The Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill will help end the exploitation of children involved in criminal activity, not cause it
The House of Lords will debate the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) Bill this evening| PA Images
If children cannot be asked to inform upon the criminal activities of those exploiting them, they become the perfect target for gangs. The government is strengthening the safeguards for the young people involved
It is essential that our intelligence, law enforcement agencies and public bodies have the right tools to keep us safe. Today, as part of the government’s efforts to ensure that is the case, the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) Bill returns to the Lords to be debated.
This Bill does not provide any new capabilities, but places on a clear and consistent statutory footing the ability for undercover agents to participate in criminal activity while working undercover, subject to robust and independent oversight.
The authorisation of undercover agents to participate in criminality not only allows us to prevent serious crime and acts of terrorism, it can help vulnerable individuals caught up in criminal activity. This is particularly true for young people.
In many cases, the authorisation offers an escape route from a life of exploitation and criminality and protects countless more lives.
Take the example of a juvenile CHIS that helped to disrupt a county lines network. Working for a criminal group, owing them money and looking for a way out, this young person approached the police with an offer to share information. Working with child services, the police made a modern slavery referral and a care plan was drawn up. This included relocating the young person, removing them from danger and exploitation, and enrolling them into education. As an authorised CHIS, the young person was then able to provide intelligence on the county lines group. Intelligence like this can be instrumental in disrupting criminal activity and protecting many more people, young and old alike.
It is terrible that any child or young person should find themselves caught up in criminality, often a victim, whether or not they commit crimes themselves. Some have suggested that to tackle this, young people must be excluded from ever acting as CHIS. But to place a blanket ban will only exacerbate the exploitation of children and young people, and tighten the grip of ruthless gangs. Those involved in county lines are cruel, and profit from the misery of others. If children cannot be asked to inform upon the criminal activities of those exploiting them, they become the perfect target.
Children and young people are used as CHIS extremely rarely and only after careful consideration of their physical and psychological welfare. No juvenile is ever asked to take part in criminality that they are not already involved in, as a review by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner confirmed, and any such deployments are subject to extensive safeguards. Safeguards that, in 2019, the High Court concluded were extensive and sufficient to ensure young people were appropriately safeguarded when acting as CHIS.
I’m pleased, as all of us should be, that my colleagues in the House of Lords are so committed to making sure this vital piece of legislation works. The government has already tabled amendments to further strengthen the safeguards regarding juvenile CHIS and I am determined to make sure that this Bill works to protect all of us, including our children.
Baroness Williams of Trafford is a Conservative peer and Home Office minister