Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, when we debated paragraph 6 of the Schedule in an earlier group, I argued that it was inappropriate to include an international law exception in the Bill. Therefore, it will not surprise the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, to find that I do not support the extension to paragraph 6 that his Amendment 30 seeks to achieve.

The briefing sent by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign asserted that without this amendment, the Bill could compel public bodies to contravene the genocide convention. This extraordinary statement was explained in the context of the much-publicised opinion of a number of UK lawyers, including the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, that the International Court of Justice had ruled that there was a plausible case that Israel has committed genocide. As the then President of the ICJ subsequently made clear, this is a complete misinterpretation of the ICJ’s judgment. Judge Joan Donoghue, the then President of the ICJ, has stated that the court decided that the Palestinians had a plausible right to be protected from genocide and that South Africa had the right to present that claim in court. However, to correct something that is often said in the media, the court did not decide that the claim of genocide was plausible. So the items of international law referred to in the amendment, including the genocide convention, basically have the name “Israel” etched on them. Whether by design or otherwise, this amendment would simply make it easier for public authorities to find excuses to boycott Israel and it would be very damaging if this amendment were accepted into this Bill.

Amendment 32, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, raises rather different issues. I am conscious that I am in dangerous territory because of the acknowledged expertise in labour law of the noble Lord compared with my ignorance of labour law. However, it is my understanding that the ILO conventions do not have direct effect in the UK. I thought that we achieved compliance through our domestic legislation. The noble Lord spoke about ILO matters on the last Committee day and, while he made the point that the UK is bound by the ILO conventions, I do not think that he claimed that they had any direct effect in UK law.

If I am correct, this amendment is a very unwelcome addition to the Bill because it seems to give full legal effect to the ILO conventions directly. These conventions are not drafted as stand-alone laws but in rather broad terms. They lack a lot of definitions and the language is often rather vague. That is why national Governments have to adopt them using their own legislation. I am not speaking against the ILO conventions; I have no views one way or the other on the conventions. My point is that we comply with these conventions through our national law and that law is the foundation of labour-related misconduct, which is covered in paragraph 8. It seems to me that paragraph 8 means that we can hold overseas suppliers to the same standards to which we hold UK suppliers. In particular, it aligns with the provisions of the Procurement Act which was passed last year. That is a wholly proper basis for this Act, rather than some broader concept of principles that cannot be read directly into our law.

Lord Verdirame Portrait Lord Verdirame (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I rise to offer a few remarks on these two amendments.

Amendment 30 does not really extend what paragraph 6 already does, because the expression “international law” in paragraph 6 includes everything that Amendment 30 mentions. My criticism of it, aside from the points that were discussed on day 3, is that it is just redundant. “Convention” is just another term for “treaty” and “obligations under international law” will include obligations arising under treaties to which the United Kingdom is a party. They will obviously include the genocide convention. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not a convention or a treaty but a resolution of the General Assembly, but it is widely believed to reflect customary international law and so is binding on the United Kingdom.

The reference in the amendment to the Security Council resolutions is also unhelpful and confusing. Security Council resolutions will be binding on the United Kingdom provided that they contain decisions under Article 25 of the United Nations charter, because it is the decisions of the Security Council that are binding on member states. Those resolutions will be binding on the United Kingdom, whether we supported them or whether we abstained in those votes.