National Security Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:49 pm on 11th January 2023.
Moved by Lord Purvis of Tweed
63A: Clause 28, page 21, line 14, at end insert—“6 Paragraph 5 does not apply in relation to an alleged offence under section 44, 45 or 46 that relates to conduct involving—(a) the intentional unlawful killing of a person,(b) torture or inhuman, cruel or degrading treatment or punishment, or(c) the violation of a person’s sexual integrity.7 Paragraph 6 does not prevent a decision not to prosecute in the public interest.”Member’s explanatory statementThis probing amendment would ensure that the immunity provided to Ministers and officials who assist or encourage crimes under the Serious Crime Act 2007 does not cover torture, murder or sexual offences.
My Lords, this debate concerns the intelligence agencies and what the appropriate procedures are within the rule of law where they authorise, are aware of, encourage or assist in the commissioning of an offence or are engaged, either at home or abroad, in relations with other agencies or bodies where the risk of breaches of the law arises. The Government’s intent seems to be to seek total immunity from any prospect of prosecution for actions at home or abroad; to widen the authorisation powers of the SIS and GCHQ under the Intelligence Services Act 1994; and to provide brand-new immunity to MI5 and all UK Armed Forces, thereby expanding the current practice to actions at home, which, up to now, have had no immunity.
At Second Reading in the Commons, the Government failed to make a convincing case. We continue to be concerned about such widespread immunity; this view is supported by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the ISC. At Second Reading in this House, the Minister said:
“Section 7 ISA authorisations are not available in all the circumstances in which the SCA”—
Serious Crime Act—
“risks arise. Those authorisations primarily apply to overseas activities, meaning that Section 7 could not generally be used to protect officers when carrying out activities in the UK. Section 7 authorisations may be sought only by SIS and GCHQ, and not by MI5 or the MoD.”
He also said:
“The Government believe that UKIC and the Armed Forces should have a targeted protection that provides far greater clarity and certainty”.—[Official Report, 6/12/22; col. 155.]
However, he did not say why class authorisations that exist under the ISA would not cover these areas. We know that there have been considerable discussions, both in the ISA and elsewhere, about class authorisations rather than those that are specific. If the Minister could state why class authorisations for the SIS are not working, I would be grateful, because this is a major change.
For domestic activities, for example for MI5, there are the Security Service’s Guidelines on the Use of Agents Who Participate in Criminality and the authorisations issued in accordance with them. The terms of the guidance were made public in a redacted form in March 2021 during a successful appeal by the Government in the Court of Appeal, where a case arguing—unsuccessfully—that there was de facto immunity for the Security Service’s activities was heard. I quote the guidance, which said that
“it may sometimes be necessary and proportionate for agents to participate in criminality to secure or maintain access to intelligence that can be used to save life or disrupt more serious criminality, or to ensure the agent’s continued safety, security and ability to pass such intelligence.”
It goes on to say that an officer is “empowered” under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
Paragraph 9 of the guidance is clear:
“An authorisation of the use of a participating agent has no legal effect and does not confer on either the agent or those involved in the authorisation process any immunity from prosecution. Rather, the authorisation will be the Service’s explanation and justification of its decisions should the criminal activity of the agent come under scrutiny by an external body, e.g. the police or prosecuting authorities.”
That is the current situation. The guidance goes on:
“In particular, the authorisation process and associated records may form the basis of representations by the Service to the prosecuting authorities that prosecution is not in the public interest.”
This is a scheme that up until March 2021 the Government said had been operating well. They have not made the case for why that needs to change significantly. The judgment also highlighted that the Security Service works under a memorandum of understanding between it, the police and the counterterrorism division of the Crown Prosecution Service. The judgment went on to tell us that there were corresponding protocols in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Clause 28 of this Bill now allows otherwise criminal actions here in the UK which encourage or assist crimes overseas to be carried out, setting aside previous guidance. This is extremely broad and changes dramatically the practice and the operation of that current guidance, with little justification. I went into a little detail about the domestic situation because it illustrates how a process operates which allows proper intelligence work to be carried out while retaining no immunity from the rule of law. This will now be abolished with Clause 28. For the UK and abroad, as I have indicated and as we discussed at Second Reading, the SAS has powers under the ISA and, as I indicated, there can be class authorisations as well as individually targeted authorisations.
In the Government’s response to the ISC’s report on privacy and security, they went into a little more detail about class authorisations, but it was very clear that such authorisations are under the statutory oversight of the Intelligence Services Commissioner. Under Clause 28, there would be no equivalent of this oversight, and that is a considerable diminution of the ability for there to be oversight of the operations of SIS and GCHQ.
One of the highlights of the Government’s annual human rights reports, the most recent of which was published in early December 2021, is the stress that they put on the human rights guidance on overseas security and justice assistance, or OSJA. It states that when the UK is working with other countries, primarily with their justice and security systems, on addressing threats such as terrorism, serious organised crime or conflict, a risk assessment process must be carried out prior to providing justice or security sector assistance. The institutions are relevant in this context, where the UK Armed Forces intelligence agencies are working with foreign bodies and their armed forces and the police, primarily their gendarmerie, paramilitary forces, presidential guards, intelligence and security services, coastguards and border guards—the list is fairly extensive.
The OSJA guidance sits alongside the Cabinet Office’s Consolidated Guidance to Intelligence Officers and Service Personnel on the Detention and Interviewing of Detainees Overseas, and on the Passing and Receipt of Intelligence Relating to Detainees. Under OSJA guidance, before any work is undertaken with one of the foreign bodies, a risk identification process must be carried out on human rights concerns, specifically on whether assistance or co-operation might directly or significantly contribute to the use of the death penalty, unlawful or arbitrary arrest or detention, torture, unlawful killing, enforced disappearance, unfair trial, or denial of justice and unlawful interference with democratic rights. The checklist also states that there must be a risk system on violations of the right of the child, human trafficking, and persecution of an identifiable group. All these areas will now be swept away with a risk assessment process, because of this blanket immunity. If it is high-risk, Ministers must be consulted unless ministerial approval has already been given for the specific activity. This will include, for SIS, a 1994 authorisation, and under current law, Ministers must operate under the terms of the Serious Crime Act.
However, this guidance is now redundant, with the Bill removing a major component of the UK’s promotion of human rights by providing wide immunity to our Armed Forces. The Minister in the Commons, in making the case for this clause, stated that the current process created too much delay. He said:
“The impact of that approach is that vital and otherwise legal intelligence opportunities are currently being delayed or missed as the SCA risks are worked through”.—[Official Report, Commons, National Security Bill Committee, 14/7/22; col. 181.]
He promised to provide examples to the ISC. I would be grateful if the Minister can confirm whether those examples have been provided and if I can be briefed on those examples as the Front-Bench spokesman of my party. I have not seen any examples, demonstrating that there has been considerable delay.
The consolidated guidance for intelligence agencies exists because they do not have the powers of detention, either in the UK or overseas, that the Armed Forces may have. There has been considerable concern about the wide extension of this clause to all of the Armed Forces. Paragraph 7 of the guidance states:
“When we work with countries whose practice raises questions about their compliance with international legal obligations, we ensure that our co-operation accords with our own international and domestic obligations.”
This is now being changed dramatically.
Paragraph 8 of the guidance makes clear that, in carrying out their work, UK personnel retain “personal liability”, but it also states that
“the circumstances covered by this guidance may engage the responsibility of the UK—with the potential for damage to its international reputation.”
This, again, is being dramatically altered.
In 2019, the Government published The Principles Relating to the Detention and Interviewing of Detainees Overseas and the Passing and Receipt of Intelligence Relating to Detainees. There is equivalent Ministry of Defence policy as well. This guidance also covers staff of SO15 in the Metropolitan Police Service and officers of the National Crime Agency. Clause 28 refers only to
“the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service or GCHQ” and the Armed Forces. It specifically does not relate to SO15, the Metropolitan Police or the NCA, and it does not mention employees of the Ministry of the Defence. Why is that? If it is to prevent the vulnerability of individual officers who would fall under the scope of the SCA, why are the Government being partial in this Bill and not being consistent with the existing Cabinet Office principles and the guidance?
Finally, I will refer to Amendment 64. I understand the case that will be made—I am sure it will be made extremely well—by the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Carlile. I would be grateful for clarification on my reading of Amendment 64. I have also read that, for the SIS and GCHQ, Section 7(4) of the Intelligence Services Act would cover Schedule 4 to the SCA 2007. I would be interested to know whether that reading of Section 7(4) is incorrect. I understand that Amendment 64 would reduce the scope from the Armed Forces and MI5, and therefore it is probably preferable, but it would retain the expansion for the SIS of immunity for domestic activities that support or potentially assist criminal activity abroad. It would therefore extend the current approach.
The Minister needs to make it clear why the expansions in Clause 28 are justified. The Minister in the House of Commons said:
“The clause means that … where an individual has operated in good faith and in compliance with proper processes they would not face the risk of liability for the offences under the SCA.”—[Official Report, Commons, National Security Bill Committee, 14/7/22; col. 182.]
But there is no way of knowing whether the individual has operated in bad faith and does not comply with proper processes, because all the guidance I referred to, setting out the proper processes, will be swept away. It is a general carve-out. If an individual working in good faith and in compliance would not face the risk of liability, is the Government’s position that, if they do not act in good faith and do not follow proper processes, the individual is still liable? There is no oversight by the independent commissioner and there would be no reporting requirements, so no one would ever know and there would be no duty on any of the agencies to make this clear.
I hope that the Minister, in responding to this debate, will be clearer than at Second Reading. I think that the justification the Government have provided is not strong enough. The expansions are far too strong. There are concerns that this would provide immunity, and there is a lack of risk assessment, for some of the serious crimes that I indicated. The preference would be for the whole clause to be taken out—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, on our contention that the clause should not stand part—or at the very least for the Government to be very clear with regard to the interaction on the very serious offences outlined in my amendment. I beg to move.
Before the noble Lord sits down, I just wonder whether he considers that there may be a difference between intentional killing, on the one hand, which may or may not be wrong, depending on the circumstances and context, and torture and sexual violation on the other, in respect of which it is very difficult to conceive that they could ever be right. Does he think that there may be a distinction?
I understand the case. The Consolidated Guidance to Intelligence Officers and Service Personnel does not make the distinction. It does make the distinction that there is a lack of clarity when it comes to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. Our definitions of that may differ from those of some of our allies, or of others we are working with. For the other two areas, there is no distinction as provided for under the consolidated guidance. Indeed, the risk assessment criteria that all officers currently have to operate under—the checklist that exists within the guidance that they have to go through before entering into any of the security work with agencies—include all of these areas, including where senior personnel and legal advisers conclude that there is risk of torture or CIDT, and also lawful killing. This is in addition to what authorisations under the ISA may bring about.
My Lords, I listened with great interest to the argument made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed. I wonder whether I could ask the Minister, when he replies, to clarify the way in which the liabilities and immunities under this clause might impact, separately, the members of the intelligence services and the Armed Forces on the one hand, and, on the other hand, covert human intelligence sources, sometimes known as “agents” of the intelligence services, whose activities are authorised, I believe, under separate legislation. It does seem to me that it is very important that we should understand those two separate categories of action, and the way in which the proposed legislation would impact on those, because we are talking there about different legal regimes—although I speak as a lawyer and therefore I am willing to be corrected.
My Lords, that sounds right to me. Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 abolished the common-law offence of incitement and substituted three specific offences of encouraging and assisting serious crime. Schedule 4 expands the reach of Part 2 to the encouragement and assistance of crimes which are committed, or intended to be committed, abroad. Its provisions have been described by the Court of Appeal as “tortuous”. Professor David Ormerod, the former Law Commissioner, has written of its “incoherence” and “excessive breadth of liability”. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, probably has a full and comprehensive understanding of it, but few lawyers and judges do, and even fewer can explain it to juries. It has, accordingly, rarely been used.
Intelligence officials—from what they have told the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and me—share in the general bafflement. They cite the risk that they will be prosecuted for acts which are judged, in retrospect, to have been capable of encouraging or assisting the commission of an offence by a foreign intelligence partner. They take only limited comfort from the defence of acting reasonably in Section 50, and from the public interest test applied by prosecutors. The uncertainty, they say, prompts them to act with caution so significant as to have an operational impact.
Clause 28 proposes to address the situation by granting immunity from prosecution, in transnational cases, to those who are behaving in a way that is necessary to
“the proper exercise of any function” of MI5, MI6 or GCHQ. No clue is given in the Bill as to how this test is to be applied. Compliance with the principles relating to the passing and receipt of intelligence relating to detainees, to which reference has just been made, would doubtless provide the answer in many cases but, as has also been said, there will be others that fall outside their scope.
The same broad immunity would be granted to members of the Armed Forces, not only for activities in support of the intelligence agencies but for any activities which constitute a “proper exercise” of the functions of the Armed Forces—whatever that means. No one has so far explained to me why such a broad immunity for the Armed Forces is necessary, even in circumstances with no intelligence connection. I hope the Minister will be in a position to do so.
I understand that the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament has been invited to scrutinise the justification for the claimed special treatment. I expect that it will have been shown operational examples that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and I, during our relatively short visit, were not. I hope that, before the Bill advances further, the committee will tell us what, if anything, it has concluded and whether those conclusions are confined to the agencies or whether they extend to the Armed Forces as well. For my part, I have general sympathy with the concerns expressed to me by agency lawyers—who are, in my experience, highly conscientious people—but, like the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, I would feel happier if I knew that an independent person or body, such as the Intelligence and Security Committee or the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, had examined the secret materials and pronounced confidently on whether the concerns expressed to us are justified across the full range of circumstances in which they are being advanced.
However, let us assume, at least for the purposes of this debate, that there is a real problem of unquantifiable legal risk translating into excessive caution and reduced operational efficiency. Is the solution to place the agencies and the Armed Forces above the law? The question surely needs only to be asked for the answer to be apparent. We admire our intelligence and military personnel, with very good reason, but, be they never so high, the law in a democracy must always be above them. Modern intelligence co-operation means dealing with a wide range of international partners, some of them less scrupulous than others. Let there be no doubt that the crimes that some of them are capable of committing include some of the most serious of all: torture and unlawful killing. To remove all legal accountability for assisting and encouraging such acts, in particular by the sharing of intelligence, would send an unfortunate message to any person who might be tempted to cross the line. It would also send an appalling signal to the rest of the world.
Fortunately, two off-the-shelf solutions are available, each of them more palatable than Clause 28. The first is my Amendment 64, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. This would add activities caught by Part 2 to the scheme established by Section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994—sometimes known as the “James Bond clause”, which the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, described, although it is certainly no simple immunity. Subject to further study of what he said, I do not think it does the trick without our amendment. Section 7 provides that those operating abroad, and in limited circumstances within the United Kingdom, are not liable for what would otherwise be crimes under UK law, but only if the commission of such crimes falls within the scope of an authorisation issued by the Secretary of State on tightly defined statutory grounds. Those authorisations, and the agencies’ compliance with them, are carefully scrutinised by the senior judges of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office—the successors of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Judge and Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood—with the help of their skilled investigative teams. IPCO publishes its conclusions in its annual report, which demonstrates its exacting approach. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner, Sir Brian Leveson, would no doubt notify the Director of Public Prosecutions were it to find any illegality worthy of further investigation.
In this way, the requirements of the rule of law are maintained, and with three other advantages. First, and of some importance, IPCO scrutiny makes it more likely that any wrongdoing will actually come to light. Secondly, the agencies would not be exposed to police or prosecutorial investigations, unless, of course, they go beyond the scope of their authorisations. Thirdly, for any act within the scope of the authorisation the agencies have political cover from the Secretary of State, who would be unable to hang them out to dry. There would be some value in each of those matters, I would have thought, for the agencies themselves.
Like the existing Section 7, my solution would also apply to the Armed Forces to the extent that their actions are necessary for the proper discharge of a function of the security and intelligence agencies. Perhaps that limited application is all that the Armed Forces actually require, and I await the Minister’s comments on that.
The second off-the-shelf solution was sketched out by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, at Second Reading: a statutory defence, additional to the defence of acting reasonably in Section 50, for acts which are necessary to fulfil the statutory functions of the intelligence agencies. Those functions would be defined in arrangements for which the head of each agency would be responsible. As the noble Lord said, that solution also has a precedent, although not one that includes the Armed Forces, in Section 13 of the Bribery Act 2010. I wondered whether the Government would pick up that invitation, but they have not done so—at least not yet. That is a shame; it would have been useful to be able to debate the merits of these two possible solutions with each of them on the table.
The dangers of Clause 28 were rightly and strongly flagged in the Commons, and either of these solutions would be a great improvement. What happens on Report will, of course, depend on the options that are before us, and I hope that before we have to select an option of our own the Minister will be able to give the debate some direction; first, by telling us when the security-cleared ISC or independent reviewer will be able to advise us of the extent of the problem in relation to the Armed Forces as well as the intelligence agencies; and, secondly, by indicating which way he proposes to go in response to that problem.
My Lords, I follow on from the early comments from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about the confusion and difficulties of interpretation of the provisions before us and similar provisions that have created certain headaches, which he referred to, for those who have a responsibility to enforce our laws. I have already complained about the length of this Bill, which has 65 pages and schedules of double that length. Once again, we are not having any thoughts about the users of the Bill, those who have to enforce the provisions of our legislation. I refer to members of the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service, GCHQ, police officers, lawyers—perhaps we have no compassion for their difficulties in interpretation, although I do as I am a lawyer—right up to the judiciary. I am sorry if I am bleating again about this problem, but it continues in our legislation and here is another bad example.
Since I am standing up, I shall make a few comments about the provisions in Clause 28. There must be extreme worry that they give Ministers and officials effective immunity from crimes such as targeted killing and torture. Clause 28 blocks accountability for Whitehall involvement in war on terror crimes and, to take a broader view, Clause 28 undermines the UK’s centuries of legal prohibition of torture-related crimes and the UK’s position when criticising other Governments for their crimes. One thinks of the example of the awful murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. Indeed, looking broadly at these provisions, one is reminded of President Bush’s tenure of office in the United States of America, when certain members of the Justice Department issued papers justifying torture, such as waterboarding and so forth, and saying that it fell within the constitution of the United States. This Bill brings out many of those unhappy memories.
As for the alternatives, we have had the alternative of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, who said towards the end of his speech that he agreed with my noble friend Lord Vernon, and of course he is quite right about that. Oh, sorry; Coaker is his surname—I am referring to my noble friend Lord Coaker with extreme familiarity, and to his application to remove Clause 28 altogether.
I have not been able to study this in detail, but I am told that the provision proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson—I mentioned this to him outside in the Lobby, just before we came in—does not go far enough to disable sanctuary to Ministers of State and so forth. We are not saying that they are going to commit these crimes, but our law should not permit those down the line to do so. It is all right for the top members of the intelligence services to behave themselves, but then you may not get the same dicipline down the junior line and there is misbehaviour that should be punishable and for which there should not be immunity.
My Lords, the provisions of this clause and its defects have been set out very well by my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed, and there has been some really helpful analysis from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson.
I will just make a preliminary point. The inclusion of the Armed Forces in this provision is wholly inappropriate, simply on the basis that it is the wrong place to deal with what is a much wider problem and raises many other issues—battlefield situations; civilian situations such as we experienced in Northern Ireland, where we have had difficult court cases to deal with; and issues around the proper defence that veterans might wish to advance when involved in contentious matters. To push this into a provision about intelligence services does not seem the right way to deal with it.
One qualification that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, made was that there may be a case for including actions of the Armed Forces in direct support of the intelligence services, but that is as far as I think it reasonable to go on an issue of wide importance that affects the international reputation of this country. I would rather we were simply dealing with the issue of how we provide the appropriate cover for intelligence services when they have reason to act outside the law. What an easier world it would be if we never asked intelligence services to act outside the law, but that is not possible. The range of things that intelligence organisations can become involved in if they are acting outside the law includes things that, on discussion and explanation, most people would find understandable and acceptable, right through to things that are utterly unacceptable—and which have happened. We think particularly of torture and rendition to torture, which has been our worst recent example. Many people would understand that, if you are dealing with a covert human intelligence source engaged with a terrorist group or some other group of people, at some point you will inevitably get into a situation in which both that source and the officer running that source have questions about what is permissible. You need a mechanism that can handle those things, and we thought we had one.
The provisions we have had until now have worked in a wide range of cases, and the ultimate recourse in difficulty is the decision of the Attorney-General on whether a prosecution is in the public interest. On the face of it, it perhaps looks too limited in some ways but, as I say, for the most part it has worked. There is a case being made now that in some situations it is not sufficient, but to move from that to a general immunity, not restricted in the kinds of illegality it can cover, is worrying and dangerous. To do so by way of a system that does not embody authorisation at its heart is a really serious mistake, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, touched on this.
It cannot be acceptable for an intelligence agency to be able to act in a way which goes outside the law, without having had to make reference to some democratic authority before doing it, whether by way of a class provision or because of the serious nature of the specific incident or action that is involved. Were we to allow that to happen, which will be the case if this provision goes through unamended, Ministers could then always say “I knew nothing about it—it’s not part of my job to know. I just tell them to get on with it and let me know when they’ve finished”. That situation is not acceptable for either Ministers or the agencies, which then of course take all the blame and have to make political decisions—for example, on whether taking such action is going to cause massive international complications. Should an intelligence agency decide that, or should it be decided at the highest political level? Of course, it leaves accountability out of the system altogether.
The accountability is inevitably limited by the nature of what we are talking about. It may depend almost entirely on the judicial forms of accountability which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, helpfully described—the commissioners and the tribunal, supported also by the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which should be told more about the kinds of operation that have to take place. There are mechanisms to have that accountability, which will only rarely be able to be exercised on the Floor of this Chamber or that of the Commons because of the nature of what is being done, but there should be a process of authorisation.
What I fear out of all this is either Ministers being able to say, “This is all very regrettable, but I knew nothing about it”—when it is not something that Ministers would be consulted about—or a situation in which the service says, “We’d better not tell the Minister because it would be very difficult for him to authorise this”. These are great dangers, and we must not pass legislation which fails to address them.
My Lords, as is his wont, the noble Lord, Lord Beith, started with a very cogent and important point. The issue about the Armed Forces is both legally and politically distinct. It hardly needs explanation in this Committee as to what those distinctions are, for they are evident to us every time one of those cases is considered.
It is also a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, whose return to your Lordships’ House is very welcome to us. He brings a richness of experience on issues which include the quality of the jurisdiction within which we live. Great attention should be paid to the point he made about the way in which our jurisdiction should retain its fundamental values.
In the provisions suggested by the Government in the Bill, I am afraid that I see the words “double standards” above the mirror every time one looks at them. Immunity is inimical to our system of law—full stop. Take the Khashoggi case as an example. I am not suggesting for one moment that we in this country would do anything quite as bad as that murder, nevertheless there could be other outrages committed. If we look at the Khashoggi case and the way that the country that committed that outrage has brushed it under the carpet of immunity, we see how dangerous it is to go down this slippery slope. I will not say a great deal more, but it is a particular pleasure for me to be able to take, as it were, the role of junior counsel to my noble friend Lord Anderson. He opened these amendments with superb and supreme clarity, in my view, and I would only muddy the waters if I said too much more.
I want to make a couple of other points, though. It seems to me that the existing involvement of the Secretary of State in at least some of the decisions to which we are referring does much more than give cover or protection to the individuals who might commit the acts complained of. It shows that political responsibility is taken for those acts, and it is real political responsibility because that Secretary of State is almost always accountable to the other place and will have been elected to it. Misleading actions on the part of, heaven forfend, any Secretary of State could have very serious repercussions in our democratic polity.
Retaining the role of the Secretary of State is therefore very important; it is one part of those standards which we should be upholding. It is important to remember always that we do not have a written constitution. When we are considering the constitutional implications of proposals made in Parliament, we therefore must look for bits and pieces of our unwritten constitution to find the assurance that we are acting and legislating in a proper way. That is what we are here for in your Lordships’ House, and the involvement of the Secretary of State is significant. I do not want to repeat what I said about Section 13 of the Bribery Act on a previous occasion; it has already been referred to by my noble friend Lord Anderson.
Finally, I will refer to the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and I apologise for repeating something I have said before. Whatever the evidence, facts and national security elements, when there is a proposal that there should be a prosecution, even if there is evidence that might realistically lead to a conviction, the second part of the Crown Prosecution Service code test requires that the Director of Public Prosecutions should consider whether it is in the national interest to prosecute. Of course, there will be cases in which there may be evidence of criminality but it may not be in the national interest to prosecute; for example, where there was some unrevealable and key national security information that could not be disclosed in a court, thereby meaning that there could not be a fair trial, or where the individual concerned was faced with an impossible decision at very short notice, possibly with only seconds to decide—maybe the seconds it takes for the brain to send a message to the finger that is literally on a trigger. That seems to be a constitutional protection which is well provided for in the set-up and architecture we have. If we allow immunity, as the Government are asking, we will damage the quality of our law and our reputation among our allies in the world, and that is why I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Anderson, to which I have added my name.
My Lords, I apologise for not being present at Second Reading; I was doing other business in the House. I feel particularly humbled, because if my noble friend Lord Carlile thinks that he was the junior to my noble friend Lord Anderson and therefore was short, I have reverted to something I have not been since 1964: a pupil. Pupils are allowed to take notes, but they are not allowed to say anything, and, if they do say anything, that marks the end of their pupillage—they are not wanted any longer. I hope noble Lords will forgive this pupil if I say just a few words in support of my noble friends.
Just look at Clause 28 and what it means. It means that we are creating an immunity from prosecution before any facts are known, before any inquiry has been made and before a crime has been committed. We are, in effect, rubber-stamping the possibility that a crime may be committed with no further investigation in public. We all understand that there must be cases of immunity: sometimes because the facts require it and sometimes because, to get at the facts, people are offered immunity if they tell the truth so that the worst features of a case can be grasped. We also recognise authorisations; that is an ordinary, elementary part of the system.
However, what if we say to a special individual or a special group of individuals, “Ah, you will not be prosecuted, whatever you do in any circumstances, because you are immune”? I hate to keep using this phrase in this Chamber, as I do from time to time, because your Lordships all understand it, but what is left of the rule of law if some of our citizens are entitled to break it with immunity and commit crimes with immunity? There is a perfectly good defence in the current Act, as the law stands, and there may be better defences. Indeed, I agree with and support the amendment proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Carlile. But what does Section 50 provide? It provides that an individual may, in circumstances that would otherwise be an offence, put forward that it was reasonable. That is a very good start. He may want the reasonableness of his behaviour—he will always want the reasonableness of his behaviour, if he really wants to prove that it is reasonable—to require an examination of all the facts. What happened? What was the situation? But that would be a defence, not an immunity, and there is a huge difference.
We all recognise, for example, that if someone is charged with an offence of violence, murder or serious bodily harm, of course he or she may say that they were acting in reasonable self-defence. They may ask for the circumstances to be looked at as they were. “Do not demand perfection”—as we do not—“in the face of an upturned knife or a gun, or a mob coming at me. Make sure that it is reasonable.” If the prosecution fails to demonstrate that it was not reasonable self-defence, there has never been a crime at all. It is decriminalised, but that is not immunity.
When I looked at this, I asked myself whether the House of Commons Library statement on it was correct. It says:
“The provision therefore appears to be intended to extend immunity from criminal prosecution to actions which could not be proved to have been reasonable.”
I agree with that analysis, and I would like the Minister to refute it if he can. But that is rather shocking, is it not? You can argue that maybe the burden of proof in Section 50 should be amended so that the burden is not on the defendant to prove that he acted reasonably, and it is for the prosecution to prove that he acted unreasonably. You might do that—and you might, as I said earlier, create different defences. You might create specific defences for different parts of those covered by Clause 28, such as the Armed Forces and, if I can call it so compendiously, the Secret Service.
Can the Minister then ask himself what the difference is between acting reasonably in Section 50 as it stands and acting in the proper exercise of the particular function, as is proposed here? Are we really going to legislate that an unreasonable exercise of function must always be treated by previous decision as a proper one, for which there can be no consequences? If so, there is no difference. What are we doing? Is it consistent with the rule of law to grant anyone, or any group of people, immunity from prosecution for serious crime before any facts have been examined? While we are about the rule of law, where does that leave the unfortunate victim of the crime? It leaves them with nothing.
If it is felt that we need to amend any part of the law, as is proposed here, we need to amend Section 50 as I have suggested and we need to use the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, proposed. We must create a specific defence that recognises that there are particular circumstances where criminal liability will not follow. We must create a reasonable self-defence issue for those who carry out these duties for us.
My Lords, I think we need to remind ourselves that the United Kingdom is a party to the torture convention. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, raised a red flag in my mind because, when I saw the word “torture” and the implication in his amendment that Clause 28 as it stands could extend to granting immunity for acts of torture, that seemed to me plainly contrary to our obligations under the torture convention.
It is worth remembering two things about that convention. The first is that all states parties to it are prohibited from authorising torture in any circumstance. It is also an unusual convention because it creates a universal jurisdiction; in other words, any state party which finds somebody who has committed torture within its jurisdiction, wherever he comes from, can prosecute that individual for the act of torture. The idea of granting immunity from acts of torture, which is what this clause seems to do, is a false idea because you certainly cannot do that with regard to other states parties to the torture convention.
It seems to me that Clause 28 is fraught with danger for that reason. Therefore, I very much support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson.
My Lords, may I add one footnote to the powerful speeches by my noble friends on these Benches? To confer blanket immunity may well have a counterproductive consequence, which is that the alleged victim may well be able to provoke the procedures of the International Criminal Court to be applied against persons in this jurisdiction. That would be extremely unfortunate.
My Lords, I had not intended to say anything on this part of the Bill, not least because all these lawyers at various levels of leading counsel, pupil-master and so on do so much better than me. It seems to me that it is wrong in principle for members of the security and intelligence services to have immunity from the law.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis—the Minister may deal with this in his summing up—has confused the authorisations that are approved for CHIS activity involving criminality with what this part of the Bill seeks to do. I hope that in his reply the Minister will acknowledge the wide concern within the Committee, including from people such as me who have spent a career in the Security Service, and will consider an amendment to address some of these problems.
I quite comprehend that it is not necessarily easy to explain what the problem is that we are trying to address without revealing secrets but, again, I endorse the view that it would be helpful to hear what the ISC has thought on these matters. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, at an earlier stage, that he and the ISC recognised that there was a problem that needed addressing. For my part, I am unable to support this as a solution.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness and of course defer to her very considerable expertise in this area. The point I am seeking to make is that, from my understanding of the CHIS authorisations under the 1994 legislation, some of those will now no longer be necessary because of the blanket immunity under this clause. In fact, many of them will not be, because the authorisations for SIS to act abroad will now be expanded by this clause, with SIS being able to act here for supporting acts that are unlawful abroad as well as officers operating abroad, which is unlawful. The point that I was trying to make is that this clause brings the two together.
I will have a short word with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, afterwards in the dinner break, if he does not mind.
The noble Lord may have confused covert intelligence sources as agents—I am sorry; this is terminology—and agents are not full members of the security and intelligence services. The Minister will answer this better than I can anyway; I am sorry to intrude again.
My Lords, I start by saying that if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, is a pupil barrister, I do not know what on earth that makes me. We shall see.
I start with a comment that I know will be supported by all members of the Committee: if the story on the front page of the Sun is accurate, it reminds us of the debt of gratitude that we owe to the security services. They seem to have foiled a plot to import uranium at Heathrow this morning. If that is accurate, it is something that we in this Committee should note, because I know that the security services and those who work on our behalf in all these areas read our proceedings, and they should not mistake or confuse the very real debate that is going on here about the best way for us to go forward, and the best legislative context for us to have for our Armed Forces and our intelligence services, with any sense in which we underestimate or do not respect them fully for the work they do across the world in our interests.
I have objected to Clause 28 standing part of the Bill, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for his support, because, as it stands, the clause is unacceptable. The Government themselves have said in the other place and in previous debates that they are considering whether the clause needs amending and, if so, how. We all wait with bated breath to see where that has got to. The ISC has said it needs to change, and we know that even with the further closed briefings from the intelligence services to the ISC, it still believes that the clause needs amendment.
Amendment 63A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and Amendment 64 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Carlile, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, are welcome and important statements of how the Government may deal with the many concerns raised in both Houses. The excellent contributions we had in support of them challenged the Government to say, if they are not the way forward, what is. The Minister’s response to these amendments will be very important and it will be interesting for all of us to know whether the Government are actually listening. Are these amendments to be accepted by the Government and, if not, why not? If they are not, can we expect a government amendment in good time for us to consider it before Report?
Questions that arise for the Minister if the Government do not accept these amendments are clear. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, as he explained,
“would ensure that the immunity provided to Ministers and officials who assist or encourage crimes under the Serious Crime Act 2007 does not cover torture, murder or sexual offences.”
Indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, mentioned the issue of torture. If this is not to be accepted by the Government, can the Minister clearly and without any qualification say that none of this behaviour would ever be allowed if the clause were to be passed unamended? Remember, we are referring to murder, unlawful killing, torture or sexual offences. A clear and categoric ministerial statement, on the record, with no qualification or prevarication, would help the Committee enormously with respect to that amendment.
Amendment 64 would ensure—as I read it, and the explanatory statement confirms this—that high-level ministerial authority is fundamentally important. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, made the excellent point that high-level ministerial authority must be maintained for the authorisation of the doing of such acts, rather than the weakening or even, as most of us believe, the exclusion of such authority, as Clause 28, as drafted, allows. Is that not the case? Why would the Government object to the maintenance of such ministerial authority, ensuring, in a democracy proud of its traditions, the importance of proper political accountability for decisions that are made? Again, this is a point that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, made. Just as important, if not even more so, is that such ministerial authorisations would be under the supervision of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office—IPCO. This, under Clause 28, now seems not to be the case, whereas independent oversight and accountability seem to me, and I am sure to most of us in the Committee, to be an essential part of such a process.
We know the phrase in the clause as it stands,
“the proper exercise of any function”, has also caused concern. What does it mean? Who decides whether it is proper or the breadth and potential scope of the phrase? If there is no independent oversight, as required by Amendment 64, who provides it and how? Something as sensitive and crucial as this cannot be left to a few individuals in a closed meeting in an office away from any public gaze or scrutiny. That is unacceptable in a democracy. As it stands, the clause is not acceptable and these amendments seek to improve it. As I and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, have said, we will have to come back to this on Report, either to push an amendment or to agree or disagree a government amendment.
Very serious concerns have been raised about Clause 28 that cannot and should not be ignored by the Government. The ISC has said that the clause needs amending because it is unacceptably broad. Will the Government listen to it, if no one else? Even with the additional briefings, as I have said, it does not believe that Clause 28 is the way forward, even if it accepts that there is a problem that needs fixing.
In justifying Clause 28 as it stands, can the Minister answer some of the following questions? There are currently safeguards, such as ministerial authorisation, the reasonableness test so eloquently outlined for us by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, under Section 50 of the Serious Crime Act and the fact that the DPP must be satisfied that a prosecution is in the public interest, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, properly reminds us time after time. I am grateful that he does so, because that point is lost; it is about not only whether a conviction can be secured but whether it is in the national or public interest for such a prosecution to be pursued. I have faith in the system. I believe that in most cases, if it is not in the public interest, it will not be pursued. That is an open decision that we can question to see whether we agree with it. Why have these safeguards been swept away with respect to such behaviour conducted abroad?
Can the Minister clarify what it means in Clause 28 for something to be necessary for the proper function of the UKIC or the Armed Forces, with no proportionality required? Why have the Government diminished the role and accountability of Ministers in the decision-making structure? As the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Beith, asked, why does Clause 28 extend this immunity to the Armed Forces? If I have read it right, the Armed Forces have protection under Section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act. Have I got that wrong? Can the Minister clarify why Clause 28, as drafted, appears to extend these immunities to the Armed Forces? As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked, will he give an example of conduct that is the proper exercise of any function of the services but is currently subject to the chilling effect of the 2007 Act and would therefore now be allowed under this Bill? Why can it not be authorised under Section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994 as it stands?
This is an incredibly serious debate, as we have heard from the many contributions from noble Lords. We also know that a huge cross-section of Members of Parliament in the other place expressed their concerns, many with great personal experience. Dan Jarvis MP, Kevan Jones MP, Maria Eagle MP and David Davis MP made excellent speeches asking why the change is necessary and, if it is, why we cannot have something that deals with the perceived problem and commands support, including from our parliamentary oversight committee, the ISC. The ISC was set up specifically to be allowed closed briefings, so that it could advise us on what was appropriate for these difficult matters. How on earth can the Government command the respect and support of this Chamber if the ISC, the committee we set up to have oversight on these matters, does not agree with Clause 28? Why do the Government set themselves against what the ISC is saying and then wonder why we have doubts?
The excellent House of Lords briefing highlights the many comments expressing doubts, particularly the belief that immunity from prosecution for serious crimes committed abroad would be made much more likely and possible under this clause. As Jeremy Wright MP asked, can the Minister explain the difference between acting reasonably under Section 50—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, made this point—and acting in the proper exercise of a function, as this clause requires?
We are rightly proud of the work of our intelligence services and Armed Forces, but we also have a responsibility as a democracy to set a legislative framework that sets, and is seen to set, high standards. Openness, transparency and accountability are part of the price of our democracy. As drafted, Clause 28 undermines these principles and needs at the very least to be seriously amended.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to a fascinating and wide-ranging debate. If the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is not sure where it leaves him if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, is a pupil, I am under absolutely no illusions where I am left.
I turn to Clause 28, the Serious Crime Act 2007 amendment. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his advance notice of interest in this measure and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for our discussions to date on this Bill. I also very much thank the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Carlile, who provided advance notice of their intention to table this amendment and have generously shared their time and expertise with me and the team on this measure, as the critical friends to the national security world that the Committee knows them to be.
I will speak to the purpose of the SCA amendment and the amendments tabled by noble Lords. Respectively, they seek to remove the SCA amendment in Clause 28 from the Bill and replace it with an amendment to Section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994, or ISA, and to add to Clause 28 to ensure that exemption from liability for individual Ministers and officials who assist or encourage crimes under the SCA would not cover torture, murder or sexual offences. However, before I come to that, it is right to express our thanks to those who work tirelessly to keep us safe, as the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Coaker, did, while recognising that we should carefully examine any changes to the law which might regulate or enable their activities.
I will briefly tell noble Lords why Clause 28 is in the Bill and why the amendment to the SCA is necessary. In essence, it is vital that we solve an unintended consequence of the SCA which currently exposes those acting for our intelligence and security agencies—MI6, MI5, GCHQ: the UK intelligence community, which I will henceforth call UKIC—and our Armed Forces to potential legal jeopardy and limits their operational agility. This can limit their ability to keep the UK safe, including through our international collaboration with trusted partners, which is vital in the modern world.
The SCA creates offences when an act is done which is capable of “encouraging or assisting” an offence and the person intends or believes their act may encourage or assist an offence. These offences are complex and were predominantly introduced to ensure the police could tackle those directing serious organised crime—for example, capturing those who knowingly directed violence or the importation of drugs but distanced themselves from criminal conduct. There is no minimum level of contribution to the offence which may be encouraged or assisted; the contribution can be small and indirect and there is no need for an offence to be ultimately committed. I will come back to the noble Lords’ amendment, but say here that these are obviously not circumstances that always lend themselves well to pre-authorisation.
Clause 28 focuses on this very specific area of criminal law which is having an operational impact to the detriment of the UK’s security. It is not a general immunity and it would not change the application of all other criminal law offences. It does not make it legal to encourage or enable torture or rendition or solicit murder and does not limit the offence of misconduct in public office. In addition, Clause 28 does not remove civil liability or change either the UK’s international law obligations or UKIC’s or the Armed Forces’ rigid adherence to these obligations. I will come back to that in a moment.
At present, UKIC and the Armed Forces are required to carefully apply the provisions of the offences, sometimes at fast pace and in critical scenarios, as has been noted, and some of which may have life or death consequences—all while they work with our international partners to help protect the UK. We are talking, for example, about sharing intelligence to combat terrorist attack plots. Delays and limits on activity arise solely due to SCA risks when otherwise seniors are clear that there is no wrongdoing and that the activity represents a proper function of the organisation. The offences in the SCA are therefore creating a “chilling effect”, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred to, across UKIC and the Armed Forces in the delivery of their mission, and impacting on their ability to keep our country safe.
The Minister has repeated several times his reference to the Armed Forces, but, up to now, always in the context of support for intelligence organisations’ activities. It would be helpful if he could clarify—he is nodding; I think he is indicating that he might do so—whether the inclusion of the Armed Forces is intended to confer the immunity on their general range of activity or is intended to be confined to their support for the intelligence agencies.
The noble Lord has pre-empted me by about a second. A number of noble Lords have asked why the Armed Forces are included, including the noble Lords, Lord Purvis, Lord Anderson, Lord Beith, Lord Carlile and Lord Coaker. The Ministry of Defence collaborates with a diverse array of allies and partners, with intelligence sharing often forming a key part of such efforts. The Armed Forces also work closely with the UK intelligence and security community, helping to protect the UK from myriad threats overseas. The protection provided for in Clause 28 seeks to ensure that where our Armed Forces collaborate and provide authorised operational support with international partners, as with UKIC, support can continue without exposing individual staff or officers to personal risk of criminal liability. I hope that answers the question to the noble Lord’s satisfaction.
It would answer the question if the clause was so defined as to limit the extent of the immunity to acting in support of the intelligence agencies. However, as I read it, it does not do that.
I will continue, but I will come back to that, if I may.
I want to return to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, seeing as we are talking about the application of this, and also to the point on torture. There will be no change to the UK’s other domestic and international legal obligations, including those under the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and international obligations on assisting an unlawful act, which is Article 16 of the International Law Commission’s articles on state responsibility for internationally wrongful acts. I hope that is unequivocal enough.
I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. Before he moves on, could he give us two figures which I am sure he must know or could be given very quickly? First, in relation to the security services, how many cases have there been in the past 10 years of the kind we are discussing in which the Director of Public Prosecutions has had to make a decision as to whether a prosecution should take place? Secondly, how many events have been affected adversely over that period by the existing state of the law?
I am afraid that I do not have those figures to hand. I am not sure that I will be able to get them, but I will do my very best to find out and come back to the noble Lord on that question.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and I look forward to that reply when it comes in writing. If I have this right, the Minister said that it makes no difference—there is no change—to the approach on unlawful killing, torture or cruel or inhuman treatment. Is he saying that this clause does not provide immunity in offering assistance to others who would be committing unlawful killing, torture or cruel or inhuman treatment?
As I said earlier, I think this is confined very much to the intelligence support by the Armed Forces—is that what the noble Lord is referring to?
I do not believe that there is immunity for that, but I will clarify that if I am incorrect.
Moving on, caution when considering the legality of support to our partners is of course correct and will continue. However, the current impact of the SCA offences means that vital intelligence-sharing opportunities have been delayed or missed, even when UKIC and the Armed Forces are fully compliant with other legal and policy requirements, such as the Fulford principles and the overseas security and justice assistance guidance, which ensure, for example, that support to international partners is in line with our human rights obligations. I have the principles and guidance to hand. If anybody would like me to go through them in detail, I will, but they are long so it will delay proceedings. I will await an intervention, if any noble Lord wishes me to do that.
UKIC’s and the Armed Forces’ adherence to and compliance with the principles are monitored by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office—IPCO—via regular inspections, and they are also routinely scrutinised by the Intelligence and Security Committee. Ministers are directly accountable for the work of the agencies and the legality of their operations. When things go wrong, it is entirely right that there is scrutiny of and accountability for the organisations’ activities, and I commend the important work that the ISC and IPCO undertake in this space. Meanwhile, any individual found to be working beyond the proper functions of the security and intelligence agencies or the Armed Forces will remain personally liable for those actions. This is right and fair.
However, I have heard the views of the House about this clause. The Government are in close consultation with the Intelligence and Security Committee, UKIC and the Armed Forces, and we are carefully reflecting on the views expressed and considering whether a change in approach is appropriate. It is important to note that those who have seen the very sensitive information which is relevant to this issue have agreed that there is a problem to solve—including the ISC, which has seen specific examples—and I am committed to us reaching a consensus on this matter.
Turning directly to the amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Carlile, Section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act allows the Secretary of State to give authorisations for acts outside the British Isles, provided that the acts are done as necessary for the proper function of SIS or GCHQ—though not MI5 or the Armed Forces—and that the nature and consequence of the acts will be reasonable. These authorisations are clearly not currently available in all the circumstances in which SCA risks arise. I understand that this amendment seeks to address that gap and provide a solution to the application of the SCA offences. It also seeks to utilise an existing power for ministerial authorisation which is overseen by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. These are obviously legitimate and valuable objectives. Section 7 authorisations provide a carefully used route by which the agencies can seek ministerial approval in advance of planned activities. They require Ministers to consider, in relation to specific acts, whether they are necessary and whether the consequences are reasonable. Once authorised, they can remove criminal and civil liability for those acts.
There will invariably be instances where the SCA risk does not manifest itself initially and becomes apparent only much later. Where a risk is not identified in advance, a Section 7 authorisation would not be sought to cover it. In these cases, those acting for UKIC or the Armed Forces would not be adequately protected should concerns about SCA offences arise later. Further, this scenario could lead to an unintended consequence of seeking to use Section 7 authorisations for hypothetical risks, creating an unhealthy reality in which more conduct is approved than would be otherwise without providing meaningful consideration of those risks. I am sure the House shares our desire to find a targeted solution to that problem. It would be a perverse outcome indeed if this well-intended amendment were to lead to less consideration of the SCA risks rather than more. Whether it is a class authorisation or a targeted one, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, the reasons why Section 7 authorisations are inappropriate remain the same.
In short, the Government do not believe that Section 7 authorisation is the best solution to the specific operational issue and do not believe it would improve the clarity of the application of the SCA offences to all the complex operational scenarios that arise in ongoing, carefully considered but agile international collaboration. It is more desirable to remove this risk in a targeted way as per Clause 28, avoiding the burden of potentially missing, and/or the overuse of, Section 7 authorisations for SCA risks.
The noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Beith, talked about criminal conduct and authorisation of this for covert human intelligence sources. I think they may have conflated this with the issue at hand. No amendment is being proposed to the criminal conduct authorisation regime which governs the action of agents. We are concerned here with support for our international partners’ activities, so I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Evans, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, who articulated this point very well.
I now turn to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, which aims to table provisions which explicitly state that Clause 28 does not cover torture, murder or sexual offences. Again, it is a legitimate attempt to clarify Clause 28. However, it is one which the Government deem unnecessary for reasons that I have partly outlined already but will continue to set out.
Coming back to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, gives me the opportunity to return to an earlier comment from the Minister. Did he say in answer to the question from the noble Lord that he did not think we could assist others if they were conducting operations which involved torture, et cetera—that we could not support that activity? Was he going to clarify that and write to us, or clarify it later on the Floor of this Chamber?
I am going to do it right now: there is no immunity for inciting or assisting others to kill or torture.
Could the Minister give a little more information as to why there is no immunity?
The noble Lord does not want there to be immunity.
No. Why, under this clause, would there continue to be no immunity?
Perhaps I could get to the end and then clarify this. As I said earlier in relation to the SCA, I can confirm that the examples that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about have been provided to the ISC. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out, it has agreed that this is a problem that requires a solution.
It is vital to acknowledge that Clause 28 will not create blanket criminal law immunity or change the application of all other criminal law offences, including those criminalising torture anywhere in the world, as I have said a number of times. The UK remains committed and subject to international legal obligations, including under the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and international obligations on assisting an unlawful act under Article 16 of the International Law Commission’s articles on state responsibility for internationally wrongful acts. The amendment to the SCA offences applies only when persons acting for UKIC or the Armed Forces are acting within the proper exercise of their functions. We do not consider that the activities that are of concern and the focus of this amendment would amount to the proper exercise of those functions. I hope that is clear.
I want to be clear that any individual found to be working outside the proper functions of the intelligence agencies or Armed Forces will remain personally liable for those actions under the SCA offences, as well as other applicable laws. Meanwhile, it will still be possible for legal challenges to be brought against the intelligence agencies and Armed Forces in relation to allegations of unlawful behaviour, whether in the form of judicial review, civil damages claims or through a referral to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. That is exactly as it should be.
In response to the point from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, I say that the Government’s position is that this amendment is not intended to, nor would it have the effect of, removing the role of the relevant Secretary of State from the oversight of the intelligence and security services.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, spoke about the current reasonableness defence and effectively why it is not enough. There is an existing reasonableness defence in Section 50 of the SCA, as has been noted, which was included in recognition that there may be occasions when it could be shown that an individual’s actions were justified in the circumstances.
I am very sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again. He said that this would not remove the oversight of the Secretary of State and I absolutely accept that. Of course the Secretary of State will have oversight, but does the noble Lord accept that authorisation by the Secretary of State, at least in some cases, will no longer be a requirement?
I see where the noble Lord is coming from and, yes, I accept that.
I return to the reasonableness defence in Section 50. While we consider that properly authorised activity to protect national security should be interpreted as being reasonable, the application of the reasonableness defence to UKIC’s activity is untested.
I come back to one of the earlier points from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. I am not aware of any prosecutions, but he will know that I cannot comment on operational matters.
I also come back to the questions about the CPS. The fact that the CPS would not be obliged to prosecute offers little comfort to those carrying out legitimate work on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, who may still be subject to criminal investigation for carrying out authorised activities in the interests of national security. The Government consider that we should be able to offer legal reassurance to individuals carrying out vital work to support those interests.
I finish by reiterating that I am committed to continuing to work with the experts in this House, particularly the noble Lords who have tabled the amendments we have debated, and those in the other place to reach consensus on Clause 28. I thank all noble Lords for their patience as we move towards that shared objective.
I have noted the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, on timeliness but, at the moment, the Government cannot support these amendments and I therefore respectfully ask noble Lords not to press them.
Before the noble Lord sits down, could I see whether I have understood him correctly? Is he saying that an act of torture or sexual offences committed in support of another country’s services could not be a proper exercise of the functions of the Security Service—the SIS—or GCHQ? If he is, would it not be better to have that on the face of the Bill rather than simply as a statement from the Minister?
That is what I am saying. I will come back to whether it should be on the face of the Bill in due course.
I am very grateful for that last interaction between the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the Minister. I am also grateful for the Minister continuing to have a degree of open-mindedness. I do not know where I sit on the cascade of legal hierarchy, but I think it is lower order. I do not know if it is just me, but a frisson of nervousness went through my spine when the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, asked for a quick word outside. If I could avoid that, it would be better.
I am well aware of the distinction between SIS officers working under a CHIS authorisation and what is covered under the ISA. I am also well aware of MI5 officers running agents who carry out criminal activity. The point I was trying to make is that there are clear distinctions and that we have procedures with regard to MI5 officers running agents who carry out criminal activity, but there is no immunity for them to do so. The point I made in my opening remarks is that the processes that MI5 has are effectively the defence. The concern with the breadth of this immunity is that those processes will no longer be the case.
I am also well aware of our international obligations, but it is under domestic law that we would realise what those natures are. Because of the extraterritorial nature of the schedule in the SCA, I am still not convinced in the reading of it that our intelligence services and Armed Forces would be able to operate under domestic law in offering assistance to others carrying out criminal acts. Those criminal acts may well also be breaches of international law. I am grateful for what the Minister said, but I am also grateful for his willingness to engage further on that.
I hope the Minister took on board the consensus with regard to concerns about the Armed Forces. The point I made at the start of this debate is that, unique among the SIS and GCHQ included within this, the Armed Forces have powers of detention. Therefore, the processes under way under the MoD doctrine for risk assessments on torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, extraordinary rendition or rendition, and unacceptable standards of arrest and detention are all areas of considerable concern, if there is immunity for our Armed Forces when working with others.
Of course, the guidance that exists also includes the receiving of unsolicited information or providing or sharing information on collaboration. These risk assessment processes are in place—they are in published principles and guidelines—and the considerable concern is that they will be washed away by the extent of the immunity.
I am grateful to the Minister for being open. I still think that he has not sufficiently addressed all the areas of concern, not least that there would be a considerable diminution of independent oversight in the operation of this. I will withdraw my amendment at this stage. I accept the Minister’s word that he will engage fully before Report, and I hope he will be able to put in writing responses to all the issues that have been raised on this so that we can study it carefully before Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 63A withdrawn.
Amendment 64 not moved.
Clause 28 agreed.
Clause 29: The foreign power condition
Amendments 65 and 66 not moved.