I am writing to you with concerns about the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill which you voted for yesterday at third reading.
Allowing agents of the state to commit crimes up to and including murder, rape and torture is a slippery slope. Regardless of the supposed safeguards and oversights built into the bill, the reality is the current text would allow the government of the day to excuse the worst criminal offences of their agents carried out against political opponents. This is incredibly dangerous territory and I have a few questions which I hope you will answer openly and honestly:
- Would you, as a Conservative activist, feel safe in this country if a left-wing government were enacting the CHIS Bill? (For example, if Jeremy Corbyn's Labour had won the last election).
- Why does the bill specify "preventing disorder" and "the interests of the economic well-being of the UK" as justifications for criminal acts by state agents? This will now put peaceful protestors, striking workers, and any political activist who disagrees with your party under the constant threat of state violence.
- What guarantees can you give me, as your constituent, that I will be safe from state violence under these laws - given that I am a member of various environmental groups and charities (a class of organisations frequently and unfairly targeted by the police)?
I look forward to your response.
Thank you for your email.
I appreciate you have concerns about the proposed legislation in this area. This is a very sensitive and important area of the law. As you will be aware, the Bill provides an express legal power for the intelligence agencies, police and a small number of other public authorities to continue to utilise an important tactic for national security and the prevention of serious crime.
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) are agents, or undercover officers who may work in the company of criminals or terrorists. CHIS help to secure prosecutions and disruptions by infiltrating these groups. Participation in criminal conduct can be a part of CHIS use. However, this conduct takes place in carefully managed circumstances.
This is vital legislation and goes to heart of efforts to keep communities safe from those who seek to do us all harm. The work of CHIS has been critical in disrupting many of the terrorist plots our agencies have stopped. Indeed, in 2018 alone, CHIS led operations allowed the National Crime Agency to disrupt over 30 threats to life, effect numerous arrests of serious organised criminals, seize over 3 tonnes of Class A drugs, safeguard over 200 people, and take almost 60 firearms and 4,000 rounds of ammunition off the street.
I understand you have concerns about safeguards. I would like to be clear that all authorisations are precise and explicit. A CHIS will never be given unlimited authority to commit any or all crimes. Indeed, where a CHIS commits any criminality outside the tight parameters of the authorisation, the prosecuting authorities can consider this in the normal way.
I understand some people have concerns that the Bill will provide sweeping powers. I strongly disagree with this statement. The Government has been clear that there are upper limits to the activity that can be authorised under the Bill. These are contained in the Human Rights Act, including the right to life and the prohibition of torture or subjecting someone to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
It is unlawful for any public authority to act in a way that is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and the legislation makes clear that nothing in the Bill detracts from a public authority’s obligations under the Human Rights Act. Therefore, an act that would be incompatible with the ECHR could not lawfully be granted under this Bill.
I am also aware of the suggestion that listing specific crimes permitted or prohibited would be a way of offering extra safeguards. I do not believe this would be appropriate. This approach would place in the hands of criminals, terrorists and hostile states a means of identifying agents and sources, creating a potential checklist for suspected CHIS to be tested against. This would place CHIS at personal risk and therefore not something I can support.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me, and I do hope this can be of some use to you at this time.
With very best wishes,
Chris supports the CHIS bill, some of the information he provides is reassuring but it remains to be seen whether sufficient safeguards will actually be implemented.