up with details about the CHIS’s specific role in a terrorist or criminal group, from specific details about the CHIS or the crime that they are being authorised to commit. It is also not clear what benefit such a proposal would have; it seems to suggest that authorising from a judicial commissioner would be very broad. That was how I understood it the other day, when I spoke to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. We want to avoid this becoming a carte blanche for criminal conduct to be undertaken rather than the very specific authorisations that are given by authorising officers.
The proposal also seems to expose the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and the authorising officer to legal risk by splitting the proposal in such a way that they are responsible for different aspects of the authorisation. Furthermore, I fear that judicial commissioners could easily find themselves in a position of having agreed in some general sense that an authorisation should proceed, but then disagreeing with the actual conduct when they see it after the fact. That should give us some pause for thought. It would then be compromised, because the authorising officer would rightly say that they had proceeded only on the basis that the commissioner already approved the legality of the proposals. For those reasons—and they are very strong reasons—the Government cannot support the amendment.
I would hope that the fact that a senior and independent judge will have oversight of all authorisations soon after they have been granted will offer reassurance to those noble Lords who have suggested alternative forms of oversight.
I turn to the amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. The Government have considered the workability of providing judicial commissioners with a formal power to quash an authorisation. The same issues that apply to prior judicial approval are also relevant here; the authorising officer is best placed to consider the specifics of the authorisation, including the live operational environment and the safety of the CHIS. We therefore consider that judicial commissioners are also not best suited to decide that an authorisation must be quashed and, in particular, which aspects of an authorisation should continue. The considerations, especially for CHIS safety and safety of the public, are the same. Of course, authorising officers will take into account any views or concerns that a judicial commissioner expressed and they would work together to resolve any issues. We expect that instances of commissioners disagreeing with an authorisation will be very rare, and the evidence from the existing notification regime for the deployment of undercover law enforcement officers supports this.
I should like to set out how I expect the process to work in practice. If a judicial commissioner expressed concerns with an authorisation, they could then flag these to the authorising officer on receiving the notification of an authorisation’s grant. In all instances, regardless of whether the activity has commenced or not, the authorising officer must take into account any concerns raised by a judicial commissioner and would work with the commissioner to address them.
The best course of action would depend on the specifics of the case. Appropriate action could include further information being provided to the judicial commissioner or, if the CHIS is not considered to be safe, stopping the activity and safely extracting the CHIS from that situation. The judicial commissioner’s views on the validity of the CCA will be taken extremely seriously. However, there may be times when the authority has competing responsibilities under the ECHR, for example to protect life, that do not bind the judicial commissioner. In these circumstances, the public authority will, under our Bill, be able to take lawful steps to protect life.
Where the activity has started, the authorising officer must take into account any concerns that have been raised and they will continue to discuss this with the judicial commissioner. The judicial commissioner may advise the authorising officer that the activity should be reported to the relevant authority, for example a law enforcement body or prosecutors. It would then be for prosecutors and a court to determine whether the authorisation was lawful. While the primary responsibility for making that report rests with the public authority, judicial commissioners are also able to refer matters directly to the relevant authorities, as set out in Section 232 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. This confirms the assertion of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay.
Let me again give the reassurance that a public authority would not simply ignore feedback from the IPCO. This is a collaborative process and the views of the commissioners carry serious weight. I hope that for these reasons I can reassure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, that the existing process is the correct one.
Amendments 43, 47 and 48 would require review by a senior judge of the use of criminal conduct authorisations. Senior judges will be considering each authorisation soon after they have been granted, and I hope that this reassures the noble Lord that the amendment is not necessary.
I hope I have provided reassurance throughout these debates that there are robust safeguards in place to prevent the misuse of this power. Independent oversight is just one example, but it is very important. Recognising this, and the strength of feeling in this debate, I encourage noble Lords to support the amendment in the name of the expert noble Lord, Lord Anderson, if he pushes it to a vote.
I congratulate the Minister on her tenacity and her grasp of detail, which is reassuring and refreshing. Would she consider providing a regular quarterly update to the Home Secretary in addition to the annual report to which she has referred—part of which is redacted and part of which is on public record? In that way, there is at least some responsibility in the political arena as an ongoing feature of the new pattern, which is clearly going to involve Amendment 33 and the consequentials.
While I have the opportunity, I thank the noble Lord for the conversation we had the other day—it was very helpful in allowing me to know exactly what both noble Lords required. I cannot give that undertaking at the Dispatch Box but I can go back and ascertain just how often the Home Secretary receives these reports and whether the Investigatory Powers Commissioner might be thinking of making more regular reports in future if necessary, or indeed spot reports as and when required. I can certainly undertake to do that.
I too thank the Minister for her reply and for her engagement. It is clear from the balance of the debate that there is no point in my pressing Amendment 16, and therefore when the time comes, I will not seek to divide the House on it.
However, to follow up on the question of my noble friend Lord Blunkett, will the Minister give an assurance that the Home Secretary will take a particular interest in the most politically sensitive deployment of a CHIS, which is the area that has given rise to real worry? Whether that is in the form of a quarterly report or regular interactions with the head of the Metropolitan Police, other chief constables and the head of the security services is a matter for consideration, but there should be some hands-on authority by the Home Secretary and regular interest in deployments in politically sensitive areas.
It was very good for us to have a chat the other day because we could discuss things that clearly we cannot discuss on the Floor of the House. I completely understood the sensitivity between some very nuanced situations and the purely operational role of the deployment of CHIS for criminal conduct. I will most certainly go back and put those points. Again, I thank the noble Lord for the time he took to discuss his concerns with me.
My Lords, the Minister has already been congratulated on her mastery of the detail. I congratulate her also on her physical and intellectual stamina. It has been quite a tour de force, particularly as I know what other business she has this week and on most days.
As someone who has had no security experience, I have found this a fascinating debate. I had very limited experience when I was a Minister in Northern Ireland. When I first got there, we had to sign extensions to hold people in detention under the terrorism legislation, although that was quickly handed over to judges. That was my primary direct experience, but it gave me an understanding of the security situation in Northern Ireland before and after the ceasefire. However, I bow to the greater experience of those who have strong security experience and indeed those who have strong experience of having—[Inaudible.].
I still believe that there is quite a strong thread of support in the debate for prior judicial authorisation. The “prior” bit has not really been hit on the head, despite the merits of some of the other arguments relating to other amendments. In the circumstances, and without my going through all the arguments—it is much too late for that—I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 278, Noes 283.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 6 and I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.