Amendment 15

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 13th January 2021.

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Baroness Massey of Darwen:

Moved by Baroness Massey of Darwen

15: Clause 1, page 3, line 2, at end insert—“(8A) A criminal conduct authorisation may not authorise any criminal conduct—(a) intentionally causing death or grievous bodily harm to an individual or being reckless as to whether such harm is caused;(b) involving an attempt in any manner to obstruct or pervert the course of justice;(c) amounting to an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 or any offence listed in Schedule 3 to the Sexual Offences Act 2003;(d) subjecting an individual to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, within the meaning of Article 3 of Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998; or(e) depriving a person of their liberty, within the meaning of Article 5 of Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment establishes a prohibition on the authorisation of serious criminal offences, in similar terms to that appearing in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act 1985.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friends Lord Dubs and Lord Rosser and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for adding their names in support of this amendment.

The bottom line on this amendment is to include a prohibition on the authorisation of serious criminal offences. It establishes a prohibition on such offences listed in my amendment; these are in similar terms to those in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act 1985, which I will refer to later.

I am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, as is my noble friend Lord Dubs, and I will refer to its report on the Bill, published last November. The committee had serious concerns about this part of the Bill, and I shall put this amendment to a Division unless I receive a thorough reassurance from the Minister.

In chapter 4 of the JCHR report, four issues are discussed: first, there being no express limit in the Bill on the type of crime that can be committed; secondly, consideration of the approach taken in other jurisdictions; thirdly, the power to prohibit certain conduct by order; and fourthly, the Human Rights Act as an effective safeguard.

In their written response to the JCHR report, published on Monday, the Government give detailed consideration to the recommendations in this amendment. I am grateful for that, but I do not think it covers all our concerns as a committee. The Minister will perhaps reflect these considerations in her response. It is helpful that the Government restate their commitment to human rights in the response at the end of section 3. They say that

“the United Kingdom is committed to human rights and will continue to champion human rights at home and abroad. The United Kingdom is committed to the ECHR.”

But evidence of the commitment to human rights has to be demonstrated and reinforced, and I am concerned that by not expressing limits in the Bill on the type of crime that can be authorised, human rights are not being defended.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has expressed the concern that:

“The Bill contains no express limit on the types of criminal conduct that can be authorised. Even the most serious offences such as rape, murder, sexual abuse of children or torture, which would necessarily violate a victim’s human rights, are not excluded on the face of the Bill.”

The Home Office, in its guidance on limits of authorised conduct, consider this necessary because

“to do so would place into the hands of criminals, terrorists and hostile states a means of creating a checklist for suspected CHIS to be tested against.”

In their joint written submission to the JCHR, the NGOs Reprieve, the Pat Finucane Centre, Privacy International and Big Brother Watch note that under the Canadian Security Intelligence Act there is a power to authorise criminal conduct similar to that proposed in the Bill. However, the Canadian legislation expressly provides that nothing in the Act justifies the issues set out in my amendment. They are, to summarise: causing death or grievous bodily harm; perverting the course of justice; any offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 or the 2009 Act in Scotland; subjecting an individual to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as in the meaning of the HRA 1998; or depriving a person of their liberty.

The government position is that the Human Rights Act provides a guarantee against certain criminal conduct. However, paragraph 40 of the Joint Committee on Human Rights report points out:

“Reliance on the HRA as providing an effective limit on the conduct that can be authorised appears inconsistent with the Government’s justification for its refusal to exclude specific offences on the face of the Bill. If a criminal gang or terrorist group was familiar enough with the relevant legislation to test a CHIS against it, they would presumably be equally able to test them against the guarantees and protections set out in the HRA.”

The Committee did not think it

“appropriate to legislate by providing open-ended powers and relying on the HRA as a safety net.”

Paragraph 42 of the Joint Committee on Human Rights report states:

“The Government should not introduce unclear and ambiguous laws that would, on their face, purport to authorise state-sanctioned criminality that would lead to serious human rights violations such as murder, sexual offences and serious bodily harm. The existence of the HRA does not alter this.”

The Committee noted that the Human Rights Act

“has not prevented previous human rights violations connected with undercover investigations or CHIS. For example, the HRA was in force for much of the period when undercover police officers of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit were engaging in intimate relationships with women involved in the groups they had infiltrated.”

The JCHR states that

“The position taken by the Home Office in the ECHR memorandum is concerning. In respect of criminal conduct that violates absolute rights, such as the right to life and the prohibition on torture, the intention behind that conduct cannot justify the violation.”

One of the witnesses to the JCHR inquiry stated that

“to suggest the state bears no responsibility because the conduct may have taken place even without an authorisation is wholly unconvincing.”

The committee noted—as described in some detail in our report—that other countries with similar legislation, including Canada, the USA and Australia, have expressly ruled out enabling the more serious offences. It concluded:

“There appears to be no good reason why the Bill cannot state clearly that certain offences or categories of offences are incapable of authorisation. The protections provided by the HRA are important. However, reliance on the HRA to make up for the lack of any specific constraint on the type of criminal conduct that can be authorised is inadequate. A power as exceptional as that provided by the Bill requires careful and specific constraints … The Bill requires amendment to include a prohibition on the authorisation of serious criminal offences, in similar terms to that appearing in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act.”

I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Judge 5:00 pm, 13th January 2021

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, and to express my support for the amendment she has just moved.

I have to say that I am wholly unconvinced by the argument that adherence to the Human Rights Act is all that is needed. The fact is that the convention rights set out in the schedule to that Act were not designed for this situation at all. Their purpose is to define the rights of individuals against the state, as represented by public bodies. It is not a catalogue of what individuals may or may not do to each other. Of course, the sources that the police may use must have these protections against those who use them. But to use the convention rights in the Human Rights Act to define what the sources may do to other people or may be encouraged to do to other people is to take those rights completely out of context.

Furthermore, reference to these rights lacks the precision and clarity that is needed to deal with what a source may or may not be authorised to do. If you look at Article 2 of the list of convention rights—the right to life—what is really dealt with there is the right to life as against the things that a state may do: depriving the individual of his life except in circumstances where that may be absolutely necessary; and the circumstances are set out there. Article 3 deals with the prohibition of torture, although I notice that it omits the word “cruel” before “inhuman”, which is in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the UN convention against torture. Therefore, if one was trying to define the prohibition or the control against the misuse of sources, one would want to put in the word “cruel”, which is more easily understood than the word “inhuman”. Article 4 deals with the prohibition of slavery and forced labour, which is drifting far away from what we need to have as reassurance in the matter we are dealing with here. So it is with Article 5, which is the right to liberty and security, and which really deals with the circumstances in which an individual may be arrested or detained by the police. Furthermore, there is no mention in the convention rights of rape or other sexual offences, no doubt because that is what people do to each other, not what public authorities do to their citizens.

That said, I have to confess, if the noble Baroness will forgive me, that some of the wording of amendment 15 troubles me. The criterion we must apply is that what we have asked to be set out in the statute should be clear and easily understood. Proposed new subsection (8A)(b), which is given in Amendment 15, refers to

“an attempt in any manner to obstruct or pervert the course of justice.”

That is a very wide-ranging crime, and I am not sure that it would be sensible to include it in this list because very often it may be a relatively minor thing to do, with no psychological or physical consequences to anybody; it is just obstructing the interests of justice. Paragraphs (d) and (e) refer to the Human Rights Act, but for the reasons I have given, I would prefer that that reference was omitted. The Canadian example to which the noble Baroness referred is clearer in its wording. For example, when dealing with obstructing or perverting the course of justice, it includes the word “wilfully”, which would be wise if one is trying to strike the right level of balance in dealing with these matters. It refers to the torture convention when defining what is meant by torture, which I would support, particularly because it includes the word “cruel”. As for paragraph (e), when the amendment refers to depriving a person of their liberty, it really means detaining an individual, which is what the Canadian example gives. The Canadian example adds another point: damaging property. It might be wise to think of including something along those lines too. To take the example of committing or participating in arson, that would give rise to a serious risk to individuals who are in the building and it would be as well to include that along the same lines and for the same reasons as the others in the list. I suggest that some matters might have to be looked at again if the amendment is to be taken further.

I wish to emphasise one thing, as I did at Second Reading, which is that great weight must be given to the obligation in the torture convention. That convention does not merely require states to abstain from torturing people. It requires them to do more than that; it requires them to do everything in their power to avoid torture in any circumstances. I would therefore support an amendment which particularly includes the reference to torture as something that would never be authorised in any circumstances whatever.

Despite these misgivings, and extending again my apology to the noble Baroness for criticising her carefully drafted amendment, and because I believe the Government must think again, I support Amendment 15.

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

Speaking for the Opposition, I reiterate our appreciation of the work that our police and security services do on our behalf to keep us safe and our country secure. We know only too well that what they do makes a real difference.

Amendment 15, so ably moved by my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen and to which my name is also attached, would put limits in the Bill on the crimes that could be authorised under a criminal conduct authorisation. The serious crimes that could not be authorised would cover murder, grievous bodily harm, torture and degrading treatment, serious sexual offences, depriving someone of their liberty and perverting the course of justice.

The Government have given an assurance that the Bill

“would not allow the public authorities named in the Bill to grant CHIS unlimited authority to commit any and all crimes. To allow this would breach the Human Rights Act 1998”.

In that context, I note the comments that were just made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, about the Human Rights Act 1998. However, the Bill itself contains no explicit limit on the types of criminal conduct that can be authorised. The Government say that to have a list of offences excluded from being given a criminal conduct authorisation would lead to covert human intelligence sources being tested against that list. But placing no explicit limit on the types of crimes that can be authorised is not the approach that has been taken in other jurisdictions, where the same risks of CHIS being tested would apply. As my noble friend Lady Massey has said, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act contains a power to authorise criminal conduct similar to that proposed in the Bill, but the legislation provides that nothing in that Act justifies many of the serious crimes also excluded under this amendment.

The FBI in the USA operates under guidelines that do not permit an informant to participate in any act of violence, except in self-defence. In Australia, the legislation provides protection from criminal responsibility and indemnification for civil liability only where the conduct does not involve the participant engaging in anything likely to cause death or serious injury to, or involve the commission of a sexual offence against, any person. The Government maintain that countries which have lists of such offences do not have similar criminality to us, but it is not clear what the established basis is for that assertion.

The Government then say that such a list of serious offences is not necessary, because the Human Rights Act provides all the protection needed against such serious crimes being given a criminal conduct authorisation. But if a criminal or terrorist group was sufficiently conversant with the terms of legislation excluding specific offences from being authorised to be able to test a CHIS, it would almost certainly also be sufficiently conversant with the protections against serious crimes being authorised in the Human Rights Act to test a CHIS if, as the Government presumably believe, those protections are clear-cut.

However, the Bill does not preclude specific criminal conduct being prohibited through a list, since it gives the Secretary of State the power, through secondary legislation, to prohibit the authorisation of any specified criminal conduct. Since it would be secondary legislation, Parliament would not get the right to amend what was put forward by the Secretary of State, as it would with primary legislation. Since the Government, presumably, do not believe that whatever criminal conduct might be prohibited from being authorised through such publicly available secondary legislation could be used by criminals as a checklist against which to test a covert human intelligence source, and put such sources at risk, it is not clear why explicit limits cannot also be set out in primary legislation.

The Government say that the Human Rights Act imposes an effective limit on criminal conduct that could be authorised under the Bill, since all public authorities are bound by the HRA and the need to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. That does not make it appropriate or desirable to legislate without some key details in respect of serious crimes in the Bill—serious crimes that are surely well above the nature of criminal conduct that one might expect would be authorised for a CHIS—so that a refusal to commit such crimes could hardly be proof of a CHIS, as no doubt many others involved in a gang would have limits on how far they are prepared to go when it comes to the serious crimes we are talking about.

The Bill needs to be clear that certain offences or categories of offences are incapable of authorisation. Powers as exceptional as state-authorised criminality, under the terms of this Bill, must have clearly stated constraints on what crimes can be authorised. This amendment provides such an appropriate safeguard.

Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland) 5:15 pm, 13th January 2021

My Lords, I have not intervened on the Bill to date. It has been well-served by the wide range of expertise across the House. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for their coherent explanations of support for this amendment. My brief intervention now is in the light of the Scottish Government’s current withholding of consent to the Bill. I appreciate that the first response to that action might be to dismiss it, as it is consistent with the Scottish Government’s reaction to other consent issues.

However, while the Scottish Justice Minister Humza Yousaf accepts that there is a case for the law, he is concerned that the Bill is drawn too widely and lacks adequate safeguards. His views are entirely consistent with the concerns expressed across the House. He has explained his preference for prior approval by a judicial commissioner, which has been debated and raised responses, although that consideration is still being argued. This amendment, coupled with that which was carried on Monday inserting an expectation of reasonableness, would go some way to addressing these understandable concerns.

It is widely understood and accepted that undercover agents operate to protect the state and its citizens from hostile actions. This necessitates behaviour that, in normal circumstances, might be considered criminal. Both operatives and citizens need to be reassured that actions will be reasonable and proportionate, and that this is not a gratuitous licence. A number of cases where actions were not deemed appropriate have been mentioned in our debates, but so has an understanding that undercover agents carry out vital work that saves lives. The law needs to protect them in their duties—we are talking of the police and Prison Service, in Scotland—and people who might be directly affected by their actions.

It is also clear, as asserted in all contributions to the debate so far, that the Human Rights Act alone is not an adequate safeguard. As an aside, it does not apply to British sovereign bases in Cyprus, for example. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, despite his reservations about some of this amendment’s wording, clearly recognised the need to have human rights issues summarised and incorporated in the legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made the same case and the interesting comparison that, as the Human Rights Act is well known, there is no reason for not putting these specific exclusions in the Bill.

As was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, this amendment’s terms are similar to those in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act 1985. Can the Minister indicate whether Canada has experienced any problems with this element of its law, which has been in place for some years? After all, to commit murder, to inflict serious injury deliberately or to perpetrate rape, sexual offences, torture or imprisonment is not what we could reasonably expect of our agents.

I understand that, as of today, the Scottish Minister does not yet consider that the Bill is ready for him to recommend, and this amendment alone will not do it. He is still looking for amendments to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000. Can the Minister indicate whether the concerns of the Scottish Minister can be met and the Government’s view about those reservations? I do not believe the citizens of the United Kingdom would argue for a lower standard than that set by a close and valued ally and friend, such as Canada. I am sure that the Minister will want to give assurance that the safeguards are adequate and sufficient, and in so doing ensure that this law secures the consent of all parts of the UK.

In conclusion, I can say only that the balance that the Bill is striving for has raised legitimate questions and concerns about a whole range of issues, of which this is just one. The reservations of both the Government and Parliament of Scotland are, I am told in good faith, a desire to ensure that the Bill is structured in a way that meets the objectives of the Government but also the safeguards being sought by Members of this House and the Scottish Parliament. In those circumstances, I hope the Minister can assure us that it will be possible to bridge that gap, because it would surely be far better for the Bill to be passed with the consent of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament than not.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak to the amendment. I speak, of course, as a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, a position I share with my noble friend Lady Massey, and her amendment reflects very effectively the concerns of the committee about this issue—although the committee was, of course, also concerned by a whole range of other aspects of the Bill.

I can be very brief, but it can surely never be right for the state to authorise the gravest of crimes: torture, murder or extremes of sexual violence. That is the basis of this amendment, which I therefore fully support.

The Government have said that if we set limits on the offences to be covered by the Bill, that will risk that agents could be tested by the groups that they have infiltrated—in other words, that they would then challenge the CHIS, if they suspect them to be a CHIS, to commit one of those offences and therefore he or she would be revealed. As has already been said, other countries have the same safeguards: the United States, Australia and Canada. They already place express limits on the crimes CHIS can commit. If that works for the security services in Australia, the United States and Canada, it can surely apply to us.

The Government have said that the limits can be safeguarded by the Human Rights Act. Frankly, that is not certain at all. The Government have been hesitant about the Human Rights Act anyway, and I believe—the Minister may confirm this—that the Human Rights Act does not apply to abuses committed by agents of the Government. There is concern that this aspect of the Bill may be relevant to criminal conduct authorised overseas. That is a very dangerous situation indeed, and again I would welcome the chance to hear from the Minister whether or not that is so.

The Government produced comments on the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and in particular said that we cannot go down the path of Canada, the United States and Australia because they are not under the European Convention on Human Rights and we are. That is not a straightforward argument. Canada has its own version of the European Convention on Human Rights and the United States has its own Bill of Rights, so it would be wrong to say that they are not protected by a human rights convention such as covers us. That is not a very good argument. In any case, in the United States, the FBI, as we are learning from the events of last week, has thousands of agents each year operating within terrorist and mafia groups which pose grave threats to the public, yet the United States places express limits on what crimes the FBI’s covert agents can commit.

The amendment is a proper one; it is a proper safeguard; it is something that those of us who believe in human rights would say ought to be there. We need the extra protection of the amendment: the Human Rights Act itself is not sufficient.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, I believe the amendment could be improved; nevertheless, like him, I support it. I support its basic principle. I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, said.

I was very glad the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, began by paying tribute to the police and those who keep us safe, following that splendidly spirited speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, on Monday, when she talked about the bravery of many who serve in the Secret Service. All that I endorse, but it cannot be right for the state to connive at the committing of heinous crimes: rape, murder or torture. I tabled an amendment in Committee specifically citing those crimes. When I saw the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on the Order Paper, I decided not to resubmit mine because she seemed to have covered it.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, made a wonderful forensic demolition of the Government’s citing support for resisting amendments such as this from the Human Rights Act. That really does not wash. I am bound to say that, in the various conversations I had with officials in the Home Office—I again thank my noble friend for making them possible—the only area where I felt the defence was very weak was in the opposition to an amendment along these lines. We have heard colleagues cite Canada and Australia, and again surely we cannot say that what has worked for almost 40 years in Canada without any apparent obstacle could not work here.

We are a civilised country that always proclaims its belief in the rule of law, the prime requirement of which is to defend all our citizens—hence this unpleasant but necessary Bill—and I submit to your Lordships that it would be completely wrong not to have a brake on the powers that a CHIS can be given. We have seen in the rather unpleasant stories that have come out in the recent inquiry, where women have been seduced when organisations that do not place the state in danger have been infiltrated, that things can get out of hand. I do not want to be part of any endorsement of the commission of murder, rape or torture. That is why, although I believe the amendment can be improved during ping-pong, if it is put to the vote, I will support it.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, has withdrawn, so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, I will be short on this, not just to please my friend the Government Whip but because I want us to move to a vote as soon as possible—certainly before the black dog that is conjured in my mind as a result of our not being able to improve the Bill so far overwhelms me. It almost certainly will if we do not achieve some improvement pretty fast. I completely associate myself with the eloquent remarks of my noble friends Lady Massey, Lord Rosser and Lord Dubs in particular, but the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has once more spoken from such a principled position in his constructive criticism of the Bill.

Briefly, the Human Rights Act is not enough to prohibit criminal offences. The European convention and the Human Rights Act require states to have effective criminal law, but if the Act or the convention were enough by themselves, we would need no criminal law at all. Clearly that is a nonsense. These are high-level, international protections that must be implemented in detail by criminal law; otherwise, there will be violations of the very convention rights on which the Government seek to rely.

Secondly, the checklist argument—I think it was referred to in the other place as the “Sopranos” arguments—on which the Government rely in opposition to suggestions of the kind in Amendment 15 is both circular and hollow. If the authorising officer and the undercover CHIS agent being authorised understood in all circumstances, for example, that rape or GBH are contrary to Article 3 of the convention, I put it to your Lordships that so would sophisticated organised criminal gangs and terrorist organisations. The convention, if it were so effective for these purposes, would be its own checklist.

For those reasons and the obvious reasons that the state cannot authorise these sorts of grave crimes in any circumstances and comply with common decency, equality before the law and human rights, I urge all Members of your Lordships’ House to support Amendment 15.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 5:30 pm, 13th January 2021

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on tabling the amendment. I am deeply sad that it needed to be tabled. It is staggering that the Government could even try to legislate in such broad terms to permit people to commit murder or any sort of outrage without limits and with blanket legal immunity. I would have used the word “inconceivable”, but obviously at some point somebody has conceived that this would be all right. I very much dispute that.

The Government’s response is also that some sort of ethereal legal soup will magically prevent these powers being used for murder, rape or torture. That just is not good enough. This question has to be put beyond any doubt.

The amendment also covers the issue of obstructing or perverting the course of justice. The people who use the powers in the Bill are the very people entrusted by society to uphold the law and fight for justice. The fact that the Bill even puts into any question that they might obstruct or pervert the course of justice is frankly embarrassing.

I mentioned earlier public incredulity, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, put it, from anyone not involved in day-to-day policing, because when they are told of this practice of advanced immunity, they are frankly horrified. When I was buying a coffee today in my local grocers, I explained this part of the Bill to Max, who was making my coffee. He was shocked and said, “It’s a licence for crime. It’s a licence to kill. It’s a licence to commit endless perversions of the law.” The rule of law demands that we pass the amendment and insist on it at ping-pong.

Photo of Viscount Brookeborough Viscount Brookeborough Crossbench

My Lords, I had not intended to intervene—[Inaudible]—discussed in the context of CHIS operating in non-terrorist criminal organisations and rather less of those in terrorist groups. Because the Bill covers both at once, I feel there is a danger—[Inaudible]—extent that it might seriously inhibit the latter, which is the fight against terrorism. I therefore cannot fully support the amendment as a whole, but I would support proposed new subsection (c) on sexual offences on its own if I could do so.

The major difference between non-terrorist crime and terrorism is that the former—[Inaudible]—of death. Terrorism always has death and destruction as its aim. I know little about the former apart from what I have read in the press and heard in the very excellent debates on the Bill. However, I have some knowledge of—[Inaudible]—we remember the serious nature of the criminality that terrorist groups seek to carry out. The intelligence that CHIS gather prevents large numbers of deaths and serious harm to the public.

There have been, I believe, some misconceptions in these debates about the terrorist world. There has been mention of informer—[Inaudible.] All agents are informers, but not all informers are agents. The single-use informer is a person who is short term only and would probably be paid off or given another life after the operation, such as the dismantling of a drug-dealing gang. This is because he will have been exposed by the arrest—[Inaudible]—operator in a large organisation that provides ongoing information that can go on for years or even decades. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, suggested that a CHIS operating under one of these authorisations is called a participating informer. Perhaps that was so in the areas of his experience, but it was not so in mine, when—[Inaudible]—these types of agents, strategic agents in a terrorist group or short-term criminal informers.

In Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, said:

“Let us suppose that in becoming a member of a terrorist organisation, a CHIS is required to fill out a membership form … The handlers may therefore assist”—[Official Report, 24/11/20; col. 151.]

in filling the form out. I hesitate to disagree with such an eminent noble and learned Lord, and while I do not doubt that this might be the case for other groups, I am not aware of any terrorist organisation that produces a membership application—although the IRA had a green book that was given to people once they were inducted.

[Inaudible]—in Northern Ireland for 23 years of the Troubles. More recently, I am well aware of the agent-handling protocols from the Troubles era and that they have been adapted and improved for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. For centuries, perhaps for all time, there have been spies and intelligence gatherers at state level, where it is basically strategic intelligence within a pyramid of government structure. This is, if you like, the Le Carré world. Spies rarely have to commit crimes, such as planning and carrying out a bombing—[Inaudible]—in the last 60 years is worldwide terrorism and the need to have long-term deep plants or active terrorists who have been turned.

[Inaudible]—that states have. Terrorist organisations are very flat in structure and every person from the top to the bottom is—[Inaudible]—for want of a better word. They are active terrorists. It is also important to realise that it is very difficult to—[Inaudible.] In 40 years of the Troubles, there were only, I believe—[Inaudible]—figures of such people. We saw what happened when Robert Nairac thought he could become a member of a family. As a result, most CHIS are turned terrorists or at the very least members of the same communities. They will have committed and will almost certainly continue to commit crime—[Inaudible]—a big part of the induction process in the first place. There are no convenient forms to sign, and any reluctance to take part, from initiation onwards, is suicidal.

Imposing these legal limits, as laid down in the amendment, could put CHIS in the terrorist world at substantial risk. After being inducted into a terrorist organisation, every part of that individual’s life from then on contributes, one way or another, to the terrorist aims, death and destruction—criminality of the highest order. Becoming a CHIS cannot change that much. However, the outcomes of their provision of intelligence saved many lives.

I shall give a true example of a small event. An agent turned up at a meeting of his IRA ASU—active service unit—in the county where I live. He was told to deliver a car bomb immediately. He could not refuse. He delivered the car and, luckily, the TPU—the timer power unit—gave him time to call his handler from a call box before the bomb was to blow up, thereby avoiding loss of life. If I may say so, that is not the most extreme case.

Of course it is right that CHIS activity should be regulated and the Bill does just that. There are protections in place such as the Human Rights Act. However, there may be times when participation in serious crime is necessary and at short notice. Any refusal to be involved would result in the loss of an agent, and no further information from that source. It may have taken years for him to become so deeply involved. This is real life in that terrifying world. The running of the protection of such people is vital and complex. There has to be a way in which to manage them. Inserting increasingly tight legal limits on what they can and cannot do is not the way forward, as those limits may be largely unenforceable in those circumstances.

I will not go into examples of the protection. However, there is an analogy which shows the value of sources. The Enigma was a provider of intelligence, albeit a machine, rather than a person. When the code was broken, the first signal referred to an immediate attack on a convoy by U-boats. It struck me that that was a similar situation to those of some agents. Turing’s colleagues said quickly, “We must warn the convoy.” He said, “No. We cannot risk such a valuable source for the future, or that will be the end of it.” That is one of the problems for the CHIS.

Terrorism is—[Inaudible]—operations alone. The use of many long-term, deep-intelligence CHIS creates a cancer within the terrorist organisations that does so much damage to them that, although they do not admit defeat, they begin to realise that they cannot win. That turning point is sought after by Governments worldwide, and very much due to CHIS.

In the months prior to the ceasefire in Northern Ireland, over 90% of planned terrorist operations failed or did not take place, largely as a result of long-term deep CHIS. I and my family were among the beneficiaries of such intelligence. I believe that this and some of the other amendments will inhibit the fight against the worldwide terrorist threat.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, we support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen. I have added my name to it.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, seems to have blown the Government’s reliance on the European Convention on Human Rights out of the water. Even if he was wrong, which I very much doubt, I fail to understand the difference between a list of offences that can be deduced from the convention and an offence listed in the Bill. The Government’s argument seems to be solely based on the danger of the CHIS being tested by asking them to perform prohibited acts. Yet as the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Cormack, have said—the amendment being based on the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act 1985—the Canadians seem to have had no such qualms or difficulties.

In any event, is the cat not out of the bag already? Do criminals read Hansard? That is about as likely as they are to read primary legislation, in my experience. We have the list of prohibited offences published as a proposed amendment. The Minister is saying that those offences would be prohibited anyway under the ECHR, so what is to be lost? I understand the reservations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, about the wording of the amendment, but if the Government do not give an undertaking to bring this matter back at Third Reading, it can be approved on ping-pong, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said.

I go back to what the Minister said in a different context in Committee:

“We have been consistently clear that we want this important legislation to command the confidence of Parliament and the public”.—[Official Report, 1/12/20; col. 651.]

Here is an excellent opportunity to achieve that. I urge the Government to accept the amendment.

My noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie talks about the concerns of the Scottish Government and their call for prior judicial authorisation. After we have considered the amendment, we will come to the previously debated Amendment 17. It is this House’s last chance to insert prior judicial authorisation into the Bill, and I will be testing the opinion of the House on that amendment after we have, I hope, agreed to this one.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 5:45 pm, 13th January 2021

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. Although the line was not particularly good, the House will have found valuable the operational experience of the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. If I heard him correctly, he said that during the Troubles he thought that 90% of terrorist operations failed because of CHIS activity, clearly making the UK a far safer place.

The limits on what could be authorised under the Bill are provided by the requirement for any authorisation to be necessary and proportionate, and for an authorisation to be compliant with the Human Rights Act. Any authorisation that is not so compliant would be unlawful—for example, if, on the particular facts, an authorisation would amount to a breach of, say, Article 3, the prohibition against torture. The HRA also places protective obligations on the state, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, pointed out. Where the state knows of the existence of a real and immediate threat to a person, it must take reasonable measures to avoid that risk. That protective obligation is at the heart of CHIS authorisations. I have made the point before but I say again that nothing in the Bill seeks to undermine the important protections in the Human Rights Act. Public authorities will not and cannot act in breach of their legal obligations under the Act. All criminal conduct authorisations will comply with the Human Rights Act as well as with relevant domestic and international law.

The aim of a CHIS authorisation is to disrupt the activities of terrorist and criminal organisations. The authorisation is focused on enabling the CHIS to provide intelligence to do just that. The activities and conduct of those against whom the CHIS operates must not be confused with the CHIS’s conduct.

I highlight again to noble Lords the risks that we create by putting explicit limits in the Bill. These are not just risks that the Government have identified; we are being led by the advice and expertise of operational partners. The decisions that we have made throughout this Bill, particularly on this issue, are based entirely on the reality that our operational partners experience in the field—not on the views of myself or any other noble Lord but entirely on the reality that operational partners have told us about, from all parts of the UK. We have heard some very powerful examples from the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough.

We must not seek to make amendments to this very important Bill that have unintended consequences both for the CHIS themselves and the wider public. If we create a checklist in the Bill, we make it very easy for criminal gangs to write themselves a list of offences that amount to initiation tests. We have no doubt that some of those criminals seeking to demonstrate that they are not a CHIS will go away and do exactly what is asked of them, perhaps committing rape, in order to demonstrate their loyalty to the cause. Some of those who do not will suffer the consequences of wrongly being thought to be a CHIS, which is a point worth digesting.

This does not mean that, if a CHIS were asked to commit any crime as part of an initiation process, they could do so, not least because the Human Rights Act and necessity and proportionality tests already provide limits. It is simply that we need to avoid a refusal to conduct these awful actions being a strong indication to senior terrorists and criminals that a person is a CHIS. The consequences of presenting such a checklist would ultimately be felt by the public: because CHIS cannot be kept in play, there will be more successful terrorist attacks and more children will suffer sexual abuse.

I will again address remarks pointing to an apparent contradiction in the Government saying that we cannot provide limits because sophisticated groups will conduct CHIS testing—and that the Human Rights Act provides limits that these groups cannot identify. The people who are the subject of CHIS operations are many and varied; some are very sophisticated and capable organisations that will invest real effort to understand and frustrate our covert capabilities. These groups, which will include hostile states, will go to lengths to try to convert the HRA obligations into specific offences that they can then test against. They may feel that they have reached clear conclusions on some offences but will not know for certain in every case that their analysis is sound. This margin of uncertainty can be enough to keep CHIS working safely and effectively.

Let us go to the other end of the spectrum of our opponents: individuals and small groups that are no less committed to their crimes but are unsophisticated. Their effectiveness might often lie in their willingness to act quickly and violently. This kind of group will not have a sound understanding of the Human Rights Act or, indeed, any other deep legal analysis. If we simply presented them with a list of offences, we are certain that many of them would just use it as a means to try to identify CHIS. Of course, the reality is that they get it wrong very often, meaning that negative consequences would fall on people wrongly suspected of being CHIS as well as on the CHIS themselves. Let us do our best to avoid handing over a ready-made checklist to criminals and terrorists to carry out these checks.

Before I finish, I will respond to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, who talked about the problem with Scotland and the LCM. Conversations are ongoing, but he is absolutely right that prior judicial authorisation seems to be a sticking point, and we will do our best to resolve it. With those words, I hope that noble Lords will take great care when they consider whether to vote for these amendments.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

My name was down due to a fault of mine; I apologise for interrupting.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

I have reservations about some of the issues the Minister raised in summing up this excellent debate—most of them have been addressed by noble Lords. I thank all noble Lords for their varied and incisive comments and useful examples in this valuable, interesting and important debate.

I am particularly delighted that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, immediately followed me in this debate; he raised many issues and provided excellent analysis and clarifications. I accept his comments and am delighted that he feels he can support what he has called an imperfect amendment. He is also right in saying, as did the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and others, that great weight must be given to the issue of torture, which should never be authorised.

Other noble Lords have contributed varied arguments on my amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, made a useful contribution from the point of view of Scotland, where, interestingly, the Bill was found to be inadequate, as he said. That has been a theme throughout the debate, especially when discussing the Human Rights Act as an inadequate safeguard to prevent criminal offences. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, among many others, raised this issue, saying that we cannot legislate in such broad terms; it is not all right to do so.

In thanking noble Lords for participating in this debate, I note that, although I understand what the Minister is saying, the consensus is that there are too many inadequacies. Given those inadequacies, I beg to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 299, Noes 284.

Division number 1 Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill - Report (2nd Day) — Amendment 15

Aye: 299 Members of the House of Lords

No: 284 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Division conducted remotely on Amendment 15

Amendment 15 agreed.

Amendment 16 not moved.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees 6:11 pm, 13th January 2021

We come now to Amendment 17 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. Does the noble Lord wish to move his amendment?