Thank you for your email regarding the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill. I know there has been a lot of controversy surrounding this bill and am very grateful to everyone who has got in touch to outline their concerns.
As you know, this bill is concerned with covert human intelligence sources – undercover agents – who are working to disrupt some of the most serious types of crime, such as terrorism, violent drugs offences, human trafficking and child sexual exploitation.
It’s vital that our security services are able to disrupt this activity, prevent further offences and bring people to justice. Since March 2017, MI5 and Counter Terror Police have together thwarted 27 terror attacks alone.
However, up to now this activity has been happening without a clear legal framework, strong safeguards or robust accountability. That cannot be allowed to continue and that is why, after much consideration, we decided to abstain on the bill to enable it to progress to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.
The CHIS Bill is not perfect, but it is an improvement on the status quo. Without it, undercover sources would either not be able to operate – therefore removing a vital tool for the security services to prevent serious crimes – or would continue to operate in the shadows, away from legal oversight.
Crucial to these safeguards is the fact that the Human Rights Act is on the face of the bill. This means that no criminal authorisation can go beyond its limits; in effect this prohibits murder, torture and sexual violence. As the bill progresses through Parliament, Labour will argue for even stronger protections in this regard.
As the bill does not have retrospective powers, it does not impact on the search for justice for past wrongdoings. It also does not affect the work of trade unions, which I know has been a cause of concern for some people. The 2016 Investigatory Powers Act contains significant safeguards (secured by Labour) which prevent interference with legitimate trade union activity.
As the bill progressed through the Commons, we sought to strengthen it through a series of amendments which would put in place stronger safeguards and strengthen victims’ rights. They would also reinforce the existing legal position that legitimate trade union activity is explicitly excluded from the ambit of investigatory powers. Unfortunately we have not been able to secure any of these amendments so far, but we will continue to press them throughout the Lords stages of the bill and use every opportunity possible to improve it.
The last Labour Government banned the practice of blacklisting and a future Labour Government will build upon that and stand beside those campaigning for justice. We pledge to ensure the release of papers for both the Shrewsbury 24 and the Cammell Laird shipyard workers, and we will order a full public inquiry into the events at Orgreave in 1984 and its aftermath. We stand with the victims of the terrible, disgraceful ‘spy cops’ scandal and are committed to implementing the recommendations of the Mitting Inquiry.
My Labour colleagues and I will continue to press the Government on vital safeguards, putting the public’s safety first as part of our commitment to keeping individuals, families and our country safe.