Police Spies Bill at Report Stage in the House of Lords

I do not call these people covert human intelligence sources; they are police spies, and we have to be clear about that

I shall speak in support of Amendments 1 and 2, which I have signed, but quite honestly, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has said, all the amendments here are simply damage limitation. I am staggered that the government lawyers have actually allowed this legislation to be presented to your Lordships’ House. It is appalling. I liked the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. Her stance on this is not factionalism; it is a principled stance by a lawyer who understands civil liberties and human rights, and we could all learn from that.

I will focus specifically on my Amendment 4. It might seem a little less powerful or important than the other amendments that we are coming to today and on Wednesday, but I think it is quite important. We will be authorising criminals—or officers, or police spies, or whoever they are—to make money by criminal activities and then keep that money. I would like those profits to be recoverable through the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. I would like a proper, clear answer from the Minister on this. I have asked multiple times since Second Reading but have not yet had an answer on how the Government will recover the profits made by a police spy under a criminal conduct authorisation, or CCA.

For example, a drugs informant could be authorised to sell drugs as part of an investigation of those higher up the chain. Can the informant keep the money that they make from selling those drugs? What if somebody involved in a criminal enterprise of slavery and trafficking is authorised to continue their role in order to catch the organisers? Can the informant keep the money that they make from people trafficking—the money that they are paid as a result of what would be criminal activity but for the fact that they have a criminal conduct authorisation? In effect, this Bill would create a back-door, off-the-books way for police, intelligence services and other agencies to fund their spies.

The only answer that I have had from the Government—which is a bit shabby, considering that I asked this question directly several times—was in an all-Peers letter dated 3 December, where the Minister said that criminal conduct which takes place outside of the scope of a criminal conduct authorisation, where as a result a police spy may accrue benefits by continuing to make illicit profits alongside their work as a spy, would still be criminal conduct for the purposes of the confiscation regime in the Proceeds of Crime Act, and unlawful conduct for the purposes of the civil recovery regime, and such benefits could be liable to be recovered under either of those regimes.

That actually does not answer my question: it is quite long but it does not answer my question. I need to know how conduct within a criminal conduct authorisation—or CCA—and any resulting profits will interact with the Proceeds of Crime Act. I need to know whether and how the Government will recover those profits. So far, my question has been totally ignored and the response—because it was not an answer—discussed only conduct that is outside a criminal conduct authorisation. This suggests to me that the Government are happy to allow criminals to benefit; therefore, this issue has to be probed further. Criminals will be allowed to keep any proceeds of a crime if the handler has authorised the crime—surely that is a complete anomaly.

I would like to know exactly what the Government are thinking. I would be grateful if the Minister could answer my question about how profits made within a criminal conduct authorisation, which would otherwise be illegal, will be recovered. Otherwise, something quite corrupt is happening here; a handler can authorise a spy who could be an officer or a criminal already to keep money, and profits, from a crime. This has to be exposed and I really want an answer to my question.

It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. She mentioned complacency in the speeches of a few noble Lords, and it seems that people are missing the point of the measures in this Bill. The Government make a great play of “This is all to catch paedophiles and terrorists”, whom obviously we all want to catch, but they ignore the human rights legislation that will inevitably be transgressed.

We know the long history of abuses by undercover police, and the thought that humans can change is absolutely ludicrous, in the sense that human nature will always involve a group of people who think that they can get away with doing things that the rest of us should not. I am afraid that in the past officers have been allowed unlawfully by senior officers to do things, and this does not mean that they will not do it again: they will do it again. For example, the undercover inquiry has taken years to reach a point at which there is a judge in control—one who, I would argue, is not doing a very good job. The progress is incredibly slow and survivors of this sort of abuse should not have to wait so long for justice.

This group contains important amendments on two issues: ensuring that these powers are used only against serious offending and ensuring that they are not used to encourage offending. I have signed only one amendment in this group, but they are all sound.

I wish that I could trust the Government and the authorities enough to make Amendment 11 an absurdity, but history shows that this state can and does misuse power in order to undermine and stifle dissent and opposition. The face of the Bill should make clear beyond any doubt that agent provocateur conduct is illegal and can never be authorised, otherwise we can be sure that sooner or later this power will be used for that purpose.