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Pro-Israel Bill ‘would challenge the foundations of devolution’, says Peter Hain

19 Apr 2024 6 minute read
Lord Hain. Photo Roger Harris is marked CC BY 3.0

Martin Shipton

A UK Government Bill aimed at preventing public sector bodies from boycotting goods made in Israel or the Occupied Territories is “iniquitous” and if passed would challenge the very foundations of devolution, according to former Welsh Secretary Lord Peter Hain.

The ex-MP for Neath told the House of Lords committee scrutinising the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill that decisions about the procurement of goods and services should be taken at local level, with local leaders answerable for them, rather than at the centre by remote politicians and officials.

Supporters of Israel have lobbied for a change in the law to counter the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, which has called for councils and other public bodies to stop buying goods and services from Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Sporting boycotts

Although as a young man he famously led campaigns for sporting boycotts of Apartheid-era South Africa, Lord Hain’s amendment to the Bill focussed on what he and others, including the Welsh Government, see as a threat to devolution.

He told fellow peers: “Deciding whether a purchase or contract should be made by the Welsh Government, or any other public authority in Wales, is patently a function exercisable in relation to Wales under the terms of section 3 of the Wales Act 2017.

“The conduct of foreign affairs is, of course, reserved to the UK Government under that Act. But the making of moral or political judgements about the conduct of foreign states is not conducting foreign policy: a crucial distinction denied by this authoritarian Bill which abrogates powers to [UK] Ministers so they can act by executive diktat.

“Moral and political judgements are made by every individual. They should not be dictated from the centre. That means that the decision-maker should be at the lowest accountable level – in the case of Wales, decisions should be taken by a county or county borough council or by the Welsh Government or the Senedd. Those authorities would be answerable for the moral and political judgements they make at the local or all-Welsh level.

“Is the [UK] Government seriously saying that it has a monopoly on moral and political judgment? That is both arrogant and absurd. Council tax payers in Neath or Gower, in Wrexham or the Vale of Glamorgan, are best placed to decide whether their councils are making the right choices, and electors in Wales can make the same decision about the Welsh Government’s and the Senedd’s choices.

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

Constitutional issues

Lord Hain said major constitutional issues were also involved: “If the Bill is enacted, it will fly in the face of the fundamental constitutional principle, articulated in section 2 of the Wales Act 2017 (with parallel provisions for Scotland and Northern Ireland) that the Parliament of the UK will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Senedd.

“The Bill would also fly in the face of the principle of subsidiarity to which [the UK Government] ostensibly subscribes: that decisions are made at the level closest to the citizen, consistent with effective delivery.”

Lord Hain’s amendment removing Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from the requirements of the Bill was backed by Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Randerson, and by Lord Thoman of Cwmgiedd, the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.

International relations

Cabinet Office Minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe responded:” I see it this way: international relations and foreign policy are reserved matters and remain the responsibility of the UK Government and the UK Parliament. Removing Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be out of line with the devolution settlement and undermine one of the main aims of the Bill – one UK foreign policy decided by the UK Government.

“I appreciate the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, that decisions should be made as close to local level as I appreciate the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, that decisions should be made as close to local level as possible. However, I do not believe that this would be appropriate for international relations, which is rightly reserved for the UK Government.

“The UK cannot effectively conduct a single foreign policy if each devolved administration or indeed local authorities, as I think we were talking about, are conducting a separate policy.

“The second reason I oppose these amendments is that the BDS campaigns, which risk undermining community cohesion, are a UK-wide problem. I will illustrate this briefly with some examples. In Wales, a 2014 motion passed by Gwynedd Council called for a trade embargo with Israel.

“In 2020, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, pointed out, the Welsh Government informed the Welsh Parliament that they intended to issue advice to all Welsh public authorities that they may exclude from tendering any company that conducts business with the Occupied Territories, whether directly or via third parties. Only after intervention from UK Lawyers for Israel did the Welsh Government defer this decision.

“In Scotland, in January 2009, West Dunbartonshire Council passed a motion agreeing to boycott all Israeli goods. That motion was reaffirmed in June 2010 and May 2011. In December 2010, Stirling Council passed a motion resolving to ‘reassess its current procurement arrangements and ensure future agreements and contracts boycott all Israeli goods’.

“In March 2013, Clackmannanshire Council passed a motion to ‘resist, insofar as legislative considerations permit, any action that gives political or economic support to the state of Israel.

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

“For these reasons – the need for a single UK foreign policy and the record of boycott campaigns across the UK – it is vital that the Bill’s provisions extend to each of the jurisdictions of the UK.”

In line with House of Lords practice, Lord Hain withdrew his amendment. He said: “There’s a possibility it could be chosen as one of the amendments to be considered at a later stage in the Bill’s progress. It’s difficult to predict how things will turn out. It could be that it doesn’t get passed before the general election.”


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Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

Just boycott them anyway. Todays attacks are going to cost everyone. Why pay them back.

Richard 1
Richard 1
1 month ago

Did the Welsh Government really chicken out of advising Welsh public authorities that they could boycott business with the Occupied Territories? Why? I should like NC to commission an article explaining that. Was it really because of what UK Lawyers for Israel said to the Welsh Government? What did the lawyers say? Neville-Rolfe listed some local authorities that wanted a boycott. Did those boycotts go ahead? Or are we assume that UK Lawyers for Israel intervened on those occasions too? Are we to assume that the English government can force all and any of us to buy goods grown on… Read more »

Lyn Thomas
Lyn Thomas
1 month ago

We need a list of bills denied legislative consent by the Senedd that were subsequently rammed through the UK parliament. Seems bit by bit devolution is being dismantled.

Erisian
Erisian
1 month ago
Reply to  Lyn Thomas

Devolution must be an ongoing battle – not a line in the sand somewhere in our past.
But what can you expect from a Labour part that hasn’t got the guts to devolve from its masters in London

Richard 1
Richard 1
1 month ago

Did the Welsh Government really chicken out of advising Welsh public authorities that they could boycott business with the Occupied Territories? Why?

Richard 1
Richard 1
1 month ago

I don’t want the English government to force me to buy goods grown on stolen land. Obviously a good number of local authorities agree with me. Why and how were they stopped from applying a democratically mandated boycott?

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard 1

Best solution ? – Don’t trade with Israel, Zionist supporters, any Islamic country that harbours or supports Islamofascist factions, or any Islamic country that is directly antagonistic towards Israel. Kind of rules out the entire Middle East and some countries in the wider world.

However there are too many righteous people with deeply embedded stances on the whole issue and that will prevent matters being resolved.

Richard 1
Richard 1
1 month ago
Reply to  hdavies15

My question was about democratically mandated decisions in the Disunited Kingdom. You don’t seem to have answered it although boycotts do have potential to dislodge deeply embedded stances such as you refer to. Why is the westminster government pretending to have power to stop county councils deciding where they won’t go shopping?

Richard 1
Richard 1
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard 1

Remember that before WW2 the English government sent troops to force Palestinians off the land they had farmed for generations. After the war Israel took more land and now the English government is forcing us to buy the food they’re growing there. Is any of this right? Is my analysis wrong?

Mawkernewek
Mawkernewek
1 month ago

Wouldn’t this make it impossible to apply sanctions against Russia, because if Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions is now a Bad Thing, surely for consistency it should apply to all foreign countries equally?

Another Richard
Another Richard
1 month ago
Reply to  Mawkernewek

You take a very simplistic view of “consistency”. But the answer to your question is no, it wouldn’t because sanctions against Russia are applied at the national level, and are broadly coordinated with our allies, including through the UN. We apply sanctions against a couple of dozen countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe for different reasons and on different legal bases: there’s a list here: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/financial-sanctions-regime-specific-consolidated-lists-and-releases

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago

I recall the tories supported the apartheid government of South Africa.

Boycotts, divestment and sanctions helped to bring about positive change.

People should be able to do so now even If, and especially when, our governments have morally repugnant foreign policy!

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
1 month ago

To those who are advocating a boycott of Israel because of the ‘occupation’, I would like to ask: are they also advocating boycotts of other countries who are occupying territories of other countries or have border disputes e.g. Pakistan (northern Kashmir).

Of their answer is no, why is it only the Jewish state that they target?

Another Richard
Another Richard
1 month ago

It is obviously right that foreign policy should be conducted at the national level, not by local authorities. Also, contracts should be awarded on the basis of value for money. In these cash-strapped times councils should not pay over the odds to assuage the virtue-signalling instincts of councillors. To single out Israel while continuing to buy goods from China (to take just the most obvious example) is blatant antisemitism.

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