Chakrabarti tells Labour sources briefing against her over CHIS bill to “grow up”

Sienna Rodgers
© Chris McAndrew / CC BY 3.0

Shami Chakrabarti, a Labour peer who was shadow attorney general until last year, has told Labour sources briefing against her in conversations with journalists to “grow up” amid internal party divisions over the ‘spycops’ bill.

After whipping Labour MPs to abstain on the legislation in the House of Commons, the Labour leadership is now instructing peers to abstain on Amendments 1 and 2, both tabled by Baroness Chakrabarti, in the report stage starting today.

In her contribution to the bill’s House of Lords debate, Chakrabarti responded to the comments of Labour sources who according to The Guardian “complained that Chakrabarti was trying to inflame internal divisions”.

One party source reportedly said there had been “no real attempt” to engage with the leadership on the issue. The Labour frontbench has argued that voting down the so-called ‘spycops’ bill would “weaken national security and human rights”.

Citing the subject of the ongoing spycops inquiry, Chakrabarti said: “Some noble lords have been very crisp and clear and short in their view that […] such abuse by undercover agents are all in the past and really shouldn’t be raised as a concern for the future.

“I know that it was well meant, and it comes from a place of understandable commitment to aspirations like public security and national security, but these are not times for such complacency, in my view.”

She added: “So I disagree with some of those arguments but I don’t for a moment doubt or impugn the good faith or the intentions of those who have advocated this bill in this precise form, however mistaken I may think them to be.

“I’m afraid [there are] shadowy ‘sources’, quote unquote, who chose to impugn my own motives and good faith in pressing these amendments in the Guardian newspaper this morning.

“What I would say to those sources, sadly reported as being sources on my own side, what I say to them frankly is they should grow up. Reasonable dissent, reasonably put, is not disloyalty in a great old democracy such as ours – far from it.

“I would ask with respect opponents of my arguments and of these amendments, which I don’t believe to be wrecking amendments… please play the ball, play the argument, and not the woman. Or at least put your name, publicly and honestly, to your briefing to journalists.”

Chakrabarti has put forward two amendments to the controversial government legislation on covert human intelligence sources, which she says aim to remove “the total criminal and civil immunity” being proposed for undercover agents.

The peer explained in the House of Lords this afternoon that her amendments “better reflect the current status quo” and would create a “better balance” between protecting undercover agents and protecting citizens from crimes by such agents.

34 Labour MPs including seven frontbenchers broke the whip and opposed the bill last year. It would allow covert human intelligence sources to lawfully engage in criminal conduct, being given immunity from prosecution, when such conduct is authorised.

In an interview with LabourList in November, Chakrabarti argued: “You do not protect law and order by allowing armies of members of the community, including former criminals who are turned, or continuing criminals who are also operating as CHIS, to break the law with impunity.”

She said at the time that she was “hoping” to work with the Labour leadership on the bill, particularly after the government conceded that “this isn’t just putting the existing, difficult, shadowy, vital practice on a statutory footing”, in her words.

The debate today saw the Labour peer describe the unamended ‘CHIS’ bill as “one of the most dangerous that I’ve ever seen presented” to the House of Lords and the proposition contained in the bill as “quite breathtaking”.

Update, 6pm: Chakrabarti’s Amendment 1 to the bill in the House of Lords was voted down, with 153 peers content and 309 not content. Amendment 2 was not moved. Both sought to remove the advance immunity proposed for undercover agents.

Update, 11.10pm: Chakrabarti’s Amendment 11 was voted down, with 111 peers content and 255 not content. It had sought to prohibit criminal conduct being authorised to make someone an agent provocateur.

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