Amendment to the Motion

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill - Third Reading – in the House of Lords at 2:18 pm on 21st January 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Votes in this debate

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb:

Moved by Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb

“Leave out from “that” to the end and insert “this House declines to allow the bill to pass because the bill (1) grants blanket prior legal immunity for otherwise criminal conduct without sufficient safeguards or oversight, (2) provides no system of prior judicial authorisation, (3) does not recover profits obtained under a Criminal Conduct Authorisation which could include proceeds from the sale of drugs, weapons, human trafficking and slavery, (4) fails to provide compensation to victims of crimes authorised under the bill, and (5) represents a significant expansion of undercover policing despite, and without regard to, the ongoing Undercover Policing Inquiry.”

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, noble Lords can imagine that there is a lot of legislation going through this House that I oppose. In the past, I have exercised restraint and have not been disruptive with procedural Motions, but there are times when we all need to make a stand, and this Bill, for me, is one of those situations. It is a terrible piece of legislation and I cannot be complicit in it, nor in future acts of state oppression that will be the result of our passing it, and I will, therefore, divide the House.

Noble Lords have spent many days trying to improve the Bill, and we have made a few positive steps, but even if the other place does not remove most of those amendments, the Bill is still so fundamentally flawed that it should not be allowed to pass. Scotland has had the sense to refuse the Bill and I wish that we would do the same. I was subject to police surveillance for more than a decade. I did not know about it, it did not affect me, and even when I found out, it really did not affect me very much—but others in your Lordships’ House were subject to similar but much worse surveillance, and many will not even know whether they were observed and under surveillance or not. The Bill does nothing to improve that situation; in fact, it will make things worse by granting total legal immunity to undercover officers, spies and informants.

There is also the fact that the Bill has been brought forward while the Undercover Policing Inquiry is still going on. Not far from here, that inquiry is hearing evidence about police infiltration of peaceful campaign groups and unions, and undercover officers forming sexual relationships with women. The Bill learns no lessons from that inquiry and does nothing to support the victims. It actually grants much broader legal immunity to the wrongdoers.

I am also concerned that I did not get a proper answer to my repeated questions about the proceeds of crimes authorised under the Bill. My conclusion is that the police will be able to authorise people to profit from criminal activities, and that there is no way for the state to recover those profits. I hope there will not be too many miscarriages of justice and abuses of power before we revisit and repeal this legislation. With all that in mind, I am sad that I am in a minority in opposing the Bill, but I cannot in conscience abstain and accept its passage. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

My Lords, as one of the many Cross-Benchers who has applied themselves to this Bill, I record my thanks to the Minister for her explanations and for the discussions with her, which I have enjoyed—no 48-hour weeks for her—and James Brokenshire, who continues to have all our good wishes; to the Bill team; to the police and MI5; to IPCO, whose monitoring function is so vital; and to the NGOs and individuals who campaign on these issues and do their best to keep us all honest. I am particularly grateful to those who brought the Third Direction case. There are issues of great public concern which simply do not come to the attention of Parliament without the spur of litigation, and this is one of them. I have also appreciated not only the speeches of other noble Lords but my informal dialogue with them, intensive at times, which in my experience can be achieved just as easily, if not quite so pleasurably, in a virtual House as in a physical one.

This Bill was not widely consulted on and went from Committee stage to Third Reading in the other place during a single day. It needed the time we were able to give it, and I believe that after seven days of debate we have achieved significant improvement and clarification. I thank the Minister in particular for working with me on real-time notification. I hope we can achieve a satisfactory result on the other excellent amendments that we have passed, including those of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, which improve notification and the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, on juvenile CHIS, while still enabling the Bill to be enacted by the start of the Court of Appeal hearing on 28 January, which I know is the Government’s ambition.

I have great respect for the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and understand her regrets, which are underlined by the withholding of consent by the Scottish Government, but I will not be voting for her amendment to the Motion. For all its difficult and controversial features, the Bill is a clear improvement on the opaque and poorly safeguarded arrangements that preceded it, and it has my support.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, I have bled your Lordships’ ears over this Bill long enough, so I can be short. I thank the Minister for her patience and fortitude but my profound fears about this legislation will continue for a very long time, until it is amended or repealed. My concerns are about the signal that it sends but, even more, about the serious human rights abuses that it will herald. It is, quite simply, the most constitutionally dangerous legislation that I have seen presented in this country in my working life.

I am rather ashamed not to have been able to persuade more of your Lordships of the profound dangers of allowing the Executive to grant advance immunity for criminal actions to a whole raft of their agents—not just the brave security services or the hard-pressed police but many other government agencies and quangos, and the members of our communities who inform for or work for them, including even children. It will not even be with prior judicial warrant. This legislation does not put current arrangements on a statutory footing, so it does not merely respond to the litigation mentioned by the previous speaker. As for that litigation, there may be a lesson here for those of us who at times have dabbled in test-case legislation: to be careful what we wish for when provoking the might of the state in this fashion.

Just as our cousins on the other side of the Atlantic are beginning to rebuild their own bedrock of the rule of law, it will take a little longer in our own jurisdiction. A lot is said of patriotism these days. My patriotism is not the love of a flag but, in a nutshell, a love of the NHS and the rule of law. This Bill abrogates the vital principle of equality before the law, which I think all people well understand. It is a very sad day for me. For the moment, like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I can only bear witness for the record—but that I must do. I cannot in good conscience support the Bill being passed off as law.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, always expresses herself firmly and persuasively. That said, I am afraid I could not agree with her less about this legislation. I support the passage of the Bill and want to thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who has been both consultative and a very good listener. She has also shown that she is prepared to move on important issues. Far from what the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said, the Bill puts CHIS on a solid, statutory footing.

It has improved the way in which CHIS are to be dealt with by creating a clear process, all of which is legally enforceable and accountable. The code of practice has been mentioned less frequently in our debates than it deserved. It is absolutely required reading for all who are involved, or perhaps even interested, in how CHIS are handled in this country. One thing to be emphasised about the code of practice is that because it is a code rather than an Act of Parliament, although it has the force of law, it is a living instrument which can be changed as needs must.

The Bill will make a beneficial difference for the authorities, for the CHIS themselves and for public safety. With the changes that have been made, which have been difficult and creative at times, I commend it to the House.

Photo of Lord Hendy Lord Hendy Labour

My Lords, it is my particular pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, although it is a particular discomfort to me to disagree with him on this occasion. The Bill proposes that the state should have the power to grant immunity for crimes committed in the future by agents on its behalf. I believe that the grant of such immunity is contrary to the rule of law, which prescribes that all are bound equally to observe the law, not least the criminal law. The fact that such immunity will derive from legislation if the Bill becomes law does not alter my belief.

Giving the state the power to exempt prospectively its agents from criminal law is the antithesis of this fundamental principle. A decision to prosecute or not should be granted only retrospectively, when all the facts and circumstances of the conduct at issue are known, including the nature of any authorisation and, above all, whether it is in the public interest to prosecute. The CPS makes such decisions all the time; that is compatible with the rule of law and equality before the law. This arrangement, as far as is known, has worked perfectly satisfactorily for the last 200 years. Instead, the Bill overturns this status quo, challenges the rule of law and gives the state unparalleled powers. I regret that on this occasion I cannot follow the advice of my noble friends on my party’s Front Bench and, as a matter of conscience, I am obliged to vote against the Bill.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour 2:30 pm, 21st January 2021

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for all the consultation she has gone through, and the Government for their flexibility in adjusting the Bill to the stage it has reached. I am also always pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and find that I think along the same lines as him, as I did when I was the Government’s Security Minister and he was outside the box, looking in to make sure that we behaved.

I am speaking against the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, albeit that she put it eloquently. We should be proud of the Bill. Putting our covert human intelligence agents’ behaviour on a statutory basis is to be praised. As I have said, agents save lives. In working under cover, CHIS need to be trusted by those on whom they are reporting. Put simply, if they are to be believed to be a gang member, they need to act like one. If they do not, it is no exaggeration to say that they could be killed. Their handlers must be able to authorise them to break the law in certain circumstances and subject to specific safeguards. This has been strengthened in our debates and we should be proud of that. The ISC believes that there is a need for such authorisations. It also supports the Government’s decision not to place limits on criminal conduct in the Bill itself for the reasons that were debated.

I have thought long and hard about the use of children and I have to say that, initially, I was very concerned about it. As an aside, I do not consider 16 to 18 year-olds children, but that is a different issue. As regards the use of those aged below 16, I now believe that they should be used in exceptional circumstances, and appropriate safeguards are in place to ensure that that can be done to maximum gain and with minimum risk.

In summary, as I say, we should be proud that we have put this issue on a statutory basis. The Bill is a necessary and useful piece of legislation.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, in nearly 30 years in your Lordships’ House, I have never seen a piece of legislation that has made me more uneasy than this Bill. To me it is counterintuitive to give anyone the power to pre-empt the application of the criminal law .

I of course support the need to do all that is necessary to protect our national security and to detect and prevent serious crime, but it should have been possible to find other means. To choose this moment to extend in legislation the legality of law-breaking seems most unwise. This, after all, is a time when Russia is without compunction using, both at home and abroad, deadly poisons to eliminate its enemies. When it succeeds, it denies it. When it fails, its leader blithely explains that when it wants to kill, it succeeds.

I give one simple and deliberately irrelevant example. If a burglar is killed by a householder protecting himself or his family, it is unlikely that a jury will convict him of murder or even manslaughter. That does not mean, however, that we should legislate to give ex-ante immunity to householders who kill burglars.

I have one more word on journalists. I tried to persuade your Lordships to require judicial authorisation for any requirement to force journalists to reveal their sources in cases covered by the Bill. The amendment was defeated by seven votes but I was comforted by the fact that three former Cabinet Secretaries voted for it.

The Bill will now pass, and I shall vote for it, but let us agree, at least informally, that its implementation should be monitored with rigour. All societies must defend their security but open societies must take especial care of how they do so. Yesterday, President Biden told the American people that

“we’ll lead not merely by the example of our power but the power of our example.”

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is absolutely right to bring forward her amendment to the Motion. I might want to criticise the details, which I do not intend to do, but she is right to do so. In fact, it would have been inconsistent with her rigid approach to the Bill for her not to do so. So, to that extent, I support her right to table the amendment; there is no question whatever about that. It gives me an opportunity to further vote for the Bill because I will not support the amendment to the Motion.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, just made a point about the open society. This is a problem and there is a disquiet here. As an open society, we need to protect our openness. However, when that openness is the very thing used to undermine and smash our open society, we have to say no. We have to have a process that defends our open society and is consistent with the rule of law. The Bill is perfect for that. I have no doubt that in future the Bill will be amended, but the language that has been used about it is extravagant and misleading.

I see that on Twitter it is described as the “Spy Cops Bill”. It has nothing to do with spy cops. It is completely different and that can be misleading. If I was a CHIS in Scotland, I would be a bit concerned at the moment about becoming a whistleblower because I am not sure whether the Scottish Government are fully behind the process.

Perhaps I may briefly also express thanks. I have not been involved in the detail but I took up the Minister’s opportunity for a discussion with the Bill team and some of the advisers, which I found useful. Indeed, as a result, they published more information. The case studies, which I used extensively on Report, should have been deployed even more. There has been a communication issue regarding the Bill, which I find a fault because the Government have not defended and promoted some of its practical aspects as much as they could have.

The Bill protects covert human intelligence sources. It makes sure that they are not put at risk by being tested by the criminal gangs they may have been sucked into involuntarily, as mentioned in some of the examples used in the case studies. It is not the case that all people knowingly go down that route; they get sucked in by their employers. As a non-expert in this area, I found the newly published guidance incredibly helpful.

My final point is on the pejorative language used, such as when quangos are dismissed as not important. Most of the quangos listed in the Bill are non-ministerial government departments and should not be dismissed by saying, “Oh, it doesn’t matter”. I find that kind of language unacceptable among parliamentarians because it deliberately seeks to mislead the public regarding what the Bill is about. It should stop.

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

My Lords, I have a lot of respect for the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and we support the spirit of her amendment to the Motion to the extent that we oppose the granting of legal immunity. We believe that the Bill undermines the rule of law—that is, the principle whereby all members of a society are considered equally subject to publicly disclosed legal codes and processes. As a result of the Bill, that is called into question, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, have said.

Where a police officer or member of the security services tasks a covert human intelligence source to commit an act defined in law as a crime, the person tasked will no longer be subject to publicly disclosed legal codes and processes. An existing system that has worked effectively for decades, whereby informants and agents are tasked to commit crime and the decision, almost without exception, not to prosecute is taken by the relevant prosecuting authority, after considering all the facts, will be swept aside.

It is to be replaced with what we consider an unsafe and undesirable power, vested in the hands of the police, the security services and numerous other public authorities, to grant legal immunity with no prior judicial authority. The main issue is not, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, says in her amendment to the Motion, that there are insufficient safeguards or oversight, although this is arguably true. It is the fact that immunity can be granted at all, making the illegal legal. That is the fundamental issue for us on these Benches. I expect the legality of this aspect of the Bill to be challenged in the courts. That said, the House fully debated this aspect of the Bill, and without the support of the Labour Party leadership, we on these Benches were unable to remove it.

Contrary to the amendment to the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, this House has clarified the existing position and improved the Bill, to ensure that innocent victims of crimes committed by those instructed to do so by state agents can seek compensation. Contrary to her amendment to the Motion, undercover policing is not being expanded by the Bill, although the Bill has shone more light on this aspect of policing. The number of public authorities that can deploy covert human intelligence sources has been reduced by the Bill. The directed criminal activity of those informants and agents has been placed on a statutory footing, rather than the Bill enabling it to increase.

From the start, we recognised the need to place the tasking of covert human intelligence sources to commit crime on a statutory basis, which this Bill does. We have improved the Bill in some important respects—the safeguards for children and vulnerable adults, for example, despite our fundamental misgivings over immunity. Therefore, with regret, we cannot support the noble Baroness’s amendment to the Motion.

I thank the Minister and the Bill team for their work on the Bill; our Labour colleagues and their staff for their assistance and co-operation on those aspects that we were able to agree on; and those on the Cross Benches who have liaised with us. I also thank my staff and colleagues for their help with what has been a very difficult Bill for me, personally, because of my previous professional experience of this difficult area of policing and because of my knowledge of the very real opportunities that the Bill presents for corruption and malpractice. The amendments that this House has introduced are the very minimum required and we will resist any attempt to remove any of them.

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

My Lords, we do not support the amendment to the Motion. This unelected House does not vote down Bills. Our role is that of a revising Chamber. Through making amendments to Bills, we invite the House of Commons to reconsider its position on specific aspects of legislation. That is what we have done with this Bill.

We have debated amendments to the Bill. Some have been agreed by this House, and some have not had its support. From our point of view, we have not won the support of this House for everything we wanted, but important amendments have been agreed and we want the Bill with those amendments to go back to the House of Commons for consideration. This amendment to the Motion, if carried, would thwart that objective and accordingly we shall vote against it.

This House has made important changes to the Bill. I should like to take this opportunity, along with my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark and my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton, to thank the Minister and her ministerial colleagues, the Bill team, many other Members of this House and various security agencies and organisations for their willingness to meet us to discuss aspects of the Bill. Those meetings have been most helpful. Finally, we place on record our appreciation of the invaluable and immense support we have received from our own staff on this Bill, particularly Grace Wright.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 2:45 pm, 21st January 2021

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to this amendment to the Motion. I join other noble Lords in thanking the police, MI5 and other operational partners who will now, I hope, have a clear statutory framework and, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, says, the accompanying code of practice, which will also have the full force of law in which to operate.

I hope that the Government have put forward their case, in spite of some of the unique challenges relating to the sensitivity of this tactic and that noble Lords are reassured that I have been listening and will continue to listen to the strength of views that have been put forward on certain issues. I am happy to discuss any issue further and urge noble Lords to take that course of action if they have any remaining concerns, rather than support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, which would cause the Bill to fall.

My noble friend Lord Marlesford talked about the implementation being monitored with rigour and I totally agree. Any legislation brought before Parliament must have that rigorous monitoring behind it. Every time the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has spoken on the Bill, I felt like saying, “I refer noble Lords to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker”. He talked about the case studies which were much asked for at the beginning of the debates on the Bill and, once forthcoming, as the noble Lord said, almost forgotten about.

It is also worth considering that, without the power or activity that the Bill provides for, the NCA would have been unable to take almost 60 firearms off the street in 2018 alone and the Metropolitan Police would have been unable to seize more than 400 kilograms of class A drugs between November 2018 and November 2019. MI5 and CT policing would also have been impacted in their ability to thwart some 27 terror attacks since March 2017. I do not think that any noble Lord would want to prevent this criminality being stopped in future, which is what the amendment would do.

I acknowledge the important principles behind much of our debate on the Bill—Parliament needs to reassure itself that there is suitable oversight in place, and we have really interrogated that. While strong and differing opinions have been expressed on how to legislate for this activity, I pay tribute to the quality of the debate, despite fundamental differences, and the passionate and articulate way in which noble Lords have relayed their views.

I hope that, during the course of the debates, I have demonstrated the significant safeguards that exist and some of the additional ones that, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and others have said, have now been inserted. Highly trained and experienced authorising officers must assess that an authorisation is necessary and proportionate. That authorisation must be compliant with the Human Rights Act, including the right to life and the prohibition of torture or subjecting someone to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The authorisation is then overseen by the independent Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who reports his findings in his annual report and, thanks to amendments supported by noble Lords, will now consider each and every authorisation within seven days of it being granted. The IPT then offers an entirely independent judicial mechanism for anyone who is concerned that they have been subjected to improper action by any user of an investigatory power.

I hope that the Division that I know the noble Baroness is going to call will not succeed, and I hope that the Bill will now go back to the other place so that it can consider the amendments that noble Lords supported on Report. The Government are committed to providing any additional reassurance to command the support of Parliament and, of course, to keep the public and CHIS safe.

I will conclude there because I realise that we have combined speeches from the debate on the amendment with the final concluding remarks, but I join the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in thanking the Opposition Front Benches, everyone who has contributed to these debates and all the staff who support us. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment, but I suspect that that is not about to happen.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

I thank the Minister for her response and all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I also thank the eight or nine Peers I passed as I came into the House, all of whom gave me the benefit of their views on this Bill and my amendment—some were positive.

It seemed to me that this Bill was the worst I had ever seen in your Lordships’ House until yesterday, when we had the overseas operations Bill, which is even worse. Luckily, there appears to be more opposition to that; I look forward to joining in. I have been in your Lordships’ House for seven and a half years, and, to the best of my recollection—which is not always the best—I have only ever pressed one vote to a Division. Today’s will be the second. I should like to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 29, Noes 440.

Division number 1 Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill - Third Reading — Amendment to the Motion

Aye: 29 Members of the House of Lords

No: 440 Members of the House of Lords

Nos: A-Z by last name

Division conducted remotely on Baroness Jones’s amendment to the Motion.

Baroness Jones’s amendment disagreed.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.