Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

– in the House of Lords at 8:25 pm on 17 April 2024.

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Debate on Amendment 15 resumed.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

My Lords, I support all the amendments in this grouping. I think we still have to hear one of them being set out.

The climate emergency is surely the most important issue facing our planet. We should not be responsible for tying the hands of any body, such as a local authority, that might be able to use its position to oppose actions that contribute to environmental degradation. At Second Reading, the Minister, moving onto climate change, said:

“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”.—[Official Report, 20/2/24; col. 593.]

But she did not mention the question of legality, because paragraph 10(3) of the schedule makes clear that environmental misconduct means conduct that

“amounts to an offence, whether under the law of a part of the United Kingdom or any other country or territory”.

Yet many of the actions driving the climate emergency are perfectly lawful. Indeed, as Friends of the Earth points out in its briefing, the fact that destructive environmental activity is allowed to continue legally could even be the rationale for a boycott or disinvestment campaign.

So I invite the Minister to reconsider what she said at Second Reading, or, better still, amend the Bill’s schedule so as to remove the reference to an offence under the law and work with other noble Lords whose amendments are in this group to see how we can take on board the concerns that they have raised in those amendments.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I rise to support these amendments and simply emphasise that the whole issue of climate change and environmental degradation is now a very major one, which divides generations. My children care about it much more passionately than my generation does. In the United States on the hard right, there is still a very powerful climate change denial lobby pushing against the inclusion of environmental sustainability and development goals in company statements and so on. So I think it would be wise to widen this part of the schedule, not just to deal with environmental misconduct but to accept some of the language in the various amendments that we have seen. Again, this goes back to the Government. They are thinking of the long term and about long-term planning and public opinion. It would be wise to see what can be done to adjust the language to accommodate the very real concerns which have been expressed.

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench

My Lords, environmental matters are of course very serious, but the question is whether boycotts work. The speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, shows the determination on the part of some in this House to boycott Israel come what may. However, if you look at the list of the most polluting and environmentally damaged countries in the world, Israel does not feature, and the degradation in Gaza, which is true, started long before the current invasion—it goes back to when Israel quit Gaza in 2005. Now, the issue is boycotts. People are looking for ways to boycott Israel. I have not noticed any suggestion of boycotting, say, China, for its polluting activities.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour 8:30, 17 April 2024

I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I did not advocate a boycott; that was not my purpose. I was talking about the destruction of the environment in Gaza and the West Bank, and that is not disputable.

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench

The environment is bad in Gaza, but this Bill is about boycotts.

Now, no less a moral authority than Helen Suzman said that boycotts do not work. In 1987, she said:

“If there were any chance that sanctions would dismantle apartheid, I would be the first to support them. But reducing South Africa to a wasteland would lead not to a nonracial democracy but to more oppression and misery”.

A boycott, in particular a boycott of the so-called Occupied Territories, would not actually change the international scene as far as a two-state solution goes. The only people who would be hurt are the impoverished Palestinians working in the businesses in the Occupied Territories. This was proven by the SodaStream case. SodaStream closed down because it was thought unacceptable to deal with it because it worked in the Occupied Territories. Hundreds of Palestinians lost their jobs; SodaStream moved to Israel. We have to drop the illusion that a boycott of Israel, or indeed any other country, will achieve anything meaningful, let alone when it is carried out by a local authority as opposed to the Government. Environmental damage is indeed a problem, but I am not sure this Bill is the way to tackle it.

Photo of Lord Pickles Lord Pickles Conservative

My Lords, I shall speak on Amendment 15, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I take a slightly different view from what has just been said. I think the Committee owes the noble Lord, Lord Hain, some thanks; he has managed to put together what it is like in extremis—how this Bill will be dealt with when it is faced with war. Now, I cannot recall a single war in the history of our planet that did not harm the environment.

I suppose that when we put this thing together, on the facts that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, gave, we are probably going to have to think about how much of the damage was caused by the Gazans. How much of a discount should there be for the amount of damage the Gazans caused? In particular, one of Hamas’s first acts after murdering children was to cut off the electricity and the water supply, and it continued to ensure that anybody that came to try to put back the electricity or restore the water supply faced violence. The pipes that would have been used to improve sanitation and have the flow of clean water were stolen and used to fire rockets into Israel. Some 25% of those rockets fell short, killing Gazans, leaving ordnance around Gaza, particularly in the north.

All the concrete that was there to build roads, hotels and social facilities was stolen by Hamas to build the tunnels. The tunnels in themselves were a great environmental risk, because they were not built to building regulations. They were quite close to the surface; they were beneath and beside houses; they affected the foundations, which meant that any disturbance, whether it be earthquakes or the dropping of bombs, made those houses so much more unsafe and susceptible to collapse.

There is the use of flying incendiary bombs, released by supporters of Hamas across into Israel, designed to burn crops. Burning crops causes all kinds of problems. It seems illogical that Hamas should have done that, but it did it in order to make life difficult for Gazans. That is why it is sitting on so much of the food supply; that is why there are lorries waiting to deliver aid into Gaza, but Hamas will not allow it.

I take exception to the quote relating to the Red Cross; if the Red Cross can go in to make that kind of assessment, it should be able to see the hostages. The Red Cross has made no attempt to meet with the hostages.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

What has this got to do with the boycotts Bill?

Photo of Lord Pickles Lord Pickles Conservative

All I was doing was speaking to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, about which he was immensely eloquent. He mentioned all the things I am mentioning now. The noble Baroness should perhaps pay a little more attention when the noble Lord, Lord Hain, speaks.

Photo of Lord Pickles Lord Pickles Conservative

I apologise for being rude. I was merely trying to give the noble Baroness some advice on when it is sensible to interrupt and when it is best to keep your peace.

Finally, it seems sensible that not every public body will have somebody with the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on it to give this kind of advice. It seems very sensible that—

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Crossbench

Risking my life slightly, I wish to intervene. The noble Lord has made a lot of statements about the damage done either within the regimes run by the Gazan authorities—Hamas—or as a result of war. I have been to Gaza and the West Bank quite a few times, sometimes when there has been a reasonable peace and the people have been able to get on with their lives. During those periods, the pollution of water and of the sea and the problems of sewage were monumental. This is not something to do with the war, the wars, or the tumult from invasions; it is actually that the status quo in Gaza is appalling. It was not just me who said this. I seem to remember that a former Prime Minister, who is now the Foreign Secretary, described Gaza as an “open-air prison”. Does the noble Lord accept that there are some seriously long-entrenched problems of—

Photo of Lord Evans of Rainow Lord Evans of Rainow Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, interventions should be brief and to the point. Can the noble Lord please get to the point?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Crossbench

They are relatively brief, considering how long the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, has been speaking, and some of the claims he has made.

Photo of Lord Evans of Rainow Lord Evans of Rainow Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord knows full well that this is an intervention, so can he please get to the point and his question of clarification?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Crossbench

If the noble Lord had not jumped up I would have got to my question; it needed some context. Does the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, accept that there are some long-standing problems, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Hain, mentioned, with the state of the environment in Gaza?

Photo of Lord Pickles Lord Pickles Conservative

I am most grateful; I was actually just about to finish, but I will take into consideration what was said. I too have visited Gaza in happier times; some of the happy times I spent in the region were in Gaza by the Mediterranean Sea. The noble Lord is right: there have been some long-standing environmental problems in Gaza, which have been caused largely by Hamas. Let me give the noble Lord just one example. Hamas refused to co-operate with Israel on a desalination plant. Hamas could have had a desalination plant, which would have provided lots of fresh water, but it did not want it because it does not want to see ordinary Gazan citizens enjoy their life. Hamas wants them to be continuously in a state of disruption.

The final point I was making was that not every public body would have the benefit of the guidance of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, nor would it necessarily have someone else to offer a balance to what he said, so I think that decisions regarding Israel are better taken by the Government.

Photo of Lord Evans of Rainow Lord Evans of Rainow Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I remind the Committee that interventions should be brief and about clarification on a technical point.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Independent Labour

My Lords, can I ask the Minister whether it is the intention of this Bill to stop disinvestment in oil and gas companies associated with a particular country or territory?

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Conservative

My Lords, I will do something very controversial and invite the Committee to look at the terms of the amendment, coupled with the terms of the Bill. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, in introducing the amendment, rather oddly for an environmental-based amendment, seemed not to see the wood for the trees, but it paid very little attention to the actual terms of the Bill, so perhaps we could do that; I know this is controversial.

Let us start with the amendment, which seeks to prevent a future Secretary of State amending the Schedule, by way of regulations, to remove environmental misconduct. The predicate for that amendment must be that, as drafted, the Secretary of State does have the power, by way of regulation, to remove environmental misconduct from the Schedule, so let us look at Clause 3(2) to see what this Secretary of State can actually do. By way of regulation, under Clause 3(2)(a), he or she can

“add a description of decision to Part 1”.

That is not relevant because we are not dealing with Part 1 and we are not dealing with decisions. He or she can

“add a description of consideration to Part 2”.

That is also irrelevant because we are not dealing with adding anything; we are dealing with taking away, are we not? So let us look at Clause 3(2)(c): he or she could add

“or remove a description of decision or consideration”, but only

“added under previous regulations under this subsection”.

What that means is that if Secretary of State A adds a new consideration—let us call it the Wolfson consideration —Secretary of State B can later remove the Wolfson consideration, but the Secretary of State cannot remove what is already there because that has not been added by way of a previous regulation.

Therefore, this amendment is wholly unnecessary, as was the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I do not know whether the noble Lord knows the point I have made but it is correct. I hope he will now withdraw the amendment and not bring it back, and certainly, if I may say with respect, not use a very technical amendment to this Bill to make points that are both factually and materially erroneous.

For present purposes, I stand by the legal point I have made as to the construction of the Bill. This amendment is wholly unnecessary because the predicate to it—that the Secretary of State could remove environmental regulation—is entirely misplaced.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 8:45, 17 April 2024

Let me start by making it clear, if it is necessary, that the Opposition do not support BDS—we made that clear at Second Reading—so my contribution tonight on this group of amendments is about the environment and the exceptions to it. Of course, currently the Bill does not prevent a decision-maker taking environmental misconduct into account. Environmental misconduct is defined as

“conduct that … amounts to an offence” that causes

“significant harm to the environment”.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said in introducing her amendment, this is quite a narrow exemption. It relies on UK decision-makers being able to be confident as to whether an environmental practice constitutes an offence in the UK or another country. There is no mention of climate change or the need to invest and to make procurement decisions proactively to protect the environment. Unfortunately, my noble friend Lord Dubs, who I know was very keen to address this point, cannot be with us.

Amendment 32C would provide that the Bill does not prevent a decision-maker taking into account the climate crisis and the need to achieve the Paris agreement goal or other climate change goals when making decisions. The Paris agreement goal is to hold the increase in the average global temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which is a critical threshold. The amendment mirrors the language that is already in statute in the Pensions Schemes Act 2021. The Government included climate change provisions in that Act to require, as the Minister said at the time,

“occupational pension scheme trustees and managers to secure effective governance on the effect of climate change on the scheme

During the debates on those matters, Members of this House spoke of the need for pension schemes not only to consider the financial risks of climate change but to play an active part in combating climate change and achieving the shared international goals, so it is a proactive approach.

One of the fundamental problems we have constantly been addressing in this Bill is whether people will be too cautious: will the Bill have a chilling effect on investment and procurement decisions that we proactively want people to take? We have, on the one hand, legislation that requires pension scheme managers to consider the financial implications of climate change and the transition to a low carbon economy; on the other hand, we have this Bill, which makes no mention of climate change and which, through overly broad drafting, risks limiting what public bodies and local government pension schemes are able to take into account when making decisions.

Sadly, the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, is not in his place. What we have to be clear about is the unintended consequences of this legislation. We have to be careful about where it could lead, because future Governments may not be so proactive in supporting efforts on climate change. We have to be careful because this legislation, which empowers the Secretary of State, could be incredibly dangerous.

The Local Government Association has raised questions about how this Bill sits with local government’s existing procurement practices and its ability to take environmental, social and governance issues into account. I hope the Minister will agree that combating climate change, including considering a country’s environmental policies, conduct and record, should be a crucial part of decision-making on public procurement.

In her introduction, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, also raised the key issue of the ability of public bodies to be free to avoid investment in fossil fuels. That is a critical area, as extraction of coal and other fossil fuels is often part of government strategy and often controlled by Governments. Could this Bill be interpreted in a way that will stop those sorts of proactive, positive investments that the Government, the Opposition and most people in this country think are right? That is the problem I hope the Minister will be able to address. Fossil fuels are a controversial issue that people have taken very polarised views about; we need to be clear about the consequences of this legislation.

I did not see this group of amendments as being about BDS, but about how we support positive policies on the environment and how the Government intend to ensure that this legislation does not have a chilling effect on the very things they seek public authorities and public bodies to do. I hope the noble Lord will be able to address these specific points.

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative

My Lords, may I make a brief intervention? I did not realise that Back Benchers were not continuing to debate, so please forgive me. I have a brief point on this group of amendments and, in particular, the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on his Amendment 15. I have enormous respect and admiration for the noble Lord, but I suggest that this debate, in a way, encapsulates why it is important to consider the Bill very carefully. It also suggests the one- sided and sometimes very difficult debate that surrounds Israel and the BDS question.

For example, the noble Lord described the environmental damage involved in taking away olive trees from Palestinian land as some kind of environmental crime, but historically one of the big criticisms of Israel has been that it uses forestation projects to push Palestinians off their land, so the environmental issue can be argued in different ways for different purposes. Israel has planted over 200 million trees since it was founded, so it does take care of the environment.

On some of the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, was using, one might suggest that one wants to boycott Israel or protect the environment in the opposite way from that which is often argued, and the double standards that have been applied to this debate. I urge my noble friend the Minister carefully to consider the unintended consequences of well-meaning environmental protection. I am, of course, very keen to protect the environment and support the comments made so excellently by my noble friend about the detail of Amendment 15. I thank noble Lords for their indulgence in allowing me to make these points.

Photo of Lord Roborough Lord Roborough Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, before I address this group of amendments, I reassure noble Lords that the intention of the Bill is not to interfere with the ability of public authorities to campaign on environmental issues. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the Bill is well defined on this issue. It already makes an exception for environmental misconduct, including where this has been facilitated by a foreign state or as a result of the laws or policy of a state failing to prevent it.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, environmental misconduct includes conduct that caused, or had the potential to cause, significant harm to the environment and amounts to an offence under the law of the United Kingdom or any other country or territory. This is in line with the exception in the Procurement Act 2023. The Bill therefore already exempts considerations related to a range of environmental offences.

I begin by addressing Amendment 15, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. This amendment seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State cannot remove environmental misconduct as an exception to the Schedule by regulations. In response to the first of the noble Lord’s points, the Bill does not stop campaigns on general environmental issues such as fossil fuels or biodiversity. This includes where they lead incidentally to not procuring from or investing in a number of countries. I hope that this also answers the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins.

Environmental campaigns will be captured by the Bill only if they single out a country in a way that is influenced by disapproval of foreign state conduct. General campaigns that do not single out a specific country or territory would not be captured. However, the Bill must not leave a loophole for public authorities to take a general position on an issue mainly with the intention to target a particular state. For example, a public authority might shape a general position on an issue with the intention that it results in a boycott of Israel. The Bill should rightly stop that. If a case is flagged to enforcement authorities, they will assess the evidence of whether a public authority’s procurement or investment decision was based on a non-country-specific campaign with the intention of targeting a particular state. Enforcement authorities will have the power to ask for a range of information before making a decision.

To repeat some of the comments made by my noble friend the Minister in the previous group, I reassure noble Lords that the power in Clause 3 cannot be used to remove any exception to the ban in the Bill as passed by Parliament. This includes the exception to the ban for environmental misconduct in the Schedule. To go further, in answer to the final question of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, the limitation in Clause 3(7), which refers to

“Israel … the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or … the Occupied Golan Heights”, does not mean that the exceptions in the Schedule cannot be used in relation to suppliers and companies with connections to Israel or the Occupied Territories. All that limitation does is restrict the power of the Secretary of State to use regulations to add further exceptions to the Bill if those regulations would have the result of removing Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the occupied Golan Heights from the scope of the Bill. I am also grateful for my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar’s comments on this, which were helpful in explaining our position.

Amendments 32A and 32B, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, would broaden the range of considerations relating to the environment that are exempted from the ban. The Bill already allows public authorities to make territorial considerations that are influenced by moral or political disapproval of foreign state conduct when assessing complicity in conduct that causes, or has the potential to cause, significant harm to the environment. Lowering this threshold would allow public authorities too broad a discretion to engage in the behaviour this ban aims to prohibit. These amendments would allow public authorities to boycott countries that have reduced the level of environmental protection in a country. Governments across the world frequently adjust their environmental targets. It would not be proportionate to allow an entire country to be boycotted for this reason.

An example of where the exception as drafted in the Bill may be relevant is if a prospective supplier has, or may have, engaged in environmental misconduct due to inadequate environmental protection laws in a state. The existing exception has been drafted to accord with offences under UK law, including under the Environment Act 2021. In answer to the noble Baroness’s question, I reiterate that the Bill does not apply to campaigns that do not target countries or territories specifically, including campaigns against fossil fuels or for other environmental causes. The Bill will in no way prevent public authorities setting their own environmental standards as part of their procurement or investment strategies. The Bill defines “environmental misconduct” as conduct that is an offence

“under the law of … the United Kingdom or any other country or territory, and … caused, or had the potential to cause, significant harm to the environment, including the life and health of plants and animals”.

The Bill will not prevent public authorities divesting from fossil fuels on a non-country specific basis. This exception to the ban is in line with the approach taken in the Procurement Act 2023, which was agreed by the House in the previous Session. Wherever possible, we have aligned this Bill with the Procurement Act. This means that public authorities subject both to this Bill and the Procurement Act do not have to deal with two incoherent regulatory regimes. I believe that this dramatically reduces the risk of a chilling effect.

I also reassure the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who tabled Amendment 32C, about the ban applying only to country-specific campaigns. This also means that nothing in the Bill will prevent public authorities considering the Government’s climate change targets under the Paris Agreement or setting their own environmental targets. The Bill will not prevent public authorities having regard to any environmental treaties or environmental law.

The Government have kept the powers given to the Secretary of State in the Bill narrow. Accordingly, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee had no comments on the Bill’s powers.

I hope that I have been able to reassure the Committee on this matter and I trust that this response addresses the concerns of the Committee. I am also grateful for the many well-informed and passionate contributions. I respectfully ask that the noble Lord withdraws his amendment.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 9:00, 17 April 2024

The Minister mentioned the Environment Act. During the passage of that Act, the limitations of due diligence measures to only significant targeted illegal deforestation were made clear because, for example, a significant proportion of deforestation due to soy in Brazil or palm oil in Indonesia could take place legally. It would be extremely difficult to distinguish between legal and illegal activity. I do not think the Minister is correct in saying that there would not be a chilling effect. Certainly, the evidence is backed up by a lot of pension experts who have presented evidence to Members of this Committee in their briefings that that is exactly what will happen: public bodies will not be pushing their ESG duties. I hope that he will understand why I have specifically raised that point.

Photo of Lord Roborough Lord Roborough Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I am grateful to the noble Lord for the intervention. I should declare an interest, as set out in the register, in various investments in companies around the world, including in Brazil and Indonesia. I am familiar with the points he raised. I think I answered as well as I can with reference to the Procurement Act and consistency with that, but I would like to write to the noble Lord, if that is helpful, to clarify further.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

My Lords, in responding to the debate I invite everybody who heard what I said, and those who did not hear what I said, to read it in Hansard tomorrow. Did anybody hear me advocate the BDS cause? Did anybody hear me advocate a boycott of the State of Israel? I did not and I never have in any speech in this House or elsewhere. If there is criticism to be made of what I said, I invite noble Lords and Baronesses to focus on what I said rather than what they think I might have said, or what others have said. I think that is fair, frankly, in terms of debate in this House.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech—many in this House have considerable respect for the role that she plays—that I think she spoiled her argument by bringing in the South African comparison. She quoted Helen Suzman, who played a valiant role in the anti-apartheid struggle—a lone white role in many respects. At the time the noble Baroness quoted her, it was illegal to advocate a boycott or any kind of sanctions against the apartheid state. Indeed, she opposed boycott campaigns against all-white sports tours I organised, but if she had supported them and advocated sanctions, she could have been imprisoned under apartheid law. I would prefer to quote Nelson Mandela, who said that sanctions were very effective in bringing apartheid to its knees, along with other factors, so the noble Baroness spoiled her argument by quoting that.

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench

I will be brief because the night is late, and I am provincial and have to get a train. I have done a lot of research into what allegedly changed South Africa, and the majority of the writings were that it was not sanctions. What changed life there was having two leaders of moral stature who were prepared to talk to each other, which we do not have in the Middle East. As far as the noble Lord’s advocacy of boycott goes, I cannot recall when—I think it was way back in March when we started to talk about this Bill—but the noble Lord himself raised the issue of South Africa, and how things had changed there because of a boycott. The inevitable conclusion to be drawn, though I resist the parallel, is that something like that would work in the case of Israel. I do not think it would, as they are not at all similar, but the night is late, and this Bill is not supposed to be about it.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

I agree that they are not that similar, and I have never suggested that they are. The reason I brought in the South Africa comparison, and majored on it, is that legal opinion says that this Bill would have made the anti-apartheid campaigns of the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s illegal. That is why I brought the argument into play. It is not to advocate a boycott, disinvestment or sanctions policy against Israel, which I have never done in this House or elsewhere. If noble Lords are going to disagree with me, as they are entitled to do, then they should make the case on the arguments as they stand.

Since the noble Baroness has intervened again on this, I am sure she has read widely on it, and I am not going to disagree with that, but Nelson Mandela did not agree with her. He said that sanctions were critical. They were not the only thing, and I did not say that they were. The internal contradictions of the system, the fact that the economy was almost on the point of collapse by the time that President de Klerk released Nelson Mandela, that the country was on the brink of civil war and facing the abyss in that respect, was why the people who had imprisoned him for 27 years and oppressed his people were forced to negotiate with him, both for his freedom and for that of his people. It was an accumulation of factors, but sanctions were certainly very effective. The noble Baroness spoils her case about Israel by seeking to deny that.

The noble Lord, Lord Pickles, made a strong point that there are others culpable for the environmental destruction, and I have never denied that. He made some important points about the culpability of Hamas as well.

Photo of Lord Pickles Lord Pickles Conservative

Forgive me for interrupting, but I have just realised that when I made my speech, I did not declare my interests. I would like to do so now, particularly those relating to friendship for Israel.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

I am happy to be interrupted on that point.

My point to the noble Lord, and to the whole House, is that this Bill is technically flawed. I refer to the explanatory statement that I put on the face of my amendment:

“This amendment seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State cannot remove environmental misconduct as an exception in the Schedule by regulations”— in other words, by executive decision. This should not be possible, and it should remain in primary legislation. That was the purpose of my amendment.

That brings me on to what the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, argued. He—and I commend him for this—technically disputed the basis for my amendment, which he is entitled to do. I disagree with his interpretation, and I do ask the noble Lord to reflect on this: what was factually erroneous about what I said in terms of the case I put on environmental destruction in Gaza and the West Bank?

The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, for whom I have a great deal of respect and count as a friend, pointed out that Israel has planted a considerable number of trees, for which I commend Israel. My point is that there is terrible environmental destruction in Gaza and the West Bank now. Nobody can dispute that, and it has been going on for a long time, including the destruction and poisoning of the water supply for many Palestinian residents there.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Conservative

My Lords, I did not introduce a technical problem with his amendment. I sought to explain to the Committee, and to him, that the basis of his amendment—that is, that the Secretary of State could by regulation remove this exemption—was entirely flawed. Having mentioned this in passing as a technical response, he has now gone back to his favourite subject of attacking Israel. Is he going to provide a response to the fundamental problem that I raised with his amendment?

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

I have already done that. On what he calls my favourite hobby of attacking Israel, as it happens, as I said in the foreign affairs debate, the whole strategy for resolving this terrible dispute is fundamentally flawed. The lessons should be learned from the Northern Ireland experience. Hamas will not be defeated militarily, however much I would like it to be. I made it clear that I am a friend of Israelis as well as Palestinians, but we are not revisiting all of that. On the criticisms, apart from the noble Lord’s criticism of the case that I have made, I invite people to engage on the substance, rather than bringing in arguments that I have never made in order to adopt a kind of diversionary tactic on this.

To conclude, the Bill is flawed and the Minister, speaking for the Government, should look again at this matter. If there is an issue with the wording of my amendment, then we can discuss that. Unless that is done, people will interpret the Government’s stance as showing that environmental protection is not being given the priority under the Bill that it should. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 15 withdrawn.