Debates between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Blackstone during the 2019 Parliament

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Blackstone
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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The issue of risk is a separate issue, dealt with in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Drake. I was talking about later amendments which seek to apply UN principles to local government pension schemes. This is a fairly large group, and I think we have got a little cross-wired on which issues affect which part.

To conclude, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, has tabled a stand-part debate on Clause 12, which is in this group. I hope he is not serious about taking local government pension schemes out of the Bill. The actions of the special rapporteur in our domestic affairs are proof enough that we need local government pension schemes firmly within the Bill.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, I strongly support what my noble friend Lady Drake has put forward in her amendment and very much hope that the Government will respond positively to it and accept it.

I listened carefully to what the noble Baronesses, Lady Noakes and Lady Altmann, said. I know that their arguments were made sincerely, but I was surprised that they were somewhat complacent in brushing aside the arguments put by my noble friend. Amendment 45 in my name adds to the important points raised by my noble friend Lady Drake, the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, and other speakers on the fiduciary duties of local government pension funds and their ability to consider risk.

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Blackstone
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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The noble Lord is right that the FCDO highlighted the risks and said that businesses involved should seek their own legal advice but it absolutely did not say, “and you mustn’t do it”. It is a fact of life that there will be economic activity in the Occupied Territories and that that may or may not involve businesses from Britain.

The only point I am trying to make is that the Occupied Territories are a fact of life at the moment; there is no easy solution and it is probably not a near-term solution. At the point when it is settled via a two-state solution, they will cease to be Occupied Territories, so that bit of the Bill will cease to have any relevance—but, for the moment, it has relevance. The other point I am trying to make is that anything that deliberately harms that is just as likely to harm Palestinians as it is Israeli citizens.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, I am puzzled by the speech that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has just made. First of all, I do not know why she feels that she can speak up on behalf of the Palestinians or how much time she has spent on the West Bank. I do not think that most of them would agree for one moment with anything she said about the proposal that we should stop, or that including Israel and the Occupied Territories in the Bill would damage the Palestinians. The Palestinians are concerned about their basic rights both to have their own state and to be able to live in what is now occupied by the Israeli Government and the Israeli Defence Forces in the completely different way that that occupation has created.

I am also very puzzled by what she said about anti-Semitism, which is in complete conflict with what was said by Margaret Hodge MP, who has thought about this very deeply—that the Bill is damaging from the point of view of creating anti-Semitism rather than alleviating it. The noble Baroness does not really respond to that point but has made points about what is happening in universities at the moment, which does not seem terribly relevant to this.

However, the point I really want to make is not to address the rather odd speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. I want to ask the Minister: what legal advice have the Government taken about including the Occupied Territories in the Bill in the way that they are? I draw the Committee’s attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said: under international law, which we have accepted, this occupation is illegal and the settlements, which have grown and grown, are also illegal. So how can it be that the Government bring to Parliament a Bill that includes the Occupied Territories and does not differentiate them from the state of Israel? The counsel’s advice that I have seen says that to distinguish them is absolutely essential; it is pure sophistry to say that a distinction is made in the Bill and is an untenable view without any legal merit. I wonder whether the Minister would like to comment on that.

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Blackstone
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, on the previous group of amendments I explained that I was concerned about the lack of certainty involved in the definitions. However, I feel the debate on this group has engineered more uncertainty than in fact exists.

My noble friend the Minister explained that the Government used the Human Rights Act definition because there is 25 years of jurisprudence, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, helpfully suggested that the Government update their understanding of what that definition means. I believe that most of the bodies know whether or not they are subject to the public sector duty involved in the Human Rights Act—not all of them, and there are certainly issues at the margin, but we need to get this in proportion. For example, I suspect that most of the bodies that the right reverend Prelate referred to already know whether or not they are subject to the human rights duty in Section 6 of the Human Rights Act. So although I continue to believe that clarity is important and that we need to find ways of achieving that clarity, we should not overstate the difficulties of establishing who is within the terms of the Bill and who is not.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, could the Minister comment on the actual functions of some of these so-called public bodies? I assume that secondary schools will be regarded as public bodies. They have a wide range of functions focusing on educating the children who are pupils there, but they are also responsible for the development and improvement of their school buildings. Let us take the example of a school that has an extremely rich alumnus who wishes to reward it for the excellent job it did in educating him, and allocates to it a very large sum of money to put up a completely new building: will that be caught by the Bill’s scope, so that the school has to decide whether it will be found to be breaking the law because it takes into account moral and ethical considerations in its purchase of goods for providing a very large new school building? These are the sorts of questions that people will face, and I am not sure that the governors of most state secondary schools will be terribly familiar with Section 6 of the Human Rights Act; nor will they find it that easy to get advice about it. Perhaps the Minister could comment on that sort of situation.