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Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

Volume 837: debated on Wednesday 17 April 2024

Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Debate on Amendment 15 resumed.

My Lords, I support all the amendments in this grouping. I think we still have to hear one of them being set out.

The climate emergency is surely the most important issue facing our planet. We should not be responsible for tying the hands of any body, such as a local authority, that might be able to use its position to oppose actions that contribute to environmental degradation. At Second Reading, the Minister, moving onto climate change, said:

“I would like to clarify that the Bill will ban only considerations that are country-specific. It will therefore not prevent public local authorities divesting from fossil fuels or other campaigns that are not country-specific”.—[Official Report, 20/2/24; col. 593.]

But she did not mention the question of legality, because paragraph 10(3) of the schedule makes clear that environmental misconduct means conduct that

“amounts to an offence, whether under the law of a part of the United Kingdom or any other country or territory”.

Yet many of the actions driving the climate emergency are perfectly lawful. Indeed, as Friends of the Earth points out in its briefing, the fact that destructive environmental activity is allowed to continue legally could even be the rationale for a boycott or disinvestment campaign.

So I invite the Minister to reconsider what she said at Second Reading, or, better still, amend the Bill’s schedule so as to remove the reference to an offence under the law and work with other noble Lords whose amendments are in this group to see how we can take on board the concerns that they have raised in those amendments.

My Lords, I rise to support these amendments and simply emphasise that the whole issue of climate change and environmental degradation is now a very major one, which divides generations. My children care about it much more passionately than my generation does. In the United States on the hard right, there is still a very powerful climate change denial lobby pushing against the inclusion of environmental sustainability and development goals in company statements and so on. So I think it would be wise to widen this part of the schedule, not just to deal with environmental misconduct but to accept some of the language in the various amendments that we have seen. Again, this goes back to the Government. They are thinking of the long term and about long-term planning and public opinion. It would be wise to see what can be done to adjust the language to accommodate the very real concerns which have been expressed.

My Lords, environmental matters are of course very serious, but the question is whether boycotts work. The speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, shows the determination on the part of some in this House to boycott Israel come what may. However, if you look at the list of the most polluting and environmentally damaged countries in the world, Israel does not feature, and the degradation in Gaza, which is true, started long before the current invasion—it goes back to when Israel quit Gaza in 2005. Now, the issue is boycotts. People are looking for ways to boycott Israel. I have not noticed any suggestion of boycotting, say, China, for its polluting activities.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I did not advocate a boycott; that was not my purpose. I was talking about the destruction of the environment in Gaza and the West Bank, and that is not disputable.

The environment is bad in Gaza, but this Bill is about boycotts.

Now, no less a moral authority than Helen Suzman said that boycotts do not work. In 1987, she said:

“If there were any chance that sanctions would dismantle apartheid, I would be the first to support them. But reducing South Africa to a wasteland would lead not to a nonracial democracy but to more oppression and misery”.

A boycott, in particular a boycott of the so-called Occupied Territories, would not actually change the international scene as far as a two-state solution goes. The only people who would be hurt are the impoverished Palestinians working in the businesses in the Occupied Territories. This was proven by the SodaStream case. SodaStream closed down because it was thought unacceptable to deal with it because it worked in the Occupied Territories. Hundreds of Palestinians lost their jobs; SodaStream moved to Israel. We have to drop the illusion that a boycott of Israel, or indeed any other country, will achieve anything meaningful, let alone when it is carried out by a local authority as opposed to the Government. Environmental damage is indeed a problem, but I am not sure this Bill is the way to tackle it.

My Lords, I shall speak on Amendment 15, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I take a slightly different view from what has just been said. I think the Committee owes the noble Lord, Lord Hain, some thanks; he has managed to put together what it is like in extremis—how this Bill will be dealt with when it is faced with war. Now, I cannot recall a single war in the history of our planet that did not harm the environment.

I suppose that when we put this thing together, on the facts that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, gave, we are probably going to have to think about how much of the damage was caused by the Gazans. How much of a discount should there be for the amount of damage the Gazans caused? In particular, one of Hamas’s first acts after murdering children was to cut off the electricity and the water supply, and it continued to ensure that anybody that came to try to put back the electricity or restore the water supply faced violence. The pipes that would have been used to improve sanitation and have the flow of clean water were stolen and used to fire rockets into Israel. Some 25% of those rockets fell short, killing Gazans, leaving ordnance around Gaza, particularly in the north.

All the concrete that was there to build roads, hotels and social facilities was stolen by Hamas to build the tunnels. The tunnels in themselves were a great environmental risk, because they were not built to building regulations. They were quite close to the surface; they were beneath and beside houses; they affected the foundations, which meant that any disturbance, whether it be earthquakes or the dropping of bombs, made those houses so much more unsafe and susceptible to collapse.

There is the use of flying incendiary bombs, released by supporters of Hamas across into Israel, designed to burn crops. Burning crops causes all kinds of problems. It seems illogical that Hamas should have done that, but it did it in order to make life difficult for Gazans. That is why it is sitting on so much of the food supply; that is why there are lorries waiting to deliver aid into Gaza, but Hamas will not allow it.

I take exception to the quote relating to the Red Cross; if the Red Cross can go in to make that kind of assessment, it should be able to see the hostages. The Red Cross has made no attempt to meet with the hostages.

All I was doing was speaking to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, about which he was immensely eloquent. He mentioned all the things I am mentioning now. The noble Baroness should perhaps pay a little more attention when the noble Lord, Lord Hain, speaks.

I apologise for being rude. I was merely trying to give the noble Baroness some advice on when it is sensible to interrupt and when it is best to keep your peace.

Finally, it seems sensible that not every public body will have somebody with the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on it to give this kind of advice. It seems very sensible that—

Risking my life slightly, I wish to intervene. The noble Lord has made a lot of statements about the damage done either within the regimes run by the Gazan authorities—Hamas—or as a result of war. I have been to Gaza and the West Bank quite a few times, sometimes when there has been a reasonable peace and the people have been able to get on with their lives. During those periods, the pollution of water and of the sea and the problems of sewage were monumental. This is not something to do with the war, the wars, or the tumult from invasions; it is actually that the status quo in Gaza is appalling. It was not just me who said this. I seem to remember that a former Prime Minister, who is now the Foreign Secretary, described Gaza as an “open-air prison”. Does the noble Lord accept that there are some seriously long-entrenched problems of—

They are relatively brief, considering how long the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, has been speaking, and some of the claims he has made.

The noble Lord knows full well that this is an intervention, so can he please get to the point and his question of clarification?

If the noble Lord had not jumped up I would have got to my question; it needed some context. Does the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, accept that there are some long-standing problems, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Hain, mentioned, with the state of the environment in Gaza?

I am most grateful; I was actually just about to finish, but I will take into consideration what was said. I too have visited Gaza in happier times; some of the happy times I spent in the region were in Gaza by the Mediterranean Sea. The noble Lord is right: there have been some long-standing environmental problems in Gaza, which have been caused largely by Hamas. Let me give the noble Lord just one example. Hamas refused to co-operate with Israel on a desalination plant. Hamas could have had a desalination plant, which would have provided lots of fresh water, but it did not want it because it does not want to see ordinary Gazan citizens enjoy their life. Hamas wants them to be continuously in a state of disruption.

The final point I was making was that not every public body would have the benefit of the guidance of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, nor would it necessarily have someone else to offer a balance to what he said, so I think that decisions regarding Israel are better taken by the Government.

My Lords, I remind the Committee that interventions should be brief and about clarification on a technical point.

My Lords, can I ask the Minister whether it is the intention of this Bill to stop disinvestment in oil and gas companies associated with a particular country or territory?

My Lords, I will do something very controversial and invite the Committee to look at the terms of the amendment, coupled with the terms of the Bill. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, in introducing the amendment, rather oddly for an environmental-based amendment, seemed not to see the wood for the trees, but it paid very little attention to the actual terms of the Bill, so perhaps we could do that; I know this is controversial.

Let us start with the amendment, which seeks to prevent a future Secretary of State amending the Schedule, by way of regulations, to remove environmental misconduct. The predicate for that amendment must be that, as drafted, the Secretary of State does have the power, by way of regulation, to remove environmental misconduct from the Schedule, so let us look at Clause 3(2) to see what this Secretary of State can actually do. By way of regulation, under Clause 3(2)(a), he or she can

“add a description of decision to Part 1”.

That is not relevant because we are not dealing with Part 1 and we are not dealing with decisions. He or she can

“add a description of consideration to Part 2”.

That is also irrelevant because we are not dealing with adding anything; we are dealing with taking away, are we not? So let us look at Clause 3(2)(c): he or she could add

“or remove a description of decision or consideration”,

but only

“added under previous regulations under this subsection”.

What that means is that if Secretary of State A adds a new consideration—let us call it the Wolfson consideration —Secretary of State B can later remove the Wolfson consideration, but the Secretary of State cannot remove what is already there because that has not been added by way of a previous regulation.

Therefore, this amendment is wholly unnecessary, as was the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I do not know whether the noble Lord knows the point I have made but it is correct. I hope he will now withdraw the amendment and not bring it back, and certainly, if I may say with respect, not use a very technical amendment to this Bill to make points that are both factually and materially erroneous.

For present purposes, I stand by the legal point I have made as to the construction of the Bill. This amendment is wholly unnecessary because the predicate to it—that the Secretary of State could remove environmental regulation—is entirely misplaced.

Let me start by making it clear, if it is necessary, that the Opposition do not support BDS—we made that clear at Second Reading—so my contribution tonight on this group of amendments is about the environment and the exceptions to it. Of course, currently the Bill does not prevent a decision-maker taking environmental misconduct into account. Environmental misconduct is defined as

“conduct that … amounts to an offence”

that causes

“significant harm to the environment”.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said in introducing her amendment, this is quite a narrow exemption. It relies on UK decision-makers being able to be confident as to whether an environmental practice constitutes an offence in the UK or another country. There is no mention of climate change or the need to invest and to make procurement decisions proactively to protect the environment. Unfortunately, my noble friend Lord Dubs, who I know was very keen to address this point, cannot be with us.

Amendment 32C would provide that the Bill does not prevent a decision-maker taking into account the climate crisis and the need to achieve the Paris agreement goal or other climate change goals when making decisions. The Paris agreement goal is to hold the increase in the average global temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which is a critical threshold. The amendment mirrors the language that is already in statute in the Pensions Schemes Act 2021. The Government included climate change provisions in that Act to require, as the Minister said at the time,

“occupational pension scheme trustees and managers to secure effective governance on the effect of climate change on the scheme”.—[Official Report, 26/2/20; col. GC 156.]

During the debates on those matters, Members of this House spoke of the need for pension schemes not only to consider the financial risks of climate change but to play an active part in combating climate change and achieving the shared international goals, so it is a proactive approach.

One of the fundamental problems we have constantly been addressing in this Bill is whether people will be too cautious: will the Bill have a chilling effect on investment and procurement decisions that we proactively want people to take? We have, on the one hand, legislation that requires pension scheme managers to consider the financial implications of climate change and the transition to a low carbon economy; on the other hand, we have this Bill, which makes no mention of climate change and which, through overly broad drafting, risks limiting what public bodies and local government pension schemes are able to take into account when making decisions.

Sadly, the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, is not in his place. What we have to be clear about is the unintended consequences of this legislation. We have to be careful about where it could lead, because future Governments may not be so proactive in supporting efforts on climate change. We have to be careful because this legislation, which empowers the Secretary of State, could be incredibly dangerous.

The Local Government Association has raised questions about how this Bill sits with local government’s existing procurement practices and its ability to take environmental, social and governance issues into account. I hope the Minister will agree that combating climate change, including considering a country’s environmental policies, conduct and record, should be a crucial part of decision-making on public procurement.

In her introduction, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, also raised the key issue of the ability of public bodies to be free to avoid investment in fossil fuels. That is a critical area, as extraction of coal and other fossil fuels is often part of government strategy and often controlled by Governments. Could this Bill be interpreted in a way that will stop those sorts of proactive, positive investments that the Government, the Opposition and most people in this country think are right? That is the problem I hope the Minister will be able to address. Fossil fuels are a controversial issue that people have taken very polarised views about; we need to be clear about the consequences of this legislation.

I did not see this group of amendments as being about BDS, but about how we support positive policies on the environment and how the Government intend to ensure that this legislation does not have a chilling effect on the very things they seek public authorities and public bodies to do. I hope the noble Lord will be able to address these specific points.

My Lords, may I make a brief intervention? I did not realise that Back Benchers were not continuing to debate, so please forgive me. I have a brief point on this group of amendments and, in particular, the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on his Amendment 15. I have enormous respect and admiration for the noble Lord, but I suggest that this debate, in a way, encapsulates why it is important to consider the Bill very carefully. It also suggests the one- sided and sometimes very difficult debate that surrounds Israel and the BDS question.

For example, the noble Lord described the environmental damage involved in taking away olive trees from Palestinian land as some kind of environmental crime, but historically one of the big criticisms of Israel has been that it uses forestation projects to push Palestinians off their land, so the environmental issue can be argued in different ways for different purposes. Israel has planted over 200 million trees since it was founded, so it does take care of the environment.

On some of the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, was using, one might suggest that one wants to boycott Israel or protect the environment in the opposite way from that which is often argued, and the double standards that have been applied to this debate. I urge my noble friend the Minister carefully to consider the unintended consequences of well-meaning environmental protection. I am, of course, very keen to protect the environment and support the comments made so excellently by my noble friend about the detail of Amendment 15. I thank noble Lords for their indulgence in allowing me to make these points.

My Lords, before I address this group of amendments, I reassure noble Lords that the intention of the Bill is not to interfere with the ability of public authorities to campaign on environmental issues. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the Bill is well defined on this issue. It already makes an exception for environmental misconduct, including where this has been facilitated by a foreign state or as a result of the laws or policy of a state failing to prevent it.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, environmental misconduct includes conduct that caused, or had the potential to cause, significant harm to the environment and amounts to an offence under the law of the United Kingdom or any other country or territory. This is in line with the exception in the Procurement Act 2023. The Bill therefore already exempts considerations related to a range of environmental offences.

I begin by addressing Amendment 15, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. This amendment seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State cannot remove environmental misconduct as an exception to the Schedule by regulations. In response to the first of the noble Lord’s points, the Bill does not stop campaigns on general environmental issues such as fossil fuels or biodiversity. This includes where they lead incidentally to not procuring from or investing in a number of countries. I hope that this also answers the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins.

Environmental campaigns will be captured by the Bill only if they single out a country in a way that is influenced by disapproval of foreign state conduct. General campaigns that do not single out a specific country or territory would not be captured. However, the Bill must not leave a loophole for public authorities to take a general position on an issue mainly with the intention to target a particular state. For example, a public authority might shape a general position on an issue with the intention that it results in a boycott of Israel. The Bill should rightly stop that. If a case is flagged to enforcement authorities, they will assess the evidence of whether a public authority’s procurement or investment decision was based on a non-country-specific campaign with the intention of targeting a particular state. Enforcement authorities will have the power to ask for a range of information before making a decision.

To repeat some of the comments made by my noble friend the Minister in the previous group, I reassure noble Lords that the power in Clause 3 cannot be used to remove any exception to the ban in the Bill as passed by Parliament. This includes the exception to the ban for environmental misconduct in the Schedule. To go further, in answer to the final question of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, the limitation in Clause 3(7), which refers to

“Israel … the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or … the Occupied Golan Heights”,

does not mean that the exceptions in the Schedule cannot be used in relation to suppliers and companies with connections to Israel or the Occupied Territories. All that limitation does is restrict the power of the Secretary of State to use regulations to add further exceptions to the Bill if those regulations would have the result of removing Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the occupied Golan Heights from the scope of the Bill. I am also grateful for my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar’s comments on this, which were helpful in explaining our position.

Amendments 32A and 32B, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, would broaden the range of considerations relating to the environment that are exempted from the ban. The Bill already allows public authorities to make territorial considerations that are influenced by moral or political disapproval of foreign state conduct when assessing complicity in conduct that causes, or has the potential to cause, significant harm to the environment. Lowering this threshold would allow public authorities too broad a discretion to engage in the behaviour this ban aims to prohibit. These amendments would allow public authorities to boycott countries that have reduced the level of environmental protection in a country. Governments across the world frequently adjust their environmental targets. It would not be proportionate to allow an entire country to be boycotted for this reason.

An example of where the exception as drafted in the Bill may be relevant is if a prospective supplier has, or may have, engaged in environmental misconduct due to inadequate environmental protection laws in a state. The existing exception has been drafted to accord with offences under UK law, including under the Environment Act 2021. In answer to the noble Baroness’s question, I reiterate that the Bill does not apply to campaigns that do not target countries or territories specifically, including campaigns against fossil fuels or for other environmental causes. The Bill will in no way prevent public authorities setting their own environmental standards as part of their procurement or investment strategies. The Bill defines “environmental misconduct” as conduct that is an offence

“under the law 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”.

The Bill will not prevent public authorities divesting from fossil fuels on a non-country specific basis. This exception to the ban is in line with the approach taken in the Procurement Act 2023, which was agreed by the House in the previous Session. Wherever possible, we have aligned this Bill with the Procurement Act. This means that public authorities subject both to this Bill and the Procurement Act do not have to deal with two incoherent regulatory regimes. I believe that this dramatically reduces the risk of a chilling effect.

I also reassure the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who tabled Amendment 32C, about the ban applying only to country-specific campaigns. This also means that nothing in the Bill will prevent public authorities considering the Government’s climate change targets under the Paris Agreement or setting their own environmental targets. The Bill will not prevent public authorities having regard to any environmental treaties or environmental law.

The Government have kept the powers given to the Secretary of State in the Bill narrow. Accordingly, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee had no comments on the Bill’s powers.

I hope that I have been able to reassure the Committee on this matter and I trust that this response addresses the concerns of the Committee. I am also grateful for the many well-informed and passionate contributions. I respectfully ask that the noble Lord withdraws his amendment.

The Minister mentioned the Environment Act. During the passage of that Act, the limitations of due diligence measures to only significant targeted illegal deforestation were made clear because, for example, a significant proportion of deforestation due to soy in Brazil or palm oil in Indonesia could take place legally. It would be extremely difficult to distinguish between legal and illegal activity. I do not think the Minister is correct in saying that there would not be a chilling effect. Certainly, the evidence is backed up by a lot of pension experts who have presented evidence to Members of this Committee in their briefings that that is exactly what will happen: public bodies will not be pushing their ESG duties. I hope that he will understand why I have specifically raised that point.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for the intervention. I should declare an interest, as set out in the register, in various investments in companies around the world, including in Brazil and Indonesia. I am familiar with the points he raised. I think I answered as well as I can with reference to the Procurement Act and consistency with that, but I would like to write to the noble Lord, if that is helpful, to clarify further.

My Lords, in responding to the debate I invite everybody who heard what I said, and those who did not hear what I said, to read it in Hansard tomorrow. Did anybody hear me advocate the BDS cause? Did anybody hear me advocate a boycott of the State of Israel? I did not and I never have in any speech in this House or elsewhere. If there is criticism to be made of what I said, I invite noble Lords and Baronesses to focus on what I said rather than what they think I might have said, or what others have said. I think that is fair, frankly, in terms of debate in this House.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech—many in this House have considerable respect for the role that she plays—that I think she spoiled her argument by bringing in the South African comparison. She quoted Helen Suzman, who played a valiant role in the anti-apartheid struggle—a lone white role in many respects. At the time the noble Baroness quoted her, it was illegal to advocate a boycott or any kind of sanctions against the apartheid state. Indeed, she opposed boycott campaigns against all-white sports tours I organised, but if she had supported them and advocated sanctions, she could have been imprisoned under apartheid law. I would prefer to quote Nelson Mandela, who said that sanctions were very effective in bringing apartheid to its knees, along with other factors, so the noble Baroness spoiled her argument by quoting that.

I will be brief because the night is late, and I am provincial and have to get a train. I have done a lot of research into what allegedly changed South Africa, and the majority of the writings were that it was not sanctions. What changed life there was having two leaders of moral stature who were prepared to talk to each other, which we do not have in the Middle East. As far as the noble Lord’s advocacy of boycott goes, I cannot recall when—I think it was way back in March when we started to talk about this Bill—but the noble Lord himself raised the issue of South Africa, and how things had changed there because of a boycott. The inevitable conclusion to be drawn, though I resist the parallel, is that something like that would work in the case of Israel. I do not think it would, as they are not at all similar, but the night is late, and this Bill is not supposed to be about it.

I agree that they are not that similar, and I have never suggested that they are. The reason I brought in the South Africa comparison, and majored on it, is that legal opinion says that this Bill would have made the anti-apartheid campaigns of the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s illegal. That is why I brought the argument into play. It is not to advocate a boycott, disinvestment or sanctions policy against Israel, which I have never done in this House or elsewhere. If noble Lords are going to disagree with me, as they are entitled to do, then they should make the case on the arguments as they stand.

Since the noble Baroness has intervened again on this, I am sure she has read widely on it, and I am not going to disagree with that, but Nelson Mandela did not agree with her. He said that sanctions were critical. They were not the only thing, and I did not say that they were. The internal contradictions of the system, the fact that the economy was almost on the point of collapse by the time that President de Klerk released Nelson Mandela, that the country was on the brink of civil war and facing the abyss in that respect, was why the people who had imprisoned him for 27 years and oppressed his people were forced to negotiate with him, both for his freedom and for that of his people. It was an accumulation of factors, but sanctions were certainly very effective. The noble Baroness spoils her case about Israel by seeking to deny that.

The noble Lord, Lord Pickles, made a strong point that there are others culpable for the environmental destruction, and I have never denied that. He made some important points about the culpability of Hamas as well.

Forgive me for interrupting, but I have just realised that when I made my speech, I did not declare my interests. I would like to do so now, particularly those relating to friendship for Israel.

I am happy to be interrupted on that point.

My point to the noble Lord, and to the whole House, is that this Bill is technically flawed. I refer to the explanatory statement that I put on the face of my amendment:

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

in other words, by executive decision. This should not be possible, and it should remain in primary legislation. That was the purpose of my amendment.

That brings me on to what the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, argued. He—and I commend him for this—technically disputed the basis for my amendment, which he is entitled to do. I disagree with his interpretation, and I do ask the noble Lord to reflect on this: what was factually erroneous about what I said in terms of the case I put on environmental destruction in Gaza and the West Bank?

The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, for whom I have a great deal of respect and count as a friend, pointed out that Israel has planted a considerable number of trees, for which I commend Israel. My point is that there is terrible environmental destruction in Gaza and the West Bank now. Nobody can dispute that, and it has been going on for a long time, including the destruction and poisoning of the water supply for many Palestinian residents there.

My Lords, I did not introduce a technical problem with his amendment. I sought to explain to the Committee, and to him, that the basis of his amendment—that is, that the Secretary of State could by regulation remove this exemption—was entirely flawed. Having mentioned this in passing as a technical response, he has now gone back to his favourite subject of attacking Israel. Is he going to provide a response to the fundamental problem that I raised with his amendment?

I have already done that. On what he calls my favourite hobby of attacking Israel, as it happens, as I said in the foreign affairs debate, the whole strategy for resolving this terrible dispute is fundamentally flawed. The lessons should be learned from the Northern Ireland experience. Hamas will not be defeated militarily, however much I would like it to be. I made it clear that I am a friend of Israelis as well as Palestinians, but we are not revisiting all of that. On the criticisms, apart from the noble Lord’s criticism of the case that I have made, I invite people to engage on the substance, rather than bringing in arguments that I have never made in order to adopt a kind of diversionary tactic on this.

To conclude, the Bill is flawed and the Minister, speaking for the Government, should look again at this matter. If there is an issue with the wording of my amendment, then we can discuss that. Unless that is done, people will interpret the Government’s stance as showing that environmental protection is not being given the priority under the Bill that it should. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 15 withdrawn.

Amendment 16

Moved by

16: Clause 3, page 2, line 28, leave out paragraphs (b) to (d)

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment and others are consequential to another in the name of Baroness Bryan of Partick to Clause 17, removing Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland from the territorial application of the Bill.

My Lords, I thank my noble friends Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lord Hain, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who, by adding their names, demonstrate the breadth of opposition to the inclusion of the devolved Administrations in the Bill. As noble Lords can see, Amendment 16—and the consequential amendments that I will not bother to list now—would remove Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland from the territorial application of the Bill.

We are just 25 days away from the 25th anniversary of the first meetings of the Welsh Senedd and the Scottish Parliament in 1999. Those institutions have been around long enough for Ministers to be aware that they are not simply large local authorities. The official advice for civil servants and policymakers on taking account of devolution, as updated in 2020, reads:

“Devolution has fundamentally changed the constitutional arrangements of the UK. Officials need to be aware of how devolution affects the policies they work on or the public services they manage”.

The Government might have been well-advised to consider those guidelines when drafting this Bill.

Intergovernmental relations sometimes feel like one step forward and two steps back. There was the Dunlop review, whose whereabouts were raised in this House numerous occasions before it was discovered in the levelling-up department, where it was somewhat reinterpreted. More recently, there have been a number of important pieces of legislation where the Sewel convention has been ignored. Rather than using the Sewel process as a way of arriving at a shared approach, it has now become common practice to ignore it and take action without legislative consent.

The Interparliamentary Forum report published in January noted that there were

“ongoing challenges of intergovernmental relations including operation of the UK Internal Market Act, and the scrutiny of intergovernmental working”,


“substantial challenges in reaching agreement between the governments of the UK”.

Some academics have put this down to the Government having a unitary mindset, even after 25 years of devolution, and not accepting that there has been a fundamental change in the constitution.

Both the Welsh and the Scottish Governments have expressed their serious concerns about this legislation, arguing that the Bill is disproportionate and unnecessary, and that it is not clear what problem the UK Government seek to address by including Scottish and Welsh Ministers in its scope.

The Bill is unnecessary because the WTO has rules in place that all UK Governments are expected to adhere to. Neither the Scottish nor the Welsh Government have taken action outwith the terms of the WTO or other trading partners. Indeed, it is the UK Government who have been subject to challenge for breaching WTO rules and other international agreements. There is a strong case for greater scrutiny of UK trade deals and for the devolved Administrations to be given a role in those processes.

As it stands, this is probably the most restrictive legislation that the Government have so far tried to impose on devolved Governments. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, is unable to be here this evening, but she has suggested that as devolution has returned to Northern Ireland for only some nine weeks, it is still in the process of bedding down and it would be extremely unfair to impose a requirement on the Executive and the Assembly for legislative consent. That would cause unwarranted division in the Executive and the Assembly at this time, when they need to work together. The Bill could serve to undermine not only the principles of devolution but the carefully negotiated political settlement in Northern Ireland.

In relation to Northern Ireland in particular, could the Minister outline what discussions have taken place with the Ministers for the Economy and for Finance and the Northern Ireland Executive regarding the impact of the Bill? The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, would like an assurance that it will not be forced on public representatives in Northern Ireland.

Can the Minister answer the question raised by the Scottish Parliament? How could a decision taken by the Scottish Government in relation to a particular procurement or investment process be mistaken by anyone for an alternative UK foreign policy? Can she also respond to the Welsh Government’s concern that the UK Government will go over the heads of Welsh Ministers in relation to the Welsh devolved authorities? On this matter I welcome Amendment 20A, which seeks to address that point. I am also pleased that my noble friend Lady Chapman, through her amendment in this group, is attempting to achieve a similar outcome, albeit in a more succinct manner.

Many of the public bodies that expect to be covered by this legislation are concerned about Clause 4, which they have argued will gag public bodies and is likely to be a disproportionate interference with the right to freedom of expression, as protected by Article 10 of the ECHR and given domestic effect by the Human Rights Act. The devolved Governments are required by law to act within the ECHR, which obliges them to uphold a minimum level of human rights protection. The UK Government should not put the devolved Governments in a position where they cannot uphold their statutory commitments.

There are many reasons why the Bill should not pass, not least because it is an embarrassment to this Parliament. Any Bill that attempts to prevent people who hold different political or moral views from the Government expressing those views with the threat of legal redress belongs in a totalitarian regime, not in a constitutional democracy. That is particularly the case when the Government seek to silence other elected representatives. Demeaning their electoral mandate is totally unacceptable and should be opposed.

My Lords, I apologise to the Committee for speaking so soon after my previous contribution, but I will speak to my Amendment 20A. I associate myself with the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Bryan, which I have signed.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for adding their names to my Amendment 20A. This iniquitous Bill challenges the very foundations of devolution in the United Kingdom—namely, that decisions should be taken at the local level, and that local leaders should be answerable for them, rather than decisions being taken at the centre by remote politicians and officials. I say that as a former Secretary of State for Wales who helped bring in the Government of Wales Act 2006, which strengthened the devolution possibilities for the now Welsh Parliament —the then Welsh Assembly. My amendments and those of my noble friends address one aspect of that: they seek to remove from the Bill matters for which the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should properly be responsible.

I will speak about Wales in particular. The Explanatory Notes acknowledge that the Bill affects the decision-making of the devolved Administrations. The memorandum of 8 September 2023 from Rebecca Evans MS, the responsible Welsh Minister, set out in detail the way in which the Bill intruded into devolved competences in Wales and why it was right to withhold the legislative consent of the Senedd—which has occurred.

Deciding whether a particular purchase or contract should be made by the Welsh Government, or any other public authority in Wales, is patently a function exercisable in relation to Wales under the terms of Section 3 of the Wales Act 2017. The conduct of foreign affairs is reserved to the UK Government under that Act, but the making of moral or political judgments about the conduct of foreign states is not conducting foreign policy. That is a crucial distinction denied by this authoritarian Bill, which abrogates powers to Ministers so that they can act by executive diktat—in this case, by overriding the devolution settlement in respect of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Moral and political judgments are made by every individual—and so they should be; they should not be dictated by the centre. That means that the decision-maker should be at the lowest accountable level. In the case of Wales, decisions should be taken by a county or county borough council, the Welsh Government or the Senedd. Those authorities would be answerable for the moral and political judgments they make at the local or all-Welsh level. Are the Government seriously saying that they have a monopoly on moral and political judgment? That is what the Bill saying, which is both arrogant and absurd. Council tax payers in Neath, Gower, Wrexham or the Vale of Glamorgan are best placed to decide whether their councils are making the right decisions, and electors in Wales can make the same decision about the Welsh Government’s and the Senedd’s choices.

I cannot agree more with the Welsh Government’s view that the Bill is disproportionate and unnecessary, and I support the Welsh Parliament’s decision to refuse to give it legislative consent.

There are also major constitutional issues. If the Bill is enacted, it will fly in the face of the fundamental constitutional principle articulated in Section 2 of the Wales Act 2017, with parallel provisions, of course, for Scotland and Northern Ireland, that the Parliament of the United Kingdom will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of—in this case—the Senedd in Wales, the Parliament of Scotland or the Assembly of Northern Ireland.

The Bill would also fly in the face of the principle of subsidiarity to which the Government ostensibly subscribe: namely, that decisions are made at the level closest to the citizen, consistent with effective delivery.

So far as our amendments are concerned, because there is a single jurisdiction of England and Wales—something that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, has reported on compellingly—the amendment of Clause 17 to remove the word “Wales” would not work technically. For that reason, it is necessary to achieve the removal of Welsh devolved bodies from the Bill in a different way from the way that can be achieved for Scotland and Northern Ireland, because England and Wales have a common legal framework and that is not the case for Scotland and Northern Ireland. That is done by my amendment to the schedule. This would add the Welsh Government and public authorities that are responsible to that Government to those bodies excepted from the provisions of Clause 1. Effectively, it would mean that the Bill would not apply in devolved Welsh areas.

Our amendments are an opportunity for these issues of devolution to be canvassed, for the devolution settlement to be preserved and for the rights of the other Governments in United Kingdom and their legislatures to be asserted. I hope that the House, in some way, will manage to protect the devolution settlement, because otherwise the future of the United Kingdom is threatened.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bryan, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and to essentially agree with everything they said. I rise to offer Green support; I am not going to engage in the technical details, which the noble Lord, Lord Hain, set out so clearly, but I will simply say that this Bill should not apply to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

I listened to the debate on an earlier group, when the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, talked about a small nursery, run by a charity, deciding to ban oranges from South Africa. That obviously is not right—it is the sort of thing that the Bill appears to be addressing—but how much more so when we are talking about an entire devolved Administration? If we think about the kinds of examples that might apply here, let us say that one of the nations’ devolved Administrations might choose to block a supplier of staff uniforms because the clothing is made under abusive conditions in an abusive regime. How can it not be right that the people of Wales can decide for themselves that they do not want to see people wearing uniforms from that kind of source?

In the earlier group, my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb pointed out how the environmental derogations are utterly inadequate. How can it be that the Scottish Parliament could not decide to ban food sourced from deforested areas of the Amazon from being served in the Parliament? Those are the kinds of things that the Bill is currently providing.

It is worth looking over the history of this a little bit. I think it was two Prime Ministers back—it is rather hard to keep track, but I am referring to Boris Johnson. Under Boris Johnson, it seemed that there was a real desire to pick fights with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Senedd in particular. Since then, we have seen some improvement; we have seen the Review of Intergovernmental Regulations, which said that

“decisions will continue to work on the basis of agreement by consensus”.

I think that is an important phrase to look at, although I note we have seen some backsliding recently, and perhaps this Bill is a symbol of that.

I put down a Written Question, HL3655, asking why no Westminster Minister attended the meeting on 21 March of the Interparliamentary Finance Committee Forum with Members of the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd Cymru. I did not get a substantive answer to that question, so I hope we are not seeing that kind of backpedalling here.

It is worth running through the fact that Scotland and Wales have already very clearly indicated that they will not provide consent for the Bill, and the context in which that happened. In Scotland, we saw human rights groups, unions and environmentalists urging Scottish Ministers to reject the Bill. Then the Government, having listened to those representations from the people of Scotland, came out and acknowledged that this was a wholly unnecessary and unwelcome alteration to Scottish Ministers’ competence. This is what Scottish Ministers have said. The Bill is telling them that decisions should not be made on ethical or moral matters, in Scotland, for Scotland.

In Wales, there was a campaign by 70 civil society organisations, including the TUC, Amnesty UK and Liberty. Senedd Members were told that this was an attack on freedom of expression and, again, on their right to make their own ethical decisions on investment and procurement. The Welsh Minister for Finance and Local Government said that the Bill was not compatible with convention rights or international law, and there was widespread criticism from the legal community. These are things that Welsh Ministers and the Welsh Government have said.

I can update what the noble Baroness, Lady Bryan, said about Northern Ireland. Just in the last few hours, the Finance Minister has written to Stormont’s Finance Committee opposing the Bill. We note that the DUP has said that there is unlikely to be agreement within the Executive on this. This presents real risks in Northern Ireland, as the noble Baroness outlined, and as has just been made very clear in the last few hours.

This is, in its own terms and in terms of what is it doing, an indefensible Bill. It is also, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, made very clear, causing real damage and concern to the devolved Administrations and to the nations. I am aware that many Members of your Lordships’ House regard themselves as unionists. If noble Lords want to keep the union together—that is not my position—the Government should think very hard about what they are doing with the Bill.

My Lords, I rise to speak specifically to Amendment 20A, to which I have added my name. I did so because the Bill is yet another intrusion on devolution. It is part of a pattern by which Bill after Bill in this House, Act after Act produced by this Government, raids the powers of devolved Governments and the devolved Assemblies. The Internal Market Act started that, along with the Procurement Act—and there are others. It is a complete pattern by this Government; an intention to reduce devolution in stature and in practice.

As a Wales Office Minister between 2012 and 2015, I recall that it was unthinkable that we, as a UK Government, would ignore the need for an LCM on something like this. We have now got to the point where it is routine for this Government to do that. In addition, in the case of this Bill, the unpredictability of Henry VIII powers will give the opportunity to the Secretary of State to make regulations that could have additional, profound implications for both Wales and Scotland, and throughout the UK.

The Government seem to forget the history of devolution. In 1999, when devolution was established, the Scottish Parliament had a much more comprehensive settlement than that provided for Wales. That proved to be a mistake. It was not just that Wales had fewer powers. The lack of a proper pattern to those powers and a comprehensive picture of them made it very difficult to make devolution work. I am conscious that I have signed an amendment led by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and that I am criticising the Government of whom he was a part. I am sure he would agree that Labour First Ministers led campaigns to increase the powers of the Welsh Assembly, now the Welsh Senedd, specifically because it just did not work with much more limited powers. We now have something much more workmanlike, effective and constitutionally coherent. This Government have set about dismantling it again.

Added to that, the Bill is unnecessary. In the Senedd, the Minister made it clear that the Welsh Government are of the view that the UK Government have sufficient powers in place within the World Trade Organization Agreement on Government Procurement, enshrined in the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, and that those powers enable fair and equal treatment of overseas bidders where there is a relevant trade agreement. They do not believe that there is any need for additional powers. The UK Government already have the power to set sanctions for trade. All these arguments and discussions that we are having are irrelevant because those powers already exist. The Welsh Government fundamentally believe that the powers in this Bill would have a significant impact on the freedom of public bodies and democratic institutions in Wales. They have the majority support of Members of the Senedd on this. The impact would be on their freedom to decide not to purchase or procure in a way that impacts on their existing legal obligations in relation to human rights, abuse of workers’ rights and the environment. In practice, these powers are not going to fit comfortably with the structure of our legislation as it currently exists.

The fundamental reason why I signed this amendment on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Benches is that this is yet another impact on devolution and the coherence and effectiveness of the way in which the Governments of the United Kingdom should work together in a positive and effective manner.

My Lords, I think that noble Lords who have spoken have misrepresented the devolution settlement. It is clear that foreign policy is a reserved matter. When we come to this Bill, the question of the political or moral disapproval of the conduct of foreign states is a matter of foreign policy that can be determined only by the UK Government.

Noble Lords have been trying to describe devolution as they would like it to exist but the plain fact is that foreign policy is a reserved matter, and that is what is driving this. I do not think that the other matters that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, just referred to prevent action by the devolved authorities because of the quite extensive exemptions, which align with the procurement legislation, that are set out in the Schedule. We are talking about political or moral disapproval of state conduct, very specifically, and that is a matter reserved to the UK Government.

We have to remember that the devolved Administrations have form here in relation to Israel. To take the Scottish Government, back in 2014, they issued a Scottish procurement policy note which, in effect, encouraged Scottish bodies to boycott operations in the Occupied Territories. That note, which is quite difficult to find on the internet nowadays, because it seems to have disappeared into a black hole of an archive, was reconfirmed by current Scottish Ministers only a couple of years ago, so it remains the Scottish Government’s policy, which they cannot effectively implement because of the reserved nature of foreign policy.

To take the Welsh Government, in 2020 they informed the Welsh Parliament that they intended to issue advice to all Welsh authorities

“that they may exclude from tendering any company that conducts business with occupied territories either directly or via third parties”.

It was only after intervention from an organisation called UK Lawyers for Israel that the Welsh Government deferred their decision. So we have the Scottish Government and the Welsh Labour Government itching to boycott Israel, and to use that as a reason—

The noble Baroness accurately quoted the Welsh Government’s position as referring to occupied territories which are illegally occupied, including those determined by the British Government, not as boycotting Israel.

Whether that is relevant is another matter, because the boycotting of the Occupied Territories would also cause a problem under this Bill if Wales and Scotland were allowed to, in effect, opt out of the Bill.

I am sorry to interrupt again, but has the noble Baroness had the opportunity to read the FCDO’s advice on the Occupied Territories?

The noble Lord has the advantage of me, because the straight answer to that is no. However, if he points me to it, I shall certainly read it before we consider that again. I believe that trying to boycott the Occupied Territories is the same as trying to boycott Israel. Certainly, the intent is the same, and they are covered by the Foreign Office.

I am sorry to labour the point. The noble Baroness keeps using the word “boycott”. We are also talking about decisions on procurement and investment, and there is advice from the FCDO about investing in occupied territories.

I was referring largely to procurement because those were the decisions that were made by the two devolved Administrations that I cited. I would be very surprised if the FCDO had advice that boycotting procurement decisions relating to the Occupied Territories was something that it approved of, and therefore it was something that it thought the devolved Administrations could do. However, in any event, that is for the Foreign Office, not the devolved Administrations, to determine. I do not think we can get away from the fact that the current devolution settlements give foreign policy autonomy to the UK Government.

My Lords, I have listened to this debate with some astonishment. I will not raise the issue of the ECHR; we will come to that when we get to my Amendment 48. However, to keep chanting the view that it is for the national Government to make foreign policy seems to be ducking out of a fundamental democratic issue.

I want to end by posing a particular question to the Minister. Throughout my life, from time to time, there has been outrage among the public about a Government’s foreign policy in relation to particular countries; there is nothing new or startling about that. On many occasions that has been because people took the view that a particular Government of a particular country was behaving in a morally reprehensible way. Let us remember the marches against the Iraq war and let us also remember that many local authorities took sides on that issue. I did not see many Ministers jumping up in the Government to say “How dare you do this, because this is actually foreign policy, which is a matter for the Government. Why don’t you get back into your boxes and shut up and behave yourselves?” You cannot stop the public taking a view on the behaviour of a foreign Government in a particular set of circumstances. Israel is no different from any other country; it will make mistakes from time to time, however brilliant the Israelis may or not be.

Here we have a situation where we have given three areas of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland the power to make many of their own decisions, including what they purchase to meet the needs of their communities. Are we really saying that we will stop them doing that? It was not that long ago that we gave them these powers; are we really saying that we will stop them doing what Parliament gave them the power to do, which is, so far as I can see, what this Bill will do? We will come back to Clause 4 later under my amendment, but it is very difficult not to see Clause 4 —as the noble Baroness said—as a gagging clause in the Bill to stop debate.

So I say to the Government—this is where I come to my question—“You can get yourself into a tangle because now, if you concede to these amendments, it will be very difficult for you, because if you concede to them and then do nothing for England, you will put English authorities in an inferior position to the authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”. So the Government will get themselves into a tangle, if they concede to these well-argued amendments, over what they would do about England. I cannot see local government in England being terribly thrilled if the Government have given way to these three, rightly, devolved Administrations. What will they say to the local authorities in England about why they are put in an inferior position to local authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? That is where you would end up. So my question to the Minister—

I am very grateful. I agree with everything he has said. On his point about central government not always being correct, that would have been the case in the 1930s when a Conservative Government were appeasing Hitler and there was massive pressure from outside, from people in all walks of life who took a different view, that eventually forced a change of policy and Churchill took over with a different policy—thank goodness.

Absolutely—I thoroughly agree with the noble Lord, and this comes to my question as to whether the Government have thought this through. I do not know what the penalties will be for breaches of this law, but I can foresee that, on some issues, people will feel so strongly that they will be prepared to pay—you might say it is the cost of trade—the penalties so that they can demonstrate to the Government what they feel about a particular action in a particular country by a particular Government. Have the Minister and the Government thought through what happens if there is a willingness among groups of people to take a stand against this Bill, accepting that they may get some financial penalties and being prepared to pay those penalties because they feel so strongly about a particular issue?

My Lords, I will try to be brief at this late hour. I spent my entire career studying and writing about foreign policy. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, was kind enough when he made his speech some months ago to say that, when he joined the Foreign Office, he was told, “You’ve got to read William Wallace’s The Foreign Policy Process in Britain”, before he started work—so I know a little about it.

I emphasise there has always been, and remains, a difference between the approach to foreign policy in the security sense and defence sense—in which it is quite clear one has to have command, central control and therefore real concern about sovereignty—and to trade policy, international investment and procurement, which are usually controlled by a different department, often in competition with the Foreign Office, and in which subordinate entities of government, in most states, also have degrees of latitude. The German Länder pursue different international investment policies. I remarked earlier that the British Government are negotiating trade deals with Washington state, Texas and others within the United States. The idea that all foreign policy in the broadest sense, from immigration through to defence, has to be undertaken by central government is an extreme sovereigntist and unionist case, which I think should not hold.

My Lords, I will be very brief. I do not want to repeat some of the excellent points made, but I do have an amendment in this group about requiring a legislative consent Motion. For us, this is primarily an issue of respect. It saddens us: from the internal market Act, relationships between the UK Government and the devolved Governments started to go really badly wrong. It seems to happen again and again. I remember a couple of weeks ago, in this Chamber, the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, referred to the Welsh Government’s desire to work to support the Welsh language as a fascist attitude. That has played on my mind ever since. Things have really deteriorated to such an extent that, in the personal relationships between politicians in the UK Government and the devolved Governments, which politicians used to take pride in putting some effort and work into, nobody seems to even try anymore. Bills such as this one come along where the Government do not seem to care whether it has any legislative consent and do not even try to persuade their colleagues in the devolved Administrations to see the benefits of a particular piece of legislation. That is very sad. I regret that deeply, and the Government really ought to do better.

This is primarily about freedom of expression for people who have been elected in their own right to represent their communities. It is wrong that Clause 4 prohibits statements. We will come on to that later, but they are to be gagged by the Bill, and that is to be regretted. It is a backwards step. We will debate that another day. I hope that noble Lords will understand just how offensive the restrictions in that clause are to elected Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

As others have said, the Bill is disproportionate and unnecessary. The Minister and I have had exchanges about things raised by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, about the Scottish Government having offices in other nations, and he says that this is wrong because foreign policy is the UK Government’s domain, He is right about that—he does not speak for the Labour Party on these issues and is not right in the complete sense on the points that he makes on this. The Government agree and say that this is a terrible problem, that it is confusing for our partners overseas and that something should be done, but they are doing nothing about it. Instead, they feel that this is causing confusion in foreign policy. I just do not believe it. I do not believe that any other Government anywhere in the world is confused about our foreign policy because of some statement that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, says has been put in a drawer somewhere in Edinburgh, was passed 10 years ago, and is somehow causing such diplomatic confusion. I do not see any evidence of that whatsoever.

It is sad that the Government no longer even try to pretend that they want to work in partnership with devolved Governments. We can do so much better. The UK Government already have sanctions powers, and they are now seeking unnecessarily to fetter and gag devolved Governments. This shows a terrible lack of respect and I regret it very much.

My Lords, the amendments put forward by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bryan of Partick and Lady Chapman of Darlington, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain, seek to remove Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland from the territorial application of this Bill. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, are not here tonight, as they usually are in these discussions.

I disagree with these amendments for two reasons. First, the intention of this Bill is to ensure that the UK speaks with one voice internationally. It will safeguard the integrity and singularity of the UK’s established foreign policy, which is set exclusively for the whole of the United Kingdom by the UK Government. My noble friend Lady Noakes explained that well—political and moral disapproval is the issue here—and she gave a Scottish example. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, takes a different view.

I see it this way: international relations and foreign policy are reserved matters and remain the responsibility of the UK Government and the UK Parliament. Removing Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be out of line with the devolution settlement and undermine one of the main aims of the Bill—one UK foreign policy decided by the UK Government. I appreciate the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, that decisions should be made as close to local level as possible. However, I do not believe that this would be appropriate for international relations, which is rightly reserved for the UK Government. The UK cannot effectively conduct a single foreign policy if each devolved Administration or indeed local authorities, as I think we were talking about, are conducting a separate policy.

The second reason I oppose these amendments is that the BDS campaigns, which risk undermining community cohesion, are a UK-wide problem. I will illustrate this briefly with some examples. In Wales, a 2014 motion passed by Gwynedd Council called for a trade embargo with Israel. In 2020, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, pointed out, the Welsh Government informed the Welsh Parliament that they intended to issue advice to all Welsh public authorities that they may exclude from tendering any company that conducts business with the Occupied Territories, whether directly or via third parties. Only after intervention from UK Lawyers for Israel did the Welsh Government defer this decision.

In Scotland, in January 2009, West Dunbartonshire Council passed a motion agreeing to boycott all Israeli goods. That motion was reaffirmed in June 2010 and May 2011. In December 2010, Stirling Council passed a motion resolving to

“reassess its current procurement arrangements and ensure future agreements and contracts boycott all Israeli goods”.

In March 2013, Clackmannanshire Council passed a motion to

“resist, insofar as legislative considerations permit, any action that gives political or economic support to the State of Israel”.

In Northern Ireland in 2016, Derry and Strabane Council voted in favour of BDS. A motion was passed to investigate the most practical means of implementing the BDS campaign in the council. Finally, in Belfast in 2019, councillors attempted to bring forward a resolution to support BDS.

For these reasons—the need for a single UK foreign policy and the record of boycott campaigns across the UK—it is vital that the Bill’s provisions extend to each of the jurisdictions of the UK. This includes all public authorities, as defined in Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998. This includes Ministers in the Devolved Administrations. This may alter their executive competence, so the legislative consent process has been engaged, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, explained. We have therefore sought legislative consent from the devolved legislatures to apply the bans in Clauses 1 and 4 to Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

International relations and foreign policy are reserved matters and remain the responsibility of the UK Government and the UK Parliament. The Bill legislates in this area.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bryan of Partick, emphasised that the devolved Administrations are required to act within the European Convention on Human Rights. The Bill will not compel public authorities to make a decision that would put them in breach of the convention, and it will not interfere with the rights of any public authority. One of the reasons why we chose the public authorities definition is that these bodies do not have convention rights, so the Bill is compliant with the convention, including the Article 10 right to freedom of expression.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, I would like to reassure her that the powers in the Bill can be used only to narrow the scope of the ban, as it would be set in primary legislation. They cannot be used to place broader obligations on the devolved Administrations than what was agreed by Parliament.

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I am still trying to puzzle out what happens, to take the example of Scotland, if there is a great deal of resentment about this legislation, particularly Clause 4. What happens if the Scottish Parliament, presumably protected by privilege, decides to have a debate, there are a number of decision-makers under Clause 1 in that debate, and they voice their view in a way that is totally different from the Government’s view on that particular country and the issue they are debating? Would the UK Government then wind itself up to fine them? I am not quite sure what the fine levels will be. What if the Scottish Parliament then has another debate and decides not to pay the fine? This does not seem a fanciful position, given that the Government seem to be going out of their way to annoy the devolved Administrations. What will the Government actually then do, in practice?

If I may, I will come back to that at the end of the speech, because I want first to try to explain what we are doing with the devolved Administrations. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said that the WTO already places non-discrimination requirements on public authorities. Although this is the case, these obligations do not cover all countries and territories and apply only to procurement decisions, not investment decisions.

To return to the subject of legislative consent, I think it is fair to say that we are disappointed that the Senedd and the Scottish Parliament have refused to give their consent to apply the ban to their Ministers and the respective departments and agencies. It is always the Government’s intention to legislate with the support of the devolved Administrations and, where relevant, the consent of the devolved legislatures. We will therefore continue to ensure that the interests of the devolved Administrations, including the devolved assemblies, are fully taken into account. Contrary to the noble Baroness’s suggestion, we do engage with the devolved Governments. I was in Northern Ireland last week, I visited the Welsh Government relatively recently, and my office has contacted the offices of the relevant Ministers in the Scottish and Welsh Governments. I hope to meet with them in the coming weeks to discuss further how we can gain their support for the Bill.

I will be brief, given the hour. What advice would the Minister give to Welsh local authorities if they refuse to procure or encourage any local companies to do business with Xinjiang province in China because of its oppression of the Uighur Muslims? China, unlike Russia and Belarus, is not listed in the Bill in that way.

I am not quite sure what will happen about Xinjiang; that is a foreign affairs question. Obviously, although it is not referred to in the Bill, we have made it clear that we will use the Bill, where appropriate, to exempt areas. We have already said we will use the powers in relation to Russia and Belarus. I am going to talk to the Welsh Government, and I am sure this is a question that will come up. As I said, I hope to meet them in the coming weeks to discuss further how we can gain support for the Bill and what would be the right approach.

In Northern Ireland we have been formally seeking consent from the Northern Ireland Assembly since the restoration of power sharing and will continue to do so. The noble Baroness, Lady Bryan, asked for reassurances that we have engaged with the Northern Ireland Executive. Officials have discussed the Bill’s provisions with officials in Northern Ireland and have been actively pursuing engagement with the Northern Ireland Executive now that power sharing has been restored. I hope to be able to meet Ministers in the Executive to seek their consent for the Bill soon.

In response to the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, about what would happen if a public authority does not pay a penalty, we would advise public authorities to reconsider before refusing to pay a fine as the enforcement process, which I think we will come on to discuss on subsequent days, makes it clear that it could end up being enforced by the respective court system of the devolved area. The enforcement authority can apply to the court for the enforcement of an information notice. A failure to pay a fine is a civil debt, to answer the point that was made in an earlier group by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, under Clause 10(3). This will be through the courts in the relevant devolved jurisdiction, so if a Scottish council was subject to an information notice or issued with a fine, that would be enforced by the Scottish courts.

I am conscious it is late. We have had a lively conversation on this subject. I hope that for the reasons I have set out the noble Baroness will be willing to withdraw her amendment.

I thank the Minister for her response and everybody who has participated in this discussion. The Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, believe that there should be one voice in all international policy, but procurement is a devolved issue and, as we have heard, Clauses 1 to 4 require legislative consent. The worry is they require it, so they can ignore it, but I hope not.

The noble Lord, Lord Hain, put his finger on the issue of subsidiarity versus centralisation. Are we going to have one centralised procurement body for the whole of the UK that will choose which procurement is in line with the Government of the day’s international policy? I do not think anybody wants to go down that route. There is strong concern about the backpedalling, as it was described, and the resentment that this will cause. Remember that 50%-plus of voters support independence in Scotland. They might not be ready to vote for it at this time, but give them a push further along, and we might find that that happens. More Welsh voters are coming to support independence, and Northern Ireland is being held together by constant vigilance. I hope that the concerns raised here are taken seriously and that the Government engage properly with the devolved Administrations, discuss their trade plans with them and do not treat them as a minor inconvenience that gets in the way of the big issues of government. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 16 withdrawn.

Amendment 17 not moved.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 10.09 pm.