The SNP ardently opposes the Activities of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill.
At the Report Stage of the Bill the SNP made and voted for amendments in line with our party policies and moral compass.
I voted against the Bill at the Third Reading on January 10, 2024.
This Bill is an assault on democracy and yet another attack on the devolution settlement from Westminster.
The Bill will have far-reaching effects across a wide variety of sectors and relates to a variety of human rights and environmental crises around the world.
In line with the UK and other governments in Europe, the Scottish Government does not advocate a policy of boycotting Israel.
Antisemitism is on the rise around the world. We must not look away, and we must call it out wherever we see it.
The Bill bans UK public bodies from imposing their own boycott or divestment campaigns against foreign countries and territories.
This move fulfils a 2019 Conservative Party Manifesto commitment to “ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries... [which] undermine community cohesion.”
This Bill applies to England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland and their councils.
The Scottish Government has not granted Legislative Consent for this Bill [see Memorandum].
The Bill relates to “procurement decisions” or “investment decisions” that would “cause a reasonable observer of the decision-making process to conclude that the decision was influenced by political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct.”
The Bill, nicknamed the “Anti-Boycotts Bill” bans public bodies e.g. councils [whole of UK] or universities etc from publishing statements indicating that they intend to engage in a boycott or divestment policies e.g. boycotting goods made in illegal Jewish settlements in the Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories or boycotting goods produced in Xinjiang, China.
The Bill was brought to the House of Commons for its Report Stage reading on the 25th of October. We as a Party expressed our regret that the Tory Party brought this already contentious Bill back in the midst of the Israel-Hamas war and fear that the debate surrounding this Bill could further exacerbate community tensions at this time. The ongoing conflict, and death of over 22,000 Palestinians makes the timing of this Third reading and the UK Governments refusal to scrap the Bill even more abominable.
We believe that to bring such a divisive and pernicious debate back to the Commons, at a time of such fragility in the Middle East is an act that is both counterproductive and contradictory to stated aims of protecting communities from persecution and demonstrates in clear terms the political short-sightedness and moral corruption of the UK Government.
Former Tory Minister Kit Malthouse said that bringing this Bill back, when international partners were trying to release hostages from Gaza, was “remarkably insensitive” and he expressed “doubts about the impact of this legislation on civic society generally”. He raised possible “significant legal concerns that have been expressed about the impact of this legislation under international law”.
Of note was Alicia Kearns’ MP [Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee] contribution and the number of Conservative abstentions to this vote, including Alicia Kearns MP, Ben Wallace MP, Theresa May MP etc. Two Conservative MPs voted against the Bill at Second Reading– Crispin Blunt MP and William Wragg MP and 7 in support of Kit Malthouse’s amendment.
While the Scottish Government will always meet the obligations placed upon it by international law and treaties, people in Scotland rightly expect that decisions should not be made in an ethical or moral vacuum.
The Scottish Government has always acted responsibly and in line with the UK’s international commitments.
Stringent protections already exist regarding procurement legislation – these protections ensure that equal treatment is afforded to bidders from countries/territories with which a relevant trade agreement is in place.
For example, the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Government Procurement includes obligations ensuring that companies from participating countries have equivalent rights of access to bid for UK public contracts, on top of equivalent rights of redress to the courts in the event of discriminatory treatment or any other breach.
It is unacceptable that this Bill seeks to curtail Scotland’s ability to stand up for human rights around the world.
The fact that this Bill, in its current form, would prevent the Scottish Parliament, Scot Gov, and Scottish public bodies/councils from taking the right moral courses of action in the present and in the future, is deeply concerning.
The SNP have at every stage opposed this Bill in its entirety. We will continue to engage with stakeholders and take every opportunity to persuade the UK Government to abandon this Bill.
It is a key line in our party policy to recognise the State of Palestine, and we categorically condemn the colonial violence of settlers in the West Bank. We have consistently brought our concerns for the welfare of Palestinians in the West Bank to the attention of the UK Government and this will remain a key priority for our Foreign Affairs team and the SNP as a whole.