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House of Commons Hansard
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Boycott and Divestment Guidance
15 June 2016
Volume 611

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2. What representations he has received on his Department’s boycott and divestment guidance. [905409]

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We have received a wide range of representations about boycotts in public procurement. The Government’s position is very clear: public sector organisations should not use procurement to run their own independent foreign policies.

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Does the Minister agree that people who stand for election to local authorities and who then serve as councillors perform an important role in communities the length and breadth of these islands, and does he further agree that they should be trusted to make political judgments for themselves? Will the Government abandon the boycott and divestment guidance in favour of supporting local democracy?

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Yes, I think councillors do an excellent job at what councils are meant to do, but councils are not meant to set foreign policy, and attempts at local foreign policies that are discriminatory are potentially illegal, and we make that clear at every opportunity.

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Was it wrong for my local authority to boycott South African goods in the 1970s?

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Where a national boycott is in place and where a national decision has been made, local authorities should of course follow that, but these decisions are rightly for the Foreign Office and not for local authorities; the country cannot be run by having hundreds of different foreign policies.

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I think that, not for the first time, the Government are looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope. Rather than try to prevent local authorities from taking ethical and environmental considerations into account when making decisions, surely the Government should, as the Scottish Government do, encourage local authorities to do so—or does the Minister really believe that council tax payers’ money should be used to prop up oppressive regimes and support unlawful activity throughout the world?

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I find it surprising that the Scottish National party engages in and supports discrimination of this kind. We should trade with the world, except where a boycott decision has been made at a national level. The idea that we should discriminate against companies with which we otherwise have a good trading relationship is wrong.