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

(3 years, 7 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
Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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I would say to my hon. Friend that the Bill’s focus on national security is absolutely right. We should have a beady eye on national security, with substantial powers, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) said, to enforce that. I think the Bill has it right in its focus on national security.

The Committee that examines the Bill will need to consider in detail some of the provisions of the Bill as it is presented on Second Reading. It is essential to provide investors and UK firms with a sense of predictability and confidence, but that can be undermined if the law has administrative consequences that are unintended and not provided for. For example, there are strong reasons to think that there may be a deluge of notifications, as the hon. Member for Dundee East said, when the new unit in the Department is set up, and it must be geared up to handle that right from the outset.

The prospect of five years’ imprisonment for directors and fines of 5% of turnover, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State commends, for failure to notify under a mandatory regime within sectors defined as broadly as communications and transport is, in my view, likely to lead to many small transactions being notified under the voluntary regime for peace of mind regarding those very strong sanctions against an inadvertent breach. It is an enormous challenge for the Department to set up a new unit, especially since the current regime—or the previous one, since the powers are live—has dealt with a very small number of transactions each year.

As Secretary of State, I reduced the turnover threshold for review from £70 million to £1 million only two years ago. This Bill contains no de minimis threshold, and I will be interested to see during the passage of the Bill evidence of why a zero de minimis threshold is necessary, especially when the definition of technology assets extends to “ideas, information or techniques”, which is very broad. This could result in a very large number of very small transactions being notified defensively.

Even if businesses are confident that they will not be covered by the mandatory notification requirement, the advantages of voluntary notification and clearance, with its exemption from the five-year look-back, may prove to be very attractive and very important in baking in the approval of a transaction against reversal more than five years in the future. It is clearly the ambition of the right hon. Member for Doncaster North to add further public interest tests. As we approach the general election, it may well be attractive, as a defence against the action of future Governments, for companies to notify even when they do not have to. It is very important that the Department is geared up for that.

Much of the Science and Technology Committee’s work in recent months has been concerned with the nation’s response to the coronavirus. If we can learn one lesson from that—for example, from problems with the test and trace system—it is that, to have public confidence, we need to properly anticipate demand and to set up to meet it from the outset. If that demand is not supplied, public confidence, which is crucial for investment, will be undermined.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
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Does not the coronavirus provide us with another lesson, which is that Government historically have not been terribly good at assessing risk and modelling the response to it? I say that as a former Minister, like my right hon. Friend. I was always surprised, in all the Departments I served in, at how little time is spent on modelling outcomes of the kind we are now enduring.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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My right hon. Friend is right. To look ahead, we need to develop the capabilities to do that, and for a unit in the Department that previously did not have that responsibility—it was with the CMA, advised by others—that is a steep learning curve.

The foundational feature of the UK’s commercial reputation in the world is a place where people and businesses all around the world can be confident in investing. That derives in no small part from a public policy regime that is rational, stable and rigorously and efficiently administered. We should continue to aspire to take a global position of leadership in this area, so I welcome the focus of the Bill and its ambition to bring our arrangements up to date. I look forward to helping ensure that we can be proud of the Bill and see it as a contribution to our continued reputation for having the highest standards of corporate government and investment security in the world.

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John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
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This Bill is welcome, necessary, important and, it has to be said, overdue. In making a few remarks about it, I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that the Chairman of the ISC, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), is not able to be with us and sends his apology. I will make a number of points from the Committee on his behalf and that of other Committee members.

The first is that this Bill is stimulated, at least in part, by the ISC report from 2013. That report, “Foreign involvement in the Critical National Infrastructure”, made the case that new legislation was required. The hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) has already made that point emphatically, but the Minister does need to explain what might have happened differently had this legislation been in place seven years earlier, because some of these powers are clearly retrospective but they do not stretch back into the mists of time.

The Bill is important, not least because the Government have acknowledged that the UK faces continued and broad-ranging hostile activity from foreign intelligence agencies, hostile state actors and others. Novel means of undermining UK national security include investments that can be structured to obscure the real actors behind them. This is not a straightforward matter of takeovers that are directly linked to defence or critical national infrastructure; it is subtler than that, as the Bill acknowledges and as the Government have said. I want to dig a little further into that during my extensive, but not tediously so, contribution.

The Bill’s importance is also reflected in the dynamism of the threat that we face, which is metamorphosing, as I implied a moment ago. Those who seek to undermine our national security are becoming increasingly clever at doing so and the Bill will need to exercise all the flexibility that its provisions permit. But it may be that, as well as that, we need to return to these matters time and again. In a recent debate, I emphasised that traditionally legislation coming before this House pertaining to security has been spasmodic—it has been periodic. Legislation has stood the test of time but, as the increasing dynamism of the threats we face obliges Government to think again about means of countering them, it may be that we see more legislation than we have hitherto in this area. I happily give way to my hon. Friend, a fellow member of the ISC

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)
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I thank my very good friend for giving way. It seems to me that, if we define national security closely, we will not keep up with the speed at which it changes. So I am against the idea of having a definition of what national security is. Does my right hon. Friend agree?

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John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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I do, but the challenge in a democratic polity is ensuring sufficient accountability while maintaining that degree of flexibility. It is all much easier in less democratic countries—I use that term as gingerly and modestly as I can—which are not obliged to legitimise or justify what their Governments do. We are—rightly—so the Government are properly scrutinised and held to account. It is right, as my hon. Friend says, that we maintain enough flexibility to respond to the dynamism that I described. But of course, we need mechanisms in place to ensure that that flexibility does not allow the Government too much scope. That is why—this point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) and I emphasise it on behalf of the ISC—Committees in this place missioned to do just that need to play an important role. I know that the Government recognise that, and that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) recognises it.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood
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Indeed. This issue—where does security end—is very difficult. If we look at the great wars of the last century, which we do not want to repeat, food supply was absolutely critical and was a great strategic vulnerability of our country.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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That is true. Vulnerability, of course, is also dynamic. That is why I emphasised, in intervening on my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), that the Government need to get better at assessing risk and modelling the response to it. This is what the Bill begins to do. It has been a long time in the making, but I emphasise that it is welcome because it begins to look at appropriate mechanisms for doing that. So it is certainly necessary.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones
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Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that security and intelligence need to be at the heart of the Bill and that they should drive how we take decisions? That is why being located in BEIS might be a mistake.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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The right hon. Gentleman made that point in his contribution earlier and it seems to me to be a profound one. In establishing the new processes and the new governance associated with this legislation, it is vital that the interaction with the intelligence services, and all the skills available to the Government to assess risk, is built in to their considerations but also to the process. I am not absolutely convinced that the Bill does that. It may be that there is sufficient flexibility, to take up a point raised in an earlier intervention, to allow the Government to do so, but I hope the Minister, when he sums up the debate, will provide reassurance that the connection between intelligence and risk assessment is as sure as it needs to be. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) for making that point.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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When the decision maker is a Minister in the Government, they benefit from the advice of the security services, including the National Security Adviser. That was certainly my experience as Secretary of State. All these decisions draw extensively on the advice of the national security apparatus. I do not think—my hon. Friend the Minister will clarify it when he winds up—there is any intended change to that.

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John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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Yes, the Minister needs to explain how the Government’s arrangements for the new investment security remit interface and interact with the national security structures that already exist, such as the investment security group. There needs to be clarity about the process, as I described it a few moments ago.

Stewart Hosie Portrait Stewart Hosie
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Of course, it is not just about the formal structures, because of the fast-changing nature of the threat and the way in which technology emerges and develops. Perhaps we should have an annual debate in here, where we can think out loud about emerging technologies that may become a threat and, on the other side, those technologies that have become so redundant they are no longer a threat, to avoid them being pre-emptively given to the Government and clogging up the system.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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That is an excellent suggestion from another member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. My goodness, we are here in force and working as a team, as you can see, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is important that the House considers these matters, as well as the Committees I mentioned which have a particular responsibility for dealing with these things and holding the Government to account.

The point was made earlier that the national interest and national security are not identical. But they are coincidental—they do overlap—as there is a point at which national resilience, or its absence, compromises national security. The Government acknowledge that in the scope of the Bill. They talk about critical national infrastructure, as well as technology sectors of various kinds. By the way, I first looked at this issue, Madam Deputy Speaker—this is not a widely known fact, but I am happy to share it in the privacy of this intimate gathering—as a Cabinet Office Minister, with the former Member for West Dorset, Sir Oliver Letwin. We looked particularly at the threats posed to core infrastructure, such as the energy sector. By the way, that threat is posed not only by hostile state actors, but other players who might choose to disrupt core activities, with extraordinarily damaging consequences for our citizens. The Government do look at those things, but historically I do not think they have done so systematically enough. I know my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells, who has a distinguished record in this area, will have had similar experiences to me when we, in turn, looked at energy as part of our ministerial responsibilities.

China has been mentioned. I do not want to speak about it at great length, but clearly the ISC is currently looking at China and will be considering these very subjects in relation to that inquiry. That will come as no surprise to the House or the Minister.

I said this Bill was necessary, but necessity requires a degree of precision and I have some specific questions that I hope the Minister will deal with, either in summing up or by writing to the ISC if he does not have time to address them today. In looking at a specific case, will the investment security unit be able to consider the cumulative effect of a particular business transaction? In other words, will it take into account whether past acquisitions in that sector, when combined with the case currently under consideration, will result in a cumulative threat to national security? Moreover, will the unit consider acquisitions that might result in an indirect threat, for example, through supply chains or managed service providers? This may well involve very small businesses; sometimes a single expert or a small group of experts will play a vital role, as component parts, in either a technology or an industry that is vital to our national security.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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My right hon. Friend is making an excellent point in an excellent speech. He is highlighting the need to understand national security not only as individual events and individual companies, big or small, but as a series of cumulative processes. Those gradual processes, over time, are as important to understand.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. Just before the right hon. Gentleman replies, let me give a gentle reminder that we have a lot of speakers still to go and I know the Minister wants to give a full reply at the end.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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I am terribly grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not know whether it was the persuasiveness of the case I was making or its imperfection that has encouraged 1,001 people to intervene on me. Perhaps it was the latter, but I will give way no more and move to the concluding part of my oration.

There are questions to be asked about the proposals before us. I touch on one more before I reach my exciting summary. The Bill provides for the Government to apply to use closed material proceedings. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) and the right hon. Member for North Durham made the point about connections to other expertise, both within Government and beyond it, so how will that be impacted, given the closed material proceedings? How will closed hearings be managed effectively? I think the House will want to know the answer to that.

I said that the Bill is welcome, and it is certainly is, because it provides the means by which, for the first time, Government will consider matters of profound concern very much in line with the recommendations of the 2013 report. That report identified:

“The difficulty of balancing economic competitiveness and national security”

and suggested that it had reached a “stalemate”. With this Bill, we have moved on from that stalemate. Given the scrutiny the Bill will enjoy, in the spirit that this kind of legislation normally does, as the whole House will want to get this right, and given the Government’s willingness to listen and to take on board some of the points that have been made today and that will be made in further scrutiny, I have every confidence that we may end up with a very good piece of legislation that is fit for purpose. Edmund Burke said:

“Early and provident fear is the mother of safety.”

Sometimes it is important to be a little fearful in order to be provoked to take necessary action. In taking that action, the Minister will know that the Government have no greater responsibility than to secure the safety of the country they serve and its people.

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Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)
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It is such a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), and I genuinely hope that your naughty finger will not be pointing towards me at any point in my remarks, Madam Deputy Speaker.

We on the Opposition Benches will not oppose the Bill, because it is a step in the right direction. It is good to see the Government finally recognising the need to put national security at the heart of how we deal with foreign investment. However, the Bill fails to address the broader issue of how takeovers and acquisitions should be regulated to promote our broader national and economic interests and, indeed, the interests of British workers and their families across the length and breadth of our country. In that sense, it draws a false distinction between national security and economic security, because it is absolutely clear that the two are intrinsically linked.

In order to properly reflect on the effectiveness of this legislation, we therefore need to go back to first principles and ask ourselves this single basic question: what is the economy actually for? It is only by reaching consensus on that fundamental point that we shall be in a position to assess the extent to which the Bill will make a positive contribution to the lives and livelihoods of our constituents.

The British economy is unbalanced, it is unstable and it is therefore profoundly lacking in resilience. It is too reliant on the financial services sector at the expense of manufacturing—our manufacturing sector has collapsed since the 1970s from 30% of GDP then to just 9% now. It is too London-centric, thus failing to harness the talents of so many people from other areas of our country; it is too inward-looking, with persistent trade deficits; it is too unequal, pushing the proceeds of growth to the wealthiest 1%, and it is too short-sighted, constantly aiming for the fast buck rather than long-term, sustainable prosperity driven by patient capital.

Every piece of legislation that is brought forward by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy should be relentlessly focused on fixing those faulty foundations of our economy—those fundamental weaknesses—and every step that the Business Secretary takes should be a step towards an active industrial strategy that is designed to drive a modern manufacturing renaissance. He should be focused on home-grown industry, home-grown investment and home-grown technology. Those critical steps will help to build that sense of purpose and resilience into the UK economy that we are so desperately missing.

The culture of the UK’s corporations is also in urgent need of change. The prevailing business strategies are driven by short-termism, with the delivery of fast buck profits to shareholders taking precedence over all other considerations. Addressing that will require a new deal between shareholders, companies and their workforces, and between the public and private sectors. Far too many of the corporations listed in the FTSE 500 are characterised by a transactional, rootless form of ownership, which militates against the investment in R&D, innovation, skills development, new technology, plant and machinery that is desperately needed if we are to put our economy on to a more balanced and sustainable footing.

The Government’s laissez-faire approach makes a major contribution to this short-termist culture, because it opens the door to acquisitions by foreign companies, resulting in the UK’s having by far the highest number of successful hostile takeover bids of any advanced economy in the world. Time after time since 2010 we have seen our strategic national assets being flogged off to the highest bidder. Let us just look at the case of Arm, a jewel in the crown of the British tech industry, which is in the process of being sold to Nvidia, or Cadbury’s, an iconic British brand, sold to Kraft without any proper consideration of what that would mean for the long-term sustainability of the business.

Moreover, our sovereign capability is profoundly undermined by the fact that much of our critical infrastructure is not in our own hands. In fact, 57 of our critical national infrastructure supply chains depend on China, from our energy suppliers to our airports, our pharmaceuticals and our personal protective equipment. The repercussions of that overexposure have been felt during the pandemic. Our lack of capacity to produce PPE has cost the UK taxpayer an eye-watering amount of money; a breaking story today shows that a Spanish businessman has pocketed £21 million of British taxpayers’ money simply for acting as a broker between the Government and overseas suppliers—a potent symbol of systemic failure.

Let me be clear that many of these so-called private takeovers and infrastructure investments are carried out by companies and investment vehicles that are a front for authoritarian state actors who have wider political and national security agendas and whose values are at odds with our commitment to democracy, liberty and the rule of law.

The crucial point here is that our values should not be for sale.

The most obvious and pressing case, of course, is the Chinese Government, who are relentlessly expanding their influence economically, politically and militarily. We need only recall the case of Imagination Technologies, which was recently the target of a hostile takeover attempt by an investment vehicle with direct links to the Chinese state. Of course, there are also substantial Chinese stakes in Hinkley Point and other sizeable chunks of our critical national infrastructure.

Successive Conservative Governments since 2010 have been naive and complacent in their approach to China, exemplified by David Cameron and George Osborne’s disastrous “golden era” strategy. It is time for this Government, this House and, indeed, the entire country to wake up to the reality of these matters and to come to the realisation that, while we must always seek constructive engagement with China, we must take a clear-sighted, hard-headed approach to defending our national interest and our sovereign capability.

I also take this opportunity to raise another more specific way in which the Government’s lethargic tendencies have proved costly to British business and weakened the economy as a result. The Government have been naive about the deliberate attempts to weaken UK businesses through market distortion by the undermining of competition laws. The most obvious example of that is the deliberate over-production of steel way beyond global demand and the subsequent illegal dumping of that steel on European markets.

The result of those illegal uncompetitive practices combined with Conservative inertia has been the weakening of UK steel companies and the opportunity for foreign investors, many of whom come from countries that are the origin of the dumping in the first place, to buy up our strategically and nationally important asset. Some 80% of China’s steel industry is state owned, and the key point is that the illegal dumping of products from those state-owned industries into European markets is an example of the practices that are undermining the international rules-based order.

That in turn has a damaging and direct impact on our industrial base and on our communities and their families—the workforces that are directly impacted. It is a perfect example of how the global is truly local. We need a level playing field, and this legislation should be about—this is everything that the BEIS Department should be about—developing that level playing field so that our workforce is not competing with one hand tied behind its back against a system that is rigged against it from the word go.

This Bill is a big missed opportunity to strengthen the UK’s wider industrial strategy and for the Government to show that they are committed to building an economy of purpose and resilience. Moreover, it fails to reflect the impact of coronavirus on UK businesses and the increased vulnerability in the face of vulture capitalists and state-backed actors that are waiting to pounce. This legislation only really seeks to protect the UK’s national security and appears to do little to support the UK’s wider national interest, such as the need to protect jobs and support communities in this time of national emergency.

Focusing on the all-too-narrow scope of the Bill, I also have genuine concerns about the process for arriving at a decision on whether to block a takeover. Currently, the plan is that the process sits firmly within BEIS. That is an issue, first, because such a decision would have huge cross-departmental impact, so it would surely be better to create a multi-agency taskforce to rule on key decisions. Such a taskforce would include the Treasury, the Home Office, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the intelligence and security services, and the Ministry of Defence. It could follow a similar model to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. All the signs were that BEIS was a cheerleader for the Huawei deal, when it was clearly against our national interest to go ahead with that deal. That does not augur well for its ability to police the effective implementation of the Bill.

Secondly, handing all the decision-making power to the Business Secretary could lead to problems further down the line, should a future incumbent—I am in no way implying that such a fate would befall the current Business Secretary—be influenced by political or commercial interests in this country or overseas.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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I had not intended to intervene again in the debate, except that I want to emphasise, and perhaps amplify, the point that the hon. Gentleman has just made. The legislation brings us into line with other Five Eyes players—the intelligence community with which we work directly—but he is right to say that the mechanisms that they use are different, in some cases, from the ones employed in the Bill in exactly the way he describes. Will the Minister look at those mechanisms and see what more we can learn from them as the Bill is improved during its passage through the House?

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Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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As my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) set out very well in opening the debate, we support the Bill. Inward investment is crucial for businesses across the UK and our economy, but it is also crucial that the UK has the powers in place to scrutinise and intervene in business transactions that could have implications for our national security.

In fact, we would have welcomed this Bill a long time ago. It is clear that the Government have failed to keep pace with other countries, including the United States, France and Germany, that have already taken steps to update the legislation in line with evolving security threats. From serious questions about Huawei’s dominant role in the UK’s 5G network, as raised many times by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), to the takeover of Imagination Technologies by Canyon Bridge, it is inarguable that the Government have been slow off the mark on foreign acquisitions and the possible implications for national security.

Right hon. and hon. Members from all sides agreed on that, including, I think, the Chairs of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, the Science and Technology Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee, and all five—I think it was five—members of the Intelligence and Security Committee who spoke. I thank colleagues from across the House for their contributions and apologise in advance if I cannot do justice to all of them.

This has been an excellent debate, one that I think showed the House at its best; we heard informed and considered speeches and, where there was disagreement, it was reasoned and open. There is strong agreement across the House that new legislation is necessary to combat changing security threats and to balance those considerations against the ambition to ensure that the UK remains an attractive country in which to invest.

Companies in fast-developing fields, from quantum computing to telecommunications to artificial intelligence to cryptography, are no longer just companies; they are strategic assets that are fundamental to our nation’s security. Until now, Ministers have failed to modernise the takeover regime to keep up with this changing landscape, the pace of technological development and what that means for security. Instead, they have continued to operate within a legal framework that, as we have heard, was created almost two decades ago, before Facebook or Twitter were even invented. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Charlotte Nichols) explained the impact of that uncertainty on the nuclear industry and investment in her constituency.

That is why we strongly welcome the Bill now and agree that it is necessary. It is essential that we get the specific provisions of the Bill right, in order not to deter foreign direct investment while also balancing the need to protect our national security. First, there is the definition of national security, which was raised by many, particularly the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely). The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Depths (Sir John Hayes)—[Interruption.] The Deepings, sorry.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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As deep as you want!

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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The right hon. Gentleman is always very deep in his responses. He suggested it was deliberately left undefined in the Bill. The sectors that will be subject to mandatory notification are also not defined in the Bill and, we are told, will be set out in secondary legislation. I thank the hon. Member for Bolton North East (Mark Logan) for his provisional mnemonic and wish him well in updating it.

Definitions, and the lack of them, are important because the proposed powers are not limited by size of turnover or share of supply threshold. They could apply to almost every business transaction within the sectors, and the definition of national security therefore must be set out to help provide clarity for businesses and investors, but it is unclear—perhaps the Minister could provide some of that clarity—whether the takeover of the UK artificial intelligence company DeepMind by Google would have been called in on national security grounds under the scope of this Bill.

In Committee, Labour will seek further details on how the retrospective powers to render acquisitions void would be applied and whether an assessment has been made of the economic and legal consequences for businesses and their employees of acquisitions being rendered void after the fact. The hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) highlighted the Government’s capacity, or lack of it, to process the sheer volume of estimated notifications that the Bill will provoke. We need also to look at how businesses, small businesses in particular, will be supported to cope with the new regulations, which may prove difficult to navigate. We will ask also whether an assessment has been made by Government of the impact the changes could have on investment in small businesses—a chilling effect—including university start-ups, particularly those in the 17 key sectors, which was a point made by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard).

Labour will also seek assurances about transparency and oversight and how the powers are applied—a worry of the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart)—including calling on the Government to explore giving the Intelligence and Security Committee a role in scrutinising the use of powers under this legislation. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) was right to emphasise the importance of the involvement of and access for the intelligence services.

We hope to work with the Government to ensure that we establish a robust, transparent and fair regime that protects national security, while allowing the UK to continue to enjoy the opportunities that overseas investment affords businesses across our country and economy, but the Bill is also a missed opportunity. It is a missed opportunity to demonstrate what the Government mean by “industrial strategy” and to show that it is more than a slogan. It is a missed opportunity to help UK businesses in key sectors to flourish and grow here in the UK, sustaining and creating jobs—a point on which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) was particularly eloquent.

Time and again, we see vibrant, growing UK companies sadly lost overseas. While we recognise that foreign acquisition can breathe new life into a company, supporting jobs and growth in the UK, far too often we see UK companies pawned off or stripped for parts. Far too often we see UK companies bought out and wound down to eliminate the competition, with the consequent loss of high-skilled jobs. Nowhere is that more evident than in the technology sector, which must be a key part of any 21st century industrial strategy.

We have lost far too many businesses to Silicon Valley, weakening our technological sovereignty. The takeover of leading UK technological company Arm by the US company Nvidia was announced recently, and while Ministers claim to have scrutinised the deal, they have not been forthcoming with the details. When Arm was previously taken over by SoftBank, legal assurances were extracted about the future of the company’s Cambridge headquarters and the UK workforce. Have Ministers extracted the same legal assurances at this time? Will the Minister come clean today?

The Business Secretary said himself that the UK should be open for business but not for exploitation. However, key companies have been cherry picked by companies in San Jose, with the UK consequently losing out. It is therefore not clear that the current takeover regime is fit for purpose.

The weaknesses in the current regime are about not just national security but industrial strategy. Under the current regime, the Secretary of State has the power to intervene in qualifying businesses on four public interest grounds: media plurality, national security, stability of the UK finance system, and the capability to combat and mitigate the effect on public health emergencies.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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The coincidence, as I described it, between national interests and national security is profound and is proven. When a company is taken over and technology transfer takes place, it is possible for a nation that is hostile to our interests to gain a sufficient understanding to develop systems that endanger this country, including, in some cases, weapons systems.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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The right hon. Member is talking to a chartered engineer who strongly believes that our capability in engineering and the kind of key technologies of which he talks is a basis for our national security, and that national security, without some degree of important technological sovereignty, is difficult to wholly achieve. I look forward to debating that in Committee.

It is worth pointing out that the Government’s powers have been used only sporadically in previous interventions, and they are seemingly not underpinned by any real strategy. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) made a similar point.

Many Conservative Members are vehemently opposed to extending the remit of the Bill to cover industrial strategy, including, but not limited to, the hon. Members for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), for North West Norfolk (James Wild), for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller), for Wantage (David Johnston), for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford), for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) and for South Dorset (Richard Drax). Labour believes, however, that the Government should be able to intervene in the takeover of a critical business on industrial strategy grounds. That power should be paired with defined criteria and transaction thresholds to give businesses and foreign investors clarity and confidence, and to truly make it clear that we are open for business and not exploitation—to coin a phrase.

Why did the Government not bring forward legislation to ensure that technology firms remain in the UK and to end the current ad hoc approach to industrial strategy being pursued by Ministers? That has seen binding commitments often negotiated at the last minute, companies lost, and no clarity as to the rhyme or reason why the Government choose to intervene or not. I urge the Secretary of State and the Minister to continue to approach the Bill in the spirit of collaboration, to address the undefined areas and issues that we have raised, and to shed some light on their long-term industrial strategy, including their plans to keep high-growth technological companies flourishing in the UK.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
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It is a pleasure, as ever, to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah). I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in this important debate. We have had upwards of 25 speeches, all of which were thoughtfully delivered. I also thank the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), for his constructive approach to this important piece of legislation. I will aim to respond to as many points made by hon. Members as possible, but I will, of course, write in response to individual questions as well.

I begin by responding to the points of the right hon. Member for Doncaster North and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, who both raised the grounds for intervention when it comes to the legislation. The legal texts in the Bill are explicit in their reference to national security rather than public interest or wider economic considerations. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central mentioned the particular deal with DeepMind and Google. If it is deemed that the asset is so important to national security—it does not matter who the acquirer is—the Bill would allow us to intervene and block that acquisition.

I have to be clear to the House today that any action the Secretary of State takes under the proposed regime would be to protect national security and not for wider economic or industrial reasons. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Doncaster North will look forward to the industrial strategy refresh that the Secretary of State is committed to publishing in the first quarter of 2021.

To address the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), we already have a proportionate public interest power on the statute book, and most recently we have legislated to allow intervention for mitigating the effects of public health emergencies. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central also asked about the engagement with Government. The investment security unit will ensure that clear guidance is available to support all businesses engaging with investment screening from the outset. We have made it clear to the investment community that we are committed to effective engagement with businesses on the regime itself, and to ensuring that they are able to access a dedicated, simple online portal to notify us of any potential transaction. Of course, we note the importance of a full Government approach to investment screening. While the unit will be based in BEIS—this point was made by the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) when he talked about the ISC—it will work closely with the security agencies and other Departments with real sector expertise. The chief executive of Make UK, Stephen Phipson has recognised this point, saying: “Technology development moves at fast pace and this Bill will modernise the UK’s approach in a proportionate way, given the Government’s commitment to a quick and streamlined process of evaluation.”

More widely, I am happy to meet any hon. and right hon. Member who has today expressed an interest in the workings of the investment security unit. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North also raised the role of the Intelligence and Security Committee, as many other colleagues have done today, and we will of course work constructively with its members and, indeed, with other Committees across the House. I wish the Chair of the Committee, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), well, and I would like to thank the other members of the Committee who spoke today. The contributions from the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie), the right hon. Member for North Durham, my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) were typically excellent and well-informed.

The right hon. Member for Doncaster, North, along with the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), also raised the issue of the five-year period for retrospection. We have come to that view because six months would simply be too short, and we have looked at what other countries have done. It would be relatively easy for hostile parties to keep a trigger event quiet for six months and time us out, but that will be substantially more difficult in a five-year period.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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I am extremely are grateful to the Minister for his comments about the members of the ISC who have contributed to the debate. Given the range of questions posed to him by ISC members, will he commit to write to the Committee formally to pick up those points, so that the Committee has a clear set of answers to the series of questions posed? It would not be fair to expect him to deal with all of them now.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I can certainly give my right hon. Friend that commitment; I will do that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) and the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), who is not in her place, probed on the definition of national security. A number of hon. Members have argued that the definition of national security is too narrow. I would gently point out that the Bill does not seek to define it at all, as some other Members have quite rightly argued, including, very wisely, my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham. I think that is a real strength of the Bill, not a weakness. It means that the Government have the flexibility to act as risks change over time. The statement of policy that was published last week refers to espionage, disruption and destruction and inappropriate leverage. Those are examples of national security, not the exhaustive content of it. We need to maintain a degree of flexibility in our approach, as my hon. Friends the Members for Wantage (David Johnston) and for Beckenham recognised. I appreciate that these are quite important powers, and of course they are fully justiciable under the Bill. Hon. Members can feel secure knowing that their use, including the application of national security, can be fully tested in closed courts if necessary.

The Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), and my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin expressed concerns that these reforms will somehow threaten investment in small tech firms. I again remind the House that we estimate that the vast majority of transactions across the economy will not be affected by this legislation, and we do not expect to take action in relation to most of the small number that are notifiable. We will make any interactions with the Government simpler, quicker and slicker by providing clearance to most transactions within 30 days, and often quicker. Notifiable investments will be submitted through a new digital portal. At the spring Budget, the Government committed to increase public spending on R&D to £22 billion, which I think is music to the ears of many innovators in our country.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells and my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) made the important point that the Bill does not set out a minimum size of business affected by the regime. As the Secretary of State set out, the threats we face today do not correlate to the size of the parties concerned, as they perhaps once did. This is unfortunately the world we live in. I am glad that we live in a country in which small and medium-sized businesses thrive so mightily and are often at the vanguard of cutting-edge technologies, but it is only right that the Government have flexible powers to intervene when the acquisition of such businesses may pose a risk to our national security.

My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight, the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) and the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) raised the issue of supply chains. The covid pandemic has demonstrated the importance of resilience in supply chains to ensure the continued flow of essential items to keep global trade moving. We have focused on ensuring supply chains for goods such as PPE. When we entered the pandemic, only 1% was manufactured in the UK; it is now about 70%. That is why we are looking at what other steps we can take to ensure that we have diverse supply chains in place. We will consider all our global supply chains to avoid shortages in the event of future crises.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings and the hon. Member for Dundee East also probed the assessment process. We will make any interaction with the Government much simpler, quicker and slicker, and I am very happy to share how we are doing that.

The Chair of the BEIS Committee, the hon. Member for Bristol North West, probed our approach to sectors. It is important for the regime to reflect technological change and keep up with the investment landscape. We welcome views from across the business community on our sector consultation, and officials from across Government are already engaging with the sectors’ experts to ensure that those definitions are tight.

In the time that I have left, I want to tackle the issue of human rights. My hon. Friends the Members for Isle of Wight and for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), and the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon raised the issue of human rights, particularly in relation to Xinjiang and the Uyghur people. We take our responsibility incredibly seriously and are concerned about gross violations of human rights being perpetrated against the Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang. We have played a leading international role in holding China to account on these abuses and we will continue to do so through the UN and other opportunities that we have. In respect of the risk of UK business complicity in human rights violations, including forced labour, we have urged all UK businesses to conduct due diligence on their supply chains and are taking steps to strengthen supply chain transparency.

In conclusion, we have had an excellent debate today and I again thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. I look forward to further probing the Bill and getting it right together in Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

National Security and Investment Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the National Security and Investment Bill:


(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 15 December 2020.

(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

(6) Standing Order No.83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(David Duguid.)

Question agreed to.

National Security and Investment Bill (Money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act arising from the National Security and Investment Bill, it is expedient to authorise:

(1) the payment of sums out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State, and

(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.—(David Duguid.)

Question agreed to.