Thank you to all those who have contacted me about the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, which would prevent public bodies from making procurement and investment decisions based on their own moral or political disapproval of a foreign authority.
I believe public bodies should be able to take ethical investment and procurement decisions, but these must be based on principles that apply equally to all countries.
My concern is that some are targeting Israel alone, holding it to different standards and inciting hostility against Jewish people in the UK. I do not support action that singles out any one country for differential treatment – a position that is consistent with my longstanding opposition to the boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
I recognise the problem the Bill intends to solve, but I worry that it gives Ministers too many powers with far-reaching consequences.
By preventing public bodies from considering human rights violations unless the Government expressly allows it, the Bill centralises the decision-making of hundreds of public bodies. I am concerned this would make the Secretary of State the sole judge of human rights abuses, while preventing local leaders from even talking about their desire to challenge human rights. This will have implications for persecuted groups around the world, such as the Uyghur in Xinjiang.
According to legal advice, the Bill also has multiple contradictory measures and is likely to breach international law, which leaves it open to ongoing legal challenge and risks undermining community cohesion – the very problem it intends to solve.
Separately, I worry about how it will affect local government pension fund investments, which will impact over six million people.
I want Ministers to adopt the solution proposed by the Opposition instead: allow public bodies to take ethical decisions as long as they do so in line with a framework and Government guidance that applies across the board, preventing any one country from being singled out for differential treatment.
I therefore voted for a reasoned amendment to deny the Bill its Second Reading, but it was defeated by Government MPs and the Bill passed Second Reading with their support. Unless Ministers take the solution offered, I will vote against the Bill at Third Reading.