In House of Lords Question Time earlier today Baroness Neville-Jones, the Minister of State for Security, was asked what discussions the Government have had with the police about the use of undercover operations in relation to environmental protest groups. Her initial answer was:
“My Lords, decisions on intelligence gathering are operational matters for chief officers working within the relevant legal framework. The Government do not discuss with the police the use of undercover operations in relation to environmental protest groups. The Home Office has spoken to Nottinghamshire Police about the next steps in this case, which has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It is talking to ACPO and HMIC about which body is in the best position to undertake a review of the wider lessons to be learnt.”
Later, however, I asked:
“Can the noble Baroness confirm that all such operations would require RIPA authorisation, and what level of authorisation is required? Can she also tell us whether there is an expectation that such operations would be subject to regular internal review at a senior level regarding whether they were still appropriate and proportionate in the light of circumstances?”
This elicited the following response:
“RIPA—the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act—specifies how that should be done. The authorisation has to be by a senior officer. There has to be a regular instruction and record kept and there are various other procedures in the Act which are designed to manage and control the operation. I do not think that it is the framework that is lacking.”
So the message was clear: the Government sees no need to change the rules governing such operations.
It is interesting how Baroness Neville-Jones seems to try the patience of the House. The answer to another supplementary question was interrupted by cries – from the Government benches – of “Too long”. This was recorded by Hansard as follows:
“Baroness Neville-Jones: My noble and learned friend makes a very important point. As I mentioned, governance in this area is a very important element. I must say that the police agree. The chief constable of West Midlands himself has said that the line is not to be crossed between infiltration to gather intelligence and the agent provocateur. He is quite right.
As to the codes of practice, the legal framework is provided for by regulations contained in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. There is also a code of conduct and practice, which has been published by the Home Office under the previous Government, on how covert human intelligence sources should operate. The independent Office of Surveillance Commissioners has also provided procedural and interpretational advice.
This follows an earlier incident on 21st December when the House was so dissatisfied with her answer to points made in debate that it agreed by 156 votes to 112 to adjourn “to allow the noble Baroness the Minister to seek further advice so that the House may be allowed to hear the response that she should have given to noble Lords”