Unions, MPs and campaigners release joint statement on CHIS ‘spycops’ bill

The general secretaries of 14 trade unions, 20 Labour MPs including Jeremy Corbyn and a number of campaigning organisations have released a joint statement expressing their concerns over the ‘spycops’ bill.

Unite’s Len McCluskey, TSSA’s Manuel Cortes and FBU’s Matt Wrack are among the leaders of trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party who have publicly taken a stand against the government-backed legislation.

They are joined by MPs including Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and Rebecca Long-Bailey, plus organisations such as Reprieve, the Pat Finucane Centre and the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.

Keir Starmer is planning to instruct Labour MPs to abstain on the third reading of the bill this week – even if the changes being put forward by the opposition are not adopted, LabourList revealed on Monday.

His decision, while supported by many frontbenchers and MPs such as Yvette Cooper and Diana Johnson, is being met with some resistance from within the party. Momentum and Open Labour have also called for a U-turn.

Momentum co-chairs Andrew Scattergood and Gaya Sriskanthan and Open Labour co-chairs Tessa Milligan and Keiran O’Neill have written directly to the Labour leader asking that MPs be whipped to vote against the bill on Thursday.

Below is the full text of a joint statement by a number of trade unions, Labour MPs and campaigning organisations on the ‘spycops’ bill ahead of its third reading in the House of Commons on Thursday.

We the undersigned have grave concerns about the measures set out in the covert human intelligence sources (criminal conduct) bill as introduced to the Commons at second reading (5 October 2020).

As many will be aware from the circumstances leading up to the setting up of the Mitting (formerly Pitchford) Inquiry into undercover policing, there has been a documented history of state surveillance of lawful trade union activity and justice campaigns in recent years, including apparent links with the criminal blacklisting of trade union members. We are also alarmed by the conduct of undercover police in pursuing surveillance of legitimate civil society organisations including anti-racist organisations, family justice campaigns and environmental groups.

Whilst the government has assured us that the bill will not apply retrospectively, we remain concerned that passing legislation with undue haste and insufficient scrutiny in Committee – pre-empting the findings of the Mitting Inquiry – risks compromising and undermining legal proceedings through which victims of previous criminal conduct by CHIS operatives are seeking justice.

Aside from the timing of the new licensing of criminal conduct by CHIS operatives, our specific concerns about the bill as it stands include:

  • The vague definition of “economic wellbeing” being susceptible to interpretations which would implicate aspects of legitimate trade union activity;
  • The failure to expressly rule out the authorisation of murder, torture or sexual violence by a CHIS;
  • The lack of any provision to compensate innocent victims of criminal conduct undertaken by a CHIS;
  • The unnecessarily broad range of agencies able to authorise unlawful conduct;
  • The reliance on the Human Rights Act as limiting the scope of what might be legally authorised, despite the government’s own previous reliance on 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, and;
  • The lack of prior judicial authorisation or even concurrent judicial oversight.

In light of these concerns, we would ask the government to withdraw the bill to allow for due consideration of the evidence and findings of the Mitting Review, or at the very least to make substantial amendments to the Bill to meet the concerns outlined above.

If sufficient amendments to ensure proper safeguarding in the legislation are not secured, the bill will remain unfit for purpose and cannot be allowed to proceed.

We urge all those who share our concerns to use the tool at this link to email their MP today, to ask them to support the amendments submitted by the Labour frontbench, and to oppose the bill at third reading if the amendments are unsuccessful and the government refuses to withdraw the bill.

Signatories

Len McCluskey, general secretary, Unite the Union
Matt Wrack, general secretary, Fire Brigades Union (FBU)
Sarah Woolley, general Secretary, Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU)
Dave Ward, general secretary, Communication Workers Union (CWU)
Manuel Cortes, general secretary, Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA)
Mick Whelan, general secretary, Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF)
Mick Cash, general secretary, Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT)
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary, National Education Union (NEU)
Jo Grady, general secretary, University and College Union (UCU)
Mark Serwotka, general secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary, National Union of Journalists (NUJ)
Steve Gillan, general secretary, Prison Officers Association (POA)
Ian Lawrence, general secretary, NAPO
Bob Monks, general secretary, United Road Transport Union
Reprieve
Police Spies Out Of Lives
Momentum
Open Labour
Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance
Pat Finucane Centre
Privacy International
Committee for Administration of Justice (CAJ)
Rights and Security International
Undercover Research Group
Netpol
Blacklist Support Group
Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign
Justice 4 Grenfell
Public Interest Law Centre
Big Brother Watch
Jeremy Corbyn MP
John McDonnell MP
Diane Abbott MP
Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP
Ian Lavery MP
Jon Trickett MP
Richard Burgon MP
Kate Osborne MP
Ian Byrne MP
Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP
Claudia Webbe MP
Clive Lewis MP
Bethan Winter MP
Rebecca Long-Bailey MP
Mick Whitley MP
Ian Mearns MP
Grahame Morris MP
Apsana Begum MP
Paula Barker MP
Zarah Sultana MP
Michelle Gildernew MP
Órfhlaith Begley MP
Francie Molloy MP
Mickey Brady MP
Paul Maskey MP
Chris Hazzard MP
John Finucane MP
Baroness Shami Chakrabarti
Baroness Christine Blower
Baroness Pauline Bryan
Lord John Hendy QC
Suresh Grover, co-director, The Monitoring Group
Dorothea Jones, co-director, The Monitoring Group
Terry Renshaw
Kate Flannery
Chris Peace
Laura Pidcock

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