During the afternoon and evening of Monday 5 October the House of Commons debated the Second Reading of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill which lays down the rules by which covert intelligence agents must operate particularly when they may have to break the law in order to maintain their cover.
During that debate I made my first speech as a new member of the Intelligence and Security Committee:
“I am in awe of the constant, cold courage of those who run huge risks for us as covert human intelligence sources; in fact, in a past life I was involved slightly.
I am clear that covert agents play a vital part in disrupting terrorist plots, and they often save lives. It is vital that such agents gain the trust of those on whom they have to report if they are to gain the information that the authorities need to keep us all safe. In view of the largely criminal nature of people under investigation, covert agents are sometimes required themselves to participate in criminal activities; we all understand that. If they do not participate in those activities, it will cause their loyalty to that group to be questioned. Suspicions will immediately be raised and they could be in peril, or, sometimes, in mortal danger.
It is therefore essential that covert agents are able to participate in some criminal activity. Organisations such as MI5 need to be able to authorise them to do so—obviously in certain circumstances and with the safeguards that we hope to put in the Bill.
In order to decide whether to authorise such covert agents to participate in criminal activity, intelligence organisations will have to consider whether the anticipated result of that involvement, which is getting information that could help save lives—information rather than intelligence, because there is a difference—outweighs the criminal conduct. This is a very fine balance, and it requires very, very experienced officers to make that judgment.
Obviously, we all understand that this is an ethical dilemma for us, but I accept that it is necessary and I will be fully supporting the Bill.”