Skip to main content

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

Volume 837: debated on Wednesday 17 April 2024

Committee (2nd Day)

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

Clause 2: Application to procurement and investment decisions

Amendment 10

Moved by

10: Clause 2, page 2, line 3, leave out from “decision-maker” to end of line 4 and insert “is acting on behalf of a public body.”

Member’s explanatory statement

This, alongside another to Clause 2 in the name of Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is a probing amendment to clarify the distinction between a public body and a public authority.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paragraph 12 says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amendment 10 withdrawn.

Amendments 11 to 14 not moved.

Clause 2 agreed.

Clause 3: Exceptions

Amendment 14A

Moved by

14A: Clause 3, page 2, line 17, leave out subsections (2) and (3)

Member’s explanatory statement

This would remove the regulation making power for Ministers to add exceptions to the bill by secondary legislation. This is to probe when Ministers would expect to use this power.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Collins is not moving this amendment, but I will do my best as his understudy.

This group is slightly different from the first, but we will probably touch on a number of the same sorts of issues, as it is all about trying to get some clarity. I take what the Minister said about this being only about procurement and investment decisions. Even so, the question of what procurement and investment are in relation to the Bill is something else that we might need to tease out. If an organisation’s primary activity is in another country, as the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, referred to, would the act of withdrawing from that activity be seen as a boycott under the Bill? If the Minister is saying that it would not, that is incredibly helpful information that may well soothe some of the concerns that will be raised in our consideration of this group.

My noble friend Lord Collins and I have tabled the amendments in this group in an attempt to tease out from the Minister exactly what the Government have in mind. I do not think that the public response to the Bill has been quite what the Government may have hoped or anticipated it would be when they embarked on this endeavour. Most public sector organisations are far too busy battling to provide services—often in extremely difficult circumstances—to their patients, students or service users to be following the back and forth of this debate. That serves to re-emphasise the importance of our considerations, and of making sure we do not land them with something that is unworkable and does not achieve the objectives.

Many of us understand what the Government set out to do when they started all this, so with that in mind, we tabled the probing Amendment 14A to discover in what circumstances Ministers anticipate using the power that they are giving themselves, which allows them to change the scope of the application of the Bill through secondary legislation. We are interested to hear what the Minister has to say about why Clause 3(1) and (2) are needed, and how she thinks they will work in practice. These subsections refer to the powers which allow the Secretary of State to remove any of the exemptions that are listed in the Bill, such as the one on national security. I cannot imagine that ever happening, but there is a whole list of exemptions in there—we are very pleased to see some of them. But why is that power seen to be needed? We cannot imagine a circumstance in which any of those exemptions would need to be removed. It seems an odd power for Ministers to take for themselves.

These decisions matter in the scope of the Bill, and they can have a profound impact on our relationships with other nations and our diplomatic efforts around the world, sometimes in incredibly sensitive situations. I have seen no evidence of Foreign Office engagement with, or even support for, the Bill, and it would be a concern if these decisions were to be taken by SI. We all want government to work interdepartmentally and for all decisions to be consulted upon internally in the right way, but we understand that is not always the situation. This concern was expressed at Second Reading, so can the Minister assure us that before any delegated legislation is proposed, appropriate input will always be sought from the Foreign Office?

We have a whole bunch of amendments which are probing—tongue in cheek is too strong a phrase but we could not think of any other way to do it. This is how we do things: we table amendments, discuss them and through that we get a better understanding of what the Government are trying to do. We tabled a handful to make a point—we could have gone on, but we did not—and I will run through them.

Amendment 22 would exempt schools and early years providers from the scope of the Bill. This was tabled with a view to finding out whether the Government intend early years settings to be involved. It comes back to the issue of what is and what is not a public body. Is a private school a public body? Is an independent nursery funded by a government childcare programme a public body? Is a childminder being paid indirectly by the state a public body?

Similarly, Amendment 23 would exempt charities providing public functions. We have heard the example of housing provision, because some housing providers are also charities.

Amendment 24 exempts community interest companies. There are thousands of such bodies up and down the country, engaged in all kinds of activities. Many are responsible for delivering public services, be that in social care, education, the arts or prisoner rehabilitation—virtually every area of activity you can think of. How are they to regard the Bill? What steps should they be taking to educate themselves and find out how to make sure that they do not do anything to make themselves fall foul of the Bill?

Our Amendment 25 exempts sporting bodies. Do the Government really want to get into this issue of sporting boycotts and which athletes should be doing what, where? If a sporting body did not deem that there was to be a boycott, but individual athletes decided that they did not want to take part in a tournament, what would happen then? There is pressure and debate, inevitably, whether it is part of a BDS campaign or not—but how you define what that is, I do not really know. How would that be considered? How could those people make sure that they are not, in any way, falling foul of this legislation?

We have also tabled an amendment asking for a list of public bodies. I was trying to be helpful and to work out the best way of getting this clarity. To answer the earlier point from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, it could be a list that the Minister takes the power to be able to amend and add to, although I completely accept that any schedule containing a list would very quickly need to be updated. We would not want to put something in a Bill that would not stand the test of time, but these schedules are amended on a fairly regular basis.

I asked the government website for a list of public bodies, and there is one. It contains 601 organisations. I doubt it is a comprehensive list, but it contains the 24 ministerial departments, 20 non-ministerial departments, 421 agencies and other public bodies, 113 high-profile groups—they are interesting—19 public corporations, including the BBC, and the three devolved Administrations.

I looked through this list and there were some public bodies listed that I thought we needed to discuss a little bit further. What would happen with some of our defence-related organisations? There is an exemption for national security, but how would that be defined in relation to the Bill? Would that need to be something that would be tested in court? The Minister sighs: I can well understand why. There are defence training academies and there are organisations that deal with the media in relation to defence and make decisions about what adverts, and so on, can be used. These are all public bodies that have duties relating to our relationships with other nations, and they could conceivably be asked to make decisions that would fall foul of this legislation.

The Government have not really thought about the implications for some of these bodies. I accept that some of them are probably relatively low-profile, small in scale or inactive. However, our job is to make sure that we make this as future-proof and workable as we can. That is why we have tabled Amendment 54, which asks for a list, because if your name is on a list, at least you can be alerted to the fact that this is happening and you can take the necessary steps to comply.

If not, it becomes very confusing for decision-makers. As we discussed at Second Reading, these will often be volunteers or people who have not had the necessary training and who are not following the proceedings here. We really would not want to criminalise people inadvertently, when the Government are seeking to do something that is really quite narrow and, as the Minister has said, involves mostly local authorities and universities, which could be done in a completely different way.

My Lords, I shall speak in favour of Amendment 54, to which I have added my name. I also support the other amendments in this group. I listened carefully to the previous debate. As other noble Lords have noted, there is a strong overlap between this and the previous group.

Again as others have said, my concern is that, before we pass this Bill, we get clarity on who it covers. I declare a particular interest in that those of us on these Benches, along with other diocesan bishops of the Church of England, do carry out public functions. From time to time, these might bring an individual, in our corporate capacity as bishop of a diocese, within whatever definition of a public body or authority we might eventually land on.

In responding to an earlier group debated before the Recess, the Minister referred to the fact that mayors, police and crime commissioners—and, indeed, Government Ministers—also exercise public functions and hence fall under the scope of the Bill. However, since what these officeholders have in common is that they are elected or appointed primarily to exercise political functions, I can see the logic that maybe they should not use their investment and procurement functions in order to pursue a foreign policy in contrast to that of His Majesty’s Government. Notwithstanding the fact that some diocesan bishops are members of your Lordships’ House, is it really intended that we, along with the small charitable funds for which we are responsible in our corporate personality, should fall under the scope of the Bill? If we place those modest charitable funds with an external investment body, do we have constantly to ensure that that entity does not at any point seek to make restrictions in contravention of the Bill, by investing our money where it should not be—or not investing it where it ought to be?

Other Church institutions are at potentially greater risk of being inadvertently caught up in the scope of the Bill. Noble Lords will be familiar with the Church Commissioners, the body that manages the historic endowments of the Church of England, for the furtherance of the mission and ministry of the Church in perpetuity. It was my great privilege to chair the commissioners’ board, until the end of last year, as the delegated deputy of my most reverend friend the Archbishop of Canterbury. During my tenure, we grew our reputation, alongside our sister pensions board, as being among the world’s leading ethical and responsible investors.

As noble Lords well know, the commissioners require parliamentary approval to spend capital. Indeed, I spoke before the Easter Recess when we brought just such a measure before your Lordships’ House. What noble Lords may not know is that six state officeholders, including the Prime Minister and the Lord Speaker, are ex officio Church Commissioners, notwithstanding that the Government make no contribution to the commissioners’ coffers. Noble Lords will have noted a plea there. The ability of the commissioners’ investment team to deploy assets in furtherance of our mission objectives is not a case of anyone taking taxpayers’ money and using it to pursue their own independent foreign policy, yet, on some readings, these Church bodies may be seen as being within the scope of the Bill. Can the Minister clarify whether such bodies are indeed in scope?

Beyond the Church of England, there are many religious, charitable and other foundations—across a variety of faiths and of no faith—which perform functions in areas such as education. We have heard that referred to before. I am a grammar school boy. I benefited from a scholarship. My widowed mother could never have paid school fees. Such bodies raise and hold endowment funds for such purposes in order to enable students and pupils from less well-off backgrounds, like mine, to fully access and benefit from their services. I know that goes on because I am regularly invited to donate.

What is true of schools is even more true of the endowment funds of universities and colleges. Let us suppose that such an institution receives an offer of funds from a private philanthropist in the UK or beyond who wishes to make some stipulation as to where the endowment may or may not be invested. This is private money. Would this Bill mean that the foundation has to refuse the money, not because the country that it wishes to boycott is already on the list but because it may come on to a subsequent list at some future date?

The simplest way out of this confusion is for the Bill to contain either a schedule of the types of bodies to which it applies, as in the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, to which I have added my name, or to use a definition that points to a well-defined list in existing legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, offered that earlier today in the previous group. The advantage of requests under the Freedom of Information Act is that they are ubiquitous and long-standing. I know because I get them all the time and turn them down because they do not apply to me. As we have already heard, this means that most institutions are now very clear as to whether FoI applies to them. The same cannot be said for other definitions, even those contained in the Human Rights Act. So, in responding to this debate, can the Minister let us know how His Majesty’s Government are going to provide the clarity over scope that will be essential for this Bill to become a workable Act?

My Lords, I declare an interest in the sense that my wife is a trustee of a major public orchestra. It does not receive public money, but I just make the point: if you do not receive public money, are you one of these public bodies? If you do, do you become one, and does that mean that you make a choice, which is quite a serious choice?

I also declare an interest because in my business we advise people on procurement and sustainability of procurement. I say to my noble friend that procurement is a very difficult issue on which to advise, because it is very widespread. What does it mean? It means almost everything from what might be called lavatory rolls at one end to procuring very large numbers of services or products. It can also cover the issue of the orchestra that procures another orchestra from abroad. As the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, said, it might have intended to bring an orchestra from, let us say, Russia to this country; if it then decides not to do so, is that the kind of decision that comes under the Bill?

I also have a concern, as the noble Baroness put forward, that the Secretary of State has an ability to remove from the exceptions things that for most of us are really important. If we are not to be allowed to procure on the basis of sustainability or climate change—things that really are existential issues—we have a serious problem, because on any definition of public bodies, the very bodies we are talking about are the ones that ought to be procuring and investing on those bases. The idea that this is only temporary, that it is in the Bill but can be removed by the arbitrary decision of the Secretary of State—and it could be arbitrary, because there is nothing in the Bill to say it is other than arbitrary—worries me considerably.

I rose not just to say that to my noble friend. I am afraid that the Government have a record of producing Bills that do not appear to have been carefully thought through. If the Bill had been produced to me as Secretary of State for the Environment, I would have sent it back and said, “There are too many questions in this, and I don’t want to have to present it to either House of Parliament because I can’t answer a number of the questions”. I do not blame my noble friend for not being able to answer some of these questions, but they are pretty fundamental, are they not? I just wonder what the Secretary of State responsible for the Bill said when it was brought in front of him. Did he ask what the definition of public body is or what a public function is? If he asked those questions, did he get answers? If he got answers, were they satisfactory, and why do we not have those answers when the questions are asked on the Floor of the House?

My worry is this. Out there large numbers of bodies, some of them very small, are worried that this will affect them. I do not believe that kind of legislation does us any good at all. Precision is absolutely crucial here, and we need to restrict this to a very clear, relatively small number of bodies and have a very clear understanding as to what it means.

If we take sporting bodies receiving government money—I cannot claim to be a sportsman and I declare no interests whatever on this front—it seems to me that if individual sportsmen wish to boycott something, the sporting body probably has to discuss that. If a body discusses that, it seems to me that under this Bill it can easily get itself into a position in which that is improper, if not illegal. Again, I do not see why people should have to ask themselves this question.

We are, at the moment, seeing a very inelegant discussion about individuals’ decisions on tax matters, pretty unfairly in most cases I have heard. It is difficult to understand quite a lot of the detailed tax legislation, but producing this legislation will ask a whole lot of other people to understand very detailed and extremely difficult concepts. I say to my noble friend that all I want is to feel that I could vote for something that I understand, and that other people can understand, which does not reach beyond the necessary areas and actually achieves some good. Those are three perfectly reasonable requests, but I am not sure that the Bill meets any of them so far.

My Lords, we are dealing with a Bill that is in highly controversial territory. If we have sloppy definitions in the Bill, it will encourage litigation. It would be a strange thing if we passed a Bill with a lot of problems around definitions that causes, over time, more people to raise issues around sources of investment through the courts. With all due respect to the Government of Israel, from time to time they have shown quite an enthusiasm for using litigation to make their points.

Also, picking up from the last group of amendments, we live in a rather different time in terms of who raises money for public services, particularly capital money for investments. If we take health and care, the areas I know something about, there is a lot more interest in the idea of going into the private sector—private equity and PFI being good examples—to try to raise money to build facilities of some kind or another for which the public sector has found it difficult to find the money. People who raise funding and use it to provide public services perform a kind of public function. If we have a sloppy Bill, they leave themselves exposed to probing of where their sources of money come from. You then run the risk of driving these people away from the kind of investments in public service that we may need to get some of our old capital structures improved over time. I suggest to the Committee that if we do not tighten up these definitions, we run a series of risks that are self-defeating to any Government.

I am very grateful to my noble friends for these probing amendments, and even more grateful after hearing the contributions from Members opposite that they have elicited. A number of very serious questions have been raised about ambiguity and lack of clarity.

I hope that the Minister is not tempted to reply with words that are meant to reassure us, such as, “Don’t worry. Everything will be all right. The Secretary of State will decide”. I must confess to the Minister that, the older I get, the less confidence I have in Secretaries of State. I suspect that, in a few months’ time, she will begin to have less confidence than she currently has. There is a good reason for that: all of us—I emphasise this—whatever side of the House we are on, need to be wary of overpowerful government.

I hope that the Minister is able to answer this question. I reflect on times in which those who ran nurseries also provided fruit for children, on the basis that an apple or orange a day helps, and the people who ran such nurseries said that they would not provide Outspan oranges. A range of folk from the voluntary and charitable sector have run those nurseries—mothers’ unions have run them—and they said that they would not provide Outspan oranges because they knew the oppressive system that provided them. They substituted their values for those of the Secretary of State, and it is very a good job that they did, because their values were superior. I want to know this: will nurseries that are run by volunteers and provided by the charitable and voluntary sector, and happen to receive some form of public money from somewhere, be covered by this measure? If they are, it will be and should be no comfort to us or anyone, on any side of this House, that the Secretary of State can be left to decide.

My Lords, I intervene briefly, if I may, in support of Amendment 54, which is calling for a comprehensive list to be laid before Parliament. This debate is getting a bit metaphysical about public bodies, and it is revealing that there is no authoritative shared definition of a public body and no single authoritative list of public bodies. The term “public body”, on which the Bill rests, is itself very hard to define. I have two observations about this.

First, we therefore reach out to lists of bodies that have been developed for other purposes in other legislation. There are candidates around: one is the Freedom of Information Act. I am looking across at the Lib Dem Benches, because I vividly remember a debate within the coalition about whether or not universities should be covered by the Freedom of Information Act. The Lib Dem members of the coalition thought that that information should be available from universities. We had a negotiation as part of some wider deal and agreed that universities should be covered by the Freedom of Information Act. At no point in those exchanges did people think that that meant we were defining them as public bodies. We were simply trying, for the purposes of where the information should be and what should be covered by the Freedom of Information Act, under pressure from a member of the coalition, to include universities. It was not intended to be an authoritative definition for other purposes of legislation. In these circumstances, I think that it is sensible to say that we should just have a list of the bodies for which this legislation is most relevant and not try to reach out to find some other list or some permanent definition on all accounts.

There is a second reason, which, if I may say so, is particularly relevant for us on these Benches. There is a paradox in the Conservative position here: the supporters of the Bill are quite keen to stop sanctions, boycotts and anti-investment campaigns by as many bodies as possible. That means that Conservatives are currently reaching out for a very ambitious definition of “public body” because they want as many as possible to be covered.

I am not totally sure that, in the long run, this is an approach that Conservatives will not find comes back to haunt Conservatives, who may think they have ended with an overambitious definition of “public body” that in turn gets used for many other purposes. There are good reasons for a highly precise and limited list of bodies to be covered by this legislation—anything else and you are on very slippery ground, and we may find it has consequences that, even within my own party, people come to regret.

My Lords, I thank the proposers of these amendments for offering an opportunity to establish, as many have said today, some precision and clarity on the range and definition of the public bodies referred to in the Bill. The Minister has an opportunity to reassure us and many groups who fear the implications of this Bill.

In Amendment 22, we are talking about schools or nurseries. The Minister has said we are talking about procurement, but do the Government really intend that school governors should sit poring over the school meals procurement to see whether they are contravening the terms of this Bill in any way? Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said earlier, would they also contravene the terms of the Bill even in talking about it and taking advice?

Do the Government intend that charity commissioners and trustees should take into account the implications of this Bill, and perhaps face vexatious challenges to contest some of the decisions that they have already made? The fact that the definitions are so poor, as many people have said here today, will leave open legal action and vexatious possibilities of weaponising this legislation, by the whole scope that seems to be covered. But the Minister can reassure us today, or in writing, that the list of public bodies covered is, as the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, said, closely defined and clearly identifiable by those whom it affects.

Particularly concerning, as highlighted in Amendment 26, is the implication for charitable organisations delivering public functions in terms of overseas aid and humanitarian work. Often founded on moral principles, as the right reverend Prelate said, many of these organisations have foundations which relate to moral principles and values, which they take into account when taking their decisions, whether on procurement or on investment. I believe territorial considerations must also be key to the functioning of these groups and charities. I agree we need a clear definition, and I would also like to understand and be reassured by the Minister on the reason for the additional powers being given to Ministers.

On the last amendment on this list, we should really have a much better idea—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, who said that we are swimming through a sticky pudding, was absolutely right. We are totally unclear about the terms and the scope of this Bill, and I hope that we may be reassured in the course of this Committee.

I have two questions relating to the issue of what constitutes a public body. My major interest in this Bill is Clauses 12 and 13, about local government pension schemes. It is interesting that it requires a separate section of this Bill to deal with local government pension schemes; that clearly indicates that these organisations are not public bodies. The Government’s commitment was in relation to public bodies and yet the Bill is being extended to these other organisations, which require their own section in the Bill, as they are clearly not covered by the general term “public bodies”. Perhaps the Minister could confirm or explain that particular point.

I have a different point relating to pension schemes. Some of these public bodies that we have been talking about have their own funded pension schemes, which are making investment and procurement decisions. As I understand it, because they are separate trusts, they are not themselves public bodies. But they belong to a public body and they are associated with the public body, so it is possible, within the bounds of trusts law, for those pension scheme trustee bodies to consider a decision that might potentially fall foul of this legislation. Therefore, we have the odd situation that the trustees can discuss these matters, but presumably the sponsoring organisation, which does count as a public body and is covered by the Bill, cannot discuss what the trustees whom they nominate should or should not be doing. There is a certain contradiction here, and again I invite the Minister to explain how that will operate in practice.

My Lords, I will briefly go back to the Government’s own list of public bodies on GOV.UK. Of that list of public bodies, there are 18 listed for the Department for Education, none of which is a university. The Minister referred to overlapping definitions in the Bill. I have been sitting here and thinking about that, and wondering where the University of Buckingham sits in the Government’s concept of where universities lie, because that is a private university but one which is fulfilling exactly the same functions as all the other universities in the UK. Those other universities are, of course, exempt charities and so we are on a whole series of conflicting paths here, with just one aspect of the definition of public bodies that this Bill seems to wish to encompass. I raise these issues so that the Minister can perhaps give us some of her thoughts on these overlapping definitions and where they actually sit within the Bill.

My Lords, first, we are in the territory of the chilling effect, are we not? If there is a very large number of bodies which are not going to be sure how far they come within the scope of this Bill, they will be very nervous about doing things that they would otherwise do. That is why leaving it so unclear as to how far the definitions of this Bill stretch over the sector, in which public and private institutions, and public and private functions, overlap so closely, is highly undesirable.

Secondly, this clearly will require very substantial subordinate legislation. I think it is the sense of this House that it is a bad thing to pass Bills that need too much subordinate legislation. Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, whom I regard as an extremely good friend, said to me that the subordinate legislation under the Elections Act, which we passed in 2022, is now approaching 1,000 pages, and that the Electoral Commission is spending a considerable amount of its time providing guidance for local authority electoral registration officers on what this means for them. That is bad legislation; we want to avoid that again here.

Thirdly, there have been occasions, as others are aware, where lists of public bodies have been provided. The Minister will remember the SI on trade union levies being taken, or no longer being taken, automatically from pay scales for particular public bodies. That had a list, at the end, in the schedule, of over 200 bodies, which included some quite interesting ones such as the Scottish salmon council, and various semi-charitable local institutions to do with, as I remember, care homes and nurseries.

Fourthly, to add to the question of universities, what universities are most concerned about is whether or not the student loan book, which is a very large sum, is included in the Treasury’s calculation of national debt. That is not a marginal issue; it is quite important. That is why definitions such as this and how they are used by different parts of government and recognised be the courts are extremely important.

My Lords, on the previous group of amendments I explained that I was concerned about the lack of certainty involved in the definitions. However, I feel the debate on this group has engineered more uncertainty than in fact exists.

My noble friend the Minister explained that the Government used the Human Rights Act definition because there is 25 years of jurisprudence, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, helpfully suggested that the Government update their understanding of what that definition means. I believe that most of the bodies know whether or not they are subject to the public sector duty involved in the Human Rights Act—not all of them, and there are certainly issues at the margin, but we need to get this in proportion. For example, I suspect that most of the bodies that the right reverend Prelate referred to already know whether or not they are subject to the human rights duty in Section 6 of the Human Rights Act. So although I continue to believe that clarity is important and that we need to find ways of achieving that clarity, we should not overstate the difficulties of establishing who is within the terms of the Bill and who is not.

My Lords, could the Minister comment on the actual functions of some of these so-called public bodies? I assume that secondary schools will be regarded as public bodies. They have a wide range of functions focusing on educating the children who are pupils there, but they are also responsible for the development and improvement of their school buildings. Let us take the example of a school that has an extremely rich alumnus who wishes to reward it for the excellent job it did in educating him, and allocates to it a very large sum of money to put up a completely new building: will that be caught by the Bill’s scope, so that the school has to decide whether it will be found to be breaking the law because it takes into account moral and ethical considerations in its purchase of goods for providing a very large new school building? These are the sorts of questions that people will face, and I am not sure that the governors of most state secondary schools will be terribly familiar with Section 6 of the Human Rights Act; nor will they find it that easy to get advice about it. Perhaps the Minister could comment on that sort of situation.

I take the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, just made in respect of schools, but I also agree with the point the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, made about the jurisprudence that has arisen, which has clarified this for a number of institutions, including, I think the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester will find, the Church of England. In fact, I believe the first case to test whether a body in the Church was indeed a public authority was Aston Cantlow Parochial Church Council, which was trying to exact a chancel repair charge. In the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords at the time, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, deemed that the parochial council was not a public authority. Many details have been laid out by the courts quite clearly over the years, but if the Government could adduce that on to a single sheet of paper in the way that has been described, it would be very helpful.

My Lords, as I set out in my response to the previous group, the Government chose to apply the ban to public authorities as defined by Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998. It is a great advantage that your Lordships, perhaps in contrast to the other place, scrutinise Bills in this way. I cannot accept that it is a sloppy Bill—it is a good Bill—but I think that concerns have been overstated. My noble friend Lady Noakes just explained why, very eloquently. We need clarity. Most bodies know whether or not they are covered.

There is another good reason for using the Human Rights Act definition—obviously, I am happy to look further at its implications, as I have said—which is that the Government intended to apply the Bill to a broad range of bodies when they are exercising public functions. This was to ensure a consistent approach to foreign policy across the UK’s public institutions, to stop public bodies legitimising divisive campaigns, which can undermine community cohesion, and to allow public bodies to focus on their core purpose when engaging in procurement and investment. That was the intention of the manifesto commitment that I mentioned in the previous group.

These amendments seek, rightly, to probe the scope of the Bill’s definition of public authorities, but they also probe the need for the power to make exceptions to the ban. I will try to address each in turn.

I am very glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester has joined the debate. The Church of England would be in the Bill’s scope only to the extent that it exercises public functions. We have heard a little about the interpretation of that in the courts.

Before I address the specific amendments, I remind the Committee that the Bill will not create any new criminal offences. That is a very important point. I also take this opportunity to address the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, which was picked up by my noble friend Lord Deben, on orchestras. Orchestras are very unlikely to be regarded as public authorities. Moreover, withdrawing from an event is unlikely to be regarded as a procurement decision for the purposes of our Bill. The definition of a procurement decision does not include contracts where it is the public authority providing the service.

I can also reassure the noble Baroness who raised the issue that defence contracts are also exempt from the Bill. In addition, for contracts in scope, the Bill already contains an exception to the ban for national security considerations. In practice, if a case is reported to an enforcement authority it will look at whether the public authority had regard to any of the exemptions to the Bill—for example, the national security exemptions —during the decision-making process. Evidence of this might include if the public authority shows that it was following guidance from the UK Government, or became aware, for example, that a supplier was engaged in espionage.

Amendments 26 and 23 probe whether charitable organisations would come under the Bill’s scope. Charities would be captured by the ban only if they were performing public functions. It is the Government’s understanding that most charities will not be covered by the Bill. I hope that provides reassurance to noble Lords.

I am sorry to interrupt, but I was just checking the relevant parts of the Bill relating to enforcement. The Minister said that no new criminal actions arise from the Bill. What we do have is the ability of the Secretary of State to have enforcement powers that include monetary penalties. If people refuse to pay the monetary penalties, what would that result in?

Perhaps I might continue on the points raised in the debate and come back to that point. It is a very reasonable question but I am not going to answer it without advice. However, there are no criminal sanctions in this Bill, which there often are in the Bills we consider in this House.

There may be a small number of cases where charities are delivering public functions; they would therefore be captured in respect of those functions. However, it is important to note that it does not mean that a charity is a public authority just because it is in receipt of public funding.

The Bill will not apply to charities’ private functions. For example, for universities, decisions that are part and parcel of delivering higher education would be public functions so they would be in scope of the ban. If a charity did have public functions in scope of the ban, it would apply only to investment and procurement decisions made within the public functions. That is a point that I need to emphasise. Therefore, the ban would not restrict how such bodies decide, for example, to distribute humanitarian aid, which was the subject of the earlier debate.

I think the Minister, or those who advise her, has misunderstood the point I raised in relation to the orchestra. The orchestra is putting on a concert version of “The Rite of Spring” as part of a Stravinsky festival. That festival is being held in a number of cities throughout the world. It is booked to appear at the new opera house in Dubai. It puts out a tender for ballet companies to provide the dance section of “The Rite of Spring” for this concert version. It specifically precludes in its procurement—so perhaps those who advise the Minister can reflect on this—the national ballet company of a country that has recently invaded a sovereign nation because it does not wish reputationally to be linked with that national ballet company. That is quite clearly a procurement. Is the Minister saying that that would not be covered by the Act and that the fact that the orchestra concerned receives a proportion of its funding from the public purse does not make it fall within the ambit of the Act? It is to that question specifically that an answer would be helpful. If she cannot give that answer, it demonstrates very clearly the concern about ambiguity that all contributors to this debate have articulated.

The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, has concentrated on the procurement decision, but before you get to decide whether a procurement decision is relevant, you have to decide whether it is a public authority—so it will come back to whether the orchestra is a public authority before getting to any issue about whether a procurement is covered.

That is what we want an answer to: is it a public authority for that purpose because it receives public funding?

I am glad that we have focused on an individual example because, in my experience, this always helps us to clarify our own thinking. I think that, if the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, will allow me, I will take the orchestra example away, along with the example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, work out the right approach and get back to noble Lords, perhaps in discussions outside the Chamber.

We all want the same thing: to make sure that the Bill applies to the right bodies in the right way. That is what we are seeking to do, which is why we started with human rights legislation, which is often a popular start, for good reasons, to legislation. However, we have, as we do, scrutinised the detail of legislation today and have come up with some extremely good questions. It behoves us to go away. I am sure we can find good answers and use them to improve the Bill, which is, as I said when I introduced the Bill, what we are determined to do to get a good Bill that leaves this House in the right place and delivers on our manifesto commitment.

I turn now to Amendment 25, which seeks to probe whether a national governing body of sport that is in receipt of public funding would be in scope of the Bill. It raises some of the same questions and issues that we are going to consider. It is possible that a governing body of sport could be in scope of the Bill. If a sporting body is considered to be a public body under the Human Rights Act, on the basis that it exercises some public functions, the ban would apply only to the public functions exercised by that body, but a sporting body being in receipt of public funding would not in itself be enough for it to be considered a public authority. These bodies play a significant public role.

We have got the public function thing again, which the Minister has referred to frequently. She has clarified that public funding is part of what will determine whether the sporting governing body is a public body, but she said that would be relevant only in the conduct of public functions. I am not clear on this, given that at the end of the previous group we were promised a response on what a public function is. I think the Minister said that she would follow up in writing, but she is relying on that term frequently in her response to this group of amendments, which I do not think is helpful, unless she can say something at this stage about what she considers a public function to be.

The noble Baroness is right that we need to use the term “public function” with care and to be entirely clear what it means, but the receipt of public funding is another legitimate issue that we need to understand—and understand the scale as well.

As an example, if a young people’s badminton team were to be taking a tour of south-east Asia and felt it did not want to take part in events in certain regions of China and came under some pressure on this from parents or other groups, how would that be? You could say that enabling young people to engage in sport is perhaps a public function. I do not know. How would that be considered?

That example would not be procurement or investment, so it would be outside the scope of the Bill. However, the noble Baroness has raised the point. Sporting bodies can be within scope, as I explained, in procurement and investment decisions. The reason for this is that these bodies play a significant role in public life and it would send a very unhelpful signal if we were to single out governing bodies of sport as an exception to the Bill.

I am sorry to keep on about this, but there is then a need to define procurement. In the example that I am, perhaps tenuously, relying on, there would surely be procurement of transport services, accommodation services, catering services and venues.

It seems to me that the issue here is boycotting a sporting event, and that is not a procurement or investment decision—but I have already undertaken to look carefully at these individual examples, because we all want to understand exactly what we are talking about and to come to the right outcome.

Amendment 24 would carve out community interest companies. While it is not inconceivable that a community interest company might perform a public function, neither the purpose nor the structure of a community interest company naturally lends itself to that. It is not, by and large, what the Bill is designed for.

Amendment 22 seeks to probe whether schools and early years providers, such as nurseries, are in scope of the Bill. I can confirm that all publicly funded schools will be captured by the ban when they are performing public functions, and some early years providers will also be public authorities on that definition. Other early years providers may be captured to the extent that they are performing a public function. However, I will take noble Lords’ concerns on that issue away, because I think it comes into the same category as the other two examples we will be looking at.

Privately funded independent schools—and I think this will probably apply to private universities—will be captured to the extent that they perform a public function. However, they are unlikely to perform functions of a public nature in scenarios where they are captured as hybrid public authorities, which we discussed on the previous group. The ban will ensure that publicly funded schools remain shared spaces for all, and the Bill will ensure that schools and early years providers can remain focused on their core duties, rather than being distracted by divisive campaigns promoted by BDS and others.

If a Church of England or Catholic school says it will not buy from a country that is persecuting Christians, that is concentrating on its core responsibility. It is not avoiding it; it is what it is there for, which is to uphold the faith. Are we really going to dictate whether or not it should make that decision?

My Lords, the Minister has an advisory speaking time of 20 minutes. May I respectfully suggest that we leave any further interventions until the end to allow the Minister to answer as many of the existing questions as possible?

I have already said that I am trying to answer the many questions noble Lords have asked. There have been a great many interventions on me and I have been very patient. I have also made some undertakings to try to clarify some of these points, including childcare, which would cover the schools that my noble friend Lord Deben mentioned.

Perhaps I could turn to Amendment 54, which requires

“the Secretary of State to provide a comprehensive list”,

of the bodies in scope

“before the provisions in Clause 1 can be brought into force”.

The Government are not able to provide a comprehensive list of bodies captured by the Human Rights Act definition. However, I have tried to be clear on the categories of bodies that includes. To repeat, these include: central government agencies and non-departmental public bodies; UK Government Ministers and devolved Ministers; local authorities; administering authorities of local government pension schemes; universities and higher education providers with public functions; publicly funded schools; and some museums and galleries in receipt of significant public funding.

As with any definition, there will be further cases at the margins where it is impossible to generalise without the full facts of a case. That, of course, is where the courts come in. Legislation often uses general definitions—for example, the Human Rights Act from which we have taken the scope or the scope of bodies covered by obligations under public procurement legislation.

Finally, I turn to Amendment 14A. This would remove from the Bill the powers granted to the Secretary of State to amend the schedule to make exceptions to the ban for certain bodies, functions and types of considerations, and to amend or remove regulations made under these powers. I understand concerns about the use of subordinate legislation—the noble Lord knows that—and we are lucky that we have such a good committee to supervise its use. However, these powers are necessary to ensure that the ban can evolve over time and operate as intended, for example in response to emerging global events.

I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, that the FCDO is fully supportive of this legislation, and all regulations made under this Bill would follow the normal procedure of cross-governmental clearance and, of course, be approved by the Foreign Secretary. In the event that in future the ban has unintended consequences for a certain public authority, it is right for the Secretary of State to have the power to exempt that body, or a function of the body, from the ban via statutory instrument—I think today’s debate shows that that is necessary—and this would be subject to affirmative resolution by both Houses.

These powers will also allow the Secretary of State to exempt certain types of considerations from the ban. For example, Ministers may decide to exempt a narrow type of consideration to ensure the ban can evolve in line with government policy. The powers future-proof the legislation to ensure the ban can continue to operate effectively and mitigate against any unforeseen circumstances.

Before I close, I should perhaps address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, on the environment. The ban applies only to decisions that target a particular country or territory. For example, environmental campaigns, including ones against fossil fuels that are not country specific, are outside the scope of this Bill. I also reassure my noble friend that the power in Clause 3 cannot be used to remove any exception to the ban in the Bill as passed by Parliament. There is a schedule the noble Lord can look at, which includes environmental misconduct, which we are coming on to discuss.

I hope, finally, to address the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, with regard to why there is a separate clause in the Bill for local government pension schemes. The administering authorities for local government pension schemes are public authorities under Section 6 of the Human Rights Act. Capturing administering authorities of LGPS in a bespoke provision means that the Pensions Regulator can use its existing powers and procedures to enforce the BDS ban for the administering authorities of LGPS. That avoids the Pensions Regulator setting up a separate enforcement system for the Bill. I am happy to have a discussion with him; we often discuss pensions issues which are of limited interest sometimes to the whole House.

I hope that my response to this group of amendments —importantly, alongside the undertakings I gave in response to my previous group which we expanded a little to bring in telling examples—will help the Committee to understand why we have chosen the Human Rights Act definition and I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment. I look forward to further discussion.

I hope I am able to intervene at this point before the noble Baroness sits down—some of these new rules that have been introduced for Committee stage I find incredibly damaging to our ability to properly scrutinise this Bill; I raised that point at the committee.

The noble Baroness said that the FCDO fully supports this legislation. She may recall that, at the previous Committee day, I specifically raised this question because I wanted to inform the Committee of the precise nature of the FCDO’s advice following United Nations resolutions regarding the Occupied Territories, which are specifically mentioned in this Bill. Perhaps she can take this opportunity to tell us how that advice could potentially impact the sort of investment and procurement decisions that organisations might make. There is advice issued by the FCDO in relation to the Occupied Territories.

We are going to be discussing the Occupied Territories in a group two or three later in this Bill and I do not have an answer to the noble Lord on this point today, except to reiterate that this Bill has been collectively agreed. I was particularly talking about the arrangements for regulations which, in turn, had been collectively agreed. I explained the system that when you have a new statutory instrument, there is a write-round which involves all relevant Ministers. In this particular case, that would certainly include the Foreign Secretary.

Before the noble Baroness sits down, can I ask her to take away the point I was ineptly trying to raise earlier? If a public body—we could take as examples housing, health and care—has an investment decision to make on a new building and/or new services, is it expected to find out more about the sources of the money going to be used to enable it to perform public functions and provide new public buildings? Are they expected to go that far?

I am grateful for that point, but I am not sure I entirely understand it, so perhaps I can offer to meet the noble Lord or to write to him and make sure that he gets an answer in good time.

My Lords, I was not expecting this group to elicit quite the debate it did, but it was incredibly helpful and welcome in exposing what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, called “sloppy”. He makes a fair point. The Minister said that she did not like that phrase but, given that we have been unable to agree a definition of a “public function”, unable to elicit a proper definition of “procurement” and have not agreed what a “public body” is by any means, I have to agree with him.

This is not us being mendacious or deliberately creating problems for the Government, although you could argue that is a fair thing for the Opposition to want to do; that is not what we are doing here. Like the noble Lords, Lord Willetts and Lord Deben, we are trying to get to the real nub of how this Bill enables the Government to fulfil the commitments that we all accept they made in their manifesto. We understand that the Government want to stand by those commitments, but we are so concerned that the legislation before us could end up straying into so many more areas. I honestly do not think that when this went into the manifesto, anybody had sporting bodies or schools in mind, yet here we are with the Minister unable to answer some quite straightforward examples, including a very good one from my noble friend Lord Boateng. I regret that.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Collins that, when the Government Whip pops up to try and rescue the Minister from having to take too many more interventions, that is fair enough, those are now the rules, but this place is supposed to be able to spend a bit more time in Committee—

I think that is a little unfair. The noble Baroness knows that I am always ready to take interventions and have continued to do so. I am doing my best to do the job that this Chamber does so well. We have used the Human Rights Act definitions and this Chamber has decided that that causes problems. I am sure those are soluble.

I absolutely did not mean any disrespect whatever to the Minister. She is completely right; she has never declined to take an intervention and has been very accessible on every occasion that I have needed her to be so outside this Chamber. The point I am making is that these considerations in Committee intentionally sometimes involve a lot of back and forth, because we are trying to get to the point—trying to understand, to improve and to do our jobs.

This has been a helpful debate. We leave with a few more questions even than we arrived with. I am sure we will come back to some of this in later stages but, for today, I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 14A withdrawn.

Amendment 15

Moved by

15: Clause 3, page 2, line 24, at end insert—

“(2A) Regulations under subsection (2) may not amend the Schedule to remove environmental misconduct as an exception from the application of section 1.” Member's explanatory statement

This amendment seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State cannot remove environmental misconduct as an exception in the Schedule by regulations.

My Lords, my Amendment 15 seeks to answer the question: what would happen if a public authority imposed a boycott campaign which related to Israel and arose as a result of environmental misconduct in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, illegal under international law?

Under the Bill’s Schedule, the Clause 1 prohibition on the consideration of moral or political disapproval is lifted, so far as that

“consideration … relates to environmental misconduct”.

This includes, according to the Schedule,

“consideration related to the possibility of environmental misconduct having taken place or taking place in the future”,

while the definition of environmental misconduct here

“means conduct that … amounts to an offence, whether under the law of a part of the United Kingdom or any other country or territory, and … caused, or had the potential to cause, significant harm to the environment, including the life and health of plants and animals”.

Surely such accusations of environmental misconduct should also apply to the State of Israel. There is credible evidence that Israel has engaged in such misconduct, particularly through the actions of the Israel Defense Forces, in its occupation and military actions.

In its military action in Gaza, there are serious questions to be raised about environmental misconduct. Dr Saeed Bagheri, scholar of international law at the University of Reading, stated of Israel in January this year that there may

“be evidence to suggest that they have acted contrary to the International Committee of the Red Cross … position that the prohibition on inflicting widespread, long-term and severe harm to the natural environment is a rule of customary international law”.

He added:

“The actions by the Israeli Defence Force in Gaza have left chemicals from white phosphorus weapons that could linger in the environment for years. This can have a long term impact on the soil, affecting the growth of crops, and in Gaza agriculture takes up about a quarter of land. For individual farmers and their communities, this pollution and its long-term impacts could be devastating”.

However, such questions far pre-date the current horror in Gaza. The Institute for Middle East Understanding has set out a long list of allegations of environmental misconduct. In its actions in the Occupied Territories, long-standing allegations against Israel have been made about the deliberate destruction of olive trees and olive orchards; at least 2.5 million trees have been destroyed since 1967, yet Palestinians depend on these trees as a primary source of food and income. The destruction of natural wildlife since October has been stark: a recent estimate states that around 4,300 acres of trees and plant life have been cleared around the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces, not to mention the complete devastation of the natural and built environment within the Gaza Strip.

What of Israel siphoning off water supplies from the Occupied Territories? This has caused a permanent drop in the West Bank’s water table and distorted water flows, damaging agriculture and increasing flood and drought vulnerability. In February this year, the IDF itself confirmed that it is dumping seawater into tunnels and waterways below Gaza, an act which the director-general of the Geneva Water Hub described as polluting and contaminating, and poisoning Gaza’s aquifer.

We also know that Israel discharges 52 million cubic yards of untreated sewage and other hazardous materials each year into the West Bank. The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories reported:

“Israel’s environmental policy in the West Bank—including situating polluting waste treatment facilities there—is part and parcel of the policy of dispossession and annexation it has practiced in the West Bank for the past fifty years.”

In the West Bank, and in contravention of the Geneva convention, Israel has appropriated most water sources for itself and restricts Palestinian access to them. Of course, this is not Israeli state or Israel Defense Forces activity alone; the administration of this occupation relies on a vast number of agencies and companies. Is it not reasonable for any public authority doing due diligence on environmental matters to prefer to disengage with any companies or agencies which are involved in such acts?

Many of these instances could feasibly fall foul of international law, such as Rome statute prohibitions on inflicting damage to the natural environment, Hague regulations provisions on natural resource use, and customary international humanitarian law principles on hostilities to the natural environment, to name a few. But the matter goes beyond the practical application of these examples raised. The question is also: can we exempt Israel and the Occupied Territories from the Schedule’s considerations without denying the very real possibility, now or in the future, of Israeli state or corporate environmental misconduct?

Israel’s human destruction of Gaza is being compounded by an environmental crisis. In Rafah, large family groups have been living cramped together with no running water or fuel, while surrounded by running sewage and waste piling up. Like the rest of Gaza’s residents, the air they breathe is heavy with pollutants and the water carries disease. Beyond the city streets lie ruined orchards and olive groves, and farmland destroyed by bombs and bulldozers. Forensic Architecture, a London-based research group, has shown how family farms close to Gaza’s border with Israel, cultivated for generations, have been destroyed, their orchards uprooted and replaced by military roads. Israel has suggested it could make this sort of thing permanent to create buffer zones along the border, where a lot of Palestinian farms are sited.

An analysis of satellite imagery, reported by the Guardian newspaper recently, showed the destruction of nearly half of Gaza’s tree cover and farmland—mainly because of the military onslaught by the Israel Defense Forces but also because, starved of fuel, desperate Gaza residents have cut down trees to burn for cooking or heating. Not only have olive groves and farms been reduced to rubble but soil and groundwater have been contaminated by munitions and toxins. The sea is full of sewage and waste. The air is polluted by smoke and particulates. The impact on Gaza’s ecosystems and biodiversity is colossal, leading to calls for it to be recognised as ecocide and investigated as a possible war crime.

United Nations environmental experts report massive amounts of debris and hazardous material in Gaza, with harmful substances such as asbestos, heavy metals, fire contaminants, unexploded ordnance and hazardous chemicals. When Israel cut off fuel to Gaza after the 7 October terrorist pogrom, power cuts meant that wastewater could not be pumped to treatment plants, leading to 100,000 cubic metres of sewage a day spewing into the sea. The sheer scale and long-term impact of all this environmental destruction has led to calls for it to be investigated as a potential war crime, and to be classed as ecocide, which covers damage done to the environment by deliberate or negligent actions.

Under the Rome statute, which governs the International Criminal Court, it is a war crime to intentionally launch an excessive attack knowing that it will cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment. The Geneva conventions require that warring parties do not use methods of warfare that cause

“widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment”.

Forensic Architecture argues that:

“The destruction of agricultural land and infrastructure in Gaza is a deliberate act of ecocide”.

I put Amendment 15 to your Lordships’ Committee with the intention of asking: how should a public authority act if it wishes to disengage with a company or enterprise which may be involved in acts such as these, which could amount to environmental misconduct under UK or international law, if that company is Israeli or if it engages in alleged misconduct overseen by the State of Israel?

The Bill is clear that the Schedule considerations override Clause 1 prohibitions on boycotts. However, it is not clear whether the Schedule also applies to Clause 3, which likewise overrules Clause 1. This could present a glaring contradiction in the current formulation of this Bill, and one which I very much hope the Government and the Minister will respond to. It needs to be resolved through this amendment. I hope the Minister will come back on Report having accepted the amendment to deal with this matter.

My Lords, I will speak to my Amendments 32A and 32B. Amendment 32A would expand the environmental grounds on which a public body is allowed to make certain economic decisions. Amendment 32B would extend the definition of environmental misconduct to include damage, regardless of whether it is legal or illegal, and to include species, habitats and the natural world.

It is quite positive that this Bill at least recognises that public authorities should be able to consider environmental issues when deciding whether to spend taxpayers’ money on goods and services purchased from outside the UK, or when deciding how to invest the pensions of public sector workers and retirees. However, this environmental carve-out is far too narrow. I do not understand how public authorities can be forced to ignore environmental destruction as long as that destruction is not a criminal offence. I have worked closely with Friends of the Earth on these amendments, and they were also tabled in the Commons by my honourable friend Caroline Lucas.

We are all deeply concerned about this fundamentally flawed Bill and the impact it will have on public bodies’ legitimate procurement or investment decisions about companies or products that are destroying the natural environment, including pollution overseas and climate breakdown. All public bodies must be free to avoid investment in fossil fuels, which are contributing to climate breakdown.

This Bill sets out an uneven treatment between local or UK-based businesses and foreign enterprises, particularly where they are owned or controlled by a foreign state. A local council will remain entitled to refuse to purchase timber from a business that is clear-cutting the local woodland, but if it is in a foreign country linked to a foreign Government then the council will be prohibited from even considering the impact of clear-cutting woodlands and rainforests around the world. These types of considerations—so-called ESG criteria—are now quite routine, even mundane, among both the public and private sector. Public authorities should be entitled to consider the same types of environmental issues that they would consider if interacting with a UK-based business. There is no justification for it to be any other way, other than a totally misguided belief that the nature, land, air and water in the United Kingdom is inherently more valuable or deserving of protection than that outside the United Kingdom. That sounds slightly colonial to me.

Why have the Government chosen to draft this so tightly, so that the only environmental considerations are whether or not the environmental damage constitutes a criminal offence? I hope the Minister can see the glaring flaws in this approach and the obvious harms it will lead to. I ask noble Lords across the Committee, including the Minister, to work with us on this issue so that we can bring something that we can all support to Report. Environmental crime must not be set as a bar beyond which anything goes in public procurement and the investment of public pensions.

House resumed.