Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Hain
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, helpfully explained in his opening remarks the extent to which he agrees with the aims of the Bill but not the means chosen. However, his amendment could open a huge back door to councils and devolved authorities doing what they want in relation to BDS activities, because they would only have to dress up what they want to do as a statement of human rights policy. That statement is not even fully defined as regards what is meant by human rights. This could be a massive loophole. At the end of the day, it would still involve public authorities, including the devolved Administrations, in ignoring foreign policy as set by the UK Government. We must not allow ourselves to get away from the fact that that is crucial. We cannot have public authorities setting foreign policy.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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My Lords, I follow on from the noble Baroness’s diktat position whereby central Government decide the policy and nobody else can have a view. That would undermine the position. It was the thrust of the noble Baroness’s earlier speech that the Minister indicated that it is for the UK Government to set foreign policy on boycotts and sanctions, and nobody else can do anything about it. As I pointed out at Second Reading, that would have made illegal the decision by many local authorities, universities and student unions to boycott products from apartheid South Africa, and I quoted a KC’s legal opinion confirming that.

How can the noble Baroness possibly justify her position, given the history of the downfall of apartheid, which is contrary to what she tried to suggest? The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, in a very unfortunate speech, tried to suggest that sanctions played no role. No serious student of the history of South Africa agrees with that position. Sanctions certainly played a part. But the boycott decision taken by many local councils, universities and student unions, in particular, among the public bodies covered by the Bill to refuse to source products from South Africa—and indeed, to impose sanctions and boycotts and to support Nelson Mandela’s being freed from 27 years of imprisonment—would have been illegal under the Bill. Why? Because the Government of the day in the 1980s, under Margaret Thatcher, did not support that boycott and sanctions policy. So all those local authorities and churches, including many archbishops, bishops and vicars, supporting those boycott campaigns would have all been acting illegally under the Bill if speaking for public bodies.

I want to speak especially to Amendment 19 and to notify your Lordships’ House that I do not wish to move my Amendment 49, in the sixth group, not least to spare Members hearing a further similar speech from me.

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Hain
Wednesday 17th April 2024

(1 month, 4 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I think that noble Lords who have spoken have misrepresented the devolution settlement. It is clear that foreign policy is a reserved matter. When we come to this Bill, the question of the political or moral disapproval of the conduct of foreign states is a matter of foreign policy that can be determined only by the UK Government.

Noble Lords have been trying to describe devolution as they would like it to exist but the plain fact is that foreign policy is a reserved matter, and that is what is driving this. I do not think that the other matters that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, just referred to prevent action by the devolved authorities because of the quite extensive exemptions, which align with the procurement legislation, that are set out in the Schedule. We are talking about political or moral disapproval of state conduct, very specifically, and that is a matter reserved to the UK Government.

We have to remember that the devolved Administrations have form here in relation to Israel. To take the Scottish Government, back in 2014, they issued a Scottish procurement policy note which, in effect, encouraged Scottish bodies to boycott operations in the Occupied Territories. That note, which is quite difficult to find on the internet nowadays, because it seems to have disappeared into a black hole of an archive, was reconfirmed by current Scottish Ministers only a couple of years ago, so it remains the Scottish Government’s policy, which they cannot effectively implement because of the reserved nature of foreign policy.

To take the Welsh Government, in 2020 they informed the Welsh Parliament that they intended to issue advice to all Welsh authorities

“that they may exclude from tendering any company that conducts business with occupied territories either directly or via third parties”.

It was only after intervention from an organisation called UK Lawyers for Israel that the Welsh Government deferred their decision. So we have the Scottish Government and the Welsh Labour Government itching to boycott Israel, and to use that as a reason—

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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The noble Baroness accurately quoted the Welsh Government’s position as referring to occupied territories which are illegally occupied, including those determined by the British Government, not as boycotting Israel.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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Whether that is relevant is another matter, because the boycotting of the Occupied Territories would also cause a problem under this Bill if Wales and Scotland were allowed to, in effect, opt out of the Bill.