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Children must be protected from being used as state informants, peers warn

Lamiat Sabin
Parliamentary reporter

TIGHT curbs must be put on a Bill to prevent vulnerable children and young people from being used as undercover agents by the state, peers urged today.

In its Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill, the Home Office under Home Secretary Priti Patel is proposing that “criminal conduct authorisation” be granted to under-18s so that they can be used as a “covert human intelligence source.”

Some children and young adults are already being recruited back into criminal activity by the state as undercover operatives and informants, for example, youngsters who get caught by police for being involved in county-lines gangs.

During the Lords’ second day of debating the Bill, Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti slammed the government for drafting a Bill that had limited scope for completely banning “state-sponsored child abuse.”

She said: “That is the game those who are engaged in the drafting of government legislation play.

“I was a Home Office lawyer for some years. I know that their game is to … prevent a whole wealth of amendments.”

Baroness Chakrabarti urged peers of all parties to get behind Tory peer George Young’s amendments 12 and 13, and the joint committee on human rights’ amendment 14 as the best way to protect such children.

Lord Young’s amendment would bar the issuing of a criminal conduct authorisation to someone aged under 18. The former cabinet minister said: “How can one promote the welfare of a child or act in its best interest by tasking some of the most vulnerable children in this country, some as young as 15, with infiltrating some of the most dangerous organisations and groups, drug cartels, sex-trafficking rings and potentially terrorist cells?”

Before the debate, Green peer Jenny Jones criticised Labour peers, with the notable exception of Baroness Chakrabarti, for having “mostly sat on their hands” and abstained on Monday’s vote of replacing the existing system of a public-interest test and legal defence with blanket immunity for “covert human intelligence sources.”

She said: “It is remarkable how Shami Chakrabarti, an ex-director of Liberty and Labour’s shadow attorney general for four years under [Jeremy] Corbyn, has been sidelined.

“[Labour leader] Keir Starmer is rapidly heading back to the authoritarian approach to public order and civil liberties that we saw under Tony Blair and Jack Straw, when Labour brought in a whole set of oppressive legislation to allow state surveillance and restrict public protest.”

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