On Tuesday 15th of March a debate on ethical procurement took place in parliament after the governments recent announcement on the 17th of February on “putting a stop to public procurement boycotts”, including boycotting goods from Israel’s illegal settlements.
Richard Burden MP led the debate and the majority of MPs welcomed the debate and believed it was extremely important. Burden stated that the purpose of the debate was to “hold Ministers to account and to require them to be clear about what their policy announcements mean and do not mean.”
An overwhelming number of MPs voiced similar concerns about the ban and it sparked a discussion about what this means for local democracy and the wider failings of democracy. As Tristam Hunt pointed out the “Decisions about spending, representation and taxation can also be made at a local level. If we strip that out, it undermines the pluralism and democracy of this country.”
One of the key issues discussed by a number of MPs was the ambiguity and unclear statements by the government. Jo Cow MP highlighted the following; “The Foreign Office is warning UK companies and private individuals against trading with the settlements, while the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Cabinet Office are threatening to make it illegal for public bodies to do so.” The Foreign Office openly states on its website that is does not encourage or support firms that trade with illegal settlements. It further states that settlements are illegal under international law and constitutes an obstacle to peace. Therefore, creating one rule for the government and another rule for local authorities.
Others like Naz Shah MP spoke about how the BDS movement seeks to uphold international law. She further went on to say that the current procurement ban is turning the UK into a “nanny state that tells councils where they can and cannot invest, where will the line be drawn for procurement?” He added that councils should have the right to make decisions on procurement, which was agreed upon by the majority of MPs.
Richard Burden MP concluded, “If settlements are illegal, I fail to see how trade with those settlements and co-operation with businesses involved in aiding and abetting illegality is not itself illegal.” The government is yet to make clear its position and a number of questions asked at the debate were left unanswered.
“Over the last few week’s campaigners, activists and students have raised their concerns over the proposed ban. These worries have now been echoed in parliament by MPs who have similar fears. The mounting pressure means that the government must be held accountable for its self-contradictory and undemocratic move.” – FOA
Full transcript of the debate: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm160315/halltext/160315h0001.htm#16031557000002