Public Sector Contracts (Illegal Settlements)

First Minister’s Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at on 30 May 2024.

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Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

This week, the First Minister gave clarity on one issue, when he called on the United Kingdom Government to recognise the state of Palestine and end arms sales to Israel. However, the same clarity is needed on the Scottish Government’s devolved responsibilities in relation to Israel’s genocidal action against Palestine.

The United Nations has published a list of about 90 companies that it considers to be complicit in the illegal settlements that Israel has been constructing on Palestinian territory in the west bank. In November, my colleague Ross Greer asked the former First Minister to agree that those companies should be banned from receiving public sector grants and contracts in Scotland from within the devolved Government’s responsibilities. The then First Minister agreed in principle that no company that is profiting from occupation should profit in Scotland, too.

It is now seven months and tens of thousands of deaths later, including those of at least 13,000 children. In the west bank, hundreds of Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers and extremists, but the Scottish Government has not yet taken action to ban companies that are on the UN’s list of complicit companies from receiving grants. Will the First Minister send a clear signal today by immediately banning those companies from receiving grants and other support from the Scottish Government?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I acknowledge the seriousness of the issues that Mr Harvie raises with me. The other day, I indicated that there should be an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, that the hostages who have been taken should be returned to their loved ones—to whom they should have been returned a long time ago—and that arms sales to Israel should stop. As Mr Harvie correctly said, I went on to say that I believe that the United Kingdom should recognise the state of Palestine as an independent state. That is long overdue, and it would be a contribution towards trying to stabilise the situation in the middle east. I hope that Mr Harvie takes from that the direction of my thinking on the matter and my desire to do as much as I can to help to resolve the situation from our position.

I will consider carefully the points that Mr Harvie has raised about any support for companies that are involved in this activity. Our enterprise agencies have appropriate safeguards in place to ensure that any funding provided is used only for the specific purpose for which it is intended. From Mr Harvie’s question, I suspect that he wants me to extend beyond that protection. On that matter, I would have to take great care to ensure that we had a legal justification for so doing. If Mr Harvie and Mr Greer would care to provide me with the material about which they are concerned, I will investigate and determine whether the Government can do more. I will, of course, update Parliament on those investigations.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I strongly agree with every element of what the First Minister said that the UK Government should do, but he is not yet providing clarity on what the Scottish Government should do within its powers. I mentioned the companies on the list that the UN deems complicit in illegal Israeli settlements in the west bank. The First Minister might have been moving on to answer in relation to arms companies that are provided with grants and other forms of financial support by the Scottish Government. He is right that those grants do not support the production of munitions, but that simply is not enough. If we contribute to building a bigger bomb factory, we do not get to say that we have not funded the production of the bombs. Even since 7 October, Raytheon, BAE Systems and Leonardo have all received eye-watering sums from the Scottish Government’s agency, Scottish Enterprise.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I must have a question, Mr Harvie.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

This is in a time when the world is recoiling in revulsion at the appalling attacks, including the most recent attacks against Palestinians sheltering in Rafah. It is shocking and inexplicable that, at the same time—

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Mr Harvie, can I have a question, please?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

—as the Scottish Government is calling for an end to arms sales, it is directly funding those manufacturers. Will the First Minister change that policy immediately?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I take seriously the point that Mr Harvie puts to me. I do not think that the analogy that he strikes about the construction of a weapons factory is a particularly fair analogy for the support that we put in place, but I will go away and look at that carefully.

The point that I was making in my earlier answer is that there will be a legal basis for us to apply safeguards in relation to the issuing of grants, but we have to have a legal basis for saying, for matters that are not related to the Israel-Gaza conflict, that we are not providing a grant. That is not me being pedantic—that is simply the legal basis on which the Government has to act. We must always act within the law, and I must take the views of the law officers deadly seriously in the actions that we take. If Mr Harvie would care to correspond with me in more detail, I will happily explore the issues that he raises, which I recognise are important and sensitive to people in our country.