Dr Julian Lewis: Right from the outset, the Intelligence and Security Committee has supported the principle behind the Bill, although we have also welcomed attempts by Members in both Houses to improve it. It is a very important Bill. Covert human intelligence sources or agents provide vital information to assist the security and intelligence agencies in their investigations. They save lives. As the head of MI5 recently said, without them, many of the attacks foiled in recent years
“would not have been prevented.”
In working undercover, CHIS need to be trusted by those they are reporting on, so that they can gain the information that the authorities need. CHIS may therefore need to carry out criminal activity to maintain their cover. Their handlers must be able to authorise them to do so, in certain circumstances and subject to specific safeguards. The Bill places the powers that certain organisations have to authorise such activity on an explicit statutory basis – something that we should all welcome.
The Bill before us has been improved since it was introduced in September, and that is a measure of the effective scrutiny of national security legislation by Parliament, including by the ISC. These are very serious powers for the state to exercise, and it is right that they be properly scrutinised. In particular, the ISC welcomes the provisions brought forward in the other place by Lord Anderson, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, requiring all criminal conduct authorisations to be notified to judicial commissioners as soon as possible and within seven days. Judicial oversight is a vital safeguard, and this measure should give the public confidence that these powers will be used only when proportionate, necessary, and in accordance with the law.
The final amendments to the Bill that the House is being asked to approve today are sensible provisions that the House should welcome. The additional safeguards for children and vulnerable people are particularly welcome, and it is clear that the Government have listened to the strength of feeling in both Houses on this matter. Many of the changes made to the Bill will be reflected in an updated CHIS code of conduct, which I understand will be drafted over the coming months. This revised code of conduct will include new language emphasising the important oversight role of the Intelligence and Security Committee in relation to the use of these powers by the intelligence agencies. The Committee welcomes that, and I can assure the House that the ISC fully intends to exercise its oversight powers to ensure that criminal conduct authorisations are used appropriately.
I thank Ministers and those who support them for the constructive way in which they have engaged with the Committee on the Bill. I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security [James Brokenshire], who unfortunately cannot be with us today. I wish him the very best for his recovery, and I look forward to working with him in future. Finally, I pay tribute to the men and women of our security and intelligence agencies and, most importantly on this occasion, to their covert human intelligence sources – individuals whom few of us will ever know, but whose bravery saves lives. We all owe them a great debt of gratitude for their courageous service.