This evening the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill passed its 3rd reading in the House of Commons, with no opposition amendments succeeding in adding safeguards to the legislation. We live in an increasingly dangerous world and the bill formalises what has been carried out for years, without any legal framework. I can understand need for undercover agents, their work enables penetration into organised crime networks and terrorist cells and I have great respect for the agents who carry out this work for our protection, at great personal risk to themselves.
However, I have significant reservations about the ‘CHIS’ legislation in its current form.
The government quoting the 1998 Human Rights Act (HRA), which brings the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law as protection against potential abuses of power is fairly meaningless in light of clear intent of Tories to abolish the HRA and leave the ECHR post Brexit.
The bill also seems also appears to say that the state can’t be held accountable for the criminality it authorises the agent to carry out. This was pointed out by Tory MP David Davis, which leads to the question “who is accountable!?”
I also have concerns about the culture that may arise from making authorised criminal acts lawful, rather than the current legal status of such acts being unlawful, but subsequently deemed as ‘not in the public interest to prosecute’ scenario. Why the need for change now? Why the unnecessary rush through Parliament, which understandably raises suspicions around motives for the legislation. There are also issues around who has oversight of these decisions, when that oversight takes place and what avenues of redress there are for people affected by the actions of what will be, when the bill passes, legal acts.
Finally, as a proud trade unionist I’ve real concerns around the section of the bill allowing criminal acts by undercover agents “in the interests of the economic well-being of the UK.” I’ve yet to be convinced by the assurances from the government that the lawful activity of unions and activists will be protected from state intrusion. The government have a lengthy charge sheet on this and unions must be protected from interference in carrying out their activities.
On the basis of the above, while understanding the political reasons for the Labour leadership decision to abstain, morally I think it is the wrong approach to take. I understand that Keir Starmer has made several commitments (see here) to MPs around union issues such as the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign and stating that there was no “abstention strategy”.
I voted for Keir Starmer in the leadership election and although I don’t agree with his stance on this issue, will continue to support him as Labour set out a path back to power. This does not mean blind obedience, but as I set out in this blog unity is essential to our success. Whatever happens in the NEC elections (shameless plug for my election address here) I will act as a critical friend, not a hostile opponent to the Labour leadership, but it is a fine line that Starmer is following in the pursuit of credibility and the trust of the public.
Julian Vaughan – 15th October 2020
Trade Union Blacklisting https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN06819/SN06819.pdf
Police involvement in blacklisting of workers https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43507728
Police spied on trade unionists https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/06/police-trade-unionists-blacklist-met-undercover-unit
Undercover police spy on Stephen Lawrence campaign https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43796337
Woman wins undercover officer case against met Police https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35350095
Campaigner issues statement as former partner confirmed as undercover officer https://policespiesoutoflives.org.uk/dines-confirmed/