All 1 Lord Desai contributions to the National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21

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Thu 4th Feb 2021
National Security and Investment Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading

National Security and Investment Bill

Lord Desai Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 4th February 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 20 January 2021 - (large version) - (20 Jan 2021)
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, following the last speaker, I will have to be very inventive in saying anything that is worth saying. First, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Woodley, on coming into the House and wish him good luck. We look forward to hearing his views. I will start with his views, given the nature of the national security issue. I will confine myself to the old-fashioned definition of national security, and not the one about biodiversity—I have only six minutes.

National security is something which, if you define it, you lose. It is one of those things you have to keep very general and as undefined as possible, because people will find ways around any definition that is given.

Software rather than hardware is the nature of warfare now. Russia is able to undermine American security, or any kind of security. It no longer has superior weapons; it has superior hackers, and hackers make the difference. It is not manufacturing industry that makes the difference any more; it is not the space race, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was saying. We were all quarrelling about Huawei, because what Huawei does by way of software for 5G is going to make more difference to national security than anything solid. So, while I welcome this Bill, it is cast very much in the old mould, when manufacturing industry was important and people used to aggress on each other through it.

I also agree that we should not do anything that restricts the entry of foreign investment into this country. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, said, “Well, if the Bill creates problems, it creates problems, but there are good things and bad things and we should welcome bad things as well as good things because they interact on each other.” Ideally in a Bill of this sort, the first clause would say that national security means whatever the Government decide it means and the second clause would say that the Minister will do whatever the Minister thinks it is essential to do. We would have a good ISC that would keep guard on the Minister and we would make sure that there was parliamentary scrutiny on secondary legislation—but, of course, that is not possible.

The nature of warfare has changed so much that the next war, when it happens, according to an article in yesterday’s Times, is bound to be nuclear. There are now so many nations with nuclear power that it is hard to predict which way it will go. So, given that sort of background, we have to be inventive and cautious.

I will say one more thing. The importance of universities is overwhelmingly larger than it used to be. The commercial arms formed by universities are important, but so are the reasons students come to universities. Here again is a dilemma. We ought to have open immigration of foreign students, because you never know where a bright man or woman will come from. Their knowledge is useful because they interact and things are created. At the same time, we must be very careful that, in regulating universities, we do not kill research. To give one example: the entire nuclear programme was triggered by a bunch of absolutely unpractical theoretical physicists leaving Europe and going to America. They created the first atom bomb, because all they could do was nuclear physics, which was completely unpractical. So nowadays it will be the universities that determine whether we can fight wars efficiently or not.

So, while this Bill is very welcome, the way it is implemented and the way the Secretary of State restrains herself will depend very much on how intelligent, rich and flexible a definition of national security we have. I say to the Government, “Don’t put it on paper. We trust you. Just have a parliamentary committee that will keep tabs on you—and, those two things being given, the rest will follow.”