Amendment 10

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords am 4:28 pm ar 17 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

Moved by Lord Wallace of Saltaire

10: Clause 2, page 2, line 3, leave out from “decision-maker” to end of line 4 and insert “is acting on behalf of a public body.”Member’s explanatory statementThis, alongside another to Clause 2 in the name of Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is a probing amendment to clarify the distinction between a public body and a public authority.

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

My Lords, in moving Amendment 10 I will also speak to Amendment 13 and the others in the group. I would particularly like to say how helpful I thought the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, were in helping us to clarify these very broad terms: public bodies and public authorities. I have just been looking back at some of the debates on the Human Rights Act 1998, during which then Home Secretary Jack Straw said that this was an extremely difficult area on which to find an exact definition; he decided to leave it to the courts for further definition.

One of the things we have to consider while discussing this is how much we do want to leave it to the courts, or to ensure that what it says in the legislation is a little tighter than what we have so far. The drafting of the Bill in so many areas is extraordinarily and dangerously loose. I thank the Minister for the letter she has sent me and no doubt others on the question of individual responsibility and personal liability. I am not sure that I entirely understood it; I showed it to one or two legal acquaintances, and they are not sure that they are much clearer than they were before. That perhaps shows some of the difficulties in which we are engaged.

When I first read this Bill, I noticed that it declared in its title that it was about public bodies, and that in Clause 2 it says it is about public authorities. As it happens, I got into the lift with another Member of this House, with whom I worked when he was a Conservative Cabinet Minister during the coalition Government. I asked him casually: “Tell me, do you think that a public body and a public authority are the same thing?”. He said: “Oh no, of course not. The definition of a public body is far narrower than that of a public authority”.

A Bill that starts by having one of these terms in its title, and then goes on to use the other term in the text, raises a number of questions. This morning I reread the impact assessment, which uses the terms interchangeably, by and large preferring “public body” to “public authority”. I worry about how clear those who drafted the Bill are about what they are doing. We then go into “hybrid public bodies”, which the impact assessment talks about, or hybrid public authorities. When I began to read through Lexis and try to understand some of the case law—in which a number of noble and learned Members of this House emerge as those who have made judgments on this—I discovered that functional public authorities and hybrid public authorities raise many of the questions with which we would have to deal, if and when this became an Act. The line between public and private functions for public authorities that are partly public and partly private is a very delicate one, and one on which litigation leaves much room.

We all know what core public authorities are, but hybrid public authorities are a very loose and broad entity. The Minister said on a previous occasion, in another context, that there were well over 100,000 public authorities. No doubt the definition, after a while, becomes extremely unclear. After all, Section 6(3) of the Human Rights Act 1998 talks about

“any person certain of whose functions are functions of a public nature”.

The question of how many functions need to be of a public nature, and how much that affects how they behave in other areas, has been contested in the courts on many occasions. Court cases have ruled that a privatised railway company, for example, is not a public authority, but that a privatised water company and, in a different case, a private provider of social housing are, for certain purposes, public authorities. Rulings have differed on whether private care providers to local authorities are public authorities.

The impact assessment and the ministerial letter refer to “cultural institutions” as coming within this. In the letter that came to us before Second Reading, the Minister talks about museums and galleries that receive significant amounts of public money. Amendment 13 is intended to probe what is meant by significant amounts of public money. I have suggested in that amendment that the bar should be put at 50%, as opposed to whether this was largely public or largely private with public aspects. A court case in 1999 found that the University of Cambridge

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Llafur

The noble Lord mentioned at one stage whether railway companies are public bodies. A train operating company, for example, is clearly not a public body when it is a private company, but if it goes bankrupt or has difficulties it gets taken over by the Government. If the Government then get it right in due course, it goes back to the private sector. Can bodies oscillate between the two categories? Is that a further complication?

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

I defer to my noble friends on that. Part of my concern about this law is that there will be a great deal of employment for my learned friends to be found in it, if it were to go through.

Indeed, that is one of the things which appears in the delegated powers memorandum, which says at paragraph 4:

“It is intended that the measures will be widely construed”.

Paragraph 12 says:

“The prohibition will apply to ‘public authorities’ in accordance with section 6 HRA 1998; however, interpretations of section 6 HRA 1998 can create uncertainty which means that the Bill may, including as case law evolves, capture a range of bodies that it was not necessarily intended to apply to. It may be necessary to put beyond doubt that certain bodies (that are outside the scope of the intention to ban public bodies from boycotts and divestments) fall outside the definition of ‘public authority’ for the purpose of the Bill”.

I hope that the lack of clarity of that is clear.

The impact assessment does refer to hybrid public bodies and suggests that it is concerned to prevent them pursuing political and foreign policy agendas, “including with public money”. I interpret that as meaning that such hybrid public authorities may perhaps not be allowed to pursue such agendas, including when they are using private money. That is a question that will concern a great many people, in particular the university sector, from which we have received further correspondence on this precise area.

The Minister has not told us enough about the broad last category, cultural institutions, and whether this includes theatres and orchestras on foreign tours, as well as museums and galleries—and why on earth museums and galleries are in there. That is another area where I suspect that sector would prefer a little more certainty.

Universities have been particularly concerned about the impact on their international partnerships, which are, I am assured by my university friends, part of their private functions. Some of these are education partnerships, some are transnational research partnerships —I declare an interest, in that my son is actively engaged in this—and some are with foreign companies and donors. They can be very sensitive and can raise reputational problems, as some universities, including the one I used to work for, have learned to their cost. Again, it would be helpful if we had more detailed guidance on that.

At several points in the impact assessment, and in the memoranda to the Delegated Powers Committee and others, the Government emphasise the importance of ensuring the coherence of British foreign policy, and that it should not allow others to conduct their own foreign policy agendas. I notice the Express reported the other week that the Government have signed immensely valuable trade deals with Washington state and Texas. It seems an interesting contradiction for the British Government to insist that subordinate entities within the UK state should not be allowed to engage in any sort of deal with other countries while they actively attempt to get past Washington to deal with American states. I am not sure whether these are significant trade deals or not; I have the memorandum of understanding with the state of Washington and it seems rather less substantial than the Daily Express suggests.

The Minister may be thinking that precision does not matter so much in the Bill because it is intended to be largely performative and not to lead, in practice, to any serious enforcement. After all, the impact assessment notes how little boycott activity there has so far been beyond discussion, and the Bill is unlikely to be implemented before the coming election. However, we should not be in the business of permitting the Government to put badly drafted law on to the statute book for show. We need much greater clarity, and I look forward to what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, will say about the need for clarity in this area. The Minister shares with the House the responsibility to ensure that the Bill does not become an Act without much greater clarity about its terminology and the extent of its reach over the UK’s public and private bodies. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I share many of the concerns explained by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. That is why I tabled Amendments 11 and 12, which are in this group. Like the noble Lord, I thought this Bill was about public bodies, because that is what appears in the title. He read out the definition that we are invited to use in Clause 2, which is the definition in Section 6(3) of the Human Rights Act. It is clear from that that it can capture private sector bodies, which is why I first got interested in this topic. I tabled Amendment 12 in order to probe the extent to which private sector bodies are going to be dragged within the ambit of the Bill.

I have done more research on that since Second Reading. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, I have been ploughing through some of the legal cases on the definition in the Human Rights Act. It is clear that private sector bodies can be captured, but it is also probably fair to say that the courts have been tending to give a fairly narrow interpretation of that, so that private sector companies have been caught only in relation to where they are very clearly involved in delivering or exercising public functions.

Amendment 14, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, seeks to ensure that bodies caught within the definition in respect of public functions are captured only for the extent of public functions. It seems to me that that is unnecessary because of Section 6(5) of the Human Rights Act, which says much the same thing in a slightly different way. I would go further and suggest that private sector bodies, and private sector companies in particular, should not be within the ambit of the Bill.

When I was carrying out some research, the one thing that I did learn was that the definition of public authority is not clear. In fact, probably the only clear thing is that if any body is in doubt, it has to take its own legal advice. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, referred to this problem in her Second Reading speech, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. I shall make a plea on behalf of SMEs, which I know are very close to the heart of my noble friend the Minister: they find uncertainty very hard to bear, so having a definition which is uncertain seems to be a problem.

The Government were almost rather proud of the fact that the definition in the Human Rights Act was broad and capable of interpretation by the courts to meet whatever came up in the day. They made a virtue of that when the Bill was first taken through Parliament and again when they responded to a report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights. But that was in the context of it being a Human Rights Act and therefore as broad a definition as possible was regarded as a positive and good thing because the aim was to ensure that private citizens were not affected by the overbearing acts of the state, however perpetrated and by whom. We ought to examine whether what is right for the Human Rights Act is right for this Act. I am not convinced that a broad definition, especially one which carries such a high degree of uncertainty, is a satisfactory foundation on to which to build the purpose of this Bill which is quite separate—the prohibition of boycotts and divestment activities.

The alternative approach, which I suggest is a better one, is to use a more certain definition. The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, in her Amendment 54—which will be debated in the next group—has proposed that a list of the bodies covered by the Bill should be drawn up before the Bill is brought into effect. That may be all right on the day the list is tabled, but it is not future- proofed and will not cope with the changing landscape of what a public body is.

My Amendment 11 offers a different approach: to take the source of the definition not from the Human Rights Act but from the Freedom of Information Act. That Act provides a comprehensive definition of the public authorities which are covered—including a very extensive listing in Schedule 1—and, as anybody who has done any legislation which creates or changes public bodies knows, it is constantly updated as new bodies are created, transformed or die. The Freedom of Information Act also includes a power within it to add specific bodies so that it provides a very certain source of who is covered by the Act. I suggest that it potentially is capable of being used in the context of this Act.

If my noble friend the Minister is not happy with the amendments I have tabled in this group, I hope that she will consider alternative ways of providing certainty, because certainty is very important; I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said on that. Also, I hope that she will look at excluding private sector companies from the ambit of this Bill because I do not believe that they were intended to be covered when the manifesto commitment was made.

Photo of Baroness Chapman of Darlington Baroness Chapman of Darlington Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 4:45, 17 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for their amendments in this group. They are incredibly helpful. What we are trying to do here, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has just said, is elicit some certainty from the Government on behalf of those organisations which might find themselves drawn into the scope of this Bill. Even though they may not consider themselves to be public bodies ordinarily, they might find that they are when it comes to this Bill. We will come later to an argument about whether universities should be treated as public bodies and we feel, as we said at earlier stages, they should clearly not be. But that is not the only area where we feel that the Government have not thought sufficiently about what they are trying to do.

Amendment 11 from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, would, as she explained, apply the definition in the Freedom of Information Act. That would settle this to a large extent, in that we are clear about who is and who is not subject to that Act. It would be interesting to hear whether the Government are minded to welcome that suggestion because, from what the Minister has said on previous occasions, all the instances that she has referred to as justifying the need for the Bill would probably be covered. I am not sure why the Government do not just welcome that, to be honest; it does not answer all of our problems, but it would go some way towards that.

The introductory speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, was incredibly helpful and his amendments likewise. He concluded by saying he suspects that the Bill is actually performative in nature and worries that the operability is not at the forefront of anybody’s mind in government. I have no idea how true that is, but I share his concern that it is the job of this House to make sure that we do not pass legislation that is unworkable and just causes confusion.

Our Amendment 14 is probing and I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, had to say about it. But we are just trying various ways in this group—and in the next, too—to work out which organisations will be subject to these new rules. The example that has been helpfully provided to me by Universities UK was the one that led to the tabling of our Amendment 14.

If the Government get their way and universities are to be treated as public bodies for the purposes of this Bill, although I very much hope not for any other purpose, their activities that we could argue are clearly outside their publicly funded responsibilities—those conducted, perhaps, with private money or are contracted to private companies—would in no way be subject to the rules within the Bill. There is a reference that makes this clear in the Explanatory Notes, but the amendment that we have suggested would put that explanation into the Bill. As I said, it is to probe exactly what the situation would be because, at the moment, universities are not clear about that and it is important that we give them that certainty.

An example was suggested to me by Universities UK. It is hypothetical but not so outlandish that this situation is not happening very frequently. I declare an interest as chancellor of Teesside University. Here is the hypothetical example: university A is considering a proposal to set up a transnational education partnership in country X. This could involve a partnership with a commercial or state entity in country X and the university board must consider a range of proposals. According to the Higher Education Code of Governance, governing bodies should

“conduct their affairs in an open and transparent manner”.

It is a fundamental duty of university governing bodies to safeguard and promote the reputation of the institution. As the new partnership would involve a significant investment and carry both financial and reputational risks, the board of university A is therefore asked to take a decision on the proposals.

To support its deliberations, the board would receive a paper covering the following: the potential financial exposure and opportunity of each proposal; underlying social, demographic and economic data that underpins a market assessment; due diligence on potential partners, including reputational factors; and a summary of ethical and reputational concerns relating to country X. All aspects of the paper would be deliberated by the board. Following an extensive discussion of the financial and reputational impacts of the proposals, the board decides not to proceed with the partnership opportunity because, on balance, the risks are deemed to outweigh the opportunity.

Can the Minister explain whether, in this example, the transnational educational partnership described constitutes a private or public activity of a university? Would the fact that the board discussion included reference to reputational and ethical concerns of direct relevance to a higher education institution mean that members of the board could be subject to action under the provisions of the Bill?

How can boards fulfil their duty to safeguard and promote the reputation of their institution if they are not able to openly discuss and consider material facts that could impact on said reputation without fear of legal action, even if those considerations are not the sole basis for the eventual decision? How can boards fulfil their duty to conduct affairs in an open and transparent manner if the very fact of discussing issues of demonstrable and material relevance would be actionable under the provisions of the Bill?

I raise this example to tease out some of the grey areas that we might be forcing universities to consider and because I am worried about the chilling effect this may lead to. I do not think there is a situation in which a university would not consider the reputational impact of a partnership. But I can conceive of a situation where that consideration would not be as open and as widely shared as we have come to expect, in the way that we would like things to be done in this country.

In this group, we would like to understand the Minister’s response to the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, in particular, on whether there might be any other way of making clear who is subject to this. In relation to my Amendment 14, I would like to understand exactly how this will work for organisations—not just universities, but others as well—particularly in relation to the example I raised.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I am grateful for the thoughtful contributions from across the Committee. On the first day of Committee, which also touched on the scope of this Bill, we heard from the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Wallace, the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, and my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lord Johnson. We discussed the Bill’s application to hybrid public authorities. Today, we have heard in slightly different terms from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, my noble friend Lady Noakes and, of course, from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. I will try and come back on her essay question if I can.

Obviously, we have carefully considered the points raised in these debates. I would like to expand on our view of the scope in relation to Amendments 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14. As noble Lords have said, the Bill will apply to public authorities, as defined in Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998. I would like to explain, in response to the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that “public body” is a general term with no single legal definition. The Bill’s Short Title provides a general indication of the subject matter of the Bill, and it is not unusual for the Short Title to use different terminology from the Bill’s substantive provisions.

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

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting. The Minister will be well aware that there is a particular use of the term “public body” by the Office for National Statistics, which means that debt incurred by a public body is counted as part of the national debt. That means that whether or not some of these hybrid public authorities are defined as public bodies matters a great deal to their financial planning. Again, the university sector is particularly concerned about this.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I thank the noble Lord for raising that point again. It has been raised before and I am aware of it. We are talking about quite marginal sums here, so it will not be definitive, but I am sure we will come back to that point.

Perhaps I should explain that we have used the HRA definition because it has three important advantages. First, it is one that has been on the UK statute book for over 25 years, as has been explained, and places public authorities under important fundamental obligations that they have to observe. Organisations should also already know how it applies to them. Secondly, over those 25 years, the courts have further clarified its scope and identified a number of relevant factors. These include, but are not limited to, the body receiving a significant amount of public funding, the body carrying out acts in exercise of statutory powers and the body providing a public service. Thirdly, the definition ensures that private activity remains out of scope of the Bill—private activity that is rightly protected by convention rights, including freedom of speech.

My noble friend Lady Noakes noted that the case law in this area was narrow. However, bodies should already be aware if they are bound by the Human Rights Act, as that Act places other wide-ranging obligations on them that go much further than this Bill—so we are using a formula that is in common use.

That leads me naturally on to Amendment 12, tabled by my noble friend Lady Noakes, and Amendment 14, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, who is also in his place. These amendments would disapply the ban from hybrid public authorities. Such bodies have a mix of public and private functions, as defined by Section 6 of the Human Rights Act. An example of a hybrid public authority includes higher education providers, as we all agree. The ban will apply to these bodies only when they are delivering public functions. The Bill does not interfere with the private sphere.

For example, acts that a higher education provider will have to carry out as part and parcel of its functions providing higher education will be public functions, while commercial activity, such as providing conference facilities or maintaining office spaces by entering into cleaning contracts, may be private activity and outside of the scope of this Bill. It is important that the ban applies to hybrid public authorities, given the diverse nature of government functions and the variety of ways in which functions are discharged. It would not be appropriate for hybrid public authorities to misuse public money, or lose focus on their primary public purpose, effectively to pursue their own foreign policy agendas when delivering public functions.

This brings me to Amendment 11, tabled by my noble friend Lady Noakes, and Amendment 13, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, which provide alternative definitions of public bodies to which the Bill should apply, and which we have of course looked at. Amendment 11 would instead apply the ban to bodies subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Broadly, the categories of public authorities covered by that Act mirror those captured by the Human Rights Act 1998 definition. Using the alternative definition would broaden the ban to private bodies and decisions not currently in scope of the Bill, such as the board of the Pension Protection Fund. This definition would also encapsulate all functions of bodies in scope of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, including private functions. It would therefore extend the ban to the decisions of bodies such as universities protected by ECHR rights, perhaps providing more certainty but a broader reach.

Amendments 10 and 13, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, would apply the ban to any public body that

“receives 50 per cent or more of its funding from government, and whose functions are clearly of an official nature”.

This would establish a new definition of public body and could also broaden the ban to apply to private decisions protected by ECHR rights. Judges have already acknowledged that public funding alone does not mean that a body is a public body or exercises public functions. It would be inappropriate to apply the ban to bodies when they are not performing public functions. Additionally, imposing a new definition would, I suggest, create confusion and legal uncertainty, which noble Lords are concerned about.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for his research on the distinction between a public body and a public authority. I am unsure which definition of public bodies he was referring to. There are many, but I hope I have been able to explain that the alternative preferred definition of public bodies would broaden the Bill and take it into the private sphere—that is the dilemma.

Photo of Baroness Chapman of Darlington Baroness Chapman of Darlington Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 5:00, 17 Ebrill 2024

I am grateful to the Minister, but I am completely unclear about what a public body is after listening to that. Could she explain what a public function is? That might help us.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

That is a good point and a good question. The noble Baroness also gave a good example. I suggest that I take away the distinction regarding the public function and have a look at it, and that I come back on the long example she raised, which she said had been given to her by Universities UK, on 7 May when we are due to debate the university amendment in Committee.

Photo of Baroness Chapman of Darlington Baroness Chapman of Darlington Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I sort of accept that, but while my example referred to universities we could equally apply it to other organisations as well. I would not want to see that consideration narrowed just to the issue of universities.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I agree with the noble Baroness; that is an entirely fair point. We agree that the Bill is complex when it comes to understanding. I want to make sure that, when I answer questions on things such as public functions, I am giving good information that is thought through and thoughtful. I have tried to explain today why we are using the Human Rights Act. That has advantages, which is why the Government have gone down that road.

I should respond to the point about cultural institutions that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, raised. Some of them are in scope of the Bill in their public functions only, and I set out earlier a number of factors that courts would consider in deciding whether an act was a public act. The noble Lord also pointed out that the Bill contains the power to exclude bodies in its scope from the ban via regulations. The Government do not currently foresee the need to exclude such bodies, but this power will allow the Bill to evolve in line with government policy.

For all these reasons, I have tried to explain why we have presented the Bill in the way that we have. There is a lot of comfort to be taken from using the Human Rights Act, but I look forward to returning to some of the questions that have been asked. In the meantime, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Independent Labour

If I may intervene, this definition debate is like walking through a giant sticky pudding. Most Members of the Committee are utterly confused about exactly what public bodies and public authorities are, and about which institutions will be in the scope of the Bill and which will not.

I shall raise a specific example. Could the Minister tell the House about housing associations? They undertake many public functions, which is another term that the Minister introduced but has not been properly defined. They deliver social housing, for example. They do so in partnership with local authorities, often managing the social housing that is owned by local authorities. Will they be in scope of the Bill or not?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

The answer I must give in the short term is that it depends a lot on the courts. I will look at housing associations; I know they have come up in other Bills that we have discussed, including how they are treated in government finance. The point about using the Human Rights Act definition is that you get a 25-year history of interpretation.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, the Minister referred to the issues of public funding associated with universities and the national debt, and how that is counted. She said that these were marginal amounts of money. The UK university sector is worth £130 billion a year to the economy and employs three-quarters of a million people. Is that truly the definition of marginal? I declare an interest as chancellor of Cardiff University. Secondly, when we are looking at cultural organisations, does lottery money count as public or private money?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

The honest answer is that I do not know about the lottery, but I will find out for the noble Baroness and write to her. On universities, of course she is right: very substantial sums of money, rightly, are involved in the education of our children. What I was explaining was that, at the margin of this activity—involving procurement and investment—the sum is relatively small compared with all that is done by universities.

Photo of Lord Stevens of Birmingham Lord Stevens of Birmingham Crossbench

May I offer a constructive suggestion on the clarity that might be adduced between now and further stages? Picking up on the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, as I understand it, in 2003 the first case before the court to answer the question was Poplar housing association, where it was deemed that Poplar was a functional public authority under the Human Rights Act. That takes us to the useful report that was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, from the Lords and Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights back in 2003-04, entitled The Meaning of Public Authority under the Human Rights Act, which gets to the very matter we have been discussing. Obviously, jurisprudence has developed substantially since then. If the Minister could set out in writing how the Government regard the situation as having evolved since this very clear statement of the answer to the question we are struggling with this afternoon, that would perhaps nail the matter.

Photo of Lord Boateng Lord Boateng Llafur

The Minister has been enormously forbearing and we are very grateful for that. I wonder whether she could help us in this regard in relation to cultural bodies—here I must declare an interest, as an independent non-executive director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. What would be the position of an orchestra that received some funding—by no means the majority of its funding—from the Arts Council, and which determined that, in the aftermath of an invasion of a sovereign nation by another sovereign nation, it no longer wanted to perform supportively of, say, the Bolshoi Ballet? What would be the position of such an orchestra, or of a board, that made that decision because it saw a real reputational risk, in the aftermath of the invasion of a sovereign country, of appearing in support of the national ballet company of the invading nation?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I understand the question. Of course, we now have government sanctions against Russia, so the question is wider. The suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, is a good one, which would perhaps help us to move forward. I have already said that I will look carefully at the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. The example of the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, is of a slightly different kind, asking rather the same question. Perhaps I can come back on that at the same time.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Llafur

May I also ask a question? I am very grateful to the Minister, who has indeed been generous in responding, even if she has been unable to offer the Committee further clarification. Virtually all training in this country is privately provided, by private organisations, but publicly funded. Where do they fit into all this? They receive public money—from the DWP, say. I remember, as the former Secretary of State, visiting a lot of private providers. Where do they fit in? Do they come under the contractual relationship to which the Minister referred, or are they caught by the Bill?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

It depends, and it also depends on case law under the Human Rights Act, which I have undertaken to look at and come back to noble Lords.

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

My Lords, I cannot resist suggesting that one definition of a “public function” is somewhere you are served warm white wine and canapés. That is a suggestion of how loose some of these terms can be.

The concern that a lot of us have about the Bill is that we are not entirely confident that the Government have thought through its full implications. The manifesto commitment was specific to boycotts against Israel and was concerned particularly with local authorities and universities. But we have a Bill here with a much wider set of definitions and a universal set of foreign states to which it applies, which raises a much larger number of questions. We also have a whole succession of loose definitions, which the DLUHC memorandum to the Delegated Powers Committee says, in effect, that we should not worry too much about, as we will do this all with regulations. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, would think that it is not necessarily always a good idea to leave everything to regulations. We are asking for greater clarity, certainty and, above all, precision, and a more limited potential scope for the Bill.

The ball is in the Government’s court, and I very much hope that this will be one of those occasions in which, between Committee and Report, the Government will come up with amendments which respond to comments that have been made constructively by us. The Minister will recall a government Bill in the previous Session for which the Government produced 340 amendments between one stage and another. We are not asking for quite that many here; we are just asking for some that begin to provide much greater precision. On that basis, I will happily withdraw my amendment, and look forward to some constructive discussions between Committee and Report.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 5:15, 17 Ebrill 2024

Before the noble Lord sits down, I will repeat the point that the Bill applies only to investment and procurement decisions, as everyone understands. We are trying to find a way forward on a manifesto commitment to ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts or disinvestment or sanction campaigns against foreign countries. Obviously, we need to discuss a little further how we deal with that, but I reiterate the point that I made about the use of the Human Rights Act, because we are trying to be helpful by calling on existing case law. The concern that I had about the amendments we are discussing today is that they might extend the Bill in a way that was not exactly where the Committee seemed to be coming from. I look forward to further discussions on this key matter.

Amendment 10 withdrawn.

Amendments 11 to 14 not moved.

Clause 2 agreed.

Clause 3: Exceptions