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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 8:30 pm ar 7 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 8:30, 7 Mai 2024

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for his comments. I feel a bit left out as the only person who has not been to Palestine or Israel. I was due to go on 7 October. As we have discussed, this amendment would remove Section 37 from the Bill so that Ministers could by secondary legislation allow public authorities to carry out their own boycott campaigns against Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the occupied Golan Heights. I am keen to make progress on our line-by-line consideration of the Bill, but I think I should briefly repeat that this legislation has three objectives: first, to uphold the integrity of British foreign policy decided by the Cabinet collectively on advice from the FCDO and others; secondly, to enable public authorities to focus on their core functions when delivering for the public on investment and procurement and to avoid damage to community cohesion; and, thirdly, to prevent the most divisive of these campaigns by public authorities which target Israel in particular and promote anti-Semitism in the UK.

We have seen the disturbing things happening in our universities today, with Jewish students not feeling safe, and what has happened in some local authorities in recent years. Our manifesto commitment and this Bill seek to address one aspect of the current troubles, including divestment campaigns. We need to find a way through. I am grateful for the suggestion of meetings between now and Report.

This amendment introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, would allow Ministers to negate by secondary legislation the key objective of our primary legislation. That would not be right. We have heard from the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Leigh, about how the BDS campaign singles out the world’s only Jewish state for unique treatment, and we heard in the Public Bill Committee of the distress felt by the Jewish community when Israel is targeted in such a manner by public authorities that, it seems to it, in no other case attempt to pursue foreign policy. These anti-Israel BDS campaigns do very little to promote peace in the Middle East, while sowing division and distrust in the UK.

I want to take the opportunity of our discussion of international issues to return briefly to the question raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. He asked whether public authorities would make the judgment of whether a procurement or investment decision risked putting the UK in breach of international law. Public authorities would make that judgment. They would need to do so to the existing legal standard of reasonableness and would be subject to the enforcement powers in the Bill if they did not. I have committed to taking away and considering carefully the points made about international law today, and I look forward to returning to that issue on Report.

Let me return to my overall case. The purpose of Clause 3(7) is to give Parliament the ability to scrutinise a future ministerial decision that would reverse a core objective of this legislation. Such a decision could have a very harmful effect on community cohesion while doing very little to advance peace and security in the Middle East. The amendment would allow Ministers to use secondary legislation to negate the key objectives. That would undermine parliamentary sovereignty. Should a future Government wish to allow such campaigns by public authorities, they should go through the same legislative scrutiny that this Government are going through to prevent them. The Government have ensured in the Bill that the scope of delegated powers is appropriately limited and that the core of the Bill cannot be altered by statutory instrument. In addition to this clause, we have limited the ability of the Secretary of State to remove local authorities, UK and devolved government Ministers and local government pension schemes from the scope. I also want to highlight that we have not received any challenge from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee with regard to the Bill.

We should be in no doubt that preventing BDS campaigns by public authorities against Israel, the Occupied Territories and the occupied Golan Heights is a core part of the Bill. This is due to the impact that such campaigns can have in contributing to and legitimising anti-Semitism, as highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes.

However, it is important to note that nothing in the Bill changes our foreign policy in regard to these areas. We do not recognise—I emphasise this—the settlements as part of Israel. Our position is reflected in our continued support for UN Security Council Resolution 2334. The Government’s position is that the Bill is in compliance with that resolution. My noble friend Lord Wolfson explained well why this is the case, and why Israel can, and should, be treated differently, reflecting the way that it is often singled out for unique treatment by many others.