1. This CLP notes:
1.1. The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons on 15th October 2020.
1.2 The Bill would amend Part II of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) to create a new process of ‘Criminal Conduct Authorisations’, constituting an express power for MI5, police forces and a range of other public authorities to authorise their agents and informants (“Covert Human Intelligence Sources” “CHIS”) to commit criminal offences.
1.3 This legislation would license offences, committed during cover operations, for a wide range of public authorities, from the intelligence services and the police, to the Gambling Commission and the Food Standards Agency.
1.4 The Bill places no limits on the types of crimes which can be authorised, with no express prohibition on human rights violations, including murder, torture, kidnap, or sexual offences. It allows state agents to commit crimes to stay undercover. There is no provision for innocent victims to get compensation.
1.5 In placing current guidelines on a statutory footing, the Bill would give legal basis to the infiltration of trade unions, as grounds for criminal conduct would include not only ‘national security’, but also ‘preventing disorder’.
1.6 Not only does this Bill make it impossible to prosecute such crimes, it gives prior authorisation to commit them and with no judicial oversight. As such it is weaker than comparable laws for phone-tapping, despite involving potentially far more harmful conduct.
1.7 That past victims of such covert operations include Pat Finucane, the Orgreave picketers, the Hillsborough victims, and multiple women who were abused as the result of state infiltration of environmental and social justice campaign groups.
1.8 That Labour Party leader Keir Starmer issued a one-line whip to abstain on the third reading of the Bill. He has since expressed what sounds like full support for the bill, claiming it was “impossible” to argue that the Bill would allow undercover agents to torture people. (https://www.expressandstar.com/news/uk-news/2020/10/23/starmer-defends-labour-position-on-spy-cops-bill/)
1.9 That 34 Labour MPs ignored the whip and voted against the bill.
1.10 That Unite the Union has launched a campaign against the bill: https://unitetheunion.org/campaigns/block-the-spycops-bill/
2. This CLP believes:
2. 1. This Bill is part of a wider project by this government to wrest key scrutiny powers away from parliament and the judiciary.
2. 2. This Bill has alarming and destructive implications for all progressive movements in the UK as well as the trade union movement in general.
2. 3. Keir Starmer was wrong to whip his MPs into abstaining on the bill.
2. 4. The prohibition of torture, sexual violence and murder on behalf of the British state must be absolute.
3. This CLP resolves:
3.1. That the Labour Party must oppose this Government’s ongoing project to place British authorities above the law.
3.2 To condemn the decision to abstain against Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill and call on the leadership to now unreservedly oppose it.
3.3 To thank the 34 Labour MPs who refused to follow the whip and who voted against the bill.
3.4 To publicly campaign against the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill.
3.5 To publicly campaign on behalf of victims of covert operations, and support the Pat Finucane Centre, the Orgreave Truth and Justice campaign, the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, and Police Spies Out of Lives in their work to expose covert criminality by the British state.
Oppose the capitalist state! Fight for a democratic workers state! Fight for socialism!
This Branch/CLP condemns the Labour leadership’s decision to whip Labour MPs to abstain in the voting on the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill at its second and third readings in the House of Commons in October and expresses its opposition to the strengthening of the powers of the capitalist state – powers that have been used against the labour movement.
It affirms its support for those Labour MPs who defied the Party whip and voted against the Bill at its second and third readings and for the trade unions and other organisations that are campaigning against this legislation.
On 5 October 2020, 20 Labour MPs defied the Party whip to vote against the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill at its second reading in the House of Commons (https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2019-21/coverthumanintelligencesourcescriminalconduct/stages.html).
On 15 October 2020, 34 Labour MPs defied the Party whip to vote against the Bill at its third reading in the House of Commons.
A statement signed by 18 Labour MPs, by the General Secretaries of Unite, CWU, TSSA, ASLEF, RMT, NEU, UCU, PCS and NUJ, and by Reprieve, Police Spies Out of Lives, the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance, the Pat Finucane Centre, Privacy International, the Committee on the Administration of Justice, the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, Justice 4 Grenfell, and the Public Interest Law Centre draws attention to
- the lack of definition of the phrase ‘economic wellbeing’ in the Bill, which could implicate legitimate trade union activity
- the failure to exclude authorisation of serious crimes such as murder, torture and sexual violence
- the lack of provision to compensate innocent victims of criminal conduct undertaken by undercover state agents
- the broad range of state agencies that will be able to authorise criminal activity
- the use of the Human Rights Act to place limits on the scope of criminal activity, when the Government has used a legal defence that the state cannot be held responsible under the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights for actions undertaken by individual agents
- the lack of prior judicial authorisation or concurrent judicial oversight.
In a briefing paper prepared by Reprieve, the Pat Finucane Centre, Privacy International, the Committee on the Administration of Justice and Rights & Security International, it is stated that the Bill
“goes far further than the present system for MI5 ‘authorising’ the involvement of CHIS in criminal offences, which does not as a matter of law place ‘authorised’ criminal offences committed by informants beyond the reach of prosecutors and the courts. That is also the case with other law enforcement bodies.”
Howard Beckett, Assistant General Secretary of Unite, said, before the third reading of the Bill:
“We owe it to the victims waiting to give evidence to the public inquiry that the proceedings aren’t undermined by this outrageous attempt to legitimise the very behaviour for which they are seeking long-overdue redress.”
Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said, after the third reading of the Bill:
“It’s hugely worrying that we’re a step closer to seeing this deeply dangerous bill become law. MPs are signing off on a licence for government agencies to authorise torture and murder.”
The Labour leadership’s decision to whip MPs to abstain in the voting on this Bill, like its decision to whip them to abstain in the voting on the second reading of the Overseas Operations Bill, will embolden the Conservative Party, as well as those on the far right of the political spectrum, damage the reputation of the Labour Party as a force that is opposed to the interests of the ruling class and that is fighting for the interests of the working class, and will lead to a loss of electoral support.
The Labour leadership should be arguing that
- a safe and secure society is a socialist society because, when production is organised and planned democratically, the needs of everyone in society can be met
- the capitalist state is an oppressive force that exists because society is divided into exploiting and exploited classes
- because the working class is the largest exploited class in a capitalist system of production, only it has the power to transform a capitalist society into a socialist society
- the working class should therefore be in charge.
- Keir Starmer MP, Leader of the Labour Party
- Angela Rayner MP, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
- Richard Burgon MP, Secretary, Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs
- Len McCluskey, General Secretary, Unite
- Dave Ward, General Secretary, CWU
- Manuel Cortes, General Secretary, TSSA
- Mick Whelan, General Secretary, ASLEF
- Mick Cash, General Secretary, RMT
- Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary, NEU
- Jo Grady, General Secretary, UCU
- Mark Serwotka, General Secretary, PCS
- Michelle Stanistreet, General Secretary, NUJ
 Elliot Chappell and Sienna Rodgers, ’20 Labour MPs defy party whip to vote against “licence to kill” bill’, Labour List, 5 October, 2020 (https://labourlist.org/2020/10/19-labour-mps-defy-party-whip-to-vote-against-licence-to-kill-bill/).
 Sienna Rodgers, ’34 Labour MPs break whip to oppose “spycops” bill as seven frontbenchers quit’, Labour List, 15 October 2020 (https://labourlist.org/2020/10/35-labour-mps-break-whip-to-oppose-spycops-bill-as-seven-frontbenchers-quit/).
 The full statement is available to view at https://unitetheunion.org/campaigns/block-the-spycops-bill/.
 ‘Briefing for Second Reading of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill’, Committee on the Administration of Justice, October 2020 (https://caj.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/CHIS-Criminal-Conduct-Bill-Briefing-for-Second-Reading.pdf).
 Howard Beckett, ‘Failing to oppose the spycops bill would be a dereliction of duty’, Labour List, 12 October 2020 (https://labourlist.org/2020/10/failing-to-oppose-the-spycops-bill-would-be-a-dereliction-of-duty/).
 Amnesty International UK, ‘UK: MPs vote through “deeply dangerous” Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill’, 15 October 2020 (https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/uk-mps-vote-through-deeply-dangerous-covert-human-intelligence-sources-bill).