Grassroots campaigners in Wales are urging Senedd members to oppose a UK government bill which would take away the right of local authorities, public sector/local government pension funds, universities and the Welsh Government to make ethical choices about spending and investments.
Members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) in Wales are writing to their Senedd members about the ‘Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill’ (or anti-boycott bill). It passed its second reading in the House of Commons on 3rd July. The bill will now be debated at committee stage where a detailed examination of its provisions will take place.
The campaigners are urging their MSs to withhold legislative consent when the motion comes before the Senedd. The bill not only seeks to limit the ability of public authorities to make ethical choices, it also represents a potential attack on Welsh decision-making.
Given its potential impact on areas of devolved competence, the anti-boycott bill could encroach on the powers of the Welsh Government and Senedd, for example by trampling on the ethical commitments contained within Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Act.
Speaking on behalf of the Welsh PSC groups, Betty Hunter – who is Abergavenny based and Honorary President, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: “The bill’s main target is the Palestinian-led campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Appallingly, Israel is given a unique status through a special clause in the bill that makes it the only state in the world permanently protected from divestment by a public body, no matter what it does to violate international law and human rights.”
The bill could also hit campaigns against deforestation, environmental pollution, and the exploitation of children and workers. It is opposed by a wide coalition of some 70 organisations including trade unions, charities, NGOs, faith, climate justice, human rights, cultural, campaigning and solidarity organisations.
Heledd Fychan, Plaid Cymru MS for the South Wales Central region, said: “The proposed bill shows the determination of this UK government to limit the ability of campaigners and public bodies to hold governments and institutions to account. Removing the right to boycott or disinvest poses a threat to freedom of expression and the ability to challenge non-ethical practices or ones that breach human rights wherever they may take place in the world. The bill must be opposed so that here in Wales we can continue to play our part as globally responsible citizens.”
The UK Government has now started the ‘legislative consent motion’ process in relation to clauses 1 and 4 of the bill. A legislative consent motion is the means by which the Senedd and Scottish Parliament are asked to consent to the UK Parliament passing a law which impacts on a devolved matter.
The Scottish government has decided to formally oppose the anti-boycott bill.
Although not binding on the UK Parliament (which could still pass the bill), if MSs withhold legislative consent, it would send a clear message that the Senedd believes the bill represents a significant act of overreach by Westminster and also signals opposition to the provisions of the bill.
PSC has also written to First Minister Mark Drakeford about the bill – copied to all MSs. The letter can be viewed here.
You can find out more information about protecting the right to boycott here.