The Liberal Democrats yesterday led cross-party opposition to the Government’s Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill, calling a vote against the legislation in the House of Commons.
The Bill, which would create a legal basis for certain government bodies to authorise undercover agents to commit crimes in the UK, has given rise to major concerns among MPs and human rights organisations for its breadth and the lack of sufficient limits, safeguards and oversight.
The Liberal Democrats voted against Third Reading this afternoon, but most Conservative MPs backed it and Labour abstained, so the Bill passed by 313 votes to 98.
A Liberal Democrat amendment (Amendment 16) would have restricted the powers in the Bill to the police, the intelligence services, the National Crime Agency and the Serious Fraud Office – in contrast to the Government’s plans to extend them to a much longer list of public bodies including the Environment Agency, the Food Standards Agency, the Gambling Commission and three government departments.
The amendment received cross-party backing from Labour, SNP, Green and Alliance MPs, as well as the Conservatives’ David Davis. However, most Conservative MPs voted against, defeating it 65-311 as Labour abstained.
Following the vote, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said:
"This is a dangerous Bill from a Conservative Government that is careless with our rights and freedoms.
"We all understand the need for MI5 and the police to authorise undercover agents to do things that would, in normal circumstances, be illegal. If the Government had restricted itself to that, it would have resounding cross-party support.
“Instead, the Tories are using their majority to ram through things that no responsible Government should do. They are trying to award far too broad powers to far too many parts of government, with virtually no safeguards.
"That’s why the Liberal Democrats worked cross-party to try and fix this law. With the Government blocking our amendments, we had no choice but to vote against the Bill."