Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I echo the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge)? If we descend into accusations that those who do not support the Bill are antisemites, or that those who support it are Islamophobic, I think we are lost, to be honest. It is important that we are careful about our language.
There is a profound misunderstanding about what we are debating. If this is about the BDS movement itself, there are mechanisms that the Government can use to proscribe an organisation. But the debate on this Bill should be about BDS as a method, a tactic. I have supported boycotting, disinvesting and sanctioning a whole range of regimes. I campaigned with and supported the anti-apartheid movement of BDS with regard to South Africa. Actually, a large number of Members on both sides of the House supported that. I also did so with regard to Saudi Arabia and its execution—tragically, it is still doing this—of members of the gay community. I have campaigned with others across the House with regard to Sri Lanka and the persecution of the Tamils, including the murder of a number of my constituents when they visited their families. I am doing the same at the moment with regard to Bahrain because of its imprisonment of the political opposition. It is the same with Russia. I was a founder member 10 years ago of the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign and we have been calling for sanctions against Russia for years—in advance of even the Government, to be honest. It is the same with Iran. I chair the Iranian workers’ movement committee, which supports trade unionists campaigning in Iran, many of whom are unfortunately in prison. There is also the Uyghurs.
On all of those, I have urged the use of BDS because when other representations and diplomacy fail, there are not many options left. One of the options, unfortunately, is the use of arms. In not promoting that, we have tried to find a middle lane, and that is economic isolation to try to influence. To be frank, it did work in South Africa. That is why we have tried to ensure that it is a mechanism that can be drawn upon. I agree, however, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) on the Front Bench. The important thing is to ensure that if we use this mechanism, it is used properly and fairly and that we do not discriminate against one particular country. That is what I have not done. I have called for BDS with regard to goods coming from the occupied territories and Iran because they are against the international order.
Having sat in this House for 25 years and listened to speeches from Conservative representatives, I have learned a bit about conservatism, so what I find extraordinary is that this Bill is profoundly unconservative. Those on the Government Front Bench seem to be rejecting many of the individual amendments in front of us. I have listened to Government Members arguing that the Conservative party stands for freedom of speech, support for the law, the rights of property, the democratic rights of this Parliament, local government and other agencies, devolution of decision-making, and support for the action on the environment and human rights.
Let me turn to the amendments on freedom of speech. Amendments 28 and 3 prevent the Government introducing a gagging order on even just talking about this—having a debate about it. That is profoundly unconservative. I cannot believe that Government Members are not supporting those amendments. On the issue of rights of property, I say to the Conservative Member whose constituency I cannot remember that we are both members of the local government pension fund. The Government are overriding the rights to my property, which is my pension fund. I cannot believe that the Conservatives are doing that. That is my stored wages for over 20 years of service in local government over which I now lose control, and the amendment simply says that the members of that pension fund will be allowed to decide.
Let me go through the amendments themselves. On devolution and local decision-making, all that amendments 5, 16, 34 and new clause 2 do is ensure that local democracy takes place. The arguments that I have heard from those on the Conservative Benches on several occasions is that local councillors should have the right to represent their local communities and, above all else, they should listen to their local communities. When there have been rows on the Government Benches, it is often as a result of councils not having listened to their local communities, and sometimes I have agreed. These amendments simply enable the local community to express their views and for that to be taken into account.
On environmental concerns, amendments 8, 10, 15 and 11 are simply reinforcing many of the policies that the Conservative party has been advocating in our attempts to get to net zero and protect animals at the same time. I have often heard Government Members saying that upholding the law is an essential part of conservatism. Well, that is what amendments 6 and 17 do. They are simply saying that the use of this mechanism can be helpful in upholding international law.
This Bill is a bad Bill. I agree that there might be the potential to gain consensus on it. One way forward is through the amendment that the Labour Front Bench has tabled to try to look at human rights in general to see how statements defining human rights can be made by Government, and that then influencing what happens in other decision-making areas, such as in local government, pension funds and so on. I believe that there is an opportunity for that, but what I come back to is that this is not the time to do something that in any way divides our communities. If the Bill is in any way amendable, let us just pull it. The Government have done that before. There has been a pause on legislation, allowing wiser heads to come together and to come back with something that actually might work.
If there are arguments about the BDS movement, and I totally condemn some of the statements that I have heard from some of the leaders associated with it, that is a separate issue. This is about a method of trying to influence individual countries to behave in line with international law, protect the environment, and so on. It is about trying to set standards in other countries that we want to promote globally anyway.
This legislation is not something that I would expect from a Conservative party at any stage in its life, and certainly not now. If the Government pursue it, it leads us to the conclusion that my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking reached: that it is being done for grubby political purposes. If that is the case, we are in the gutter of politics rather than at the high level of politics that we should be debating in this country.