House of Lords

Tuesday 20th February 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Tuesday 20 February 2024
14:30
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chichester.

Introduction: Lord Moynihan of Chelsea

Tuesday 20th February 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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14:40
Jonathan Patrick Moynihan, OBE, having been created Baron Moynihan of Chelsea, of Chelsea in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Lord Moore of Etchingham and Lord Kamall, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Introduction: Lord Elliott of Mickle Fell

Tuesday 20th February 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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14:45
Matthew Jim Elliott, having been created Baron Elliott of Mickle Fell, of Barwick-in-Elmet in the City of Leeds, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Borwick and Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Environment Agency: Flood Defence Expenditure

Tuesday 20th February 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Question
14:49
Asked by
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the adequacy of expenditure by the Environment Agency on maintaining flood defences.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare my interest as co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Water.

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Douglas-Miller) (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. In the 2021 spending review, the Government increased funding for flood defence maintenance by £22 million annually, bringing the total investment to more than £200 million a year. Additionally, the Government switched £25 million from the capital programme to use on maintenance this financial year. As a result, 93.3% of flood defences are at the required condition, protecting over 240,000 properties in recent storms.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, given the constraints on flood spending, does my noble friend agree that resources could be spent differently, possibly better? Does he recognise the importance of regular maintenance and dredging of watercourses and the role of farmers and drainage boards in performing them? Will he agree to look at the possibility of merging the flood spending budget into one total budget, instead of artificially dividing capital and operational expenditure? That one measure alone would prevent arguments taking place during a flood about what constitutes capital or operational expenditure, meaning that the funding could be achieved quicker.

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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My noble friend raises a good point. With over £200 million per year spent on maintenance, and a £5.2 billion capital investment for the 2021-27 years, flood defences are well resourced. There is a degree of flexibility between the two pots. By way of an example, last autumn the Government switched, as I said, £25 million from the capital programme to use on maintenance, given the severity of the storms. Resource funding to maintain existing flood defences is prioritised and allocated on a risk basis, focusing on assets protecting the greatest number of people and property. My noble friend also asked why we have a maintenance and a capital budget allocation. There are two separate budgets here: one for annual maintenance and one for flood defences. This approach is not specific to flood expenditure, but relates to how the Government account for public expenditure based on the Treasury guidelines.

Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is participating remotely.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, why do we not just stop housebuilding on the flood plain, when it is quite clear that we have increased flooding due to climate change? The expense of Flood Re settlements can only rise, with the already battered wider insurance market paying higher and higher premiums. Surely the answer is to ignore the pressure from developers for planning permission on flood plains, and sensitively to take more green-belt land—or is it that the developers have some undue influence on government?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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The issue relating to flooding is not so much where we build our houses but how we build them. Historically, there have been some real challenges putting the right defences in place when houses have been built on flood plains. The reality is that if we banned any housebuilding on any flood plains, we would build very few houses going forward.

Earl of Devon Portrait The Earl of Devon (CB)
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My Lords, I live and farm in a community that was inundated by inches of rain in a couple of hours last September. The 400 year-old school is no longer usable and ancient houses are uninhabitable. The cause of this was a simple lack of maintenance of culverts, ditches and drains by National Highways and local government. They simply do not have the budget to do that. What are the Government going to do to address this and ensure that local government has the money it needs to do the jobs we need?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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The Government continue to invest in flood and coastal defence maintenance, with an extra £22 million per year for the current spending review period. Furthermore, £25 million from the capital programme has been reallocated to maintenance this year. In 2022-23, the Environment Agency spent more than £200 million maintaining flood risk assets across the country. Across the country we have about 90,000 flood risk assets which are checked annually by the Environment Agency.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, internal drainage boards provide essential services to areas that are habitually flooded. Currently, they are funded through district council tax. This is already stretching budgets, as IDB levies were increased by 18% last year. The Government have provided £3 million on a short-term basis. A more secure long-term solution is needed. Can the Minister say when this will be forthcoming?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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Just today at the NFU conference, the Prime Minister announced new funding packages available to drainage boards across the country.

Baroness Eaton Portrait Baroness Eaton (Con)
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My Lords, many councils report that the formula used to determine the Environment Agency flood defence grant favours urban areas over rural communities. Will my noble friend the Minister consider exploring a new funding model for flood defences that combines capital and revenue funding into a single place-based pot?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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My noble friend raises a good point. The allocation of resources is pretty much exactly as she expressed. It is done on the basis that areas most at risk will receive most of the funding. The Government will keep this under review, and I will take that point back to the department.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I want to come back on the internal drainage boards answer. The councils affected are significantly financially impacted. We had a question yesterday on the impact on council finances. It is all very well that the Prime Minister has announced extra funding—that is excellent—but this is an urgent issue. How much money has been pledged, and when will councils see it?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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I do not have the details to hand at the moment, but I will write to the noble Baroness in due course.

Earl of Clancarty Portrait The Earl of Clancarty (CB)
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My Lords, I will follow on from the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. In answer to a Written Question that I asked last month, I had the most extraordinary reply: that neither Defra nor the Environment Agency holds data on the amount of new build that has been flooded. This is clearly important in thinking about both flood defences and building new homes. Do the Government intend to make good this gap in knowledge?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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Indeed they do. A significant amount of research is ongoing around this issue. It is obviously very topical. Perhaps, once that research has been published, I can come back to the noble Earl.

Earl Russell Portrait Earl Russell (LD)
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My Lords, the National Audit Office has noted that the Government have not set targets for the level of flood resilience they expect to achieve, and have not mapped any solid plans beyond 2026 to bridge the gap between their short-term actions and longer-term objectives. When will the FCERM strategy be updated, and are the Government planning to provide longer-term stable funding?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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The Government have a very large budget for this spending period—£5.2 billion—and we are about half way through that process at the moment. The future funding arrangements will be subject to a funding review at the end of this period.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what can be done to stem the flood of Tory donors to the House of Lords?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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I am not sure why we would want to do that.

Lord Bishop of Chichester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Edmundsbury and Ipswich
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My Lords, I thought my question was going to be off the point. One of the issues raised frequently with me by those managing the coastline in Suffolk is the disparity between flooding risks, for which the Environment Agency takes responsibility, and coastal erosion, which is managed by local authorities. What assessment have the Government made of the disparity of funding for these two vital activities?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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There is a difficult balance to strike here in how you allocate the amount of money that we have to protect flooding defences right across the country, between the allocation made on the basis of risk and the amount of money located to areas where we can make the most difference in the shortest time.

Knife Crime: Violence Reduction Units

Tuesday 20th February 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:00
Asked by
Lord Bailey of Paddington Portrait Lord Bailey of Paddington
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to assess the efficacy of violence reduction units in addressing knife crime.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, the Home Office has commissioned a multiyear independent evaluation to assess the impact of violence reduction units on the most serious forms of violence and their progress in adopting a public health approach. Recent findings have shown a statistically significant reduction in hospital admissions for violent injuries in VRU areas since funding began in 2019.

Lord Bailey of Paddington Portrait Lord Bailey of Paddington (Con)
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With the effects of serious violence falling on some communities far more than on others—here in London we have had 1,000 homicides since 2016—what work has been done by VRUs to increase the effectiveness of the money that they are allocating?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, since 2019, the Home Office has provided over £43 million to develop and run London’s violence reduction unit, which includes an investment of £9.5 million in 2023-24. As part of their funding terms, all VRUs are required to deliver evidence-based approaches that are shown to deliver the most impact in steering young people away from violence. In London, the various interventions being delivered include those that the independent youth endowment fund has found to be capable of delivering the highest impact. That includes the delivery of specialist support for young people affected by violence on admission to A&E or custody suites, as well as personal support such as mentoring programmes, where sport is used as a hook to attract participation.

Lord Farmer Portrait Lord Farmer (Con)
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My Lords, a major risk factor for young people’s involvement in violent gangs is the lack of a father at home, so what are the violence reduction units doing to make absent fathers part of the solution? Many are still very present in their children’s minds, and being estranged from ex-partners does not automatically mean they have no sense of responsibility towards the children who have gone astray. How are VRUs harnessing and encouraging that responsibility?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the violence reduction units deliver a range of preventive work with and for communities, as I outlined in the previous two answers to my noble friend Lord Bailey. That can include families, which of course obviously involves fathers as well as young people, and includes a wide range of approaches, including mentoring and trusted adult programmes or intensive behavioural therapies and, as I mentioned earlier, sports-based diversionary activities. In London in particular, the VRU’s My Ends programme provides community leaders with resources to enhance violence prevention measures in their areas. In addition, the Young People’s Action Group, which is made up of young people from across London, works alongside the VRU to ensure that the voices of young people influence policy and funding decisions.

Baroness Hollins Portrait Baroness Hollins (CB)
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My Lords, a 2014 Scottish study by Professor John Crichton found that the kitchen knife was the most commonly used weapon. The author suggested that the introduction of knives without points as an effective public health strategy might positively affect the rate of death and serious injury. I quote:

“It would not be necessary to enforce an absolute ban on long pointed kitchen knives, but simply to limit availability, thereby making a lethal weapon less likely to be at hand in the context of unplanned violence”.


Is this something that VRUs are taking forward and that the Government would support?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Baroness raises an interesting point. Of course, we keep all knife legislation under review, and noble Lords will be aware that moves have been made recently to ban, for example, zombie-style knives and machetes. Secondary legislation was laid in January, guidance will be available from 26 June and the ban will come into effect on 24 September. I will ensure that all forms of knives are kept very closely under review, particularly in view of patterns of use.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, obviously, large urban areas such as London have particular problems, and I would argue that there is a lot more crime. Are any comparative assessments being done so that each VRU can learn from others in all sorts of ways?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Yes, again, the noble Baroness raises a very good point. She is right, of course, that London has particular problems in this area. The activities of certain violence reduction units have absolutely influenced the way that the whole programme has been established across England and Wales—and indeed taking a lot of the lead from Scotland.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, knife crime is up by 70% since 2015 and, according to the YMCA, youth services were cut by 71% in the decade after 2010. Does the noble Lord think these two statistics are linked? Does he also believe that, building on the work of the VRUs, local youth services should be introduced and backed in a way to try to prevent further knife crime?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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On the noble Lord’s latter point, I agree, which is one of the reasons the Home Office has invested £200 million in the youth endowment fund, to which I have already referred. As regards knife crime across the country, the rise is driven largely by the situation in London. For police-recorded offences involving knives or sharp instruments, there was a 5% increase year-on-year nationally, but the increase in London was 22%. If London was taken out of those figures, the natural trend would be a 1% reduction.

Baroness Doocey Portrait Baroness Doocey (LD)
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My Lords, violence reduction units can definitely reduce knife crime, as has been shown time and time again, but for them to be able to do their job properly they need long-term funding and they are not being provided with it. The Government’s three-year funding model runs out next year and there is great anxiety about what will come next. Will the Government reconsider their current funding model and provide the sort of long-term funding that these units, which are so desperately needed, require to do the job they were set up for?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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As I have already outlined, we have already committed over £110 million since 2019 across the country. Of course, we want to see VRUs continue to operate beyond the end of 2025; by that time, though, they will have received investment for six years. We would encourage VRUs to become financially sustainable organisations. We will of course support them to obtain matched funding and partnership buy-in, but future funding beyond 2025 will depend on the needs of the VRUs and the outcome of future spending reviews.

Baroness Bull Portrait Baroness Bull (CB)
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My Lords, how many of the VRUs include domestic and gender-based violence within their definition of serious violence? Does the Minister agree that artificially separating public violence —street violence—from private violence in the home ignores the links between the two, not least the impact on young people’s future behaviour through what they might learn is normal?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Again, the noble Baroness raises a good point. I think it is important to collect the statistics as accurately and in as granular a way as possible. So I would perhaps mildly dispute the second part of the question. However, we need to look at the way violence occurs in the round—so the noble Baroness raises a very good point.

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford (Con)
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My Lords, it is critical to rebuild trust from these communities and public services who are so affected by violence if violence reduction units are to be successful. This is obviously possible but it is very challenging. What steps are being taken to evaluate successful measures to rebuild trust and share those between violence reduction units, so that this can be done effectively?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that question. Part of the funding for VRUs has to be allocated towards evaluation, but an independent evaluation programme shows that, alongside the Grip, which we have talked about before from this Dispatch Box, there are serious violent hotspot programmes. These are putting additional highly visible police patrols into key locations. The VRU programme is having a statistically significant positive effect, as I referenced earlier. An estimated 3,220 hospital admissions for violent injury have been avoided since funding began in 2019.

Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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Can I just challenge the Minister? He suggested that in the future, VRUs will depend on match funding and non-governmental sources of money. Surely, violence reduction and the protection of our young people is a core activity and it is entirely right that it should be fully funded by the taxpayer. Other money is for add-ons and extras: this, surely, is not an add-on or an extra.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I was not making the case that it was an add-on or an extra; I was saying that future funding beyond 2025 will be dependent on the needs of the VRUs and the outcome of future spending reviews, and of course the evaluation that is already under way.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, is not the increase a direct consequence of the cuts in public services, for example to local government, youth services and the police? The police used to make visits to schools and many police authorities have stopped doing that completely. Do the Government not need to understand that their cuts over 13 years have had a dramatic effect on this issue?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I referenced earlier that there is some new funding. The London Metropolitan Police, for example, will receive an additional £8 million this year and the City of London will receive an extra £1 million for additional visible patrols in serious violence and anti-social behaviour hotspots. The funding supports the delivery of a combination of regular high-visibility patrols in the streets and neighbourhoods experiencing the highest volumes of serious violence and/or anti-social behaviour.

I remind noble Lords that there are currently more police in this country than ever before. The Metropolitan Police currently has 35,000 and could have had more; the budget was available but they were unable to recruit up to the budget, which is a shame because it obviously cost them some resource. The Government have delivered on their police uplift programme.

Iran: Military Power

Tuesday 20th February 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:10
Asked by
Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what recent assessment they have made of Iran’s capacity to project military power beyond its borders.

Earl of Minto Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Minto) (Con)
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My Lords, the Ministry of Defence regularly makes assessments of our adversaries’ ability to project military power beyond their borders and how this may affect UK interests. We continue to monitor developments in the Middle East, including Iran’s destabilising actions in the region. The UK has long condemned Iran’s reckless and dangerous activity in the Middle East. Iran’s support to militant groups directly counters UK interests. The Government are committed to working with international partners to deter Iran’s destabilising activity, including by holding Iran to account at the UN and maintaining our permanent defence presence in the region.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, Iran arms—including by supplying Shahed drones—trains and funds militias and political movements in at least six countries: Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Yemen. This is because it is a revisionist state seeking to change the regional order. Possession of a nuclear weapon would magnify its ability so to do. This would embolden not only Iran but its proxies, which is why preventing that must continue to be a foreign policy priority. What measures are we taking with allies and regional partners to ensure that Iran is not able to achieve nuclear weapon status? If we are to adopt a more stringent policy to frustrate Iran’s objectives, deepening engagement with regional partners will be critical. What is His Majesty’s Government’s assessment of the state of our alliances in the region? How are we seeking to enhance these relationships and to bolster our partners’ resistance to Iran’s proxies?

Earl of Minto Portrait The Earl of Minto (Con)
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The noble Lord makes a very thorough and important point. We remain committed to a diplomatic solution and are prepared to use all diplomatic options to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapon, including, if necessary, triggering the JCPOA snapback mechanism, which allows for the rapid reimposition of UN sanctions on Iran. Along with partners, including the US, France, the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UK is leading international efforts to deter Iran. This includes keeping international focus on Iran to dissuade it from proliferating, stopping the supply of weapons components into Iran, and deterring potential purchasers of all Iranian weapons.

Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con)
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Can my noble friend tell the House, given the very serious situation in Iran, what capacity the United Kingdom has to project military power beyond its borders? I refer particularly to the failure of the two aircraft carriers, which we have spent a fortune on and which seem to spend most of their lives in Portsmouth.

Earl of Minto Portrait The Earl of Minto (Con)
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My Lords, as with all military activity, and particularly when dealing with an organisation such as the Iranian Government, international co-operation is absolutely critical. That must remain the situation. Everybody is committed to striving to achieve a diplomatic solution.

As far as the aircraft carriers are concerned, we have two. When it was decided that it was not advisable for one to be sent to Prosperity Guardian, the other managed to get going within eight days, which is an extraordinary feat from its crew.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB)
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My Lords, I am not exactly an admirer of the Iranian regime, but, in the 21st century, should any country have the right to extend its power beyond its borders? The United States, with 750 bases in 50 countries, is not exactly a model democracy.

Earl of Minto Portrait The Earl of Minto (Con)
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My Lords, surely the point is that the United States is a democracy. Iran is not.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, in answering the initial Question of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, the Minister rightly pointed out that we have sanctions against Iran. But does he believe those sanctions are working, given that the chief commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard pointed out last week that Iran now has unparalleled naval capabilities and the ability to deal with military things from afar?

Earl of Minto Portrait The Earl of Minto (Con)
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My Lords, this is an extremely good point. We can go only so far with sanctions, due to all the reasons that your Lordships are fully aware of and the fact that Iran has its allies, which are not remotely interested in stopping—and in fact are encouraging—its proliferation. We sanctioned the IRGC in its entirety. We have sanctioned more than 400 Iranian individuals and organisations to do with weapons proliferation, regional conflicts, human rights violations, and terrorism. Since October 2022, we have sanctioned a further 56 IRGC-related organisations and officials. So we are taking as much action as we can.

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, the point of the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, is that sanctions may not be working. Iran has been subject, on and off, to quite stringent sanctions for some 40 years—yet it has developed state-of-the-art drones that are now being used in Ukraine. What would my noble friend the Minister see as turning up a notch beyond economic sanctions and looking at ways of effectively deterring the ayatollahs?

Earl of Minto Portrait The Earl of Minto (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that question. The key is to keep diplomatic channels open—it has to be. That is the only way this will be resolved in the long term. On drone technology, we introduced a new set of sanctions in December, and last month all components and everything to do with drone technology were included in these stringent sanctions.

Baroness Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent Portrait Baroness Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent (Lab)
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My Lords, Iranian influence in the Middle East and further afield is a destabilising presence, providing support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis in Yemen, as well as Putin’s war in Ukraine. What strategy is the UK developing with our allies in the region to combat the malign activities of Iran and its proxies, including efforts to interrupt their weapons supply chains?

Earl of Minto Portrait The Earl of Minto (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that we cannot go into any great detail on this sort of thing. However, we have a permanent presence in the area, as do our allies, and we maintain an integrated international force to act as a deterrent. We also use financial and other sanctions, disrupting supply chains for all forms of activity.

Lord Swire Portrait Lord Swire (Con)
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What is my noble friend the Minister’s current assessment of those who are under threat, in this country, from Tehran directly or through its proxies?

Earl of Minto Portrait The Earl of Minto (Con)
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My Lords, we recently took action against a number of different organisations which have been acting malignly within and against this country. So this is certainly something that is very closely watched.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, in all probability we are entering a new, extended cold war to counter a global balance of power. What comprehensive and credible policy and deterrence against irregular warfare is being established to deter proxy wars and to protect ourselves from international terrorism, beyond the imperative to invest in defence and engage more in international diplomacy? That last point is one that the Minister has just made.

Earl of Minto Portrait The Earl of Minto (Con)
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The noble Viscount has made the point for me. Diplomatic routes must be kept open at all times, because that is what will solve it. We have sufficient force in the area on an international basis to provide the deterrent that is required. We are taking action on any form of nuclear threat or proliferation, and the sanctions that are in place are severely restricting, as much as we can, the availability of equipment to that particular Government. There are others, with whom they are working, who are specifically working against us. This is something that we need to focus on very seriously. As the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Browne, rightly raises, it is one of the most serious threats that the world—particularly the western world—is facing today.

Housing: Section 21 Evictions

Tuesday 20th February 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:21
Asked by
Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to implement a ban on section 21 evictions before the end of this parliamentary session.

Baroness Penn Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Penn) (Con)
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My Lords, the Renters (Reform) Bill is progressing through Parliament. The Bill will bring an end to Section 21 evictions, and our priority is to pass this vital legislation before the end of this Parliament. We will work with the relevant sectors to implement these changes effectively.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, the Secretary of State told the BBC on Sunday 11 February that the Government’s proposed ban on Section 21 eviction would be operational before a general election. However, the Government have repeatedly told parliamentarians that this ban cannot be enacted before reforms to the court system are in place. In response to a Select Committee report in October 2023, the Government said that they would not commence the abolition of Section 21 until stronger possession grounds and a new court process were in place. In Committee on the Renters (Reform) Bill, the Minister has said that the ban cannot be enacted until court reforms are complete. Can the Minister please set out what court reforms are to be put in place and the timetable for delivering them, so that the ban on Section 21 can be operational before a general election?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, we have always set out our intention, in the White Paper that preceded the Bill and in the guidance that goes alongside the Bill, that we will need to give six months’ notice for implementing Section 21 for new tenancies. That is to give time for a number of things to happen. The noble Baroness is right that we need to allow time for the courts to prepare for this, to allow evictions, court rules, forms and administrative systems to be updated. It is also to allow for secondary legislation that flows from the primary legislation to be laid, and for guidance to be put in place. But we are working hard, and we have already provided upfront money to the court system to kick-start that process, so that we can move towards implementation as soon as possible.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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Could the Minister clarify that? On the Laura Kuenssberg programme, Michael Gove said that Section 21 would be “outlawed” before the general election. Does that mean that, by the time of the general election, a landlord will not be able to serve a Section 21 notice on a tenant?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, I looked very carefully at what my right honourable friend said, and he said that we will have outlawed it by the next general election—we will have passed the Bill and put money into the courts to ensure that we can enforce it. We are already putting money into the courts—£1.2 million this year.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab)
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Could the Minister answer the question that she was just asked by her noble friend Lord Young? She was asked whether it would be possible still before the general election, and indeed possibly after it, for tenants to be issued with a Section 21 eviction notice. I do not think that she answered that question.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, the position since the White Paper and the introduction of the Bill has been that we will need to give six months’ notice on the implementation of Section 21 for new tenancies. We are committed to passing the Bill before the end of this Parliament and putting in place the resources we need to get everything in place during that six months’ notice period, so that we can implement the ban on Section 21 as soon as possible.

Lord Cromwell Portrait Lord Cromwell (CB)
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My Lords, to avoid asking the same question for the fourth time, has any assessment been made of the impact of this legislation, well-intentioned though it is, on the availability of rental accommodation? Does the Minister accept that the truly bad landlords, at whom this is presumably targeted, do not bother with Section 21 but use men in balaclavas with baseball bats to get rid of tenants?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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The noble Lord is right that landlords have nothing to fear from the removal of Section 21. Where they have a valid reason, landlords will be able to get their properties back. As well as removing the inherent unfairness of Section 21, our reforms will improve existing Section 8 possession grounds, which is a key ask of landlords. In response to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, we need to bring in the ban on Section 21 alongside the new possession grounds as part of a coherent package, so that it works for tenants and landlords.

Baroness Thornhill Portrait Baroness Thornhill (LD)
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My Lords, I am very pleased to hear the Minister mention fairness. For renters, often struggling to make ends meet and facing losing their homes, access to a legal aid provider is vital to fighting their case in court. Given that, according to the Law Society, 42% of the population cannot access a legal aid provider, can the Minister assure us that the Government are investing in the courts and legal aid, so that the proposed reforms are fair and work for both landlords and tenants?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, we are not only putting more money into the courts system but strengthening the rights of tenants and seeking to put in place a process that avoids the need to go to court altogether. That will be the best outcome for both tenants and landlords.

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, language matters in politics and tendentious phraseology has consequences. How have we reached the point where the expiry of a contract, freely entered into by two parties, at the end of its term is now widely referred to as an eviction, let alone a no-fault eviction?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, the vast majority of landlords do an excellent job, but we know that a small minority use the threat of Section 21 evictions to hike up rents or intimidate tenants into not challenging completely unfit conditions. That is why we have brought forward our proposal to abolish Section 21 evictions, but we have also brought forward a widening of the grounds for possession, so that the system works for both sides in this situation.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, why are so many landlords selling their properties and withdrawing from the market?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, we keep this matter closely under review. We do not see evidence of a reduction of available rental properties in the market and would be concerned if we did. We have worked very hard to make sure that these reforms work for landlords and tenants.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, do the Government agree that the housing shortage has in some cases led to people queueing up to get access to a rented property? Under those circumstances, does the Minister agree that the contract between the landlord and the tenant is often not fair, because one is at a serious disadvantage?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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The noble Lord is right that, if we increase the supply of homes, whether for private rent, social rent or home ownership, we will alleviate pressure in the market and bring down costs for renters and home owners. That is why this Government have put such emphasis on housebuilding and have such a track record on it, delivering 1 million homes over this Parliament and 2.5 million new homes since 2010.

Lord Ranger of Northwood Portrait Lord Ranger of Northwood (Con)
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My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister please explain this to me? I went to Blackpool last year to look at some of the worst cases of rented housing and the abuses that terrible landlords inflict on tenants who are vulnerable. When I hear this debate I find that we bundle all landlords together and do not target interventions on the type of landlords that we really want to get out of the system. Will we look at how we can have targeted interventions at the type of landlords that we really want to improve?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My noble friend is absolutely right that the vast majority of landlords do a great job. The availability of private rented accommodation is a really important part of our property sector. We are bringing forward other measures in the Bill that will focus on standards and targeting enforcement of them. There will be a new private rented sector ombudsman and a new decent homes standard for the private rented sector. The majority of people will already comply with that, and we will focus our efforts and enforcement on that minority.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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Does the Minister think that increased taxation and rising interest rates have had any effect on why private landlords are giving up and selling off their properties? She has not mentioned that at all.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, the Question was about our plans to bring forward the end of Section 21 evictions. The noble Lord is absolutely right that there are a number of different dynamics in the property market that are affecting buy-to-let landlords and housebuilders. We keep them under regular review, alongside industry, to make sure there are plans to reform the sector and increase housing supply to stay on track to deliver what people need.

Road Traffic Offences (Cycling) Bill [HL]

1st reading
Tuesday 20th February 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Road Traffic Offences (Cycling) Bill [HL] 2023-24 View all Road Traffic Offences (Cycling) Bill [HL] 2023-24 Debates Read Hansard Text
First Reading
15:31
A Bill to amend the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 to create criminal offences relating to dangerous, careless or inconsiderate cycling, in particular applying to pedal cycles, electrically assisted pedal cycles and electric scooters; and to require a review of the impact of the dangerous use of electric scooters on other road users.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness McIntosh of Pickering, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Second Reading
Relevant document: 4th Report from the Constitution Committee. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Legislative Consent sought; King’s consent sought.
15:32
Moved by
Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Baroness Neville- Rolfe) (Con)
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My Lords, at a time of increasing global division, the effective communication of the United Kingdom’s foreign policy is vital. In order to achieve our objectives, the nation must speak clearly with one voice. It is for His Majesty’s Government alone to decide the UK’s foreign policy.

I acknowledge that the Bill is being debated at a troubling time. Although some noble Lords may disagree with the Government on certain aspects of this legislation, I hope that everyone in this House will be sensitive to the broader issues with which the Bill deals. It will give effect to an important manifesto commitment. It is vital that public bodies are not allowed to pursue policies, through their investment and procurement decisions, in order to try to legitimise a UK foreign policy that differs from that of HMG.

Some public bodies have tried to declare boycotts and divestment policies that are inconsistent with the foreign policy set by the Government. Local councils have passed motions in support of boycotts. Local government pension schemes are frequently under pressure to divest certain securities. Universities, too, have been pressurised by groups that want to impose their own views about foreign policy.

The campaign that has placed the most pressure on our public bodies is the BDS movement. It deliberately asks public bodies to treat Israel differently from any other country, and its founders have been clear in their opposition to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Not only is that at odds with the policy of this Government, which is to promote a two-state solution, but we have seen an increase in anti-Semitic events following on from the activities of the BDS movement. These concerns pre-date the 7 October attacks, but since then the Community Security Trust has recorded the highest-ever number of anti-Semitic incidents, alongside increasing pressure for public bodies to engage in BDS activity.

The provisions in this landmark Bill prohibit public bodies from imposing their own boycotts or divestment campaigns against foreign countries or territories. It is clearly wrong that individuals who have roles of authority in a subordinate public body can act in such ways. It is also wrong that those public bodies can act in a way that, at home, jeopardises community cohesion while sowing confusion among our international allies about UK government policy.

It is particularly noticeable that boycotts and divestment campaigns disproportionately target Israel, especially in recent months in the wake of Hamas’s despicable terror attack and the resulting conflict. These boycotts contribute to the depressing rise of anti-Semitism across the UK, as reported last week by the Community Security Trust, which recorded its highest-ever annual total of anti-Jewish hate across the UK.

This Bill was unamended in the other place. That reflects the care taken in the drafting of this legislation to ensure that it adequately prohibits BDS campaigns in public bodies, applies to the correct public bodies within its scope and provides appropriate enforcement powers. Noble Lords may wish to table amendments in Committee that can improve the Bill, and of course I am open to considering those.

I now turn to the Bill in greater detail. It will prohibit public bodies from implementing boycotts or divestment campaigns against foreign countries and territories that are inconsistent with the legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions set by HMG. The Bill will apply to public bodies UK-wide. It provides for an enforcement regime with the power to issue compliance notices and to investigate and fine public bodies in breach of the ban.

The main provisions are as follows. The Bill will ban public bodies from considering the country or territory of origin of a product or service, in a way that indicates moral or political disapproval of foreign state conduct, when making a procurement or investment decision. It does not prevent public bodies taking such considerations into account where this is required by formal UK government legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions. To capture the rare and legitimate occasions when territorial considerations are relevant to a procurement or investment decision, the Bill provides for a number of exceptions to its provisions. For example, the Bill will not prevent public bodies taking into account territorial considerations for reasons such as national security, labour-related misconduct, and legitimate business and financial considerations. It has been drafted to ensure that it does not have a chilling effect on investments or prevent fund managers being able to assess the political risk of investments.

The Bill will work in harmony with the Procurement Act and will support it in better tailoring the procurement framework to our country’s needs. This Bill will in no way hinder our ability, under that Act, to exclude suppliers where necessary, including where there is evidence that a supplier is involved in modern slavery practices. Public bodies covered by the Procurement Act can therefore be confident that they will be free to decide which suppliers are eligible to bid and which is the best bid to meet their requirements, taking into account all relevant factors. However, they must not base such decisions on territorial considerations in a way that indicates political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct.

The Bill has been drafted so as not to interfere with any individuals’ or bodies’ rights under existing human rights legislation, including the European Convention on Human Rights. The Government are committed to protecting freedom of speech and are not restricting any person’s or private organisation’s right to free speech. This applies to all in their individual capacities as elected officials, and this distinction has been made clear in the Bill’s Explanatory Notes. The Bill will apply only to decisions by a public body related to its investment and procurement functions. It will not interfere with any person’s or private organisation’s rights to express a view or to protest. Accordingly, I have signed a statement of compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights.

On the type of public bodies that are covered by the Bill, they include the devolved authorities, local authorities, local government pension schemes, universities, government departments and agencies, publicly funded schools, and cultural institutions, such as museums and theatres, which receive significant public funding. The Bill will apply to public bodies across the country. It will cover bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, including devolved bodies with wholly or mainly devolved functions, as well as those with wholly reserved functions. As foreign affairs is a reserved matter, we will not seek legislative consent from the devolved assemblies to apply the Bill’s provisions to devolved bodies.

Moving on to the countries and territories covered by the Bill’s provisions, I mentioned earlier that Israel is a frequent and disproportionate target of boycotts and divestment campaigns. To ensure that the Bill is effective at banning divisive behaviour, it will apply to all countries and territories, including Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and occupied Golan Heights.

Another provision I wish to highlight is one that recognises the need for flexibility when there are fast-moving changes in the global landscape. The Bill includes a power to exclude a certain country or territory from the Bill’s provisions via secondary legislation. In fact, we intend to use this power to maximise our impact on Putin’s capacity to fund his war by exempting Russia and Belarus from the Bill to allow public bodies to continue to stop procurement from Russia and Belarus. This means that public bodies will be able to consider how, in line with UK foreign policy, they can further cut ties with companies backed by or linked to the Russian and Belarusian state regimes while minimising the impact on taxpayers and the delivery of public services.

At the same time, we have seen examples of public bodies making declarations to boycott and divest as far as the law allows. These are harmful even where the law does not allow boycotts and divestments and therefore such declarations ought not to be made. There is concern that recent declarations of anti-Israel boycotts, even when not implemented in practice, have driven and contributed to rising anti-Semitism. For example, in 2019, Leicester city councillors voted to boycott produce originating from the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Similar resolutions were passed by Swansea city council in 2010 and Gwynedd Council in 2014. That is why the Bill will ban public bodies from publishing statements indicating that they intend to engage in activity prohibited by the Bill, even where there is no intention to implement.

I stress that the Bill will apply only to public bodies carrying out public activity. Therefore, it will not prohibit individuals such as elected officials from speaking in favour of a boycott or divestment policy. I understand that some are concerned about how elected officials could differentiate between individuals’ statements that are caught or not caught by the prohibition. I should explain that councillors could place their authority in breach of the ban only if they were making a statement of intent to boycott on behalf of their authority. The Bill will not restrict representatives, including council leaders, from expressing their support for a boycott in a debate or on their personal social media. The Government are entirely committed to protecting free speech, and it is not our policy to restrict what individuals can say. Accordingly, I have signed a statement of compatibility of the Bill with the European Convention on Human Rights.

To ensure that the Bill is effective, we have provided for an enforcement regime that will apply to all public bodies captured by the Bill, UK-wide. The regime gives Ministers and designated regulators the power to issue compliance notices and to investigate and fine public bodies where there is evidence that they have breached the ban. This will be at minimal cost to taxpayers, and we will work closely with regulators to ensure that it does not place any unnecessary burdens on them. We will make secondary legislation setting out factors to be considered or not to be considered in determining the appropriate fine. Public bodies that do not follow the law will also be open to judicial review.

This legislation honours the promise we made to the electorate. It will ensure consistency in the UK’s foreign policy agenda, support public bodies to remain focused on their core duties, and prevent divisive campaigns that target particular sectors of our society to the detriment of our wider community spirit and cohesion. I look forward to working across the House to deliver this important legislation. I beg to move.

15:45
Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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My Lords, I think the best way to approach a Bill such as this is for me to be completely straightforward with the House. We on these Benches oppose this Bill. We do not support boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns towards Israel—they wrongly single out one nation and are counterproductive to peace—but the Bill is deeply flawed. It contains draconian powers and fails in its central purpose, which surely ought to be to prevent anti-Semitism.

The Bill prohibits public bodies from making procurement and investment decisions based on their “political or moral disapproval” of a foreign state’s conduct. The Government say that this is an attempt to ensure that all UK public bodies speak, as the Minister said, “with one voice” on international issues. However, the Government seem to think that there are councils, universities, NHS trusts and nursery schools with their own foreign policies, and that this is somehow confusing to our international allies. In fact, the impact assessment points to just three local government pension funds in Scotland that have disinvested from an Israeli bank since 2018. None of them say that this was a political decision or should be taken to represent any kind of political or moral disapproval, so can the Minister explain how the Bill would have impacted on those decisions? Would trustees be interviewed by enforcement authorities, for example?

The naivety of the Bill is to believe that trustees of pension schemes have, until now, been making investment decisions—which have a profound impact on their funds—in response to local boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns. There is just no evidence for this. The risk is that the Bill will serve only to heighten tensions. I am afraid it plays into the hands of those who spout incomprehensible conspiracy theories and will have unintended consequences. I repeat that Labour has consistently opposed boycott, divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel. We know, and accept, that some campaigners have used the cover of BDS to whip up hate towards Jewish people, to hold Israel to different standards, to question its right to exist and to equate the actions of the Israeli Government with the Jewish people. We know that this happens and it is utterly wrong, but do we really think that the Bill will eradicate anti-Semitism? My fear is that it will make things worse, and it could not be happening at a more sensitive time.

The Bill treats the Occupied Palestinian Territories as though they are, in effect, the same as the State of Israel. This runs counter to decades of British diplomacy under Labour, Conservative and coalition Governments. In 2016, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334, requiring every UN member to distinguish between the territory of the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. The resolution says that illegal settlements have “no legal validity”, constitute

“a flagrant violation under international law”,

and are

“a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution”.

Not only was the UK involved in drafting this resolution, but the Government’s advice to UK businesses investing in the region makes this distinction clear. Can the Minister tell us what the Foreign Secretary had to say about this Bill? Can she tell us who drafted it? It is so strange that a Bill is being presented that so blatantly contradicts an internationally agreed and long-standing position of this Government.

Then there is the issue of freedom of speech. Not so long ago, we spent days in this House on a Bill to protect the right of individuals to express their views. This Bill does not do anything to legislate against the expression of anti-Semitism, but it does curtail the right to freedom of expression. Clause 4 is clear: decision-makers cannot express political or moral views that might be seen to relate in any way to procurement decisions. This is unenforceable. Councillors are elected officials. They have every right to express their views on moral and political issues—some might say that is their job. They do not, of course, have a right to whip up anti-Semitism and where that happens it must be dealt with, but the Bill will criminalise community representatives expressing views in a free and open way that has been a fundamental underpinning of our democracy for hundreds of years.

I listened to what the Minister said to try to persuade us that this is not the case. I am afraid she is being completely unrealistic and naive. Why does she say, on the one hand, that a council leader can express a view calling for a boycott on their social media or about another council, yet they would fall foul of this legislation should they express that opinion in a different context? What will the likely advice be from a borough’s solicitor to a council leader or a cabinet member who seeks to express such views? I will tell you: it will be to keep their mouth shut. Is that what the Government really want?

The Minister says that the Bill applies only when a councillor acts on behalf of a council. What does that mean? It is naive in the extreme. I do not know whether she has served as a councillor; I have, and I do not see how the Bill’s provisions, as currently written, are going to work. Suppose a council leader attends a local government conference and expresses a view on human rights, modern slavery, tobacco production, the arms industry, animal welfare or the environment in relation to another country. They will be advised not to express that view or to tone it down. That is not the kind of democracy that I think we want to create.

As for universities being within the Bill’s scope, they are not even classified as public bodies by the ONS, and nor should they be. Why are they included? Which university has actually acted—not made a statement but acted—as a result of a BDS campaign? Perhaps the Minister can tell us. We have just legislated to place a duty on universities to uphold freedom of speech and academic freedom. When does an academic speak in an individual capacity and when do they speak as a representative of their institution? This matters. I just do not think that Ministers can properly answer that question—not when they have an enforcement body with an annual budget of £120,000 to £200,000. I suggest that the Minister might need to look at increasing that, because there are likely to be considerably more complaints and vexatious referrals to that body than the one or two incidents referred to in the impact assessment.

This really does matter, and the issue must be properly answered. If not, there will be the most profound, chilling effect. What would happen if a professor expressed at an event a view relating to China, for example—and was paid for by the university as its representative—at the same time as a procurement or investment decision was being made by that institution? It is not clear from the Bill how that would be investigated.

I accept that there have been some BDS campaigns on some campuses where the atmosphere experienced by Jewish students has been damaged by those campaigns. I completely accept that, and it is right that we do what needs to be done to protect those students. However, the Union of Jewish Students is against this Bill. We need to find a better way to tackle this issue. Universities are not public bodies but are included in the scope of the Bill; however, where is the comprehensive list of public bodies we need in order to consider whether any other institutions might be inappropriately included? I have seen a list, but it is nowhere near comprehensive. It is a very odd list, containing some very surprising institutions such as small children’s charities and the like. This makes you wonder whether the Bill is as well thought through as it ought to be.

One final point is the lack of support from the devolved Governments. The Minister says that the Government have no intention of seeking any kind of legislative consent. That is of course the Government’s right—but is it good politics? Is it good for our democracy for the Government to proceed in this way? What conversations has the Minister even had with her counterparts in the devolved Administrations? Can she confirm that the devolved Governments will be subject to the constraints of this Bill? That being the case, can she understand why this would be a problem for them as democratically elected, accountable bodies in their own right? What have they said to her about what they think of the Bill?

Noble Lords will perhaps remember that we on these Benches supported an alternative approach, during the passage of the Procurement Bill. The approach the Government are taking in this Bill is not, therefore, the only option. Public bodies should be able to take ethical decisions, but these should be based on consistent principles applied equally to all countries. However, the Government rejected that amendment, which would have been a far better way to go about dealing with BDS than this Bill is. Why are the Government hell-bent on taking this approach? I think it is because they want to make political capital out of a very serious issue. This is a sad state for a Government to find themselves in—desperate, in fact. The Front Bench in the other place offered four times during the earlier stages of the Bill to sit down with the Government and formulate a more effective approach. That offer remains open. I only hope that the Minister and the Government are listening.

15:58
Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, when I read through the Commons debates on this Bill, a number of things struck me: the frequency with which MPs of all parties described it as badly drafted, the large number of Conservative MPs who called for substantial changes, and the stubborn resistance of the Secretary of State to any changes. This Bill is ambiguous, confused and contradictory. It is about a specific campaign to boycott Israeli firms and companies based in the Occupied Territories, but it also applies to all foreign countries. It is aimed primarily at local authorities and universities, but it also extends far more widely, across a large and unknown number of public authorities.

Hard cases make bad law. All of us who support the long-term security of the State of Israel are opposed to campaigns to discredit and undermine it. Those of us who believe that a secure future for Israel within the Middle East depends upon permitting a Palestinian state as its neighbour have more doubts about goods produced in illegal settlements, but remain clear that Israel, within its 1967 boundaries, is and remains a trusted trading partner.

The current conflict means that there are passionate views within our society about what has happened on both sides. Michael Gove, nevertheless, has argued that the Bill is needed to maintain “community cohesion”, but the conflict has shown how diverse and divided the British public are on the Israel-Palestine conflict, at the moment. The recent short debate on Gaza, in this House, showed that we are similarly divided.

The Bill is not just about Israel and the Occupied Territories. I will focus on its wider implications. This is not the first time that people in Britain have campaigned against behaviour in territories overseas. In the late 18th century, anti-slavery campaigners promoted the boycott of West Indies sugar. My generation of students boycotted South African oranges and sherry, with student unions raising money to support scholarships for ANC members—at a time when the older generation regarded Nelson Mandela as a terrorist and a communist. Few would now disagree that the younger generation then were right.

The Bill proposes damaging limitations on speaking or protesting against a wide range of potential injustices, based on a single and particularly delicate case. There will be other cases in the future, no doubt, when elements in our civil society campaign against foreign injustice, while the Government remain reluctant to jeopardise trade or intergovernmental relations— in China, Myanmar and elsewhere. However, the Government argue that every aspect of foreign policy must be controlled and directed from Whitehall. As a liberal and a democrat, I insist on the contrary: in a healthy democracy, there should be a lively debate about foreign policy choices, with civil society playing an active role.

The Government also assume that local government is merely an agent of the central state, not to be trusted even to discuss divergent actions. Those of us who believe in an open democracy see strong local government as an essential part of a healthy society, and have watched with horror as Michael Gove and others have undermined local democracy over the past decade.

To me, Clauses 4 and 7 are the most noxious aspects of the Bill. They block discussion of actions against any foreign state. They impact on freedom of speech and extend the powers of the state to inform itself about discussions within autonomous bodies. Clause 1(2) and (7) also inhibit freedom of discussion; the drafting is dangerously authoritarian in tone. I recommend to the Minister the excoriating article that Matthew Parris wrote in the Times two weekends ago, which attacked the Conservative hypocrisy of championing free speech on issues that right-wingers approve of while clamping down on discussion of issues that they dislike.

I emphasise how wide the powers that the Bill gives the Government may reach. Its title refers to “public bodies”, but the text refers mostly to “public authorities”. The impact assessment refers to “hybrid public bodies” and the Explanatory Notes refer to “hybrid public authorities”. I have been advised that there are far more public authorities than the much tighter category of public bodies.

In answering an Oral Question on 23 January, the Minister told us that there are “nearly 100,000 public authorities”, including schools, the NHS and a whole range of publicly funded or partially funded organisations. The Trade Union (Deduction of Union Subscriptions from Wages in the Public Sector) Regulations 2023, a statutory instrument which the Minister took through in December, provided a lengthy schedule, detailing all the

“Persons deemed to be public authorities”

under the regulations, including a list of 200 minor bodies, such as the Social Care Institute for Excellence, the Sir John Soane’s Museum and Worcestershire Children First. No such list is provided here.

The impact assessment for the Bill implies that charities, including student unions, will be caught by the Act. There is a loose and worrying reference to it extending to “cultural institutions”. I have just read the department’s memorandum to the Delegated Powers Committee, which admits that

“the Bill may … capture a range of bodies that it was not necessarily intended to apply to”.

This all leaves plenty of room for ambiguity, confusion and, I suspect, legal challenge. We will certainly wish to query the Henry VIII powers that the memorandum admits the Bill will transfer to Ministers. I note that one of these powers is justified

“because there will be instances where boycotting and divesting will be in line with the Government foreign policy, and therefore the Secretary of State … will need the power … to allow public bodies to boycott and divest if they wish”.

Conservative politicians tell us that they stand for a smaller state and a stronger civil society. What we have here looks like a dangerous extension of state surveillance over institutions that rightly claim a degree of autonomy from central government. It is against everything that Conservatives ought to stand for.

My noble friend Lord Shipley will say more about the implications for local democracy. I will emphasise how the Bill undermines the autonomy of British universities. I declare an interest, as I spent my career in a number of universities. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, is on record as insisting, as he may confirm, that UK universities are not public bodies, and there are court judgments confirming that. Are universities public authorities? Are the Government now claiming that their dependence on public funding makes them part of the public sector? I remind the House that only 17% of Oxford University’s income comes from domestic student fees and other government grants. For the sector as a whole, public funding is around 50%. Most HEIs are charities, many of them under royal charter, not subordinate agencies of the central state. Will the Minister assure us that her colleague from the DfE will participate in the Committee discussion that refers to universities, to assure us that there is cross-government consistency on what this Bill intends?

Clause 6 makes the Office for Students the enforcement authority for the higher education sector. I hope the Minister is aware of the recent report on the OfS from the Industry and Regulators Committee of this House, which is highly critical of its capacities and ability to balance its different tasks. The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 has just added an extra section to the OfS, under a “free speech champion” and staff. In direct contradiction to that new responsibility, this Bill would require the OfS to restrict freedom of speech on overseas matters.

A recent Universities UK survey did not find any higher education institution that has imposed a boycott or sanctions related to a foreign state, or recently come close to doing so, so what is the case for including universities within this Bill? A Government who preach deregulation wish to impose extra burdensome regulation, including the threat of large fines, on one of our country’s most internationally respected sectors. Clause 7, which one Conservative MP in the Commons described as introducing “thought crime” to UK legislation, is a massive intrusion on the principles of academic freedom and university autonomy.

I have some sympathy for the Minister in having to take through a Bill that offends against so many Conservative and democratic principles. She will be aware of the strong criticisms that Conservative colleagues in the Commons have made. The chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee noted

“the concerns emanating from the Foreign Office and from diplomatic posts.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/7/23; col. 605]

and the incompatibility of Clause 3(7) with UNSC Resolution 2334, which British diplomats drafted. The chair of the Public Administration Committee referred to advice from FCDO lawyers that Clause 3 would place the UK in breach of that resolution. A former Secretary of State for Education tabled a number of amendments, which the Government would have been wise to accept. Both the co-chairs of the All-Party Group on British Jews—one Conservative, one Labour—strongly criticised the Bill.

The Bill has arrived from the Commons unamended, in spite of those well-founded criticisms. It is our duty to challenge the contradictions it contains and the damages it threatens. The Minister must recognise her duty to engage constructively, and to ensure that it will not leave this House before it has been significantly reshaped.

16:09
Lord Etherton Portrait Lord Etherton (CB)
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My Lords, I welcome the Bill for the reasons explained by the Minister. My focus today is on one particular issue: the international law exception to Section 1 in paragraph 6 of the Schedule. Consistently with the policy objectives of the Bill, that exception must be qualified to ensure consistency between the view of the public body decision-maker and that of central government about the meaning and effect of the obligations under international law relied upon by the decision-maker. I am grateful to the Minister for seeing me to allow me to explain my concerns.

The policy objectives of the Bill are described in paragraphs 5 and 6 of the Explanatory Notes. In summary, the Bill is intended to give effect to the Government’s view that it is not appropriate for public bodies to accede to campaigns to persuade them not to buy goods or services associated with particular foreign countries for political or moral reasons,

“except where to do so is positively consistent with the UK’s foreign policy as determined by the Government”.

The international law exception in the Schedule does not reflect that policy background as it leaves entirely to the public body decision-maker the right to reach its own conclusion about whether the decision, or anything done further to it, would place the United Kingdom in breach of its obligations under international law. There are, as Members of the House are aware, many sources of international law. They include treaties, custom deriving from state practice—that is, customary international law—general principles of law, international conventions, advisory opinions of the International Court of Justice and resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly, to mention but some. International humanitarian law—the law of war and armed conflict—is part of international law. Many aspects of international law derived from those sources can be highly contentious. One has only to think of the disagreements expressed in this House over the past few years on the proper meaning and effect of the refugee convention 1951 and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Under the international law exception, it is sufficient for the public body decision-maker to form a reasonable view of the meaning and effect of the applicable international law, even if that view is different from the Government’s. That is entirely at odds with the policy stated in paragraph 6 of the Explanatory Notes that decisions of public bodies about procurement and investment based on political or moral disapproval of a foreign state are permitted only if the decision

“is positively consistent with the UK’s foreign policy as determined by the Government”.

The reality is that the international law exception is a recipe for dispute and litigation about the United Kingdom’s international law obligations and the reasonableness of the decision-maker’s opinion about those obligations. The easiest way to address these problems is to make implementation of any decision based on the international law exception dependent on prior confirmation by the Secretary of State or the Attorney-General that the decision is in accordance with international law.

16:13
Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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My Lords, this is another pernicious piece of legislation attacking the freedom to protest against injustice and oppression except when the Government approve. It is therefore a Bill of which Vladimir Putin would be proud as it prevents public authorities, such as local councils, local government pension funds or universities, making their own ethical choices about their spending or investment. I am sorry that this Conservative Party is on the wrong side of history, as indeed it was over the fight against the most institutionalised system of racism the world has ever seen, namely apartheid.

It is also abolishing the right of British citizens to make their own choices. Tory Ministers support boycotts against Putin’s Russia over his barbaric attacks on Ukraine but want to ban even those advocating boycotts of Israeli products from settlers in the West Bank who have stolen Palestinian land in flagrant breach of international law. Ministers have said that Russia and Belarus would be exempt, but what about public bodies wishing to take boycott action over China’s oppressive treatment of Uighur Muslims or the Myanmar junta’s genocidal banishment of Rohingya Muslims?

The Bill violates UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which the UK voted for and which declares Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including east Jerusalem, as legally invalid and a clear violation of international law. The Bill explicitly designates Israel for special protection and seems to encompass the illegally occupied territories within its definition of Israel. Surely local authorities should have the discretion to make ethical decisions in line with the preferences of their constituents and the freedom to align with international law and exercise due diligence in procurement.

The Conservatives, I am afraid, have previous form on authoritarian repression of such ethical boycotts. In 1988 Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, having denounced him as a terrorist, imposed restrictions on political action by local councils in support of Nelson Mandela, by then into his 25th year in prison.

This Bill echoes a part of her Local Government Act 1988 preventing local authorities boycotting goods from apartheid South Africa as she attempted to shore up its economy. Local authorities such as Glasgow, Sheffield, Camden, Islwyn and a host of others decided not to buy apartheid goods. In 1981 Sheffield became the first to pledge to end all links to apartheid South Africa by withdrawing pension fund investments from companies with South African subsidiaries and barring its whites-only sports teams from playing on Sheffield’s sports fields. Others followed, including Cambridge, Newcastle, Glasgow and most inner London boroughs.

By 1985 more than 120 local councils had taken some form of action, from banning South African produce in their schools to granting the freedom of their city to Nelson Mandela, Glasgow City Council being the first. In London, Camden Council renamed the street where the Anti-Apartheid Movement had its office Mandela Street. Other cities, such as Leeds with its Mandela Gardens, bestowed honours on Nelson Mandela. The 1988 legislation did not work. By the time the Act came into effect, the apartheid regime was collapsing and the release of Nelson Mandela was looming.

The right to boycott is a principle that has had a massive impact for good. International pressure to cut links with the apartheid regime included disinvesting, not buying goods produced by it and not providing sporting or cultural cover for a regime that the United Nations had deemed a crime against humanity. Democratically elected local authorities should be able to use their resources in ways that do not sustain oppressive regimes where human rights are violated.

For 35 years a consumer boycott was at the heart of anti-apartheid campaigns in Britain. Hundreds of thousands of British people who never attended a meeting or demonstration showed their opposition to apartheid by refusing to buy goods from South Africa. I took part in action to plaster “Danger: Product of Apartheid” stickers on South African products in supermarkets.

The objective of local councils, joined by student unions, was to create apartheid-free zones. From the early 1970s, almost every university and college in Britain joined in. At more than half, students called on the university authorities to sell their shareholdings in British companies with South African interests and pressed for total disinvestment. Many student unions also banned South African goods from their bars and canteens, and their protests drove Barclays Bank off campuses, forcing it to close down its South African operations.

In 1964, the University of London Union made Nelson Mandela its honorary president. In the 1980s, many student unions named buildings in honour of Mandela and initiated moves to grant him an honorary degree. The British Anti-Apartheid Movement’s boycott campaign was hugely successful, lifted only in September 1993 after South Africa was irrevocably set on the path to democratic elections. Yet, and this is my key point, as Richard Hermer KC of Matrix Chambers stated clearly in paragraph 13 of his legal opinion on the Bill:

“Had legislation of this nature been in effect in the 1980s it would have rendered it unlawful to refuse to source goods from apartheid South Africa”.


Shame on this Government for introducing this shameless Bill. I trust that your Lordships’ House will dismember it through amendments and stand up for human rights worldwide.

16:20
Lord Willetts Portrait Lord Willetts (Con)
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My Lords, in her opening speech, the Minister rightly reminded us of the very difficult circumstances, particularly in Israel and Gaza, that are the background to the Bill, while we have just heard in that powerful intervention a reminder of the lively public debate about the case for and against boycotts, divestment and sanctions. However, whatever we may think of those issues, surely across the House people are shocked by clauses of a Bill with titles such as:

“Disapproval of foreign state conduct prohibited”


and

“Related prohibition on statements”.


It is indeed to be an offence for someone to indicate that they would intend to act in such a way were it lawful to do so. These are shocking provisions to bring before this House.

Many of us debate these issues in a host of environments, including this Chamber, and many of us have had responsibilities in public bodies and public authorities. It is very hard to draw the distinction that the Minister has attempted to draw between somehow acting in a leadership role in a public body and expressing a personal opinion. That is a distinction that I do not believe will bear the weight that she hopes to put on it.

There was a manifesto commitment, of course, which was clearly put:

“We will ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries”.


There is nothing there about expressions of view or statements of opinion. It is focused entirely on banning BDS campaigns. The Government can claim a manifesto right for that proposal but nothing that goes beyond it.

The Minister has said in her letter to us about this legislation—and this is an argument that we have heard elsewhere—that one argument for it is that such campaigns will damage community cohesion. That is a legitimate concern and of course it needs to be taken into account, but I have to say that if there had been an attempt to amend the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill so that freedom of speech was not permitted where it would damage community cohesion, the Government rightly would have had nothing to do with such an argument as a constraint on activity and freedom of speech. It would be a suitable irony, if the Bill goes forward as currently proposed with new powers for the Office for Students, if the newly appointed free speech tsar should be given authority as well for trying to implement the provisions that the Government are now putting forward.

The parallel with the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act is relevant since, as we have heard, universities are clearly covered in this Bill under a government definition of “public bodies”. This creeping definition of public bodies is another worrying feature of the Bill. One reason why Britain has such an internationally respected and successful university system is the autonomy of our universities. We cannot carry on, week by week and month by month, bringing in more regulation and more legislation that tries to control what they do without jeopardising their position as autonomous institutions. Indeed, we know that the Office for National Statistics is currently reviewing their position as to whether they should count as part of the public sector. Every time we add a new set of instructions as to what universities should do, we increase the risk that they are classified as part of the public sector and become subject to far heavier public sector control.

As well as community cohesion, the other argument, which we have heard both in the other place and here, is that it is not the role of all these bodies to run the Government’s foreign policy. I am not sure that I completely understand this argument. It is perfectly clear where the Government’s foreign policy resides. I have enormous respect for the work of my noble friend the Foreign Secretary. I think we know what his foreign policy is; occasional actions by other bodies do not interfere with any understanding of what foreign policy is or should be. However, it is absolutely clear—and encouraged by the Government themselves in other guidance—that bodies such as universities should take account of legitimate foreign policy concerns. I used to sit on the board of UKRI when the Government introduced some of this guidance and, as a visiting professor at King’s and a member of the council of the University of Southampton, I am very aware of the Trusted Research Guidance for Academics. It asks and encourages universities to know their partners. It asks them to address questions such as:

“Are there any potential ethical or moral concerns for the application of your research? … Could your research be used to support activities in other countries with ethical standards different from our own, such as internal surveillance and repression?”.


It goes on to urge universities to note the importance of understanding the “democratic and ethical values” of the country that they partner. So that is absolutely encouraged by the Government but meanwhile, in this legislation, explicit consideration of such issues is apparently also to be forbidden.

I was privileged to serve in the Government of my noble friend the Foreign Secretary. One of his best slogans was that he believed in a big society with a small state. This is absolutely a “big state with a smaller society” Bill. I welcome the Minister’s commitment to consider amendments to it. I believe it will be possible to amend the legislation in ways which are still consistent with the manifesto pledge on which the Government were elected.

16:27
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as chair of the Labour Climate and Environment Forum and of the Royal Veterinary College.

This law is indeed pernicious, as has been aptly shown by the noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Hain. It is a Bill aimed specifically at the BDS movement. The main targets are ostensibly official boycotts and official divestment, but the memorandum document acknowledges that it would be difficult to define the precise limits of boycotts or divestments so, to prevent that, the Bill is cast in broader terms of “procurement and investment decisions”. That, from my point of view, was mistake No. 1. The result is that the Bill would have serious impacts on a wide range of organisations. I honestly cannot believe that the Government intend such collateral damage to happen.

The Bill would constrain this wide range of public bodies from taking procurement and investment decisions that incentivise ethical business, environmental responsibility and climate change action. Public procurement and the Local Government Pension Scheme’s investments are important levers for change—in environmental improvement, climate change and social welfare. It is vital that we continue to drive ESG considerations through investment and purchasing decisions.

The Bill creates a really unhelpful confusion over what is and is not acceptable when factoring in risk on environmental, social and governance issues as legitimate investment risks that need to be taken into account. The Bill could be interpreted as preventing action on taking these legitimate risks into account, which would be directly at odds with the fiduciary duty of pension scheme trustees. It is almost impossible to take account of human, environmental and governance issues in particular circumstances of contracts or investments without also taking account of abuses in a territorial element. For example, if a decision was made, either by a pension scheme or public procurer, that they would not have anything to do with palm oil grown in an unsustainable fashion, that could be seen as being against the palm oil countries because it is their policies that are allowing unsustainable production to take place.

The most heinous part of the Bill in practical terms is Clause 5, in that it opens up a wide range of collateral damage through judicial review. It is particularly dubious. Clause 5(5) and (6) are incredibly widely drawn. They allow any interested person with

“sufficient interest in the subject-matter of the proposed application”

to apply for a judicial review. That is amazingly wide. It allows anybody, from anywhere in the world—indeed, anyone walking along the street—to raise judicial review concerns. To me, that is the richest thing in this clause because over the last few years the Government have tried consistently to narrow the criteria for being able to bring judicial review on environmental grounds. I ask the Minister: on what basis have the Government decided that other interested parties, in a very wide definition, should be able to initiate judicial reviews against local authorities and the Local Government Pension Scheme? How will they prevent the downside of simply anyone with a grudge having a go?

The question of financially material risks is the subject of a lot of guidance. The Law Commission is clear that investors must consider financially material risks in all their investment decisions. The Bill makes no provision for investors to take account of the financial risk or impact of the asset they may or may not be buying or investing in. This is something that investors and members of pension schemes are quite rightly increasing as a focus in their considerations. The Financial Markets Law Committee recently took the view that such considerations were compatible with investors’ fiduciary duty. Will the Minister undertake to include the risk of fiduciary material risks and the impact of investment risks in paragraph 4 of the Schedule?

A key way in which pension schemes, investment managers and the Local Government Pension Scheme generally manage climate risk to scheme members is through engagement with the companies in which they invest and by voting at their AGMs. Clause 2 designates investment decisions as including “management”. Is “management” that engagement activity—that activism at AGMs? Does this leave the Local Government Pension Scheme open to challenge on such engagement? Can the Government clarify the meaning of “management”? If they cannot clarify it sufficiently, will they remove it?

Does the Bill cover the pension scheme Nest, which covers automatic enrolment, and the Pension Protection Fund? Will these same considerations apply to trustees of these two funds? In particular, Nest offers ethical and Sharia funds for members who wish their pension funds to reflect their moral and religious views. Will that become impossible in the future?

The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, talked about universities being included in the Bill, despite their not being public bodies. The fact that the Bill is a disproportionate solution to the problem has caused this, in that it has severe consequences for the higher education sector. I will not repeat the points the noble Lord made and will say simply that they have to be addressed if our university sector is not going to be further constrained. Are the universities some of the bodies that are caught by mistake by the Bill, and will the Government exempt universities from its provisions?

The Minister kind of said that the issues from the devolved Governments were inconsequential because foreign policy is a UK-wide government responsibility and not devolved. But we cannot overlook that the Welsh Government are committed to using procurement as a lever for driving economic, social and environmental benefits. We cannot overlook that the Scottish Government have developed a strategy on public procurement that places a strong emphasis on climate change. Since the Government have not sought legislative agreement with the devolved Governments, how do they intend to deal with these devolved procurement policies?

This is not an unintended consequences Bill—which, being kind, I originally thought it was—but a pernicious Bill, and I hope that the Minister is sincere about considerable amendment being possible.

16:35
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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I wish to speak on only one issue, one that the noble Baroness who preceded me has just dealt with: the way the Bill works with devolution. It is important to understand the context. The Bill is so widely drawn that it deals with decisions or views that express disapproval of foreign state conduct. It is all justified on the basis of foreign policy, but it is very important to distinguish between the wide terms of the Bill and the much narrower interests of British foreign policy. That is important for two reasons, to which I shall come.

It seems clear from the Bill and the various devolution statutes that the Bill affects powers that have been devolved to the national Parliaments and Governments. I thought this was not in dispute to a large extent, because pages 13 and 14 of the Explanatory Notes, first, tick boxes that say that legislative consent would be sought and, secondly, seem to accept that, at least as regards the executive powers of Ministers, devolution powers are engaged. I very much hope that the Government have not changed their position on that and that they will not proceed with this legislation without obtaining legislative consent. There have been far too many instances where this Government have overridden the devolution settlements, and it is not in the interests of the unity of the United Kingdom that this is continued.

As I understand it, it is claimed that much of the Bill does not involve devolved competences because the general reservations in most of the devolution settlements expressly reserve international relations, the regulation of international trade, and international development assistance and co-operation, although there are qualifications to that. In a Second Reading debate, I do not want to go into the finer and more detailed and difficult legal points in relation to the devolved settlements, and I am sure that the Minister, in replying at a late hour this evening, will not want to deal with that.

I return to what I regard as a central point. As I understand it, the Bill’s wording is intended to prevent the devolved Governments adopting a procurement policy based on their disapproval of the policies or conduct of any state. That is extremely wide. It is not confined to conduct that is in conflict with the foreign policy of the United Kingdom. One can understand why relations with foreign policy are reserved and departures from UK foreign policy might be justified as a reservation, but, given the wide scope, this is very difficult.

Secondly, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, has shown, the exceptions in Schedule 2 are extremely imprecisely drawn. I agree completely with what he said about international relations. If you look at the one in relation to environmental conduct, you can see that it is even wider as it applies to something that may be an offence under the laws of any state. These points are important because of Clause 5, which permits judicial review. If there was no judicial review in it, one could expect the good sense of government not to intervene—but, once you open up judicial review, you are vulnerable to people who want to use it in this sort of policy area for commercial or political advantage. So the exact precision of this Bill is of great importance for that reason.

I have one question for the Minister, which I hope that she will be able to answer, but—bearing in mind what I see as very serious flaws in this Bill—there is another question. If, for example, the Bill when an Act is to work properly, how will we deal between national Governments and with local authorities in determining what they can do that is consistent with British foreign policy and with what is, on any reading, disapproval of the conduct of a foreign state? Is a blanket prohibition to apply, or will there be some mechanism? It is extremely unclear from the Bill how in practice this will work, particularly in the light of the availability of judicial review for persons who wish to cause mischief to bring proceedings.

There should be a forum for intergovernmental discussion of these issues, and I very much hope that the Minister will be able to deal with this dichotomy between the interests of foreign policy and the blanket prohibition and a sensible procurement policy, whereby the devolved Governments and others can use their procurement and other powers in a wide compass without fear of litigation.

16:42
Lord Boateng Portrait Lord Boateng (Lab)
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My Lords, this Bill is ill judged, ill drafted and ill timed. It offends on all three of those points. It is ill judged because it is brought forward purportedly with a narrow political purpose, and one that might be felt to be in some quarters unexceptional. However, it goes far beyond that, because it will have a widespread and chilling effect on decision-making around ethical investment, environmental considerations and human rights. It will have a disastrous consequence globally in all three of those areas, while purporting to deal with one particular narrow mischief that it seeks to address.

As has been pointed out already in our deliberations, it is ill drafted because of its extremely loose terminology —unprecedentedly loose in its references to moral and political considerations. It is open to the widest of interpretations and gives exceptional powers to Secretaries of State, which will put them at odds with national parliaments and assemblies and with local government. It will create constitutional confusion and conflict.

It is ill timed because it is being introduced into our Parliament at a particular moment in history when there is widespread concern about human rights violations in sovereign states, which are causing much wider concerns, about the actions of some sovereign states in invading the territories of others and about conflicts, with international and domestic impacts, around the illegal occupation of areas of sovereign states in our world. Frankly, nothing could be more designed to impact adversely on community cohesion than this Bill or to yet further undermine the reputation of this country as an upholder of international law. It therefore offends on all three points.

I have to say that I have been an activist in relation to boycotts. I was a member of a local authority which in December 1983 passed a resolution against apartheid and in support of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners in South Africa. Had this law been in place at the time, it would have put us in immediate conflict with the law and been illegal: there is no doubt about that. Yet we as a local authority in London at that time represented the voice of Londoners on apartheid. They felt that apartheid was morally and politically wrong—all things that are apparently illegitimate in this piece of legislation. Well, Londoners were right and government was wrong. Surely on all sides of the House we can agree that sometimes that happens.

What really matters in the world is not what Governments say or do but what people say, do and think. People matter more than Governments. If the Minister is concerned about sowing confusion internationally, I tell her as someone who is proud to have had the job of representing Crown and country abroad that the saving grace of Britain’s reputation in South Africa was not its Governments, of any political persuasion—I sought to represent Her Majesty’s Government at a time of considerable concern in South Africa and globally about Iraq—but its people. Trade unions, churches and the Mothers’ Union in Brighton led a boycott in relation to South African origins in that city which is remembered to this day in East Brighton in South Africa. So, whatever the reputation of the British Government, the British people are respected because of their steadfast belief in human rights and their activism and willingness to do something about it. It is that activism and willingness that are attacked by this Bill.

I draw to the attention of the House the proper concerns of the Society of Friends—the Quakers—about this Bill in its helpful briefing to us:

“We know from experience that grassroots action can be an effective, peaceful way to bring about lasting positive change. In severely limiting the ethical decisions that public bodies can make, we are concerned that the Bill restricts Quakers and other people of faith from putting their faith into action by campaigning on matters of conscience, particularly at the local authority level where opportunities for citizens to influence democratic decisions are greater”.


The Society of Friends is right. The Government have to answer them, and all people of faith and conscience concerned about human rights abuses, apartheid and a range of issues, and tell them why it is wrong for them to support local action and public authorities standing up for the environment, human rights and the values that our country surely represents.

The Bill limits and chills action in all those areas. The exceptions are too narrowly defined, in that they fail to cover human rights. The Bill exceeds its stated purpose in the Conservative Party’s manifesto. It provides the Secretary of State with exceptional and unnecessary additional powers; it places unnecessary and cumbersome restrictions on public authorities; it limits the ability of local authority pension funds to perform their stewardship responsibilities; and it offends in every way against the very best that this nation represents. For that reason, we need to scrutinise it in a way that ensures that it does not leave this place as it is now. If it does, it will destroy the reputation that this country has built up over many years. We must not allow this Government to do that—not in their zombie year.

16:50
Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I would like to add a few facts to allow the House to consider how it makes up its mind on the principle and the detail of the Bill. The reality is that the Bill has been sold as assisting the Jewish community on the BDS campaign targeting Israel that has been going for many years. It would be inaccurate for any Member of the House to think that this was something in the future. The BDS campaign has had a plethora of resolutions passed across the public sector over many years.

I will cite one example as an illustration of the effectiveness—or otherwise—of this campaign. There is a student union that has had a BDS policy for 15 years. I will not give it additional attention or hassle by naming it. It is publicised on its website; there is an educational tool for anyone who wishes to look at it. At the same time, the student union sells kosher products, some of which are available only from Israel. It does so as a duty of care to its Jewish students. In the context of a BDS policy passed for the last 15 years, it is selling kosher products—including Israeli products—in its shop.

If the objective of the BDS campaign is to boycott and divest from Israel, I suggest that factually it is the most unsuccessful campaign in all our lifetimes, because it has manifestly failed to do that. One of the reasons is that, if we want to be honest about boycotting Israeli products, the key products that one would start by never using would be computers and mobile phones. They would be at the heart of it, because that is where Israeli products have the maximum impact on all our lives.

There is one exception in this country: pharmaceuticals. On the balance of probabilities, each of our households will be using Israeli pharmaceuticals. I will cite the example of naloxone, which is the only drug available for bringing people round after a heroin opiate overdose and saving lives. Its introduction in this country has been a major lifesaver—fact. The idea that the NHS would not use naloxone is a nonsense.

Therefore, those resolutions are there but have not been implemented. That is a consideration—draw what conclusions one chooses to from it.

On managing expectations, it is important to look at what the impact will be of any legislation we pass, whether amended or otherwise, because there can be unintended consequences. I will cite a recent example. On the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, I raised some questions about whether there could be unintended consequences by shifting more extreme protests from the public realm to the university realm, using the rationale that there is absolute freedom of speech in the university realm. I am sad to report to the House that my questions and warnings have proved true. I speak to universities every week and to the Union of Jewish Students most days, and that is precisely what is happening in our country now: extremists are moving their protests off the public realm to the university realm, nearer Jewish students, using the excuse and rationale that free speech goes in any way in universities. That will need to be considered, because it is an unintended consequence of that legislation—which I supported, by the way.

I return to managing expectations. Let us take the university sector. There has not been disinvestment from Israel in the university sector, but let me tell the House where this campaign is most pernicious: academic boycotts. They are not covered in the Bill, and I have not found a way in which I can amend it, but there may be greater brains here who could assist. Academic boycotts are attempts to stop university lecturers or researchers doing this or that kind of research in co-operation with Israelis, and sometimes beyond Israelis. That is the most pernicious and most regular form of campaign. It is hard to regulate for that because it is normally peer-group pressure that leads to it.

This Bill does not address academic boycotts at all, and nor does it deal with the issue of the Jewish way of life, which manifests, for example, in access to kosher foods. I will pose one question; it is not a statement. If we legislate as framed at the moment, will it make the Sainsbury’s incidents that we are seeing, where the targeting of the BDS campaign shifts from the university or municipality to the supermarket and its products, more likely, less likely or the same? Will the Jewish independent store be more or less targeted? It seems to me that these are fundamental issues about how the Jewish community lives its life.

My fear with any legislation is that, if it is rushed through, those unintended consequences will come to fruition. I appeal to all Front Benches: frankly, the Jewish community is stronger and better protected when there is a political consensus across political parties. I will chair a meeting myself—if the two sides are not prepared to, or cannot, get together—for whatever party wants to participate. That leaves the Jewish community stronger. It is essential that that is part of the Bill’s objective.

I have one final point. Because I know the House loves its Brexit consequences, I would like to warm its heart by suggesting that there is one here. If a local authority decides that it wants to campaign for a local factory that is being shut down as part of the supply chain, for example, in the automotive industry—by campaigning that the products are bought from there and not, say, from Germany, Japan, China or wherever—is this Bill an impediment to it? For most trade unionists who voted for Brexit, the objective of buying British, manufacturing British and having British steel, rather than importing from abroad, was the biggest single, individual motivator. That is a question that I want clarifying: is that a problem with this Bill? If it is, the Bill would not be fit for purpose.

16:59
Lord Wood of Anfield Portrait Lord Wood of Anfield (Lab)
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My Lords, it is rare that a Bill with such a prosaic and innocuous title contains within it such varied threats to foundational democratic principles and practices. This is a Bill that, in the name of defending the rights of a particular minority, infringes those rights and the rights of us all, while establishing multiple dangerous precedents.

I start with the logic of the Bill, which involves a sequence of inferences that, frankly, do not make sense to me. It starts with a desire we all share: to counter anti-Semitism. From this, it deduces the wisdom of banning the practice of boycotts of Israel by UK public authorities and associated bodies on the grounds that these practices often promote anti-Semitism. It then executes this ambition, however, by proposing a blanket ban on such bodies taking any moral or political considerations into account in procurement and investment decisions with regard to all states. Then it backtracks and exempts Russia and Belarus from this ban, and then it provides the possibility of exception for other countries to be decided at the discretion of Ministers—but it rules out Israel and the post-1967 Occupied Territories from being included in further exemptions. This is taking legislative convolution to a new level: a multi-tiered sledgehammer that does not even crack the nut. Sadly, however, the Bill’s clunky complexity is its least objectionable feature, because with each clunky step of justification it tramples on more and more rights and freedoms.

First, the Bill straightforwardly erodes precious civil rights to freedom of expression, freedom to campaign and freedom to boycott, which are almost universally recognised by NGOs—including, by the way, by leaders of four Jewish youth groups, the Union of Jewish Students and other Jewish groups. The first tier of this restriction is restricting the right to boycott. This right is not only important in the history of British political campaigns, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, eloquently remembered and as the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, testified to. It is a protected form of speech and protest in international law, protected by the ECHR in the Baldassi ruling, and it is protected speech under Article 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

However, the cavalier approach to international law does not stop there because, extraordinarily, the Bill aims to prohibit decision-makers in public bodies from telling us what they would have done if these restrictions were not in force. As the former Conservative Minister Kit Malthouse said in another place during the Bill’s progress there:

“I have never before seen legislation that outlaws disagreement with the law”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/7/23; col. 619.]


If the Bill ever becomes law, I have no doubt that the compatibility of this principle with Article 10 of the ECHR will be tested very early in the courts—that is, if time can be found to hear the case alongside the litany of other litigation which the Bill will generate.

However, the trampling of rights does not even stop there. As many commented during the passage of the Bill in another place, it undermines the expression of solidarity with groups which are experiencing systematic abuse, persecution and even torture elsewhere, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, observed; for example, in the case of China with regard to the Uighurs, or Myanmar with regard to the Rohingya.

Further, the partial exemption of certain types of foreign state activity from the list of banned considerations in investment decisions has the effect of generating a new and totally bizarre two-tiered categorisation of human rights. Exception is provided to allow labour rights to be taken into consideration but not torture; bribery, yes, but not genocide. This bizarre legislative edifice is constructing almost by accident a new UK stance on different kinds of human rights abuses that it is appropriate to react to in different ways. It will undermine our credibility, our consistency and our international standing.

What of the principle of a list of countries excluded by law from ministerial discretion to be designated as exempt from these restrictions? The list consists, as other noble Lords have said, only of Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the occupied Golan Heights. This contradicts not only UN Resolution 2334 but the Government’s own policy towards occupied territories. Its logic is also self-defeating because, prompted by an objection to singling out Israel, it takes steps to single out Israel. As the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland remarked:

“What is a favourite refrain of the antisemites? That Israel is the one country you’re not ‘allowed’ to criticise. This bill takes a canard and, in the case of boycotts, turns it into the law of the land”.


More generally, our foreign policy will suffer if we embrace the principle in the Bill that the acceptability of actions by other states is not a function of the content of the actions but of whether a state is on a Minister’s list.

On top of these principled concerns, I have a host of more detailed concerns that I hope will be explored in Committee. First, the enforceability of this regime must be seriously in doubt. It relies fundamentally on clarity about, and between, different types of motivation for investment decisions. But distinguishing between these motivations is often far from easy. Areas of the world that are politically volatile also bring with them commercial volatility, disrupted supply chains and nervous investors. In those circumstances, what counts as proper fiduciary responsibility in decision-making and what counts as undue political motivation?

Secondly, I have a set of concerns about education. I will not repeat them because my noble friend Lady Chapman and the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, eloquently described them. However, we will need clarity about whether or not research partnerships, scholarships and other form of financial relationships that UK universities are involved in with institutions abroad are covered by the term “investment”.

Thirdly, the application of the Bill to the Local Government Pension Scheme is a minefield, as my noble friend Lady Young mentioned earlier—in particular in giving the Pensions Regulator a role in supervising good governance, which it has never had previously, with regard to investment decisions. I would like to hear more from the Minister about the steps to ensure that that new competence will be adequately delivered.

In sum, the Bill creates precedents that undermine freedom of expression and the freedom to campaign. It unintentionally creates a new hierarchy within human rights, undermines the integrity of our foreign policy, and shows a cavalier disregard for rights at home and for international law. It is quite a list. It should never see the light of day, but I am a realist and I realise that what will happen is that it will need profound revision so as not to damage the very freedoms it wrongly claims to protect.

17:06
Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Portrait Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD)
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My Lords, I declare my interests in the Jewish community, as required in the register. It is sad to have to start by deploring the name of the Bill. “Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters)” does not trip easily off the tongue. It is in fact known as the “anti-BDS Bill”. But does it actually help in combating Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions—a campaign I deplore as, in practice, it targets one nation: Israel?

We have this poorly drafted and politically motivated Bill purely so that Mr Gove can show that he supports the UK Jewish community, beleaguered as it is—and it is—by anti-Semitism. He can try to dress it up with talk of other nations being discussed at local levels, but if one googles “BDS” one sees that the

“movement works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law”.

I stress that these are its words, not mine. The Bill implicitly recognises who it is meant to defend, as it specifically singles out as the only nation an exemption of powers cannot be applied to as

“Israel … the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or … the Occupied Golan Heights”.

I am against BDS, which is often perceived as being—and I believe often is—anti-Semitic, and often a part of Jew hatred. Others perceive BDS as simply supporting the rights of Palestinians. We are a democracy and if an individual, or groups of individuals, want to support BDS, that is their right. The Bill seeks to stop public bodies—and we have had much discussion of what is and is not a public body—imposing their approach to, or view on, international relations.

I am concerned that the Bill, as drafted, could have a negative effect. Would there be a strong backlash to the Bill as being a freedom of speech issue? It is a freedom of speech issue. Is there a fear that it could lead to a rise in anti-Semitism as being seen, incorrectly, as a result of Jewish pressure, when it is not?

The Bill gives government the power to exempt certain countries from boycott restrictions, but it specifically does not allow the exemption of Israel, the West Bank and the Golan. Why are these the only named territories? It is not as simplistic as suggested. I was on the Golan Heights the week after they were taken from Syria to stop Syria shelling the Israeli valley below. Yes, Israel has annexed the Golan, and if you stand on that spot you can see why. There is no way it could ever be returned to Assad’s Syria. As far as the West Bank is concerned, its final status and division between Israel and the Palestinians is a matter for them to agree on.

When the Minister replies, it would be helpful if she could clarify the scope of BDS. Does it include Israel? Does it include the major Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Golan? These settlements are generally thought of as a land swap—settlements that would be in a reconstituted, rebounded Israel. Does it include them, or all the settlements of the West Bank?

We have this Bill because some public bodies have proposed BDS motions. The Minister mentioned three when she spoke; could she tell the House how many public bodies, local authorities or whatever have actually done so? The reality is that these motions will do little to affect Israel or any other nation. However, they create a very hostile environment for local Jewish communities and create community division.

There is an argument that this Bill limits free speech, but the BDS campaign itself calls for limits on freedom of speech, preventing speeches by Israeli academics and Israeli performers, as the noble Lord, Lord Mann, mentioned. That is not mentioned anywhere in the Bill, as he said.

This is a bad Bill, which attempts to right a misjustice but could well have unseen, harmful consequences. The Local Government Association, which obviously has an interest in this, says that it does not expect the Bill to have significant effects on local authority investment or procurement practices, but it has significant concerns about the effects it will have on the operation of local government pension schemes.

I imagine that the Bill will get to Committee and beyond. We are only at Second Reading. I believe that we will see amendments. It will be very interesting to see what the amendments will be and, if they are passed by your Lordships’ House, what the reaction will be in the other place. My own judgment will depend on the final version in your Lordships’ House, as I am in favour of free speech but against the BDS movement.

17:13
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome this Bill. The Government are right to legislate to stop public bodies engaging in boycotts of foreign countries or making equivalent investment decisions. It was a manifesto commitment in 2019 and I hope the Benches opposite will remember that as the Bill progresses. I am only sorry that it has taken over four years to get within sight of the statute book.

The BDS movement is Palestinian-led and explicitly aimed at Israel. It wants to weaken the State of Israel using economic weapons, but we should be in no doubt that it is part of a wider movement that denies Israel’s right to exist. The Palestinian BDS National Committee is interlinked with proscribed terrorist organisations, including Hamas. We saw on 7 October last year what that murderous organisation is capable of, and its leaders have been clear that Hamas is committed to replicating attacks like that until Israel is completely eradicated.

The BDS movement portrays itself as peaceful, but we should be in no doubt that BDS and Hamas draw from the same well. The BDS movement at its core is anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism nowadays wears the clothes of being anti-Israel, but it is little different from the anti-Semitism that Jews have suffered down the ages. That is why it is so dangerous and why the Government are right to target it in this Bill. Our studies have shown links between BDS activities and acts of anti-Semitism. Sadly, anti-Semitic incidents have been rising in the UK since the events of 7 October. My noble friend the Minister reminded us of that. Noble Lords have spoken in your Lordships’ House in the past of how many in the Jewish community now are afraid in a way that they have not been in recent memory. This is a particular problem on campuses.

This Bill is a modest but important contribution to reducing the impact that the BDS movement can have on life in our society. It does not outlaw the BDS movement in the UK and it does not stop individuals or private companies exercising their rights not to deal with or invest in Israel. Companies such as Ben & Jerry’s can carry on trying to stop their products being available in Israel and people like me can carry on boycotting Ben & Jerry’s in return. The Bill confines itself to public authorities and is thus a proportionate response to a very real issue.

It is clear and settled policy that the British Government recognise and support the State of Israel. I am proud that we have stood by Israel in its recent actions to defend itself. It cannot be right that public bodies, funded by UK taxpayers’ money, should try to pursue a different foreign policy. Because foreign policy is a reserved matter, it is also right that this Bill extends to the devolved nations. Procurement may well be a devolved matter, but procurement does not exist in a vacuum and has to be set in the context of broader policies set by the Government—including their foreign policy.

I am a committed defender of freedom of speech. Concerns have been raised about Clause 4 and we have heard quite a lot about that this afternoon. I do not believe that fears about this clause are well founded, since the prohibition relates only to public bodies or persons speaking on behalf of public bodies. Even then, it applies only to statements about the contravention of Clause 1. It does not prohibit the expression of more general views and does not apply to statements made by individuals speaking in a personal capacity. I am sure that we can explore this in Committee, but the drafting is already pretty clear.

As we have heard, there are also concerns about Clause 3(7), which hardwires Israel and the Occupied Territories into the Bill. I support this because it is always Israel that is the target of BDS activities and this Bill needs to send a strong message about the unacceptability of that. I know that this raises difficult issues about the Occupied Territories and I am sure that these can be discussed further in Committee.

Another issue for Committee is paragraph 6 of the Schedule. This was described as “constitutionally unique” in evidence sessions in the other place. I was interested in particular in the remarks by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, on that subject and look forward to exploring it in Committee.

I hope that we can work at speed to get this Bill through to Royal Assent, because it has never been more important to ensure that anti-Semitism cannot take root in the activities of our public sector.

17:19
Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, I feel proud, honoured and thankful to have been present in your Lordships’ Chamber to hear the powerful and informed speeches from my noble friends Lord Boateng and Lord Hain, and the powerful and forensic speeches from my noble friends Lady Chapman of Darlington and Lord Wood of Anfield.

I intend to devote my limited time to drawing your Lordships’ attention to a few specific provisions in the Bill and arguments about them, in opposition to it. I start by drawing your Lordships’ attention to remarks that were made at the Second Reading of the Bill in the other place. In rebutting the critics of the Bill, Michael Gove suggested—and this was deliberately calculated—that the central question for every Member of that Chamber was

“whether they stand with us against antisemitism or not”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/7/23; col. 591.]

This is not merely a false dichotomy but an extremely irresponsible piece of rhetorical manoeuvring. I am not surprised by it. By implication, it condemns opponents or even critical friends of the Bill as anti-Semitic. It seems ironic, to say the least, that in moving legislation purportedly designed to ease community and cultural divisions in this country, the Secretary of State chose to frame the debate in such inflammatory terms. For my part, I know not only that every Member of your Lordships’ House abhors anti-Semitism but that we are all conscious of the very specific and insidious ways in which it can creep into public discourse. We will do everything that we can to prevent that.

We were also told during those proceedings—I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, for drawing our attention to this—that the Bill fulfils a 2019 manifesto commitment. Leaving aside the question of how far the writ of that manifesto can seriously be expected to extend, given that it was the product of neither this Prime Minister nor his immediate predecessor, it is worth looking at, as was encouraged by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, how that commitment was framed and to what extent the Bill we are considering today reflects it.

The noble Lord read out the relevant passages, so I will not repeat them, but there are a number of aspects that are interesting in relation to the Bill. For example, there is no manifesto commitment to legislation that singles out protection of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This is anomalous for three reasons. First, I fear that singling out Israel and the OPT in such a way is counterproductive. If I seriously believed that the actions of local authorities or other public bodies were compromising the coherence of British foreign policy—and sometimes I beg for the coherence of British foreign policy—I would have greater sympathy for this Bill.

With this in mind, I would be grateful if the Minister, whom I respect immensely, and she knows this, would outline a few cases that support that contention—where international perceptions of our foreign policy have been distorted or compromised, or where local authorities or other public bodies have acted in a way that courts serious confusion at an international level because of behaviour that is identified in the Bill. There must be data to support legislation that has such implications for the way in which we live. We have to justify the sweeping powers contained in the Bill, and this data must be shown to us before the conclusion of our deliberations on it.

Secondly, the more extreme elements of the BDS movement argue that Israel is too often held unjustifiably exempt from criticism and that the actions of the Israeli Government do not receive appropriate scrutiny. Surely by naming only Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the Bill we will not defang those who make such criticisms but give them further ammunition for such assertions. This is of particular importance to Clauses 1 and 4.

Clause 1 prohibits action that a “reasonable observer” would conclude is motivated by “political or moral disapproval” of a foreign Government. It strikes me that the words “reasonable observer” are doing a great deal of heavy lifting here and that we are merely opening ourselves up to legal challenges based on contending subjectivities. Given the historical complexity, emotional depth and diplomatic ambiguity that attend any discussion of Israel, Palestine and their relationship, who is to decide what constitutes the position of a disinterested, reasonable observer? The last couple of years have shown me that, on this issue, in this country, there is no such thing.

Of even greater concern is Clause 4. As we have heard from other noble Lords, this provision does not merely debar a public body from expressing its intention to act in a contrary manner to this Bill but in addition—God forbid—prevents them expressing how they might wish to have acted were the legislation not in force. I should be grateful if the Minister would be kind enough to present even a hypothetical case for where this provision may prevent serious harm to the coherence of UK foreign policy. In asking that, I do not contend that we have not seen cases where councils have made declarations supporting anti-Israel boycotts that they had no intention of implementing but that were none the less opposed by local Jewish groups. But I do not believe that these cases, however regrettable and ill-conceived, justify such sweeping measures to curtail free speech, nor that they in any serious manner compromise the wider unity and coherence of our foreign policy. It must be pretty fragile if they do.

A final anomaly to mention is a further consequence of Clause 4. In what circumstances is a decision-maker, or one who may influence a decision-maker, under the terms of this Bill speaking in a private capacity or as part of a public body? If the leader of a council spoke in the council chamber expressing their disapproval of Israeli actions but prefaced these remarks with an acknowledgement that such views were privately held and siloed from decision-making, would this exempt them from these provisions? Answering in the other place, the Minister sought to square this circle by saying that

“the simplest way to express that is that if an individual is speaking on their own behalf, they are speaking as a private individual. However, if I say that I am speaking on behalf of my university or my local authority, then I speak on the behalf of a public body”.—[Official Report, Commons, Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill Committee, 12/9/23; cols. 155-56.]

While that clarification was no doubt tremendously insightful, I am sceptical that such a simplistic definition would survive contact with reality, never mind the courts. For these reasons, I believe that Clause 4 should simply be removed from the Bill.

Talking about contact with reality, noble Lords heard, in the opening sentences of his introducing the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, or the Advocate-General for Scotland, say:

“I am speaking to the House today as a member of the Government for the Bill, not in my formal law officer capacity”.—[Official Report, 29/1/24; col. 1003]


The man is only in the Government because he is a law officer. The Advocate-General for Scotland position had to be filled, and he came from the Scottish Bar to fill it. He is only in the Government as a law officer. If noble Lords want to see the degree to which that survived reality, they can look at the rest of the debate and at how confused everybody in this House was by those remarks from the noble and learned Lord as to who he was talking for.

This Bill may be well-intentioned—I am sceptical about that—but it contains sufficient ambiguities and contradictions to risk deepening existing fractures and creating new contentions in relation to freedom of speech. For those reasons I will be seeking, at the very least, to support critical amendments as it moves through your Lordships’ House.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, this has been a wonderful debate, but the advisory speaking time is seven minutes. I am looking forward to seeing all noble Lords again in Committee, so please try to keep to seven minutes. Some of your Lordships were up at midnight, so we are hoping for a reasonable finish.

17:28
Lord Verdirame Portrait Lord Verdirame (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I am broadly supportive of this Bill, but I have a number of concerns.

First, I share the concern expressed by other noble Lords that Clause 4 as currently drafted might have a disproportionate impact on freedom of expression, and in particular on political and academic speech. I understand the reassurances found in the Explanatory Notes—we heard to that effect from the Minister earlier —but it seems to me that principles as important as those need to be protected in the Bill rather than in the Explanatory Notes. I look forward to ways of improving the clarity of the terms of Clause 4, in particular.

Secondly, I am concerned about the impact of the Bill on universities. I declare an interest, in that I am a professor at King’s College London. I echo the concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, expressed on universities. At the heart of the Bill is a new duty to

“not have regard to a territorial consideration”

in a manner that would indicate

“political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct”.

As Universities UK noted in its written evidence, universities, in their relationships with overseas higher education institutions, as well as with foreign businesses and states, are already subject to a number of duties, particularly with regard to national security, that require them to take into account foreign state conduct. We have to be sure that the new duty in the Bill does not create confusion around these other duties which are intended to protect universities and our country from the influence of unfriendly foreign actors, not least actors such as Iran, which are keen to set foot in our universities, radicalise students and propagate anti-Semitism.

My third concern mirrors the point raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Etherton and goes to paragraph 6 of the Schedule. There was some discussion in the other place about the legal opinion on the legislation by Mr Hermer KC, which was mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. In that opinion, he identified the problem with paragraph 6 as clearly as anyone until, of course, my noble and learned friend spoke. He wrote:

“The fact that the United Kingdom is in breach of its obligations under an unincorporated international treaty (e.g. the UN Charter) does not normally create a foundation for a claim in domestic law before the UK Courts. Here though the Bill provides a ‘domestic foothold’ through paragraph 6 of the Schedule”.


He observes, rightly, that domestic courts are normally reluctant to review the conduct of foreign states, but the Bill would oblige them to tackle the issues because they will have to do so to determine the legality of the impugned decision. I agree with his conclusion that, paradoxically, paragraph 6

“will very materially increase the prospects of a domestic court pronouncing on the legality of various aspects of the occupation”.

He is, of course, referring to the Occupied Palestinian Territories in Israel, but the Bill goes much further than that. It would apply to any foreign situation where there is a territorial consideration. It would apply to Western Sahara, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and maritime disputes. In fact, it would apply simply to any question of foreign policy in relation to a territory because of the breadth of the definition of “territorial consideration” in Clause 1.

It is true that we do not normally implement international obligations in this open-ended way. We normally have primary and sometimes secondary legislation that is designed to ensure that the UK state, including its various organs, both local and central government, is acting consistently with international obligations. Paragraph 6 operates fundamentally differently. The effect is to create a sort of open invitation to any public authority to pick an argument with the Government of the day on a potentially wide range of foreign policy issues. If that happens, if a public authority invokes the international law exception, the Government will then have to decide either to do nothing, in which case they will be left with more of a problem than the Bill is designed to solve, or to pursue enforcement, in which case the question will be submitted to the courts with all the risks of litigation of issues that otherwise would not be submitted to judicial determination that come with that.

There is an evident tension between the stated purpose of the Bill, which is to make sure that the Government are in greater control of foreign policy, and what could happen as a result of paragraph 6 in the Schedule. At a minimum, this provision will need a lot of tightening, but I really wonder why it is there. The guidance on procurement, which has been in place since the 2016, simply states that unless the Government have put in place formal legal sanctions, embargoes or restrictions, there should be no scope for a regime of trade sanctions or embargoes to be developed surreptitiously through public procurement. I am not sure what has changed since then that has led to the introduction of paragraph 6.

17:33
Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, from time to time, bad Bills are introduced, and they have become more frequent over the past 10 years, but in my many years in this House I have not witnessed any worse than this one. It denies the principles of an open society in which freedom of expression is valued and in which ethical considerations are deemed to be valid in decision-making by public bodies. It is shameful in its failure to reflect international law and UK legislation on freedom of expression, and it pays no attention to the position taken in the devolved Governments by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It also cuts across the established UK position of differentiating between the State of Israel and the territories it occupies, now blighted by large numbers of settlements illegal under international law.

I do not understand how the interdepartmental discussion required by proposed legislation which has implications for several departments could have allowed this shoddy and appallingly drafted little Bill to go through. Either the discussion did not take place or there was a lack of rigour when the Bill was considered. Was any account taken of the fact that many voters in this country have justified concerns about illegal or unethical practices in the environment and in human rights, including employment rights?

As a former vice-chancellor, I would like the Minister to respond to the damaging effects of this Bill on universities, which have been touched on by others. First, how does it affect the ONS review of university status in the national accounts and whether they should be reclassified as public bodies? Is the Minister aware that government policy and, indeed, legislation establishing international partnerships and collaborations is contradicted by the Bill, as are the duties of universities under the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 to uphold freedom of speech? Universities UK is justifiably concerned about the legislation’s potentially damaging effect on due diligence and open discussion and debate, limiting transparency in decision-making. Only in totalitarian countries is universities’ freedom of expression restricted.

This Bill is overbearing in its treatment of local authorities and exposes them to vexatious legal challenges. It entails disproportionate centralisation, giving more power to the Secretary of State, which could hold up local decision-making, resulting in delay and inefficiency. It is not up to the Secretary of State to denounce elected representatives for debating ethical issues or to interfere in their decisions on investment and procurement. That is gagging and ministerial overreach. It will create unnecessary conflict between devolved or local government and Ministers.

A particular issue in the Bill is its effect on the Local Government Pension Scheme. Under present law, pension funds are required to take into account financially material environmental, social and governance considerations. By outlawing funds taking into account country-specific financial risks, the Bill is in conflict with the Law Commission’s guidance on the fiduciary duties of pension funds. It also undermines the work done by the Local Government Pension Scheme to improve corporate behaviour and protect the long-term value of funds and conflicts with the Procurement Act. Will the Minister tell the House why public bodies and their pension funds should not take into account ethical considerations such as the use of tax havens, child labour, bonded labour, torture or environmental devastation, which are facilitated or permitted in certain territories, when they make their investment and procurement decisions?

I turn to the extraordinary singling out of Israel and the Occupied Territories, giving them unique protection from campaigns against human rights abuses afforded to no other country. In conflating Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Bill conflicts with the UN Security Council resolutions which the UK has endorsed. As such, it is also in conflict with UK foreign policy and its stated aim to promote a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, it is illegal for an occupying power to transfer any part of its population to occupied territory. Successive Israeli Governments have frequently and fragrantly ignored this convention by allowing settlements on territory designated for a future Palestinian state. Perhaps unintentionally, the Bill implies that the UK no longer accepts that the settlements are illegal under international law nor that they are involved in human rights abuses of West Bank Palestinians.

I end by expressing my bewilderment about how this Bill will reduce anti-Semitism and refer the Minister to a passionate campaigner against anti-Semitism, Margaret Hodge MP. At Second Reading in another place, she said that an outcome of the Bill was that it would increase, rather than reduce, anti-Semitism because it plays into the hands of anti-Semites by singling out Israel

“as the one place that can never be boycotted”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/7/23; col. 615.]

This Bill really needs to be withdrawn altogether but, failing that, it needs extensive amendment. In the spirit of a revising House, I hope that the Minister will, as she implied earlier, accept that it must be amended substantially to improve it.

17:40
Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, the Bill to which this House is being asked to give a Second Reading today is, in my view, both ill-timed and ill-conceived. It singles out Israel for special protection over any other country in the world in a remarkably discriminatory way—positive for Israel, negative for everywhere else—which, important though the preservation of Israel’s security and democracy undoubtedly is, can hardly be justified. Is it really that much more important to us than the countries of the Commonwealth?

The Bill is ill-timed in the sense that, while many will assert and defend Israel’s right to act militarily in self-defence in response to the onslaught unleashed against it by Hamas on 7 October, as does the present speaker, this is hardly the appropriate moment to bring forward a piece of legislation which appears to give Israel a blank cheque for whatever it does in Gaza and the other Occupied Territories.

It is ill-conceived because it would appear also to override some of the formal international positions taken by successive British Governments with respect to the West Bank and the settlements established there, to the Golan Heights and to east Jerusalem. Can the Minister confirm whether it remains the Government’s position, as set out in paragraph 5 of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, for which the UK voted, that the status of these territories can be determined only by international negotiations and agreement between the parties to the dispute between Israel and Palestine—and not, as is the view of the present Israeli Government, by the unilateral action of Israel—and that those settlements are illegal and that the assertion of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem has no basis in international law? If so, and given that that view is shared by the vast majority of the members of the UN, why is that distinction not recognised in the present Bill? Why, indeed, is it not recognised as being an obligation on public bodies in this country, just as they are not permitted—rightly, in the view of the present speaker—to try to impose their own trade sanctions on Israel?

Let us reflect for a moment on where we would have stood in the early 1990s with respect to investments in apartheid South Africa, had a Bill of the sort proposed been on the statute book. I listened with great interest to the reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, to that issue. Do we really wish to tie the hands of public bodies in matters of investment, should such breaches of customary international law occur in the future?

The objections I have referred to relate to the international dimensions of this Bill, which seem far-reaching and undeniable. How do they respect the Government’s championing of the rules-based international order, of which the provisions relating to the status of the territories concerned are surely an integral part?

Other considerations, referred to by other noble Lords, such as whether it makes any sense to deprive public bodies of powers they would appear to possess, are matters for others with more expertise than me on such aspects of the legislation. The negative implications for the autonomy and freedom of speech of universities has been referred to by noble Lords and must be a matter of real concern.

The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, did us a favour by reading out the relevant passage from his party’s 2019 manifesto. The Salisbury/Addison convention is highly relevant to the Bill. There is no mention in the manifesto of Israel, and no mention of universities, which are not public bodies. This will be relevant as we look, as I believe we should, to produce some fairly radical amendments to the Bill in order to avoid setting off in quite the wrong direction.

17:45
Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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My Lords, we live in a globalised world of goods and services where capital seeks the cheapest raw material and the cheapest labour. If—and I hope it still is “if”—Port Talbot steelworks closes, 3,000 men and women in South Wales will lose their jobs. But the needs of Britain for the same consumption of steel will continue; it is simply that 3,000 workers somewhere else in the world, probably on cheaper wages and with worse conditions, less health and safety protection and fewer trade union rights, will produce that steel.

There is no way to equalise wages in our global supply chains, of course, but conditions—minimum conditions, at least—can be equalised. We have the legal tools to do that through international labour standards. I refer to the International Labour Organization’s 1944 Declaration of Philadelphia, and its 2008 Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalisation. Of course, I refer also to the fundamental ILO conventions, which this country was one of the first to ratify: Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise; Convention 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining; Convention 100 on Equal Remuneration; convention 111 on discrimination; Convention 155 on Occupational Safety and Health; and Convention 187 on the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health.

The UK ratified them all and was happy to reaffirm them in the Brexit trade deal: the trade and co-operation agreement. Democracy requires that these standards be enforced to defend the conditions of workers both here and abroad. All persons and bodies buying goods and services on the global market should be entitled to take into account adherence to international labour standards. I object to the deprivation of the power of devolved Governments and public bodies—and, indeed, private bodies with public functions—to select their providers of goods and services on the basis of, among other things, conformity to these international laws.

Paragraph 6 of Part 2 of the Schedule, about which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, have spoken, is insufficient protection. So is paragraph 8. They are so narrowly drawn for these purposes that that they fail effectively to exempt such requirements of conformity to international labour standards. Paragraph 6 permits exemption only for conduct that places the UK in breach of its international law obligations. My concern, however, is breaches of international law by Governments in the supply chains to the United Kingdom. Paragraph 8 applies only to conduct that would amount to a criminal offence in relation to slavery, trafficking orders and labour market orders under the Immigration Act. It does not protect against infractions of the right to health and safety at work, the right to strike, the right to bargain collectively, the right to organise and so on.

I learn from the TUC briefing that the International Trade Union Confederation’s Global Rights Index has ascertained that breaches of workers’ rights reached record highs in 2023. It lists Bangladesh, Belarus, Ecuador, Egypt, Eswatini, Guatemala, Myanmar, Tunisia, the Philippines and Turkey as the 10 worst countries for working people, with 73% of the countries surveyed impeding the registration of unions or banning them, including Belarus, Central African Republic and Guatemala, while 80% of the countries surveyed violated the right to strike. Why should public bodies not take such matters into consideration?

As many noble Lords have said, there are exemptions in Clause 3(7) for Israel and the Occupied Territories. Considering Israel’s many breaches of international law in relation to its conduct, including that in Gaza now, what justification can there be for excusing that state from all breaches of international labour standards in so far as public bodies must not take them into account?

I would like the Minister’s help in explaining why international labour standards that are binding on the UK and all nations of the world should not be an appropriate factor for decisions on procurement by public bodies, and why a state that bans trade unions or strikes and imposes penalties on those who participate in them should not be subject to a decision by a public body that it will not buy goods or services from it. I hope the Minister will say she will accept an amendment to allow such matters to be taken into consideration.

17:51
Lord Johnson of Marylebone Portrait Lord Johnson of Marylebone (Con)
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My Lords, I understand the good intentions behind the Bill but I have some doubt that this is the best way to realise them. I hope I will be brief as my good friend, my noble friend Lord Willetts, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, have already made many of the points that I wanted to make, focusing mainly on universities and the world of higher education. I declare my interests as a visiting professor at King’s College London and as chairman of FutureLearn, a digital learning platform.

I would be grateful if the Minister could provide some clarification on three issues. Two of them have been touched on so I will briefly skate over them. The first is the question of the ONS review of the status of universities in the public accounts. This is really not a trivial matter should they be reclassified as part of the public sector. It is important for us to understand, as the Bill makes its way through the House, what assessment the Government have made of the impact on universities’ financial freedoms, including over borrowing and investment, should such a reclassification take place.

The second area on which I would be grateful if the Minister could provide some clarity is the scope of the Bill in relation to how it is going to define a higher education provider. At several points, reference has been made to universities. Universities are of course relatively few in number; there are about 124 of them on the OfS register, along with a further 360-odd higher education institutions that do not have a university title, but beyond that there is a much larger universe of higher education institutions that are not on the register. I wonder what the Government’s intentions are in respect of students studying at those institutions and whether they will be in scope of this legislation.

The third point about which it would be helpful to understand a bit more has been touched on by several noble Lords: the freedom of speech duties that have been strengthened in various bits of legislation over recent years and how those duties will be exercised. In particular, what role will there be for the director for free speech within the Office for Students?

I opened by saying that I did not think this was perhaps the best way of realising the Government’s good intentions. There is possibly a better way, specifically with regard to universities, and that is to focus on developing the positive announcement that the Government made in the Autumn Statement that they would fund training and education relating to anti-Semitism in schools and universities, and to address the problem of anti-Semitism up stream. There are excellent organisations that provide training, including the Holocaust Educational Trust, which could much better be deployed in the cause of addressing the root cause of anti-Semitism in our universities than this legislation. I therefore ask the Government to reflect carefully on whether universities, which by and large are autonomous private organisations, really need to be in the Bill at all.

17:55
Baroness Bryan of Partick Portrait Baroness Bryan of Partick (Lab)
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My Lords, over the past few years we have seen many Bills in this House that show a worrying disregard for humanity, but as far as I know this is the first that actually instructs public bodies to disregard morality. The Government state that they want to stop public bodies pursuing their own foreign policy. Most public bodies have no desire for a foreign policy but may find that some countries fall short of the ethical or moral standards that the public body holds as an essential requirement for any business relationship.

As of two weeks ago, the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights listed 110 ongoing armed conflicts, and that figure has probably increased since then. I hope that any public body would take account of whether its investment or procurement contributed to the ability of countries to act aggressively against others or to suppress their own populations.

The right of women and girls to live in safety is not protected in many countries, and any UK public body that is uncritical of an offending Government should be ashamed of itself. Some Governments are failing to protect children from exploitation by global companies. Most of us would expect public bodies not to procure goods made in those conditions.

Protecting the environment and workers’ rights should also be important in making decisions. However, financial consultants are warning that even the apparent exceptions may not protect public bodies from being challenged, leading to possibly lengthy legal proceedings.

The Quakers powerfully point out that:

“While the British government has said it will immediately exempt Russia and Belarus from the legislation, it has made no such commitment to exempt other countries that are known to be committing human rights abuses … This Bill gives the government the power to control which”


violations of international law

“public bodies can protest and which ones they must keep silent about. We contend that public bodies should have the freedom to shed light on abuses around the world, even (perhaps especially) areas where the national government would rather avoid scrutiny”.

Ultimately, the Bill acts as a way of gagging public bodies, including elected bodies, stopping them publicly expressing what they believe is in the best interests of those they represent. To prohibit the publication of statements from public bodies indicating that they would act against offending countries if it were lawful to do so has to be one of the worst attacks on freedom of speech.

This means that, if electors approach their local authority or pensioners approach their pension scheme to ask why they are investing in a country that oppresses its own citizens, or which is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths of women and children in an occupied country, they are prohibited from saying that they would have liked to boycott the culprit country but government legislation makes that illegal.

Paragraph 33 of the Explanatory Notes gets us into further confusion when it states:

“For example, councillors of a local authority are not a public authority and, therefore, are not prohibited from expressing support for or voting in favour of a motion supporting a boycott or divestment policy.”


The Minister’s explanation supports my understanding that, if a local council adopted a motion supporting such a policy, the “public authority” would have to refuse to implement it. Does the Minister accept that this is a form of doublethink, and can she help us out by clarifying this point?

The Bill, like many others over the past few years, seeks to grab power from other national and regional Governments. It acts to ensure that there is only one centralised power: the Executive, acting in the name of parliamentary sovereignty and imposing their will, without reference to other elected bodies across the UK. If I had time, I would refer to the proud record of Glasgow, as referenced by my noble friend Lord Hain, in supporting oppressed people in other countries, often in opposition to the views of a Conservative Government. The Scottish Government will, if able, withhold legislative consent—and should have that right. They have also raised important concerns about the use of delegatory powers built into the Bill, which I hope we will be exploring at later stages.

Finally, the Bill is clearly discriminatory, as has been expressed by many noble Lords, in giving a uniquely high level of protection from political and moral disapproval to one state above all others in the world. The written evidence from Jews for Justice for Palestinians, submitted in August 2023, points out that it is not the actual boycott and disinvestment advocacy that leads to “increases in antisemitic incidents” but rather

“spikes of violence in Israel and Palestine, particularly with … major Israeli … attacks on Palestinian areas”.

That is where the spikes are shown to come from, as stated in August last year. Can the Minister answer the concerns of my noble friend Lady Chapman of Darlington that the Bill is not an effective challenge to anti-Semitism and cannot justify why Israel should be given unique status under the Bill, while every other state in the world can be added and removed by delegatory powers?

18:03
Lord Bishop of Southwark Portrait The Lord Bishop of Southwark
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My Lords, I expect that the name of Field-Marshal Julius Jakob Freiherr von Haynau does not elicit the sort of interest that once it did in your Lordships’ House. He was, none the less, a staple of O-level history when that subject would have elicited the admiration of the Secretary of State for Levelling Up. Field Marshall von Haynau was an effective but severe Habsburg military commander during the revolutionary years of 1848 and 1849. His imperial standing, however, did not prevent him being chased down Borough High Street in my diocese in 1850—where my diocesan headquarters now is, very near the cathedral—by two draymen from the nearby brewery of Barclay Perkins to remonstrate with him about his military conduct in Italy and Hungary.

I mention this once-famous incident to illustrate that there have always been strong currents of feelings about issues, including those abroad. Some of these fall into what one might call the dissenting tradition. As a Church of England Bishop, I recognise that I am an heir to a different tradition, but surely our history has taught us that consensus has been built up around what is obviously true and lived out with integrity, rather than by suppression.

There is a royal prerogative in foreign affairs, as there is around peace and war. His Majesty’s Government treat with states and, where necessary, apply sanctions, but not all and every entity is derivative of the Executive. Surely if Edmund Burke has taught governing parties anything, he has taught them that few, if any, of these things should be taken into account in ways which are harmful to the nation.

As the Government’s own impact assessment on the Bill demonstrates, we address business other than that which is directly before us. It is for bodies which have a mandate separate from His Majesty’s Government to determine how, within the law, we obtain the best outcome with the assets we have, and to do so while being accountable to the people we serve. For example, Section 17 of the Local Government Act 1988 already prohibits local authorities from making procurement decisions on non-commercial grounds.

I recall from when I served on the staff of St Paul’s Cathedral, and later as a parish priest in Tower Hamlets, the declarations of the nearby borough that it was a nuclear-free Hackney. I am not sure what that achieved but it was a matter for them. More significant is that some of the action in respect of apartheid South Africa would not, as we have heard, have been possible had such a Bill been in force then. There was, let us remember, sharp controversy about disinvestment in South Africa, but it was at the level of argument, not statutory prohibition.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, who hopes to be present for later stages of the Bill, has raised with me a concern which I think has merit: that public funding means that a number of religious foundations in education will be caught by the prohibition on saying anything about these matters. Perhaps the Minister would be prepared to confirm that this is not the intention of the Bill and, if so, what can be done to mitigate the possibility.

From these Benches, we have not called for a boycott or disinvestment, or sanctions against Israel, but we find a number of things alarming in the implications for our liberties and freedoms. One is blanket prohibitions about statements, even on matters such as Uighurs in China. One may argue that the Secretary of State may permit such things, but why should this require the permission of the Secretary of State? The other is that there can be no justification for singling out a particular country in the Bill, as many noble Lords have already said, to put it beyond exception in the regulation-making power in the operation of any resulting statute. It is also deeply worrying that territory illegally occupied by the same state is treated identically in the Bill, as if it is the sovereign territory of that state. This is not in accordance with the repeated statements from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on the need for lasting peace on the basis of a just, negotiated settlement.

I endorse what the Minister said about the need to eradicate anti-Semitism, but have the Government heard the concerns of bona fide Jewish bodies? For instance, a motion passed unanimously at the recent conference of the Union of Jewish Students, which represents 9,000 Jewish students, stated that

“the UK government’s recently proposed BDS Sanctions Bill weakens the ability of British Jewish students to approach the conversation about Israel in a nuanced manner”.

The motion went on:

“UJS reaffirms its support for the democratic right to non-violently protest and opposes the government’s proposed Boycott Bill which is a curtailment of that right, as well as presenting a risk to British Jewish communities and a setback to Israeli-Palestinian peace”.


It seems clear that, rather than there being a concern that local authorities operate a separate foreign policy from that of His Majesty’s Government, we should query why the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is pursuing policy objectives for the Occupied Palestinian Territories that are at variance from those of the Government as a whole.

18:10
Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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My Lords, I agreed with so much of what the right reverend Prelate has just said and I apologise if I repeat some of the points he made. My remarks about the Bill will focus entirely on Clause 3(7) and specifically on the Occupied Territories. I shall argue that these provisions in the Bill are contrary to UN Security Council Resolution 2334, as mentioned earlier. I shall argue that the clause perversely gives the illegally Occupied Territories special protection under UK law. I shall also say that the clause undermines British foreign policy, both in respect of the illegality of the occupation and the pursuit of a two-state solution.

On the UN resolution, the clause fails because it gives equal status, with no differentiation between Israel on the one hand and the Occupied Palestinian Territories on the other. Resolution 2334, endorsed by Britain and passed in 2016 by 14 votes to nil, with one abstention, could not be clearer. The resolution:

“Calls upon all States … to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”.


As my honourable friend Wayne David said, speaking for the Opposition in the Commons, the Bill

“gives special protection to goods and services from both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Moreover, it gives greater protection to illegal settlements in the OPT than it does to any other state in the world except Israel”.—[Official Report, 12/9/23; col. 132.]

That brings me to the point about UK law. It is surely perverse in the extreme to afford special protected status to Israeli settlements that UK Governments of both parties—not to mention the UN resolution—have repeatedly stated to be part of an illegal occupation. How can the Government on the one hand condemn the continued expansion of the settlements while on the other be passing a law that has the potential to help the settlements become more established and prosperous?

Indeed, it is worse than that, because the Government’s justification for the Bill is that it is not appropriate for public authorities to impose their own boycotts and sanctions, except where to do so is positively consistent with UK foreign policy. Well, what could be more positively consistent with UK foreign policy than refusing to indulge in economic activity that might help and sustain the illegal settlements? Sadly, this Bill, by giving special status to the Occupied Territories, goes one step further towards normalising the occupation, thereby making the two-state solution, which has been the consistent policy of UK Governments of all parties for decades, even more difficult to achieve.

Even before the horrors of the war in Gaza, the political prospect of achieving a two-state solution was getting ever more problematic. In April 2017 the International Relations Committee of this House published a report on the Middle East, which had this to say:

“On its current trajectory, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is on the verge of moving into a phase where the two-state solution becomes an impossibility and is considered no longer viable by either side. The consequences would be grave for the region … If Israel continues to reduce the possibilities of a two-state solution, the UK should be ready to support UNSC resolutions condemning those actions in no uncertain terms. The Government should give serious consideration to now recognising Palestine as a state”.


I agreed with every word of that when I was on the committee seven years ago. I believe that its prognoses and forebodings are utterly relevant today.

There is another serious impediment to the two- state solution that it would be folly to ignore. We have long been aware that the Israeli Government under Mr Netanyahu has been pursuing a policy of settlement expansion, which makes the possibility of a two-state solution much more difficult to achieve. On 21 January this year, he made this policy explicit when he confirmed that he is a total opposition to an independent Palestinian state. He said:

“I will not compromise on full Israeli security control over the entire area west of the Jordan—and that is contrary to a Palestinian state”.


What a time this is to be debating a Bill which fails to distinguish between Israel and the Occupied Territories. It gives me no pleasure at all to say that this seems to be more in line with Mr Netanyahu’s policy than it is with UK foreign policy.

That is perhaps a big part of the problem with Clause 3(7). The truth is that this Bill from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has one clause in it that deals with a deeply sensitive part of British foreign policy. Much of my speech has unashamedly been about British foreign policy. If we are to end in law the distinction between Israel and the Occupied Territories, we surely need to hear the views of the Foreign Office.

For obvious reasons, the Foreign Secretary has been intensely involved in the Middle East since his appointment. Earlier this year he said that Britain was ready to bring forward the moment when it formally recognises a Palestinian state. He went on to say that the Palestinian people would have to be shown “irreversible progress” towards a two-state solution. The Foreign Secretary in my view is absolutely right, and that makes me wonder what the Foreign Office thinks of this clause in the Bill. I have been around long enough to know that the Minister is unlikely to reveal anything about this in her wind-up, but to present a Bill to Parliament that includes a clause with reference to one of the most dangerous and tragic parts of the world is at best insensitive and at worst very damaging. I hope that the Government, even at this stage, will think again.

18:17
Lord Stevens of Birmingham Portrait Lord Stevens of Birmingham (CB)
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My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark’s mention of Hackney reminded me that, some years back, when you left Parliament and crossed the bridge, you came across a sign saying, “Welcome to Lambeth—a Nuclear-Free Zone”. It appeared that the London Borough of Lambeth felt that it could set its own nuclear deterrence policy and, presumably, any inbound Soviet nuclear weapons would contour round it to Wandsworth.

That points to the intrinsic fact that defence and foreign policy are, rightly, matters for our elected national Government. I was casting my mind back to, I think, two weeks ago, to an Oral Question about the Scottish Government. Contributions from all Benches across the House were strongly critical of the suggestion that the Scottish Government in Holyrood might be usurping the Westminster Government’s exclusive competence on foreign policy. It is not clear why that argument, made a fortnight ago, is not deemed to apply today to other governmental or public bodies, in addition to the devolved Administrations.

Furthermore, although there have been legitimate concerns about aspects of the Bill, it is worth reminding ourselves that it does not stop us as private individuals, businesses or civil society organisations choosing who to buy from, who to boycott and where to invest. It contains statutory safeguards so that governmental and public authorities can take account, for example, of environmental and labour standards, including the prevention of modern slavery.

The advantage of speaking this late in the debate is that you have a chance to reflect on where the balance of opinion is across the House. It strikes me that there are probably three major points of controversy that have so far arisen. The first concerns the breadth and ambiguity around the bodies captured by the definition of a “hybrid public authority”. I think the contributions that particularly concerned universities require further deliberation as this Bill progresses. More broadly, the use of Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 as the litmus test for what is and is not in scope of the Bill requires further consideration to avoid the breadth and ambiguity that many previous speakers have spoken about.

The second point of controversy is the free speech concerns, particularly as they relate to academic freedom. As I read them, the Explanatory Notes provide significant reassurance on that point. The question that we will want to test is whether the reassurances in the Explanatory Notes are sufficiently reflected in the substance of the Bill. We heard a moment ago from the noble Baroness, Lady Bryan of Partick, about the Bill requiring double- think: local authorities could pass resolutions as long as they did not act on them. My question to the Minister is: is that not in fact already the status quo? It is not the Bill that creates the problem she described.

The leading case in this area is the judicial review against Leicester City Council, initiated in 2014 and heard by the Court of Appeal in 2018. The reason Leicester City Council was successful in its appeal is precisely that it attested that, although the council had passed a resolution, it would not have, in the words of the Court of Appeal,

“any direct practical effect upon the procurement and purchasing policies actually adopted by the Council”.

So Leicester’s defence was a hypocrisy defence. The executive mayor of the council said that responsibilities for procurement rested with him rather than with the council and, on that basis and due to other associated reasons to do with the public sector equality duty, the council won its appeal. So this is a legitimate question to raise, but that is actually just a characteristic of the status quo. All of this points to the fact that the free speech protections described in the Explanatory Notes need to be a lot clearer for most of us, I suspect, to feel comfortable with what the Bill requires.

The third of the controversies that has arisen so far obviously relates specifically to the fact that we are being asked to take a substantive view on the use by public bodies of BDS tactics against Israel and the Occupied Territories. In our Second Reading debates, the Government are usually criticised for commandeering powers to decide, but today the criticism seems to be that the Government are forcing us to decide this question in the Bill.

As someone who supports both Palestinian and Israeli rights of national self-determination, the policy test I apply is whether these BDS tactics will help or hinder a just and sustainable peace. The answer becomes obvious when you discover that leading global BDS founders’ clearly expressed goal is to prevent a two-state solution and destroy the world’s only majority-Jewish state, which is why they single out Israel alone among the nations and why they remain strangely mute when it comes to Iranian terror, Syrian gulags or Houthi slavery.

Instead, notwithstanding the pessimistic view of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, we should be working for a better future: peace restored, Hamas removed, Gaza reconstructed, Israel secure, Palestinian statehood in prospect and the Abraham accords proceeding. Progress on all these fronts will be underpinned, not undermined, by vibrant and successful Palestinian and Israeli economies, something that BDS aims to destroy.

Just as the Cold War was not ended by Lambeth Council, BDS will not end conflict in the Middle East. In fact, careful scrutiny reveals its problematic aims and its destructive consequences. It seems to me that, within our governmental and public bodies, it is not illegitimate for Parliament to circumscribe the reach of this toxic campaign.

18:23
Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, this is a flawed Bill that is widely opposed, including by a coalition of 70 religious, political and, of course, human rights organisations, many of which have produced briefings, for which I express thanks.

I begin my brief remarks with material from Amnesty International, whose briefing describes the Bill as being predicated on

“the unevidenced assumption that some procurement and investment decisions on the part of public bodies are driven by or result in antisemitism”.

Amnesty International then quotes from the Government’s own impact assessment, paragraph 60 of which says:

“Without a larger volume of evidence, we are unable to draw definitive conclusions regarding the impacts of the proposed legislation on indirect discrimination for ‘race’ and ‘religion or belief’”.


Paragraph 64 says that

“we cannot say … when or if a boycott and disinvestment campaign incites hate crimes or antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred”.

Others have argued, both in this Chamber and elsewhere, that the Bill might actually tend to exacerbate, rather than calm, anti-Semitism.

Another aspect covered by Amnesty International is the number of ways in which the Bill would undermine human rights. I will list some of them. Amnesty says:

“It would make it almost impossible for public bodies to use their procurement and investment policies to incentivise ethical business conduct that is human rights compliant”.


Surely we would want public bodies to support and incentivise ethical behaviour and practice. Amnesty goes on to say:

“It undermines the freedom of expression of public sector decision-makers who may find that statements of principle are illegal and punishable even if they are not reflected in their public body’s decisions”.


We have heard that from lots of places, and I cannot believe that noble Lords really think that is an acceptable position. Further:

“It undermines the attempts of the UK’s devolved governments to integrate human rights into their procurement policies”.


Other significant points are made, including:

“Businesses making an effort to adhere to global standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights may find themselves at a competitive disadvantage”.


The principles were unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011. They have the support of the EU and the OECD and are referenced in several briefings, including one from Yachad, a British Jewish organisation with which I was previously unfamiliar. I have read its briefing with close interest. Specifically, Yachad says that the Bill

“would breach the … UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”

and

“could run contrary to the government’s commitments to UN resolution 2334”—

which we have heard about from other noble Lords—

“that requires states to differentiate in their dealings with Israel within its internationally recognised borders and the occupied Palestinian territories”.

This has been the position of the UK, and it was argued in the other place on a cross-party basis.

For my part, I favour boycott and disinvestment. In democratic societies, with the freedom that should confer, boycotts are a way of bringing non-violent pressure to seek to bring changes. Like many other noble Lords, I spent many years engaged in boycotting the apartheid regime in South Africa, and I am very pleased to have done so. Had I been in Bristol in 1963, I am sure that, even as a young person, I would have supported the bus boycott to protest the bus companies’ refusal to employ black and Asian crews. But even those who oppose BDS are prepared to say that this proposed legislation is the wrong way forward. Again, Yachad and the Union of Jewish Students, both opposed to BDS, are equally both opposed to those aspects of the Bill.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark said, the Union of Jewish Students described the Bill as a curtailment of the democratic right to protest non-violently. Yachad says:

“Democracies are fragile and need to be protected. Using legislation to clamp down on free speech and space for dissent harms our democracy. The idea that we as Jews are somehow safer because it will now be made illegal for public authorities not just to boycott Israel, but China or Myanmar, to name just a few examples, and furthermore will be barred from even saying that they would do so, were they allowed”—


we have heard reference to this—

“makes a mockery of our commitment … to the concept of democratic rights and free speech”.

I am sure that there are some in this Chamber who disagree with Yachad. As I say, it is not an organisation of which I am a member or with which I have a great acquaintance. While I am sure that it would disagree with my support for BDS, I close with a further quote from Yachad’s briefing. It says:

“If the Jewish community wishes to stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting for their human rights, it cannot expect to be taken seriously when it simultaneously supports legislation that would bar these individuals and groups from encouraging public authorities to boycott states committing human rights abuses against them”.


Like my noble friend Lady Blackstone, I believe that the Bill should be withdrawn. Failing that, it will need very significant and radical amendment.

18:30
Baroness Janke Portrait Baroness Janke (LD)
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My Lords, as many noble Lords have said, this is a very flawed Bill. It is a major crackdown on democratic values and freedoms and an assault on local democracy. It puts pressure on elected councillors, officials and members of public bodies to do the Government’s bidding or be prosecuted. It prevents elected councillors or members of public bodies exercising moral or ethical judgments in decision-making on procurement and investment, and makes them liable for criminal proceedings if they do so. It bans well-established non-violent campaigning practices—not just BDS, as the noble Lord opposite was saying; it is much wider than that. These sorts of campaigns have been used effectively, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, described, to fight for human rights in countries where these are not basic freedoms. The value of such campaigns can be seen from the ending of the slave trade to the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

Local councils are not an outpost for the delivery of government policies and should not be treated as such. They are living democratic institutions where debate flourishes and challenge to policies, whether from national or local government, is legitimate and to be welcomed. Dissent is a necessary and valuable part of democracy. As a former leader of Bristol City Council for six years, I can testify to the power of dissent and challenge in the scrutiny of local and national policies by local people. What happens in the wider world is important, and not just to central government, and there are large numbers of activists and advocates in local communities, on a range of matters, local and national, that inspire them to stand up for the causes that they believe in. The noble Baroness, Lady Blower, mentioned the bus boycott, an example of dissent and a successful campaign in Bristol. I also remember being part of a very vigorous debate on investment of the council’s pension scheme, and whether it should invest in the tobacco industry—a huge matter for Bristol, with its history of the tobacco industry. That kind of debate would be illegal under this Bill.

Democratic values and beliefs underpin our system of government, whether at national or local level. Those who fail to respect them do so at their and our peril. The Bill criminalises decisions to invest or procure based on morality or political disapproval. Councillors have become more and more concerned at the frequency of government interference in local matters, but criminalising moral judgments and freedom of speech by elected politicians is a chilling new threat to councillors and officials. It will inhibit valuable discussion, advice and transparency over financial decisions. Advice will be, “If in doubt, don’t say it”, for fear of legal action, which may be used as a weapon by those with vested interests who disagree with certain actions.

Is this extreme measure a signal that the Government are content to see human rights violations and are protecting countries that practice these abuses by threatening and criminalising those who dare to challenge them? The gagging Clause 4 means that, if elected councillors speak to say what they would have done had the law not forbidden it, they too are open to criminal prosecution. There is no justification for such a blunt-edged legislative weapon against local democracy and freedom of expression.

The Bill prevents legitimate and peaceful campaigns against human rights abuses. Although focused on Israel, it prevents action on human rights across the world, in countries such as China, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia, or any other violator of human rights not included on the Government’s list. As others have said, Israel, the Palestinian Occupied Territories and the Golan Heights are wrongly conflated in this Bill, in the light of UK policy and UN Resolution 2334. Israel, the Palestinian Occupied Territories and the Occupied Golan Heights have permanent protection from boycotts or disinvestment, and it requires primary legislation for them to be exempted from protection. Following the order of the ICJ, this seems unwise, in that responsibility for complicity may well fall on the UK if the judgment finds Israel guilty of war crimes. In the settlements of the Occupied Territories, human rights abuses are well documented. The settlements are illegal, by the same UN resolution, yet they too are permanently protected from peaceful campaigns to boycott or disinvest.

As it stands, the Bill also prevents action to invest in the future of the planet. Action by public bodies to end financial support for fossil fuel extraction and to divest from activities such as deforestation risk being criminalised as they involve moral or ethical judgments.

The Minister has told us that there are two basic purposes to this legislation. One is to prevent hate crime and anti-Semitism, which she tells us result from boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. No evidence has been put before us to support this, and the Government’s impact assessment states clearly that no evidence has been found to support it. The second purpose is to prevent a diversity of foreign policy conducted at local level by councils. Again, other noble Lords have called for evidence to show that this is in fact a problem. As I understand it, there are very few instances of competing foreign policies at local level.

The case is not made that the Bill is likely to achieve its expressed purposes. Much more likely, it will cause resentment and anger, worsening public trust and poisoning relationships between Whitehall, local communities and other public bodies. The Bill is draconian and places unreasonable constraints on elected councils and public bodies; it removes the democratic rights that individuals and public bodies should have to determine investments and express views on all issues, including foreign states and human rights. It makes the UK Government complicit in protecting and supporting states that violate human rights, and it criminalises elected members of public bodies who are brave enough to speak out, campaign or take action against such abuses.

Like others, I do not believe that the Bill should be supported. Obviously, we will wait and see what happens in Committee. I hope that there will be amendments to remove some of the many flaws in the Bill.

18:37
Baroness Warsi Portrait Baroness Warsi (Con)
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My Lords, this Bill could not have come to our House at a more tragic or inappropriate time. We debate it as the death toll in Israel and Palestine has passed 30,000, when more than 100 Israeli hostages remain in captivity, when more than 17,000 children in Gaza have no living parent, when most of Gaza is now uninhabitable and when Israel tragically finds itself before the ICJ defending claims of genocide—and here at home we have seen a rise in anti-Jewish, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism.

We debate the Bill at a time when diplomacy has failed, and when the UK and the US find ourselves increasingly frustrated by the leadership both in Israel and in Gaza, neither of which appear to be partners for peace nor part of the solution. That is why more than ever we need civil society in Israel and Palestine and here in the UK to step up and shape the future of both countries. That must include the ability to use other levers of persuasion, to leverage contracts, seats at the table and ESG goals in the private and public sector as a force for achieving good, as defined in international law, UN resolutions and international human rights frameworks.

I welcome the Government’s position on this in recent times. I welcome the last Foreign Secretary’s decision not to engage with extremist Israeli politicians, such as Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, which was an important message of disengagement and boycott. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s decision to ban extremist settlers from travelling to the UK; it was an important move and a message on sanctions. I also welcome the FCDO’s continued advice, which is an important message on investment and disinvestment:

“The UK has a clear position on Israeli settlements: The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights have been occupied … since 1967. Settlements are illegal under international law … There are … clear risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements, and we do not encourage or offer support to such activity”.


Such activities

“entail legal and economic risks stemming from the fact that the Israeli settlements, according to international law, are built on occupied land and are not recognised as a legitimate part of Israel’s territory … UK citizens and businesses should be aware of the potential reputational implications of getting involved in economic and financial activities in settlements, as well as possible abuses of the rights of individuals. Those contemplating any economic or financial involvement in settlements should seek appropriate legal advice”.

That is clear on both the legal and the reputational risks.

There have been many opinions in this Second Reading, but I hope the following can be supported by all in this House: Israel has a right to exist; it should do so within the 1967 borders; lands outside those borders, including the West Bank, east Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights, are Occupied Territories; Palestine has a right to exist; settlements on occupied land are illegal under international law; and we, along with others, should be working towards bringing an end to the occupation and towards the creation of two states, Israel and Palestine, both of them secure, viable as territories and sharing Jerusalem as their capital. Any group, boycott movement or individual which does not support these UK positions is rightly seen as part of the problem. Any movement that tries to leverage public funds to cut across these positions is quite rightly criticised.

Israel should not be held to a higher standard than any other country, but it must also not enjoy impunity in ways that others do not. It should be subject to the same rules and standards to which we hold the rest of the world—no higher or lower. However, this Bill does not say that. It says that the rules simply do not apply to Israel. The Bill does not help bring about peace in Israel and Palestine or support UK foreign policy in achieving its clearly stated goals, nor does it add to collaborative civil society or interfaith work in the UK, and it certainly does not enhance community cohesion. It does exactly the opposite. That is why it makes no sense when tested against historic British principles and values as we understand them, as well as Conservative values.

Sadly, this Bill is a mirror of laws introduced in other parts of the world, mainly in the United States at state level—the culmination of decades of campaigning and a concerted effort by successive Israeli Governments. This is not unusual. Many states, through pressure, lobbying, withholding trade, et cetera, try to persuade us to create a climate in our countries where criticism of them is curtailed at best and silenced at worst. I experienced this at first hand with a number of states during my time at the Foreign Office. We stood firm against it then and we should do so now.

This is an ideological Bill by—dare I say it—an ideological Secretary of State. A clumsy offering to an ideological section of Israeli political opinion, it is part of a well-documented and well-publicised wider international movement started by the extreme right wing, with groups such as the Israel Allies Foundation and others leading the charge, presenting legislators around the world with template Bills to introduce domestic legislation. Some of it is at the behest of Israeli embassies in countries, as was said in evidence in the US at the Georgia Governmental Affairs Committee. Adopted by numerous states across the United States, it is now being spread across Europe. As Prime Minister Netanyahu bragged on Twitter in February 2020:

“Whoever boycotts us will be boycotted … In recent years, we have promoted laws in most US states, which determine that strong action is to be taken against whoever tries to boycott Israel”.


We must resist this. The current Israeli Government’s agenda of silencing criticism of them, including clamping down on Israeli citizens in Israel and Jewish diaspora groups elsewhere and jamming the levers of accountability, is dangerous. It is played out in the US, where, at its worst, it means that American citizens cannot take up some employment and service contracts without signing a “no boycott of Israel” clause first.

This Bill cuts across UK foreign and domestic policy, the Conservative Party’s commitment to localism and our commitment to freedom of speech. It will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression, including legislation introduced in the university sector. It cuts across British Jewish opinion, being opposed by Jewish youth organisations such as the Union of Jewish Students and Jewish human rights groups, writers and activists. It rides roughshod over years of ESG progress, ignores internal FCDO lawyers’ advice, breaches our commitment to UN Security Council resolutions, flies in the face of our business and human rights commitments, introduced by a Conservative Government led by the then Prime Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and launched by the then Foreign Secretary, my noble friend Lord Hague, and it opens up an array of questions about financial decision-making, including on pensions investments and liability for any losses made.

I finish by quoting Jonathan Freedland, who has written that

“this is a bad bill—bad for Britain and bad especially for British Jews, including those who adamantly oppose BDS and its campaign to ostracise Israel … this is a bad bill, an attempt by the Conservatives to pose as the Jews’ best friends after the angst of the Corbyn years. If it is meant as some kind of gift, we should not accept it. It’s not just wrong in principle—it spells big trouble”.

I sincerely hope that this is not what we are doing. It would be deeply disturbing if we were politically playing fast and loose on such an important and sensitive issue.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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I remind noble Lords of the seven-minute time limit.

18:46
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi. In 2019, she told the BBC that she aimed to be challenging, authentic and brave. Your Lordships’ House often sees her living up to that.

I begin with a statement of the obvious. The Green Party, as a party that believes in democracy, in empowering local communities, in encouraging people to get involved in politics at all levels—to make politics what they do, not have done to them—and in defending the rule of law, is opposed to this Bill. My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb will focus on the attack on local democracy that the Bill represents, but I have a specific question about local government for the Minister. What happens if a city, town or village is twinned with another and decides for moral or political reasons that it wants to “untwin”? Is divorce to be banned under this Bill? Will a city, town or village be forced to arrange exchanges, even if it does not want to?

The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, made a point that deserves repeating. The first clause of this Bill is entitled:

“Disapproval of foreign state conduct prohibited”.


In George Orwell’s Oceania, that would surely be a banned phrase—far too blunt and obvious in its repression —yet this is what the Government want to make law.

In her introduction, the Minister said that this Bill went through the other place without amendment, as if that were an argument for a light touch in your Lordships’ House. We know that it is instead a glaring red-light signal that we will have a great deal of work to do, not even necessarily in addressing issues that could be described as ideological but in simply tidying up the mess. This mess was noted in the other place—the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, reflected on the many comments across the Chamber about how poorly drafted it was—but no action was taken there. Our archaic, historically assembled and undemocratic constitution is not working at even the most basic level.

The Minister also said that foreign nations might be or are confused about UK foreign policy because of the actions that local councils or nations in these islands choose to take. That reminds me of the heat of the Brexit debate, when some politicians, particularly on the pro-Brexit side, seemed to think that other nations’ diplomats and leaders did not read Twitter or view television. They made pronouncements for local consumption in the UK and were then surprised when they had international impacts.

Please, let us not underestimate the capacity of the peoples of the world to deal with complexity, and to understand that, for example, when Sheffield City Council’s Green Lord Mayor Magid Magid once “banned” Donald Trump from visiting—and good on him—that is not Westminster and that is not UK policy.

However, I now want to turn deadly serious and take us to Gaza, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, did, where my latest briefing from Oxfam says that Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip has killed more than 29,000 people, including well over 12,000 children. Nearly 70,000 people are injured and at least 7,000 are missing, presumably still underneath the rubble. Some 1.5 million people, including half a million children, are sheltering in less than 20% of the Strip without access to shelter, water, food and medical facilities.

The Government are saying, in response to all of that, that local communities, as represented democratically by councils, cannot take peaceful, non-violent action—the kind of action that, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, so powerfully set out, once helped to change the world in the right direction in the context of apartheid South Africa.

Much has been said about the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. This is something that the Green Party supports and has done since our democratic conference of members agreed in 2014 to call on

“individuals, organisations, councils and governments to refuse to deal with companies and institutions identified as facilitating Israel’s military capacity, human rights abuses or illegal settlement activity”.

The motion referred to this being how the Green Party could best act on its commitments as an anti-racist party committed to upholding human rights.

Looking over the history of the Green Party, you see that we have long been a leader—going back decades —in defending the rights of the people of Tibet, back when we were a much smaller party than we are now. We continue to speak for the Uighurs under genocidal repression from the same capital, as I have spoken as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong. We have spoken for the victims of the massive human rights abuses of Saudi Arabia, to which we absolutely oppose arms sales, as we oppose arms sales to Israel.

Finally, I want to pick up the issues about the nations of the UK, as a number of other noble Lords have, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. I will use a specific point to make a general one. The Government have claimed that there is no interaction with devolved matters, but how does the Minister explain the interaction with the Well-being of Future Generations Act in Wales?

The well-being of future generations is clearly dependent on a stable, secure, environmentally balanced world—shorthand for the delivery of the sustainable development goals. Even looking at the exemptions in Part 2 of the Schedule to the Bill, there are a lot of potential activities that the Senedd might choose to work with the Government to act against that are not covered under the Schedule.

I am interested in the definition of environmental misconduct in Clause 10(3) of the Bill. The Government have, in other instances, been firmly attached to the view that we can only consider illegal deforestation, for example, yet here we have a clause that refers to any kind of negative environmental impact. Some very interesting things might be done with that.

I have a final, quick question for the Minister. Does the Bill prevent public bodies calling on the Government to change their foreign policy—not taking actions but doing politics? Is that really to be banned, as the Government seem to suggest, as the Government have again and again sought to ban peaceful protest? What fate democracy?

18:53
Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, I congratulate the Government on showing moral courage in pursuing the Bill’s aim despite all the baseless accusations thrown at it. It is supported by the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies.

In a broader context, the Bill is a timely and necessary stand against anti-Semitism. In a narrower context, the Bill does not harm free speech or protest, as has been alleged, because it does not prevent individuals expressing their opinions. It is directed against damaging action, procurement and investment. There are plenty of exceptions: for example, environmental misconduct and modern slavery. The BDS movement, which is the target of the Bill, has been ineffective—thankfully—but serves to fuel hatred in periods such as this one when there are peaks of anti-Semitic incidents in the public realm.

I would set aside the parallel with South Africa. In South Africa, action was to achieve—one might say—regime change and internal matters. At the heart of BDS, as expressed by some of its leaders, is the end of Israel as a state. The true nature of the ill that the Bill combats can be seen from the briefings sent against it by opponents. They focus, of course, on Israel, or they interpret it as prohibiting action designed to prevent climate change, which is not the case, as it is state activity that the Bill is targeting. It is not targeting freedom of speech, which is not within the ambit of the Bill, which is about action. Indeed, one might even argue that there are too many exceptions and loopholes. After all, when you consider how much free speech there is about Israel and Palestine, there is hardly any topic that is more discussed. Incidentally, I must congratulate the universities pension scheme for keeping its investments in Israel, despite protests by the University and College Union, which has a track record of being against Jews and Israel.

The most unpleasant opposition to the Bill came from a group of churches—not, I should say, the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church, but what might be called smaller communities. They include Embrace the Middle East, the Iona Community, the Methodist Church, Quakers in Britain, Sabeel-Kairos and a few others. They call on right reverend Prelates in this House to oppose the Bill in its entirety, because it would, in their view, prevent local councils and other bodies considering ethical issues in the conduct of a foreign state when making procurement or investment decisions. They then go on to say that Israel should not be singled out for special protection against boycott campaigns, giving it unique rights in UK law.

This would be ironic if it were not so uninformed. For centuries, the church has singled out Jews for special treatment. It is entirely because Israel is being singled out for boycott that the Bill is before us. There are no boycotts and no collective church action in relation to Saudi Arabian oil, or Chinese products, which are probably in use by many public bodies and churches. There are no protests or marches against Iran and its horrendous abuse of women and use of the death penalty; no persecution of Chinese students on campus because of their Government’s actions; and no marches against Syria, where the conflict has killed and displaced millions. Note that tens of thousands, maybe millions, of Christians have been persecuted and killed in Nigeria and in the Congo. There is no concern about goods coming from occupied northern Cyprus. The religious hostility to Israel goes back long before the current hostilities in the Middle East. Some of it is virulently anti-Zionist and anti-Israel, denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel in theological terms, and advocates supersession of Christianity over Judaism.

The actions of these religious bodies in supporting boycott bring to mind the action of the church over many centuries in restricting Jewish trades and professions and isolating Jewish communities. It is high time that this focus on Israel by these churches should lead to their considering their own historic responsibility for the perilous situation of the world Jewish community and its desperate search for safety in one tiny country. It looks like anti-Semitism, no matter how much the BDS supporters claim to be targeting only Israel and not Jews, because the thin line between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel has been worn down almost to non-existence by virtue of the protests we have seen on our streets and in our universities in recent weeks. I am sure the right reverend Prelates in this House will have no hesitation in rejecting the call from these minor churches. By so rejecting them, they would place the Church of England in a position to foster good relations, work towards peace, and distance itself from the anti-Jewish actions of the past.

Christian BDS supporters should be embarrassed by those who are campaigning with them: for example, Ayatollah Khomeini and Hamas. The BDS campaign is negative and, fortunately, has not harmed Israel’s activities and economy. Churches should instead help Palestinians build democratic institutions and invest in their economy, and urge them to accept peace offers. Christian-Jewish understanding would be gravely weakened if churches insisted on continuing to boycott.

This Bill is a moral guide. It will do something to tone down the loathing of Israel we see expressed all around us, targeting Jewish communities—hence, the blurring of the line between anti-government sentiment and anti-Jewish sentiment. Russian and Chinese residents here have never had to face the same hatred. Jewish people need one safe haven. This House should consider the responsibility of the way that Britain ended the mandate all those years ago, leading in part to some of the trouble we see today.

The boycott proponents and the hate-filled marches remind us of why the Bill is still necessary. Boycotts do nothing to assist Palestinians; they simply ally the boycotters with the anti-Semites and the authorities who, over the centuries, have tried to impound and constrain Jewish communities, not least in the many Middle East countries from which the Jews were expelled in the 20th century. The Government have my whole- hearted support, and I wish this Bill—with amendments, no doubt—a safe and swift passage.

19:00
Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, this is a political Bill, a bad Bill, an unnecessary Bill and a counterproductive Bill. As other speakers have mentioned, it is also one of the most incompetently drafted Bills that we have had before us. One example which has been mentioned is that it fails to provide a clear definition of what constitutes a public body, which is clearly a central issue. Can the Minister enlighten the House on a more precise definition of a public body?

There is much to say, but I will focus on three points. First, the Bill represents arrogant overreach by an incompetent Government who are well past their sell-by date. Secondly, even if we were to accept the Bill’s premise—which I do not—it is not just unnecessary but counterproductive. Thirdly, government Ministers, in proposing the Bill, commit the offence that they claim needs to be prevented by the Bill.

My first point is that the Bill is clearly one more example of arrogant overreach. Michael Gove, in opening the Second Reading in the Commons, stated that

“UK foreign policy is a matter for the UK Government”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/7/23; col. 586.]

I have to disagree. UK foreign policy is a matter for us all, individually and through our representative organisations and those working on our behalf. As free citizens, we are all entitled to exercise rights relating to foreign affairs, individually and through organisations. One of the strengths of this country is that there are multiple locations of power and responsibility. The assumption that only the Government are responsible for relationships with foreign countries destroys that strength. That arrogance was made clear when the Minister, in introducing the Bill, used the word “subordinate” to refer to other public bodies. It is a question of partnership; it is not an issue of subordination.

Other speakers have drawn attention to issues where the views of the Government have lagged behind those of other public bodies. Apartheid South Africa is only one example, although the speech by my noble fried Lord Hain was particularly powerful. I was also pleased that my noble friend Lord Boateng recalled the occasion when together we voted, as members of the GLC, to declare freedom for South Africa and in support of Nelson Mandela.

I add that this is not a question of being right or wrong on these issues; what is good is that there is a variety of views. I am not claiming that local authorities and local government pension schemes will always be right—sometimes they are wrong—but it is the variety of views put into the public debate that is so important.

My second point is that, even if we accept the Bill’s premise, it is not only unnecessary but counterproductive. I am not a legal expert, but, over the years, I have been the recipient of much legal advice about the powers and responsibilities of public bodies. That includes primarily local authorities and local government pension schemes, both of which would be caught by this Bill. I am sure that, in Committee, we will discuss in detail the problems created for such bodies by the Bill, but I will make a more general point in this debate. In broad terms, the law already provides that, when decisions are taken by public bodies, they are required to take account of relevant matters and to ignore matters that are irrelevant. My question for the Minister is: how does the Bill affect those obligations? It either simply restates the law or it contradicts those requirements. My concern is that, at best, it will confuse the position, and, at worst, it will require public bodies, whether local authorities or pension funds, to take into account irrelevant matters when taking decisions, including in particular the views of the national Government.

My third point is that government Ministers, in proposing the Bill, commit the offence that they claim needs to be prevented. The argument here is simple. Michael Gove stated at Second Reading that the Bill

“provides protection for minority communities, especially the Jewish community, against campaigns that harm community cohesion and fuel antisemitism”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/7/23; col. 586.]

But there is no reference in the Bill to anti-Semitism. What it does mention is Israel, which is not the same thing.

I enter this debate with some trepidation. It is not for me to say what constitutes anti-Semitism, but look at the definition of anti-Semitism provided by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It makes it clear that

“criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”.

That point seems to have been lost in this debate, with a few speakers saying explicitly that supporting action against Israel is inherently anti-Semitic. That is itself an anti-Semitic claim, according to what the definition goes on to say. As an example of the manifestations of anti-Semitism, it describes anything that

“might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity”.

But that is exactly what this Bill does—reinforced by comments that have been made today.

I have no idea whether my time is up, because the Clock did not start properly, so I will exploit that opportunity. We know what the Government’s real intention is for this Bill, and it was clearly set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi. We know what was in the minds of the Government in introducing this Bill. I have to ask the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, following her remarks, whether she really believes that Michael Gove is her friend in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Johnson of Marylebone, who is not in his place, said that the Government have good intentions with this Bill, but I do not believe that they have any good intentions with it. It is an example of gotcha legislation, trying to paint those who take different views with the crime of anti-Semitism, which is clearly untrue. As other speakers have identified, instead of focusing on these issues which are symptoms of anti-Semitism, we have to tackle the underlying causes.

19:09
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, as others have explained so well, this Bill presents a dilemma. I have long argued that the BDS campaign has seeded a culture of normalising anti-Semitism. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, and I will have to disagree on what that definition might be; however, one of the points about democracy that I agree with him on is that we need that kind of debate. The problem I have is that BDS is an entirely illiberal and censorious boycott campaign; but, on the other hand, this legislation, which aims to ban such boycotts, is also illiberal and censorious. So, what to do?

In the broadest terms, the Bill’s premise could sanction a dangerous trend of government determining in law which political campaigns are legitimate and which are not. I found the Minister’s emphasis on public authorities all speaking with one voice on foreign policy more scary than reassuring. Perhaps she might consider just the smidgen of a possibility that one day, the Government are in opposition and are involved with public bodies that disagree with official foreign policy. It is hard to know whether the Bill would catch them then.

However, if the aim is to rein in public institutions from dabbling in contentious moral decisions beyond the scope of their core responsibilities, which Michael Gove certainly seemed to imply, then we should recognise that, ironically, one reason why investment and procurement strategies have been politicised in recent years is government-backed, top-down directives. Just look at the way that pursuing ESG targets and adopting divisive EDI diversity criteria have distorted investment and procurement decisions, and not all for the good. By and large, therefore, the Government should stop interfering in what is and is not invested in by autonomous public bodies.

Beyond a concern about the threat to the autonomy of, for example, universities, councils and arts organisations, which was well explained by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, and many others, I just cannot see how the Bill can avoid stifling democratic debate. We have heard powerful speeches, especially those critiquing Clause 4 as a gagging clause. However, the provision that prohibits vice-chancellors, chief execs of arts organisations and council leaders from saying that they would support the boycott if it were lawful is in fact Orwellian—and that is not overusing the word. Is it not dangerous to discourage leaders of public bodies from explaining their decision-making processes? Surely it is in the public interest that we know the pros and cons of financial investments, or why they might want to boycott, and so on.

Unlike some, therefore, I am not somebody who goes along with a rather unpleasant cynicism about the Government’s motives. I am happy to accept that the Bill is being put forward in good faith and that it is an attempt to tackle one of the sources of anti-Jewish hatred—BDS-style boycotts. However, despite the intention, clamping down on open discussion, which so much of the Bill does, will make it more difficult to tackle anti-Semitic racism in the public sphere.

Those of us who oppose BDS should hold firm that it is we—or it should be—who are on the side of democratic free speech. In contrast, BDS is a boycott campaign whose very essence is to use regressive censorship tactics to isolate Israel economically and culturally. However, note that this is not about shaming Israel or embarrassing it into taking a different policy decision. We have heard a lot in today’s debate about the past boycott of South Africa—maybe it is an age thing—but that was aimed at ridding South Africa of apartheid, not of ridding the world of South Africa. The BDS movement, however, aims to rid the world of a Zionist state: that is, to eradicate Israel. As people have called for evidence, that is what its founders and much of its literature say.

I think I get why the Government might focus on trying to find a way of curtailing BDS. Today’s boycott culture is pretty grim. I recently encountered those abusive, rather vicious protests outside Zara and McDonald’s, which I was told not to enter and buy a burger from, as it would mean that I was endorsing genocide. It is scary that so many of those young protesters have no qualms about mirroring the 1930s Nazi tactic of blocking Jewish services and businesses with their “Don’t buy from the Jews” slogans. BDS campaigns have certainly created a boycott culture, with anyone associated with Israel being treated in a cavalier, cruel and prejudicial way. There was the terrible incident the other day, when the young Israeli swimming champion was booed and jeered; and Gary Lineker, a leading BBC pundit, casually went along with the BDS demand to kick the Israel football team out of FIFA.

I am all for a robust response to this ugly mood, but this proposed legislation follows a worrying trend: creating criminalising laws as a substitute for political courage in taking on contemporary challenges. I therefore ask the Minister: is the problem the Government seek to tackle a plethora of university senates using BDS schemes to avoid investing in Israel? Hardly. However, there is the huge problem of a spike in anti-Semitic abuse targeting Jewish students—as described so vividly by the noble Lord, Lord Mann—and, by the way, of leaders of those public institutions often looking away. Consider the shameful case of a Birmingham University Jewish chaplain being driven off campus and into hiding after returning from military service fighting Hamas. Beyond these visceral attacks, let us not forget that too many in academia have cultivated the intellectual justification for anti-Jewish attitudes among the young by propagating decolonisation ideology and critical race theory—branding Jews as the embodiment of white privilege and Israel as the epitome of a colonial settler state, and therefore fair game for righteous hatred.

How will the Bill’s restrictions deal with that or help arts organisations tackle pernicious cultural boycotts such as the cancelling of Israeli artists, be it the London theatre that pulled the plug on the Jewish Film Festival, the cancellation of the Israeli hip-hop opera at the Edinburgh Fringe, or the bullying of high-profile artists who have the temerity to announce that they will gig in Tel Aviv? The Bill will not make an iota of difference.

I finish with the story of the Jewish nightclub owner who closed down his nightclub last week, having received a package addressed “Zionist child killer” that contained children’s clothes drenched in fake blood. However, the final straw was the threat to boycott the club. The Bill will make no difference.

By the way, I am delighted to have found so many free speech allies in this House; suddenly, everybody is on the side of free speech. I have not experienced that in the years that I have been here—only in defending BDS. None the less, I do not want to betray that free speech by agreeing with the Government that we should clamp down on it just because I want to fight anti-Semitism.

19:18
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, when I was a child, we always had grapefruit for Sunday breakfast. However, for some months of the year it was tinned grapefruit because my mother, one of the hundreds of thousands referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, refused to buy South African Outspan when that was all that was available. Now, of course, the Bill would not have prevented her personal anti-apartheid boycott, but that was brought to mind by the Quakers’ warning, cited by my noble friend Lord Boateng, that the Bill would restrict their ability to put

“their faith into action by campaigning on matters of conscience, particularly at the local authority level where opportunities for citizens to influence democratic decisions are greater”.

In addition, as Bond points out:

“We now know that the local authorities who took a stand against Apartheid were on the right side of history”.


Had the Bill been in force, it suggests, as have a number of noble Lords,

“it is likely such campaigns would have been illegal”.

What does it say about local democracy that local authorities will no longer have the right or the power to respond positively to such campaigns? The Bill represents a further erosion of local democracy, which is one of many reasons why it prompted so much criticism on the Conservative Benches in the Commons. Indeed, it is tempting just to string together quotations from what they described as “bad legislation” and “a very un-Conservative measure”.

One important point some of them made was that this may have been a manifesto commitment, but that commitment was country-agnostic. As we have heard, the Bill singles out Israel and the Occupied Territories for special treatment. In doing so, it undermines its own stated aims. In particular, many organisations, including some Jewish organisations, warn that, in the words of Kit Malthouse MP, it is

“playing into the anti-Semitism we have seen rise in this country”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/10/23; col. 904.]

Data published last week, referred to by the Minister, underscored just how serious that rise has been.

The impact assessment admits that official assumptions about the impact of the legislation on community relations are just that—assumptions in the absence of adequate data. My honourable friend Dame Margaret Hodge pleaded with the Minister to withdraw what she called

“an act of complete irresponsibility and unbelievable foolishness”,

particularly in the context of the unspeakable horrors taking place in the Middle East as we speak. It will, she warned,

“only heighten tensions between communities”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/10/23; cols. 888-89.]

The other stated aim is to stop public bodies pursuing their own foreign policy agenda, as we have heard, so that the UK

“speaks with one voice internationally”.

I think I heard the Minister say at the outset that the nation must speak with one voice. That to me smacks of totalitarianism—it is frightening.

On foreign policy, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns MP, warned that by, in effect, conflating Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the Bill

“is a departure from our foreign policy”.

The fact that they are listed separately does not, as Ministers have tried to argue, negate the point. Furthermore, as has been said, it risks putting us in breach of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which the UK itself drafted. Kearns expressed the worry that

“the Bill will leave the international community questioning whether Israeli settlements in the OPTs and the Golan Heights are still regarded as illegal by the UK Government”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/7/23; cols. 604-05.]

In this context, I welcome the reassurances given by the Foreign Secretary to your Lordships’ House last week, and his reminder that

“we should focus on what is happening in the West Bank as well as Gaza”.—[Official Report, 13/2/23; col. 147.]

He cited what he called the “chilling statistic” that 96 Palestinian children had been killed there since the horrors of 7 October, but I respectfully suggest that his proud statement that the Government had for the first time just taken out sanctions against violent settlers does not add up to much, given that it was only four settlers. On the Government’s own website, the FCDO’s press release announcing those sanctions states that Israel’s “failure to act” in the face of “unprecedented levels” of violence, harassment and intimidation,

“has led to an environment of near total impunity for settler extremists”.

I echo my noble friend Lord Grocott when I ask what hope there is for the holy grail of a two-state solution if one of those states is subject to ever more illegal settlements that deprive Palestinians of their land and livelihoods? When the Government talk about speaking with one voice internationally, they cannot be surprised if some organisations and citizens want to see more than speaking—actions, not words. And if central government will not take decisive actions against the illegal settlements, of course they might well look to local government, which will now be powerless to act.

The Minister sent us a letter which tried to reassure us about some of the concerns raised in the Commons, including those regarding protection of the environment and freedom of speech. There is not time to go into any detail now, but suffice it to say that civil society organisations concerned about the Bill have not been reassured. Nor has the higher education sector—I declare an interest here as an emeritus professor. Universities UK fears that the Bill will have

“severe unintended consequences for the higher education sector”,

including contradicting existing duties regarding freedom of speech and academic freedom, as well as official policy and guidance on establishing international partnerships and collaborations, as has been already mentioned.

To conclude, the impact assessment explains that the Government decided on primary rather than secondary legislation so as to “allow for proper scrutiny”. It points out that

“good parliamentary scrutiny of legislation can allow parliamentarians and civil society to highlight problems in bills before they become law”.

Well, the Government have not shown much, if any, willingness to listen and act on concerns raised so far. While I wish they would withdraw this miserable, dangerous Bill, I, like my noble friend Lord Wood, am a realist and I hope that, at the very least, they will take seriously the problems that I know will be highlighted during its passage through your Lordships’ House and that they will act so that those problems do not become enshrined in law.

19:25
Baroness Grey-Thompson Portrait Baroness Grey-Thompson (CB)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. Specifically, I am chair of Sport Wales, president of the LGA and chancellor of Northumbria University.

Many of the briefings I have received have raised the unintended consequences of the Bill, and many have referred to it as the “anti-boycott Bill”. It might seem trivial that I raise sport within this debate, but actually sport and boycotts have been inextricably linked, and jurisdictions have constantly used sport for political gain.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I had a mother who refused to buy anything from South Africa. Some of my first memories of sport as a child are watching with interest the Moscow Olympic Games. Over the years, debates over whether sport can, or should, be used as a tool of soft foreign policy have grown stronger. With every Games they become more involved, nuanced and complicated, and additional pressure is put on individual athletes. I welcome the fact that athletes are asked to use their platform to debate issues that are important to them, but they may get pulled into this debate without realising some of the consequences.

It is easy to forget that back in 2012 there were calls from many quarters for Paralympians, and specifically British athletes, to boycott the Games because of various sponsors—as opposed to the countries that were competing or where they were staged. Looking at broader sports politics, we see that the question of whether allowing athletes to compete as neutrals has any impact is up for debate—although I must say that Mr Putin did have some minor respect for the Olympic movement, because he chose not to invade Ukraine due to the Olympic truce. The Paralympic truce does not exist in the same way. Russia is not the only country to use sport as a political tool. Sport and politics are inextricably linked. The strongest soft politics is the medal table, which every country signs up to.

I will not repeat what the Minister said about the Bill’s intentions, but some of the vagaries of international sports policy are apparent. On 12 January, Inside the Games announced that the International Ice Hockey Federation had suspended Israel from all competitions, for the time being, to protect the safety of participants, “including Israelis”. A few days later it changed its mind and allowed the Israeli team back in.

The Minister mentioned devolved authorities. Well, sport is devolved in the UK, and qualification for various events is a mix of home country and United Kingdom bodies. UK Sport, possibly the best known of our sports bodies, is classified on the Government’s website as an executive non-departmental public body. So, I would like to understand whether sport, sporting bodies, national governing bodies, teams for sports events, training camps, conferences, or anyone involved in the bidding process—or any of the above, combined—will be impacted by the Bill.

Any cultural institution that is unsure of whether it is bound by Section 6 of the HRA has been told that it should seek independent legal advice. That is, quite simply, not practicable for any small sports organisation in a fast-changing sporting landscape where athletes have little choice where selection events are held, or where jurisdictions continuously hide behind sport as a potential tool of political gain.

19:29
Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates (LD)
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My Lords, like other Members of this House I feel a sense of profound shock at the rise in anti-Semitism since the appalling attacks of 7 October. As my noble friend Lord Palmer of Childs Hill said, the Jewish community feels increasingly and understandably beleaguered, and we must do all we can to support it. But, like my noble friend, I believe that this is a very bad Bill and I do not believe it will do anything to combat anti-Semitism. Indeed, I fear it will do the opposite.

If that were not bad enough, the Bill tramples on fundamental rights of free speech and peaceful protest, provides extraordinary powers to Ministers and enforcement authorities and, as my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire points out, effectively introduces an offence of thought crime. Above all, it is an ill-considered mess of misjudgments, prejudices and confusions, all competing to contradict one another.

In 1988 I spent some time teaching in a rural school in Zimbabwe. When I was there, one of the students asked me to try to visit his father in South Africa. This was in the dying days of the apartheid regime, although that was not at all clear then. There was a state of emergency, and I saw at first hand the vile nature of that regime.

When I came back to the UK, my first engagement in campaigning was on the milk crates outside South Africa House and in the boycotts of the student Anti- Apartheid Movement, inspired very much by campaigners such as the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Boateng, who spoke so powerfully. My decisions about boycotting South African goods were personal and were motivated by political and moral disapproval. They did not represent my individual foreign policy; they represented my moral and political disapproval. Thank goodness that local authorities, from Lambeth to Sheffield, Glasgow and all around the country, were prepared to stand up and make their voice heard.

Some years later, I had the privilege of working in the first democratic Parliament in South Africa. I can absolutely attest to what the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, said: the absolute saving grace of the UK was that local authorities and others had been prepared to take financial decisions on the basis of moral and political disapproval when, sadly, our Government were not prepared to do that and were seen as an aider and abetter of the apartheid regime.

Much was made, both in the Second Reading debate in the other place and repeated by the Minister today, about not having rival foreign policies, but Clause 3(7) conflates Israel and the Occupied Territories, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark pointed out. This seems to represent the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities running an alternative foreign policy to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, rather than local authorities doing the same. That has really grave implications. I hope that the Minister can tell us what representations have been received from British diplomatic posts across the globe about the impacts of this Bill, which goes absolutely contrary to Resolution 2334 and other international obligations, as other noble Lords have said.

When I picked up the Bill, I was concerned that it seemed pretty worrying, but when I looked through it and I read just some of the clause headings, as highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, such as “Disapproval of foreign state conduct” and “Related prohibition on statements”, it brought to mind exactly that apartheid regime in South Africa. These are the sorts of clauses that you would find in the law and order amendments Acts, and of which John Vorster and Hendrik Verwoerd would have been proud.

We have to think very carefully about the precedents that we are setting in this Bill. As we have heard, not only would it prevent local authorities taking financial decisions of the form we have debated but it prohibits people stating that they would have acted in such a way if they had been able to, but they could not do so because it was not lawful. The Minister tried to make a distinction and claim that a local authority leader, for example, could state that they were in favour of a boycott or investment decisions about a particular territory if they did so in their personal capacity. But if somebody said, for example, “I don’t believe in investing in the Occupied Territories or Xinjiang”, their constituents asked, “Then why is your local authority not following that belief?”, and they said, “Because the law doesn’t allow me to”, they would commit an offence under the Bill, if I understand it rightly, subject to an unlimited fine. That is extraordinary. It is even worse than that, because it is not just if you say that—this is where the thought crime comes in—but if it is thought that you are likely to say something like that, and if you are thought likely to contravene the applicable provision of the Bill.

We will go through this in much greater detail in Committee, but this is a hugely flawed Bill. It is massively politically divisive at a time when there is no need for political division because, as the Liberal Democrat Front Bench and the Official Opposition Front Bench have made clear, people are happy to come together to try to address the actual issue without bringing about these draconian rules, which have absolutely no place in our democracy.

19:37
Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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My Lords, as has been said, this Bill is flawed, poorly drafted and damaging. It is likely to have a detrimental impact on the UK’s ability to protect and promote human rights around the world. It is, in certain respects, inconsistent with our obligations under international law, it will stifle free speech and protest, and it will take powers long exercised by local authorities into the hands of the Secretary of State. It is also likely to lead to an array of illogical outcomes.

The Minister sought to make it clear that although the Bill has general application to all material decisions by public bodies, it is really directed at the boycotting of Israel. In the Bill, the Occupied Territories and the Occupied Golan Heights are seen as part and parcel of Israel, when in fact, as we know, international law makes it very clear that that is not the case and that Israel has been in breach of international law in occupying those territories.

The Bill prohibits boycotting. We know that there can be exceptions in certain circumstances if sanctioned by the Secretary of State, but in no circumstances whatever can Israel be excluded. It gets a free pass; that one nation is wrongly singled out. That is seriously worrying at this time. I think particularly of the allegations of hypocrisy that there will be, and the ways in which this will be so enraging to many in the global South.

All public bodies are already prohibited in law from pursuing policies or taking any actions that are directly or indirectly anti-Semitic. I make it clear that the rise in anti-Semitism that has taken place since 7 October has been really horrifying. I was shocked myself when I heard from a young Jewish woman that she got on the bus early in the morning and saw, engraved on the frosted windows, a swastika. Seeing that she and her friend were upset, somebody went and cleared the window. But these things, which are intimidatory and aggressive, are being experienced all the time. I walked over a bridge close to where I live and saw that posters had been put up of those who were hostages. Each face had been obliterated with black aerosol paint and, only a few days later, the posters had even been torn down. It questions what people are seeking to do in denying that hostages have been taken.

Fortunately, law does exist which can be used to confront these things, and not only against individuals but public bodies. These protections are found in our common law and in our statutes, as well as in the European Convention on Human Rights. All are enforceable in our courts. So I urge on this House that there are tools which should be used more actively to counter anti-Semitism, and that there is much more to be done. However, I cannot believe that this Bill is the right way to do it: not at this time, when there is this grievous conflict taking place which is costing so many lives. We have already had the events of 7 October, followed by the deaths of many children, the displacement of so many people, the reduction of homes to rubble and the acts on the West Bank which have led to the sanctions which our Foreign Secretary described to us the other day. In the midst of all that, to pursue this Bill seems to me to be inept politics, crass diplomacy and another blot on our reputation internationally.

It is also inconsistent in policy. This Government strongly endorse the use of economic power to mark disapproval of foreign state conduct. We have done it all the time in relation to the war in Ukraine and dealing with Russia and are looking at doing it more so now. It is a way in which we express a sense of horror and raise global standards. The Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 introduced a very tough sanctions regime in the Magnitsky sanctions.

Turning to Clause 1, Richard Hermer, a colleague at the Bar, described it as being so badly drafted that

“it is far from clear what the ambit of the prohibited conduct actually is”.

Like others in this Chamber, I was very active in the anti-apartheid movement, calling for divestment in South Africa. I was very proud when my city, Glasgow, led the way as a local authority in taking a stand against what was happening. Those were the early days, so when people say, “Oh, but South Africa is so different from what is happening in Israel or other places”, all I can say is, “Sometimes it starts small and then becomes something that really does create change”.

This Bill would, at a stroke, preclude public bodies from taking into account a range of deplorable conduct by a foreign state. We have heard how it can be used. The Secretary of State can intervene if it is about the national interest or human trafficking, but what about genocide? What about unlawful military invasions? What about war crimes, other crimes against humanity or racial discrimination? The Bill would preclude a council from refusing to purchase goods from Russian-occupied Ukraine. I am very anxious to see us stop buying Chinese cotton goods. I want local authorities to say that they are not going to buy it for the uniforms for their staff, boiler suits, overalls, school uniforms and towels. People must be able to do this.

So I say finally that I do suspect the reason for this. I suspect that sticking with this Bill is to set a trap for the Labour Party in opposition. It is to say that if you do not vote with this Bill, we will accuse you in the hustings of being anti-Semitic. That is what this is about, so let us not pretend that it will effect any real change in ending or limiting discrimination of an anti-Semitic kind. The key provisions of this Bill are deeply troubling from a domestic and an international law perspective, with absolutely malign intentions behind why it is being put before this House at this time. It is why I really hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, will seek its withdrawal before long.

19:45
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, even, or perhaps especially, when we disagree.

I want to focus on Clause 3(7), which provides in effect that a future Minister seeking to permit public bodies to boycott Israel would have to do so by way of primary legislation and not secondary legislation. The question has been asked: why is Israel treated differently by being singled out in the Bill? The short answer is that Israel is already treated differently and singled out—by international institutions and by too many public bodies here in the UK. That differential treatment and singling out has real effects, not only on the State of Israel but—and this is my focus—on civil society in the UK.

This Bill puts Israel into a special category because Israel is put by others, both internationally and nationally, into a special category. I will look first at this internationally. Last year, the United Nations General Assembly condemned Israel 14 times. The rest of the world put together: seven. Since 2015, the score stands at Israel 140, the whole of the rest of the world put together, 68. The UN Human Rights Council has a standing agenda item, item 7, which is focused on Israel —and only on Israel. This is the same UN Human Rights Council that, just two days after the 7 October massacre, held a minute’s silence to mourn, to quote from its own website,

“the loss of innocent lives in the occupied Palestinian territory and elsewhere”.

“Elsewhere”? For 2,000 years, the Jewish people had nowhere. Now, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council, they have an “elsewhere”. All of this is not because Israel is wicked, let alone uniquely wicked. It is because, internationally, Israel is treated differently and singled out.

Secondly, Israel is also treated differently and singled out by public bodies here in the UK. In 2020, the Welsh Government brought out a new national procurement note singling out Israel—and only Israel—for potential sanctions. A decade earlier, West Dunbartonshire Council adopted a policy of boycotting Israeli—and only Israeli—goods, including even books printed in Israel. So the sermons of Jesus printed in totalitarian China were permitted, but they were banned if they were printed in the place where he actually delivered them.

A number of English councils implemented BDS against Israeli—and only Israeli—products, including Leicester in 2014 and Lancaster in 2021. In 2014, Birmingham City Council threatened not to renew a contract with Veolia because of its activity in the West Bank. Perhaps the now insolvent Birmingham City Council should have focused rather less on the West Bank and more on its own bank.

My third point is that it is not only the fact that Israel is treated differently. Anti-Israel resolutions and boycotts have a different and dramatic effect on civil society. The correlation is clear and unambiguous. When Israel is targeted, it ends up with attacks on Jews. I am not saying that all anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism—although a lot of it is, especially when Israel, and only Israel, is singled out for condemnation and boycott. You can support Israel but oppose its present Government, as do many of my friends in Israel. The Opposition Benches in this House demonstrate that you can critique a Government but support the state.

But let us be clear: when you chant “From the river to the sea”, you are not critiquing the Israeli Government; you are calling for the destruction of Israel. We are increasingly seeing anti-Israel rhetoric blurring into demonising and attacking Jews. “Zionists” is being used as a code word for Jews.

It is a code word, because who are these Zionists? The overwhelming majority of Jews, both in the UK and around the world, are Zionists because of our history, ancient and modern. We have prayed for, and facing, the land of Israel for thousands of years. We know the cost in Jewish lives from not having a State of Israel and the price paid in lives for having that state. Many of us have family there, in what is now the world’s largest Jewish community. When Israel is singled out, the inevitable effect is that Jews, regardless of their passports or politics, are also singled out in commerce, culture and education.

In commerce, when Sainsbury’s removed kosher food from its shelves after giving in to anti-Israel protesters, it was Jews who could not buy food—a scene repeated in the Republic of Ireland only last week.

In culture, two weeks ago, a Jewish member of the audience at the Soho Theatre was sworn at by Paul Currie, an anti-Semite masquerading as a comic, because he would not stand in respect when a Palestinian flag was unveiled on stage. Much of the rest of the audience joined in the chanting against him. Another London theatre cancelled an event hosted by a UK Jewish charity raising money for Israeli students, because the staff refused to come into work.

In education, the Jewish chaplain at Leeds University is now in hiding with his family, because he has been targeted by protesters, who also daubed anti-Israel slogans on the Jewish society building. When students marched through Birmingham University with a banner reading “Zionists off our campus”, what they meant, in practice, was “No Jews here”. The vast majority of Jewish students, like the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community, believe in an independent Jewish state. That is what Zionism is. If, like His Majesty’s Government, you support a two-state solution, which calls for a safe and secure Israel alongside a Palestinian state, you are a Zionist too.

All this is a problem for Jews, but it is a tragedy for everyone else. A society that permits anti-Semitism is a society suffering from a terminal illness. That is an iron rule of history: anti-Semitism destroys any society that harbours it.

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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I just want to read the noble Lord a quotation from the Israeli National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir. He says that to encourage the exodus of Gaza’s inhabitants and the influx of Israeli settlers to the Gaza Strip would be a “correct, just, moral … solution”. When it comes to people speaking in language that is exclusionary and discriminatory against the other side, I am afraid that some of it comes very strongly from extreme right-wing Jewish settlers.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I loathe Itamar Ben-Gvir and his rhetoric and want to see that sort of rhetoric out of Israel and out of everywhere. But let us be real: when people opposed apartheid, they were opposing a policy of the South African Government. What BDS wants is not to change the policy of Israel, but to change the existence of Israel by destroying it.

The Bill singles out Israel because Israel is always singled out. It is quite right, therefore, that, if a future Minister wants to change that policy to allow people to boycott Israel and give succour to the world’s oldest hatred, he or she should have to account for their actions at the Dispatch Box.

I have no doubt that improvements can be made to the Bill. I look forward to working with many others in doing so, especially on the international law point, but, for the reasons that I have given, I give the Bill my full support.

19:54
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, I think I am going to sound a little feeble after the passion of the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson. I apologise for sneaking into the gap, but I suddenly realised that there is something that I wanted to say and it is about local democracy.

The Bill threatens to remove the right of councils and councillors to do their best for their residents. I was a councillor on Southwark Council for four long, hard years. I am aware that councillors represent their residents and answer to their voters in a way that most MPs just cannot, because councillors are there on the ground—they are there shopping, gardening or socialising. People come up to them all the time and tell them about their fears and concerns, and what they want them to do. The Bill would limit councils’ actions to do their best for their residents.

I will give the example of South African apartheid. I lived in Lesotho for six years. It is a tiny kingdom completely surrounded by South Africa. The residents of Lesotho, the Basotho, saw apartheid up close, even though they were not involved. At times, the white residents experienced the other side of apartheid because, if you were in a long queue at the post office, the window would, amazingly, close just as you arrived. In a tiny way, it made me understand what it is like to be excluded and unseen.

If I had come back to the UK then and become a councillor, with all my anger and fury about apartheid and how it penalised people for nothing other than the colour of their skin, I would have done my best to prevent any council support for the South African Government in what we bought or supported. I am fairly sure that the residents of Southwark would have supported my actions. That would be illegal under this Bill. This is another bad Bill from a bad Government.

19:56
Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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My Lords, this has been a most instructive Second Reading and I very much look forward to the Minister’s response to the many detailed points that have been raised. I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association and that I have a small local authority pension.

I also make it clear that I support the long-term security of the State of Israel but think that a broad Bill of this kind should not be built on a single country, nor should it include the Occupied Territories—as we have heard from several speakers. No doubt when we are in Committee or on Report, we will pursue that in greater detail.

I have concluded that the Bill is disproportionate. It runs counter to the basic principles of civil liberties, human rights and upholding international law. As my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire said:

“This Bill is ambiguous, confused and contradictory”.


It has been claimed that the Bill will assist community cohesion, but it will not; it will make community cohesion more difficult. As my noble friend Lord Palmer of Childs Hill said, it

“could have a negative effect”

and, as my noble friend Lord Oates said, it will not “combat anti-Semitism”.

Three tests should be applied to any proposed Bill: what problem are Government are trying to solve? Is what is proposed a solution to that problem? What consequential problems might arise if the Bill becomes an Act? In my view, the Bill fails all three tests and we have heard compelling evidence of that from many speakers. I have reached the conclusion that the Bill is too complex, too unwieldy and, in practice, unworkable. It would require a huge bureaucracy to underpin it, at huge cost, with enforcement authorities with powers to issue monetary fines and all the judicial reviews arising from that process. The Bill is not proportionate.

The Government’s own impact assessment for the Bill says:

“The number of actual or attempted boycotts or divestments inconsistent with UK foreign policy is relatively low”.


The Minister has referred to six; in the impact assessment, six are mentioned. But attempted boycotts or disinvestments are just that—unsuccessful attempts. How many have actually happened? How many have actually been successful? It would help if the Minister, when she replies or perhaps later, gives the House a list of all the public bodies and public authorities which have boycotted or disinvested from an overseas country, including Israel, on political grounds, so we can understand the true extent of the problem the Government have identified.

Universities UK has expressed concerns about the unintended consequence for the higher education sector. Universities are not public bodies, and I have concluded that universities should not be part of the Bill, as indeed we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, the noble Lords, Lord Willetts and Lord Johnson of Marylebone, and others. I say that for three reasons. First, it could influence the outcome of the ongoing ONS review into universities’ status and whether they should or should not be defined as public bodies. Secondly, Clause 4 contradicts duties placed on universities via the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 to uphold freedom of speech and academic freedom; I have concluded that Clause 4 should be deleted from the Bill. Thirdly, it would give significant new powers and functions to the Office for Students, but is it able to take those on, given all the other duties it has?

I turn to pensions. It is not necessary for the Bill to apply to pensions. The Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Act 2022 already gives the Secretary of State powers to issue guidance to pension schemes not to make investment decisions that conflict with UK foreign and defence policy.

In terms of the Local Government Pension Scheme, in a Supreme Court judgment in 2020 the Government were criticised for thinking that the scheme administrators were

“part of the machinery of the state”.

They are not; they do not manage public money. It is a funded scheme, paid for by contributions made by 15,500 participating employers and 7.1 million pension scheme members. Legislation already exists which prevents the Local Government Pension Scheme decision-makers from expressing political disapproval of a territory in making an investment decision. It contains sufficient enforcement mechanisms. Regulations exist which require administering authorities to publish an investment strategy statement, which must be in accordance with official guidance from the Secretary of State. Why do we need this Bill?

The Local Government Pension Scheme is a well-funded scheme with very few regulatory cases for a scheme of its size—with over 7 million members and assets of over £360 billion. The Government’s role is to provide clear guidance to the Local Government Pension Scheme, setting out their foreign policy aims and objectives so that scheme managers can undertake their duties investing in and stewarding global markets.

More broadly, existing legislation is sufficient. I am very grateful for the excellent Library briefing on the Bill. Section 17 of the Local Government Act 1988 already prohibits local authorities from taking non-commercial considerations into account in procurement decisions. They cannot take into account considerations of country or territory of origin of the contractor or their supplies. The Bill would then extend restrictions to cover investments as well as procurement, so I will comment on local government investment policy. Treasury management investments by councils are made largely within the United Kingdom. Where there are investments internationally, the key considerations are return and risk, rather than non-commercial considerations. The Bill will make no significant difference to that process.

Many speakers have pointed out that the Bill would restrict free speech of both public bodies and elected representatives. Clauses 4 and 7 would block discussion of actions against any foreign state. They would impact on freedom of speech and extend the powers of the state to inform itself about discussions within autonomous bodies, as my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire pointed out. Do the Government really mean for that to happen?

Finally, the Constitution Committee has done a very good job in suggesting to the House that it may wish to consider whether Clause 4 should be removed from the Bill. It said:

“In our view, clauses 4(1)(a) and 4(1)(b) unduly limit freedom of speech by preventing public bodies from stating that they would or even might make a procurement or investment decision in contravention of clause 1 had it been lawful to do so”.


There are other conclusions that the Select Committee has made which I support, and which I hope we can debate in Committee.

I say to the Minister and the Government more generally that I wish central government would trust local government a bit more. As my noble friend Lady Janke said, local government is not an outpost of central government.

We shall investigate all these issues in Committee, but I will just point out that if we were to take out Clause 4; if universities were not to be part of the Bill; if the pension problems the Government think exist and which I think do not exist are also taken out; if the role of local authority procurement policy is properly understood; and if we recognise that there is not much overseas investment by local authorities as part of their investment portfolios, there really is nothing much left in the Bill for us to talk about. For that reason, the Government should take a long, hard look at what they are trying to do.

20:06
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I will start by making one thing very clear, as my noble friend Lady Chapman did in her opening speech: Labour has consistently opposed the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign against the State of Israel. We do so because we recognise, as many noble Lords have said in the debate, including the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Birmingham, that some people have used the cover of BDS to whip up hate towards Jewish people, to seek to hold Israel to different standards from other countries, to question its right to exist, and to equate the actions of the Israeli Government with Jewish people. That is utterly wrong.

Anti-Semitism is a scourge on our society that all political parties—I am sure we can unite across the House on this—should stand together in opposing and eradicating. I agree very strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, that greater effort should be put into education and into winning people to the arguments we have heard in the debate. This legislation simply is not supporting that fight against anti-Semitism.

We have consistently put forward an alternative solution to address the very real concerns over BDS. We have tabled amendments, most recently to the Procurement Bill as it was progressing. We sought to ensure that the Bill—the Act, as it now is—would prevent councils from singling out Israel. We said that public bodies should be able to take ethical decisions, but that these must be consistent with their investment and procurement policy, within a framework based on principles that applied equally to all countries, rather than singling out individual nations. That was a principle that was rejected, sadly, by the Government when we put it forward in the Procurement Bill.

As my noble friend Lady Chapman said, we hope that, when we move through the stages of this Bill, we can seek a consensus. What I have heard across this debate is that, whether you support BDS or oppose it, the Bill has significant problems—concerns have been raised across the Chamber. As the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, just mentioned, many of those concerns were reported by the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House, particularly the draconian restrictions on free speech. Its report states:

“The protection of free speech is a fundamental right”.


Like the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, it is clear in its view that

“clauses 4(1)(a) and 4(1)(b) unduly limit freedom of speech by preventing public bodies from stating that they would or even might make a procurement or investment decision in contravention of clause 1 had it been lawful to do so.

That is unbelievable. It is rather ironic that the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, and I seem to constantly face draft Bills from this Government that have a Clause 4 that we seek to oppose. I never thought that would happen to me, but there we go. As the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said, the committee made a powerful case that Clause 4 should be removed from the Bill. I am sure that will be an important consideration in Committee.

The Constitution Committee also called for more precise guidance about how Clause 4(1)(b) would be applied in practice. Again, in my experience as a trade union official over many years, and certainly in the Labour movement, I have heard many times the term “speaking in a personal capacity”, and I know what it means. It means, “I don’t want to be held accountable for what I decide. I may be general secretary but, on this occasion, I want to advocate something else”. It is absolutely crazy that there is this sort of ambiguity in proposed legislation. It is dangerous stuff.

The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, asked how the requirements in Clause 4 will be balanced with the duties under Section 1 of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act. I am not going to repeat those arguments.

Those are the areas that we absolutely need to scrutinise and challenge in Committee. I hope that we have not only significant amendments but probing amendments, because there is so much in this Bill we simply do not understand. Noble Lords have constantly questioned the loose term “public bodies”. What constitutes a public body? Suddenly, the principle in the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act about the unique nature of our universities is now thrown out of the window. How many public bodies are we are talking about? The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, told me it could be tens of thousands. The Minister, in a throwaway remark, talked about schools and nursery schools, and any body that receives its full financing from the Government. It is something we need to scrutinise in detail.

The Constitution Committee expressed serious concern about the Bill’s roughshod approach, as it called it, to devolution, with no explicit consultation with the Scottish and Welsh Governments. The committee recommends—again, I hope the Minister will be able to respond to this point tonight—that the Government make a statement during the passage of the Bill on why consultation did not happen. Will she commit to keeping the House informed of any ensuing consultation, irrespective of whether we require legislative consent? The fundamental issue is what we have done in consulting and engaging with the devolved Governments. Clearly, nothing has happened. I hope the Minister will be able to address that properly today.

Despite what the Minister said in her introduction, this is clearly a threat to actions in support of persecuted people across the world. My noble friend Lord Hendy is right: when Governments inhibit human rights, the first institutions they attack and the things they undermine the most—this is certainly what we see in Russia—are civil society and workers’ rights, by banning trade unions, voices, churches and the sorts of institutions that act as a safeguard against the actions of Governments. Civil society is one of the most important parts of our democracy. It seems to me that this Bill will totally undermine that if a public body says that it does not agree with the repression in Xinjiang or with a state that bans trade unions or any of the things that we have signed up to in UN and ILO conventions. I think this is very dangerous.

The most important element, which noble Lords have spoken about, is the chilling effect of Clause 1 on public bodies, which have a duty under the Procurement Act to make ethical investment decisions and take actions that support the upholding of international law, democracy and human rights. The problem is that the Bill is both incoherent with and waters down the Procurement Act 2023. The Procurement Act sets key objectives for covered procurement, including supporting public benefit and

“acting, and being seen to act, with integrity”.

The Act also gives a mandate to commissioning authorities to award contracts based on

“the most advantageous tender submitted”.

That is a change, moving away from the priority under the previous procurement regime of the most economically advantageous tender. Why was that change made? Perhaps the Minister can explain precisely that. We heard in the debate that it was to ensure that contracting authorities gave more weight to award criteria such as decent work and wider social value. This Bill is clearly going to undermine and attack that. This is inconsistency. We should not put up with this sort of thing from a Government in such a short period of time.

I want to conclude on a very important point that has been raised by many noble Lords: in diplomatic terms, the most damaging part of the Bill is that it treats the Occupied Palestinian Territories as though they were in effect the same as the State of Israel. As we have heard—I will not repeat the arguments—this runs counter to a long-established policy of all Governments of this country and to the decisions of the United Nations when we not only supported but drafted the resolutions. It is incredible that we have done this. For the Government to be legislating to breach the UN resolution that they voted for and drafted is difficult to understand.

It is hard to understand how any Foreign Secretary has allowed such a Bill to proceed in its current form. My noble friend Lord Grocott is absolutely right. I supported the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, in his statements last week on how we give hope to the Palestinian people about a future in which we can guarantee the security of Israel with a secure Palestinian state. That is fundamental. I hope that we will get a better understanding about who is in control here. Foreign policy should be a matter for the Foreign Secretary and not for the Levelling Up Secretary.

20:20
Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all those who have contributed to today’s debate in support of the Bill, including my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and the noble Lords, Lord Stevens of Birmingham and Lord Verdirame. I hope to convince many more noble Lords to do the same during our Committee discussions. Valuable contributions have been made today from all sides of the House. I would like to address the main themes of what has been a hotly contested debate and some of the questions raised by noble Lords.

Anti-Semitism is often referred to as the world’s oldest hatred; unfortunately, it is still very much alive. Since the 7 October attacks, we have seen a surge in anti-Semitic incidents in the UK. The Community Security Trust recorded its highest-ever total of anti-Semitic incidents in 2023, and 66% of these incidents occurred after 7 October. Many British Jews are understandably scared. Some Jewish schools in London even temporarily closed their doors over security fears.

Now more than ever, the Government should be taking steps to stop behaviour that could legitimise or even drive anti-Semitism. This is what the Bill does. The BDS movement is pernicious and has no place in our public institutions. That is why the Bill has been widely supported by the Jewish community in the UK. It has been endorsed by the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The reasons for this were persuasively outlined by my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, citing some telling examples from the UN, local government, supermarkets and universities. I am very grateful to him for coming to make the case against BDS, and doing it so clearly. Boycott and divestment campaigns undermine community cohesion and can confuse the Government’s foreign policy, so it is vital that we deal with this issue as we promised in the 2019 manifesto.

We have taken care to keep the scope of the Bill narrow, so that it applies only to the procurement and investment decisions of public authorities, as defined in Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998. Legislation brought forward in other countries on this issue, such as in some states of the United States, has gone beyond this.

I have read the report on the Bill that was prepared by the Constitution Committee and referenced by the noble Lords, Lord Collins of Highbury and Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and I thank the committee for its useful contribution to this debate. I will take the opportunity to respond to some of the points that it raised, and to tackle points that have been raised during this debate.

First, concerns were raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman of Darlington and Lady Janke, and the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, and others, about Clause 4, which prohibits public authorities from making statements indicating that they intend to boycott or divest, or would if it were legal to do so. This provision is a vital addition to the Bill. Such statements can be just as divisive as boycotts that are implemented, and have been widely condemned by Jewish groups. As expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Birmingham, it is vital that the prohibition also applies to statements indicating that a public authority would boycott if it were legal to do so. This is because, in 2014, Leicester City Council passed a resolution saying it would boycott produce from Israeli settlements in so far as legal consideration allowed. Community cohesion was, of course, at the heart of the party’s manifesto commitment, and that is essential to fulfilling it.

I explained in my opening remarks that that provision will not prevent elected officials, such as local councillors, expressing their support for boycotts or divestment campaigns. The distinction has been made clear in the Bill’s Explanatory Notes, so it is not necessary to state that in the Bill. The Bill will restrict individuals from making these statements only when speaking on behalf of a public authority, which do not have human rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. The clause has been drafted narrowly and will not in any way prevent public authorities making statements on foreign policy that do not express the intent to boycott or divest.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman of Darlington, asked what would happen if an academic expressed their support for a boycott at the same time as their university breached the ban, and how that would be investigated. An academic would be considered to be speaking on behalf of the university in the context of the Bill only if they had a role in the university’s decision- making process for public investment and procurement decisions, which I hope deals with her point.

The noble Lords, Lord Hain, Lord Boateng, Lord Davies of Brixton and Lord Oates, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, among others, raised their concern that this Bill would have prohibited local authorities from boycotting South Africa in the 1980s, and mentioned their own activities at the time. However, the movement to boycott South Africa was successful because of a concerted international effort led by Governments across the world. Although public authorities played a role—

Lord Boateng Portrait Lord Boateng (Lab)
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The Prime Minister of Great Britain at the time, Margaret Thatcher, consistently opposed boycotts in every international forum and consistently opposed the role of local government, churches, trade unions and others in extolling the virtue of boycotts. She was totally opposed to boycotts. The Minister really must take care in these assertions, because what she said simply does not bear any examination at all.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I was going to say that, although public authorities and individuals played a role, it was by acting in concert with the UK Government that we were able to pressure the South African Government—

Lord Boateng Portrait Lord Boateng (Lab)
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The UK Government consistently opposed local authorities. It is simply not true to say that the GLC or any other local authority acted in concert with Margaret Thatcher’s Government. That is nonsense.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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We will move on. Obviously, I agree that the history of—

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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On that point, if can help the Minister, I represented this country at the United Nations at the time and what the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, says is totally accurate.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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We will move on. I was just going to say that it was amazing that the change happened in South Africa. I remember visiting it in the 1990s, after the change.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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I am sorry to intervene, but we cannot let that go. If that was in the Minister’s notes, they are absolutely wrong. I am afraid I think an apology is necessary.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I said what I said with due advice and knowledge. I take the points that have been made.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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I am sorry to detain the House. Not only do I endorse everything that my noble friend Boateng said, but the American Government under President Reagan also opposed boycott action. It was only the Black Caucus in Congress forcing through the loan sanctions in the late 1980s that accelerated the decline of apartheid. Virtually every Government in Europe and right across the world, including white Commonwealth countries, opposed boycott action in every respect. If the Minister’s officials are feeding her this nonsense, she should not simply repeat it.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I am grateful for the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I will certainly look into this further and perhaps we can come back to it on another occasion.

Perhaps me could move on, in the interests of time, to climate change. I would like to clarify that the Bill will ban only considerations that are country-specific. It will therefore not prevent public local authorities divesting from fossil fuels or other campaigns that are not country-specific.

The Bill will not prevent public authorities accounting for social value in their procurement decisions, the reform mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Collins— of course, we worked together on moving to most advantageous tenders; that is a change that has come about. For example, authorities might structure their procurement so as to give more weight to bids that create jobs or promote animal welfare. Moreover, the Bill contains an exception to the ban for considerations that relate to environmental misconduct, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned.

To answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, there was official-level engagement with the devolved Administrations on the Bill’s provisions before it was introduced to the other place through the common frameworks working groups process. Senior official engagement on the Bill dates back to April 2022. The Minister for this Bill in the other place, who I saw witnessing our proceedings earlier this evening, has also engaged with responsible Ministers in Scotland and Wales. We intend to engage with Ministers in Northern Ireland now that power has been restored.

The Government have never set out to legislate without consent. We formally sought consent from all the devolved legislatures. Where the legislative consent process is engaged, we always tend to legislate with the support of the devolved Administrations and the consent of the devolved Parliaments. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Birmingham, highlighted, boycotts and divestments against foreign countries or territories are a matter of foreign policy. This Bill relates to foreign affairs and international relations, which are reserved matters, but I am sure we will come back to this point in Committee.

I turn to the Bill’s enforcement powers. I start by clarifying that the Bill does not create any new criminal offences, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Janke. They are not criminal offences. Moreover, these enforcement powers are not unprecedented: the regime is based on existing enforcement regimes, such as the powers given to the Office for Students in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. Clause 7 is a necessary addition to the Bill to ensure that enforcement authorities have the necessary information to assess whether there has been a breach of the ban. It would not make sense to implement a ban with a toothless enforcement regime but, again, I am sure that we will discuss enforcement further in Committee.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman of Darlington, and the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, Lord Willetts, Lord Hannay of Chiswick and Lord Johnson of Marylebone, questioned why the ban needs to apply to universities. This ban will ensure that any public authority, including universities in scope of the Bill performing public functions, can maintain their focus on their core purpose rather than taking partisan stances that undermine community cohesion.

It is not appropriate for those institutions to have a corporate view on a matter of foreign policy in the context of their public investment and procurement functions. That risks stifling the academic freedom of individual members of staff to take positions on foreign policy. However, I note the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Johnson, Lord Willetts, Lord Shipley, and others on the ONS reclassification of universities. I will come back to noble Lords on this issue in Committee, once I have consulted other Ministers.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, regarding public investment and private investment, a lot of our universities have very substantial endowments. Will the Minister clarify that these are well outside the Bill’s remit? When they take decisions on investment and procurement from their private investment funds, they are acting privately and not publicly.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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That is my sense, but I will obviously check where we are. I would also make it clear that things such as conference centres and so on are obviously outside the remit. I will come back to the noble Lord on the exact definition, if I may, and we can perhaps discuss it in Committee in any event.

I will now address concerns that this Bill represents a change in the UK’s foreign policy. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and others, will be pleased to know that the Government have been clear throughout the Bill’s passage that nothing in this Bill changes the UK’s position on Israeli settlements. They are illegal under international law, present an obstacle to peace and threaten the viability of a two-state solution. The Government continue to urge Israel to halt settlement expansion immediately.

I reassure the House that the Government’s assessment is that the Bill distinguishes between Israel and the territories it has occupied since 1967. It is therefore compliant with UN Security Council Resolution 2334. The Government believe very strongly in the importance of complying with international obligations under the UN Charter.

Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates (LD)
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Could the Minister tell us how the Bill distinguishes this, because the clause applies to them all equally? Could she set that out?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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The instructions for the drafting were to ensure the distinction and compliance. The Bill sets these out individually and I understand that it is compliant. The Government believe very strongly in the importance of compliance.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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The Minister says it is her understanding that this applies. I think her understanding is inadequate on this issue because there is nothing in this Bill that makes a clear distinction between the Occupied Territories and Israel itself. Perhaps she could come back to the House, or write to us all, when she has clarified this and set out exactly where this distinction is made.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I would be happy to do that and to discuss these clauses in Committee, in the usual way. The Bill does not break international law and will not compel any public authority—

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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This is not just a matter of waiting for Committee; this is a matter of clearing up something very fundamental following questions that have been raised at Second Reading.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I made it clear that it is compliant. I will write a letter setting that out in the coming days.

As many noble Lords have said, there has been a rising problem of anti-Semitism since 7 October. I believe we now need this Bill all the more and that it is important to protect community cohesion.

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for his kind remarks and his helpful discussion on his concerns with the exception to the ban for considerations that a public body deems relevant to international law. This exception is necessary to ensure that public authorities are not forced to make a decision which could put the UK in breach of its obligations under international law. Public authorities cannot have their own subjective views on what constitutes a breach of international law. They must reasonably consider the decision relevant to the UK’s obligations under international law.

I now turn to China, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, raised the matter. The Procurement Act, which we worked on together, will further strengthen our approach to exclude suppliers where there is clear evidence of the involvement of forced labour or other modern slavery practices. This Bill will not prevent public bodies conducting due diligence and considering the location of suppliers when assessing modern slavery risk and will not prevent public bodies adhering to modern slavery guidelines. We will continue to keep our policy response under review. The Bill’s power to exempt a particular country or territory from its provisions will allow the scope of the Bill to evolve in line with the UK Government’s foreign policy.

Additionally, concerns have been raised around how the Bill will impact the ability of public authorities to protect against human rights abuses. It is the Government’s view that allowing for blanket exclusions of suppliers because they are based in a particular country, for an undisclosed period, is disproportionate and unfair on suppliers from those countries which operate fairly and ethically. However, I can assure Members of the House that the Bill will not prevent public authorities disregarding suppliers involved in human rights abuses on a non-country specific basis. Public bodies should not be pursuing country-specific campaigns.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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Can the Minister explain how that works? If a public authority decided that it would not trade with any supplier which banned trade unions or the right to strike, and, subsequently, a tender came in from China, could it or could it not, under the Bill, decide not to accept such a tender?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I do not entirely understand the question, but I am happy to research that and come back. The basic point is that public bodies should not be pursuing country-specific campaigns, as foreign policy is a matter for the UK Government alone—but obviously we need to understand the details in the supply chain.

Additionally, the Bill contains an exception to the ban for various considerations where the Government have assessed it appropriate for public authorities to make territorial considerations influenced by moral or political disapproval of foreign state conduct, including considerations relevant to labour market misconduct, which was a concern of the noble Lord.

Bodies that administer the Local Government Pension Scheme are captured by the definition of “public authorities” in Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, and it is therefore appropriate for that decision to be captured. For example, a UN special rapporteur wrote to the LGPS in November 2021 demanding divestment from a number of Israeli companies, and the demand cited its ability to play a “transformational role”. I think we can agree that the role of local authorities is to manage the assets to deliver benefits to members.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, asked whether the pension fund Nest and the PPF are in scope of the Bill. The only pension funds the Bill will apply to are those in the Local Government Pension Scheme, so they are not within scope.

There was a long conversation about the application of the Bill—which bodies it applies to. It will apply to public authorities, as defined in Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998. This definition has been in statute for 25 years and sets the scope for the application of fundamental legislation.

Indicative factors that were relevant to judges’ previous decisions on the issue include the body receiving a significant amount of public funding, the body carrying out acts in exercise of statutory powers and the body providing a public service. I encourage any institution that is unsure whether it is bound by Section 6 of the HRA to seek independent advice, but I have noted various questions on scope that we may come back to in Committee, because there were some useful contributions on that, including from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson.

I clarify that the Bill’s Short Title provides a general indication of its subject matter, and it is clear that it applies only to public authorities, as defined in Section 6 of the Human Rights Act.

This legislation delivers an important manifesto commitment. It will ensure that the UK has a consistent foreign policy approach and speaks with one voice internationally. I have not had time to answer every point, but I have been listening carefully. I look forward to working with noble Lords throughout the passage of the Bill to deliver this important legislation and to continue to engage on the various knotty and important issues that have been raised today. I commend the Bill to the House.

Bill read a second time.
Commitment and Order of Consideration Motion
Moved by
Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe
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That the bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House, and that it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House that they consider the bill in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 3, Schedule, Clauses 4 to 17, Title.

Motion agreed.
House adjourned at 8.44 pm.