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Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

Volume 837: debated on Wednesday 20 March 2024

Committee (1st Day)

Welsh Legislative Consent withheld; Scottish and Northern Ireland Legislative Consent sought; Kings consent sought.

Clause 1: Disapproval of foreign state conduct prohibited

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, leave out from “the” to the end of line 8 and insert “political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct was the primary or sole factor in the decision”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would clarify that political and moral disapproval must be seen to be a central factor and not a supplementary consideration in any relevant decision.

My Lords, as we are starting Committee, I will say a few things about how we should handle the Bill from now on. After Second Reading and the Commons stages, during which there were a large number of sharp criticisms from Conservatives, as well as others, about the quality of the drafting and the coverage of the Bill, I would have expected the Government, between Second Reading and Committee, to have produced a number of government amendments to clarify some of the many imprecisions in the Bill and perhaps to have arranged to meet some of us who had spoken at Second Reading. I am sorry that that has not happened, and I very much hope that, between Committee and Report, the Government will respond to some of the criticisms by bringing forward clarifying amendments, and that the Minister and the Bill team will be willing to meet with us to discuss some of the arrangements.

The lack of engagement is troubling, and the absence of government amendments at this stage is extremely worrying. I recognise that this is very much a Michael Gove Bill and that he, as Secretary of State, probably wishes to get it through, if possible, without amendment. But here we are in the amending House, and the Minister also has a duty, as a Lords Minister, to listen to and engage with the reasoned criticisms made of the many highly imprecise elements in this Bill, and to respond.

I have two amendments in this group. One raises the question of what is meant by “political or moral disapproval”, and whether the word “influenced” in the phrase

“influenced by political and moral disapproval”

is sufficient. The second, Amendment 6, refers to

“any person seeking to persuade the decision-maker”,

as well as the decision-maker.

As the Minister will know, environmental, social and corporate governance has a long history. It goes back to the Sullivan principles from the United States, which I am sure she will remember. They were formulated by Mr Sullivan, a director of General Motors, in the context of apartheid South Africa and set out a number of principles that companies and others should follow when dealing with investments and procurement. Those principles have since expanded into the whole ESG dimension, which we see actively discussed in Britain, the United States and a number of other market economy countries. The right wing in the United States is busily attacking them in favour of what one has to describe as an amoral capitalism, in which profit is the only thing you are ever allowed to think about. I recall that the first person who started attacking the Sullivan principles was Professor Milton Friedman, who strongly believed that companies have no other duties than to pursue the greatest profit possible for their shareholders.

We need to know what is meant by

“influenced by moral or political disapproval”.

My Amendment 1 suggests that it has to be very considerable in order to be a primary cause of the decision, not simply something that comes in as, or can be argued under Clause 5 to have been—we will get to that later in terms of judicial review—part of the reasons why the decision was taken.

One of our many worries about the Bill is the extent to which it opens the door to litigation through a great many of its imprecise terms. The question, therefore, is whether or not any indication of political or moral disapproval begins to get captured under the Bill, or whether this has to be the major reason why such a decision is taken.

I was very struck as I went through the impact assessment and the Explanatory Memorandum by the sheer lack of evidence that much of this has happened. We find a reference to a council that in 2014 discussed whether or not to, and that another council in 2016 discussed whether or not to. Neither of them actually did it, but they discussed it. “That is wrong and we should stop them doing things like that” seems to be a pretty thin basis on which to mount a Bill that has the sorts of penalties which this Bill begins to set out. That is very much part of our concerns.

Amendment 6 raises the question of whether it is not only the decision-maker who is going to be liable but

“any person seeking to persuade the decision-maker”.

Does that mean that the Guardian journalist who writes an editorial suggesting that this should be done is going to be caught by it? Does it mean that the lobby group that sends things to the decision-maker is going to be caught by it? Does it have to be a more direct approach? How do we identify that “any person”? This is the sort of drafting that should not appear in a Bill before this House. It has to be clarified or we shall do our utmost to remove it. I beg to move.

I speak to exactly the same issue as did my noble friend. Mine is a simpler amendment. I work on the basis that the Bill will pass in some form or another and if one does a modest, sensible tweak to a Bill, it has a chance of being incorporated into the final version. My Amendment 2 —purely adds one word: “materially”. This would raise the threshold that needs to be met before a decision is deemed to be in breach of this prohibition. If it is not “materially”, things could be prohibited for something very minor. Having “materially” improves the Bill and makes it more logical—we are looking at things of substance, not things that are minor.

My Lords, I rise merely to ask my noble friend the Minister to be very careful about her responses to this. I have a huge problem in that I cannot think of a speech that I have made in this House in which there has not been some moral content, because that is the way I think. I cannot help that. I am very concerned about the clarity with which the Bill is written. My noble friend and I go back a very long way. I have to say to her that when she was a civil servant working with me, she would not have produced a Bill like this. She would have been very angry if I had suggested that it should be as loose as all this. I am sorry to remind her of that fact. All I am interested in is that we do not unhappily and by accident cause a whole lot of legal cases that are unnecessary and which we never meant to.

I have some fundamental problems, not least with the specifics of this. I may wish at some later point to discuss the speech that was made at Second Reading by my noble friend Lord Wolfson, but the first point I want to make has nothing to do with the nature of the Bill itself or what it seeks to do. It is about precision. This is an imprecise Bill and it needs to be precise if it is not to be extremely malignant. All I ask is for my noble friend to try to understand that we need precision here, even those of us who in general do not come here with an antagonistic view. We just want to know what it is about, and you do not understand that if you merely read the Bill. I do not want this constantly to be in the courts. It would be much better to get it right now.

My Lords, Amendments 3 to 5 are in my name. All the amendments in this group have the same objective, which is to find some ways of mitigating the rather unusual and perhaps slightly sinister language of

“political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct”—

the language that gives the provision its title. Amendments 1 and 2 seek to achieve that objective by retaining that concept but raising the bar for its application. I agree that this approach may be sensible, and it is one that I encourage the Government to consider very seriously.

My amendments go a little further. I tried to think of ways in which the main provision of the Bill—Clause 1 —could operate without the novel concept of a prohibition on

“being influenced by political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct”.

I note that this is not an attempt to frustrate the Bill. As the Minister will recall, I spoke in support of the Bill at Second Reading and I support the Government’s intentions. I am suggesting this different way forward because I am not really persuaded that the policy objectives require us to introduce this concept in our legislation. I urge the Government to test more proportionate and more focused ways to achieve those objectives.

As I understand those objectives, the core purpose is to ensure that public bodies, when taking procurement or investment decisions, do not impose a de facto sanctions regime or a de facto ban or boycott on a foreign state on the basis of their own judgments about a territorial dispute, the status of a foreign territory or the presence of a foreign Government in a particular territory. It seems to me that that objective can be achieved equally effectively by focusing the duty in Clause 1 on not having regard to territorial considerations, rather than in the current formulation of a duty not to be influenced by political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct. Subject to the exceptions, it would still be the case that if a public authority were to have regard to a territorial consideration, it would probably do so because of disapproval of a moral or political kind of the foreign state’s conduct in the territory. But it would be better if we can get to the result that the Government are pursuing without that language of political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct.

I accept that a criticism of the proposals may be that if we remove that expression “moral or political disapproval” from Clause 1, as my amendments would do, and focus instead on territorial considerations, the main provision of the Bill would not substantially improve on Section 17 of the Local Government Act 1988.

The Bill would supersede the Local Government Act in the part where it prohibits local authorities from considering non-commercial matters in relation to decisions about public supply or works contracts, including

“the country or territory of origin of supplies to, or the location in any country or territory of the business activities or interests of, contractors”.

This part of Section 17 of the Local Government Act would be omitted by the effect of a separate clause in the Bill. But Clause 1, even with the amendment I propose, would still go further than Section 17. In particular, the duty not to have regard to foreign state conduct in relation to territorial considerations, such as the existence of a territorial dispute, would still be able to capture indirect bans or boycotts, which I understand is the Government’s main concern.

I look forward to what the Government have to say. Again, I stress that my main concern is to encourage them to think of ways of tightening the language in Clause 1, and mitigating or perhaps altogether removing this notion of

“political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct”.

My Lords, I apologise for my not being able to speak at Second Reading, although if I had, I would have agreed with my noble friend Lord Wolfson on much of what he had to say. I also apologise for slightly jumping the gun on the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, particularly as what he said was so interesting and informative.

I just wanted to question Amendment 1. If one is seeking clarity and certainty, introducing the idea of having a

“primary or sole factor in the decision”

seems extremely difficult to prove, whereas showing that the decision was “influenced” is much easier and, as I understand it, a recognised legal term.

My Lords, I have problems with all the amendments in this group. Amendment 1 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, would elevate “political or moral disapproval” to be the sole or main factor, and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, wants to introduce the concept of materiality into influence. Both these would just create huge loopholes, which would allow public bodies to conceal their boycott activities within other factors. Clever lawyers would find ways of writing papers which support decision-making in, say, local authorities or other bodies affected by the Bill, by reference to a whole load of other factors, to support the claim that they were not “materially” influenced by their disapproval of a foreign state, or that it was not the sole or main factor. I genuinely have a problem with the watering-down implied by Amendments 1 and 2.

I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, said about his amendments. I understand that he is trying to find a way through by removing the reference to “political or moral disapproval”, but I am not convinced that his amendments work either. In particular, I am not sure what the restriction to “that territory” in his Amendment 4 will do. Let us suppose that the territorial consideration is Ukraine, because it has to relate to a particular foreign territory by virtue of subsection (3). Does that mean that the decision-maker must have no regard to what is happening in Ukraine itself? It seems to me that “that territory” can be related only to the territorial consideration referenced in subsection (2). In that case, it would be Ukraine. If, say, Russia is the foreign state you have a problem with, it seems that you can take account of its activities only in Ukraine. You could not take account of activities that were not in Ukraine—for example, attacks from other places, such as the Black Sea, or whether it takes children from Ukraine back to Russia. If you thought that Russia was the territory—still restricting it to one territory—you have the problem the other way around; you could take activities only in Russia, but not in Ukraine, which is the fundamental problem. That creates an interpretive problem.

While these distinctions might not matter if we are talking about Russia and Ukraine, if you try and then relate it to a council or other public body trying to boycott Israel, and relate that to the complexities of the different parts of the territory around the State of Israel, you may end up finding some odd conclusions on how the reformulation might work in practice. I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, is a very clever lawyer and I am not, and I may well have completely misunderstood how his amendment is intended to work.

My Lords, because this is the first group, I again state that I think that a lot of these amendments are trying to establish what is intended by the Bill, in a probing way. In that sense, they are very helpful for clarification on the language used. It was clear from Second Reading that most of the people who have since tabled these amendments and are speaking now are not in any way defending BDS; it was clear to me anyway. These boycott schemes are censorious and illiberal, and very often, as was stated at the time, the seeding ground for anti-Semitism in public life. In that sense, I oppose them; I am just not clear how the Bill will actually tackle them.

As we speak, just to use an example, the Rio Cinema in London has just cancelled its Eurovision party on the basis that it will not hold it while Israel still has somebody in the Eurovision Song Contest. I do not know whether this is self-declared BDS; it is a charity, and I am not quite sure how the Bill would apply. The point I kept trying to make at Second Reading was that, so often, I feel that the Bill will miss where a lot of the anti-Semitic censorship is occurring, around the periphery, rather than just in terms of divestment and investment, and so on.

I say that because those of us who are interested in tackling those issues need to have as much free speech as possible. I particularly support Amendment 6 from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire—although both his amendments are interesting—which makes the point about

“any person seeking to persuade the decision-maker”.

That is what politics is, is it not? Trying to persuade a decision-maker—lobbying and trying to have an influence on politics—is surely the job we are all in, even if we disapprove of, in this instance, what someone is trying to persuade about. I just get anxious about this being in a Bill; it sets a dangerous precedent.

Points have been made well by other noble Lords about the use of the language of political and moral disapproval; I want there to be far more political and moral disapproval in politics today than there is. It is an entirely good thing to make that clear. I wish there was a bit more “political and moral disapproval” leadership in general, even though many of us arguing that would disagree over what it should be. That is fair, but it is far better than a kind of technocratic approach. Also, if we are to win the hearts and minds of many of the young people who go along with BDS campaigns, we will have to show our political and moral disapproval, and win them over and seek to persuade them. Noble Lords get the point, but it is not clear how the language in the section to which these amendments refer will help us to tackle the problem that the Bill seeks to address.

My Lords, I also wish to speak in support of Amendments 1 and 6 in the name of my noble friend Lord Wallace. As a former councillor, I can imagine that former colleagues will be absolutely horrified at the scope of the Bill. We are talking about how moral and political disapproval cannot be used as the basis of a decision. Many councillors get into politics because they have moral and political views—they want to change the world and do something about things in their own area. I would welcome clarity, as others have asked for, on how it is to be established whether a decision-maker has been

“influenced by political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct”.

What means might be used to actually determine this, in the event of needing to enforce action against it?

Councillors on a committee such as a pension committee receive expert professional advice from council officers and external advisers. Would these people be seen as people

“seeking to persuade the decision-maker”?

Surely it is entirely desirable that such advice be given. What is the position under the Bill of

“any person seeking to persuade the decision-maker”?

Is the adviser prevented from discussing risks of investment or procurement? It is not at all clear what the position of the person seeking to persuade is.

How will the possibility of liability for enforcement action and a potential monetary penalty affect the need for open and frank discussion, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, asked, particularly with regard to relevant information and advice to people taking decisions in pension committees? Is there a risk that advisers will be unwilling to risk liability and councillors will be unwilling to serve on such a body if they risk their reputation, and penalties, including monetary penalties?

I would also welcome clarity from the Minister on the concept of “a reasonable observer”. Decisions on finance and investment are complex and may raise a range of issues and factors influencing a decision. Will the reasonable observer be someone with a certain level of financial expertise? If so, how will this be defined and determined? We need much more clarity, particularly for elected members in local government, as to how the Bill will directly affect them.

My Lords, I have an entry in the register of interests. I seek clarity from the Minister. I may not need it, but I would like to tease it out, to see whether my interpretation of these clauses is correct. My question is about the word “decision”, and what the statutory understanding of that word is. My understanding is clarified by Clause 2(2), which says:

“A ‘procurement decision’ is a decision about a contract for the supply of goods, services or works to the decision-maker.”

That seems to me absolutely clear. I want to clarify if that is also the Minister’s understanding of what a decision in this context is.

I ask that because of an example from the University of Essex student union, which has a policy passed 15 or 16 years ago, described as a BDS policy, which is specifically targeted against the state of Israel. On the student union website that policy is deemed to be an educational policy to stimulate discussion and debate. But the student union, in applying the policy, has chosen specifically to address the purchasing of kosher food products, including those from Israel, in the student union shop.

In the context of the amendments, and in terms of how the general public might understand this, as well as those more directly impacted in the public sector and elsewhere, it would be helpful to know whether I am right in my understanding that the University of Essex student union policy, which has not been turned into a procurement decision, as defined in Clause 2(2), would not be covered by the Bill, because it is merely an educational policy, as opposed to a procurement and economic activity decision. To know that would be helpful in understanding what the scope of the Bill is and is not, and what the legal situation will be when it is enacted, as I presume it will be.

My Lords, I spoke on Second Reading, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Deben for taking the trouble to read my speech. I wait with anticipation to find out the, no doubt very few, points on which we disagree. That will perhaps be for another day, but I look forward to it.

On these amendments I can be brief, because the central point has already been made: that the proposed amendments, especially those in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, would add complexity and increase the likelihood of litigation; I declare the obvious interest in that respect. The amendments would therefore make the Bill not more precise but less.

I say that for three reasons. First, introducing words such as “primary or sole” is an invitation to litigation. My second short point—forgive the legal geekiness, but we are in Committee—is that a quick search of indicates that that phrase does not appear anywhere else in legislation. “Sole or primary” does, so in case we go forward with this, I would invite the noble Lord to flip it round, so that we put the more general word “sole” first, followed by the word “primary”. That is not my main point, but as we are in Committee, which is the place for geeky legal points, I may have just made one.

Another amendment introduces the word “material”. That is a really problematic word in law, as are words such as “significant”, because we always have the debate about what the opposite of “material” is. Is it immaterial—that is, de minimis? In that case, that is not really, as I understand it, the force of the amendment. “Material” here really means “of substance”, and it is, I suggest, not a good word to use if one is seeking to get that point across.

However, my main point is that this part of the Bill is drafted clearly and that whether we add “primary or sole” or “material”, that would add complexity and invite more litigation.

I was going to intervene on the noble Lord, but he finished his speech before I could. Maybe we will have an opportunity when the Minister responds to the debate, because the idea that the words “moral” and “political” are not vague stuns me. Who is to define “moral”? That is very difficult.

This is one of the rare occasions in the House when I can honestly agree with practically all the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. I also agree with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I want to stress that with the amendments, especially those to Clause 1, it is necessary to probe what the words mean, and get a better understanding of them. Even if I do not personally feel committed to the amendments, it is important to use this stage to elicit from the Minister a better understanding of the intent of Clause 1.

I do not want to repeat what the noble Baroness said, but this is not about how we address BDS strategies. The impact of the clause is far wider and encompasses a whole host of things that the Government may not have really intended. Who knows? Clause 1 does not define “political” or “moral”. It is extremely wide-ranging and could cover any decision or consideration that suggests a negative view of an existing, previous or potential policy action or inaction, or other behaviour associated with a Government or any public authority in another country.

As the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, said, the reasonable observer of the decision-making process test sets an extremely low bar for considering whether a decision was influenced by political or moral disapproval. It does not distinguish between minor or significant influence, and it does not clearly define a reasonable observer. I hope we can use the amendments in this group to probe substantially on these issues.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that the consideration of financial, reputational, legal, environmental, social, governance and other risks in procurement and investment decisions are often complex and overlapping, and some considerations may be confidential. How are we going to sort all those things out if the Bill becomes law?

The legislation does not require the reasonable person to be someone who is familiar with the subject matter and decision-making processes. Clause 1(4) and 1(6) do not define a public authority in a foreign territory, so it could include state-run companies in some countries. This could result in additional uncertainty where the conduct of a public authority differs from the official policy of a foreign state, and that is a threat to actions in support of persecuted people across the world.

The sweeping approach to Clause 1 will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on public bodies being able to make ethical procurement and investment decisions and take actions that support upholding international law, democracy and human rights. I know I have an amendment later on, so I will not go into too much detail now.

As I mentioned at Second Reading, the Bill is incoherent and it waters down the Procurement Act 2023. That Act sets key objectives covered by procurement, including supporting public benefit, in Clause 12(1)(b), and acting and being seen to act with integrity, in Clause 12(1)(d). The Act also gave a mandate to commissioning authorities to award contracts based on the “most advantageous tender” submitted. That change of words moves away from the previous priority of the “most economically advantageous tender” under which the previous procurement regime existed. What was the intent of that change in language? The intent was to enable contracting authorities to give more weight to award criteria such as decent work and wider social values. Again, we are coming to other amendments, particularly about the environment.

This wide definition, which is covered in Clause 1, is the fundamental problem with the Bill. The Explanatory Notes state:

“Clause 1 prohibits relevant public authorities from having regard to a territorial consideration in a way that indicates moral or political disapproval of a country or territory’s foreign state conduct, when making decisions … This clause is designed to catch both open participation in boycotts”,

which the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, talked about,

“or divestment campaigns, and more subtle ways of singling out countries or territories that could produce similar results”.

As I say, this sweeping approach will have a chilling effect and will impact on public authorities in upholding international law.

A point I want to focus on is that the UK Government have committed to implementing international standards, including the UN guiding principles on business and human rights—the UNGPs—as well as the commitment made in terms of the environment in the Paris agreement. Carrying out effective due diligence is central to public bodies, as state institutions, being able to fulfil their human rights obligations, implement UNGPs and make ethical procurement and investment decisions. However, because the terminology, such as “political and moral disapproval”, is undefined, this will create problems for public authorities when carrying out their due diligence. That is what will be needed in the due diligence process to avoid falling foul of this legislation, when clarity is so lacking.

Let us remind ourselves what the UNGPs say about corporate responsibility:

“The responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights refers to internationally recognized human rights—understood, at a minimum, as those expressed in the International Bill of Human Rights and the principles concerning fundamental rights set out in the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work”.

I am very familiar with the ILO and its conventions— I have spent a lifetime quoting them—and they are very important in terms of establishing minimum standards. I am not talking about workers’ rights—Rolls-Royce—but about very minimum standards. All public bodies have an obligation to think about those issues and decide what influence they will have on their final procurement decisions.

To come back to the clause, I am extremely worried that it will suddenly stop people thinking openly and having a dialogue or a debate. I worry that it will stop people thinking about what the right thing to do is and stop them making any decision or taking any of those things into account. The whole of Clause 1 would benefit from amendments so that we can ensure that they continue to carry out their duties in accordance with the sort of international law and conventions that this country upholds and values so much.

I give fair warning: we are in Committee and I am sure the Minister will be attempting to give us clarity, but I hope we can intervene to ensure that, when something is said, we can better understand the impact and intent of this clause.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their amendments and for their contributions to the debate. I look forward to scrutinising the Bill and these proposed changes in detail during the four Committee days that we have set aside—although this one has been a little truncated. I remain open to listening to noble Lords’ views from all sides, and I hope we can use these sessions to put forward the best possible version of this legislation.

Clarity on all sides is important, and I look forward to further meetings with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, as the Bill progresses. He knows I enjoy meetings with him on the Bills that we have done together. Probing amendments are also important, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, has just said. We were of course both involved with the Procurement Act and I look forward to discussing how the two pieces of legislation interact and how human rights considerations are respected—as they are.

I hope that, in responding to these six amendments, I can assure the House that Clause 1 as currently drafted is the most proportionate and clear way of fulfilling the manifesto commitment of banning public bodies from imposing their own boycott and divestment campaigns.

Clause 1 sets out three tests that must be met to trigger the ban. First, the ban is narrow. It applies only to procurement or investment decisions. Secondly, the public body must have considered a specific territory or country as part of making its decision. Thirdly, that consideration must reflect political or moral disapproval of the conduct of a foreign state.

I turn first, if I may, to Amendments 3, 4 and 5, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame. I am grateful for his general support. However, together, his amendments would alter the scope of the clause. Amendments 3 and 5 would prohibit public authorities from being influenced in any way by foreign state conduct. This would widen the prohibition in Clause 1 to include considerations that relate specifically or mainly to a country or territory in a way that is influenced by approval of foreign state conduct. The current drafting prohibits only disapproval of foreign state conduct, and the inclusion of moral and political disapproval is necessary to ensure that the Bill does not capture legitimate territorial considerations that are not about boycotts and divestment campaigns and would take the Bill beyond the manifesto commitment. An example of this would include encouraging trade with important trading partners. These amendments would therefore prohibit a public authority from favouring goods or services from a particular country or territory, based on approval of that country’s conduct. It therefore captures a broader range of decisions that are not relevant to boycotts and divestment campaigns.

Amendment 4, on the other hand, would narrow the prohibition so that it applied only in the case of disapproval of a foreign state’s conduct within its own territory. It would not apply in the case of disapproval of a foreign state’s conduct outside its territory. I agree with the comments made by my noble friend Lady Noakes: this would effectively allow public authorities to boycott countries whose foreign policy they disapproved of. This could leave a significant loophole—a word I think she used—in the ban and undermine the manifesto commitment.

I will now address Clause 1(7) in response to Amendment 6 by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Janke. This amendment would permit public authorities to engage in boycotts and divestment campaigns as long as they were only a result of pressure from a third party, such as a student union, rather than a result of the public authority’s own moral or political disapproval. Subsection (7) is a necessary element of the Bill, as public authorities such as universities and local authorities are frequently pressured to engage in boycotts or divestment campaigns. For example, student unions at Warwick University and Sussex University have passed motions calling for their universities to divest from Israeli companies. If a university conducted a boycott or divestment campaign because of such pressure, rather than because of its own view of a foreign state, we would want that campaign to be caught. Subsection (7) extends to any person seeking to persuade the public authority. However, for there to be a breach of the ban, an enforcement authority must be satisfied that there is enough evidence that a third party influenced the public authority.

I will address the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, on decision-making, if she would agree, on group 2 because we are going to be discussing the meaning of a decision-maker for the purposes of the Bill.

Finally, and most importantly, I turn to Amendments 1 and 2, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Palmer of Childs Hill. Amendment 1 would narrow the scope of the prohibition in Clause 1 so that it prohibited public authorities from taking account of territorial considerations only where moral or political disapproval of foreign state conduct is the “primary or sole” factor in the decision. My noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley asked a question which made this point, while my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar was concerned that it would increase uncertainty and lead to legal disputes.

Similarly, Amendment 2, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, would narrow the prohibition to decisions “materially” influenced by moral or political disapproval of foreign state conduct. Like my noble friend Lord Wolfson, I do not agree with weakening the effect of the Bill in this way. Public authorities buying goods or services, or making investments, should not be influenced by moral or political disapproval of foreign state conduct to any degree, unless—and this is important—one of the exemptions, such as environmental or labour misconduct, applies.

I reassure the Committee that Clause 1 will not capture fleeting and inconsequential remarks made during the procurement or investment decision-making process. The Bill prohibits only considerations that a reasonable observer of the decision-making process would consider a contributing factor to a decision.

It is precisely that point I want to better understand, because many decisions are going to be complex. While the Minister mentioned the exclusion of things, there could be a combination of issues which would influence the final decision. Somebody might be able to say, “Actually, that combination has become a moral and political thing”. That is what really concerns me. The Minister is very confident that certain things will not be captured, but I do not see that. I would like her to explain in a little more detail that final point she made.

We will try to do that. I am also happy to discuss this further, because it is obviously an important point in relation to the Bill and, as we agreed at the beginning, we need to try to find a way that does not create a lot of uncertainty.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, commented on the perceived lack of evidence for the Bill, but boycotts have been attempted by several public authorities in recent years. In 2014, Leicester City Council passed a motion boycotting goods from Israeli settlements, as far as the law allows. Several other local authorities have passed boycotting or condemnatory motions, including Swansea Council, Gwynedd Council—

I am sorry to interrupt, but on that point can the Minister tell us what the FCDO’s advice and the United Nations decisions are in relation to the Occupied Territories?

I will see if I can come back to it before we finish. I was trying to give the examples that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, had asked for. There was West Dunbartonshire Council and Stirling Council, and in 2021 Lancaster City Council passed a motion in support of the wider BDS movement.

I come back to the first point that the Minister made. It is really important that we are clear about this, because one concern we have mentioned—I am not going to make a Second Reading speech—is the impact that this Bill has on the United Kingdom’s foreign policy. If there is a discussion about goods from and investments in the Occupied Territories, she needs to explain why she has evidenced that and how it is supported by the FCDO’s own advice and the Government’s support for United Nations resolutions on that subject.

No, that is not what I am asking. The first example that the Minister gave was in relation to the Occupied Territories. I really think it is important that we understand why she has referenced that.

I was giving a list and I will certainly come back on that question. We have a group relating to the Occupied Territories later on, when we can go into this in more detail. If the noble Lord can give me a bit of slack, I will see if I can get fuller information and come back to that at the end.

I was trying to answer the question on evidence. If I may, I should also like to cite, from September 2023, Islington Council passing a motion in opposition to this Bill, expressing its support for BDS campaigns—which everybody has said that they are very unhappy about—and resolving to:

“Continue to ensure that our own ethical procurement strategy doesn’t include procuring goods and services produced by oppressive regimes”.

I have not covered all the BDS activity in public bodies, but I hope that this demonstrates to the noble Lord that there is a considerable evidence base.

Separately, I note the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Mann, about student unions and the provision of kosher foods in universities. We are going to discuss that point. The noble Lord has tabled some interesting amendments on it in group 3.

My point was not in relation to the amendment; it was in relation to the fact that a significant number of people in the Jewish community have said to me that they anticipate one of the key benefits of this Bill being that student unions will not be able to debate and pass BDS resolutions. My understanding of how the Bill is written and how it has been framed is that what the University of Essex student union has done, whereby it deemed its policy to be an educational tool rather than a procurement decision, explicitly would not be covered by the Bill. That is important, because the expectation is coming from multiple sources within the Jewish community that that is what would happen. Can the Minister clarify whether I am wrong on this, because my reading of the Bill suggests that I am right that—whether one calls it a good thing or a loophole—it would not be covered by the Bill?

The noble Lord is right—student unions are not covered, and I think that I made that clear at Second Reading. It is private activity. Clearly, what matters is the influence on public bodies, which is what we are discussing today.

To come back on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, obviously the Government recognise the risks associated with economic and financial activities in those settlements. We do not support boycotts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Such boycotts are inherently divisive and could lead inadvertently to negative effects on Palestinians as well as undermining the aim of this Bill, which is to ensure that the UK speaks with one voice internationally. That does not change existing government guidance on doing business in those territories. The Government do not recognise the settlements as part of Israel, as the noble Lord knows, and we have already moved to ban those responsible for violence in the West Bank from the UK—there have been some recent sanctions.

I have tried to answer the probing amendments. I hope that this provides noble Lords with clarification and a rationale for the scope of Clause 1, and I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I am slightly better informed. We have many difficulties with this Bill. I must say that it would be much easier if it were simply a Bill about boycott of Israel and mainly about sanctions. It would be narrower, and we would know what we were talking about. But it is a Bill that is supposed to apply to every single foreign state in the world except for Ireland, which raises very large questions.

I disapprove strongly of the Rwandan Government’s support for M23 in the Congo civil war, and I disapprove very strongly of Myanmar’s behaviour towards the Rohingya, et cetera. Clause 1 is entitled “Disapproval of foreign state conduct prohibited”, which is itself a very uneasy label and not the sort of thing that ought to appear in legislation. I believed that I lived in a liberal democracy in which government’s reach was limited and free speech, as Conservative Peers are always telling us, is entrenched, and one is allowed to dissent. This appears to be extending the reach of government.

I appreciate that this is a DLUHC Bill that is aimed primarily at local authorities, although it is extended to include universities—and whether it includes student unions we will investigate further. As it happens, I had the current president of the Cambridge Students’ Union here last Wednesday, and I showed him a copy of the Bill—and he was convinced that it would apply to student unions; it is quite clear that some people would like it to do so.

There is a great deal more that we need to find out about all this. The closing down of public debate that the Bill implies is something that worries all of us a great deal. I am happy to withdraw my amendment for a moment, but we shall return to all these questions extensively as we move from one imprecise clause to another.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendment 2

Tabled by

2: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, after “was” insert “materially”

Member's explanatory statement

The inclusion of the word “materially” would raise the threshold that would need to be met before a decision was deemed to be in breach of this prohibition.

My amendment was of a probing nature. I am grateful to the Minister for giving more detail. As we go forward with the Bill, I shall be particularly interested to see how “materially”—the word that I tried to add—is looked at in terms of local authority pension funds. That worries me, because they make their investment decisions. There needs to be a material point, otherwise those investment decisions can be upset very easily by the Bill.

Amendment 2 not moved.

Amendment 3

Tabled by

3: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, leave out “political or moral disapproval of”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment, along with two other amendments in my name, seeks to focus the prohibition in Section 1 on territorial considerations in connection with foreign state conduct, rather than political or moral approval of foreign state conduct, as this is a more proportionate way of achieving the policy objective.

I too shall not move my amendment, but I reiterate the point that it would be quite helpful if the Government gave some thought to that language that makes so many of us across the political spectrum, and levels of support for the Bill, uncomfortable. Do we really need political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct as a central concept in Clause 1? I would be grateful if further thought could be given to that question.

Amendment 3 not moved.

Amendments 4 to 6 not moved.

Amendment 7

Moved by

7: Clause 1, page 1, leave out lines 20 to 22

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is to seek clarity on when an individual is considered to be the decision maker for the purposes of this bill.

My Lords, it might be helpful to explain that most, if not all, the amendments we have tabled reflect the fact that we find this quite a difficult Bill to amend in a way that would make it work because, as many noble Lords have already said, it is very wide-ranging and quite vague in many of its terms. Our amendments are mostly intended to elicit not a response from the Minister to the amendments as such, but an explanation of the Bill’s intention, so that we are clear, or as clear as we can be, about exactly how the Bill is intended to be interpreted. This group of amendments is more about who the Government wish to catch with the measures in the Bill, and how it will work. Through these amendments, we want to tease out how the Government will decide who will be subject to enforcement action.

Amendment 7 would remove lines 20 to 22 in Clause 1:

“and those references to the decision-maker include, in a case where the decision-maker is not an individual”—

I assume that that means a local authority, a university or some other public body—

“the individuals who in fact make the decision for the decision-maker”.

I am not sure whether the Government want, in Clause 1, to include members of a governing body or councillors serving on a particular committee—we will come on later to definitions of public bodies. Often, people serve in these capacities as volunteers or as inexpert lay members. Are the Government really trying to say that they want those individuals to be held to account in a way that, in other parts of the Bill, they seem to be suggesting the body itself is to be affected? We need to be clear in our own minds which it is.

We would like to understand in what circumstances individuals will be given notices and then fines. I know we will come on to this later, but we do not know the extent of these fines. Will the fines be applied differently to individuals, compared to a council or a university? Pragmatically, we would expect them to be, but how will they be treated differently if they are to be subject to enforcement action? How will the enforcement agency decide? Is there to be discretion as to whether it is holding an individual responsible as the decision-maker, or is the organisation the decision-maker? How will it assess that? Will it look at the individual behaviour of particularly influential senior managers, members of staff or elected representatives? Would the chancellor of a university, for example, be held to account, or the wider organisation; and how will that judgment be made? The Explanatory Notes do not help us with this question in relation to Clause 1. That is why we have also tabled Amendment 55, which asks the Secretary of State to publish guidance on the circumstances in which an individual is the decision-maker under the Bill, and the circumstances in which they are not.

I am not a lawyer, so perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, would like to help us out here. When does this corporate liability, if I can put it that way, become an individual liability? The LGA has helpfully given examples of this question arising. I do not know whether noble Lords have had a chance to look at the pre-legislative scrutiny that took place in the Commons. The LGA was very clear about lots of things in its oral evidence, including that some councillors who serve on pensions committees are not particularly expert in managing these funds, but they are very well supported and advised by their officers, and they take their duties very seriously. Even where, say, a newly elected councillor arrives with some grand intention or attempts to argue for some kind of divestment decision, actually, their fiduciary duties, it is pointed out to them, override such concerns, and that does tend to become the view of the committee.

The LGA, because of its experience of how these things work in practice, said in its evidence that any enforcement action should be directed towards the administering authority and not the individual councillors. Can the Minister explain how an enforcement authority will decide whether individual or corporate responsibility applies for a particular decision? The LGA talks about this in relation to judicial review as well, which we will come on to later. The LGA feels that the subject of the judicial review should not be the decision-making authority but rather the enforcement authority, so that it is its decision that is challenged. If it decides not to issue a notice, that can be challenged, but the risk does not reside with the individual councillors.

It is interesting that in relation to Clause 4, which I know we are all very worried about as it concerns the prohibition of statements in support of boycotts, the Explanatory Notes are quite clear, although we will want to tease this out; it helps reinforce the lack of clarity in Clause 1. The Explanatory Notes say on Clause 4:

“It only affects individuals when they are a public authority (for example a Minister of the Crown) or when they make statements or take action on behalf of public authorities. Even when an individual is speaking on behalf of a public authority, the ban only applies to the public authority itself and there is no personal liability for the individual”.

That is helpful and clear, but we do not get that in relation to Clause 1. I do not understand why that is and it would be helpful if the Minister could clarify it for us.

We are not really looking, in the Minister’s response, for a word-by-word critique of what we have tabled. We are using the process that we have, and the only way to get this started is by tabling something. Our aim is to really understand who is going to be subject to the Bill, and how that enforcement process will work in terms of individuals, as opposed to organisations. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am an academic and, in the course of my career, I have been an associated member of three colleges in Oxford and Cambridge. One has a governing body in the mid-30s; the second has one of around 50; and the third has one of nearly 100—much too large, I quite agree. The chilling effect of this clause on those three colleges would be considerable, precisely because it is not entirely clear what it means by the individuals who make the decision for the decision-maker. That requires a great deal more clarification; at the very least, it ought to be in the Explanatory Notes. This is another attempt to ask the Government to come back with something which is a great deal clearer.

In my career, I have also been a historian and an analyst of foreign policy. It is an area in which we spend an awful lot of time defining, discussing and describing decision-making. We very often disagree sharply with each other because it is very difficult to define, for example, exactly who took the crucial decision that started the First World War. Baroness Henig, sadly no longer with us, wrote several books on the subject. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Belgravia, has written several books entirely disagreeing with what other historians have said about various crucial decisions.

That is, again, part of our problem: when a complicated decision is taken, who takes it? How many people are complicit? If you are a member of the council committee which takes the decision and you abstain on the vote—or vote against it—are you also part of the decision-making or not? There is, to say the least, a cloud of uncertainty around this phrase. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, understands it; I must say that I do not.

My Lords, I would also like to probe a little more on the meaning of “decision-maker” in a higher education context, following on from the excellent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace.

Universities are often very decentralised in their structures, and power can be distributed quite far and wide. It is not always concentrated in the vice-chancellor’s office; nor is the governance of universities often as clear- cut as it might be. I would appreciate some clarity as the Bill proceeds on who exactly is going to be identified as the decision-maker in particular situations. Do we mean specifically decisions taken by the executive management team of an institution, principally the vice-chancellor? Do we mean, for example, student unions?

I noted that in my noble friend the Minister’s response to the noble Lord, Lord Mann, that student unions were—if I heard her correctly—out of scope, because they are private bodies. This confuses me a little, because I thought the whole purpose of the Bill, from a political point of view, was to address precisely this issue: student unions getting on their soapboxes and making statements about BDS, and all the rest of it. If they are out of scope of the Bill, I really wonder why universities as a whole are still in scope. It is not the vice-chancellors, academics or heads of department who are making these kinds of noises; it is the student unions. If I understood my noble friend the Minister correctly, they are not even covered. I really question why universities are still in scope at all, but that is a question we will come to later in Committee.

The final point on which I would like some clarity from my noble friend the Minister is whether a decision-maker will also be deemed to be an individual academic, who may manage a research budget. Will the use of that research budget by the individual academic be part of the decision-making process captured by the Bill? If so, how will that be squared with the legal duties on the OfS, among others, to promote academic freedom and freedom of speech in our higher education institutions?

My Lords, it seems to me that there is a bit of confusion going on. Amendment 7, which takes out the words in Clause 1(7), relates only to who is carrying out the disapproval. It is just amplifying those people whose disapproval is taken into account, to see whether or not the clause is engaged. It is not trying to add different categories of decision-maker, because the reference to decision-maker is clear in Clause 2, which we will come on to in another group. It is that definition that then drives enforcement, et cetera.

I was interested in Amendment 55 of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman—although I think it is actually the wrong amendment asking for regulations—because it highlights that decision-makers might be individuals under the Bill, which they can be. As I understand it, the definition of “decision-maker” in Clause 2 encompasses some individuals being the decision-maker from whom all these consequences might flow. That was a complete surprise to me because the Bill is titled the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill—a manifesto commitment related to public bodies. I was completely amazed to find that individuals might be public authorities within the terms of Clause 2, and therefore decision-makers.

I was interested in the noble Baroness’s probing amendment, because I hoped that she would be using that to ask the Minister what kinds of individuals could be decision-makers under the definition that we are using—the Human Rights Act definition. The limited research I have done produced the example of a doctor. When a doctor is carrying out his NHS work, he could be a public authority for that purpose, but when carrying out his private work, he could not be. I did not find much more than that, and I am rather hoping that the Minister will be able to explain to us in rather more detail precisely which individuals are decision-makers within Clause 2.

My Lords, I, too, will speak to this amendment and do so, like the noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Johnson, in relation to universities and higher education. I had some experience of that: I was on two university councils—those of Birmingham and Kent—and I chaired the Birmingham council for five or six years in the early part of this century.

I have to say to the Minister that, as a result of a lot of extremely desirable reforms, the decision-making at universities was concentrated quite heavily on the council. The council did not micromanage every decision, but it was responsible for every decision taken at the university. That responsibility was clearly focused on a much-reduced size of council, down from the 30s or 40s to the 20s, and it meant that a quite a lot of responsibility came on to its members, who were a combination of academics and lay persons—with a majority, on the whole, of lay persons. The lay persons on the council were volunteers and were not paid a penny. Now, if the vagueness in this bit of the legislation is retained, I would not like to be out there trying to recruit new members to university councils, if they thought they were going to be liable for any of the sorts of problems that could arise under this legislation.

I suspect that this is just one of many pieces of this legislation that reinforce the case for simply taking higher education and universities completely out of it. I think that is what we will come to when we get to Report. This is just the first illustration that it will have a remarkably chilling effect on the conduct of councils and the way in which people are prepared to serve—for nothing and as volunteers—on university councils, giving up many hundreds of hours of their lives to making sure that the university is properly administered and decisions properly taken.

My Lords, I preface my remarks by declaring an interest as chancellor of Cardiff University. I apologise that my duties at Cardiff University prevented me attending the whole of Second Reading—so I could not speak, although I attended a significant part of it.

Before I was chancellor of Cardiff University, I was a member of the council of Cardiff Metropolitan University, so I have a background in both executive and non-executive roles at universities. What I have to say very much follows neatly from the noble Lord. My experience is that university councils—and other bodies doing the same job but sometimes with different names—are very highly regulated already. They involve a great deal of training and responsibility and absolutely no financial reward—but there is great satisfaction for those who participate.

In both universities I have mentioned, our problem is always trying to get the suitable range of highly skilled, highly experienced people to participate. If you add another unnecessary layer of responsibility on to those people, you will deter very worthwhile recruits and you will make life more difficult again for our higher education sector. So can the Minister give us examples of universities—and individuals within universities—that have made these inappropriate decisions, so that we can see why universities are included? Otherwise, if there are no examples at the Minister’s fingertips, could the Government give further thought to whether they should be included at all?

My Lords, I want to return, very briefly, to something the noble Lord, Lord Mann, raised earlier. I can understand in the broader sense why universities have been included, because very often it has been universities that have been at the cutting edge of popularising boycotts. They have taken a wide range of forms—and not just in terms of what is sold or invested in. As the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, pointed out, it could be denying people research, not letting Israeli academics come over to speak or whatever. There are all sorts of ways that this happens. So, I understand why the university sector is in scope. My problem is that it is not clear to me how a Bill like this can do anything other than attack academic freedom, which I am interested in defending. I think we have to deal with what is happening on university campuses in a different way.

Regardless of that, the reason it is frustrating—and why I am referring to what the noble Lord, Lord Mann, said—is that, if you have a conversation with anyone outside this Chamber, if they are like me, they are worried about BDS and anti-Semitic campaigns against Israeli academics. Something has just happened at King’s College London in fact, where an event has been called off, and there is a University of Leeds chaplain in hiding —all these things are going on. Ironically, if anything, this Bill is too narrow to deal with what is really happening. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Mann, made was that the way wording happens, there are ways around it that this Bill will not deal with. He and I might differ about how we would deal with that—I think we probably would. None the less, given what a public authority is, it is understandable why universities are in here—but, as people have said, which bit of the university?

For the Minister to say “Oh, no, it wouldn’t count, student unions”, would be utterly ludicrous. From the Government’s point of view, even if I go with you, why would it not be student unions? That would be mad. They are part of what the public authority of the university is about, along with research councils and everyone else. I am not trying to encourage the Government to wipe up every part of a university to bring them in scope, but to keep saying that they are not in scope makes no sense from the point of view of the public justification for this Bill by Michael Gove when he has argued for it, and anyone else who supports it. So we do need some clarity here.

My Lords, this debate has referred consistently to universities, but I do not want the point to get lost that there is an equivalent problem with local government pension schemes, where a succession of bodies take part in the decisions that are reached. Every fund has advisers, in particular advisers on ESG. The trustees are responsible for the decision, but they are under a legal obligation to give due regard to their advisers’ views. Now, because of the encouragement by the Government, the individual funds are not actually investing the money; the money is passed on to a pooled fund that equally has its advisers and its decision-makers. Somewhere in that thread of control, someone is a decision-maker, but I defy the Minister to tell us precisely, in the terms of this Bill, who it is.

My Lords, I have just a few points and questions, following the discussion we have just had. The first point is to seek clarity on whether my understanding of the last three lines of Clause 1(7) is correct. I understand those three lines simply to be saying that, where the decision-maker is a collegiate body, the duty to have regard applies to the individuals within that collegiate body who are taking the decision. That is how I read those three lines, but I may be missing something.

The second point arises from the comment that the noble Lord, Lord Johnson of Marylebone, made about universities. I suppose it is a point that comes up both under these amendments but also under the next amendments and in particular Amendment 8. Paragraph 20 of the Explanatory Notes, which speaks to Clause 1, states:

“The ban in Clause 1 is not intended to prohibit a higher education institution from deciding to terminate a collaboration with a foreign university on the grounds of academic freedom”.

I read that as implying that, other than on those grounds, the ban would apply to a decision to terminate a collaboration with a foreign academic institution. I would like some clarity on this, because I was a bit surprised to see that, as my reading of the definition of “procurement decision” would not necessarily have included a collaboration with a foreign academic institution as a procurement decision. It certainly is not an investment decision, but is a collaboration with a foreign academic institution in scope of the ban potentially? That is what I would like to understand. If so, it raises the question that the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, raised, of whether the individual grant holder who has, for example, a research collaboration with a foreign institution, is within scope of Clause 1. That is not clear to me.

My Lords, I have had advice from a professor of law at Cambridge University that it is not within scope where the research funding is not public. It is then a private act, not a public act.

My Lords, very many points have been made about how the decision-maker is established. From the point of view of local government, in local councils there are very many ways of taking decisions that can be individual or corporate. The tiers of responsibility and the trails that decisions make throughout a large organisation would need to be explored if enforcement action was to be taken.

In addition, councillors, committees or even pension committees, as we heard earlier, are advised by experts and independent advisers, so it is not clear where the line of accountability is and who is responsible, who is to be identified for enforcement action. The public authority, as has been identified earlier, is the body that is talked about in relation to Clause 4, but it is not in the Bill and does not relate to any other part of decision-making. I add my plea for further clarification as to how the decision-maker is to be identified and how enforcement is to be pursued in light of that.

As far as pension funds are concerned, as a former member I know that expert advisers do take account of political situations in their evaluation of risk. Again, that may be intimidating for councillors or advisers and inhibit the quality of advice that is given.

My Lords, Amendment 7, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, and Amendment 55, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, seek clarity on whether an individual is considered a decision-maker for the purposes of this Bill. It was helpful to hear the introduction from the noble Baroness and her wish for general elucidation. As she implied, it is an important part of the Bill’s provisions. I will try to confine my points mainly to decision-makers, which are the purpose of this group.

A public authority will generally delegate responsibility for decision-making on procurement and investment decisions to individuals within the public authority. The individuals who make the decision on behalf of the public authority will do so in accordance with the public authority’s internal policies and structures. To address the noble Baroness’s question on enforcement, even when an individual is making decisions or speaking on behalf of a public authority, the ban applies only to the public authority itself. There is no personal liability for the individual. Individuals will therefore not personally be responsible for any fines that may be imposed on public authorities for a breach of the ban in Clauses 1 or 4.

On the noble Baroness’s question on pensions—this is something I know about because I have served as a pension trustee, admittedly in the private sector—this is something we can come back to in more detail when we discuss Clause 12, but I will also look at the Local Government Association material that she referenced, which I am sure will be helpful and interesting.

My noble friend Lady Noakes made the point that there are some limited cases where individuals are the public authority in their own right. She asked for examples, so I suppose that examples would be UK Government Ministers, Ministers from devolved Administrations and police and crime commissioners. They could also be individuals such as mayors if they exercise public functions in their own right. Any individual who is a public authority in their own right is already subject to far-reaching and fundamental duties under the Human Rights Act 1998. They could be subject to court action if they restrict others’ human rights, and the duties in the Human Rights Act are much more wide-ranging than the prohibitions in this Bill. It would not be appropriate for these individuals to be pursuing policies that are not in line with the official foreign policy, which is, of course, set by the UK Government. To be clear, local authority councillors and university leaders are not public authorities in their own right.

Amendment 55 would require the Secretary of State to publish guidance to clarify in what circumstances an individual is a decision-maker before the Bill commences. We do not believe that it would be appropriate to publish guidance on this matter, as every public authority is structured differently and has different policies on how its internal decision-making process operates. As it happens, as the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, said, structures vary a lot, and that is the case.

To give the House an example, in the case of local authorities, they will have a scheme of delegations in place, with, for example, a commissioning board, which will indicate who takes procurement decisions. While the decision is made by the individuals on the board, they have been empowered to take those decisions via the scheme of delegations, and it is therefore the local authority that is the legal decision-maker in the context of the ban. This is made clear in Clause 2(1) of the Bill. Even when an individual is making decisions or speaking on behalf of a public authority, the ban applies only to the public authority itself and there is no personal liability for the individual. Therefore, individuals will not personally be responsible for any fines that may be imposed on public authorities for a breach of the ban. The concerns on this issue—

What the Minister is saying is genuinely quite helpful, but I am just trying to apply this to my experience of the real world. If a councillor, say, were to make a statement or cause something to happen at a conference or something like that, the council would be held responsible as a public authority for the actions of that individual. The trouble with that, in a way, is that that would then influence the advice, guidance and training that is given to elected individuals, and then you would get the chilling effect that we are all so concerned about. Just to make sure, have I actually understood that correctly? Is that what the Minister was explaining to us?

I think that sounds right but, if I may, I will clarify if I got that wrong. To some extent, it is important in Committee that we actually understand what is happening. That is what, in the spirit of the noble Baroness’s question, I am trying to do. Even if a decision were delegated to individuals in a public authority, such as a commissioning board in a local authority, I think it is clear that the fine would be imposed on the public authority, not the individual.

I should briefly address why universities need to be in the scope of the legislation in response to my noble friend Lord Johnson, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. We will come back to this on later amendments. It is an area of particular interest to a lot of noble Lords, not least because of the huge contributions people in this House make to the university sector.

However, the fact is that universities are a frequent target of the BDS movement, and some student unions —to come back to that point—have passed motions pressurising their universities to divest from Israeli companies. The Bill will ensure that universities cannot implement such policies in response to pressure from their student unions, as that would be divisive and could potentially contribute to rising anti-Semitism on university campuses, which is a concern.

The Minister raised it—can she give us one example of where a university has ever succumbed to such pressure from its student union?

We will come back to this amendment; as the noble Baroness knows, this is an area of investigation for me, and I am trying to make sure that we have all the answers that we need and can provide the sorts of examples that she and I are used to exchanging in trying to move forward legislation in a constructive way.

On student unions, I will add a point that perhaps I should have made earlier. Student unions are usually charities and can undertake political activity only if it can be shown to support their charitable purposes, in line with Charity Commission guidance. Any questions as to whether political activity was appropriate would be considered in line with the Charity Commission’s normal processes. However, I confirm what I said earlier, that the Bill is narrow, applying to public bodies and, obviously, to investment and procurement. I hope that that addresses the concerns of noble Lords.

The Minister used the word “pressurised”. Did she do so advisedly—“pressurised” as opposed to “called on” or “suggested”? Is “pressurised” defined in the Bill?

I think I used the word “pressure”. Certainly, I was reading “pressure”, but perhaps I blurred the wording and said “pressurised”. I could equally have used “influenced” or some other word. I was trying to explain what we were getting at on the education side of things.

I have a couple of examples of student union pressure, which I mentioned earlier. Warwick student union held an all-student vote in 2020 to pressure the University of Warwick to fully divest from all unethical industries and release all investments. That included divesting from companies in support of a boycott of Israel, and divesting from international companies that are complicit in violations of Palestinian rights. There was also the example of Sussex University, which I mentioned a little earlier.

The thing is, though, as we are teasing out, is it not right that the Bill would not stop Warwick University student union from passing a motion in that regard? It would stop the university from acting on it, but no university has ever acted on these things. That is why we are all scratching our heads a little about what we are going to get from the Bill. It was a manifesto commitment—we understand that—but it is not our fault if the Government cannot turn their manifesto commitment into a usable piece of legislation.

On the Warwick University point, for clarification, the other important thing that happened there was that Warwick University academics refused to sit on a panel discussing the issue of Israel, and so on. That was led by academics. It would not be affected by the Bill. The Minister can say, “Oh, that’s okay, it won’t be affected by this Bill” but that has had a much more damaging impact on the debate around Israel in Warwick University than anything that a few people at the student union did and that the university authorities did not act upon. What the university did not do was support those Jewish students and the organisation that organised that debate, and it let the academics carry on. The question of what the Bill will and will not do, and who will be held responsible, is what we are trying to clarify in this Committee.

My Lords, I did not come prepared with examples about universities—my memory is not that good. However, there have been very many occasions where violence used by anti-Israel students has forced the university to cancel speakers or to charge Israeli and Jewish societies for their own security when an Israeli or a pro-Israeli speaker comes. There are manifold examples of this, and I have dealt with it over the years. If noble Lords do not know about this, they really should.

The comments that have been made by the noble Lords, Lord Mann and Lord Wallace, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, take us to the heart of the Bill and why the drafting is so difficult. What the Bill really means to do is clamp down on anti-Semitism in local authorities and universities, but it cannot say so in direct terms; therefore, it goes much more broadly than it needs to, because it is academically dancing around the subject. If I could rip it up and start again, I would have a couple of clauses saying that anti-Israel activity—anti-Zionist activity, if you want to call it that, or anti-Semitic activity—is prohibited in universities and public authorities, because there are no examples of universities and public authorities acting against Australia, to give a fanciful example. Is anyone banning Australian wine because of what happened to the Aborigines? Is anyone banning New Zealand lamb because of the way the Māoris were treated? Is anyone, anywhere, ceasing to use Chinese products? I need hardly go on.

My Lords, I will add to this element of the debate, if I may, because I think it is relevant. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, mentioned at Second Reading that he was on the council of Southampton University. I too am an alumnus of Southampton University.

In March 2015, the university procured the services of a speaker to host a debate questioning the right of Israel to exist. I do not know whether that would be caught by the Bill. I would hope that it is, but I suspect that it is not. I wrote to the vice-chancellor at the time—I had been a very modest donor to the university—and asked, going to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, whether there had been any conference at Southampton University questioning the right to exist of any other country. He wrote back and said there had not. Eventually, the conference was cancelled—it received reprobation from the Communities Secretary at the time, now my noble friend Lord Pickles —only because the university claimed it could not go ahead on health and safety grounds. But that was a very thin excuse, and for a university to host a conference dedicated to questioning the right of the State of Israel to exist, and to procure the services of people to run it, is, I hope noble Lords would agree, what we should be addressing.

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister was asking whether I was reassured. I appreciate that that was largely a rhetorical question, but I have to say I am not yet totally reassured. But I would be if she were able to furnish us with examples of higher education institutions succumbing to pressure from student unions to undertake BDS-style actions in relation to their investment and procurement decisions. That is really important for us as we make progress with the Bill.

I thank all noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for their interventions. I observe that, obviously, the Bill will make this boycotting activity by student unions almost pointless. But I say to the speakers that this is a group about decision-makers, and we are ranging widely into the debate about the exact involvement of universities, although that has been helpful in informing the next stage of this Committee.

Returning to decision-makers, perhaps I could just say in conclusion that I trust that this addresses some of the concerns of noble Lords and the noble Baroness. My officials will provide further clarification in the Bill’s Explanatory Notes, as requested by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I hope, in the light of the explanations I have given, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, that was probably a bit more helpful than I had anticipated, in that it fleshed out some of our really quite fundamental concerns. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, made a very powerful case for why action is needed to prevent some of the antagonism and fear, and those activities that have happened on campuses and elsewhere that we all want to prevent. But this Bill does not do it: it deals only with boycott and divestment decisions. It probably brings into scope people and decision-makers that the Government did not have in mind.

The idea that people who want to campaign on these issues will suddenly stop doing so as a consequence of the legislation is fanciful because, as the noble Lord, Lord Mann, said in his Second Reading speech, they will just change the target from public authorities to others. It will not deal with some of the unpleasantness and the atmosphere on campus. That will not be assisted in any way, and the way the Bill is drafted might actually make things worse. It will not deal with campaigns to prevent certain events or not to have certain speakers. Those things are completely outside the scope of the Bill. We are focusing on universities to make this point, but similar things could be said about local government.

I am very happy to withdraw my amendment, but I think we are going to end up with this discussion on most of the groups, because the Bill is so unsatisfactory and does not actually fulfil the aims that the Government say they wish to achieve. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 7 withdrawn.

Amendment 8

Moved by

8: Clause 1, page 1, line 23, at end insert—

“(9) A decision under subsection (2) may include a decision by a university or research institution based in the United Kingdom to enter into a commercial partnership with another university or research institution in a foreign state.”

I again reference my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests. I should specify, as others have, that I am an unpaid adviser to His Majesty’s Government on anti-Semitism, and that previously in the other House I was, for 14 years, the chair of the all-party group on combating anti-Semitism.

In that time and over recent years, I visited virtually every university in the country, looking at and discussing anti-Semitism. I have a very detailed report that was published last year with a lot of recommendations on what should be done in higher education in this country on this issue. In introducing my amendment, I can let the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, and others know that there were no examples from that time of when a student union was capable of influencing a university in terms of BDS campaigns. I think I described it at Second Reading as the most unsuccessful political campaign in my lifetime, and that was partly why I used that language.

My amendment gets to the nub of the issue—what the problem that led to the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment at the last election for a BDS Bill is actually about. The fundamental issue and problem that has been raised consistently is attempts at academic boycotts. In the last six months, there has without question been a growth in the pressure in universities and on academics not to carry out co-operation or research work that links directly into Israeli universities. That is a fact. How it manifests is not so much complex as complex to legislate on, because the most common way is peer group pressure. How does a university department determine what its research priorities should be? How does it determine which of the myriad universities around the world it should co-operate with?

Sometimes it is explicit; the arguments and the language are explicit. It seems to me that here there is potential scope for legislation, hence this amendment. Sometimes it is not. It is unspoken; it simply happened. Clearly, for us as legislators, that is very intangible. However, the purpose of this amendment would be to give not just a message but a specific legislative tool that would prohibit the explicit refusal to an individual academic of any status, including postgraduates, for example, specifically to work with a university that somebody did not like for political or whatever reasons.

These cases are about Israeli universities. It is widespread across Israeli universities in terms of people saying, “That should not happen”, “We don’t do that here” or “You should not do that. Your research should not include that”. That puts immense pressure on individuals. Imagine that you are a postgraduate student and you are told by your supervisor, “No, I don’t think you should be researching into what is happening in Israel in relation to the specific subject of your postgraduate studies”. That is exactly the pressure that has happened. Or, “We as a university are not going to have a relationship”. The excuse given might be, “We don’t have the budget for this particular university” —Haifa university, let us say—“but we do have a budget for another university somewhere else in the world”. That is precisely how it manifests.

Where it could be demonstrated that that is done for racist reasons, when the academic has a specific interest, a particular desire, a particular motivation to work with an Israeli university or with an Israeli academic, that becomes the problem that we should be dealing with. That is the real problem of anti-Semitism having a pernicious impact in our universities and in our university life. Thankfully, it is not widespread in terms of how it happens, but it is there, it is more common, there are many examples of it over the years and there are increasing examples now.

So having something in the Bill that addresses that specific problem is far more relevant than the theoretics of investment decisions elsewhere, where the evidence base does not say that is the nub of the problem. If the Government wish to manage expectations in the Jewish community, that is rather fundamental. The people who have said, “Yes, we welcome this Bill”, expect it to be about student unions and student union debates. There is no ambiguity in what people have said and what they have called for. It does not serve the interests of Government or Parliament to build up a false expectation of what a piece of legislation would do— indeed, it is dangerous to do so, in my view. So I put it to the Government and the Committee that this amendment would be helpful in putting some meat into the issue for this Bill to progress.

My second amendment, Amendment 9, is equally important but for a different reason. My stance on BDS protests and campaigns is that, frankly, if anyone here chooses to buy this or that product, it is perfectly valid. If one decides not to buy Jaffa oranges because one does not like Israel or the Israeli Government, that is a choice one is free to make and should be free to make. If someone chooses particularly to buy Jaffa oranges, that is a perfectly valid case. If, like me, one is partial to both Palestinian dates and Jaffa oranges, one can say that that is a healthy choice to make on both counts, and perhaps even a little bit politically balanced—I am doing so because the food is rather good. If one chooses, as I do, not to buy Ben & Jerry’s, perhaps one might observe that that is doing me some good. Whether one calls that a political or moral decision, or an absurd decision, it does not matter; that is my free choice.

However, if one then stops a shop—let us say, in a student union or university, or in a local authority—stocking Jaffa oranges, that means that people who wish to buy them cannot do so. It is particularly invidious, when a religion, and there are several, has specific dietary rules and laws—in the case of Judaism, it is kosher food—specifically to isolate the ability of individuals to choose to follow religious norms and rules on diet and ban their right to do so. That is much more invidious, because it is impacting one’s way of life. Therefore, the principle is far greater. Having additional legislation that specifically makes that illegal has a much more powerful impact, because it is affecting a way of life. With the so-called BDS campaign, we are seeing increasingly Jewish kosher foods, which may be Israeli or not, being specifically targeted by racists, whether in supermarkets or Jewish-owned stores, inhibiting the rights of those who choose to be kosher-adherent to be so. That fundamental freedom is being restricted. That is why Amendment 9 has a validity to it.

There are great legal brains here who will work through whether the amendments I am proposing would work; they appear to me to do so. Certainly, in terms of the expectation out there of what this Bill is about, people are interested in precisely this kind of thing, because these are the big issues impacting on how people live their lives and on their freedoms; that is, their academic freedoms to do what they wish as academics—which, I put it to the Committee, is fundamental to what we are as a country—and their freedoms to be themselves in what they choose to eat, which is fundamental to the concept of individual and collective rights, and what we are in this country. I recommend these two amendments to the Government and the Committee. I beg to move.

My Lords, I apologise for not speaking at Second Reading, and I draw attention to my entry in the register. I am not entirely sure that what the noble Lord, Lord Mann, said is entirely within the scope of the Bill, but it should be, because it raises a very important point. Before I go on, I crave your Lordships’ indulgence for 30 seconds, because I want to say how indebted this country is to the noble Lord for his work in universities and higher education, and also in sport. He has made a considerable difference, and this House should be grateful to him,

What the noble Lord said illustrates that this is not just about who is in charge, or about the comfort of people attending universities and speaking in student union debates; it is about who is welcome and who is not. It is about how comfortable people feel when politics from another country spills over and affects the domestic life of this country. It is about how we underpin, and celebrate, a multicultural society, while ensuring that we can also celebrate our common Britishness.

The noble Lord, Lord Mann, has done a lot of work on getting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism adopted in universities. It is a non-legally binding definition, and is there as a marker for discussions. As with all such things, there is a bit of a fashion, and people go around and adopt things. The question that the noble Lord asked, and that I ask, is: “Congratulations on adopting it, but what have you done with it?”

The very minimum we would expect, in a university, say, is the creation of a safe space for Jewish students to be able to study. But this also means creating a safe space to do the sorts of things that would keep their parents up at night worrying about them—to be able to enjoy being at university, to enjoy life and to be able to go around the campus with signs of their Jewishness, without fear that they will be picked on. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Mann, is making is that we should not seek to do things that exclude people. If people have a particular view of the kind of food they can eat, that should be available. Student shops on campuses should not remove kosher food, because that excludes people.

I speak from practical experience of this. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I was the leader of Bradford Council, and, with the co-operation of the Labour Party, we introduced halal meat into school meals. That does not sound all that exciting—we see it all the time—but we were the first council in the country to do it. There was an enormous backlash from the population, and from the animal rights people, because of the nature of religious-compliant slaughter.

Why was that important? We had a large number of Muslims in Bradford, many of them on very low incomes, and it was one guaranteed way of ensuring that once a day, the children got a hot, nutritious meal that met their needs. We were also saying something really important to the population of Bradford, which was, as we say in Bradford, “You’re ratepayers—so you’re entitled to get back what you’re putting in. You’re entitled to receive respect”. When we try to get people to work together as a wider community, we should not seek to exclude them because they cannot come to receptions or parties or other social events because we do not provide things that they can enjoy. We should also ensure that if people want to pray, that should be available, because this is about bringing people together.

I am not sure whether the Bill covers that, but there is a debate coming in this country that may be the flip side of the definition of extremism, which is about how we bind people together—how we work together and make people feel British without them losing their identity. The noble Lord, Lord Mann, has given considerable service to this House by raising this because it is an issue that over the coming years and decades we have to get right.

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 8. I declare an interest: I have two children, both scientists, working in universities. My son runs a microbiology laboratory at Edinburgh University that has a number of international research partnerships, including with Israeli academics. I am unaware, from everything my children have told me, that anyone is boycotting contact with Israel in microbiology. There are some highly regarded Israeli scholars who take part in a whole range of things.

There are course problems in some research partnerships with Chinese academics, sometimes now with Russian academics and sometimes with academics from particular Middle Eastern countries. One has to leave it to those who are running laboratories, which are highly international—I think my son currently has people from four different countries in his—because these matters require delicate arrangements. When it comes to the social sciences, particularly if you are teaching international relations and have a lot of research students, as I used to, and you are sending them out to study Saudi, Egyptian or above all Chinese issues, you are in really delicate areas.

I emphasise that any of those are private acts of a university—commercial partnerships most of all. When that gets into the question of how far we want the Government to interfere in the autonomy of universities, we do not always get it right. There have been research students and young scholars who have been imprisoned in the Emirates or imprisoned and killed in prison, as in Egypt. On one occasion I had to approach one of the intelligence agencies about some of our students at the LSE, immediately after 9/11, because some people had lost confidence in the people with whom they were dealing. That has to be left to the judgment of universities. I do not think there is a problem there, and I am therefore unhappy about the idea that Amendment 8 should be included within the scope of this Bill.

My Lords, while I am sympathetic to the intentions of Amendment 8, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mann, I wonder if it is ultimately going to be necessary, given that the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 gives the Office for Students powers to take action whenever an institution is in breach of the public interest principles it is required to uphold.

One of those principles relates specifically to academic freedom and the issues to which the noble Lord was referring with respect to Israel. All academic staff at an English higher education provider have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing the jobs or privileges they may have at that provider. I think that essentially covers the points he was making in respect of academics being prevented from pursuing partnerships or research with universities in Israel or with Israeli academics. We have these provisions in law and the Office for Students has all the powers at its disposal to enforce them. So I am not sure that Amendment 8 is entirely necessary, although I understand why he tabled it.

My Lords, I associate myself with the words of my noble friend Lord Pickles about the work done over many years by the noble Lord, Lord Mann, for the Government in an unpaid capacity. That work is well regarded and very much appreciated in the Jewish community and, I am sure, well beyond it too.

Turning to Amendment 9, while I understand its focus and purpose, I am not sure that it is necessary in the Bill. In particular, although this is not my area of law, I wonder whether the thrust of the amendment would not actually be covered by existing provisions under the Equality Act. I do not know whether the Minister or her department has thought of that, but, if this were to go forward, that might be another way of dealing with this issue.

On a narrower point, the amendment is also widely drawn. It would seem to cover, for example, a decision to use one halal supplier or one kosher supplier rather than a different halal or kosher supplier. I think that cannot be within the intention of the amendment, although I think it would be caught by it.

I am conscious of the time, but I will end on a slightly different point. The focus of this amendment is that food is sometimes used to drive a wedge between communities. This might be a strange thing for me to say, but I want to pay tribute to Zarah Sultana MP, with whom I probably agree on absolutely nothing but who, with Charlotte Nichols MP, ran a long-standing campaign in Parliament to have kosher and halal food available here. They found a supplier called 1070, which has both kosher and halal certification to provide that food. As a result, I have had conversations over food with people who I might not otherwise have had those conversations with and I found those discussions extremely helpful. I use this, probably very wrongly, to suggest to the authorities that this kosher and halal food be continued, so that we can not only eat together but discuss and speak together as well.

My Lords, I too associate myself with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, because the noble Lord, Lord Mann, has done incredibly important work in tackling anti-Semitism and ensuring that we remove it from all of our civil life. I pay tribute to him.

I will not delay the House too long, but the important thing with these two amendments is expectations. This is the problem with the Bill. While I want to avoid going back, we have made a plea—my noble friend Lady Chapman made it at Second Reading—that we want to co-operate with the Government to implement their manifesto commitment. I am afraid that this Bill goes well beyond that and brings into question other issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Mann, is absolutely right to put these sorts of amendments down, because they address the concerns of the community. People often think when we are talking about this Bill that we are talking about consumer boycotts and consumer choice. No, we are not. It is about decisions over investment and procurement, but those decisions can involve the sorts of things that the noble Lord, Lord Mann, is talking about—and we heard an example from the noble Lord just now.

How we manage expectations is really important. I suspect that, when we go into other groups, we will hear lots of concerns about issues that go well beyond the scope of the Bill. So I hope the Minister understands why the noble Lord, Lord Mann, has put these amendments in. They are to probe, but also to say that there is a problem, there is an issue and the Bill does not solve it.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mann, for drawing the House’s attention to two important issues with his Amendments 8 and 9. Like my noble friend Lord Pickles, who it is a real pleasure to welcome to our debate, my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, I am really grateful for all the work that the noble Lord, Lord Mann, has done.

My noble friend Lord Pickles and I worked together in my retail days, when he was a leading influence in local government and I worked to have kosher and halal food in many of the Tescos that were spreading across the country. So there were lots of conversations over food. A focus on community concerns is what much of the probing has been about this evening—but that is for another group.

I remain of the view that we need to apply this Bill to universities as we are doing, and I am committed to having a comprehensive debate and discussion on the impact of the Bill on universities at the appropriate moment later in Committee.

As we have heard, the two amendments in this group would add two stipulations to Clause 1. Amendment 8 intends to ensure that the prohibition applies to a decision made by a university to enter into a commercial partnership with another university or research university in a foreign state. The prohibition in the Bill already covers higher education providers in their public functions, including when their procurement and investment decisions form part of a research collaboration. Decisions relating to a commercial partnership are, however, likely to constitute a private function—for example, a decision relating to a research partnership to develop a new product funded by a pharmaceutical company. The ban applies only to public authorities’ public functions, as we have heard, and private decisions are rightly out of scope of the Bill. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Mann, says, but it would be inappropriate to apply the ban to private functions, and it would take the Bill beyond the manifesto commitment.

We have been clear in the Explanatory Notes that Clause 1 is not intended to prevent a higher education provider deciding to terminate a collaboration with a foreign university on the grounds of academic freedom, if they deem it necessary in line with their statutory duties in Part A1 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 or other legislation. The Bill is about ensuring that universities and higher education institutions do not have a corporate view on a particular matter of foreign policy when making their investment and procurement decisions. It is right that the Bill does not stray into decisions that could threaten academic freedom, as helpfully highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Birmingham, who spoke at Second Reading. I am sympathetic to the points that the noble Lord, Lord Mann, is making, and the Government do not support academic boycotts, but this Bill rightly does not interfere with academic freedom or private activity.

I turn to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Mann, about the Jewish community’s support for this Bill. The Jewish community in the UK is widely supportive of the Bill as drafted. Russell Langer, head of policy at the Jewish Leadership Council, provided the following statement in support of the Bill’s restriction on universities’ economic activities:

“Higher education institutions continue to come under pressure to adopt BDS policies ... This legislation will be a valuable tool in assisting our higher education in rejecting this effort”.

The Bill will sit alongside other measures that the Government are taking to protect academic freedom. The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 will ensure that freedom of speech is protected and promoted within higher education in England, and it will strengthen existing freedom of speech duties and directly address gaps in the existing law. Without action to counter attempts to discourage or even silence unpopular views, intellectual life on campus for staff and students may be unfairly narrowed or diminished, which is why there was a commitment in the 2019 manifesto to strengthen this.

The Minister has just said that we need legislation to silence unpopular views. I have to say that, as a liberal, I find that one of the most illiberal things that we could consider doing. Did she mis-speak?

I am not sure that I said exactly that. However, there obviously is a problem in campuses and elsewhere with BDS, and that is what this Bill is about. I shall move on to Amendment 9.

If I can help the Minister, what we need to silence is hate speech. The law is reasonably clear. It is not wholly clear—there is a blur between unpopular views and hate speech—but it has been settled for a long time that hate speech is not allowed. My test for this is when you hear something and it uses the word “Zionist” or “Jew”, if you remove that word and replace it with, let us say, “black” or “Asian”, it is then usually pretty clear that what you are dealing with is hate speech or racist speech.

I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention. These are difficult issues.

I turn briefly to Amendment 9, which would ensure that the prohibition in Clause 1 applied to decisions relating to the procurement of food prepared in line with religious practices, such as kosher and halal foods. The ban established by the Bill applies to all procurement decisions, including the procurement of food where this is part of a public function. Therefore, if a public authority made a decision not to procure kosher food and that decision was influenced by moral or political disapproval of the conduct of the State of Israel, the Bill would already prohibit this. However, I reassure noble Lords that nothing in the Bill would stop a public authority providing food that accommodated the religious beliefs of its employees or its service users. For example, it would not stop a public authority specifying in a tender that it was procuring halal products. For these reasons, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Amendment 8 withdrawn.

Amendment 9 not moved.

Clause 1 agreed.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 10.01 pm.