The Senedd voted to withhold its consent to an “ill-conceived” UK bill amid concerns it amounts to a gagging order and rides roughshod over rights to freedom of speech.

Rebecca Evans criticised the Economic Activities of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) bill, which would ban councils from using procurement to boycott countries on moral grounds.

Wales’ finance minister said the bill encroaches on responsibilities devolved to Wales, warning that it gives UK ministers powers that could have profound implications.

Ms Evans told the chamber the bill runs contrary to article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which sets out the right to freedom of expression.

She argued public bodies should have the freedom to make ethical procurement decisions based on factors such as human rights abuse, workers’ rights or destruction of the planet.

‘Gagging order’

She said: “We cannot consent to a bill that seeks to lawfully prevent our public bodies and democratic institutions from expressing an opinion on overseas matters.

“The Welsh Government strongly opposes what is essentially a gagging order, which can only be seen as harmful to democracy.”

Huw Irranca-Davies, who chairs the Senedd’s legislation committee, also raised concerns about the bill’s compatibility with convention rights.

The Labour backbencher warned that if the Senedd consented to the bill, it could constitute a breach of international law and the Welsh Government's ministerial code.

Peredur Owen Griffiths described the plans to impose legal restrictions on the ability to make ethical investments abroad as an affront to the basic democratic right to freedom of speech.


Drawing parallels to the Public Order Act 2023, which places barriers on the right to peaceful protest, he said: “This typifies the Tory party's disturbing lurch towards authoritarianism.”

The Plaid Cymru MS for South Wales East warned that if the powers had been available in the 1980s, public bodies would have been barred from protesting against the governments of apartheid South Africa.

He told MSs the bill would set a dangerous precedent of the law being bent to suit a particular ideological agenda.

Mr Evans said the restrictions on freedom of speech are a huge concern – not just for public bodies but also for individuals who could be held personally responsible for any breaches.

She added that the trade union movement is strongly opposed to the bill and ministers share concerns that it would unnecessarily undermine ethical procurement.


Ms Evans argued the ability to make procurement decisions on moral grounds is positive and ensures Wales is a globally responsible nation.

She said: “We can't consent to this bill. It's ill-conceived, with no evidence for its necessity.

“It presents a threat to freedom of expression and the ability of public bodies and democratic institutions to spend, invest and trade ethically, in line with international law.”

MSs voted 14-33 against providing the Senedd’s consent to the bill but the convention does not bind the UK Government’s hands.

The Conservatives voted for the legislative consent motion but none of the party’s MS contributed to the discussion in the chamber on 27 February.