Probably the most dangerous legislation I’ve seen in my lifetime is back in the Lords today for amendment and despite the determined efforts of Shami Chakrabarti, until now Labour peers have mostly sat on their hands. On Monday, Labour abstained on the big vote of replacing blanket immunity for Covert Human Intelligence Sources with the existing system of a public interest test and legal defence. The government has promoted this Bill as merely putting the status quo into law, but this Bill goes way beyond that. Laws passed by Parliament and developed over time through case law, can now be by-passed by over 500 senior police officers who can authorise officers, civilian employees and criminals to commit crimes, with immunity.
It is remarkable how Shami Chakrabarti, an ex-director of Liberty and Labour’s shadow Attorney General for four years under Corbyn, has been side-lined. 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. Many of the spycops abuses highlighted at the current public inquiry took place when Labour were in power.
What is really shocking is how Labour abstained on several key amendments in a clear betrayal of trade unionists and campaigners who have suffered from state intrusion during the last forty years. Why Labour would refuse to back the prohibition of agent provocateurs is beyond me. There is documented evidence that the police have acted in this way, so they can’t claim it is unnecessary.
Even if Labour are going along with the government spin that this legislation is aimed at paedophiles and terrorists, there was no reason for Labour to abstain on requiring “serious” crime or “serious” disorder to justify criminal conduct authorisation. This amendment was an attempt to get the police to focus upon the real problem, rather than waste their time and taxpayers’ money spying on 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.
With more votes happening today it is important to encourage Labour to do the right thing. On Monday, they did vote for an amendment that would have introduced judicial oversight and approval for criminal conduct authorisations, but it was narrowly defeated. They also supported a successful amendment that would ask if the police had made a decision that could be seen as ‘reasonable’ by those outside.
The most winnable vote today is by a Conservative peer who has expressed disbelief that we would use children as spies. As the ex-undercover officer, Neil Woods, has pointed out, this is an arms race between violent drugs gangs and the police. The police have been very successful in using undercover operatives under existing guidelines and as a result, the drug gangs employed children as a safer option. If the police use under-age spies, then this exposes those children to extreme violence in their daily life. There are other means of catching the bad guys.
I come from a working class family who voted Labour all their lives, thinking the Party would always do the right thing for ordinary people. But this legislation will ensure that the future is littered with numerous examples of abuse, corruption and official cover ups. The history of the last forty years will repeat itself, but with a whole new level of consequences. Unless Labour dramatically change their position in the next few weeks, then they will be complicit in all these mistakes and deliberate acts of state oppression.