34 Labour MPs break whip to oppose ‘spycops’ bill as seven frontbenchers quit

Sienna Rodgers
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

34 Labour MPs including seven opposition frontbenchers have broken the party whip today by voting against the covert human intelligence sources (criminal conduct) bill at third reading in the House of Commons.

The government-proposed legislation, which authorises criminal conduct by bodies such as police forces to enable their work, was approved by MPs with 313 votes in favour and 98 against including the SNP and Lib Dems.

The 34 Labour rebels, plus suspended Claudia Webbe, were nearly all from the left of the party. 16 were elected for the first time last year. Geraint Davies, not on the Labour left, also defied the whip.

The opposition party had whipped its representatives to abstain on the bill on the basis that the legislation is “far from perfect” yet “necessary” due to “the need to provide a clear lawful framework for the use of human intelligence sources”.

Dan Carden resigned from the shadow Treasury team this morning in a letter to Keir Starmer, which described the third reading vote as a “matter of conscience” on a bill that “sets dangerous new precedents”.

Shadow education minister Margaret Greenwood also broke the whip. She was appointed as a member of Rebecca Long-Bailey’s team, but the leadership candidate was replaced by Kate Green after being sacked by Starmer.

Parliamentary private secretaries Nav Mishra, Kim Johnson, Mary Foy and Rachel Hopkins – all members of the Socialist Campaign Group – have also quit the frontbench to vote against, plus Sarah Owen, usually thought of as ‘soft left’.

Both Mishra and Johnson were PPSs of Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner. Foy was PPS to Andy McDonald, Hopkins PPS to Marsha de Cordova and Owen was appointed Rachel Reeves’ PPS earlier this month.

LabourList understands that Starmer met with MPs personally this week to urge them not to break the whip on the so-called ‘spycops’ bill, after concerns expressed over the abstention plans were not confined to SCG members.

Sam Tarry did not resign today although he was expected to do so. LabourList understands that the decision was made not to quit after Starmer made a number of “concessions” in a private meeting of MPs that was pivotal.

A source on the Labour left said: “This afternoon a number of frontbenchers on Labour’s left – including Andy McDonald, Imran Hussain, Rachael Maskell, Cat Smith, Marsha de Cordova, Alex Sobel, Sam Tarry and Charlotte Nichols – took the collective decision to stay on the frontbench and use their roles to ensure the left has a stronger voice in future party policy.

“They were also given clear assurances by the leader that the party will use its position to push forward union issues, and have more high-profile campaigning using opposition time from next week onwards.”

LabourList understands that Starmer’s commitments included a clear statement that a Labour government is committed to reforming the bill that passes in line with the party’s amendments, and meanwhile to aggressively pursue amendments in the Lords.

The leader also pledged to pursue legislation on wider concerns, particularly around trade union issues such as the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, and to put forward clear commitments and campaigning actions, for example a draft bill on an Orgreave Inquiry.

One senior trade union official told LabourList: “My understanding is that a number of Labour MPs met with Keir Starmer before the CHIS bill vote, who gave several commitments.

“Starmer also made clear that there is no “abstention strategy”, and that if there are no changes to the overseas operations bill the party will vote against it at the third reading.”

Another trade union source, who strongly disagreed with the MPs who stayed, told LabourList: “The majority of the left no longer has faith that these roles carry any influence at all, and is scathing about those who chose to keep their jobs rather than back the people who put them there.”

In a House of Commons contribution to the debate this afternoon, referring to Neil Kinnock’s famous 1985 Labour Party conference speech, Carden said: “I fear my own party is being taken for a ride by this government.

“I tell you what happens: you start with the idea that legislating for something that operates in the shadows must be a good thing. You then engage in good faith with a morally bankrupt government arguing for vital safeguards.

“Once that government finishes stringing you along, you end up in the perverse situation of condoning laws that a ride coach and horses through our nation’s civil liberties and could even be used against the labour movement itself.”

The former shadow financial secretary also told MPs: “The bill is written so badly and broadly that it’s effectively a license to criminally disrupt working people taking action to support themselves, their co-workers, their families.

“We have seen this all too often in the past. The bill paves the way for gross abuse of state power against its citizens. And in Liverpool, we have a healthy suspicion of state power because we’ve felt its damaging force too often in the past.”

Jeremy Corbyn highlighted the scandal of ‘spycops’ relationships with women engaging in legal activities. He said those targeted are “completely duped”, adding: “Does this bill protect women from that in the future? I think we all know the answer to that.”

Labour backbencher Stella Creasy did not vote against the bill, but raised concerns over the protection of children who become human intelligence sources and suggested the issue would likely be addressed in the House of Lords.

She told MPs: “There may be exceptional circumstances in which a child may become an informant. It is right therefore that we have incredibly strict guidelines that put the interests of that child at heart when that happens.”

34 Labour MPs who defied whip to vote against CHIS bill: Diane Abbott, Tahir Ali, Paula Barker, Apsana Begum, Olivia Blake, Richard Burgon, Dawn Butler, Ian Byrne, Dan Carden, Jeremy Corbyn, Geraint Davies, Mary Foy, Barry Gardiner, Margaret Greenwood, Rachel Hopkins, Kim Johnson, Ian Lavery, Clive Lewis, Tony Lloyd, Rebecca Long-Bailey, John McDonnell, Ian Mearns, Navendu Mishra, Grahame Morris, Kate Osamor, Kate Osborne, Sarah Owen, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Zarah Sultana, Jon Trickett, Mick Whitley, Nadia Whittome, Beth Winter.

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