Amendment 19

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 7 May 2024.

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Lord Collins of Highbury:

Moved by Lord Collins of Highbury

19: Clause 3, page 2, line 40, at end insert—“(4A) Section 1 does not apply to a decision which has been made in accordance with a Statement of Policy Relating to Human Rights.(4B) A “Statement of Policy Relating to Human Rights”—(a) is a public authority’s policy criteria relating to disinvestment in cases concerning contravention of human rights, and(b) must be applied consistently by the public authority to all foreign countries.(4C) Within 60 days of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish, and lay before Parliament, guidance on the form, content and application of a Statement for the purposes of this section.(4D) Public authorities must have regard to the guidance referenced in subsection (4C) when devising a Statement for the purposes of this section.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would exempt public bodies from the prohibition in section 1 where the decision has been made in accordance with a Statement of Policy Relating to Human Rights. A Statement may not single out individual nations—the policy would have to be applied consistently, and in accordance with guidance published by the Secretary of State.

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

My Lords, in moving this amendment and speaking to Amendment 48, I stress that we are very happy to sit down with the noble Baroness and her departmental colleagues to see whether there is a way forward to address the fundamental principle of not outlawing BDS but ensuring that decisions are not simply made to single out one particular nation—and that is of course Israel.

There is a way forward. In our view, it is not wrong for public bodies to take ethical investment decisions—we had a lengthy discussion about this in the earlier group —but those decisions must be consistent. We have heard many legitimate criticisms of foreign Governments and many Ministers have expressed concerns. They may not have clear policy, but they have expressed concerns.

In these amendments, which will hopefully have the support of the Government, we are trying to stop people who seek to target Israel alone, hold it to different standards from other countries, question its right to exist and equate the actions of the Israeli Government to Jewish people, in doing so creating hate and hostility against Jewish people in the United Kingdom. We have seen a lot of evidence of that in recent times and it is completely wrong.

What our amendment seeks to do is to address this problem in a coherent policy way. It would allow public bodies to produce a document setting out their policy on procurement and human rights. The policy would be cemented in a framework based on principles that apply equally to all countries, rather than singling out an individual nation. Such a statement of ethical policy would ensure consistency in how public bodies decide on these matters and would be subject to the guidance issued by the elected Members and laid before this House. This is the correct way to approach this question. Any inconsistent application would be prohibited. Under Labour’s proposals, if a public body were to act against a particular state—for instance, the world’s only Jewish state—and failed to apply a consistent approach to human rights everywhere, such actions would be unlawful.

So we are trying to address, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said, a very specific concern that we all share. We share the same objectives and we are very disappointed that, in the Commons, the Government chose not to support our amendments on this question, but I repeat our offer to the Government—indeed, to the whole House—to work together, to speak with one voice on the most serious issues, and we hope that we can move forward on the basis of this amendment.

Far from singling out Israel, the Bill applies as much to China, to Myanmar, as we heard on the previous group, and to North Korea as it does to Israel. For example, on the issues we have discussed in terms of procurement, it could have significant effects on the ability of communities to support the Uighur minority in China, who are victims of grave human rights abuses—concentration camps and slave labour. The amendment seeks genuine consensus across the Committee to make sure that we do not have bad, inconsistent legislation. It is important that people should be able to raise concerns appropriately and in the best way, that is why an overall policy, and consistency in terms of policy, should drive their actions, not simply singling out a country. The Bill does not allow that.

Even the Foreign Secretary’s office warned No. 10 about the impact of the Bill on our foreign commitments, and I raised that in the previous group, particularly in relation to the Occupied Territories and the impact on our policy of a two-state solution. We want to work constructively with the Government and I hope that the Minister will listen to our concerns. I think this is a way forward, I hope it can garner support across the Committee and I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Crossbench 4:45, 7 May 2024

My Lords, I support Amendment 19, to which I have added my name, and I will speak to Amendment 48 in my name. Amendment 48 is focused on a simple question: does the statement of compatibility by the Minister on the face of the Bill comply with the terms of Clause 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998, or would the Minister have been wiser to make a statement under the terms of Clause 19(1)(b) of that Act?

Just to remind the Committee, the Minister states on the face of the Bill that its provisions

“are compatible with the Convention rights”.

It is, of course, possible for Parliament to pass legislation that is not compliant with convention provisions. That is indeed provided for in Section 19(1)(b) of the 1998 Act. But if we adopt that course, we have to fess up to the fact that although Ministers are

“unable to make a statement of compatibility the government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill”.

I recognise that some members of the Conservative Party would find it a badge of honour to flourish a statement of non-compatibility with the Human Rights Act, but I would not have placed the Minister in that group, so I am curious to find out what is going on.

First, however, I must own up to my personal involvement with and attachment to Section 19 provisions in the 1998 Act, when I was a senior policy adviser to the then Home Secretary. At that time, there was a robust debate about whether, despite the sovereignty of Parliament, legislation could be stopped if it breached ECHR provisions. Quite naturally, parliamentary sovereignty inevitably triumphed, but there was concern in the Labour Government at the time that they wanted proper consideration to be given to the ECHR when Bills came to Parliament. With my good friend the late and much-missed Lord Gareth Williams, a distinguished lawyer, Home Office Minister and later Leader of this House, we came up with the idea of a ministerial statement of ECHR compliance on the face of the Bill. That led to the drafting of what became Section 19 of the 1998 Act. This provision was intended to make Ministers stop and think carefully about human rights convention compliance before they introduced a Bill to Parliament.

It is quite difficult to see that this has happened with this Bill. Clause 4 as drafted is a straightforward gagging provision. It stops people openly discussing a full range of possible actions they might take to express their disapproval of an Israeli Government’s continued breaching of international law in Gaza and the Occupied Territories. This places the Bill in breach of Article 10 of the convention—the right to freedom of expression—and therefore in breach of Section 6 of the 1998 Act.

That is not just my view—it is the clear view of Liberty, Amnesty International and many others, including many parliamentarians. People cannot see how Clause 4 can be squared with Article 10 of the ECHR. Liberty has also argued that the Bill constitutes an interference with the rights of freedom of conscience under Article 9 of the ECHR, a view that I think is shared by Quakers, given their beliefs.

In these circumstances, I am at a loss to see how the Minister can make the statement on the face of the Bill that it is compliant with Section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act. When I consulted the clerk about framing an amendment to delete the statement on the face of the Bill, I was told I could not do that. However, they helpfully suggested that I could insert a provision that after the passage of the Bill, there should be a review of its compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998 within a given period. That is exactly what Amendment 48 would do, with particular attention paid to compliance with Article 10 of the ECHR, the right to freedom of expression. If that review found that the Act was not compliant, the Government of the day would then have to decide whether they would go forward and implement the Act, in contravention of the 1998 Act.

I return to the question I posed at the beginning of my remarks. If the Minister still believes that she has placed the correct statement of compliance on the face of the Bill, I respectfully ask her to share with the House the source of the legal advice that convinced her it was the right thing to do.

I turn briefly to Amendment 19, to which I have added my name and strongly support. I will not repeat the persuasive arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Collins. This amendment is an important step towards making the Bill more compliant with the Human Rights Act 1998, but I fear that the Minister’s statement on the Bill’s compliance will not pass muster.

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative

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

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

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

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

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

I was privileged to serve in the Labour Government of Tony Blair, and I spent two years in the Foreign Office under Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. He undertook to publish an annual report on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s work to promote human rights overseas as part of the then Government’s commitment to put human rights right at the heart of our foreign policy. Indeed, I was the Minister directly responsible for promoting that human rights policy, among other responsibilities. The publication of an annual human rights and democracy report has rightly continued under this Government. It includes a list of human rights priority countries that have been identified as having particular human rights or democracy challenges.

This is the Government’s own list. There are 32 countries, and I referred to them all in my Amendment 49, which I now intend not to move. I want to read that list out as most of these countries are not included in the Bill: Afghanistan; Bangladesh; Belarus, which is included in the Bill; Central African Republic; China; Colombia; Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; Democratic Republic of Congo; Egypt; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Haiti; Iran, which has been repressing its women citizens, particularly younger women, terribly; Iraq; Libya; Mali; Myanmar/Burma; Nicaragua; and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Occupied Palestinian Territories are in the Government’s own list of 32; they are excluded under the terms of this Bill. The list also includes Pakistan, Russia—Russia is included, and I will come back to that, along with Belarus—Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

There are significant human rights concerns about all 32 countries. Noble Lords do not need to rely on my saying that: it is the Government’s own list. Why, apart from Russia and Belarus, are they not included in the Bill? These 32 countries include China, where we have seen the gravest human rights violations committed against the Uighur Muslims, in Xinjiang: terrible human rights violations amounting to genocide, in the view of many people. How will the Government be able to assess the impact the Bill will have on the FCDO’s commitment, made by the then Foreign Secretary —a Conservative Foreign Secretary—in January 2021? That commitment was to

“work with the Cabinet Office to provide guidance and support to UK Government bodies to exclude suppliers where there is sufficient evidence of human rights violations in any of their supply chains”.

This Bill seems to contradict the government policy I have just quoted. The FCDO list also includes Saudi Arabia, as I mentioned, which operates the kafala system of bonded labour. It is also where the UK Government announced last year that they are encouraging partnerships between Saudi and UK universities and collaboration on the transformation of the Saudi health system.

I urge the Government to address the significant concerns that your Lordships’ House has heard, including from my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury, that the Bill would undermine the ability of public bodies to consider legitimate concerns about human rights and workers’ rights that could represent legal, reputational and financial risks in their investment and procurement decisions. We need a lot more transparency than this Bill is offering in its very partial, very one-sided approach to human rights globally and to the trade and diplomatic relations with the 32 countries the Government have identified as having human rights and democracy concerns. I read out their official list and it is not mine, although I happen to agree with the whole list.

When in 2013 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office first published the national action plan on business and human rights, setting out how it would implement the UN guiding principles—this was the Conservative Government—it committed to

“ensuring that in UK Government procurement human rights related matters are reflected appropriately when purchasing goods, works and services”.

In its updated plan, published in 2016, it committed to:

“Continue to ensure that UK Government procurement rules allow for human rights-related matters to be reflected in the procurement of public goods, works and services”.

Where does the Bill fit into that long-standing commitment? Where does it leave the long-standing human rights commitment that this Government have endorsed, following on from our last Labour Government? Where does it leave those policies in relation to human rights concerns?

As I mentioned, and as everybody knows, Russia and Belarus are referred to in the Bill, virtually as exceptions, against which public authorities presumably can impose boycotts and disinvestment decisions with government blessing. What about China, in respect of the treatment of Uighur Muslims? What about Myanmar, in respect of its terrible treatment of its Rohingya Muslims? Why are they not mentioned in the Bill?

The Minister might say, “Russia and its client state Belarus have invaded Ukraine; that’s why they are referred to in this Bill”. I support the Government’s policy on Ukraine, as does the Labour Party, but what I said in my speech in the foreign affairs debate—the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, replied and did not allow me to correct his misrepresentation of what I said—and I repeat now, is that many people in global South countries, although I do not agree, see our position on Israeli policy in Gaza as completely hypocritical compared with our position on Ukraine. Like it or not, they do. It is creating a serious geopolitical divide, and as a British Government, regardless of who happens to be in charge of that Government, we will find it difficult in the future to repair that bridge.

Half of African countries have not supported our position on Ukraine, and many feel—as I learned at first hand, spending Christmas and New Year in South Africa—that we are being totally hypocritical on Gaza. I think the two are different because it was the pernicious pogrom on 7 October that provoked the Israeli response, which has got completely out of hand. It was very different from the unilateral decision by Putin to invade Ukraine. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental contradiction in the Bill regarding certain countries, notably Russia and Belarus.

I will leave aside for the moment the question of the Occupied Territories and the settlements, which are illegal under international law, as this Government have recognised. The Bill is not consistent on human rights matters. It is a shoddy, shabby, shameless Bill and, as I explained at Second Reading, it would have rendered the Anti-Apartheid Movement stillborn. All the public bodies that rallied to its boycott campaign and its support of Nelson Mandela’s freedom would have been prevented from doing so under the Bill. That is why I think it is so reprehensible.

I hope the Government will accept my noble friend’s Amendment 19, because it would at least begin to repair some of the damage.

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench 5:00, 7 May 2024

My Lords, the analogies in discussion around the Bill are being pushed too far. The Bill is about procurement and investment. When student unions sit in, they are not doing procurement and investment. It is only when student unions start spending their money in contravention of charity law—to which they are subject—that they may be beginning to breach the law.

The Bill is not about curbing freedom of speech—far from it. As far as the South Africa analogy goes, the point of those sanctions was to bring an end to that particular regime. The point about the BDS movement and sanctioning Israel is not just to change the regime; it is calling for the eventual end of the state—as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, knows, because in the past he has called, in print, for the dismantling of Israel.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

I have not called for the dismantling of the State of Israel. I was a Middle East Minister for the Government and conducted diplomacy with the Israeli Prime Minister in 2000, trying to repair the damage from the collapse of Camp David. I support the right of Israel to exist, as I support the right of the Palestinians to have their own state. Please do not misrepresent me.

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench

I am glad that the noble Lord has changed his mind—

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench

I have it in print, from many years ago, but I am glad that it is no longer the case. I can share it with the noble Lord. The analogy should not be pushed that far.

I also note that a group called Muslim Vote, which has put 18 demands to Sir Keir Starmer, has as the 17th demand the throwing out of the Bill, which I think shows what the group understands the point of the Bill to be: simply that it might stand in the way of whatever its aims are in relation to Gaza.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, part of the concern about the Bill is not its narrow scope but that it is extremely broad in its scope. Indeed, it would have a chill effect on decisions made across the country by decision-makers, fully consistent with their human rights obligations. I therefore support the thrust of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Collins.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, suggests that it is not possible to define human rights. I think her Front Bench and previous Front Benches, going back a very long time, will disagree with her; the FCDO publishes annual human rights reports. Her disagreement is not necessarily with the Bill but with the Government.

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative

I merely said that it was not defined in Amendment 19.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

It does not need to be defined in Amendment 19 because it would adopt the normal practice of human rights, as defined in the definitions at the front of the Government’s annual report on human rights—which I am sure the noble Baroness reads on an annual basis, as I do.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, indicated, those human rights reports refer to a separate category of countries, the priority countries, and he named them: the A to Z is Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. The thrust of the Bill seems to suggest that, unless the Government, through legislation, put sanctions to limit trade with certain countries, any decision-makers would not be able to make any decisions about investing in that country. That is contrary to current practice with countries from A to Z on the priority list.

For example, other than the sanctions that exist against certain elements of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the Bill would prohibit a decision-maker in the United Kingdom deciding not to invest in a Taliban state-owned enterprise. That is extraordinary. Under this legislation, a decision-maker would be prohibited from making a decision about investing in a mining or a gold company in Zimbabwe, which has had many concerns over human trafficking and other human rights concerns. That is also extraordinary, because unless the Government have put in trade sanctions, the Bill will prohibit any other decision-making.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

I very much support what the noble Lord said about Zimbabwe. He will know that there was a lot of corruption in the Marange diamond mines, with Government Ministers taking a rake-off from those diamonds. We should be boycotting diamonds from conflict zones such as that, or where corruption is involved—there are many other examples in Africa. I very much support the noble Lord’s point. The Bill would stop public authorities doing that.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am grateful to the noble Lord. Not only do I agree with him but it goes beyond that. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify the point for me. Where bribery or labour-related misconduct are concerned, unless the Schedule relates to those, and there are general human rights concerns stated in the priority countries list, a decision-maker who uses the priority list—or, indeed, those issues that have been campaigned on, such as blood diamonds as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and my noble friend Lord Oates—would be in breach of law. That cannot be right, so I would be grateful if the Minister could put my mind at rest.

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Crossbench 5:15, 7 May 2024

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord; I am trying to be helpful. It seems to me that it is even worse than he is saying. Clause 4(1) means that a democratically elected person could not even publish a statement saying that, had it been lawful, he or she would have done X or Y. It is not just that they cannot do it; they cannot even talk about doing it, even though they have been democratically elected by much of their population to take action in a moral and ethical way.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am most grateful to the noble Lord as that leads on to my next question. It relates to those who are democratic figures in those countries and, indeed, our country.

As regards this country, my reading of this legislation is that, if I, in Parliament, call on the Government to sanction, let us say, a foreign Government’s Minister, or an enterprise or a body operating in another country—as I have done regularly in relation to the Wagner Group, by calling on British enterprises not to trade with those enterprises owned by the Wagner Group —I would be a person under this Bill whom a body would have to disregard. Not only are the Government seeking the nonsense that decision-makers should set aside due diligence on human rights, they are seeking to neuter parliamentarians raising the very concerns that we have raised on a regular basis.

I remind the Minister why this is so important: on 12 occasions, I had called for the proscription of the Wagner Group, and called on any British enterprises to desist from having any relationship with it, before the Government made the decision to proscribe it. Up until the point that the Government made the decision to proscribe the group, which I supported, I was in contravention of this Bill. I was in contravention of it on all the occasions that I called on the Government to do what I asked them to do, which they then did.

The nonsense of this legislation gets serious when it comes to Parliament raising human rights concerns about other countries. One country on the list is the DRC. A country not on the list is Rwanda. I have raised human rights concerns about the March 23 group in the conflict between Rwanda and the DRC. I am prohibited from calling on any British bodies not to trade with a group that is not currently proscribed by the British Government.

I refuse to be neutered in this Chamber, by this Bill, on raising human rights concerns. The Leader of the House is shaking his head from a sedentary position as to how I might be neutered by this Bill. I am sure that he has read the Bill. I am allowing him to intervene on me to explain why I am wrong in my interpretation of this Bill.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am talking about not the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, but the Leader. No, the Leader prefers to shake his head and not to intervene. In his absence, I can think of no better deputy than the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes.

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative

I will answer the noble Lord’s question: he is not a “decision-maker” for the purpose of this Bill.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am not a decision-maker for the purpose of this Bill but, under Clause 1(7)(b) of this Bill, I am considered to be a “person”. A decision- maker making a decision based on what I asked them to do would be prohibited. Now the noble Baroness is shaking her head. Why would I not be considered a “person” under Clause 1(7)(b)?

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative

My Lords, I am not going to waste the time of the House getting into these nitpicking debates. The noble Lord is not covered by this Bill.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I do not think that it is nitpicking. I would be considered a person when a body was making a decision based on what I called them to do. I know that I am not a decision-maker, nor am I a Minister of the Crown, nor am I an exempted officeholder, but I would be considered a person calling on bodies to act. If bodies choose to act on what I say, they are currently prohibited under this from acting.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Conservative

The central point the noble Lord is seeking to make is that he will not be neutered. He would not be neutered because this Bill does not prevent any person seeking to influence a decision-maker. What it will do is prevent the decision-maker acting on those considerations if they are contrary to the Bill. The noble Lord can say what he likes here, in the street or anywhere else. This is a totally futile point.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am grateful that Hansard will record the contradictory nature of the noble Lord’s intervention on me, when it comes to the nonsensical nature of the point of seeking to influence groups. Let me turn to why—

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

I am hesitant to interrupt an interruption, but I will. One of the issues we have discussed—it is about Clause 4 as well—is what hat somebody is wearing. For example, a leader of a council might go to a political conference and argue a particular policy. He is a decision-maker but is not performing a decision-making function. The people who might hear his speech at that political conference might think, “He is our leader; he will influence us”, so there is an impact on people being able to advocate particular policies. Is that not true?

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I think it is. Other noble Lords may think not. I am looking forward to the Minister’s response to make sure that this is clear.

I wish to move the Committee on to a specific question about British International Investment. That is a body which receives its funding from government—from the taxpayer—but it is charged with making investment decisions in emerging economies. It operates under its ethical investment policy. It has a toolkit and operates under its own set of compliance rules when it comes to how it defines human rights. It takes international obligations under its co-ordination. That policy is not set by Ministers and is not determined by the Government. It makes its own, independent decisions on which countries it invests in.

British International Investment could choose, under its toolkit, not to invest in any of the human rights priority countries. My reading of this Bill is that this will be prohibited. Unless the Government specifically state that BII should not make investment decisions, BII would be in the scope of this Bill. That would be another very retrograde step for the UK with a development institution such as BII leading the charge on international human rights determinations for investments. I would be grateful if the Minister could state that BII is specifically exempt from this Bill.

Photo of Lord Sentamu Lord Sentamu Crossbench

My Lords, I was not at Second Reading because, as some of you know, I have been away for six months for reasons I will not explain.

The argument goes on from side to side, but the simple answer for me lies not just in the Bill but in the Explanatory Notes on economic activities of public bodies overseas. In the background to this legislation, we are told by those who prepared it that, if people argue that there should be no investment in Uganda—let me just give that as an example, as it is the country I come from—because of a number of human rights questions, the public body should not agree to that if the Government’s policy is different.

I find the Explanatory Notes absolutely disturbing for any democratic body. Many noble Lords know that I led a campaign against Robert Mugabe’s regime. In fact, I cut up my dog collar and never wore it for nine years and nine months. Some people would have said, “You are an archbishop of the Church of England, so you are part of a public body. The Government have not stated that you could do such and such a thing; therefore you will be in breach”. I find this sentence disturbing. There may be those who want, for example, to say that we must disinvest from a particular body, country or place because it is breaching part of our understanding and that sanctions should be brought, but paragraph 6 states:

“The Government has set out its view that it is not appropriate for public bodies to accede to such campaigns except where to do so is positively consistent with the UK’s foreign policy as determined by the Government. The Conservative Party manifesto for the 2019 Election included a commitment to ‘ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries.’ This Bill is intended to fulfil that commitment”.

Friends, in a free democracy, should we rule out public bodies that may feel, for example, that they should not invest such an amount of money and have our people working with a Government who are oppressing their people from doing so unless it is consistent with government policy? Sometimes opposition to certain things tells us who we are. I trust, I think because of our parliamentary democracy, that things will be challenged in both Houses but, for heaven’s sake, why impose such a thing on a public body? Are we simply saying that the Government cannot err, cannot turn a blind eye, cannot behave in a way that their citizens may find quite difficult? Some of us campaigned against the South African apartheid Government. At that time, there was a particular sort of Government who did not agree with sanctions. I remember arriving in Cambridge. We wanted to boycott green apples from South Africa. There was no way of doing this, but some of us decided to go to Sainsbury’s and announce as loudly as we could, “We are not buying these green apples from South Africa”. Do you know what happened? We never saw those green apples any more in Sainsbury’s. That is democracy. You cannot ban a public body from engaging in an activity which those who belong to it may feel very strongly about.

The Bill is trying to do something, but it is the way it is drafted. The explanation given has a chilling effect on a lot of us, because it suggests that the Government, of whatever shape, will always get it right, that, somehow, they have become omnicompetent and omniscient, and that there are no areas where because of political pressure they will not do it. I know where the Bill is trying to go, but it needs far greater revision if we are going to protect the rule of law in this country and not suggest that the Government always get it right. Some of our foreign policies have not been good. Somehow, we have spoken. Noble Lords have heard what the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said about some people from Africa. I find it disturbing that they would think that Ukraine should not be supported because all of them—and I am being honest—are getting a lot of money from Russia and are being supported by China, so any criticism of China and Russia, as far as the African continent is concerned, is very bad, but they will find it very easy to say, “What about Gaza? Why aren’t you doing so much about it?”.

Friends, all Governments are made up of frail human beings like you and me, and we can all err. You cannot, it seems to me, put this into a Bill and explain it in such a way. Otherwise, the freedom that some noble Lords here have worked hard to bring to my continent to hold Governments to account will look absolutely self-contradictory—as though we are willing to say one thing to them over there, but we want to muzzle those over here so that they cannot speak because they happen to be a public body. I rejoice that, at the moment, I am still part of the Church of England, and we have open debates. Some of our decisions take a long time to reach, but at least people are allowed to voice their views. If you shut them up, you create a pressure cooker that is totally unnecessary.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour 5:30, 7 May 2024

My Lords, I will make three short points, the first following on from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sentamu. I made the point at Second Reading: I find it really disturbing that the Minister said we must speak “with one voice internationally”. For me, that is not democracy; it smacks of totalitarianism. There is a multitude of voices in a democracy, not a single one.

Secondly, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, finished her speech with reference to a Muslim group that called for the Bill to be thrown out, and she seemed to imply that that meant it was against the State of Israel. There are myriad groups that want the Bill thrown out. Many of us made the same point at Second Reading: we do not think this is a proper Bill, but we are working with it, and what one thinks of it says nothing about one’s attitude to Israel. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, called it “improper” because it is so badly drafted.

Thirdly, and going to the substance of the amendments that we are discussing, my noble friend, in effect, held out an olive branch to the Government by taking the Bill at face value. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said about the statements of compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights, but let us take that at its face value. If the Government genuinely believe that the Bill is compatible with the ECHR, why should they oppose what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and my noble friend put forward in their amendments? They would strengthen and give substance to the declarations about human rights.

I hope that when the Minister comes to respond to my noble friend, she will take his amendment in the spirit that he put it to her and be willing to discuss whether it is a way forward. Although many of us dislike the Bill completely, we could at least work on the basis of that amendment.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, it is not my usual role, but I shall be a bit more conciliatory than other speakers. Although I see the Bill as very heavy-handed, almost draconian, and it should never have been brought to your Lordships’ House, at least we have an option now. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, pointed out, the House can work together. The Minister herself said that she values this House’s expertise. We have not noticed that over the past few years, because virtually everything we suggest gets thrown out. Amendments 19 and 48 would make the Bill less heavy-handed and would mean that public authorities could make decisions of their own when they saw illegitimate human rights abuses. I do not see why anyone would want to reject that idea.

I say to the Government: bring your own amendments if you want to, but, in essence, repeat what we are trying to say here and, perhaps, make this Bill less awful.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Conservative

My Lords, I will come back to the text of the proposed amendment. I hope it is in order if I use my short intervention essentially to ask the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, a series of questions. Obviously, he need not reply now, but I just wish to understand how this amendment is meant to work. I will leave the broader points to one side for the moment, although I always want to ensure that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, with whom I often disagree, remains proudly unneutered in everything he wants to say, here and elsewhere.

As I understand Amendment 19 and the proposed clause, it seeks to enable a public authority to publish policy criteria. Those policy criteria, as we see in proposed new subsection (4B), relate to

“disinvestment in cases concerning contravention of human rights”.

The public authority’s criteria have to do two things. First, as the noble Lord said, they “must be applied consistently” to all countries and, secondly, they must be consistent with the guidance published by the Secretary of State, although we are not helped at all as to what that guidance would, might or should be. So let us assume—

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

Can I interrupt the noble Lord? I was going to do it at the end, but it might help the Committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said that this would create loopholes, and the important point I wanted to make is that there is nothing wrong with public bodies taking ethical investment and procurement decisions. The reason there is nothing wrong in that is that the Government advocate it. As my noble friend Lord Hain said, we have the Government’s current national action plan on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights —and by the way, the Minister says in the introduction that the Government firmly believe that

“the promotion of business, and the respect for human rights, go hand in hand”.

So we are being consistent here, in this amendment, with current government policy.

My noble friend read it out; I will quickly repeat that, in current guidance, the recommendation of the Government is to

“continue to ensure that UK Government procurement rules allow for human rights-related matters to be reflected in the procurement of public goods, works and services, taking into account the 2014 EU Public Procurement Directives”— the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, mentioned this—

“and Crown Commercial Service guidance on compliance with wider international obligations when letting public contracts”.

So I am not reinventing something; it is there. We have good policy; let us make sure it is reflected in this legislation.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Conservative

I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for setting that out so clearly. It brings me to the question I hope he might be able to pick up later, so that I can really understand how this works. We have a public authority, which publishes a set of policy criteria relating to disinvestment in cases concerning contravention of human rights. As he has just set out—and certainly implied by what he just said—it would not be required, for example, to adopt the ECHR in full; it could highlight certain things.

What would happen if a local or public authority decided to say, “We are not going to disinvest or have a policy of disinvesting from countries which do not, for example, allow gay marriage; we will not have a policy of disinvesting from countries that discriminate against women, but we will have a policy, which we will apply consistently throughout the world, of disinvesting from countries that are in control of occupied or disputed territory”? Under the noble Lord’s approach, would that be permitted?

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

Will the noble Lord give way for a moment? This discussion is extremely important, because I do not interpret Amendment 19 as the noble Lord is interpreting it. He says that there could be a statement, and it would have to be applied consistently to all countries. But the amendment also says that it must be in accordance with guidance published by the Secretary of State. The noble Lord has not mentioned the fact that guidance to underpin what a local authority was doing would be in place.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Conservative

Forgive me, but I think I did mention the guidance right at the beginning of my remarks. Indeed, I made the point that I did not understand that the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, had identified what that guidance would, should or might contain—so I think we are on the same page.

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

Sorry to interrupt, but I thought I did, at the beginning, when I moved the amendment. Sadly, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, did not refer to my opening remarks when I moved it. I made it absolutely clear that there is a difference between a public body having an ethical investment and procurement policy and an organisation which, as some individuals are trying to do, seeks to target Israel alone, and have standards for Israel that are completely different from those for other countries. I made that absolutely clear.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Conservative

To be absolutely clear, my question, which I hope the noble Lord will pick up when he responds, is this. My putative public authority has a consistent policy, which it applies consistently to all countries around the world, of not disinvesting merely because a foreign country does not allow gay marriage, or treats women in a discriminatory fashion, but of disinvesting when a foreign country is in control of occupied or disputed territory. Would that be permitted, or not permitted, under the noble Lord’s amendment? I look forward to his answer in due course.

Photo of Lord Mann Lord Mann Non-affiliated

My Lords, there are a couple of observations, one of which has been rather lost in the debate. The first one has not. I merely make the observation that I am increasingly concerned by the concept that the implementation of legislation could be at the discretion of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—whether it is run by Robin Cook, or the noble Lord, Lord Hain, or the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, or Ernie Bevin.

There are different flavours of Foreign Office, but my observation of the Foreign Office over the years is that it often manages to face two ways at the same time. Indeed, it might well regard that as a key part of the art of diplomacy. One can therefore read into Foreign Office policy almost anything one wants to do at any one time. The Foreign Office often makes quite a virtue of presenting a particular side to one group of people and another side to another group of people. However great those running the Foreign Office of the day might be, they are liable to change in the future. So I question whether that, as a basis for legislation, is sensible.

The key point I want to make is one that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, as I understood him, at the beginning. Governments come and go. There will be a general election. Who knows who will be in power after that? There will be another one after that, in however many years—perhaps five years. Who knows —and who knows who that Government will be? There will be different flavours of government—but legislation, unless it is altered by Parliament, will remain.

The question of double standards in foreign policy is a fundamental part of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism—a definition that was adopted first by the United Kingdom, in 2017, before any other country, but which has now been adopted by many countries. Pertinent to this debate is the fact that it has been adopted by virtually every political party represented at Westminster, including the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.

Within it, the concept of double standards against the State of Israel, judging the State of Israel in ways in which one would not judge any other state, is rather fundamental. It is there, I guess, particularly because of what people have said, for example, in the United Nations. I am not talking about the legitimacy or otherwise of any specific United Nations vote or decision, but what one can objectively demonstrate is that there has been a huge number of decisions relating to the State of Israel, far outweighing, usually, every other country in the world put together. That, I think, could rationally be argued as therefore being a double standard in approach—of unduly concentrating on one member state of the United Nations and not being equal handed. The IHRA definition is quite specific that that should not happen, which is not the same as to say that one should not be vehemently critical, if one chooses to be, of the State of Israel, its Government or its policies. Many people are, including many people in the Israeli Knesset. It does not state that that is in any way illegitimate or anti-Semitic, but it does say that double standards should not apply.

Listening to and reading what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has put forward, it seems to me that he hits on a conundrum within the way the Bill is currently presented. To have any impact, the Bill has to last the course of time, including across elections and different Governments. Therefore, if there is a double standard within it, that is a problem, in my view, in terms of tackling anti-Semitism. If it contradicts the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism—while that is a working definition and should not be, as some people have misguidedly presumed, turned into law in itself, because that is not the purpose of it—it seems to me that what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, is proposing, to assist the Government in what they are attempting to do, cannot merely be dismissed as something that is not of consequence. As I read it and listen to how he introduced it, it seems to me that it potentially deals with that conundrum and therefore potentially strengthens the Bill’s ability to stop double standards in relation to the State of Israel. I regard that as a worthy objective, which again makes no comment, positive or negative, by me or anyone else, on the actions of the Government of the State of Israel, but does in relation to how we frame this legislation.

I would be very interested, having heard what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has put forward, to see how the Government could actually defeat his argument using the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism as their reference point.

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench 5:45, 7 May 2024

My Lords, as we speak, the double standards are in operation on many campuses in this country, where there are sit-ins in relation to one country but not, for example, in relation to Russia. As a footnote, I would like to substantiate, in case there is any doubt, what I said earlier in relation to the reference by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, to Israel. In his article in the Guardian in 1976, when he was a young man, he says it twice. It concludes:

“The present Zionist state is by definition racist and will have to be dismantled”.

I just clarify that that was his article in the Guardian.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

Since this has been raised—and I am not sure who I am intervening on—that was a long time ago. I do not withdraw the fact that there are many features of the State of Israel of which I am critical, not least in its dual citizenship law, where certain citizens are regarded as full citizens and others are not. That is a racist thing to be practising—but the noble Baroness suggested that I was questioning the right of Israel to exist. I have not done that, and I do not believe that, and she should not suggest it.

Photo of Lord Leigh of Hurley Lord Leigh of Hurley Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

My Lords, to bring us back to Amendment 19, I thought it was a probing amendment—but it seems that perhaps it is a serious one, given the endorsements of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others, so let us think about it. I am querying it only because, if it comes back, it might allow the noble Lord, Lord Collins, to refine and consider it further.

I would add to the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson. For example, let us assume that there is an egregious gay rights violation in some country, and a local council gets very agitated about it, responds to pressure and announces that it will no longer do business with, or procure works or services from, this country, because it abuses gay rights. Under this amendment, it would then have to apply that to every country that does not fully respect gay rights, so if it wanted to buy product from the Middle East then the only place it could go to would be Israel.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, this has been an extremely helpful debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Mann, identified, there is a conundrum in the Bill. The Minister may wish to reflect on the discussion that has taken place. She said after the first group that she valued the expertise of this House and would go away and think about how the Government would respond. I took that to mean that they may make changes on Report, which is theoretically likely to come in about three weeks’ time, but may take longer.

I have concluded, having listened to so many opinions—I am not a signatory to Amendments 19 or 48, though I have huge sympathy with them—from my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others, that it would be useful if the Minister would consider trying to bring all those opinions together into one place to talk further. That is the only way in which progress on this Bill will be made.

I think that I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, say that you cannot have local authorities setting foreign policy. I do not think local authorities want to do so, are doing so or have any ambition to do so. However, they are concerned about human rights and doing the right thing in their procurement and investment policies. Nevertheless, the issue must be discussed.

I took Amendment 19 to mean simply that a statement of policy relating to human rights would need to be considered by those seeking procurement or making investments, and that the statement may not single out individual nations and would therefore have to be applied consistently, as has been confirmed. However, it would have to be in accordance with guidance published by the Secretary of State. I find the concerns we have been hearing against Amendment 19 unfounded. The only solution I can see to this is that the offer made at the outset by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, should be taken up by the Minister. It would be really helpful if that could happen, because otherwise the passage of the Bill on Report will get more and more difficult.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Conservative

I invite the noble Lord to look at proposed new subsection (4D) because, with the greatest of respect, it is not correct to say that the policy would have to be “in accordance with” the Secretary of State’s guidance. The amendment says only that they must “have regard to” the Secretary of State’s guidance. This is not nitpicking; there is a really important distinction in law between having to follow guidance and merely having to have regard to it. That is one of the reasons why I was asking the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, those questions.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

I understand the noble Lord’s point. I am quoting from the Member’s explanatory statement which is part of Amendment 19 in the Third Marshalled List of Amendments.

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

My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint your Lordships’ Committee after so many questions asked of my noble friend the Minister. But I am the Minister representing His Majesty’s Government on this group of amendments. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and my noble friends Lord Wolfson and Lord Leigh for refocusing the House on these two amendments. I will answer as many of the broader questions as I have time for after addressing these myself.

Let me begin with Amendment 48, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a review of the Bill’s compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998, and in particular Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, within six months of Royal Assent. As my noble friend the Minister has set out, the Bill will apply to public authorities as defined in Section 6 of the Human Rights Act. In the exercise of their public functions these bodies do not have their own rights under the Human Rights Act or the ECHR, including under Article 10. The Bill does not apply to individuals and their private functions; therefore, it will not infringe on any individual’s rights under the ECHR.

As for the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, about compatibility, the Government remain strongly committed to the UK’s long and proud tradition of free speech and to the ECHR’s Article 10 right to freedom of expression. The Minister has signed a statement of the Bill’s compatibility with ECHR rights. On sharing legal advice, His Majesty’s Government do not share legal advice, but we do act on it.

Nothing in the Bill goes against the European Convention on Human Rights. The ban will apply only to bodies that are public authorities under the Human Rights Act 1998—

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Crossbench

With due respect to the Minister— I am sorry to interrupt when he is keeping to his script—the point I was making was that the certificate that the Secretary of State or Minister signs on the face of the Bill does not just cover the actions of public bodies, it covers all aspects of that particular piece of legislation. I am arguing that there are parts of that legislation that make it impossible to sign with good heart that compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights—and, indeed, the Human Rights Act 1988. It is not just the issues around public bodies, it is about the totality of that piece of legislation being compliant. I gave some examples where it was not compliant. I am very happy to meet the Minister to give him another half a dozen in which it is not compliant. I was asking which legal Minister signed off this as compliant with the Human Rights Act.

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

My noble friend the Minister has signed the statement of the Bill’s compatibility and is comfortable with that. If the noble Lord, Lord Warner, would like to share his specific concerns further to this, I would be happy to look at them.

The Government remain strongly committed to the UK’s long and proud tradition of free speech and to the ECHR. My noble friend the Minister, on bringing this legislation to the House, confirmed that the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the convention rights.

Let me now turn to Amendment 19, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury. His Majesty’s Government appreciate the offer of co-operation and a meeting. We would certainly take him up on that very generous offer to hear out his concerns further. Amendment 19 would exempt decisions from the ban that have been made in accordance with a statement of policy relating to human rights produced by a public authority. The Secretary of State would be required to produce guidance on the content of such statements to which public authorities would be required to have regard—a significant word, as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Wolfson.

We are all in agreement that human rights abuses have no place in public supply chains or investments by public bodies. However, the Government have two fundamental concerns about this amendment. The first is that it would lead to a proliferation of public authorities developing their own foreign policy positions, which is in opposition to the philosophy of the Bill. My noble friend the Minister has spoken before about how foreign policy is a matter for the UK Government and not for other public authorities. It would not be appropriate for public authorities to produce their own policies on human rights in relation to other nations.

I acknowledge that public authorities would be required to have regard to guidance published by the Secretary of State when exercising the exception, but this would have the opposite effect of that intended by the Bill, leaving public authorities distracted by pressure from lobby groups on the details of their human rights statement. Many public authorities with no interest or expertise in such debates would come under pressure to produce statements or explain why they did not have one. Most public authorities do not want to get involved in these divisive foreign policy debates and want to remain focused on delivering their public functions. This is a narrowly drafted Bill that places a narrow restriction on public authorities’ investments and procurement decisions. It would not be a proportionate response to place additional burdens on public authorities.

The Government’s second concern is that the amendments could leave public authorities able to set out apparently general policies in their statements with the intention of targeting particular states to boycott. This would represent a huge loophole in the ban and would fundamentally undermine the manifesto commitment.

To further demonstrate why Amendment 19 is unnecessary, I will touch briefly on the work that the Government are already doing to improve human rights standards in public sector supply chains. As noble Lords will know, the Procurement Act already contains a robust regime for the exclusion of suppliers which are unfit to hold public contracts. This includes serious risks such as modern slavery and human trafficking, and the Cabinet Office has recently strengthened the definitions of these terms in our guidance. We have mirrored most of the grounds for exclusion listed by the Procurement Act in the drafting of the Bill. Many public authorities will also be subject to the Procurement Act, and therefore it is vital that, where possible, we remain consistent with this regime to ensure that contracting authorities do not have to navigate between two conflicting pieces of legislation.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, there are already sufficient measures in procurement legislation allowing for public authorities to consider a supplier’s misconduct in awarding a contract. The ban contains a number of exceptions for considerations relating to labour-related misconduct, human trafficking, bribery, competition law infringement, and environmental misconduct. The Bill will not stop public authorities complying with sanctions.

Specifically, I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, need be concerned about being considered a public authority under Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, as this specifically excludes Members of the House of Lords and the other place.

On the last of the noble Lord’s questions, the Bill will not prevent the adoption of ESP requirements, which he was questioning under the BII exemption, that are not specific to a country.

The open principles of the UK’s procurement regime mean that we do not look to exclude suppliers from entire nations without proper consideration of whether a supplier itself is involved in abuse. Indeed, in some cases taking this indiscriminate approach can fall contrary to our international obligations. This amendment would give public authorities too broad a discretion to apply such blanket boycotts. That would be unfair on suppliers acting ethically in these countries.

Additionally, it is important to note that the Bill will not prevent public authorities implementing general policies in regard to human rights that do not single out countries or territories specifically. Therefore, if the noble Lord does not intend to allow public authorities to engage in blanket boycotts, it seems that we are reliant on our policy on this matter.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 6:00, 7 May 2024

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Why is British International Investment singled out as a body which is able to operate its own independent human rights impact assessment for where it chooses to invest, while other decision-makers cannot?

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

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. I will need to write to him on the specific case of BII, as I do not have the details to hand.

In answer to one of the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, the Bill is fulfilling a manifesto commitment to prevent BDS influencing public authorities in undermining community cohesion, which is why Israel is named in the Bill and why there are currently, as I believe, no exemptions. As I think the noble Lord is aware, we are intending to add exemptions under statutory instrument following the passing of the Bill.

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

I apologise for my error and take the noble Lord’s correction. I have tried to focus my comments on the amendments and the arguments put forward today. I am conscious that there have been a lot of very important points made and a lot of questions asked. I have tried to answer the ones that I can, and I will write to noble Lords where I have not picked them up.

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

This has been an incredibly useful discussion and debate, but this is not a probing amendment. It is an attempt to bring two sides of the House together. I made it very clear in my opening remarks that we oppose the BDS campaigns we have seen. I do not accept them. They are very damaging. I think I made the point that they have sought to target Israel alone, hold it to different standards, question its right to exist—which is wrong—and equate the actions of the Israeli Government with Jewish people, in doing so creating the very hate that my noble friend raised.

To be honest, I feel as if I am in a Catch-22 situation. On the one hand, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, says that there are loopholes, but this is not a restrictive, confined piece of legislation, dealing with BDS campaigns specifically. It has much wider implications. Everyone keeps talking about public bodies making foreign policy. No one questions the right of the Government to make foreign policy. The Government’s duty is to speak for the whole country on foreign policy —no one doubts that—but the Government have placed a duty on public bodies to have ethical human rights considerations in their investment and procurement policies.

We will come on to it in other groups, and I know we keep raising these things, but the sad thing is that the Bill damages our foreign policy. It will implicate us in undermining the very resolutions that we have tabled and supported at the United Nations. That is why we are so concerned, and that is why this amendment, far from giving public bodies the responsibility to decide on foreign policy, agrees with this Government when they speak about—I will quote again, because I think it is really important—

“belief that the promotion of business, and the respect for human rights, go hand in hand”.

When it comes to the statement that a Secretary of State may produce as guidance, is it that public bodies “will have” or “must have” regard to it? I have had many debates on previous legislation about what that might mean, particularly over codes of practice, as the noble Baroness knows, so I am happy to enter into legal dialogue about what that means. It is not unusual to require public bodies to follow that sort of guidance, and we can come up with words for that.

The noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, asked questions about the Occupied Territories. We have an existing policy on the Occupied Territories, so if a public body says it will not invest in the Occupied Territories, that is in accordance with the guidance issued by this Government. If it says it is going to ban any investment in Israel, that would be in breach of the code or whatever guidance, because we are against singling out Israel.

Somebody mentioned gay rights. I have been a campaigner for global gay rights for many years, and one of the things I have resisted doing is advocating blanket boycotts because I know that, where we have investment and contacts, the leverage, guidance and engagement we can have can make a big difference. We have changed people’s attitudes through that. The problem with blanket boycotts is that they have the complete opposite effect.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Conservative

I am grateful to the noble Lord for, I think, giving an answer to my question. My understanding, therefore, is that the answer to my question is yes. The public authority could make the distinction that I identified. In other words, under this amendment a public authority could refuse to trade with Israel on human rights grounds but could none the less trade with Saudi Arabia. That would, as I understand it, be the consequence of the argument. Have I understood correctly?

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

No, the noble Lord is not right. That is not what I said. We have guidance about specific investment in the Occupied Territories. That is what the Government issue now. Why is that so confusing?

Photo of Lord Leigh of Hurley Lord Leigh of Hurley Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

What, then, is the effect of proposed new subsection 4B(b) if not a blanket ban?

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

We currently have guidance on human rights and investment decisions. On other groups of amendments we will discuss the whole question of environmental, social and governance issues. When a public body is taking into account investment decisions, as a private company would, it takes into account those sorts of policies. We will come on to pension schemes in a later group. The problem we have at the moment is that this debate is on BDS but we are actually talking about ethical investment policies. No one is concerned about those issues when we have general debates about procurement and ethical policy. This comes down to specific targeting campaigns that are not to do with human rights.

I strongly defend the right of Israel to exist. I strongly defend the right of Israel to defend itself. Those two things go together. If a campaign of BDS is saying that Israel occupied territories in 1948—many of these campaigns talk not about 1973 but about 1948—I do not agree with that. Israel exists and has a mandate to exist. We must respect that, and I strongly believe in it. But when we come to human rights and investment policy decisions, the Government are more than capable of giving guidance on that, because they do so at the moment through the UN guiding principles, the Modern Slavery Act and all the other things that we have done. The Procurement Act even has paragraphs in it as well. So it is not impossible to have the sort of guidance that we are advocating in this amendment.

Photo of Lord Leigh of Hurley Lord Leigh of Hurley Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

I simply say that the noble Lord has criticised the wording and language of the Bill quite specifically. If this amendment is to be presented at a later stage, proposed new subsection 4B(b) does not work because it is a blanket ban.

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

I am more than happy to discuss the wording of this amendment and this proposal. We are not advocating blanket bans. There must be a reason for a ban. The FCDO issues a list of countries that have human rights issues—some, such as North Korea, have very clear issues—but they are not all countries where you would ban engagement or investment, or say, “That’s the end of the road”. An ethical investment policy needs to look at a range of issues—basically, the ESG issues that we will come on to in later groups. I do not want to go through them now.

The important thing is that we have a Bill before us that unacceptably widens the scope of dealing with BDS. People have asked whether it will stop them dealing with the ethical issues that the Government have asked them to deal with. Many people in the other place raised China. Who would advocate a blanket ban on China? You could not—our trade ties are so huge—but there are areas that we can certainly exercise concern about, particularly in Xinjiang, where we are strongly advocating sanctions against the local government and local officials who have been violating human rights.

One of the really good things about the Government’s human rights sanctions legislation is that it is not a blanket ban; we can target and look at different means. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that we do not, in dealing with a genuine concern about BDS campaigns, suddenly broaden it out to restricting people’s right to condemn the Government of Israel for certain actions.

My biggest concern is about the chilling effect of this legislation—that it will make public bodies turn away from duties relating to those broader human rights concerns. That is why we are committed to sitting down with Ministers to see whether we can adapt this proposal, get rid of some of the wide-ranging elements and make the case for ethical investment policies so that we condemn BDS campaigns but support the campaign that the Government have had over many years to ensure that human rights are a consideration.

This has been an extremely welcome debate in trying to create cross-party engagement on this amendment. I hope we will have more time before Report to get those discussions under way and see whether there is an opportunity to come forward with a cross-party consensus on this issue. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 19 withdrawn.