MPs took the chance to slam the government over its plans to stop local authority boycotts of Israeli goods at a Westminster debate yesterday.
The debate was the first opportunity MPs had had to discuss the procurement policy note since it was announced in Israel in February by Cabinet Office Minister, Matthew Hancock.
MPs wanted to know why the government had made the announcement in Tel Aviv and not in Parliament, where it could have been subjected to proper scrutiny.
They also raised the issue of the new Cabinet Office guidelines contradicting existing Foreign Office guidelines, which warn of the “clear risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements”.
“Indeed, the Foreign Office guidance is very clear, whereas the procurement policy note is very unclear”, Andy Slaughter, MP, told the debate.
He added “that may be intentional” and asked if “the actual aim is not to change the law, but to discourage and blackmail local authorities into not taking steps that may be perfectly legitimate and that the Foreign Office is encouraging them to take?”
Simon Danczuk, MP, said: “There is no doubt that there is confusion, because, in January, the Government said they were opposed to the development of settlements in the West Bank. In one breath, the Government condemns the illegal settlements, and in another they say that local authorities will face severe consequences should they chose to avoid investing in them. The entire advice needs to be cleared up.”
Sara Apps, interim Director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, welcomed the debate.
She said: “Yesterday, MPs made clear their belief that local councils are acting legitimately if they refuse to do business with companies involved in the Israeli occupation.
“The government was put on the spot yesterday, but continued in its attempts to muddy the waters over ethical procurement. We echo MPs’ concerns that the government is refusing to act with clarity over this very important issue, and add our voice to calls for clear and transparent guidance.
“In the meantime, we will continue to work to make local councils aware that their right to make ethical decisions in procurement and investment has not been removed by these guidelines.”
The full text of the debate can be read on Hansard: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm160315/halltext/160315h0001.htm#16031557000002 continued at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm160315/halltext/160315h0002.htm
The debate can be viewed here: http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/713a75dd-f279-42c3-9847-e2d2bd401fa5
The procurement policy note, announced in February by Matthew Hancock MP, aim to deter local councils and other public bodies from making procurement and investment decisions based on ethical considerations, including avoiding companies which are involved in the Israeli occupation.