The Covert Human Intelligence Sources Criminal Conduct Bill was put before MPs yesterday, though it will have to return for further stages on October 15. Sir Starmer had ordered his party via a whip to abstain from voting while the party pushed for amendments to be made.
However, around 20 MPs are reported to have defied this order and instead voted against the bill.
Jeremy Corbyn tweeted yesterday evening: “I have grave concerns regarding the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill.
“It could enable unnecessary and unlawful interference with the legitimate activities of trade unions, environmentalists, anti-racists & other campaigners.
“We must always stand up for human rights.”
Diane Abbott was one of the MPs who rebelled alongside Mr Corbyn.
She said after the vote: “Pleased to have voted against the government’s #spycops bill. Abstention would have been wrong.
“Labour Party has to stick to its values. Can’t be neutral on undercover policing abuses.”
The bill was ultimately backed in this latest stage, however. Proponents say it will give “sound legal footing” for undercover agents.
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She wrote on Twitter: “I’ve voted against government plans that would allow undercover state agents to commit even murder, torture, and sexual violence.”
The government’s security minister James Brokenshire has claimed the bill is not the same as a “licence to kill”, as it would enforce rules within the scope of the European convention on human rights.
He said at the start of the MPs’ debate: “Let me be clear, there are upper limits to the activity that could be authorised under this bill and these are contained in the Human Rights Act.”
Despite the concerns, MPs voted in favour of the bill by 182 to 20.
It is not the first time in recent weeks Labour has faced a rebellion over a bill vote.
Three frontbench MPs were fired last month after they joined Jeremy Corbyn in voting against an armed forces bill. The party whip again called for MPs to abstain.
Mr Corbyn was joined by senior Labour figures Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and Rebecca Long-Bailey in defying this.
One MP who voted against the law, Nadia Whittome, called the bill “anti-veteran, anti-human rights,” and added it would “effectively decriminalise torture.”