Debates between Baroness Noakes and Viscount Stansgate during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 15th May 2023
Mon 16th Jan 2023
Tue 14th Dec 2021

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Viscount Stansgate
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
- Hansard - -

With the greatest respect to the noble and learned Lord, I think the main substance of sunsetting has been removed by the amendments put forward by my noble friend because we do not reach a cliff edge at the end of this year, or such a later date as might have been put in place, for the whole of retained EU law to disappear if it had not been dealt with. That is the issue that I was referring to.

Perhaps I could just complete what I was saying. I hope that between now and our next day on Report we can have some constructive dialogue with my noble friend the Minister about how we can have some kind of process, information sources, or whatever, to ensure that what we have lost with these amendments—which is ensuring that we deal with the whole of retained EU law—can be salvaged.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is not my intention to detain the House for long, because I think the House wants to move to a decision, but I will make one point about what might be described as the big picture. Today’s debate takes its place in the long history of debates about Europe and will be interesting to read afterwards. However, about a couple of weeks ago—I forget exactly how long ago it was—we had a short debate in this Chamber on the state of parliamentary democracy. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, replied to it as the Minister. We did not have enough time, but it was a useful debate to have. I suggest to the House only that the sense expressed during that debate, that over a long period Parliament has lost power to the Executive and that what we need is to reclaim power for Parliament over the Executive, is best encapsulated by Amendment 2 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. I very much hope that the House passes it.

National Security Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Viscount Stansgate
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I have not previously taken part in this Bill because I claim absolutely no expertise in national security. However, like many noble Lords, I have received a number of representations and briefings on the foreign influence clauses from those who have major concerns about their impact on business life, which is an area where I have some experience. I have tabled Amendments 89A, 89B, 89C and 92A in this group to raise those issues.

I have considerable sympathy with those opposing the Question that the clauses dealt with in this group stand part of the Bill. I would have added my name had there been space. A number of those making representations were very clearly of the view that the best thing to happen would be for the clauses to be put to one side and for there to be a proper consultation on them to expose all the practical issues across the many kinds of organisations that other noble Lords have referred to in this group.

My amendments are more modest and targeted, because I recognise that legislative opportunities do not come very often for the Government to put a scheme such as this in place. If there is any opportunity to improve the Bill before it leaves this place, we ought to encourage the Government to do so. To that extent, I was much heartened by the words of my noble friend the Minister at the beginning of this group. I completely accept that, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, said, this is not the whole answer; if we are trying to completely remedy these clauses, they will need more than my amendments. However, my amendments are directed particularly at the commercial aspect. I will speak relatively briefly to them.

Amendment 89A seeks to restrict the scope of the political influence clauses to organisations which are under the control of a foreign power. In that sense, it is like Australia. Clause 66 currently applies to any foreign organisation whether it has any connection to a foreign power; hence it applies to absolutely all foreign-operated corporations, as has been said, such as commercial companies and many other non-profit organisations, NGOs and the like.

Take the example of a company formed in one of our international friends—for example, a member country of the EU. Let us suppose that that company is thinking of investing in the UK in something we really want them to invest in, such as a nuclear power station or renewables. This provision is going to put a lot of hurdles in that company’s way. That company will inevitably have to have conversations about regulatory issues, licensing issues, planning and visas for specialist staff, which will involve meetings with officials and government Ministers. At some stage, government decisions may be needed in order to encourage that company to complete its investment. These are ordinary commercial activities but, under the Bill as drafted, that company will have to register as soon as it starts to make arrangements—for example, when it engages UK-based advisers. Of course, UK-based advisers will also have to register if there could be any chance whatever that that EU company wants to do anything that could be deemed to be a political influence activity.

As other noble Lords pointed out, that sends a pretty terrible message to potential overseas commercial partners. The UK’s position as a desirable location for inward investment cannot be taken for granted, and it could be dealt a very severe blow if all foreign companies are treated like potentially malevolent actors. It is hard to see the public policy justification for drawing the boundary of the new requirements to include such companies.

My Amendment 89A would extend the ambit of Clause 66 to UK-incorporated organisations. At the moment, if the EU company in my hypothetical example had a wholly owned UK subsidiary, that company would not be caught if it carried out the activities on its own behalf, rather than on behalf of its parent. That does not seem logical because the substance is unaltered by the corporate structure. However, if a UK-incorporated company is controlled by a foreign power, I would have thought that the Government would want to be able to track its influence activities for the countries about which they have concerns. But, at the moment, Clause 66 does not seem to require it, and I hope that my noble friend the Minister can explain its subtleties when he winds up.

Both Australia and New Zealand have significant commercial carve-outs, designed to allow ordinary commercial activities to carry on. That is why I put down Amendments 89B and 92A, which are aimed more directly at excluding commercial activities. Amendment 89B quite simply exempts commercial activities from the definition of “political influence activity” in Clause 68, trying to bring it closer to the Australian or American systems.

My Amendment 92A also includes a power for the Secretary of State to exempt other activities that do not involve a risk to national security—other noble Lords gave examples of those other kinds of activities outside the commercial sphere. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, tabled Amendment 92B to my Amendment 92A, and I agree with his amendment because it would lessen the need for a backstop power for the Secretary of State, although I still think that such a power would be desirable because we cannot decide in advance all those circumstances where it is clear that no national security interest arises.

My last amendment in this group, Amendment 89C, also concerns the definition of “political influence activity” in Clause 68(2). Under Clause 68(2)(b), general communications are not caught if they make it “reasonably clear” that the communication

“is made at the direction of the foreign principal”.

But this does not apply to communications to Ministers, MPs and the like—the specified people who are now in the new schedule. My amendment basically asks: why not? What is the harm in communications that are clearly signposted at the behest of a foreign principal? In my example, if a company from the EU were trying to approach individuals or officials, as opposed to putting out a general communication, but it was quite clear for whom it was acting, what evil are we trying to deal with by making that a political influence activity in the Bill?

My remarks have focused just on commercial activities, and I have really focused on only one aspect of them: inward investment. If we drag the whole of commercial life into this regime, it will, at best, end up with a lot of non-value adding bureaucracy. At worst, it will swamp the Home Office with a tsunami of precautionary registrations and could do real harm to our economic prospects. I feel that, at the moment, the effect of the Bill is a bit like putting up a big sign saying, “No foreign businesses here” at the gates to the UK. I look forward to my noble friend the Minister’s response, and, as I said, I was heartened by his initial remarks.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, not least because I want to make some remarks about the effect on other areas of life. I agree with her that her phrase “non-value adding bureaucracy” is an understatement, and I sometimes wonder whether the Government understand quite how much they have unleashed with the clauses we are considering in this group. I will, briefly, direct my remarks to Amendment 88, which sets out areas where it would be useful for the Government to provide guidance.

A number of Members have had a wide range of briefs of various kinds, and I draw the House’s attention to one from the Russell group of universities. In effect, I am referring to section (a) of the new clause that would be inserted by Amendment 88. In that briefing, the universities say that they fully

“understand that working with international partners is not without risk and take their responsibilities to protect national security seriously.”

They point out that they already work with the Government. However, they go on to say that the requirements of the foreign influence registration scheme

“could include a range of international activities from student exchange programmes to research partnerships, many of which are already covered in existing legislation. The potentially duplicative and complex nature of this arrangement could limit opportunities for genuine international collaboration and risk deterring global partners, which would in turn hinder national and local R&D led growth.”

Just as the noble Baroness was talking about the adverse effect on business and inward investment, similarly universities are telling the Government and the House that there would be adverse effects on international research collaboration. The briefing goes on to say:

“If university activity is to be included, the system must be clear and simple to use with accessible guidance that will ensure universities will not be penalised”—


or criminalised—

“for misinterpretation or misunderstanding the system.”

As we are talking about provisions which have a criminal aspect to them, that matters a great deal.

The other point I bring to the House’s attention is about charities, which is reflected in section (b) of Amendment 88. The amendment was tabled by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who incidentally referred to the fact that even all-party parliamentary groups may be caught by this provision. In about half an hour, I am due to chair an all-party parliamentary group at the other end of this building, and I sometimes wonder whether, in future, we will have to register an enormous range of activity. The noble Baroness used the word “tsunami”, and that is something we would like to avoid.

I will look at charities from the point of view of the scientific community in Britain. Many key scientific societies in this country are charities, including the Royal Society and the leading sectoral scientific societies, such as the Royal Society of Biology, the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry. They also have extensive international networks. All are international in their nature, organising international conferences all over the world and with international links the like of which is hard to describe. Science is a very international business, and so it should be. We benefit from that, and I hope that, in future, we will not lose some of the benefits that we have hitherto had with Europe.

In drawing that to the Committee’s attention, I would like to know what the Government’s intention is in respect of the activities of scientific societies. I do not suppose for a moment that they were consulted on the Bill; I think that many do not even know that there is a possibility that they might be affected. The Russell group is an example of at least one organisation which has been on the ball. The activity of normal scientific life in this country stands to be affected by the Bill. I am very interested to hear the Minister’s reply on that point, because I wonder whether that was ever intended to be in the Government’s purview when bringing forward this legislation. I do not think that the activities of our scientific societies really run the risk to national security that might otherwise be implied, so for that reason that I bring the point to the Minister’s attention.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Viscount Stansgate
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 6, to which I added my name. This is a subject I raised at Second Reading, but I reassure the noble Baroness acting as the Whip that, on this occasion, she can relax; there is unlikely to be any need to interrupt me on the grounds that I have gone on too long, because I want to be very brief.

There are two reasons why ARIA should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The first is one of principle. Public bodies set up in statute should be subjected to the same FOI requirements as apply elsewhere. In this country, I submit that FOI legislation is an essential safeguard in the political world in which we now live. To reject this amendment will send a bad signal and set a bad precedent. I even suggest to the Minister that he may reconsider his view as and when he sits on these Benches in the future.

The second reason is practical. We do not want to allow ARIA to come to be viewed with public suspicion and distrust, especially as it has the right to fail, so being open about its work will be beneficial. If it turns out that it is not easy to discover what it is doing, public support for ARIA might be damaged, to the detriment of its wider role. It is not difficult to imagine circumstances in which a campaign is waged against ARIA for excessive secrecy, possibly utilising inaccurate information about it, and for public support to be damaged; nor, in my judgment, would making ARIA subject to freedom of information turn out to be an excessive practical burden. Moreover, if there are aspects of ARIA’s future work that turn out to be sensitive, the Government already have powers elsewhere in the Bill for the Secretary of State to intervene on grounds of national security.

I will leave my remarks there, but I strongly urge the acceptance of Amendment 6.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I spoke about the freedom of information aspects of these two amendments in Committee, and I repeat that I think it is reasonable to exclude ARIA from the freedom of information requirements.

I do not regard the Freedom of Information Act as malign, and I am sure my noble friend does not either. It is appropriate in many cases that our public bodies are opened up, but it is true that it is burdensome. That has been a constant complaint, and certain kinds of organisations attract lots of fishing expeditions which increase the burden, and this goes beyond what would be regarded as being reasonable.

In Committee, I quoted both Tony Blair—who, having introduced the Freedom of Information Act, had a Damascene conversion and did not regard it as a helpful thing in the end—and Professor Philip Bond, the Professor of Creativity and Innovation at the University of Manchester. Both of them highlighted the fundamental reason why ARIA should be free from the Freedom of Information Act: because the last thing our scientists need when looking at the next internet, or whatever it is, is to be overcome with excessive caution because they are worried about what would happen if their conversations had to be revealed through Freedom of Information Act requests. Creativity thrives in an environment where it is not subject to ex-post analysis.

The other reason why I wanted to speak this evening is that I do not understand why Amendments 6 and 7 have been positioned as they are in Clause 2. They seem to set up a conflict with the provisions of Schedule 3, which is introduced by Clause 9. I have not followed through the detailed drafting in respect of freedom of information, but I have followed it through in respect of the Public Contracts Regulations. Basically, Amendment 7 says that the regulations will apply to ARIA, while paragraph 17 of Schedule 3 says that the requirements do not apply to ARIA.

So, the effect of these amendments—and I believe the same is true of the freedom of information amendment, but I have not completely followed that through—is that one part of the Bill would say that the requirements do not apply, but the next part would say that they do apply. That does not seem to me a very clever way to write amendments or legislation, so I suggest that the amendments themselves are defective. Also, I think they are defective in drafting terms—in particular, the public contracts amendment does not mention the separate Scottish regulations, which are included in paragraph 17 of Schedule 3. Paragraphs 13 to 15 are much more complex than Amendment 6, so that may well not be as effective as noble Lords seem to suggest.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Viscount Stansgate
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, first, I apologise for being late. I do not know whether amendments can be moved by Thameslink.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
- Hansard - -

Perhaps I might say to the noble Viscount that it is customary, if a noble Lord is not here for the commencement of a debate, for them to take no part in it at all. In the noble Viscount’s absence, the noble Baroness on his Front Bench formally moved his amendment so that a debate could take place—but that does not mean that he can take part in the debate.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I found the noble Baroness’s comments in our last session very helpful and I learned a great deal—and now I have learned some more.

--- Later in debate ---
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Chapman and shall speak also to Amendment 32A, which, ironically, was the first amendment that I drafted. If there is any benefit to a signal failure on Thameslink, it is that by accident I turn out to be speaking to the very first amendment that I drafted. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, because it was her who pointed out last week that the former Prime Minister had said that he regretted the Freedom of Information Act. Next time I see him, I shall gladly discuss that subject, but I think it tells you more about Prime Ministers than it does about the principle of freedom of information.

There are two and a half arguments in favour of this amendment. The first is the principle. We live in a parliamentary democracy—we live, incidentally, in a world in which we learn less and less about the Government, who can know more and more about us—and it is a good principle of public life that any new body should be subject to freedom of information. The half argument is that, if it is suggested by the Government that this will cause practical difficulties for ARIA, I am perfectly happy for them to bring forward their own amendment saying that at a later stage they can review the operation of the Freedom of Information Act to see whether it has turned out to be very difficult.

The other argument in favour of making it subject to freedom of information is this. This is a new body. It will be given a not insubstantial sum of public money. It will be doing things the nature of which none of us around this Committee Room knows. If it is thought to be too secretive about what it is doing and in no shape or form accountable to Parliament, apart from the odd appearance by the chair or chief executive in front of the Select Committee in another place, there is a risk that ARIA’s work and reputation could be damaged. Freedom of information would protect ARIA against that risk. That is the other argument I put to the Committee in favour of the amendment.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I spoke on this at Second Reading and quoted Tony Blair. Just to remind the Committee, he said that the Freedom of Information Act was

“utterly undermining of sensible government.”

I do not think it is, but I think anybody in the public sector will attest that it is often very burdensome and extremely costly to operate. It was looked at relatively recently by a group, led I think by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the conclusion was that on balance the law should remain as it is. But that does not mean that for every new body we should automatically apply the Freedom of Information Act requirements. The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, was clear that if there was a case, the Opposition would support it.

It is worth looking at why an organisation such as ARIA might well be worthy of special consideration. Let us look further at what Tony Blair said:

“If you are trying to take a difficult decision and you’re weighing up the pros and cons, you have frank conversations … And if those conversations then are put out in a published form that afterwards are liable to be highlighted in particular ways, you are going to be very cautious.”


We do not want an organisation that is dragged into caution and risk aversion. We want one that is fully open internally to grappling with some very difficult issues.

Procedure and Privileges

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Viscount Stansgate
Monday 25th October 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I remind the House that one precious feature of your Lordships’ House is that we are self-regulating. During the Covid pandemic, we had to do a lot of things where that went a little bit to the side lines. Now that we are operating nearly normally, we must look again at the extent to which we are a self-regulating House. We cannot be a self-regulating House if a report is produced at the back end of a week, we are notified on a Friday that a Motion will be on the Order Paper for Monday and an important change to our procedures is just pushed through that quickly. An element of being a self-regulating House is that we have a proper debate, not only in this Chamber but also in all those informal exchanges among colleagues across the House that we are accustomed to. We must find that essence of our House again. I hope that we do not divide today, although I would be inclined to support any amendment against this Motion. I hope that the Senior Deputy Speaker takes these proposals away and brings them back in a way that demonstrates that we are a self-regulating House in charge of our own destiny.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am a new Member of the House. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said that she had been here for 24 years; I am not sure that I have yet been here for 24 days. Nevertheless, even as a new Member, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me an opinion. My noble friend Lord Grocott said that it was career-ending to speak in this debate. Heaven knows what it might do for my chances.

Procedure matters. I am aware that it is not germane to some of the amendments on the Order Paper, but the way in which speakers’ lists have been introduced and retained robs the House of an element of spontaneity that many Members on all sides of the House would like to recapture.

Also, I have often met newly-elected Members of another place who say, “What a waste of time going through the Division Lobby is. What can’t I just take my swipe card, sit in my office and save myself the trouble?” These are the remarks of new Members. Those of your Lordships who have been in another place, if you look back that far, perhaps shared that view. However, Divisions matter because you meet people. I strongly endorse the remarks of my noble friend Lord Rooker that the ability to meet together on all sides of the House—as the noble Baroness said, to confer across the House—is important and worth keeping and should not be compromised.

I am sure that the Senior Deputy Speaker and his Committee have done a good job. I am so new that I have not been here to see what they have done. However, today I detect a nervousness that changes might be made without Members having the ability to discuss them fully. I am not here to cause a Division, even if in the future one person may be able to do so, but I hope that the House does not mind my saying that, in the interests of collegiate progress, we should perhaps have a bit more time to get a more settled view. I thank your Lordships for allowing me the temerity of expressing a view.