In the House of Lords on 13th January 2021 the Bishop of Durham spoke during the debate on the Covert Human Intelligence Bill and the Bishop of St Albans received a written answer to a question on support for those living with gambling-related harm. Details below:
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
The Bishop of Durham Paul Butler spoke during the Covert Human Intelligence Bill Debate. He spoke in favour of amendments 12, 14 and 24.
“I speak in favour of Amendments 12 and 14, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, and the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Cormack, to which I have been pleased to add my name. I also speak in favour of Amendment 24, whose sponsoring group, made up of the noble Baronesses, Lady Kidron and Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham, is wonderfully cross-Bench.
“Therefore, it will be clear that my concerns relate to the situation of those who are children in law because they are under 18. My absolute preference lies with Amendment 12, which would make it illegal for anyone under 18 to be used as a CHIS. However, concerned that this will not be agreed, I wish to ensure that full safeguards are in place for those who are children in law. In doing so, I recognise, as we all do, that the number who are so used is very small and are mainly 16 to 17 year-olds.
“I apologise to the House that, due to the time taken in Committee, it proved impossible for me to speak on the two amendments to which I had added my name when they were finally taken, and I am very grateful to my right reverend friend the Bishop of Carlisle for speaking for me.
“I am here to reiterate the simple, immovable, moral truth that children must be treated as children, as many of my noble friends argued in Committee. It is not a question of ifs, buts or whens.
“We, as adults, have a moral obligation to protect children and safeguard their care and well-being in all respects: physical, mental, social and spiritual.
“Knowingly placing a child in harm’s way and encouraging them to remain in harmful situations or with harmful behaviours may be in our interest, but it is not in the child’s best interests.
“This is exacerbated by the likelihood that the small number of children recruited as CHIS are from a potentially vulnerable background and are already deeply damaged. We should be seeking their healing, not risking damaging them further.
“In Committee, my noble friend the Minister said that ‘becoming a CHIS can, potentially, offer a way’ for a child ‘to extricate themselves from such harm.’
“While this sounds like a laudable thing, before being able to extricate the child, are we not potentially exposing them to more harm by encouraging them at times to remain involved in a criminal situation or behaviour?
“The Minister also argued in Committee that ‘appropriate weight is given to a child’s best interests’, but being a CHIS is surely never in a child’s best interests. The use of child CHIS was justified in Committee through how it can help to remove them and others ‘from the cycle of crime’.
“However, is the hypocrisy here not evident in first encouraging the child to continue in criminal behaviours and settings? We rightly condemn the use of child soldiers around the globe for the atrocity that it is. Let us not slip into a dangerous grey space where we permit the use of children to fight our battles against criminal gangs and county lines. Let us protect their vulnerabilities.
“The various arguments made in Committee conveying how the use of child CHIS has not yet been abused were exactly what we wished to hear; why not ensure that this will always be the case? I note the remarks of the Minister that ‘the IPC was satisfied that those who grant such authorisations do so only after very careful consideration of the inherent risks, and that concerns around the safeguarding of children.’
“It is reassuring to hear that that has been the case to date. However, the purpose of this Bill is to put the future use of CHIS on a clear and consistent statutory footing. It seems to me that placing in this Bill the most comprehensive safeguards possible when it comes to children is wholly in keeping with the Bill’s overall purpose. It is a necessary step for keeping the welfare and well-being of children as a primary consideration.
“I welcome the Government’s recognition in their Amendment 26 of the need to have authorisation in the Bill and not simply in a code of practice. I also welcome the need to protect those aged under 16 more fully than 16 and 17 year-olds. However, I remain concerned that the proposals in Amendment 26 do not go far enough—as already argued by the noble Baronesses, Lady Kidron and Lady Hamwee. I want to see the independence of a judicial commissioner in place for the authorisation of those aged under 18 as CHIS, with the parameters laid out in Amendment 14.
“Amendment 24 has also been very carefully worked through by a wide range of organisations and people involved in concerns around the protection of the child. Therefore, I continue to support both these amendments. They recognise that our first and most important duty is to protect and support children and vulnerable people. If the mind of the House is tested on these amendments, I shall vote in favour of them. If the House supports them, I hope that the Government will undertake to accept them.
“In relation to the proper protection of children, I reiterate my preference for Amendment 12. It would prevent the granting of criminal conduct authorisations to any child in clear and unambiguous terms. This is the clearest and simplest way of guaranteeing the protection of children and resisting the temptation to use them as assets in the fight against crime. I recognise that many in this House may see that as too absolute, thus I am also glad to put my name to Amendment 14, which would at least establish more effective safeguards for those aged under 18 in ensuring prior judicial approval that explicitly considers the potential for both physical and psychological distress.
“I also support Amendment 24, which lays out specific and clear additional safeguards to ensure that children can be used only when there is no foreseeable risk of physical or psychological harm—or, I wish it also said, spiritual harm. It also lays out that the circumstances should occur only as a last resort and with the oversight of an appropriate adult. Combined, they amount to much better protections than those in Amendment 26. It is inherently wrong for those aged under 18 to be used as CHIS, hence my support for Amendment 12. If not that, we need the amendments that protect children most effectively. Let us keep the best interests of children at the fore.”
Support for those living with gambling-related harm
Asked by The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to widen gambling treatment services; and what targets are in place for (1) the percentage of gamblers to be treated, and (2) the date by which that treatment should take place. [HL9947]
Lord Bethell: Whilst there are no specific targets in place, the NHS Long Term Plan committed to expanding the geographical coverage of treatment services by opening up to 15 specialist problem gambling clinics 2023/24. Work continues on phased expansion of these services, enabling the National Health Service to explore how best to use existing treatment models to reach those most in need of support.