Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael, has spoken during the Second Reading of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill on Monday evening, warning that the Bill as drafted would give sweeping powers for government agencies to authorise lawbreaking with few limitations and little oversight. Human rights groups have voiced deep concerns with the current version of the Bill, which as drafted could allow government bodies from MI5 to the Food Standards Agency to authorise crimes up to and including torture, sexual assault and murder.
Speaking during the debate, Mr Carmichael said:
“My real frustration with this Bill is that it is a colossal missed opportunity. First, there is the inadequacy of the authorisation. I quote the words of Lord Macdonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions:
““There is no comfort in allowing senior figures in the police or the intelligence agencies the power to sanction lawbreaking, without the need to first obtain independent warrants from judges or some other authority. Under this bill it will be easier for a police officer to commit a serious crime than to tap a phone or search a shed.”
“I referred earlier to the Food Standards Agency, and others have referred to the Environment Agency and the Gambling Commission. Including these organisations would undermine the substance of the work of the more serious bodies.
“There also is a total lack of any limitation on the offences that would be covered. Why would it not, for example, include torture?
“I do not agree with the idea that the limitations can be found in the Human Rights Act and are therefore unnecessary. Until recently the policy of the Conservatives was to repeal the Human Rights Act. If we were to see them return to that position, I wonder what protections would be left.
“In the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the Government was adamant that the Human Rights Act does not apply. It seems to me that the Government are pleading one case here tonight and a quite different case in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.
“These are all matters to which we can return in Committee. It requires this House to do its job and to improve the Bill before it today.”