Reference has been made to Bob Kerslake consistently throughout today. Bob and I were friends. I go back longer than most, because I go back to 1981, when I was a young man and a GLC councillor and Bob was a young man and a GLC officer. I fully concur with all the tributes that have been paid, but I also want to say that he was a good man. He was a very good person and a good friend, and we will miss him.
Let me come on to this debate. I do not want to repeat some of the arguments, but I want to get on record for my constituents why I am voting the way I am this evening. I will vote in solidarity with the amendment, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on her speech, but I will also be voting against the Bill, because I cannot do anything else.
The debate has largely focused on the specific BDS movement and Israel. Just to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon), I want to talk about the right to boycott, to disinvest and to sanction as an issue. At the weekend I drafted an article, because I wanted to get clear in my own mind the whole issue around boycotts and the past history of the boycott, disinvestment and sanctions movement. To be frank, virtually all of my life I have been involved in some boycott, disinvestment or sanctions campaign, so it was almost like a flashback. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), I was outside the South African embassy when the City of London anti-apartheid group was on a 24-hour permanent picket. I was there on Christmas day simply singing carols. All we were singing for was the release of Nelson Mandela.
For the other one, I plead guilty. I was one of the organisers of the demonstrations over a decade ago against the royal visit of the Saudi leaders. We were calling for no public contracts to be awarded to companies operating in Saudi Arabia, because at that time they were beheading gay people for being gay. That was later focused on military support from this country for the Saudi attacks on Yemen. The list of BDS campaigns that I have supported goes on and on. I campaigned against the Bahraini regime and its ongoing brutal repression of the country’s democratic movement, and the continued imprisonment of opposition political leaders. We have met some of them over the years, and they are still inside.
I have campaigned against the Sri Lankan Administration owing to their genocidal attack on the Tamils, with their continued abuse of human rights, their use of torture, the disappearances, and the colonisations of Tamil homelands. Again, I have lost constituents who have been disappeared when they have gone out there. I campaigned for sanctions against the military junta in Myanmar to halt the attacks on the Rohingyas and to demand the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Yes, I have supported the boycott of goods coming from the Palestinian territories occupied illegally by Israel. The campaign in my constituency was undertaken by young people when the bombings in Gaza were killing young people there. In solidarity, young people in my constituency went round the local shops asking them to check where their goods were coming from and urging them not to sell goods from the occupied territories.
There has been some reference to BDS campaigns being associated with antisemitism. That is not what I have witnessed in my constituency, but if there is evidence that individuals associated with these campaigns are antisemitic, we already have laws to deal with that, and I believe that the full force of the law against racist behaviour should therefore be deployed.
More recently, I have called for sanctions against the Chinese Government for the barbaric treatment of the Uyghurs, and also because they have imprisoned a group of my Unite trade union friends who worked with me on the British Airways campaigns. All they were demanding was adherence to democracy by the Chinese, and they have been inside for two and a half years, without any form of access to their families in many instances.
The common factor in all those campaigns is that they would not have been supported by Government policy. Therefore, they would have been rendered illegal in their demand for action by public authorities to boycott, disinvest and sanction. I agree with the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) that there needs to be clarity about who is making foreign policy and what is being referred to, because actually the Bill makes the Secretary of State ex cathedra—infallible—and puts at his whim decisions about what is right and what is wrong across the globe, when Governments in this country have consistently got it significantly wrong. They have certainly not backed such campaigns and would have outlawed them overall.
All those campaigns have focused on pressing for action from Government, local councils, pension funds, private companies and investors. It is interesting that a few hon. Members have mentioned the focus on the local government pension fund. I declare an interest as a member of the local government pension fund, and I think it is up to members of the fund to determine its investment policies. I must say, as a constituency MP, that the campaigns have reflected the diversity of my constituency. There is not a campaign that has not involved a constituent or group of constituents or has not been asked for by my constituents. It is a matter of standing in solidarity.
The advice of every human rights lawyer I have spoken to so far, and all the briefings from human rights groups and trade unionists, have all made it clear that that range of activities will be outlawed and it will be made illegal for decision makers even to talk about the strategy. That is why I oppose the Bill. I am voting against it because we have heard today, right across the House, that not a single clause has stood up to scrutiny. Therefore, I do not believe it can be amended; it is fundamentally flawed and should be defeated.
Let me make one final point, as an aside. We should change the Standing Orders or look at “Erskine May”, because it would have been useful if the Secretary of State coming here to present the Bill had actually read it or addressed the same Bill that we are addressing in this debate. All we saw today was a diatribe of the lowest politics we have seen for a long time, which divides our community unnecessarily and, to be frank, appallingly.