My constituency, Ruislip, Northwood, and Pinner is home to a large and established Jewish population. I have heard from members of the local community, and members of the APPG on British Jews that I co-chair, about the impact that the long-standing BDS campaign has had. As a result of this campaign, the state of Israel, and communities of British Jews can feel singled out for criticism and discrimination.
Therefore, the Government has introduced the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. This Bill seeks to remove the possibility for public bodies, including councils, to campaign against, boycott, seek divestment from, or sanction a particular territory internationally, unless it is in line with the Government’s foreign policy.
Earlier today, this Bill came before Parliament to receive parliamentary scrutiny. As residents may be aware, this Bill has attracted some controversy in the media and among the supporters of the BDS campaign. I broadly welcome this legislation, yet I do harbour a number of concerns with how it has been drafted.
In my speech, I outlined my concerns about the Bill. As the former Deputy Leader of Hillingdon Council, I am conscious of the impact that this Bill could have for local authorities across the country. First, I urged the Government to drop clause 4(1)(b) in its entirety. This clause places pressure on ill-defined local decision makers who are more likely to be part of a committee system, creating a system by which disruption by a sole individual could lead to them being in breach of law as a result of their opinions. By removing this clause, we can show colleagues in local government that we trust them to use their powers reasonably and sensibly.
The second issue that I raised was in respect of contractors and subcontractors. It is my opinion that by including these powers, an undue burden will be placed on the investment and procurement committees of local authorities. Elected members of these committees would be required to scrutinise every aspect of the companies in which they might be investing. Given the number of these companies and the wider policies of those companies that will not be under the same statutory duty, there is scope here for mistakes to be made. Removing this burden from the legislation will not take away from the Bill at large, and I hope the Government will look again at this matter.