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Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

Volume 838: debated on Tuesday 7 May 2024

Committee (3rd Day)

Clause 3: Exceptions

Amendment 18

Moved by

18: Clause 3, page 2, line 36, at end insert—

“(3A) Regulations under subsection (2)(b) may include descriptions of considerations (including disregard thereof) to give effect to the United Kingdom’s obligations under international law.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment seeks to provide for a clearer way of implementing the international law exception in paragraph 6 of Part 2 of the Schedule.

My Lords, I rise to move the first amendment in this group, Amendment 18 in my name, with the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. It must be read together with Amendment 29, which is also in this group. I shall speak to both of them together. These two amendments deal with the problem arising from the international law exception at paragraph 6 of the schedule.

A number of noble Lords highlighted this problem at Second Reading. In my speech, I referred to the opinion on the Bill by the Richard Hermer KC. I disagree with certain aspects of his opinion, but I agree with his analysis of the effect of paragraph 6 of the schedule. As he put it, a breach by the UK of an unincorporated treaty does not normally give rise to a claim under domestic law, but paragraph 6 of the schedule provides a domestic law foothold for such claims on a virtually unlimited basis. Unless the paragraph is amended or removed, the consequence will be that, contrary to the purposes of the Bill, local authorities, for example, will make their own determinations about UK compliance with international law obligations. If there is a dispute about the correctness of the position they have taken, that dispute will be decided by our courts.

We do not normally implement international law obligations on such an unspecified and broad basis. What we generally do is give effect to specific international law obligations in a manner that is clear, and thus consistent with the rule of law requirement of legal certainty and clarity. There are countless examples of this approach, from the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964 to the Human Rights Act. In essence, what happens is that the implementing legislation identifies specific provisions in a treaty that are to be incorporated in domestic law, and sometimes those provisions will be listed in a schedule to the Act. The legislation will then create special rules or mechanisms that Parliament considers are required to give effect to those international law obligations. Examples include the declarations of incompatibility under the HRA and Foreign Office certificates under Section 4 of the Diplomatic Privileges Act.

Paragraph 6 of the schedule to the Bill does not do any of that. It purports to import the entirety of international law—potentially all treaties, whether incorporated or not, and every rule of customary international law, and invites decision-makers to consider for themselves whether their decisions will be compliant with any such international law. It is an inherently uncertain and unclear provision. Moreover, the international law obligations that might be relevant in this field are contested and unsettled.

This is particularly the case for international legal rules on the duties of third parties vis-à-vis a serious breach of peremptory rules of international law—most notably, Article 41 of the International Law Commission’s articles on state responsibility provides for three very general obligations for states faced with a serious breach of international law by another state. Those obligations are non-recognition, non-assistance and co-operation; but whether this rule entirely reflects customary international law and what it specifically requires of a state is not settled.

Public bodies would also have to determine for themselves whether they can avail themselves of the international law exception. That too requires a complex international law analysis. Whether an entity is a public body under domestic law is, of course, a question of domestic law, but whether the conduct of that body is attributable to the state on the international plane is a question of international law. Universities might be an example of public bodies under domestic law—we have been discussing that in previous debates on this Bill—but it is not the case that the conduct of a university would ordinarily be attributable to the state as a matter of international law.

The amendment that we propose would maintain the international law exception but add clarity to it by ensuring that regulations are adopted to include descriptions of considerations, including disregard thereof, to give effect to the UK’s obligations under international law. There may be a better formulation than the one we propose, but in essence the idea is to replicate the manner in which we have given effect to international law obligations that have not yet come into existence: for example, those that may arise in the future under decisions of the Security Council.

An example of this power is in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. It creates the power to make regulations for purposes of compliance with UN obligations and, more generally, for the purpose of compliance with any other international obligation. What happens in practice is that the Foreign Office lawyers, together with the Attorney-General, will consider the specific international law obligations that have arisen and then contribute to the drafting of clear, specific and precise regulations to give effect to those obligations. To be clear, the power that we are proposing will not, of course, replace the power in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act. It would be in addition to that.

I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, take the view that that power in paragraph 6 may not be needed and could simply fall away. Our proposal is a compromise that reflects the reality that this is a sensitive area and we thought that embedding in the Act a power to make regulations for purposes of complying with international law may, in this context, be useful. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have Amendment 28 in this group and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, for adding his name. I should first say that I am in complete agreement with the thoughts that lie behind Amendments 18 and 29, to which the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, has spoken so eloquently.

My Amendment 28 is simply a more direct way of dealing with the same problem. It deletes paragraph 6 of the schedule in its entirety, so that public authorities cannot use international law considerations as a means of avoiding the effect of Section 1 of the Bill. Public authorities are not experts in international law but might well seek to use ill-founded concerns about the UK’s adherence to international law as a smokescreen behind which they believe that they can hide their boycott activities. Put simply, it creates a huge loophole in the Bill.

I tried to compare the Bill with last year’s Procurement Act to see whether the exclusions in the schedule to this Bill are the same as the mandatory and discretionary grounds for exclusion in the Procurement Act. This was not easy, because it is clear that two completely different sets of draftsmen have been involved in the two Bills. However, the one thing that I am pretty sure of is that the Procurement Act did not have an international law exclusion ground, so the inclusion of paragraph 6 in the schedule to this Bill is somewhat puzzling.

I shall comment briefly on Amendment 31 in this group, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, because that would extend the range of things that public authorities could look at to breaches of international law outside the UK. Not only is this way beyond the Procurement Act exclusions as well, but it adds yet another loophole, making the loophole as big as it could possibly be in order to allow public authorities to justify boycotts. For that reason, I cannot support it. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s rationale for the inclusion of paragraph 6 in the schedule.

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 31 in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Blower. I have no observations on the amendments that have just been spoken to.

Paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 disapplies the bar in Clause 1 of the Bill on a public entity, for want of a more precise definition, from taking into account political or moral disapproval of a foreign state’s conduct in making procurement or investment decisions in one particular situation. A procurement decision is defined in Clause 2(2) as

“a decision about a contract for the supply of goods, services or works to the decision-maker”.

Paragraph 6 applies where the decision-maker reasonably considers that its political or moral disapproval of a foreign state’s conduct is relevant to whether the procurement or investment decision would place the UK in breach of its international law obligations. I have no problem with that at all.

Our amendment, however, would insert a new paragraph 6A with the intention of enlarging paragraph 6’s disapplication of the Clause 1 prohibition. It would allow the decision-maker also to take into consideration whether the procurement decision—or the manufacture, provision or supply of the goods, services or works which is the subject of the procurement or investment—would or might involve a breach of international law by another country. There appears to be no logical reason why it should be permissible to take into account procurement that is likely to result in potential breaches of international law by the UK but impermissible to consider procurement likely to involve equivalent breaches by other countries in the supply chain.

My particular concern here is focused on breaches of international labour law. On the previous day in Committee the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, gave a telling example of a hypothetical Welsh Government procurement decision

“to block a supplier of staff uniforms because the clothing is made under abusive conditions in an abusive regime ”.—[Official Report, 17/4/24; col. 1077.]

That example is topical, since War on Want has recently reported that 44,000 garment workers in Bangladesh are facing arrest after the Government there issued unnamed arrest warrants in response to November’s protests calling for an increase in the minimum wage from £110 to £172 per month. This is the country in which, on 24 April 11 years ago, 1,100 workers died in a fire in a garment factory in which safety standards were ignored. Public entities in the UK might well wish to question whether to procure from such a country.

Mention of Wales makes me think of another example where local people might also have strong views about public procurement of steel made in countries which do not respect trade union rights if, as seems likely, steelmaking capacity at Port Talbot is reduced and that capacity is substituted by steel made elsewhere in the world.

Before I say more, I should make the obvious point —which the noble Lord and the noble Baroness have already made—that the international law referred to in paragraph 6, and in our proposed new paragraph 6A, is not confined to matters of labour law but covers every area of international law. Therefore, those of your Lordships more focused on international law obligations in relation to, for example, the environment, civil rights or maritime law will share my concern that UK public entities in their overseas procurement decisions should be allowed to take account of breaches of international law by countries in their potential supply chains.

It is true that paragraph 8 of the Schedule already allows decision-makers to take account of a limited range of matters in relation to labour standards, but it is very limited. In essence, paragraph 8 applies only to conduct that would amount to a criminal offence in relation to slavery or human trafficking orders, failure to pay the national minimum wage, and labour market orders under the Immigration Act. For some reason, the Bill does not currently permit those making procurement decisions to have regard to the fundamental labour standards binding on all countries by virtue of their membership of the International Labour Organization. These are usefully set out in Articles 399(2) and (6) of the trade and co-operation agreement—the Brexit deal—signed by our then Prime Minister in 2020.

These provisions commit the United Kingdom to respect, promote and effectively implement the ILO Constitution, which includes the Declaration of Philadelphia; the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its follow-up, adopted at Geneva on 18 June 1998; the ILO decent work agenda, set out in the 2008 ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization; and the fundamental ILO conventions.

Those conventions, binding on every member country on earth, whether or not the country in question has ratified each convention, protect the following: freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; the abolition of all forms of forced or compulsory labour; the effective abolition of child labour; the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation; decent working conditions for all with regard to, inter alia, wages, earnings, working hours, maternity leave, and other conditions of work; health and safety at work, including the prevention of occupational injury or illness, and compensation in cases of such injury or illness; and non-discrimination in respect of working conditions, including for migrant workers.

It is no answer for the Government to say, as was suggested on the previous occasion, that these are matters of foreign policy reserved to Westminster. They are not. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, explained the distinction. In any event, by its ratification of every one of these international laws, the United Kingdom has declared its foreign policy in respect of these matters. Furthermore, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, put it, in relation to her example:

“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? ”.—[Official Report, 17/4/24; col. 1077.]

It is much more likely that breaches of international labour law will occur in supply-chain countries, rather than the destination country, the United Kingdom, for the obvious reason that supply chains are usually constructed to exploit cheap labour, poor conditions, inadequate standards, lack of enforcement, and powerless trade unions. As I mentioned at Second Reading, the International Trade Union Confederation’s Global Rights Index has ascertained that breaches of workers’ rights reached record highs last year. It lists Bangladesh, Belarus, Ecuador, Egypt, Eswatini, Guatemala, Myanmar, Tunisia, the Philippines and Turkey as the 10 worst countries for workers’ rights. No less than 73% of the countries surveyed impeded the registration of unions, or banned them outright, including Belarus, Central African Republic and Guatemala. Worse still, 80% of the countries surveyed violated the right to strike.

After the military coup in Myanmar, 16 trade unions were declared illegal and trade union activists have been arrested, dismissed, blacklisted and murdered. Maung Maung, the president of the Confederation of Trade Unions, Myanmar, spoke at a meeting in your Lordships’ House on the same day as our previous session in Committee. He escaped prosecution only by reason of the fact that he is in exile.

Why should public entities not take such matters into consideration? The Minister was kind enough to write to me on 8 March, after Second Reading, about a question I had raised in debate. She said that public entities would be allowed to take such matters into account, so long as the rejection of the hypothetical tender was not on country-specific grounds. I am somewhat dubious about that, since the obvious bar in paragraph 6 is that breaches of international law are to be taken into consideration only if the procurement might put the UK in breach of its obligations.

If foreign breaches may be taken into account, the problem is that the decision-maker is likely to be deciding on a country-specific basis, weighing all the factors and assessing the nature of the breaches of the particular country from which the tender comes. To do that, the decision-maker will probably, and rightly, make reference to the very detailed review of that country’s adherence to ILO standards carried out by the ILO’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, conducted each year.

Insistence on international labour standards in supply chains is an important way of improving the conditions of labour in the third world and, at the same time, preventing good employers in the UK being undercut by bad, and unlawful, conditions abroad. The right to insist on such matters of international law is surely an important element of local democracy. It does not detract from Westminster’s ability to enforce international law on a wider basis. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s view on my amendment.

I support Amendments 18 and 29, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, to which I have added my name. In view of what has been said in detail by the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, I can be very short.

Put very simply, the international law exception in the Schedule, as currently worded, leaves entirely to the relevant public body the right to reach its own conclusion as to whether a failure to boycott or a positive decision to make a procurement in relation to the foreign state would place the UK in breach of its obligations under international law. This is contrary to the Government’s own policy in paragraph 6 of the Explanatory Notes that the obligations under international law relevant to a BDS decision must be determined by the Government and not by individual relevant bodies. As we all know, many aspects of international law derived from numerous sources can be highly contentious. One has only to think of disagreements expressed in this House over the past few years on the proper meaning and effect of the refugee convention and the European Convention on Human Rights to see that that is so.

Paragraph 6 of the Explanatory Notes states that decisions of public policy about procurement and investment based on political or moral disapproval of a foreign state are permitted only if the decision is,

“positively consistent with the UK’s foreign policy”—

I emphasise—

“as determined by the Government”.

The Minister, in response to me on Second Reading, was not entirely consistent in relation to this matter. She said:

“This exception is necessary to ensure that public authorities are not forced to make a decision which could put the UK in breach of its obligations under international law. Public authorities cannot have their own subjective views on what constitutes a breach of international law”—

which is fair enough. She continued:

“They must reasonably consider the decision relevant to the UK’s obligations under international law”.—[Official Report, 20/2/24; col. 595.]

Therefore, there is an insertion there of “reasonable consideration” but no reference at all to the Government’s policy stated in the Explanatory Notes that foreign policy is to be determined by the Government and not by individual public entities.

In short, we simply cannot have disputes before our domestic courts about the proper meaning and effect of international law sources relevant to decisions under the Bill going through the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court at great cost to the public as well as, of course, to the ratepayers and the council tax payers of the relevant body.

My Lords, I will briefly support the two amendments, one from the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and the other from my noble friend Lady Noakes and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I urge my noble friend the Minister to consider carefully the purpose of these amendments.

I completely support the Bill and I am grateful to the Government for bringing it forward, although I recognise that not all noble Lords will be of the same mind as myself. However, I stress that using a test such as that proposed in paragraph 6 of the Schedule, as to whether the decision would place the UK in breach of its obligations under international law, is problematic.

International law is not well defined, especially in developing areas where international lawyers are increasingly recognising a duty of states to avoid assisting violations of international law by others. It could be easy for activists to assert disputed facts alleged to constitute violations of international law, which might bring this into play. Activists could, for example, promote BDS against Israel by claiming that it is required to avoid placing the UK in breach of its obligations under international law.

The problems are highlighted by a recent letter signed by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, and Lord Sumption, which claimed that the UK Government have an obligation to cease arms supplies to Israel on the grounds that these might assist Israel to carry out genocide. This was based on a misunderstanding of the International Court of Justice’s initial conclusions on an appeal by South Africa. Paragraph 6 of the Schedule might, I fear, enable activists to argue, in every council and public authority up and down the country, on a similar basis that they should not procure from or invest in a company that does business with Israel, for example, because this might assist some alleged genocide or other alleged crimes, which may be based entirely on a misunderstanding.

I am grateful to noble Lords for tabling these amendments and hope that my noble friend the Minister will consider that paragraph 6 of the Schedule may unintentionally be liable to undermine the purposes of this Bill.

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Hendy’s amendment. Not only has he made a very powerful case as a renowned labour rights lawyer, but he has mentioned the question of the Welsh Government’s position, which is something I want to ask noble Lords, and in particular the Minister, to consider. Supposing the Welsh Government faced a decision by the UK Government not to support the steel industry with the support that it needs, we could see the closure of the Port Talbot steelworks, which directly employs just under 3,000 people on wages that are high for the area; indirectly, with the multiplier effect, at least 9,000 workers would lose their jobs, and a whole series of supplier industries would be affected. That would be the equivalent of closing mines in former pit villages, which I experienced as a Member of Parliament in the Neath valley, specifically representing those within the old constituency of Neath for nearly a quarter of a century. Closing the Port Talbot steelworks will be the equivalent of ripping the heart out of that whole area, and, as I have said, the multiplier effect will be devastating. It will be equivalent to closing the mines, particularly in the 1980s and flowing on into the 1990s.

I make that point because, if a steel supplier replacing the collapsed British steel industry was found to have labour standards that were in breach of international law, as my noble friend Lord Hendy has so authoritatively explained, why would—and should—the Welsh Government not have the right to say, “No, we won’t source that steel for infrastructure development”, which the Welsh Government largely have responsibility for in Wales under the devolved powers? Why should they not say, “We won’t do that because of the terrible labour standards, which are out of compliance with international labour law”? Why are they being denied that opportunity? Under this Bill, they will be denied that opportunity, unless the Government are willing to accept my noble friend Lord Hendy’s amendment.

This is a terrible Bill. I am normally on the same side of the argument as my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, but this is a terrible Bill, and I will further explain why in the discussion on the next group of amendments. I ask the Minister to consider where the Bill is taking public bodies such as the Welsh Government—and Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, which might be in the same position. If this Government allow the Port Talbot steelworks to close, with devastating consequences for the area, particularly employees in Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, it might say, “In any future procurement decisions, we will not source steel from this or that country, replacing the Port Talbot steelworks, because of their labour law standards and their failure to comply with international workers’ rights and other matters”.

I cannot understand why the Government are driving the Bill forward without considering detailed amendments like that of my noble friend Lord Hendy. I know that the Minister has not replied yet; perhaps she will surprise us and say, “Yes, I agree with the noble Lord’s amendment”, or, at least, “I will take it away and look at how we might refine it in a fashion that could be acceptable to the Government and which he might be willing to accept”.

I hope the Minister surprises me by doing that but, if she does not, I ask her, the Government and the Conservative Benches to consider where this country is going on such matters. We are not respecting human rights. That is a matter for the next group of amendments, but we are not respecting our international obligations to uphold workers’ rights—conventions, by the way, that we have signed up to as a UK Government. That does not seem a good place to leave this country, and I hope that the Minister, having listened to the speech by my noble friend Lord Hendy, will agree to look at how she might be able to support his amendment, perhaps in a slightly modified form.

My Lords, I remind the House of my declaration of interests. It is exactly from that position that I wish to ask a fundamental question of my noble friend. We spend an awful lot of time trying to get companies not to be complicit with the Government of Myanmar, for example, because of their actions. We are proud that there is a whole series of decent private and public companies that make decisions on those grounds. Are we sure that we should be in a position in which we will encourage public and private companies to make decisions on those grounds but specifically exclude the right of elected bodies—and some non-elected bodies, because they have been designated as public bodies—to make those decisions? I find that a very difficult position to support.

Part of the problem is that we are now in a complex and extremely uncertain area, which is why all the amendments before us are of considerable importance. They say that we are putting public bodies—we are not quite sure what they are—in a position where they do not know quite how they should behave, and we are opening them up to the opportunity of people taking them to court because the decision they have made has not been in conformity with what the plaintiffs suggest should have been their decision in relation to international law. At the same time, we are saying to them that they should not take into account the same things most of us would try to get private companies—and public companies, in that sense—to take into account.

We are getting into a real mess here, and I do not see that this is a carefully written Bill. Indeed, my last point is simply that this is a terribly badly written Bill. I do not know who thought it through. We have now had a series of people taking rather different views—as a matter of fact, I am unhappy about the particular way in which Israel is treated in the Bill. We are all taking different views, but we are all saying that the Bill is so badly written that people will not know how to deal with it.

This is a central concern for this House; we need legislation through which we can explain to people what is happening. If I may say to the noble Lords who put the amendments forward, it took a bit of listening to understand what their problem was, to put it bluntly. How on earth are we going to have public bodies coming to decisions when they have to read that to start with to understand what mess they might be in? I hope my noble friend will help me to understand how this Bill will be simple enough for it, first, to be enforced and, secondly, to be proper. At the moment, I feel it is improper, because it is so badly drafted.

My Lords, we should get this into perspective. I say to my noble friend Lord Deben and indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, that this Bill is handling one particular aspect: fundamentally, boycotts and divestment decisions. There is a whole range of law in the Procurement Act, which we passed last year, which sets out the UK’s version of the procurement rules we used to take from the EU—they have been modernised for our own purposes, but they are still hugely complicated.

For a very long time, the Government’s own procurement advice to public bodies was that:

“Public procurement should never be used as a tool to boycott tenders from suppliers based in other countries, except where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the UK Government”.

In many ways, this Bill provides a more liberal approach to that blanket proposition, which was in a government procurement policy note and which has been governing procurement for a long time. We need to see this Bill in context and in the light of the rather narrow area it is trying to deal with.

My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Hain, I think this is a rather good Bill, although I agree respectfully with him that these amendments, particularly those on international law, merit careful consideration by the Minister and the Government. I say that essentially for three reasons, and I can be brief.

First, the general approach in this country is that public bodies do not have their own interpretation of international law. It is the Government who assess international law obligations, because they are binding on the United Kingdom as a state.

That leads me to the second point, which might in part answer that made by my noble friend Lord Deben. The effect of the Bill as drafted is to introduce, by the back door, potentially vast swathes of international law into our domestic legislation. As I never tire of saying in this House, we have a dualist system: international law is not part of domestic law unless and until it is incorporated. So the answer to my noble friend’s point may well be this: if somebody were to say in a domestic court that a public authority was in breach of “the law” because it had not complied with some international law obligation that was not part of our domestic law, the public body’s obvious retort would be to say that it is not subject to that obligation.

The third point is a practical rather than legal one. My concern is that, in the real world, if the Bill is left as drafted it will in practice drive a coach and horses through what it really seeks to achieve, because the courts will be clogged up with arguments, even if they are entirely unmeritorious, as to the scope of international law. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, about Richard Hermer KC’s opinion: it is something of a curate’s egg, and I will perhaps come back to that in a later group. But I agree that, on this point, he is absolutely right to sound a note of warning and to highlight that the Bill as drafted risks undermining the Government’s ambitions for it.

I gently invite my noble friend the Minister to reconsider the Government’s approach to this international law question, which we can perhaps come back to at a future opportunity.

My Lords, I apologise to the Committee because I did not participate in previous days in Committee or at Second Reading, but as these groups touch on the areas that I speak on from these Benches—international trade and international relations—I want to ask the Minister for clarity on a couple of areas.

The first is leading on from the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, about bodies within the UK that are afforded decision-making abilities under our treaties. Numerous treaties afford subnational authorities and decision-makers the ability to make policy decisions or interpret international law, as the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, said. That may apply to the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government or local authorities. This is quite common in trade agreements. It is a requirement of trade agreements that those subnational bodies, in effect, make a decision about whether their actions within that treaty would bring about a potential breach of the treaty for the United Kingdom itself, so the ability of a public body to make a decision exists. I am seeking clarity from the Minister about the intent behind this legislation for those powers that exist in these areas. Is it to remove them or to provide, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said, a more liberal provision that will continue the ability of those subnational bodies to make their determinations?

The noble Baroness referenced the Procurement Act, which she went through. We sat through many days on that, as did the Minister. As the Committee will know, UK procurement legislation allows decision-makers to reach their own judgments about whether entering into procurement arrangements with other bodies could potentially be a breach of obligations, such as whether that body is of good character or whether there has been corruption. That exists. On one reading, the Bill will seek to remove that, but paragraph 6 of the Schedule would maintain it. I am seeking from the Minister the intent behind this legislation. Unless the position is crystal clear, accounting officers in public bodies who are statutorily responsible for making those decisions will have no clarity when it comes to some of them.

The second area is the position of UK Ministers on the potential of other nations breaching international law. If we have an involvement in that other country, there is the risk that we would be covered by elements of international law. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, will address human rights in a later group. This is important when it comes to countries such as Myanmar or the Occupied Palestinian Territories because there have been times when Ministers at the Dispatch Box, responding to my questions, have said that they have issued warnings to sovereign countries that their actions run the risk of breaching international humanitarian law or customary law. What is the public body meant to do with that statement? A public body could act proportionately and reasonably—the equivalent would be the risk register—and state that it heard the Foreign Secretary issue a warning in Parliament that that country was potentially in breach of international humanitarian law. Under the Bill, is it asked to do nothing about it or to act reasonably and state that there is a risk with entering into commercial or investment relations with the very body to which the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of the Government, issued a warning? What is the Minister’s statement about that? On one reading of the legislation, I think the public body would be under a duty to ignore the Foreign Secretary’s warning. Under the Schedule, the public body would potentially be able to take that into consideration in acting reasonably and stating that it would not invest or have a relationship.

When it comes to priority countries that the FCDO has stated are potentially at risk of breaching international law, what is the decision-maker reasonably asked to do? I would be grateful if the Minister could provide clarity. At the moment it seems that in this area, for those two aspects, one part of the Bill is contradicting the other.

My Lords, I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that these amendments simply highlight the mess that the Government have got themselves into with the Bill as a whole. The Bill imposes some extraordinary obligations on public bodies, which I presume is the reason for paragraph 6 of the Schedule—it is necessary only because of those extraordinary measures.

Most of the amendments in this group do not deal with the fundamental issue that the Bill is incoherent. Amendment 18, in trying to deal with this issue, potentially gives huge powers to Ministers to profoundly shape or change the nature of the Bill by their powers to set out what should be regarded and disregarded in terms of international law obligations. Amendment 28 pretends that the overall issue with the Bill—which is the reason that paragraph 6 of the Schedule exists in the first place—does not exist. Fundamentally, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, this is a very bad Bill. These amendments just underline why.

My Lords, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that I wish the Bill was specific and addressed the manifesto commitment of the Conservative Party. The Labour Party has made it absolutely clear that we are opposed to boycotts, disinvestment and singling out Israel. The problem with the Bill is that it is wide. It covers all kinds of issues that will place public bodies in a very difficult position. In the debate on this group of amendments, we have senior legal people all saying basically the same thing: this will end up in court. When that fear of ending up in court occurs—when people read a law and say, “This is so complicated that we don’t know what it means; it will end up with us in court”—what happens then? It is the chilling effect. There will be decisions made not in the interest of the public body but on the basis of it not being sure that it is capable of making this decision. That is the important thing.

I support my noble friend’s amendment on extending the exceptions. The Schedule lays out other obligations on public bodies, not least very positive legislation that this Government have implemented on modern slavery, on other international law issues, on labour-related misconduct and so on. They are naturally there because these public bodies have already been told that these obligations are on them. There will be a lot of confusion. I agree with my noble friend’s point about taking into account potential breaches of international law by the UK but not those by other countries in the supply chain. Most of our experience of labour issues is that those supply chains can be incredibly convoluted. You do not know the origin of certain products. We have had debates in this Chamber about the use of cotton grown in Xinjiang by slave labour and being sold in British shops. Companies have decided to find out where that goes.

My noble friend also raised the Rana Plaza disaster of 2013. I remember it well, and I am sure that the Minister does, too, because many of our retail companies were selling products made in factories that were incredibly unsafe and used child labour. That disaster will stay in my mind. The government response at the time was, “There are potential breaches of international law. We will give the ILO extra money to go and investigate Bangladesh so that it commits to its proper responsibilities”. We did that.

The Government in this legislation are saying, “There are all sorts of factors that we can’t take into account—and even if we can, there are exceptions, the Secretary of State has to be involved, and we know it’s going to end up in court.” That is the problem with this legislation. It is not straightforward dealing with BDS. I wish it were. We will come on to that in the other group.

I have been trying to work out at what point I should read out the guidance on the Occupied Territories in Palestine that the Government have issued to companies. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, please read it. The noble Baroness is nodding; she has read it. Great. I shall read it into the record, although it may take longer than the 10 minutes I am allowed.

“The UK has a clear position on Israeli settlements: The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights have been occupied by Israel since 1967. Settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties … There are therefore clear risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements, and we do not encourage or offer support to such activity. Financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements as well as other economic activities (including in services like tourism) in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements, entail legal and economic risks stemming from the fact that the Israeli settlements, according to international law, are built on occupied land and are not recognised as a legitimate part of Israel’s territory. This may result in disputed titles to the land, water, mineral or other natural resources which might be the subject of purchase or investment … UK citizens and businesses should be aware of the potential reputational implications of getting involved in economic and financial activities in settlements, as well as possible abuses of the rights of individuals. Those contemplating any economic or financial involvement in settlements should seek appropriate legal advice”.

That is the Government’s advice, recently issued. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, we are saying that there is one policy for the private sector and another for the public sector. That is absolutely crazy. There are so many contradictions in this legislation that it beggars belief. I hope that the Minister will think hard about the complex nature of the Bill, and perhaps give it due consideration. I shall not repeat my comments on the next group, but we have often said, “Let’s sit down together and come to a solution that meets the requirements that were set out in the manifesto”. This legislation does not; that is why it is so wrong.

My Lords, I will address the various amendments tabled in relation to international law. If the Committee is content, I will start by addressing Amendment 31, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hendy. It is a wide-ranging amendment, as some have said, which would allow public authorities to choose not to procure a good, service or works if their manufacture, provision or supply may have involved a breach of international law. Where a judgment has been made that a party has breached international law, it is for the Government and not a public authority to determine the appropriate response. This amendment would give public authorities too much discretion to engage in boycotts and divestment campaigns and would undermine the legislation.

The noble Lord provided a couple of examples for consideration, for which I was grateful, which he is concerned the Bill would prevent. As he is aware, the Bill already contains an exception to the ban for considerations relating to labour market misconduct, including modern slavery and human trafficking. This means that public authorities will be able to continue to have regard to international treaties banning forced labour. This is relevant to the Port Talbot steel example, which the noble Lord, Lord Hain, also spoke about.

Without more detail, I am not able to say for certain whether the Bill would apply to all the noble Lord’s specific examples. If he can provide further details later today, my officials will take them away and provide a response before the next Committee debate. Additionally, we are due to discuss labour standards in more detail when we come to Amendment 32.

The Procurement Act, which we have drawn on, strengthens the way in which these terms are defined. Suppliers may be excluded where there is sufficient evidence that they are responsible for abuses anywhere in the world, whether or not they have been convicted of an offence. We believe that this approach is the right one.

Additionally, I note the concerns of my noble friend Lord Deben, particularly regarding Myanmar. As I have stressed before, it is not appropriate for public authorities to have their own foreign policies. I agree with my noble friend Lady Noakes that they should not pursue blanket boycotts. These are unfair on suppliers operating ethically in those countries.

I want also to highlight to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, that doing business with a country that has breached international law is not always by itself enough to put the UK in breach of international law. Additionally, the Bill contains a power to exclude certain countries and territories from the ban via secondary legislation. The Government will keep their response under review and have made it clear that they regard that provision as important.

My noble friend is saying that, if a regime controls by force and in the most terrible way the whole economics of a nation, I can advise a private company not to deal with it and remove itself from it, but a public body could not say, “I will not trade with or buy from Myanmar”, unless the Government decide that they will not deal with Myanmar in that sense. I find that morally extremely difficult to take. We are asking private people to do things—I am sure the Government would support that—but we are going to exclude those who are democratically elected or who are looking after, for example, a university. I find that very difficult to take.

We are of course dealing with investment and procurement and the public bodies themselves.

Perhaps I should respond to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, who mentioned the Occupied Territories, which we will be coming back to on later amendments. Although the Government recognise the risks associated with—

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I am perplexed by her view that foreign policy is simply a matter for central Governments. Foreign policy affects the population of the UK; it affects thousands of institutions in one way or another. We live, after all, in a global world. We do not live in a completely isolated country with no contact with the rest of the world. Foreign policy is not just something that can be determined and administered entirely by central government without the engagement, involvement and acceptance of those policies by a very large number of public and private institutions and individual members of this country.

I note what the noble Baroness says, but the Bill does not change UK foreign policy. That is for FCDO and the UK Government to decide. This applies only to public authorities and to investment and procurement, which I have continued to emphasise, because I think some of the discussion is needlessly wide-ranging—and, if I may, I will now make progress.

The Government, as I was saying, in relation to the Palestinian Occupied Territories, recognise the risk associated with economic and financial activities in the Israeli settlements, but we do not support boycotts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. They are inherently divisive and may lead to inadvertent negative effects on Palestinians, as well as undermining the aim of the Bill, which is to ensure that we speak with one voice internationally. None of this changes existing government guidance.

This is a fundamental point. I have made clear the Labour Party’s position on boycotts. We are talking about investment in factories in illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories. What is the noble Baroness saying to a public body that realises that an investment it had has suddenly transferred from Jordan to a factory in the Occupied Territories? Is she saying that that public body cannot say that the investment is in breach? It causes reputational risk and could fundamentally affect the value of the investment, because it is illegal. What is the noble Baroness saying: that we are going to put it in this Bill, come what may, because that is the foreign policy? It makes no sense to me at all. The Government are talking with two voices. The FCDO is saying one thing and this Minister is saying something completely different.

I do not think there is a difference between us and the FCDO. If I may, I will move on to the other amendments, because I am trying, as I always do, to answer the questions noble Lords have asked. There are a number of different amendments in this group, and I think we should look at them in the round. I will turn to Amendments 18, 28 and 29.

I will start with Amendment 28, which is a probing amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Noakes, which would remove paragraph 6 of the schedule. She said that was a direct approach. I thank her, more generally, for her support for this legislation and for providing this opportunity to explain why this provision was included in the Bill. Paragraph 6 of the schedule makes an exception to the ban for considerations that a decision-maker in a public authority reasonably considers to be relevant to compliance with the UK’s obligations under international law.

Amendments 29 and 18, as the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, has explained, would remove the existing exception and replace it with a narrower exception that would only allow public authorities to consider international law in a way that is influenced by moral or political disapproval of foreign state conduct, in line with regulations made by the Secretary of State. I would like to thank him, and my noble friend Lady Noakes, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for raising this matter. I acknowledge the noble Lord’s and my noble friend’s valuable expertise in this area— of course, they have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who is not in his place, my noble friends Lady Altmann and Lord Wolfson.

There are very limited examples of when this clause might be relevant to public authorities, such as when abiding by sanctions under international law. It is therefore intended as a safeguard. I appreciate the noble Lord’s concern that public authorities could make their own subjective interpretations of foreign policy that are not aligned with the foreign policy of the UK Government. This exception can only be exercised by public authorities in a way that is “reasonable”. It would be up to the enforcement authority, or the courts, to determine whether the exception was exercised reasonably.

However, I appreciate noble Lords’ various concerns on this matter, including the impact on the courts, and the Government will consider these. We will no doubt return to the international law issue on Report. I thank noble Lords for their insightful contributions—

Can I press the Minister on that? My understanding is that, under the Bill, in the absence of a Minister or the Government coming to a determination that international law has been breached, a decision-maker in a public authority can make the decision that there is the potential of a breach. Therefore, a decision-making body at the moment, for example—because Ministers are warning the Israeli Government that their actions in the West Bank and Occupied Territories are potentially in breach of international law—would be permitted under Schedule 6 to make a decision not to invest.

I am not sure that I entirely understand the noble Lord’s question, but I will reflect on it. We will come relatively shortly to a group that will look at these issues more broadly. If I am able to do so, I will come back to him at that point.

As I have already said, various concerns have been raised, which we will consider. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that we value this House’s expertise, as I said at Question Time only last week. The Government will continue to think carefully about the important points that have been made. I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. The key driver behind our amendments was a concern about clarity, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, pointed out. International law is not just a law but an entire legal system, so to say that you cannot breach international law is like saying that you cannot breach Chinese law. The legislative instruction has to be more specific than that. That is the essence of our concern.

I do not think the power we are proposing in my amendments, supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, would be excessive, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Oates. We have other examples of that in the legislation. As for the Minister’s comment on sanctions, we already have powers in legislation to deal with sanctions, so there would not need to be an international law exception on such a broad and unlimited basis to cover that situation; we already deal with that in our existing legislation.

I thank those who supported our amendments and analysis, in particular the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar. I look forward to the proposals that the Minister said she would consider bringing forward on Report. With that, I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 18 withdrawn.

Amendment 19

Moved by

19: Clause 3, page 2, line 40, at end insert—

“(4A) Section 1 does not apply to a decision which has been made in accordance with a Statement of Policy Relating to Human Rights.(4B) A “Statement of Policy Relating to Human Rights”—(a) is a public authority’s policy criteria relating to disinvestment in cases concerning contravention of human rights, and(b) must be applied consistently by the public authority to all foreign countries.(4C) Within 60 days of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish, and lay before Parliament, guidance on the form, content and application of a Statement for the purposes of this section.(4D) Public authorities must have regard to the guidance referenced in subsection (4C) when devising a Statement for the purposes of this section.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would exempt public bodies from the prohibition in section 1 where the decision has been made in accordance with a Statement of Policy Relating to Human Rights. A Statement may not single out individual nations—the policy would have to be applied consistently, and in accordance with guidance published by the Secretary of State.

My Lords, in moving this amendment and speaking to Amendment 48, I stress that we are very happy to sit down with the noble Baroness and her departmental colleagues to see whether there is a way forward to address the fundamental principle of not outlawing BDS but ensuring that decisions are not simply made to single out one particular nation—and that is of course Israel.

There is a way forward. In our view, it is not wrong for public bodies to take ethical investment decisions—we had a lengthy discussion about this in the earlier group —but those decisions must be consistent. We have heard many legitimate criticisms of foreign Governments and many Ministers have expressed concerns. They may not have clear policy, but they have expressed concerns.

In these amendments, which will hopefully have the support of the Government, we are trying to stop people who seek to target Israel alone, hold it to different standards from other countries, question its right to exist and equate the actions of the Israeli Government to Jewish people, in doing so creating hate and hostility against Jewish people in the United Kingdom. We have seen a lot of evidence of that in recent times and it is completely wrong.

What our amendment seeks to do is to address this problem in a coherent policy way. It would allow public bodies to produce a document setting out their policy on procurement and human rights. The policy would be cemented in a framework based on principles that apply equally to all countries, rather than singling out an individual nation. Such a statement of ethical policy would ensure consistency in how public bodies decide on these matters and would be subject to the guidance issued by the elected Members and laid before this House. This is the correct way to approach this question. Any inconsistent application would be prohibited. Under Labour’s proposals, if a public body were to act against a particular state—for instance, the world’s only Jewish state—and failed to apply a consistent approach to human rights everywhere, such actions would be unlawful.

So we are trying to address, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said, a very specific concern that we all share. We share the same objectives and we are very disappointed that, in the Commons, the Government chose not to support our amendments on this question, but I repeat our offer to the Government—indeed, to the whole House—to work together, to speak with one voice on the most serious issues, and we hope that we can move forward on the basis of this amendment.

Far from singling out Israel, the Bill applies as much to China, to Myanmar, as we heard on the previous group, and to North Korea as it does to Israel. For example, on the issues we have discussed in terms of procurement, it could have significant effects on the ability of communities to support the Uighur minority in China, who are victims of grave human rights abuses—concentration camps and slave labour. The amendment seeks genuine consensus across the Committee to make sure that we do not have bad, inconsistent legislation. It is important that people should be able to raise concerns appropriately and in the best way, that is why an overall policy, and consistency in terms of policy, should drive their actions, not simply singling out a country. The Bill does not allow that.

Even the Foreign Secretary’s office warned No. 10 about the impact of the Bill on our foreign commitments, and I raised that in the previous group, particularly in relation to the Occupied Territories and the impact on our policy of a two-state solution. We want to work constructively with the Government and I hope that the Minister will listen to our concerns. I think this is a way forward, I hope it can garner support across the Committee and I beg to move.

My Lords, I support Amendment 19, to which I have added my name, and I will speak to Amendment 48 in my name. Amendment 48 is focused on a simple question: does the statement of compatibility by the Minister on the face of the Bill comply with the terms of Clause 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998, or would the Minister have been wiser to make a statement under the terms of Clause 19(1)(b) of that Act?

Just to remind the Committee, the Minister states on the face of the Bill that its provisions

“are compatible with the Convention rights”.

It is, of course, possible for Parliament to pass legislation that is not compliant with convention provisions. That is indeed provided for in Section 19(1)(b) of the 1998 Act. But if we adopt that course, we have to fess up to the fact that although Ministers are

“unable to make a statement of compatibility the government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill”.

I recognise that some members of the Conservative Party would find it a badge of honour to flourish a statement of non-compatibility with the Human Rights Act, but I would not have placed the Minister in that group, so I am curious to find out what is going on.

First, however, I must own up to my personal involvement with and attachment to Section 19 provisions in the 1998 Act, when I was a senior policy adviser to the then Home Secretary. At that time, there was a robust debate about whether, despite the sovereignty of Parliament, legislation could be stopped if it breached ECHR provisions. Quite naturally, parliamentary sovereignty inevitably triumphed, but there was concern in the Labour Government at the time that they wanted proper consideration to be given to the ECHR when Bills came to Parliament. With my good friend the late and much-missed Lord Gareth Williams, a distinguished lawyer, Home Office Minister and later Leader of this House, we came up with the idea of a ministerial statement of ECHR compliance on the face of the Bill. That led to the drafting of what became Section 19 of the 1998 Act. This provision was intended to make Ministers stop and think carefully about human rights convention compliance before they introduced a Bill to Parliament.

It is quite difficult to see that this has happened with this Bill. Clause 4 as drafted is a straightforward gagging provision. It stops people openly discussing a full range of possible actions they might take to express their disapproval of an Israeli Government’s continued breaching of international law in Gaza and the Occupied Territories. This places the Bill in breach of Article 10 of the convention—the right to freedom of expression—and therefore in breach of Section 6 of the 1998 Act.

That is not just my view—it is the clear view of Liberty, Amnesty International and many others, including many parliamentarians. People cannot see how Clause 4 can be squared with Article 10 of the ECHR. Liberty has also argued that the Bill constitutes an interference with the rights of freedom of conscience under Article 9 of the ECHR, a view that I think is shared by Quakers, given their beliefs.

In these circumstances, I am at a loss to see how the Minister can make the statement on the face of the Bill that it is compliant with Section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act. When I consulted the clerk about framing an amendment to delete the statement on the face of the Bill, I was told I could not do that. However, they helpfully suggested that I could insert a provision that after the passage of the Bill, there should be a review of its compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998 within a given period. That is exactly what Amendment 48 would do, with particular attention paid to compliance with Article 10 of the ECHR, the right to freedom of expression. If that review found that the Act was not compliant, the Government of the day would then have to decide whether they would go forward and implement the Act, in contravention of the 1998 Act.

I return to the question I posed at the beginning of my remarks. If the Minister still believes that she has placed the correct statement of compliance on the face of the Bill, I respectfully ask her to share with the House the source of the legal advice that convinced her it was the right thing to do.

I turn briefly to Amendment 19, to which I have added my name and strongly support. I will not repeat the persuasive arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Collins. This amendment is an important step towards making the Bill more compliant with the Human Rights Act 1998, but I fear that the Minister’s statement on the Bill’s compliance will not pass muster.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, helpfully explained in his opening remarks the extent to which he agrees with the aims of the Bill but not the means chosen. However, his amendment could open a huge back door to councils and devolved authorities doing what they want in relation to BDS activities, because they would only have to dress up what they want to do as a statement of human rights policy. That statement is not even fully defined as regards what is meant by human rights. This could be a massive loophole. At the end of the day, it would still involve public authorities, including the devolved Administrations, in ignoring foreign policy as set by the UK Government. We must not allow ourselves to get away from the fact that that is crucial. We cannot have public authorities setting foreign policy.

My Lords, I follow on from the noble Baroness’s diktat position whereby central Government decide the policy and nobody else can have a view. That would undermine the position. It was the thrust of the noble Baroness’s earlier speech that the Minister indicated that it is for the UK Government to set foreign policy on boycotts and sanctions, and nobody else can do anything about it. As I pointed out at Second Reading, that would have made illegal the decision by many local authorities, universities and student unions to boycott products from apartheid South Africa, and I quoted a KC’s legal opinion confirming that.

How can the noble Baroness possibly justify her position, given the history of the downfall of apartheid, which is contrary to what she tried to suggest? The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, in a very unfortunate speech, tried to suggest that sanctions played no role. No serious student of the history of South Africa agrees with that position. Sanctions certainly played a part. But the boycott decision taken by many local councils, universities and student unions, in particular, among the public bodies covered by the Bill to refuse to source products from South Africa—and indeed, to impose sanctions and boycotts and to support Nelson Mandela’s being freed from 27 years of imprisonment—would have been illegal under the Bill. Why? Because the Government of the day in the 1980s, under Margaret Thatcher, did not support that boycott and sanctions policy. So all those local authorities and churches, including many archbishops, bishops and vicars, supporting those boycott campaigns would have all been acting illegally under the Bill if speaking for public bodies.

I want to speak especially to Amendment 19 and to notify your Lordships’ House that I do not wish to move my Amendment 49, in the sixth group, not least to spare Members hearing a further similar speech from me.

I was privileged to serve in the Labour Government of Tony Blair, and I spent two years in the Foreign Office under Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. He undertook to publish an annual report on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s work to promote human rights overseas as part of the then Government’s commitment to put human rights right at the heart of our foreign policy. Indeed, I was the Minister directly responsible for promoting that human rights policy, among other responsibilities. The publication of an annual human rights and democracy report has rightly continued under this Government. It includes a list of human rights priority countries that have been identified as having particular human rights or democracy challenges.

This is the Government’s own list. There are 32 countries, and I referred to them all in my Amendment 49, which I now intend not to move. I want to read that list out as most of these countries are not included in the Bill: Afghanistan; Bangladesh; Belarus, which is included in the Bill; Central African Republic; China; Colombia; Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; Democratic Republic of Congo; Egypt; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Haiti; Iran, which has been repressing its women citizens, particularly younger women, terribly; Iraq; Libya; Mali; Myanmar/Burma; Nicaragua; and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Occupied Palestinian Territories are in the Government’s own list of 32; they are excluded under the terms of this Bill. The list also includes Pakistan, Russia—Russia is included, and I will come back to that, along with Belarus—Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

There are significant human rights concerns about all 32 countries. Noble Lords do not need to rely on my saying that: it is the Government’s own list. Why, apart from Russia and Belarus, are they not included in the Bill? These 32 countries include China, where we have seen the gravest human rights violations committed against the Uighur Muslims, in Xinjiang: terrible human rights violations amounting to genocide, in the view of many people. How will the Government be able to assess the impact the Bill will have on the FCDO’s commitment, made by the then Foreign Secretary —a Conservative Foreign Secretary—in January 2021? That commitment was to

“work with the Cabinet Office to provide guidance and support to UK Government bodies to exclude suppliers where there is sufficient evidence of human rights violations in any of their supply chains”. —[Official Report, Commons, 12/1/21; col. 162.]

This Bill seems to contradict the government policy I have just quoted. The FCDO list also includes Saudi Arabia, as I mentioned, which operates the kafala system of bonded labour. It is also where the UK Government announced last year that they are encouraging partnerships between Saudi and UK universities and collaboration on the transformation of the Saudi health system.

I urge the Government to address the significant concerns that your Lordships’ House has heard, including from my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury, that the Bill would undermine the ability of public bodies to consider legitimate concerns about human rights and workers’ rights that could represent legal, reputational and financial risks in their investment and procurement decisions. We need a lot more transparency than this Bill is offering in its very partial, very one-sided approach to human rights globally and to the trade and diplomatic relations with the 32 countries the Government have identified as having human rights and democracy concerns. I read out their official list and it is not mine, although I happen to agree with the whole list.

When in 2013 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office first published the national action plan on business and human rights, setting out how it would implement the UN guiding principles—this was the Conservative Government—it committed to

“ensuring that in UK Government procurement human rights related matters are reflected appropriately when purchasing goods, works and services”.

In its updated plan, published in 2016, it committed to:

“Continue to ensure that UK Government procurement rules allow for human rights-related matters to be reflected in the procurement of public goods, works and services”.

Where does the Bill fit into that long-standing commitment? Where does it leave the long-standing human rights commitment that this Government have endorsed, following on from our last Labour Government? Where does it leave those policies in relation to human rights concerns?

As I mentioned, and as everybody knows, Russia and Belarus are referred to in the Bill, virtually as exceptions, against which public authorities presumably can impose boycotts and disinvestment decisions with government blessing. What about China, in respect of the treatment of Uighur Muslims? What about Myanmar, in respect of its terrible treatment of its Rohingya Muslims? Why are they not mentioned in the Bill?

The Minister might say, “Russia and its client state Belarus have invaded Ukraine; that’s why they are referred to in this Bill”. I support the Government’s policy on Ukraine, as does the Labour Party, but what I said in my speech in the foreign affairs debate—the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, replied and did not allow me to correct his misrepresentation of what I said—and I repeat now, is that many people in global South countries, although I do not agree, see our position on Israeli policy in Gaza as completely hypocritical compared with our position on Ukraine. Like it or not, they do. It is creating a serious geopolitical divide, and as a British Government, regardless of who happens to be in charge of that Government, we will find it difficult in the future to repair that bridge.

Half of African countries have not supported our position on Ukraine, and many feel—as I learned at first hand, spending Christmas and New Year in South Africa—that we are being totally hypocritical on Gaza. I think the two are different because it was the pernicious pogrom on 7 October that provoked the Israeli response, which has got completely out of hand. It was very different from the unilateral decision by Putin to invade Ukraine. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental contradiction in the Bill regarding certain countries, notably Russia and Belarus.

I will leave aside for the moment the question of the Occupied Territories and the settlements, which are illegal under international law, as this Government have recognised. The Bill is not consistent on human rights matters. It is a shoddy, shabby, shameless Bill and, as I explained at Second Reading, it would have rendered the Anti-Apartheid Movement stillborn. All the public bodies that rallied to its boycott campaign and its support of Nelson Mandela’s freedom would have been prevented from doing so under the Bill. That is why I think it is so reprehensible.

I hope the Government will accept my noble friend’s Amendment 19, because it would at least begin to repair some of the damage.

My Lords, the analogies in discussion around the Bill are being pushed too far. The Bill is about procurement and investment. When student unions sit in, they are not doing procurement and investment. It is only when student unions start spending their money in contravention of charity law—to which they are subject—that they may be beginning to breach the law.

The Bill is not about curbing freedom of speech—far from it. As far as the South Africa analogy goes, the point of those sanctions was to bring an end to that particular regime. The point about the BDS movement and sanctioning Israel is not just to change the regime; it is calling for the eventual end of the state—as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, knows, because in the past he has called, in print, for the dismantling of Israel.

I have not called for the dismantling of the State of Israel. I was a Middle East Minister for the Government and conducted diplomacy with the Israeli Prime Minister in 2000, trying to repair the damage from the collapse of Camp David. I support the right of Israel to exist, as I support the right of the Palestinians to have their own state. Please do not misrepresent me.

I have it in print, from many years ago, but I am glad that it is no longer the case. I can share it with the noble Lord. The analogy should not be pushed that far.

I also note that a group called Muslim Vote, which has put 18 demands to Sir Keir Starmer, has as the 17th demand the throwing out of the Bill, which I think shows what the group understands the point of the Bill to be: simply that it might stand in the way of whatever its aims are in relation to Gaza.

My Lords, part of the concern about the Bill is not its narrow scope but that it is extremely broad in its scope. Indeed, it would have a chill effect on decisions made across the country by decision-makers, fully consistent with their human rights obligations. I therefore support the thrust of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Collins.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, suggests that it is not possible to define human rights. I think her Front Bench and previous Front Benches, going back a very long time, will disagree with her; the FCDO publishes annual human rights reports. Her disagreement is not necessarily with the Bill but with the Government.

It does not need to be defined in Amendment 19 because it would adopt the normal practice of human rights, as defined in the definitions at the front of the Government’s annual report on human rights—which I am sure the noble Baroness reads on an annual basis, as I do.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, indicated, those human rights reports refer to a separate category of countries, the priority countries, and he named them: the A to Z is Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. The thrust of the Bill seems to suggest that, unless the Government, through legislation, put sanctions to limit trade with certain countries, any decision-makers would not be able to make any decisions about investing in that country. That is contrary to current practice with countries from A to Z on the priority list.

For example, other than the sanctions that exist against certain elements of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the Bill would prohibit a decision-maker in the United Kingdom deciding not to invest in a Taliban state-owned enterprise. That is extraordinary. Under this legislation, a decision-maker would be prohibited from making a decision about investing in a mining or a gold company in Zimbabwe, which has had many concerns over human trafficking and other human rights concerns. That is also extraordinary, because unless the Government have put in trade sanctions, the Bill will prohibit any other decision-making.

I very much support what the noble Lord said about Zimbabwe. He will know that there was a lot of corruption in the Marange diamond mines, with Government Ministers taking a rake-off from those diamonds. We should be boycotting diamonds from conflict zones such as that, or where corruption is involved—there are many other examples in Africa. I very much support the noble Lord’s point. The Bill would stop public authorities doing that.

I am grateful to the noble Lord. Not only do I agree with him but it goes beyond that. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify the point for me. Where bribery or labour-related misconduct are concerned, unless the Schedule relates to those, and there are general human rights concerns stated in the priority countries list, a decision-maker who uses the priority list—or, indeed, those issues that have been campaigned on, such as blood diamonds as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and my noble friend Lord Oates—would be in breach of law. That cannot be right, so I would be grateful if the Minister could put my mind at rest.

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord; I am trying to be helpful. It seems to me that it is even worse than he is saying. Clause 4(1) means that a democratically elected person could not even publish a statement saying that, had it been lawful, he or she would have done X or Y. It is not just that they cannot do it; they cannot even talk about doing it, even though they have been democratically elected by much of their population to take action in a moral and ethical way.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord as that leads on to my next question. It relates to those who are democratic figures in those countries and, indeed, our country.

As regards this country, my reading of this legislation is that, if I, in Parliament, call on the Government to sanction, let us say, a foreign Government’s Minister, or an enterprise or a body operating in another country—as I have done regularly in relation to the Wagner Group, by calling on British enterprises not to trade with those enterprises owned by the Wagner Group —I would be a person under this Bill whom a body would have to disregard. Not only are the Government seeking the nonsense that decision-makers should set aside due diligence on human rights, they are seeking to neuter parliamentarians raising the very concerns that we have raised on a regular basis.

I remind the Minister why this is so important: on 12 occasions, I had called for the proscription of the Wagner Group, and called on any British enterprises to desist from having any relationship with it, before the Government made the decision to proscribe it. Up until the point that the Government made the decision to proscribe the group, which I supported, I was in contravention of this Bill. I was in contravention of it on all the occasions that I called on the Government to do what I asked them to do, which they then did.

The nonsense of this legislation gets serious when it comes to Parliament raising human rights concerns about other countries. One country on the list is the DRC. A country not on the list is Rwanda. I have raised human rights concerns about the March 23 group in the conflict between Rwanda and the DRC. I am prohibited from calling on any British bodies not to trade with a group that is not currently proscribed by the British Government.

I refuse to be neutered in this Chamber, by this Bill, on raising human rights concerns. The Leader of the House is shaking his head from a sedentary position as to how I might be neutered by this Bill. I am sure that he has read the Bill. I am allowing him to intervene on me to explain why I am wrong in my interpretation of this Bill.

I am talking about not the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, but the Leader. No, the Leader prefers to shake his head and not to intervene. In his absence, I can think of no better deputy than the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes.

I will answer the noble Lord’s question: he is not a “decision-maker” for the purpose of this Bill.

I am not a decision-maker for the purpose of this Bill but, under Clause 1(7)(b) of this Bill, I am considered to be a “person”. A decision- maker making a decision based on what I asked them to do would be prohibited. Now the noble Baroness is shaking her head. Why would I not be considered a “person” under Clause 1(7)(b)?

My Lords, I am not going to waste the time of the House getting into these nitpicking debates. The noble Lord is not covered by this Bill.

I do not think that it is nitpicking. I would be considered a person when a body was making a decision based on what I called them to do. I know that I am not a decision-maker, nor am I a Minister of the Crown, nor am I an exempted officeholder, but I would be considered a person calling on bodies to act. If bodies choose to act on what I say, they are currently prohibited under this from acting.

The central point the noble Lord is seeking to make is that he will not be neutered. He would not be neutered because this Bill does not prevent any person seeking to influence a decision-maker. What it will do is prevent the decision-maker acting on those considerations if they are contrary to the Bill. The noble Lord can say what he likes here, in the street or anywhere else. This is a totally futile point.

I am grateful that Hansard will record the contradictory nature of the noble Lord’s intervention on me, when it comes to the nonsensical nature of the point of seeking to influence groups. Let me turn to why—

I am hesitant to interrupt an interruption, but I will. One of the issues we have discussed—it is about Clause 4 as well—is what hat somebody is wearing. For example, a leader of a council might go to a political conference and argue a particular policy. He is a decision-maker but is not performing a decision-making function. The people who might hear his speech at that political conference might think, “He is our leader; he will influence us”, so there is an impact on people being able to advocate particular policies. Is that not true?

I think it is. Other noble Lords may think not. I am looking forward to the Minister’s response to make sure that this is clear.

I wish to move the Committee on to a specific question about British International Investment. That is a body which receives its funding from government—from the taxpayer—but it is charged with making investment decisions in emerging economies. It operates under its ethical investment policy. It has a toolkit and operates under its own set of compliance rules when it comes to how it defines human rights. It takes international obligations under its co-ordination. That policy is not set by Ministers and is not determined by the Government. It makes its own, independent decisions on which countries it invests in.

British International Investment could choose, under its toolkit, not to invest in any of the human rights priority countries. My reading of this Bill is that this will be prohibited. Unless the Government specifically state that BII should not make investment decisions, BII would be in the scope of this Bill. That would be another very retrograde step for the UK with a development institution such as BII leading the charge on international human rights determinations for investments. I would be grateful if the Minister could state that BII is specifically exempt from this Bill.

My Lords, I was not at Second Reading because, as some of you know, I have been away for six months for reasons I will not explain.

The argument goes on from side to side, but the simple answer for me lies not just in the Bill but in the Explanatory Notes on economic activities of public bodies overseas. In the background to this legislation, we are told by those who prepared it that, if people argue that there should be no investment in Uganda—let me just give that as an example, as it is the country I come from—because of a number of human rights questions, the public body should not agree to that if the Government’s policy is different.

I find the Explanatory Notes absolutely disturbing for any democratic body. Many noble Lords know that I led a campaign against Robert Mugabe’s regime. In fact, I cut up my dog collar and never wore it for nine years and nine months. Some people would have said, “You are an archbishop of the Church of England, so you are part of a public body. The Government have not stated that you could do such and such a thing; therefore you will be in breach”. I find this sentence disturbing. There may be those who want, for example, to say that we must disinvest from a particular body, country or place because it is breaching part of our understanding and that sanctions should be brought, but paragraph 6 states:

“The Government has set out its view that it is not appropriate for public bodies to accede to such campaigns except where to do so is positively consistent with the UK’s foreign policy as determined by the Government. The Conservative Party manifesto for the 2019 Election included a commitment to ‘ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries.’ This Bill is intended to fulfil that commitment”.

Friends, in a free democracy, should we rule out public bodies that may feel, for example, that they should not invest such an amount of money and have our people working with a Government who are oppressing their people from doing so unless it is consistent with government policy? Sometimes opposition to certain things tells us who we are. I trust, I think because of our parliamentary democracy, that things will be challenged in both Houses but, for heaven’s sake, why impose such a thing on a public body? Are we simply saying that the Government cannot err, cannot turn a blind eye, cannot behave in a way that their citizens may find quite difficult? Some of us campaigned against the South African apartheid Government. At that time, there was a particular sort of Government who did not agree with sanctions. I remember arriving in Cambridge. We wanted to boycott green apples from South Africa. There was no way of doing this, but some of us decided to go to Sainsbury’s and announce as loudly as we could, “We are not buying these green apples from South Africa”. Do you know what happened? We never saw those green apples any more in Sainsbury’s. That is democracy. You cannot ban a public body from engaging in an activity which those who belong to it may feel very strongly about.

The Bill is trying to do something, but it is the way it is drafted. The explanation given has a chilling effect on a lot of us, because it suggests that the Government, of whatever shape, will always get it right, that, somehow, they have become omnicompetent and omniscient, and that there are no areas where because of political pressure they will not do it. I know where the Bill is trying to go, but it needs far greater revision if we are going to protect the rule of law in this country and not suggest that the Government always get it right. Some of our foreign policies have not been good. Somehow, we have spoken. Noble Lords have heard what the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said about some people from Africa. I find it disturbing that they would think that Ukraine should not be supported because all of them—and I am being honest—are getting a lot of money from Russia and are being supported by China, so any criticism of China and Russia, as far as the African continent is concerned, is very bad, but they will find it very easy to say, “What about Gaza? Why aren’t you doing so much about it?”.

Friends, all Governments are made up of frail human beings like you and me, and we can all err. You cannot, it seems to me, put this into a Bill and explain it in such a way. Otherwise, the freedom that some noble Lords here have worked hard to bring to my continent to hold Governments to account will look absolutely self-contradictory—as though we are willing to say one thing to them over there, but we want to muzzle those over here so that they cannot speak because they happen to be a public body. I rejoice that, at the moment, I am still part of the Church of England, and we have open debates. Some of our decisions take a long time to reach, but at least people are allowed to voice their views. If you shut them up, you create a pressure cooker that is totally unnecessary.

My Lords, I will make three short points, the first following on from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sentamu. I made the point at Second Reading: I find it really disturbing that the Minister said we must speak “with one voice internationally”. For me, that is not democracy; it smacks of totalitarianism. There is a multitude of voices in a democracy, not a single one.

Secondly, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, finished her speech with reference to a Muslim group that called for the Bill to be thrown out, and she seemed to imply that that meant it was against the State of Israel. There are myriad groups that want the Bill thrown out. Many of us made the same point at Second Reading: we do not think this is a proper Bill, but we are working with it, and what one thinks of it says nothing about one’s attitude to Israel. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, called it “improper” because it is so badly drafted.

Thirdly, and going to the substance of the amendments that we are discussing, my noble friend, in effect, held out an olive branch to the Government by taking the Bill at face value. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said about the statements of compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights, but let us take that at its face value. If the Government genuinely believe that the Bill is compatible with the ECHR, why should they oppose what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and my noble friend put forward in their amendments? They would strengthen and give substance to the declarations about human rights.

I hope that when the Minister comes to respond to my noble friend, she will take his amendment in the spirit that he put it to her and be willing to discuss whether it is a way forward. Although many of us dislike the Bill completely, we could at least work on the basis of that amendment.

My Lords, it is not my usual role, but I shall be a bit more conciliatory than other speakers. Although I see the Bill as very heavy-handed, almost draconian, and it should never have been brought to your Lordships’ House, at least we have an option now. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, pointed out, the House can work together. The Minister herself said that she values this House’s expertise. We have not noticed that over the past few years, because virtually everything we suggest gets thrown out. Amendments 19 and 48 would make the Bill less heavy-handed and would mean that public authorities could make decisions of their own when they saw illegitimate human rights abuses. I do not see why anyone would want to reject that idea.

I say to the Government: bring your own amendments if you want to, but, in essence, repeat what we are trying to say here and, perhaps, make this Bill less awful.

My Lords, I will come back to the text of the proposed amendment. I hope it is in order if I use my short intervention essentially to ask the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, a series of questions. Obviously, he need not reply now, but I just wish to understand how this amendment is meant to work. I will leave the broader points to one side for the moment, although I always want to ensure that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, with whom I often disagree, remains proudly unneutered in everything he wants to say, here and elsewhere.

As I understand Amendment 19 and the proposed clause, it seeks to enable a public authority to publish policy criteria. Those policy criteria, as we see in proposed new subsection (4B), relate to

“disinvestment in cases concerning contravention of human rights”.

The public authority’s criteria have to do two things. First, as the noble Lord said, they “must be applied consistently” to all countries and, secondly, they must be consistent with the guidance published by the Secretary of State, although we are not helped at all as to what that guidance would, might or should be. So let us assume—

Can I interrupt the noble Lord? I was going to do it at the end, but it might help the Committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said that this would create loopholes, and the important point I wanted to make is that there is nothing wrong with public bodies taking ethical investment and procurement decisions. The reason there is nothing wrong in that is that the Government advocate it. As my noble friend Lord Hain said, we have the Government’s current national action plan on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights —and by the way, the Minister says in the introduction that the Government firmly believe that

“the promotion of business, and the respect for human rights, go hand in hand”.

So we are being consistent here, in this amendment, with current government policy.

My noble friend read it out; I will quickly repeat that, in current guidance, the recommendation of the Government is to

“continue to ensure that UK Government procurement rules allow for human rights-related matters to be reflected in the procurement of public goods, works and services, taking into account the 2014 EU Public Procurement Directives”—

the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, mentioned this—

“and Crown Commercial Service guidance on compliance with wider international obligations when letting public contracts”.

So I am not reinventing something; it is there. We have good policy; let us make sure it is reflected in this legislation.

I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for setting that out so clearly. It brings me to the question I hope he might be able to pick up later, so that I can really understand how this works. We have a public authority, which publishes a set of policy criteria relating to disinvestment in cases concerning contravention of human rights. As he has just set out—and certainly implied by what he just said—it would not be required, for example, to adopt the ECHR in full; it could highlight certain things.

What would happen if a local or public authority decided to say, “We are not going to disinvest or have a policy of disinvesting from countries which do not, for example, allow gay marriage; we will not have a policy of disinvesting from countries that discriminate against women, but we will have a policy, which we will apply consistently throughout the world, of disinvesting from countries that are in control of occupied or disputed territory”? Under the noble Lord’s approach, would that be permitted?

Will the noble Lord give way for a moment? This discussion is extremely important, because I do not interpret Amendment 19 as the noble Lord is interpreting it. He says that there could be a statement, and it would have to be applied consistently to all countries. But the amendment also says that it must be in accordance with guidance published by the Secretary of State. The noble Lord has not mentioned the fact that guidance to underpin what a local authority was doing would be in place.

Forgive me, but I think I did mention the guidance right at the beginning of my remarks. Indeed, I made the point that I did not understand that the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, had identified what that guidance would, should or might contain—so I think we are on the same page.

Sorry to interrupt, but I thought I did, at the beginning, when I moved the amendment. Sadly, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, did not refer to my opening remarks when I moved it. I made it absolutely clear that there is a difference between a public body having an ethical investment and procurement policy and an organisation which, as some individuals are trying to do, seeks to target Israel alone, and have standards for Israel that are completely different from those for other countries. I made that absolutely clear.

To be absolutely clear, my question, which I hope the noble Lord will pick up when he responds, is this. My putative public authority has a consistent policy, which it applies consistently to all countries around the world, of not disinvesting merely because a foreign country does not allow gay marriage, or treats women in a discriminatory fashion, but of disinvesting when a foreign country is in control of occupied or disputed territory. Would that be permitted, or not permitted, under the noble Lord’s amendment? I look forward to his answer in due course.

My Lords, there are a couple of observations, one of which has been rather lost in the debate. The first one has not. I merely make the observation that I am increasingly concerned by the concept that the implementation of legislation could be at the discretion of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—whether it is run by Robin Cook, or the noble Lord, Lord Hain, or the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, or Ernie Bevin.

There are different flavours of Foreign Office, but my observation of the Foreign Office over the years is that it often manages to face two ways at the same time. Indeed, it might well regard that as a key part of the art of diplomacy. One can therefore read into Foreign Office policy almost anything one wants to do at any one time. The Foreign Office often makes quite a virtue of presenting a particular side to one group of people and another side to another group of people. However great those running the Foreign Office of the day might be, they are liable to change in the future. So I question whether that, as a basis for legislation, is sensible.

The key point I want to make is one that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, as I understood him, at the beginning. Governments come and go. There will be a general election. Who knows who will be in power after that? There will be another one after that, in however many years—perhaps five years. Who knows —and who knows who that Government will be? There will be different flavours of government—but legislation, unless it is altered by Parliament, will remain.

The question of double standards in foreign policy is a fundamental part of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism—a definition that was adopted first by the United Kingdom, in 2017, before any other country, but which has now been adopted by many countries. Pertinent to this debate is the fact that it has been adopted by virtually every political party represented at Westminster, including the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.

Within it, the concept of double standards against the State of Israel, judging the State of Israel in ways in which one would not judge any other state, is rather fundamental. It is there, I guess, particularly because of what people have said, for example, in the United Nations. I am not talking about the legitimacy or otherwise of any specific United Nations vote or decision, but what one can objectively demonstrate is that there has been a huge number of decisions relating to the State of Israel, far outweighing, usually, every other country in the world put together. That, I think, could rationally be argued as therefore being a double standard in approach—of unduly concentrating on one member state of the United Nations and not being equal handed. The IHRA definition is quite specific that that should not happen, which is not the same as to say that one should not be vehemently critical, if one chooses to be, of the State of Israel, its Government or its policies. Many people are, including many people in the Israeli Knesset. It does not state that that is in any way illegitimate or anti-Semitic, but it does say that double standards should not apply.

Listening to and reading what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has put forward, it seems to me that he hits on a conundrum within the way the Bill is currently presented. To have any impact, the Bill has to last the course of time, including across elections and different Governments. Therefore, if there is a double standard within it, that is a problem, in my view, in terms of tackling anti-Semitism. If it contradicts the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism—while that is a working definition and should not be, as some people have misguidedly presumed, turned into law in itself, because that is not the purpose of it—it seems to me that what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, is proposing, to assist the Government in what they are attempting to do, cannot merely be dismissed as something that is not of consequence. As I read it and listen to how he introduced it, it seems to me that it potentially deals with that conundrum and therefore potentially strengthens the Bill’s ability to stop double standards in relation to the State of Israel. I regard that as a worthy objective, which again makes no comment, positive or negative, by me or anyone else, on the actions of the Government of the State of Israel, but does in relation to how we frame this legislation.

I would be very interested, having heard what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has put forward, to see how the Government could actually defeat his argument using the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism as their reference point.

My Lords, as we speak, the double standards are in operation on many campuses in this country, where there are sit-ins in relation to one country but not, for example, in relation to Russia. As a footnote, I would like to substantiate, in case there is any doubt, what I said earlier in relation to the reference by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, to Israel. In his article in the Guardian in 1976, when he was a young man, he says it twice. It concludes:

“The present Zionist state is by definition racist and will have to be dismantled”.

I just clarify that that was his article in the Guardian.

Since this has been raised—and I am not sure who I am intervening on—that was a long time ago. I do not withdraw the fact that there are many features of the State of Israel of which I am critical, not least in its dual citizenship law, where certain citizens are regarded as full citizens and others are not. That is a racist thing to be practising—but the noble Baroness suggested that I was questioning the right of Israel to exist. I have not done that, and I do not believe that, and she should not suggest it.

My Lords, to bring us back to Amendment 19, I thought it was a probing amendment—but it seems that perhaps it is a serious one, given the endorsements of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others, so let us think about it. I am querying it only because, if it comes back, it might allow the noble Lord, Lord Collins, to refine and consider it further.

I would add to the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson. For example, let us assume that there is an egregious gay rights violation in some country, and a local council gets very agitated about it, responds to pressure and announces that it will no longer do business with, or procure works or services from, this country, because it abuses gay rights. Under this amendment, it would then have to apply that to every country that does not fully respect gay rights, so if it wanted to buy product from the Middle East then the only place it could go to would be Israel.

My Lords, this has been an extremely helpful debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Mann, identified, there is a conundrum in the Bill. The Minister may wish to reflect on the discussion that has taken place. She said after the first group that she valued the expertise of this House and would go away and think about how the Government would respond. I took that to mean that they may make changes on Report, which is theoretically likely to come in about three weeks’ time, but may take longer.

I have concluded, having listened to so many opinions—I am not a signatory to Amendments 19 or 48, though I have huge sympathy with them—from my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others, that it would be useful if the Minister would consider trying to bring all those opinions together into one place to talk further. That is the only way in which progress on this Bill will be made.

I think that I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, say that you cannot have local authorities setting foreign policy. I do not think local authorities want to do so, are doing so or have any ambition to do so. However, they are concerned about human rights and doing the right thing in their procurement and investment policies. Nevertheless, the issue must be discussed.

I took Amendment 19 to mean simply that a statement of policy relating to human rights would need to be considered by those seeking procurement or making investments, and that the statement may not single out individual nations and would therefore have to be applied consistently, as has been confirmed. However, it would have to be in accordance with guidance published by the Secretary of State. I find the concerns we have been hearing against Amendment 19 unfounded. The only solution I can see to this is that the offer made at the outset by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, should be taken up by the Minister. It would be really helpful if that could happen, because otherwise the passage of the Bill on Report will get more and more difficult.

I invite the noble Lord to look at proposed new subsection (4D) because, with the greatest of respect, it is not correct to say that the policy would have to be “in accordance with” the Secretary of State’s guidance. The amendment says only that they must “have regard to” the Secretary of State’s guidance. This is not nitpicking; there is a really important distinction in law between having to follow guidance and merely having to have regard to it. That is one of the reasons why I was asking the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, those questions.

I understand the noble Lord’s point. I am quoting from the Member’s explanatory statement which is part of Amendment 19 in the Third Marshalled List of Amendments.

My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint your Lordships’ Committee after so many questions asked of my noble friend the Minister. But I am the Minister representing His Majesty’s Government on this group of amendments. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and my noble friends Lord Wolfson and Lord Leigh for refocusing the House on these two amendments. I will answer as many of the broader questions as I have time for after addressing these myself.

Let me begin with Amendment 48, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a review of the Bill’s compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998, and in particular Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, within six months of Royal Assent. As my noble friend the Minister has set out, the Bill will apply to public authorities as defined in Section 6 of the Human Rights Act. In the exercise of their public functions these bodies do not have their own rights under the Human Rights Act or the ECHR, including under Article 10. The Bill does not apply to individuals and their private functions; therefore, it will not infringe on any individual’s rights under the ECHR.

As for the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, about compatibility, the Government remain strongly committed to the UK’s long and proud tradition of free speech and to the ECHR’s Article 10 right to freedom of expression. The Minister has signed a statement of the Bill’s compatibility with ECHR rights. On sharing legal advice, His Majesty’s Government do not share legal advice, but we do act on it.

Nothing in the Bill goes against the European Convention on Human Rights. The ban will apply only to bodies that are public authorities under the Human Rights Act 1998—

With due respect to the Minister— I am sorry to interrupt when he is keeping to his script—the point I was making was that the certificate that the Secretary of State or Minister signs on the face of the Bill does not just cover the actions of public bodies, it covers all aspects of that particular piece of legislation. I am arguing that there are parts of that legislation that make it impossible to sign with good heart that compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights—and, indeed, the Human Rights Act 1988. It is not just the issues around public bodies, it is about the totality of that piece of legislation being compliant. I gave some examples where it was not compliant. I am very happy to meet the Minister to give him another half a dozen in which it is not compliant. I was asking which legal Minister signed off this as compliant with the Human Rights Act.

My noble friend the Minister has signed the statement of the Bill’s compatibility and is comfortable with that. If the noble Lord, Lord Warner, would like to share his specific concerns further to this, I would be happy to look at them.

The Government remain strongly committed to the UK’s long and proud tradition of free speech and to the ECHR. My noble friend the Minister, on bringing this legislation to the House, confirmed that the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the convention rights.

Let me now turn to Amendment 19, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury. His Majesty’s Government appreciate the offer of co-operation and a meeting. We would certainly take him up on that very generous offer to hear out his concerns further. Amendment 19 would exempt decisions from the ban that have been made in accordance with a statement of policy relating to human rights produced by a public authority. The Secretary of State would be required to produce guidance on the content of such statements to which public authorities would be required to have regard—a significant word, as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Wolfson.

We are all in agreement that human rights abuses have no place in public supply chains or investments by public bodies. However, the Government have two fundamental concerns about this amendment. The first is that it would lead to a proliferation of public authorities developing their own foreign policy positions, which is in opposition to the philosophy of the Bill. My noble friend the Minister has spoken before about how foreign policy is a matter for the UK Government and not for other public authorities. It would not be appropriate for public authorities to produce their own policies on human rights in relation to other nations.

I acknowledge that public authorities would be required to have regard to guidance published by the Secretary of State when exercising the exception, but this would have the opposite effect of that intended by the Bill, leaving public authorities distracted by pressure from lobby groups on the details of their human rights statement. Many public authorities with no interest or expertise in such debates would come under pressure to produce statements or explain why they did not have one. Most public authorities do not want to get involved in these divisive foreign policy debates and want to remain focused on delivering their public functions. This is a narrowly drafted Bill that places a narrow restriction on public authorities’ investments and procurement decisions. It would not be a proportionate response to place additional burdens on public authorities.

The Government’s second concern is that the amendments could leave public authorities able to set out apparently general policies in their statements with the intention of targeting particular states to boycott. This would represent a huge loophole in the ban and would fundamentally undermine the manifesto commitment.

To further demonstrate why Amendment 19 is unnecessary, I will touch briefly on the work that the Government are already doing to improve human rights standards in public sector supply chains. As noble Lords will know, the Procurement Act already contains a robust regime for the exclusion of suppliers which are unfit to hold public contracts. This includes serious risks such as modern slavery and human trafficking, and the Cabinet Office has recently strengthened the definitions of these terms in our guidance. We have mirrored most of the grounds for exclusion listed by the Procurement Act in the drafting of the Bill. Many public authorities will also be subject to the Procurement Act, and therefore it is vital that, where possible, we remain consistent with this regime to ensure that contracting authorities do not have to navigate between two conflicting pieces of legislation.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, there are already sufficient measures in procurement legislation allowing for public authorities to consider a supplier’s misconduct in awarding a contract. The ban contains a number of exceptions for considerations relating to labour-related misconduct, human trafficking, bribery, competition law infringement, and environmental misconduct. The Bill will not stop public authorities complying with sanctions.

Specifically, I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, need be concerned about being considered a public authority under Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, as this specifically excludes Members of the House of Lords and the other place.

On the last of the noble Lord’s questions, the Bill will not prevent the adoption of ESP requirements, which he was questioning under the BII exemption, that are not specific to a country.

The open principles of the UK’s procurement regime mean that we do not look to exclude suppliers from entire nations without proper consideration of whether a supplier itself is involved in abuse. Indeed, in some cases taking this indiscriminate approach can fall contrary to our international obligations. This amendment would give public authorities too broad a discretion to apply such blanket boycotts. That would be unfair on suppliers acting ethically in these countries.

Additionally, it is important to note that the Bill will not prevent public authorities implementing general policies in regard to human rights that do not single out countries or territories specifically. Therefore, if the noble Lord does not intend to allow public authorities to engage in blanket boycotts, it seems that we are reliant on our policy on this matter.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Why is British International Investment singled out as a body which is able to operate its own independent human rights impact assessment for where it chooses to invest, while other decision-makers cannot?

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. I will need to write to him on the specific case of BII, as I do not have the details to hand.

In answer to one of the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, the Bill is fulfilling a manifesto commitment to prevent BDS influencing public authorities in undermining community cohesion, which is why Israel is named in the Bill and why there are currently, as I believe, no exemptions. As I think the noble Lord is aware, we are intending to add exemptions under statutory instrument following the passing of the Bill.

We are going to address the issue in the next group, so I am reluctant to make this point, but it is not just Israel that is listed in the Bill.

I apologise for my error and take the noble Lord’s correction. I have tried to focus my comments on the amendments and the arguments put forward today. I am conscious that there have been a lot of very important points made and a lot of questions asked. I have tried to answer the ones that I can, and I will write to noble Lords where I have not picked them up.

This has been an incredibly useful discussion and debate, but this is not a probing amendment. It is an attempt to bring two sides of the House together. I made it very clear in my opening remarks that we oppose the BDS campaigns we have seen. I do not accept them. They are very damaging. I think I made the point that they have sought to target Israel alone, hold it to different standards, question its right to exist—which is wrong—and equate the actions of the Israeli Government with Jewish people, in doing so creating the very hate that my noble friend raised.

To be honest, I feel as if I am in a Catch-22 situation. On the one hand, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, says that there are loopholes, but this is not a restrictive, confined piece of legislation, dealing with BDS campaigns specifically. It has much wider implications. Everyone keeps talking about public bodies making foreign policy. No one questions the right of the Government to make foreign policy. The Government’s duty is to speak for the whole country on foreign policy —no one doubts that—but the Government have placed a duty on public bodies to have ethical human rights considerations in their investment and procurement policies.

We will come on to it in other groups, and I know we keep raising these things, but the sad thing is that the Bill damages our foreign policy. It will implicate us in undermining the very resolutions that we have tabled and supported at the United Nations. That is why we are so concerned, and that is why this amendment, far from giving public bodies the responsibility to decide on foreign policy, agrees with this Government when they speak about—I will quote again, because I think it is really important—

“belief that the promotion of business, and the respect for human rights, go hand in hand”.

When it comes to the statement that a Secretary of State may produce as guidance, is it that public bodies “will have” or “must have” regard to it? I have had many debates on previous legislation about what that might mean, particularly over codes of practice, as the noble Baroness knows, so I am happy to enter into legal dialogue about what that means. It is not unusual to require public bodies to follow that sort of guidance, and we can come up with words for that.

The noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, asked questions about the Occupied Territories. We have an existing policy on the Occupied Territories, so if a public body says it will not invest in the Occupied Territories, that is in accordance with the guidance issued by this Government. If it says it is going to ban any investment in Israel, that would be in breach of the code or whatever guidance, because we are against singling out Israel.

Somebody mentioned gay rights. I have been a campaigner for global gay rights for many years, and one of the things I have resisted doing is advocating blanket boycotts because I know that, where we have investment and contacts, the leverage, guidance and engagement we can have can make a big difference. We have changed people’s attitudes through that. The problem with blanket boycotts is that they have the complete opposite effect.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for, I think, giving an answer to my question. My understanding, therefore, is that the answer to my question is yes. The public authority could make the distinction that I identified. In other words, under this amendment a public authority could refuse to trade with Israel on human rights grounds but could none the less trade with Saudi Arabia. That would, as I understand it, be the consequence of the argument. Have I understood correctly?

No, the noble Lord is not right. That is not what I said. We have guidance about specific investment in the Occupied Territories. That is what the Government issue now. Why is that so confusing?

We currently have guidance on human rights and investment decisions. On other groups of amendments we will discuss the whole question of environmental, social and governance issues. When a public body is taking into account investment decisions, as a private company would, it takes into account those sorts of policies. We will come on to pension schemes in a later group. The problem we have at the moment is that this debate is on BDS but we are actually talking about ethical investment policies. No one is concerned about those issues when we have general debates about procurement and ethical policy. This comes down to specific targeting campaigns that are not to do with human rights.

I strongly defend the right of Israel to exist. I strongly defend the right of Israel to defend itself. Those two things go together. If a campaign of BDS is saying that Israel occupied territories in 1948—many of these campaigns talk not about 1973 but about 1948—I do not agree with that. Israel exists and has a mandate to exist. We must respect that, and I strongly believe in it. But when we come to human rights and investment policy decisions, the Government are more than capable of giving guidance on that, because they do so at the moment through the UN guiding principles, the Modern Slavery Act and all the other things that we have done. The Procurement Act even has paragraphs in it as well. So it is not impossible to have the sort of guidance that we are advocating in this amendment.

I simply say that the noble Lord has criticised the wording and language of the Bill quite specifically. If this amendment is to be presented at a later stage, proposed new subsection 4B(b) does not work because it is a blanket ban.

I am more than happy to discuss the wording of this amendment and this proposal. We are not advocating blanket bans. There must be a reason for a ban. The FCDO issues a list of countries that have human rights issues—some, such as North Korea, have very clear issues—but they are not all countries where you would ban engagement or investment, or say, “That’s the end of the road”. An ethical investment policy needs to look at a range of issues—basically, the ESG issues that we will come on to in later groups. I do not want to go through them now.

The important thing is that we have a Bill before us that unacceptably widens the scope of dealing with BDS. People have asked whether it will stop them dealing with the ethical issues that the Government have asked them to deal with. Many people in the other place raised China. Who would advocate a blanket ban on China? You could not—our trade ties are so huge—but there are areas that we can certainly exercise concern about, particularly in Xinjiang, where we are strongly advocating sanctions against the local government and local officials who have been violating human rights.

One of the really good things about the Government’s human rights sanctions legislation is that it is not a blanket ban; we can target and look at different means. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that we do not, in dealing with a genuine concern about BDS campaigns, suddenly broaden it out to restricting people’s right to condemn the Government of Israel for certain actions.

My biggest concern is about the chilling effect of this legislation—that it will make public bodies turn away from duties relating to those broader human rights concerns. That is why we are committed to sitting down with Ministers to see whether we can adapt this proposal, get rid of some of the wide-ranging elements and make the case for ethical investment policies so that we condemn BDS campaigns but support the campaign that the Government have had over many years to ensure that human rights are a consideration.

This has been an extremely welcome debate in trying to create cross-party engagement on this amendment. I hope we will have more time before Report to get those discussions under way and see whether there is an opportunity to come forward with a cross-party consensus on this issue. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 19 withdrawn.

Amendment 20

Moved by

20: Clause 3, page 3, line 7, leave out subsection (7)

My Lords, despite the last debate, this amendment brings us to the heart of what I regard as a misguided Bill: Clause 3(7), which effectively provides the State of Israel with a considerable, unique protection, almost in perpetuity and certainly until new legislation is passed to overturn it. I will make three main points to justify the changes to this provision.

First, the primary justification for this extraordinary legislation is that boycotts, disinvestments and other such campaigns not only undermine UK foreign policy but lead to

“appalling antisemitic rhetoric and abuse”,

in the words of the departmental press notice launching this Bill. Yet, many groups in the Jewish diaspora have said that the Bill will not combat anti-Semitism. The Government’s claim that it will has been convincingly challenged by evidence produced for parliamentarians by the organisation Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Its evidence demonstrates that the rise in anti-Semitic incidents is

“correlated closely with spikes of violence in Israel and Palestine, particularly with the major Israeli army attacks on Palestinian areas, not with boycott and divestment advocacy”.

It was that formidable campaigner against anti-Semitism, Dame Margaret Hodge, who said in the Commons that this legislation would increase anti-Semitism.

Secondly, alongside drafting a Bill that is more likely to increase anti-Semitism than reduce it, the Government seem to have used wording in Clause 3(7) that is at odds with the UK’s stated foreign policy, because it includes “the Occupied Palestinian Territories” and “the Occupied Golan Heights” in the protection given to Israel. By treating these two areas as part of Israel, the passage of the Bill would seem to mean that the UK is legitimising Israel permanently retaining two large swathes of territory obtained by acts of war. As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who is unfortunately not in his place, Amnesty International, and others have pointed out, this would mean that the Bill will violate UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which the UK voted for. The resolution declares Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, including east Jerusalem, as legally invalid and a clear violation of international law.

Thirdly, the Government’s claim for this legislation is that it makes it clear internationally that it is the Government who determine UK foreign policy, not protestors or other levels of government. Most people in this country and overseas would assume, then, that when the Foreign Secretary utters on policy towards Israel he speaks for the Government—therefore, they can rely on him to set out the current policy. With this in mind, I draw the Committee’s attention to a piece in the Times on 22 March with the headline:

“Gaza aid held up by arbitrary Israeli denials, says Cameron”.

In that piece, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, is quoted as telling the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee that it was,

“‘an enormous frustration’ that aid had been ‘routinely held up waiting for Israeli permissions’”.

To make sure that his views were fully understood, the noble Lord seems to have gone on to say that:

“Israel’s ‘arbitrary denials’ of aid being sent to Gaza is now the ‘main blocker’ to providing humanitarian assistance”.

All this on top of suggesting, in February, that the UK could unilaterally recognise a Palestinian state in the aftermath of a ceasefire.

The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has accompanied his words with deeds, by imposing sanctions on extremist settlers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank who have violently attacked Palestinians. He went on to say:

“This behaviour is illegal and unacceptable … Too often, we see commitments made”—

by Israel—

“and undertakings given, but not followed through”.

I found the noble Lord’s views refreshingly frank, and rather similar to my own. However, I also found it difficult to reconcile them with the wording and timing of the Bill.

We are now in a rather bizarre situation. On the one hand, we have Michael Gove bringing forward a Bill to give unprecedented protection to the Israeli Government —I could, if I were unkind, say that Clause 3(7) could have been drafted by Mr Netanyahu and Likud. On the other hand, there is the Foreign Secretary laying into the same Government for blocking humanitarian aid to a territory in which thousands of women and children have been killed or displaced, and are starving, as a result of Israeli military action.

Any responsible public body decision-maker or international observer would be entitled to be confused about what the UK Government’s policy is toward the current Israeli Government. Should people heed Mr Gove’s Bill or the words and actions of the Foreign Secretary, who has actually seen what is going on in Israel and the occupied territories? What would the Minister’s advice be to any confused citizen? Perhaps she and her colleagues might want to further consider accepting my amendment. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am pleased to support the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in his Amendment 20, which, as he set out, would delete Clause 3(7) of the Bill. I do so because what is already a very bad Bill is made worse by this subsection. First, it singles out Israel as the only country which cannot be exempted from the provisions of the Bill, even should a future Government decide that such an exemption should be made. The noble Lord, Lord Mann, has set out why that is potentially problematic in relation to the IHRA anti-Semitism definition. Moreover, Ministers have frequently argued that legislation should not single out individual countries but rather should apply common principles. Clause 3(7) goes completely against that approach and, in doing so, sets a dangerous precedent. Like the noble Lord, Lord Warner, I seriously doubt that it will do anything to tackle anti-Semitism; in fact, it is most likely to be counterproductive.

Secondly, as we have heard, Clause 3(7) conflates Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, contradicting long-standing British-government policy and violating UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which was co-authored by the UK, voted for by the UK, and requires member states to distinguish between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As far as I can see—and we have heard a lot about local government and other public bodies not setting foreign policy—the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is promoting legislation that directly contradicts UK Government policy and the UK-authored Security Council resolution as part of a Bill whose declared objective is to prevent public bodies contradicting government policy.

This contradiction of settled UK foreign policy has serious ramifications which Ministers are trying to avoid by pretending that the Bill is compliant with Resolution 2334. At Second Reading in the other place and in response to Dr Philippa Whitford, who asked why the Bill did not distinguish between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories as required by the resolution, Michael Gove stated that

“they are separated in the Bill. I am afraid the hon. Lady is wrong”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/7/23; col. 592.]

His claim is apparently that the separation of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories between paragraphs (a) and line (b) of subsection (7) satisfies the requirements of Resolution 2334, but of course that is nonsense. The resolution does not call for the semantic separation of the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories; rather, it

“Calls upon all States, bearing in mind paragraph 1 of this resolution, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”.

It is absolutely clear that the “relevant dealings” of the Bill explicitly do not distinguish between the two, because subsection (7) applies equally to them. I hope the Minister will address this issue, because she seemed herself to stray towards this sort of Govian sophistry at Second Reading in this House.

For all those who want to see peace and security both for the people of Israel and the people of Palestine, Israel’s continued illegal occupation and illegal settlement of the Palestinian territories is both a tragedy for the people of Palestine and a disaster for the people of Israel. To my mind, it is wrong to single out Israel, or, indeed, any other countries, from the provisions of the Bill, but to do so in respect of the Occupied Palestinian Territories is not only wrong in principle but wrong in law and contrary to established UK foreign policy. It cannot be right for the Government to prevent public bodies exercising their legal and moral judgment about engaging in economic activities with settlements in those territories. Indeed, given that the settlements are illegal under international law, the Government appear intent on forcing public bodies to ignore their international law obligations. That is presumably why we get into all the confusion of the exemptions under paragraph 6 of the Schedule.

For years, the international community has been calling on Israel to halt the illegal settlements and end the occupation, and for both parties to cease violence and arrive at a peace settlement based on two states living side by side in peace and mutual respect. Yet in that time, successive Israeli Governments have seemed determined to deliver the maximum national humiliation for the Palestinian people. Settlements have expanded ever further and they have often stood aside in the face of settler violence. Those Palestinians who want a peaceful resolution with Israel have been consistently undermined. This in turn has empowered the violent extremists who have no desire for peaceful co-existence with Israel and who have flourished instead.

Clause 3(7) is deeply damaging, because it suggests to Israel that its conduct in the Occupied Palestinian Territories does not matter and that it is immune from any criticism from its friends, whatever it does and however it acts. That is not a demonstration of friendship; it is the encouragement of a dangerous delusion that will lead the region to ever greater disaster. We should cease encouraging that delusion. A good place to start would be to delete Clause 3(7) or, better still, to dispense with the Bill altogether.

My Lords, I support the amendment introduced by my noble friend Lord Warner. It is conceivable that the Government’s objective of exempting the State of Israel—I say that carefully, the State of Israel—from the imposition of BDS, which I do not support, could be achieved with different drafting. However, to have introduced it in the way that it is introduced in Clause 3(7) is a mistake, and the mistake is compounded by mixing up completely different things: the State of Israel and the Occupied Territories, which certainly include the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. They should not be treated in the same way. They are not part of the State of Israel in the view of the British Government, though they are in the view of the present Israeli Government. I repeat, they are not in the view of the British Government part of the State of Israel. Within those Occupied Territories—Golan, east Jerusalem and the West Bank—there are internationally illegal settlements. Illegality is another category on which the British Government’s policy is quite clear—just read the Security Council resolution, which has been quoted. Mixing these things up together is, frankly, a solution of disaster. It will just doom this legislation by including it.

I am not trying to suggest that it would not be possible to do something, though I doubt very much whether specifically mentioning Israel is a wise thing in the first place. I agree with the Government that public bodies should not be making foreign policy, but I am not sure that specifying one country out of 194 where they particularly should not be making foreign policy is a very clever way of setting about that. If you took that away and tried to sort out these unhelpfully mixed-up elements, there might be a better chance of this Bill making progress. So long as they are all mixed up together, we will have a cat’s cradle of contradictions.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said that this Bill will increase anti-Semitism. That is one view. I prefer to observe what is actually happening. We only have to look at what is happening in universities at the moment; we will come on to universities in a later group.

If we look at what has been happening with the encampments that have been springing up in the UK following what has been happening in the US, they are vocally calling for boycott and divestment in relation to Israel—and, indeed, quite a lot worse. This is a very live issue. It is causing much harm on campuses for Jewish students, who are clear that there has been a significant increase in anti-Semitism since this has started. This is not theory; it is actually happening.

Israel is always the focal point for BDS campaigns. The BDS movement itself came into being to attack Israel. I am glad that we are aligned with the noble Lord, Lord Collins, on the need to protect Israel from those activities. From my perspective, if the Bill does nothing else, it should try to protect Israel from boycott and divestment activities. That is why we need Clause 3(7): it underlines the importance of Israel and the particular attacks on Israel.

I accept that the Occupied Territories raise much more difficult issues. In line with the international community, the UK recognises the settlements as illegal, but the practicalities are that this will not be settled conclusively until there is a two-state solution. This is something that cannot be imposed; it will have to be agreed, but that is unlikely to happen very soon. Anyone who has been to Israel or has been in touch with people in Israel will know that the attacks by Hamas on 7 October have left a traumatised Israeli people, for whom the possibility of discussing a two-state solution seems almost unthinkable at this point in time. That is not to deny that that is the right solution in the long term but simply to say that it does not appear to be an immediate, practical problem.

The reality on the ground is that, in the meantime, the unsatisfactory nature of the Occupied Territories is likely to continue. Even if we thought that boycotts and divestments in relation to the Occupied Territories would punish Israel, this ignores the simple fact that there is economic activity in those settlements. Anything that harms that will almost certainly harm Palestinians as much as it harms the people of Israel. We only have to look at what happened when SodaStream, an Israeli company, was forced to withdraw from its activities in the occupied West Bank. The people who really lost out were the Palestinians who lost good, well-paid jobs when that facility had to close.

On our last day in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, pointed me to the FCDO guidance, which I duly went and read; he has read much of it into the record today. The important thing about that guidance is that, although it highlights the risks involved, it does not prohibit anyone in the UK from investing or dealing with those who are active in the Occupied Territories. I believe that this Bill reflects that pragmatic position—that the Occupied Territories are a fact of life—and that, until there is a two-state solution, trying to eliminate it from the Bill does not reflect the practical politics we are facing.

I did indeed read it into the record. Although it did not prohibit investment, it was saying, “Don’t do it. The risks are great. Be aware of those risks and seek legal opinion on them”. We are now debating a Bill that will say that you cannot make a decision based on the advice that the Government have issued.

The noble Lord is right that the FCDO highlighted the risks and said that businesses involved should seek their own legal advice but it absolutely did not say, “and you mustn’t do it”. It is a fact of life that there will be economic activity in the Occupied Territories and that that may or may not involve businesses from Britain.

The only point I am trying to make is that the Occupied Territories are a fact of life at the moment; there is no easy solution and it is probably not a near-term solution. At the point when it is settled via a two-state solution, they will cease to be Occupied Territories, so that bit of the Bill will cease to have any relevance—but, for the moment, it has relevance. The other point I am trying to make is that anything that deliberately harms that is just as likely to harm Palestinians as it is Israeli citizens.

My Lords, I am puzzled by the speech that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has just made. First of all, I do not know why she feels that she can speak up on behalf of the Palestinians or how much time she has spent on the West Bank. I do not think that most of them would agree for one moment with anything she said about the proposal that we should stop, or that including Israel and the Occupied Territories in the Bill would damage the Palestinians. The Palestinians are concerned about their basic rights both to have their own state and to be able to live in what is now occupied by the Israeli Government and the Israeli Defence Forces in the completely different way that that occupation has created.

I am also very puzzled by what she said about anti-Semitism, which is in complete conflict with what was said by Margaret Hodge MP, who has thought about this very deeply—that the Bill is damaging from the point of view of creating anti-Semitism rather than alleviating it. The noble Baroness does not really respond to that point but has made points about what is happening in universities at the moment, which does not seem terribly relevant to this.

However, the point I really want to make is not to address the rather odd speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. I want to ask the Minister: what legal advice have the Government taken about including the Occupied Territories in the Bill in the way that they are? I draw the Committee’s attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said: under international law, which we have accepted, this occupation is illegal and the settlements, which have grown and grown, are also illegal. So how can it be that the Government bring to Parliament a Bill that includes the Occupied Territories and does not differentiate them from the state of Israel? The counsel’s advice that I have seen says that to distinguish them is absolutely essential; it is pure sophistry to say that a distinction is made in the Bill and is an untenable view without any legal merit. I wonder whether the Minister would like to comment on that.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 7.24 pm.