Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 7:45 pm ar 7 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Ceidwadwyr 7:45, 7 Mai 2024

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow that speech, although I respectfully point out that groups such as Diaspora Alliance hold the same sway and weight in the Jewish community as, for example, Gays for Trump would in the homosexual community in America. You can always find a Jew or Jewish group who will say whatever you want; going back to the Talmud, we are a disputatious people. I would gently warn noble Lords against picking people in the Jewish community who happen to agree with what they say. The two main communal bodies, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council have been forthright in support of the Bill.

Let me turn to Clause 3(7), which is what this amendment focuses on. As we know, the way in which the Bill works is that unless a country is added to the Schedule by the Secretary of State, a public body cannot discriminate against it on essentially political grounds—I paraphrase. Clause 3(7) provides more procedural protection to Israel and to the territories listed in it because its effect is that a future Secretary of State cannot add Israel or those territories to the Schedule—that can be done only by way of primary legislation, as the noble Baroness just pointed out.

The purpose of this amendment is obvious although I note that, perhaps wisely, its proposers were neither able nor willing to say so in terms in a Member’s explanatory statement. Its purpose is to strip Israel of that procedural protection to make it easier procedurally, and therefore also politically, for a future Secretary of State to give a green light to a boycott of Israel. That, in terms, is what this amendment is designed to do and what, if it became part of the Bill, it would do.

Two main arguments have been made in support of removing Clause 3(7) from the Bill—let me say a word or two about each. The first is that Clause 3(7) does not distinguish between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as it is said the UK is required to do. There are two points in relation to that: first, what is the source of this supposed obligation?

I referred in an earlier group to the opinion from Richard Hermer KC. I declare an interest: he is a friend, but the fact that he is will not stop me saying that I think he has got it hopelessly wrong on this point. His opinion says that there is a

“wider international law obligation on all states to ensure that impediments to Palestinian self-determination are brought to an end”.

To support that proposition, he cites the 2004 ICJ advisory opinion on the separation wall. That, of course, is an advisory opinion and, in terms, is limited to the separation wall itself, which the ICJ refers to as an “impediment” to Palestinian self-determination

“resulting from the construction of the wall”.

We could mount a very good argument, and I would, that it is the construction of that wall which advances Palestinian self-determination because without it, there would still be suicide bombings and people blown up on buses and in cafes, but let us put that to one side.