The Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill (CHIS Bill) (SpyCops Bill) has moved into the House of Lords.  If the Bill becomes Law it will legitimise a broad range of agencies, including for example the Food Standards Agency, to authorise undercover spying. Despite claims to the contrary it places no constraints on actions, failing to rule out murder, torture or violation of the sexual integrity of individuals.

The Tories are pushing the Bill through at a time when the Undercover Policing Inquiry, set up in 2015, to investigate undercover policing in England and Wales since 1968, has still not completed its work. 

That Inquiry is looking at the work of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) and is investigating the cases of male undercover police officers who entered into and maintained intimate relationships with women activists engaged in anti-racist campaigning, environmental activism, the trade unions and a range of labour movement and left political organisations.

The revelations from the Inquiry expose the fact that the overwhelming focus of the SpyCops has been members of the trade union and labour movement. 

This evidence is backed up by recently released Cabinet papers for the 1980s which demonstrate that extensive spying took place on trade unionist under the direction of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. 

An interdepartmental Committee on “Subversion in Public Life”, composed of representatives of every major government department, discussed regular reports on the activities of trades unionists, their political affiliations and monitored their actions.  They paid special attention to unions like the CPSA (now part of PCS), NALGO (now UNISON) and the NUT (now NEU).

Elsewhere, other agencies carried out spying. 

A 30-year covert operation was carried out against workers in the building industry by The Consulting Association (TCA) which checked names provide to them by companies like Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Skanska, Kier, Costain, McAlpine and more than 30 other companies. Many workers were blacklisted, losing their livelihoods and permanently banned from working in the industry.  While the GMB won a case against the blacklisters in 2016 and a sum of £5.4 million, that could not compensate the victims for the hardships they suffered.

In the education sector, the Tory Government under Thatcher’s express wish encouraged Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools to carry out surveillance in the Inner London Education Authority and in Haringey. 

One of the reasons sometimes cited for the break up of the Greater London Council and the Inner London Education Authority was the role of the unions in influencing policies in London on a whole series of issues like anti-racism and issues of equality. This kind of surveillance continues.

On 24th September 2020 the Department for Education issued advice to schools on how to ‘Plan your relationships, sex and health curriculum’.  This advice warned schools not to use teaching ‘resources produced by organisations that take extreme political stances on matters’.  The document went on to say that amongst other things, an ‘extreme political stances (might)  include,…a publicly stated desire to overthrow democracy, capitalism, or to end free and fair elections’. 

On 21st October this year, Kemi Badenoch, the Tory Equalities Minister, told the House of Commons that ‘some schools have decided to openly support the anti-capitalist Black Lives Matter’.  Her comments expose the direction in which Tory thinking is going. She rejected outright any thought of challenging or confronting the legacy of British colonialism and imperialism that permeates much of the British education system’s curriculum.

Knowing the trajectory of Tory policies, the stance of the Parliamentary Labour Party on the SpyCops Bill is wrong. 

The Bill should be opposed root and branch – there is no room for abstention.  This is not about some sort of tidying up of irregularities, it is about institutionalising spying and entrapment and its principal target will be trade unionists and campaigners in the fields of anti-racism, the environment, human rights and elsewhere.

As a former Director Public Prosecutions Sir Keir Starmer should know that the next step after undercover policing may well be the manipulation or withholding of evidence to achieve convictions.  He should know it well because he was the DPP who was obliged to authorise an independent inquiry by Sir Christopher Rose, a former Court of Appeal Judge and member of the Privy Council, into the case of the 20 people accused of plotting to stop the Ratcliffe-on-Saor Power Station which reported in December 2011. Their convictions were quashed because the prosecution failed to disclose the role of an undercover spycop called Mark Kennedy. 

Commenting on the case, Rose concluded that the material withheld ‘was capable of undermining the prosecution of all the defendants and of assisting the defences of both groups of defendants’. He went on to say that it was also potentially entrapment.

Starmer knows about this report.  It was initiated on his watch.  On a recent “Call Keir” Zoom session, the Labour leader asserted that ‘There is no more passionate advocate of human rights…than myself’.  If that is the case, he should be leading the opposition to this legislation which will provide another layer of cover to the Spycops. The claim that this legislation will bring undercover spying under control and subject to human rights legislation is not credible.   

Recognising that this new legislation aims to authorise the continuation of covert action against trade unionists and campaigners generally, the General Secretaries of UNITE, NEU, CWU, RMT, UCU, NUJ, PCS, TSSA and ASLEF , alongside bodies like the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, Justice4Grenfell Campaign and Police Spies Out of Lives have condemned the Bill. The whole trade union movement should be alert to what is happening and join the campaign to oppose this legislation.

This Bill also has to be viewed in the context of another Bill being pushed through Parliament, the Overseas Operatons Bill which proposes to time limit and restrict the prosecution of armed forces facing prosecution for alleged crimes committed whilst on active service.  These measures are undoubtedly aimed at protecting state agents from any form of scrutiny or accountability.  This is not just another piece of legislation it represents a strengthening of the strong state the Tories clearly feel they need in anticipation of opposition to their policies in a post-Covid world of widespread unemployment and impoverishment.

The Labour Party, the Parliamentary Labour Party and the whole trade union movement should be thoroughly opposed to this Spycops’ charter.

Bernard Regan, Enfield North CLP

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