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
Alok Sharma Portrait The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Alok Sharma)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Our country has always been a beacon for inward investment and a champion of free trade. We recognise and celebrate the positive impact of these twin policies in delivering prosperity and opportunities across the United Kingdom. Over the past 10 years, the UK has attracted around three quarters of a trillion dollars of foreign direct investment, which in turn has helped to create 600,000 new jobs in our country.

In 2019-20 alone, more than 39,000 jobs were created in England thanks to foreign direct investment projects, with more than 26,000 of those jobs created outside London. Almost 3,000 jobs were created in Scotland, and more than 2,500 in Wales and 2,000 in Northern Ireland respectively. That is why we will continue to work relentlessly to ensure that the UK remains a great place to do business and invest. That approach is more important than ever as we look to business to create jobs in our recovery from covid-19.

The UK is very much open for business, but being open for business does not mean that we are open to exploitation. An open approach to international investment must also include appropriate safeguards to protect our national security. Those are not conflicting approaches; prosperity and security go hand in hand. Otherwise, we leave the United Kingdom open to the risk of being targeted and compromised by potential hostile actors who are looking to disrupt our economic and wider security.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con)
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From the moment that this Bill was started to now, we have learnt a lot more about security and infrastructure.  Does my right hon. Friend share my concerns that the Chinese national intelligence law requires Chinese firms to assist with state intelligence work? This was brought to light for me when TikTok gave evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. I am incredibly anxious about the data that it could potentially be harvesting and sharing back with its parent company, ByteDance.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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I know that my hon. Friend cares very deeply about this issue and, indeed, she and I have had discussions about it. I would say to her that the Bill is agnostic as to the domicile of an acquirer. I think that that is right and proper, but it is also right and proper that we look at every single transaction on a case-by-case basis. Let me assure her that if there are security concerns with any transaction, of course we will act.

--- Later in debate ---
Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith
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I agree with my hon. Friend and I agree that this is not the Bill to discuss industrial strategy. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North made wider points which I think are worthy of discussion, but I am not sure that that discussion should take place in relation to this Bill and I want to keep this narrow.

First, in China something very special is taking place: the idea of civil-military fusion, which is now infecting every single enterprise and company in China. The Chinese military, as we have already heard, uses this concept and strategy to acquire intellectual property, technologies and research for civilian use and for military use. An external investment screening body, therefore, should be set up under this legislation, to establish and investigate cases where this may now affect UK investments. This is very important, because the rules are very strictly applied in China: you co-operate with the intelligence services or you are out of business. You may be out of not just your livelihood but your freedoms.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
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Is it not even more dangerous in that, under the national security law in China, not only do people have to hand over data, but if asked by a foreign state they have to deny they are handing over data? If that is the case, should we not have a bigger debate about social media companies based in this country harvesting our data and our children’s data and where that data might end up down the line?

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith
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I of course completely agree with my hon. Friend and I was just going to come on to the data harvesting point, because it is caught in this. She is right that China’s national intelligence law requires all Chinese firms to assist with state intelligence work and to deny that if they are asked. Let us say the Secretary of State wants to investigate and says he has strong penalties for non-compliance. By law in China they are not allowed to comply with that process at all, so there is already a national conflict in this. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, which is a very dodgy company set up in China that has huge links with the Chinese Communist Government. So we need to be very careful about where we go with this because UK nationals might get caught up and get punished for what is essentially a refusal by the Chinese Government to allow others to do this.

I am also slightly concerned about some of the things that happened in the past not being caught by the Bill. The Henry Jackson Society has today announced that, having looked through the Bill, only 23 of the 117 Chinese acquisitions over the last decade would have actually been caught. The areas that are outside of this include pharmaceuticals. The Chinese takeover of Bio Products Laboratory, which has a very significant technology with regard to blood products, would not have been caught. In education, 10 universities have many thousands of obligations to Chinese investors, where they get a trade-off on technology, some linked to defence firms. That would not have been caught. Interestingly, Thames Water and Veolia Water have significant share ownership from Chinese firms, but that certainly would not have been called into question.