It is obvious that the Bill hugely expands the state’s ability to authorise criminal conduct and grant legal immunity to criminals. Surely the Government understand this and can see that it is wrong to try to legislate like this.
I have been interested in this particular area of policing for more than a decade, ever since I found out that the Metropolitan Police was actually spying on me, tracking my movements and reporting back on what I was doing. At the time, I was an elected councillor in Southwark, an elected assembly member and, for a year of that time, I was Deputy Mayor of London. At the time, I think I was quite naive about the fact that the police did this sort of thing. When I got into it, of course, it became obvious that they do quite a lot of it.
The ongoing spy cops inquiry has made it obvious that there are huge problems with this area of policing. This Bill does not solve them, and in fact it goes further – it makes more problems than it might be said to solve.
I congratulate Lord Paddick and Lady Hamwee, for tabling these amendments, because they are quite necessary. For example, the language is quite confusing. These amendments would replace “in the course of, or otherwise in connection with, the conduct of a covert human intelligence source”, or a police spy, with the word “by” a police spy. These are important amendments to probe how tightly or loosely criminal conduct can be authorised. The Minister needs to give a clear and thorough explanation of the intention behind the words “in the course of, or otherwise in connection with, the conduct of”.
What does “otherwise in connection with” mean? What do the Government say would be the effect of removing those words, and having the much simpler word “by”?
It is important to recognise that many police spies are recruited from the ranks of criminals. To what extent can their existing or ongoing criminal conduct be authorised? Amendment 37 probes this issue further, making it clear that only future conduct can be authorised. Without this, there is a risk that past criminal conduct can be authorised, so that criminals would essentially be let off the hook in exchange for future co-operation with the police.
Then there is the question of how all this interacts with the Proceeds of Crime Act. If criminal conduct is authorised under this Bill, does that shield any criminal profits from being recovered under the Proceeds of Crime Act? For example, can a drug dealer or human trafficker rake in huge amounts of cash while working on the side for the police as a spy, or would this money be confiscated by the state? This legislation must not create legalised criminal enterprises – state-endorsed mafias – where the profits are irrecoverable by the state.
The Government are claiming that the Bill just puts everything on a regular footing and that we can all relax because we know exactly what will happen, but it is in fact nothing to do with that. It is about heading off all the legal uncertainty caused by the current legal challenge – the spy cops inquiry. It is nothing to do with protecting the general public. I find it infuriating that the two groups that are constantly referred to as being vulnerable to this legislation are paedophiles and terrorist organisations when we all know perfectly well that other organisations will be contaminated by this system and have undercover operatives and police spies. It will be unions and political groups, such as campaign groups, as we are seeing at the moment with the spy cops inquiry.
It is obvious that the Bill hugely expands the state’s ability to authorise criminal conduct and grant legal immunity to criminals.
It is worrying that criminal conduct will go unpunished because of the Bill, but also, as several noble Peers have already mentioned, that the victims of these crimes will have no legal rights. They are left by the Government as collateral damage, which we have again seen in the spy cops inquiry. We have seen just how badly people have been harmed by undercover policing: innocent women’s lives ruined, children fathered by police officers using fake identities who then run off and avoid all their parental responsibilities because they have another family elsewhere who they want to go back to, and people betrayed by state agents.
The Bill’s provisions will prevent any entitlement to compensation for the damage caused by a police spy. You were tricked into a sexual relationship with a police officer? Too bad. Your house was burgled by a police spy? Too bad. You were beaten up by a gang acting as informants for the police? Too bad. Innocent people will be hit by the Bill. It is so obviously wrong. Innocent lives will be ruined.
Surely the Government understand this and can see that it is wrong to try to legislate like this.