2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 View all National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)
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It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes). I can assure the House that I will not be speaking for quite as long, although I aim to speak as eloquently. I thank the Minister for the time that he spent with the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China yesterday, going through some of the issues in the Bill. We operate on a cross-party basis, and I will be mentioning some of the concerns raised in that call so that they are made public.

The Liberal Democrats absolutely support the premise of the Bill. It is the right thing to be doing. My objection, however, lies in the Bill’s scope, which I genuinely believe should be wider. I appreciate that it has been constructed narrowly, presumably so that it can be put through Parliament quickly, but this is a great opportunity that should not be missed. The point that I made to the Minister yesterday was that if we are not going to amend this Bill to include some very important changes that are needed in our legislation, when are the Bills that will be necessary to fill in the cracks going to be brought to the House? I am hearing that that is what Members across the House want to know. If not now, when?

I will focus on two specific matters. The first, which has been mentioned by other Members, is the definition of national security. I found the speech of the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings very interesting, because there are arguments for defining and not defining. I believe that we should be defining, so that this House can properly scrutinise whether the definition encompasses everything that we would consider a national security concern and whether those concerns will be captured in the Bill.

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con)
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Rather than being about not not defining national security, I wonder whether this is about broadening the definition so that it can include the many other issues with which we are all concerned.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran
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Yes, indeed; I agree. We should be broadening it, in fact, to underline the values of our country that should be enshrined in the Bill. I hope that Members would agree that there is no way that anyone could describe human rights as baubles. Human rights are not baubles off of which we are hanging a Bill. Human rights are the trunk of the tree off of which we hang the legislation and everything that we do in this place. When I suggest that we widen the scope of the Bill to include more human rights amendments, it is in that spirit.

We should not be singling out China particularly—although I am about to—but it is right that this Bill is looking at the enterprise in itself; it is not China or any Chinese investment per se that concerns Members of the House. That distinction is very important. It is equally important, especially during the time of a pandemic, that we attract business, that this country is open for business and that businesses want to invest in it. That is all correct, but I have grave concerns, particularly about companies such as TikTok, which is an example of the kind of thing that we very much hope is captured in the Bill. It is a shame that we do not know—I certainly do not—whether TikTok will fall within the scope of the regime put forward by the Minister and the Secretary of State. That is a genuine question. If it will not, let me make the case for why it should.

As has been said, this is not just about national security and infrastructure as things that we can touch. As we well know, the way in which hostile states are now operating is more to do with data flows and what they do with them. We also know that China does not think within the scope of two, three or four years; it is thinking ahead to the 20, 30, 40 and 50 year marks. What is it doing with TikTok? It is harvesting data, and primarily the data of young people—not just here, but across the world. Some 41% of TikTok’s users are aged between 16 and 24. Our young people’s data is being harvested now. Why? Competitive advantage, perhaps, but also we know that the way that the modern Chinese state is operating is to slowly build dependency. It is incredibly important to recognise the point around dependency and national security now, because it is getting a slow underground hold on our country. If we are not careful and we just focus on the parts that we can see, like the mycelium of a fungus—is it edible or not?—we forget that the majority of what is happening is underground and longer-lasting than we might imagine. Will data flows be considered specifically? Will the movement of the global HQ of TikTok to this country come under the scope of the Bill? If not, I will seek support across the House for amendments at the next stage so that that can happen.

Now is the time to fully address human rights. That is why it is important to talk about China, because yes, on the one hand, there are data flows, but on the other, there is what it has done in Hong Kong. The issues with TikTok arise from 2017, but the more recent issues in June of this year, and what it has done in Hong Kong, suggest a direction of movement for the Chinese state that is deeply concerning. Linking that to what is happening in Xinjiang with the Uyghurs, we have, almost through not paying attention, tacitly said to that state, “We think what you are doing might be okay. We are not going to challenge it directly.” Magnitsky sanctions are mentioned as the current way that the Government are dealing with this. We welcome that and think they should go further. However, it is also time that we had amendments to a Bill that specifically deal with genocide, slave labour and supply chains. This is not just about sanctioning individuals. We know that the state has a hold on its enterprises, and that needs to be addressed too.

At this stage, I have no intention of throwing any Lib Dem strops and opposing Bills, or whatever. However, I hope that the Minister knows that at the next stage some movement needs to be made on these two very important issues.

--- Later in debate ---
Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me in such an important debate. May I start by thanking the Secretary of State and the Minister for the time that they have given me, members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China and others to discuss the contents of the Bill and what it does?

As I understand it—I hope I get this explanation right—the Bill gives the Government the power to screen and call in acquisitions of assets deemed to pose a threat to national security. Those assets might include land, physical property or intellectual property. As a result, the Secretary of State will be given retrospective powers to consider investments made over the past five years.

I welcome the cross-party consensus on the Bill. It seems to me, as a new intake Member of Parliament, that this is one of those rare moments when there is consensus in the House to produce a truly remarkable piece of legislation. I hope that the Government will listen carefully to the comments that have been made already.

I welcome the sentiments of the Bill, and I hope that passing it into law will be our first step in attempting to match Australia’s Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Bill and America’s Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernisation Act of 2018. But—and there is a sizeable “but”—we have, as other Members have made clear, a long way to go before this legislation reflects the comprehensive laws that many of our Five Eyes nation colleagues have in place.

The UK seeks to be a competitive, free and fair economy. I believe that that is sacrosanct and that we must do everything we can to ensure that businesses and people around the world look at our country as an attractive destination for investment. A stable democracy, a highly skilled workforce, league table topping universities, the rule of law and world-class industries such as photonics and FinTech all make the UK an attractive place to invest that benefits investors and British citizens alike.

Our laws are balanced as a result, encouraging foreign investment and adherence to UK laws and national interests. That balance has become all the more challenging with rapid technological change, internationalist agendas and our own failure, if I may say so, to hold a strategic dependency review. In short, the threats to our national security are numerous, real and present, and they come in a multitude of forms.

The narrow scope of the Bill limits its impact. It fails to address the threats that the UK is currently facing, and it holds the potential to see us become complicit with businesses and organisations that violate human rights. The national security that the Secretary of State spoke of remains ill-defined, to the detriment of the objectives of the Bill. Added to that, under the screening mechanism outlined in the Bill, a number of sectors are not addressed, such as education—a core part of the UK’s economy and an attraction to thousands of foreign students across the globe, with institutions that undertake research and development programmes in myriad areas, including defence, development and foreign affairs. A recent study found that 10 UK university laboratories are now dependent on significant investment from Chinese defence firms, yet our universities have not been specified in the scope of the Government’s consultation on sectors to which mandatory notification applies. How can that not be considered a national security risk?

The pharmaceutical sector is a global success story, with many companies basing their operations here in the UK, but there is nothing in the Bill that would have stopped or reviewed the Chinese takeover of Bio Products Laboratory. At a time when we face greater and graver challenges around the health of mankind, the Government must rethink what needs to be included in the scope of their consultation.

I have touched on two sectors but said nothing about the UK’s nuclear sector or water industry. Both need to be given the cover to protect our national security. Our core infrastructure, which is intimately connected to our national security, is routinely being placed in the hands of foreign owners. That should be a cause of great concern to the whole House. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) mentioned the 23 out of 117 Chinese acquisitions of UK firms—if less than 20% of Chinese acquisitions are being scrutinised under this legislation, we need to rethink parts of the Bill and strengthen it where possible.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
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I think it would be helpful for us to decide whether we are talking about foreign ownership of assets or Chinese ownership of assets. Obviously there is a gradation between them, but I am hearing from some of the contributions that we just do not like foreigner ownership of assets, which I am sure is not what my hon. Friend means at all.

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall
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It is important to recognise that China has a poor track record in this case, which has not been addressed, but of course we are not against foreign ownership. We want to ensure that the structure is in place to scrutinise these acquisitions in the correct way that protects opportunity in this country. I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention.

A few months ago, I broke cover early on to vote against the Government over the proposals to see our 5G network built by Huawei—and I have not lived it down yet! I did so because our core infrastructure should never be compromised by foreign investment, and that was a severe threat to our national security. I welcome the fact that the Government have moved so significantly and plan to phase out Huawei by 2027.

I also did so because of the reports of human rights violations by Huawei. The success of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) in passing the Modern Slavery Act 2015 is a proud moment for the UK, but it is worthless unless we use this Bill to stop dealing with companies that are reported to be using slave labour and looking to invest in the United Kingdom. Nothing in the Bill prevents companies that are complicit in gross human rights violations from investing in the United Kingdom, and that is a huge oversight. It would be an injustice and morally wrong for the UK ever to look the other way as money created from slave labour was invested in this country.

We have been told that this is not the right Bill for such provisions, but with all due respect, that is the same excuse used by the Whips on every single occasion that I have raised concerns about a piece of legislation. If we are going to bring forward the correct pieces of legislation, let us bring them forward. If not, the Government should not be surprised if we try to tack on amendments to address the issues that so many Members across the House feel strongly about.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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My hon. Friend is making such a brilliant speech that I do not want to interrupt him, but I will do so briefly. Does he agree that all these concerns could be wrapped up in a public interest amendment—including, for example, a human rights element—which would give Ministers some leeway and scope to address them?

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall
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My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. I hope that the Minister is listening, that we might expect such an amendment to arrive before us in due course, and that, with the consent of the House, we might see it implemented.

As I was saying, the line between state and civil actor has been blurred. The civil/military fusion requires legislation, and the Bill is in need of development to counter it. I therefore ask the Government very quickly to consider the following few proposals.

First, I would suggest the introduction of a committee on foreign investment. Our colleagues in America have introduced such a system. That would alleviate the pressure for any decisions to be made from political expediency. I believe, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham was saying, that that would promote parliamentary scrutiny and transparency and ensure that there was an understanding of the entire system.

Secondly, I would suggest that the definition of national security be expanded to include human rights. We do more often than not, in this country and in this place, develop policy around moral obligations. This should be one of those cases.

Thirdly, I suggest that we increase the Bill’s scope and use it to tackle organised crime. That has not been mentioned. The UK very successfully closed the domestic trade in ivory. There was a trade across the globe—a domestic trade in ivory that was linked to al-Shabab. There is a way to track organised crime down to terrorist organisations. There is scope within the Bill to do so.

Fourthly, a recent study found that at least 929 UK shell companies used in 89 corruption and money laundering cases accounted for £137 billion. Those companies are registered through Companies House. The Bill should be used to alleviate the burdens and ensure that there are fewer implications for the UK.

We can attract investment and tackle malign activities. I hope the Government will engage, in the same constructive manner in which they have introduced the Bill, and I will be supporting them tonight. I am sorry for going on for so long.