Labour will be 'complicit in state oppression' if they abstain on spy cops Bill
The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) Bill is hugely flawed. Unamended, it will grant blanket legal immunity for spies, undercover police and informants to commit crimes.
I wish I could stop the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS Bill) legislation in its tracks with the Fatal Amendment I am putting in the Lords today.
What other country in the world allows over 500 of its senior police officers, along with a long list of other agencies, to grant immunity from the law (any law) to their undercover agents? What other country extends this to the untrained civilian agents it might employ, such as criminals and on occasion, children? What country does this without judicial oversight of the decision? I’m genuinely interested in the answer because I suspect that the list would put us in uncomfortable company.
Mistakes and abuses are inevitable with this legislation, yet the Public Inquiry into undercover policing is still struggling to give a voice to the victims of the last forty years of political policing. We are not only going to repeat the same mistakes, we are about to make even bigger ones.
Given the history of how trade unionists and campaigners have been spied upon by the police and had their lives ruined, I would have expected the Labour Party to reject this Bill outright as Scotland has done. That is sadly not the case and the front bench will not support my amendment today.
In fact, Labour failed to support an amendment banning the use of agents provocateurs despite well documented evidence that this has happened in recent decades.
Labour also abstained on amendments inserting the word “serious” in front of crime and also “serious” in front of disorder when the police justify a criminal conduct authorisation. The implication being that the law can be ignored when dealing with crime and everyday disorder.
Corruption will be part of this legislation's legacy
Those amendments were an attempt to ensure the police focus upon the real policing problems, rather than waste their time and taxpayers' money spying on people like Doreen Lawrence, or campaigners against McDonalds. As Peter Hain pointed out, the police spied on him for campaigning against apartheid in South Africa, but didn’t put the same energy stopping the regime’s supporters who sent letter bombs to his home.
Other amendments fell because there clearly wasn’t enough opposition to the government's ideas on reworking the rule of law. This included one of my amendments that would have stopped criminals, or police officers, used as a CHIS from keeping the proceeds of their crime. The fact that this is even an issue shows the huge flaws in this bill. Corruption will be part of this legislation's legacy.
There were other amendments that Labour supported but were still rejected. Some tried to cut down the long list of agencies that can use these powers. Others tried to offer legal protection for journalists. Such common sense proposals were rejected by the Conservative government.
Some good amendments did make it through and when my Fatal Amendment is voted down, I will encourage everyone to lobby their MPs to get these voted through. They will mitigate a few of the worst aspects of the Bill, but it will still be every dictator’s dream of a police state.
I call on MPs to support the Lords amendments that prevent undercover agents from committing the most serious crimes such as rape, murder and torture. To limit the circumstances that allow children and vulnerable people to be authorised to commit crimes as undercover spies. And that allow a judge to overturn blanket legal immunity where it has been wrongly granted.
The government’s one defence is that the European Human Rights Act will act as a restraining guide to the police and other agencies, as well as giving people some legal redress. This is the same Act that the Conservatives stated in their manifesto that they intended to amend. Watch this space.
Baroness Jones is a Green Party member of the House of Lords.
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