All 22 contributions to the National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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Tue 17th Nov 2020
National Security and Investment Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & 2nd reading
Tue 24th Nov 2020
National Security and Investment Bill (First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 1st sitting & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tue 24th Nov 2020
National Security and Investment Bill (Second sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 2nd sitting & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Thu 26th Nov 2020
National Security and Investment Bill (Third sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 3rd sitting & Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
Thu 26th Nov 2020
National Security and Investment Bill (Fourth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 4th sitting & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 1st Dec 2020
National Security and Investment Bill (Fifth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 5th sitting & Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 1st Dec 2020
National Security and Investment Bill (Sixth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 6th sitting & Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 3rd Dec 2020
National Security and Investment Bill (Seventh sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 7th sitting & Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 3rd Dec 2020
National Security and Investment Bill (Eighth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 8th sitting & Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 8th Dec 2020
National Security and Investment Bill (Ninth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 9th sitting & Committee Debate: 9th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 10th Dec 2020
National Security and Investment Bill (Eleventh sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 11th sitting & Committee Debate: 11th sitting: House of Commons
Wed 20th Jan 2021
National Security and Investment Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons & Report stage & 3rd reading
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
Tue 2nd Mar 2021
National Security and Investment Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage & Committee stage & Lords Hansard
Tue 9th Mar 2021
Tue 16th Mar 2021
Thu 15th Apr 2021
Thu 22nd Apr 2021
Mon 26th Apr 2021
National Security and Investment Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments & Consideration of Lords amendments & Consideration of Lords Amendments
Wed 28th Apr 2021
National Security and Investment Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments

National Security and Investment Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

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.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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There is a lot in the Bill that I am sure we all support, but does my right hon. Friend accept that without a public interest test, a character test, an anti-slavery test and a human rights test, the definition of national security being offered here is extraordinarily narrow and problematic to the broader age that we live in? Does he accept that there will be debate around that point—about what constitutes national security in this age?

--- Later in debate ---
Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend raises a point that I know he has raised with my fellow Ministers, and other colleagues will raise a similar point. He talks about modern slavery. He knows that the Government passed the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The Home Office is looking to update and strengthen that. I note the points that he has raised, but the whole point of the Bill is for it to be narrow on national security grounds, and that is the way that it was constituted when it was first discussed in the Green Paper in 2017 and in the White Paper in 2018. However, I will try to address some of the points that he raised as I go on.

Those who seek to do us harm have found novel ways to bypass our current regime by either structuring a deal in such a manner that it is difficult to identify the ultimate owner of the investment, or by funnelling investment through a UK or ally investment fund, or indeed, by buying or licensing certain intellectual property rather than acquiring the company. Be in no doubt that the UK and our allies are facing a resurgence of threats. That is why we are updating our powers to screen investments into the UK. Our current powers date back to the Enterprise Act 2002. Technological, economic and geopolitical changes across the globe over the past 20 years mean that the reforms to the Government’s powers to scrutinise transactions on national security grounds are now required.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)
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I welcome a lot of the proposals in the Bill, including on the issue of land and the removal of the thresholds in terms of ownership. One way that people have been able not only to get influence in this country but to launder money has been through the purchase of large amounts of property in the UK, which were highlighted in the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Russia. Does the Secretary of State see the Bill addressing that issue?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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I will go on to the detail of that particular issue, but as the right hon. Gentleman identified, the Bill looks at assets and intellectual property. On the point that he raised about the size of transactions, as he knows, under the 2002 Act, apart from some limited exceptions, businesses being acquired must have a UK turnover of over £70 million or, indeed, the merger must meet a minimum 25% market threshold. This means that acquisitions of smaller but technologically sensitive companies are not covered.

The Government have been clear for a number of years about our intention to introduce new powers. Many of our international allies, including our Five Eyes partners, have also acted to update their legal frameworks to address national security risks. We, in turn, are seeking to update our legislation in a proportionate manner to ensure that we have more security for British businesses and people from hostile actors targeting our country; more certainty for businesses and quicker, slicker screening processes as we remain open to trade and recover from covid-19; and a regime that is in line with our allies, meaning that investors will be familiar with this approach.



Let me turn to some of the specifics of the Bill. Part 1, chapter 1 introduces a call-in power that the Government may use in relation to a trigger event across the economy that they reasonably suspect has given rise to or may give rise to a risk to national security. Trigger events include acquisitions of certain shares or voting rights in a qualifying entity, and the acquisition of material influence over such an entity. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, it will be possible for the first time to call in the acquisition of a right or interest in a qualifying asset, including intellectual property, where such an acquisition would enable the acquirer to use the asset or control or direct how it is used. That is similar to the US and other countries’ regimes.

The call-in approach is consistent with the 2002 Act, but importantly there are no minimum thresholds for the size of the business or asset to be acquired. That means that sensitive businesses and assets that may previously have slipped under the minimum size threshold will no longer do so. That will close the back door into the United Kingdom that hostile actors could exploit.

However, it is important to reassure the investment community that the Government expect to use these powers sparingly. We estimate that less than 1% of transactions in any given year will be subject to call-in. For transactions that fall outside the mandatory requirement of the regime, the Government will be able to call in a transaction within a period of five years of a trigger event having taken place where they have not been notified. When the Government become aware of a trigger event having taken place, they will have six months to issue the call-in notice. That five-year period is, again, consistent with regimes in Germany and France. The Bill requires that the Government publish a statement of policy intent explaining how they expect to use the power to issue a call-in notice.

Should the Bill become an Act, the Government’s call-in powers will apply from the date of introduction and will cover transactions that complete during its passage. That will ensure that hostile actors do not rush through the completion of transactions between the introduction of the Bill and Royal Assent as a means to avoid scrutiny under this legislation. My Department has already set up an investment security unit to field enquiries from businesses and investors about transactions under the new regime.

Under the National Security and Investment Bill, there will be no requirement to publish call-ins. That is of course in contrast to the public interest intervention notices under the 2002 Act.

Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)
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I welcome what the Secretary of State just said about the call-in power. Will he confirm that, as a result of the measures in the Bill, most transactions can take place within 30 days, which means that the UK will remain a venue, and be an even better one, for foreign direct investment as we seek to rebuild our economy following coronavirus?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We are giving certainty, and we expect that most call-in decisions will be decided upon within 30 days. I said that we expect that less than 1% of all transactions in any given year will be called in, and only about 10% of those will then face detailed scrutiny.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con)
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Will the Secretary of the State provide clarity to the House about the jurisdiction of the Bill? For example, if a German technological company was listed in Germany but the IP and research and development was based in the UK, what powers would the Government have to act?

--- Later in debate ---
Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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This Bill applies to any transaction that relates to an asset or entity in the United Kingdom. If that were the case, of course it would apply.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)
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I am interested in that point. If a malign actor made an investment in another country with a lower-standard test, which then invested in the UK, putting intellectual property rights at risk, where do the UK Government go on that? Do they give themselves the scope, which I do not see in the Bill, to act on the basis of the original investment?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He has taken a great deal of interest in this legislation, and we have spoken about such matters. As I said earlier, the whole point of the Bill is that we will be able to scrutinise the precise details of a transaction and of who the ultimate beneficial owner of a particular acquiring entity may be. I would therefore hope that the Bill will indeed cover the particular set of circumstances he outlines.

Going back to the point about providing assurances, businesses and investors can be reassured that the Government will treat potential national security risks with the discretion they deserve.

Turning to the mandatory notification elements of the Bill, investors in 17 prescribed sectors of the economy will be mandated by law to notify the Government of acquisitions of entities above a certain threshold of shareholding or voting. That mandatory notification process is similar to the approach taken in the United States, Germany and France. The Government have, alongside the introduction of the Bill, published an eight-week consultation to refine the definitions of those 17 sectors. The discussions that I and other Ministers in the Department have had with the investment community suggest that that has been extremely welcome.

Many sectors, of course, are well defined, and the purpose of the consultation is to refine them further so that the definitions are clear and narrowly focused on specific parts of sectors in which risks are most likely to arise and will allow parties to self-assess whether they need to notify. The House will appreciate that we could not have published the consultation before we introduced the Bill, with its call-in powers, or we would have risked hostile actors completing transactions in the particularly sensitive sectors.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend is quite rightly focusing on precisely defining the sectors. Was he as concerned as I was to hear the Opposition spokesman say today that he would prefer a strategy that did not have that definition, relying instead on the whimsy of a particular Secretary of State at the time? That situation could, like it does in France, lead to a yoghurt company or water bottle business being defined as a national strategic asset.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend speaks with a great deal of interest and experience in investments. This Bill focuses on national security, and we have been clear that we will define the sectors where mandatory notification is required, which is right and proper. The whole point of the Bill is that we are taking a proportionate approach. We do not want some kind of chilling effect on investment coming into the UK. We have been a beacon for inward investment over many years with, as I said earlier, three quarters of a trillion dollars coming into our country over the past 10 years. We would not want that to change.

Transactions covered by mandatory notification that take place without clearance will be legally void. Again, that is in line with the French, German and Italian regimes. Parties to an acquisition may, of course, voluntarily inform the Secretary of State about their acquisitions to seek swift clearance to proceed. We have also streamlined the information required for notification from 36 pages, as required under the Enterprise Act 2002 for competition modifications, to a third of that.

The use of digital processes will make interaction with the Government much simpler, more transparent and slicker, and Government will aim to provide clearance for most transactions within 30 working days of notification, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) raised earlier. Having spoken to the investment community over the past week, I know that that timely approach to the clearing of transactions is welcomed.

Moving on to the assessment of called-in transactions, part 2 of the Bill provides powers to assess transactions should the Government call one in. Where the specific legal test is met, the Government may impose conditions or, in extremis, block or unwind transactions. I stress once again that the Government will use those powers sparingly and proportionately.

The Government will take the necessary powers in the Bill to gather information about any transaction. However, such information will be strictly safeguarded against inappropriate disclosure. That includes, of course, information from parties, regulators and others to make informed decisions on transactions. If no remedies are imposed, a final notification will be provided at the end of a national security assessment. Alternatively, the Government may choose to prescribe remedies.

Any notification decision under the Bill will be subject to legal challenge from the potential acquirer entity by way of judicial review or appeal, and the Government will be able to apply to the court for a closed material procedure to protect commercially sensitive and national security matters in such proceedings. The investment security unit will ensure that the entire process is streamlined and supported by robust digital structures and governance to ensure swift decision-making on assessments.

It is worth noting that the new regime will be underpinned by both civil and criminal sanctions, creating effective deterrents for non-compliance with statutory obligations. Again, that is in line with sanctions in the French and German regimes.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard
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Is it not the case that a call-in itself could be commercially sensitive, particularly to a listed company? In that regard, a default of self-referral to the Government would probably be a better way for industry to ensure that share prices are not unfortunately affected by what might be a legitimate call-in.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. Of course, self-referral, as he refers to it, is possible. In fact, if any company has particular concerns as to transactions that they may be undertaking or part of, they will get a swift assessment from the Government.

I make the point, though, that we will not be effectively publicising call-ins when they take place. Clearly, at the end of a transaction, if there was a particular remedy, that would be made public. It is also worth pointing out that the Government will publish an annual report, not on individual transactions, but on the scope of the transactions and sectors that have been looked at. I hope that that will give future investors an opportunity to consider the type of transactions in which the Government have a particular interest.

The final measure that I want to detail relates to the overseas disclosure of information relating to a merger investigation. Under section 243 of the 2002 Act, there is a restriction on the ability of UK public authorities to disclose merger information to overseas authorities unless the consent of the entity has been given. Clause 59 of the Bill removes that restriction. That will strengthen the Competition and Markets Authority’s ability to protect UK markets and consumers as it takes a more active role internationally, allowing the UK to set up comprehensive competition agreements with our international partners.

In conclusion, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House see that the Bill updates our national security powers in a proportionate, pro-trade and pro-business manner.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Unless I missed it, there is no definition of national security in the Bill. Will the Secretary of State provide a definition or will he commit to putting one in the Bill to give us something to work with?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend raises an important point. As he will know, and I am sure appreciate, I am not going to be able to set out every single test that we will apply when it comes to a national security assessment. The application of the tests will, of course, be based on information that we garner from across Government. He can be certain that in using the powers, the Government will act in a quasi-judicial fashion, we will have regard to the statement of policy that has been published, and we will act, again, in accordance with public law principles of necessity and proportionality. I also made the point earlier that any decision can, of course, be challenged by an affected entity.

Stewart Hosie Portrait Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP)
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Before the Secretary of State moves on, will he give way?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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I will move on, if that is all right with the hon. Gentleman.

These powers are narrowly defined and will be exclusively used on national security grounds. The Government will not be able to use these powers to intervene in business transactions for broader economic or public interest reasons, and we will not seek to interfere in deals on political grounds. They will not and cannot be used for wider economic tests. The Government already have proportionate powers in statute for intervention on the grounds of competition, financial stability, media plurality and combating a public health emergency. Going further than that would risk chilling and destabilising investment in the United Kingdom and reducing growth opportunities and jobs.

The UK has the lowest corporation tax rate in the G20. We are rated one of the most innovative countries in the world, ranking fourth in the 2020 global innovation index. We are one of the top 10 countries in the world for ease of doing business. We have a world-leading research and development environment, and the stability of our institutions, tax system and legal framework are respected globally. It is because of our pro-market approach that the United Kingdom has become one of the premier places to invest in the world, and I certainly would not want to do anything to change that. The powers we seek in the Bill support and enhance our pro-business environment, supporting economic growth, prosperity and jobs across the United Kingdom, while enhancing security for our country. I commend the Bill to the House.

--- Later in debate ---
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:

Committal

(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.

National Security and Investment Bill (First sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 24th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 24 November 2020 - (24 Nov 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Before we begin, I have a few preliminary points to make. Please switch electronic devices to silent. Tea and coffee are not allowed during sittings. Members can sit in any seat marked with a “please sit here” sign. That includes the side tables and the Public Gallery, although Hansard colleagues have priority on the side tables. Members sitting in the Public Gallery should stand by the microphone to my right.

We will first consider the programme motion on the amendment paper. We will then consider a motion to enable the reporting of written evidence for publication, and then a motion to allow us to deliberate in private on our questions, before the oral evidence sessions. In view of the limited time available, I hope we can take these matters without too much debate. I call the Minister to move the programme motion agreed to yesterday by the Programming Sub-Committee.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
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I beg to move,

That—

(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 9.25am on Tuesday 24 November) meet—

(a) at 2.00 pm on Tuesday 24 November;

(b) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 26 November;

(c) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 1 December;

(d) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 3 December;

(e) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 8 December;

(f) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 10 December;

(g) at 9.25 am on Tuesday 15 December;

(2) the Committee shall hear oral evidence in accordance with the following Table:

TABLE

Date

Time

Witness

Tuesday 24 November

Until no later than 10.30 am

The Royal United Services Institute

Tuesday 24 November

Until no later than 11.25 am

Sir Richard Dearlove KCMG OBE

Tuesday 24 November

Until no later than 2.45 pm

The Centre for International Studies, London School of Economics

Tuesday 24 November

Until no later than 3.30 pm

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP

Tuesday 24 November

Until no later than 4.15 pm

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales

Tuesday 24 November

Until no later than 5 pm

The Investment Association

Thursday 26 November

Until no later than 12.15 pm

Slaughter and May

Thursday 26 November

Until no later than 1 pm

Professor Ciaran Martin, the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

Thursday 26 November

Until no later than 2.30 pm

Herbert Smith Freehills

Thursday 26 November

Until no later than 3.15 pm

Simons Muirhead and Burton

Thursday 26 November

Until no later than 4 pm

Chatham House

Thursday 26 November

Until no later than 4.30 pm

PricewaterhouseCoopers



(3) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 10; Schedule 1; Clauses 11 to 58; Schedule 2; Clauses 59 to 66; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(4) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 11.25 am on Tuesday 15 December.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg, and to serve with colleagues on this important Bill Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That, at this and any subsequent meeting at which oral evidence is to be heard, the Committee shall sit in private until the witnesses are admitted.—(Nadhim Zahawi.)

Resolved

That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Nadhim Zahawi.)

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Copies of the written evidence that the Committee receives will be made available in the Committee Room. We will now sit in private to discuss lines of questioning.

--- Later in debate ---
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I think you addressed the core of my question. I really like your phrase “defence of technology”, rather than the technology of defence, because the question was around how you distinguish in the industrial strategy between specific security concerns and the development of technologies that give us capability in those sectors. Can we identify at what point that becomes a national security concern?

Charles Parton: That is sort of way outside my technical expertise, but I would certainly say that one major criticism I have of the Bill is that you have to set up the right structure to be able to do that. I am not sure that the Bill’s putting everything in the hands of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and its Secretary of State is the right answer.

Let us take Huawei and the debate we had over the last couple of years, as well as the various flip-flops that have gone on. One might add flaps, as well as flip-flops, actually. There has been a big a division between the so-called economic and security Ministries. It is right that both have a say in the decision. Economic interests are very much at stake, but so are security interests. If you put everything into the hands of BEIS, which probably does not have the expertise on China—certainly not in the defence, security and surveillance realms, although not unnaturally, since its job is to encourage investment—you will perhaps find that the security and repression elements are not given sufficient weight, and more to the point, the perception will be that they are not given sufficient weight. We might therefore go back to this sort of business with Huawei, where there is a fight back and another fight back and so on.

What we actually need is an organisation that is made up of people on all sides of the debate and that has some real experts who actually understand what the technology means. One specific example I came across a year or so ago was a very interesting computer game. Fine. What is wrong with that? Well, I understand that it was then bought up by the Chinese and used to train fighter pilots. You cannot defend against everything, but you at least need some unbiased experts—a sort of, if I can use the words, Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies—who would be there to advise, and then decisions would actually be accepted by all sides, not questioned.

On occasion, I am sure that questions would be put up to the National Security Council and the Prime Minister for decision if they were really important. However, the issue is often about very small companies with some very interesting technologies that have not been established. The Chinese are extremely efficient at hoovering around, finding them and buying them up early. I am not convinced that the structure and decision making of the whole process are right.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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Q Good morning, Mr Parton, it is great to see you. Without going further on your last point, I want to reassure you that the Bill is designed to deliver a quasi-judicial role for the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The team’s infrastructure will be pulling in all parts of Government expertise. My question is this: how do you think the current challenge of covid has exposed national security threats through investment? What are you seeing? How do you see the behaviour of malign actors anywhere in the world at a time of covid?

Charles Parton: I think what covid has done is expose the nature of the Chinese Communist party, in answer to your question. I hope that it has brought home to people the nature of the beast. Looking at what happened, China did not do so well to start with, and its people were pretty upset with it. China then used its external propaganda machine to right its domestic problem, pushing forward the line, “Look how badly the foreigners have done, and look how well we are helping the foreigners out of the mess,” while hiding the fact that it had allowed the virus to propagate so fast in the first place. To many people in democracies, that brought home the fact that the Communist party of China is prepared to use that against us.

Where the Chinese Communist party was unhappy with how countries were acting, it started to put them under pressure and made threats about the delivery of personal protective equipment or whatever. Australia is really taking it in the neck at the moment because it had the temerity to ask—perfectly reasonably—for an investigation of the origins of the virus, which is essential for scientific and preventive purposes. Look at the political pressure on Australia. There is absolutely no doubt that where the Communist party sees an opportunity to use whatever is going on at the moment, it will do so.

The question that I have continuously asked is this: to what degree is investment threatened by a country such as the UK, Australia or Canada standing up for its own interest? We are not actually attacking China, but we are saying, “Sorry, but we have our own interests and our own security. You wouldn’t allow the equivalent in your country, possibly rightly, and we are not allowing it here because we are defending our security, in this case.” To what degree is the tool of depriving someone of investment a real threat? I have urged in a number of papers that the Government look at that in dispassionate terms. The China-Britain Business Council recently put out a paper, but I would not describe it as dispassionate. That is for the Government to do. My own feeling is that the likely conclusion is that, on the whole, the threats are pretty hollow. Chinese investment is not done for charitable reasons.

Since 2017—the high point was 2016—China has cut back on investment. Beijing was getting pretty annoyed at the way money was seeping out not in line with its policies, but investment is now more tightly controlled and aimed at the acquisition of science and technology. To what degree are we vulnerable? This is not charity. Money is very cheap at the moment; it can be got at negative interest rates. It is not as though China is the sole source of money. It invests because it wants technology. Surely we have to look at that carefully and ask where is the mutual benefit. If it is mutually beneficial, fantastic, let us go ahead. Let us not be too brow-beaten by this thing—that if you do not do x or y, or if you do not take Huawei, we will hit your investment. I think, in practice, if you look at that and then look at some of the other threats that China has made over the years, including to your exports, all those have grown for all countries, although they had been in the diplomatic doghouse historically—certainly in the past; we will see about the future—but I think it is greatly exaggerated.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I am grateful to you, Mr Parton. I do not want to hog the floor, as I am sure many colleagues want to ask questions. Thank you very much.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I do not know whether you can see me, Charlie, but I am here. I am sitting at the back due to social distancing, but it is good to see you.

Going back to your point about resourcing the investment security unit, can you give a bit more detail about what would be an ideal outcome from your point of view? Would it be that we need specificity in the Bill that key representatives and experts of the intelligence services, of the Ministry of Defence, of the diplomatic corps and of other agencies be formally named in the legislation, so we would have that reassurance that the body doing the screening had all the necessary breadth across the spectrum of both the economy and national security?

Charles Parton: That is a good question; it is not necessarily for me and I do not necessarily have the experience to lay down precisely how it works. For me, I think, first, that all those organisations you have mentioned—although others also on the economic side, such as the Treasury and BEIS—perhaps should be there to set the parameters of what needs to be referred. I think that, as a sort of preliminary filter, one would hope that there was an ability for most companies, and most universities as well, very quickly to put forward the deals or the pieces of work that they felt might be coming up against the parameters set by such a Government body.

For a quick decision, is the topic one that is suitable, or does it need a little more investigation? Should we be working with this organisation, or in some cases this particular Chinese academic or company, which may have links to the military or to the repressive regime? The experts, as it were, which means the SAGE-type committee, surely should be very quickly—companies and academics need to move quite quickly—making a preliminary estimation of whether this needs to be referred upwards to a Government Committee that wants to look at it in more detail.

I do agree with you that the range of interests needs to be representative if the decision is to be perceived by all sides as acceptable when it is eventually made.

--- Later in debate ---
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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Q Absolutely. I appreciate the response and I would like details of the Soviet case of the military-industrial complex that was dismantled, which you mentioned. That would be interesting to compare.

You have talked about the relationship between the military-industrial complex, in the case of Russia, and economic development, specifically in the case of China. We have essential industries that are critical to our economy and there has been concern that BEIS is going to be overseeing the security implications. Where we have industries and technologies that are critical for national security, they are also critical for our economic security, so our national and economic security end up being linked. You have talked about some of those links in the case of Russia and China. How can we reflect those links effectively in the Bill? Do we need structures within BEIS, or outside BEIS, to identify and reflect the overlap between economic and national security?

Sir Richard Dearlove: This is a really difficult question. I am expressing the problem, not the solutions. You have to bear in mind that I spent my life as a poacher, not a gamekeeper, so my view of these problems is mirror imaging. I was an offensive intelligence officer, not a defensive one. I spent my life trying to penetrate Chinese intelligence, if you see what I mean.

The problem is much bigger than just national security; that is one of the difficulties. It leaches into the whole future of our economic competition with China. I do not like to talk about it, but some people use the phrase “a new cold war”. I do not subscribe to that. We have to find some other way of talking about this. They are very serious competitors who are beginning to edge along the path of enmity in the way they treat us on some issues—witness Hong Kong at the moment—so you have to have some sort of flexible scrutiny arrangement.

The reason this is so difficult to comprehend is that areas like climate change and energy policy, which are national security issues but not right on the frontline, are so big that, I think, China has a pretty disturbing agenda for us. They will encourage us to follow policies that they think are disadvantageous to our economy.

If you take their statements on things like climate change, which is relevant to what we are talking about, China is going to go on increasing its carbon emissions up until 2030, if we look at the figures and understand its policies. China is going to completely miss out renewables. When it has generated enough wealth and success in its economy, it is going to jump from carbon energy straight to nuclear and hydrogen. It will have the wealth and the means to do that. Renewables for the Chinese are going to be rather peripheral, because they will not generate the energy intensity that the Chinese economy requires. China has a road map in its head that is really rather different from ours and there is no question but that, competitively, our green agenda is going to put us at an even greater disadvantage to China, if you take a 30-year view of that.

There are some very worrying aspects of this. That means that if we are gaily allowing the Chinese to walk off with all sorts of bits of our economy, we are going to pay possibly a pretty high price for that over a long period. We need to take a strategic view of this. China certainly has a strategy, and at the moment we do not really have a strategy. We are beginning to realise that we have to have one, and maybe this Bill is a healthy first step in that direction.

You will need sub-committees of some sort, with flexible thinking and experts to advise on where these problems lie. The difficulty is also that we do not want to ruin our economic relationship completely with China. We still need to partner with it in areas that are advantageous to us and our economy as well.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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Q The Bill provides for an annual report to Parliament, Sir Richard. What is your view on balancing transparency and ensuring Government can take national security decisions sensitively? Where does that balance lie in terms of our ability to be as transparent as we can without harming sensitivities around these decisions?

Sir Richard Dearlove: My view would be that the annual report has as much transparency as possible, but you are probably going to require a secret annexe from time to time. It is a bit like the reports of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which I dealt with frequently as chief. They and we were keen that they should publish their reports, but there comes a point where it is not in our national interest that some of this stuff is put in the public domain. I would be pretty clear cut on that.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I call Peter Grant, who will be behind you, Sir Richard, because of the social distancing rules we have in Committees.

National Security and Investment Bill (Second sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 24th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 24 November 2020 - (24 Nov 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Dr Lenihan. That is absolutely fascinating. The need for different agencies to be involved needs to be recognised.

In terms of your work on investments, and the investment regime, is there not a risk that it ends up capturing a host of investment transactions? I am particularly thinking of the burden and impact on our innovative tech start-ups. The likely definitions of the sectors to be involved include artificial intelligence and data infrastructure. Based on your experience of other countries’ introduction of new investment screening rules, have you found patterns in how similar changes have affected foreign direct investment, and potential trade deals, which is a topical subject? Do you have any thoughts on ways to mitigate the burden and impact, particularly on start-ups?

Dr Lenihan: The Bill is arguably broader in scope on call-in powers than some other foreign direct investment regimes—I would argue that these perhaps even include the US regime—because it does leave wide latitude for call-in powers. The Bill also covers trigger events that are initiated by all investors, both domestic and foreign, and that is truly rare among Western FDI review regimes that are focused on national security. Usually, the concern is to focus the regime on investments from foreign-owned, controlled or influenced entities. Domestic entities and acquirers that have, for example, ultimate foreign ownership or influence in some ways should be able to be caught by any well-institutionalised and resourced regime. I am not sure why it is that we do not actually see the word “foreign” in the Bill, even though it is supposed to be based on foreign direct investment. Perhaps that is a concern about potential domestic threats down the road, but either way, it will lead to a much larger volume of mandatory notifications than most other national security FDI regimes—the US, Germany, Australia and other countries. Almost 17 have made changes in the past couple of years, and these have increased and been modified since the covid pandemic.

I understand that the legislation may be written as it is to include domestic investors, perhaps to avoid appearing to discriminate against foreign investors. I would suggest that that is probably too broad a formulation for focusing on and identifying real risk. The EU framework for FDI screening encourages its EU members to adopt mechanisms that do not discriminate between third-party countries, but that does not mean that it takes the word “foreign” out of its legislation to target foreign investments as opposed to domestic ones. Part of that is about the volume of transactions.

One thing I would highlight is that FIRRMA expanded the scope of covered transactions to include non-controlling investments of potential concern, as well as any other transaction or arrangement intended to circumvent CFIUS’s jurisdiction. But because it has had more cases to review on a detailed level in the past two or three years than in its history, since 1975, a major element of that Act is, again, around staffing and resources. There is a specific provision in FIRRMA, which is very clear that each of its agencies needs to hire under-secretaries in each agency just to be dedicated to this task.

There are two elements. An inter-agency review team is needed. You need enough staff to actually handle and catch all the risks. You the need the proper resources to do so—the right access to the databases, the right security clearances, the right training. On top of that, the volume of mandatory notifications will be increased by the fact that this is not just focused on foreign investment. I do not think there is much you can do about the foreign cases that you will get. There will be a high volume of those, and you need to be ready for them, but it is an important national security risk that needs to be dealt with.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
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Q It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. Dr Ashley, considering your experience of other countries—we talked about the US at length in the first couple of questions—such as Japan and Germany, what are your views on the retrospective powers under our Bill?

Dr Lenihan: Personally, I think they are fine. I know that might not be a popular answer with some. Germany, France and even parts of the EU framework set up this five-year retroactive for cases. I think that that is at minimum important. Other countries, such as China, Russia and the US, do not place any limit on retroactivity. I would have to check up on Australia and Canada, but there have been cases that have gone beyond a year there. Under the original Government White Paper, the idea of having only a six-month period, whether or not you have been notified, is quite dangerous, because there have been cases that were well known where they have been caught after that point.

Some of my examples are from the US. The reason for that is that it is one of the longest-standing and most institutionalised regimes. It is also one of the most transparent, from which we know most about the cases that have gone through it. I have looked at over 200 cases of this type of investment over a seven-year period in the US, UK, Europe, China and Russia. One case that stands out in the US is the 3Leaf acquisition by Huawei, which was caught almost at the year mark. Another good example that went over the one-year mark would be the review in 2005 retroactively of Smartmatic, which was a Venezuelan software company, and its purchase of Sequoia Voting Systems, which was a US voting machines firm. Smartmatic was believed to have ties to Chavez. However, that acquisition completed without knowledge of CFIUS and it was not actually able to be unwound until 2007. At that point, you worry about what has happened, but at least you do not have the ongoing concern.

You do need flexibility. With the volume of notifications and the learning curve that the investment security unit will have to undergo, or whatever the final regime truly looks like, it will take time to get the team in place and get the knowledge and systems down, to accurately catch even the most obvious investments that are of concern. Dealing with the kind of evolving and emerging threats we see in terms of novel investments from countries such as China, Russia and Venezuela needs the flexibility to look at retroactively and potentially unwind transactions that the Secretary of State and the investment security unit were not even aware of.

One thing is that for mergers and acquisitions transactions, which are historically what have been covered under these regimes, across Europe, Australia, Canada, Russia, China and the US, all the systems that have been used—the M and A databases: Thomson ONE, Zephyr, Orbis—take training, but they only cover certain types of transaction. They do not cover asset transactions; they do not cover real estate transactions, which are of increasing concern, especially for espionage purposes.

It is going to take time, and I believe that flexibility really needs to be there. It can always be reviewed in the future, but I do not think that so far foreign investment has been deterred in any way in countries that have that retroactive capability. To limit the UK’s capacity to protect itself for some kind of strange feeling that we need to be perceived as being even more open than everybody else when under threat is not really wise at this time.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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Q It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. Dr Lenihan, I am keen to know more about whether, other than in the US, you have seen good exemplar approaches to screening investments into these sectors; we spoke about Japan and Germany a moment ago. Can you give examples which we might learn from?

Dr Lenihan: I do think the US system is the most institutionalised that we have, and the best at the moment. That being said, Germany’s system is very good; it has caught quite a bit. The German system has also been very good about regularly updating, changing and adapting its regulations as it sees new emerging threats to itself. They seem to have good feed-in across Government and they are exceptionally good at co-ordinating with other states in terms of information of concern.

In terms of national security review, Canadian and Australian systems are quite good. The problem with those systems is that they tend to do national interest reviews at the same time or in tandem with their national security reviews. Over the long term, including national interest in the regime has had an impact on how they are perceived in terms of their openness to foreign direct investment abroad. In the OECD’s FDI restrictedness index, Canada and Australia rank far lower than the US, the UK, Germany and France, and I think this is because of their inclusion of national interest concerns. Similarly, on the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness index, they rank far lower. That does not provide investors with the type of clarity that they need. In general, we see that investors tend not to be dissuaded from investing just because there is a new foreign direct investment regime, as long as that regime is seen to have clear regulatory guidance, is transparent, and is applied consistently over time.

France sometimes gets quite a bad reputation for economic nationalism, but its review mechanism is also quite good at catching potential threats to national security. Japan is an interesting case. It has been so restrictive for so long that it is a little harder to compare with the other western countries. Its system has been tied in again to an overarching inward investment regime that has been restrictive towards foreign investment for other means beyond national security, so I find that country to be less of a comparator for these purposes. I hope that answers the question.

--- Later in debate ---
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q To follow up on your point about notifications, the Government impact assessment for the Bill suggests that up to 1,830 notifications might come in each year under this new regime. I am concerned that they look at the impact on the acquirer, and they do not capture the fact that almost every start-up seeks capital investment at some point. What impact do you foresee on the overall UK investment climate, and what might FIRRMA and CFIUS changes lead us to expect in our case?

Michael Leiter: This is very important. I was rather taken aback by two things about the Bill. The first is the projection of over 1,000 matters, going from the very, very few that the UK has traditionally had; this is an explosive increase in matters. I am concerned that no Government are ready for that rate of change. Even in CFIUS under FIRRMA, although there is not an increase in the overall number of long-form notices, in the short-form declaration process, there was an increase. That was relatively modest, an increase of about one third, so the US now reviews approximately 240 full cases, and about another 100 short-form.

When you talk about going from a few dozen to 1,000, you have to be very sure that you have both the resources and the expertise to process that. I would be concerned by that. Another case where your Bill goes much farther than anything I have seen, and certainly much farther than anything in the United States, is in encompassing not just acquisition and investment in businesses but acquisition and investment in supplies, goods, trade secrets, databases, source code and algorithms, so it is tangible and intangible objects, rather than businesses. That scale is very difficult to predict, and if one is more in the mood for incremental change, so as to see how a Government can handle change, including those elements poses some real risk for management.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Mr Leiter. That is really good feedback. Building on the point made by my colleague the shadow Minister, the CFIUS regime in the US obviously operates successfully, in the sense that the US remains an incredibly attractive place for inward investment. How have the US regulators balanced those two things? Does the Bill as drafted provide us with a similar opportunity to strike that balance?

Michael Leiter: I am honoured to have worked with the UK Government for 20-plus years on security issues, and over the past 10 years on economic issues. I certainly think you have the potential to strike that balance. In the US, traditionally, the CFIUS structure was a balance between the security agencies, which tended to want to restrict investment, and the economic and commerce agencies, which tended to want to encourage that investment. Certainly, in the case of China, we have seen massive decline in direct investment because of both Chinese controls and US controls: a tenfold decrease from 2016 to 2018. But as you said, the scale and strength of the US economy mean that global investors look to the United States no matter what.

I do not mean to make less of the UK in any way but, from a UK perspective, one has to be a bit more careful, because you simply do not have the scale that inevitably will attract investment. The US could be a rather poor place to invest, with lots of regulation, but people would still come because of the scale of the market. You don’t have quite that luxury. That is not to say that the UK has not for generations been an incredibly attractive magnet for investment, but whereas the US can err on the side of security, from my perspective, admittedly an American one, the UK might want to be a bit more careful about restrictive measures, because the size of the market is not in and of itself so inherently attractive that companies and investors must be in it. We have a bit of an advantage over you on this one.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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Q Good afternoon. I do not know whether your saw much of the previous witness’s evidence, but she commented on how countries such as the United States have a limited number of excluded or exempt countries—including the United Kingdom—that are not covered by their equivalent legislation. What are your thoughts on how the Bill does not have any provision to exempt entire countries from its scope?

Michael Leiter: I was able to see part of Dr Lenihan’s excellent testimony, which was quite informative and good. First, to clarify, although the US does make distinctions for exempted countries—obviously those are the UK, Australia and Canada right now—that exemption is extremely narrow. It limits those countries only on mandatory filings, and only if investors from those countries fulfil a fairly rigorous set of requirements. So, although Canadian, UK and Australian investors were quite excited before CFIUS reform, when the regulations about excepted investors were promulgated, that has had a minimal effect on those countries. It is not a significant advantage. Those countries are still subject to CFIUS review in the vast majority of investments they make. Now, that gives only half the story, because clearly investments from those nations go through a much less rigorous review, and come out with much better results than those from countries where the US has a more strained security relationship.

On what I see in the Bill, I would say a couple of pieces about the excepted possibility. First, as I read the Bill right now, it covers investments from other UK investors—not even simply those outside the UK. If my reading is correct on that front, I have to say that is probably not wise. We have already talked about the significant increase you could have, based to some extent on mandatory transactions as well as some other factors, and I think trying to take a slightly smaller bite of the apple and not including current UK businesses in the scheme would be well advised.

To the extent one has open trade and security relationships with certain countries, lowering the bar for review to exempt them, or including things such as dollar limits and getting rid of the de minimis exemption, might well make sense. That is another way of making sure that the Secretary of State can focus on those areas you think are the most sensitive from a security perspective. Whether we like to do so or not, that can be aligned to some extent with the country of origin of the investor. It is not always perfect—one must often look below that, especially when dealing with limited partners and private equity—but it is a relatively easy way to reduce the load you may experience if all these measures were implemented.

--- Later in debate ---
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you for your response. If we look at GKN-Melrose and, indeed, even SoftBank-Arm, we could consider that they had national security implications. I suppose the point is that there are essential industries that are directly critical for our economy, but that at first may not seem directly critical for national security because they are evolving technologies, as in the case of Arm and the ongoing takeover by Nvidia, or because they are indirectly critical as suppliers to downstream industries that support national security. Indeed, in the response to the Government’s consultation for this Bill, an example is given of the undermining of the functioning of an airport by a software manufacturer, which would be within the transport sector but would not necessarily immediately appear to be directly concerned with national security. Economic security and national security end up being linked. Do you think that should be reflected in the Bill, and how do you think it can be reflected?

David Petrie: I have read the impact assessment, which included that example. It is a difficult situation, as described in the example. In accordance with the way that this new legislation is drafted and the number and extent of the sectors that are regarded as mandatory—the sectors in scope such that their operating activities would require a notification of the unit—the example set out in the impact statement would indeed require screening by the investment security unit. The Government would likely have the opportunity to review a potential acquisition in that software company.

I was struck by that example, in that it suggested that service had failed, or a malign actor had decided not to provide the necessary services to the airport. I think a broader question here is what might happen in reality. Those services would be procured through a commercial contract, which in turn would, presumably, be backed by insurance. If it were an absolutely critical service, I would expect that the airport would have a back-up system, whether power supplies or a parallel running system, as they do for air traffic control. There are commercial protections for the actual operating activities of critical infrastructure, which should work. It is difficult to protect against the actions of malign actors, but critical infrastructure already has systems and processes, and invests heavily in capital equipment, to ensure that there is not an interruption of supply. The question would be the extent to which ownership of that asset physically gave the owners of the shares the ability to get in and interrupt supply. That almost implies mechanical breakdown or some deliberate and malign disconnection. Again, companies have cyber-security systems in place to ensure that critical infrastructure does not fail.

The point you made was about whether suppliers of that sort of service to our critical infrastructure and their ownership should be subject to review. As the Bill is set out and as the sectors in scope are drafted—of course, the Government will consult over the next month or so on those definitions and whether they should be adjusted or whether they are as wide-reaching as they should be—a business like that would be captured. The investment security unit and, presumably, the security services would have an opportunity to review whether or not to allow that to go ahead.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Mr Petrie, you will understand better than most that businesses will want to ensure information is being treated sensitively in any transaction. I want to capture your view of the closed material procedure for judicial review under the Bill and what you think of it in terms of that sensitivity of information.

David Petrie: I think a quasi-judicial review is really important and a part of the process, and then, if necessary, there is judicial review. I think the question cuts back to how many times that is likely to happen. We have to step back a little bit and recognise that that would be a situation where the parties to the transaction are challenging the Secretary of State’s decision as to whether or not this is in the interests of national security.

I would assume that if the sellers are British companies, they will probably have received what they feel are adequate assurances that it is okay to sell to an overseas acquirer, but the Secretary of State takes a different view, presumably based on evidence provided by our national security services. Ultimately, if there is a compelling body of evidence to suggest that a transaction should be modified or adjusted or, in extremis, blocked, it would be quite an unreasonable group of shareholders to disagree with that if the if the Secretary of State was applying the test as set out in the Bill, and indeed in the guidance note, that intervention is to be limited only to matters where the national security of this country is at threat.

That is quite different from the national interest. It is tempting—or possible, rather—in this debate to get sucked into questions about what we should and should not be doing in this country. That is not what this is about. The Government have been very clear to the investment community, and to British business more generally, about the purpose of this legislation. That is why, although markets and investors recognise that it will take a certain amount of time and effort to comply with a mandatory regime—the Government have been very clear about their purpose in introducing that—the market is generally favourably disposed towards it. We can see that it is unfortunately necessary in these modern times.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Mr Petrie, for your answers so far. I just have a couple of straightforward points for you to address. We discussed the timeframe in earlier sessions, in relation to the five years of retrospectivity, the six-month call-in and the potential 75 days. Do you have any concerns about the impact that that might have on potential investors into the UK? On a similar note, in terms of the fact that there will potentially be in excess of 1,800 notifications annually, an entirely new body will have to be set up, possibly working across Departments and involving the security agencies. A lot of detail will need to be put behind that, and again, that will take time. Do you think any of that will cause any uncertainty among investors and perhaps lead them to look elsewhere?

David Petrie: Perhaps I could deal with the second part of your question first, if I may, on the potential number of notifications that the new legislation is going to necessitate. The first point I make about that is that this new investment security unit will need to be very well resourced. A thousand notifications a year is four a day; I am just testing it for reasonableness, as accountants are inclined to do. That is quite a lot of inquiries. I note from the paperwork that the budget allocated to the new unit is between £3.7 million and £10.4 million. I do not know and cannot comment yet as to whether that is likely to be adequate. What I can say is that the impact statement also suggests that of those 1,000 or so transactions which are going to be subject to mandatory notification, only 70 to 95—the numbers set out in the impact statement—are likely to be called in for further review by the Secretary of State, where a very detailed analysis of those businesses and the potential target is going to be necessary.

As, I hope, has been echoed by other witnesses, it is going to be extremely important that this new unit can engage in meaningful pre-consultation with market participants—with British companies, finance directors, and investors and their advisers—so that they can get a pretty clear steer at an early stage as to whether or not this is likely to be subject to further review. If the unit operates in a way where it can give unequivocal guidance to market participants at an early stage and is open to dialogue—I understand from discussions with the Minister that this is the way the unit is being asked to operate—that would be extremely helpful.

I would say that that is about process, certainly, but I think it is also about culture. It has to be a balance, which is well achieved by the Takeover Panel, for example, in this country. You do not tend to approach the Takeover Panel unless you are well-informed and have done your homework—"Don’t bother us with stuff you ought to know” is the unwritten rule. But at the right time and place, I think it is important that there is an opportunity for market participants to be able to engage in a dialogue. The guideline where we put this “Don’t bother us with stuff you ought to know” question is going to shift. At the moment, we really do not know a lot about the way the Government are going to look at certain transactions. We do know which sectors and operating activities are in scope, but, again, we are not quite sure at what stage it will be right to consult and try and get clear guidance. This process will evolve.

I note that the Bill includes provision for the new unit to issue an annual report as to the number of transactions called in and the sectors they are in. That will be extremely helpful for market participants. An issue here, I think, is potentially asymmetry of information. In order to resolve potential asymmetry of information amongst the investment and advisory community, it would be very helpful that the unit is well resourced and able to engage in meaningful pre-consultation, but, by way of a third recommendation, it would also be extremely useful if it was able to issue meaningful market guidance notes, similar to the notes that accompany the takeover code. That would again be extremely helpful so that we can understand. It would help the market to be better informed. If, for example, the unit is receiving a lot of notifications that are not correctly filled in or with important details as to ownership missing, then it would helpful to have guidance notes as to what we can do to make sure this process works with more certainty, speed, clarity and transparency—these are the things financial markets need to see—to help us with that, beyond what has already been issued, which is very helpful, I have to say. As the market evolves, that would be extremely helpful.

--- Later in debate ---
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you very much. I note your suggestion regarding the blanket exception for investment funds. I had two quick follow-up points: first, could you say how they would be defined in such a way that would exclude, for example, foreign sovereign investment funds and so on, which might give cause for concern? Also, you said you had a couple of caveats. I take it that is one; what is your other caveat?

Chris Cummings: Forgive me: I noticed that I missed the point about mergers and acquisitions. We regard the pre-approval facility that officials have mentioned—I believe the last witness mentioned it, as well—which is a way in which the team responsible could be approached ahead of a deal being put together, as a very sensible, practical step forward, as long as confidentiality was absolutely rigorously maintained.

In terms of definitions, we find the Japanese definition quite attractive, and again we commend it to the Committee. It clearly differentiates out investors such as the ones we represent, who are looking to provide capital for a company and share in its success for the benefit of the investors whose money we manage, but are not seeking to take an active role in the management of those companies. We are not looking to put somebody on the board; we are not looking to intervene directly in day-to-day management decisions. Our relationship is with the board chairman and so on, in order to engage in a constructive and strategic discussion, but we stop short of securing assets or taking an active role in management. That is a system that works well.

Turning to our caveats, I mentioned the five-year review period. We undoubtedly recognise the spirit in which this legislation is drafted, but Governments change, as does public opinion. The strength of this Bill is that it is focused around national security. Perhaps a definition of national security may go a little further in helping investors as well, because we could not really strike upon a catchy, well-turned phrase that defined national security, and have a reluctance to move away from national security; we would hate to see the Bill being widened into more public interest ability.

A final point to note would be the interplay between this legislation and the Takeover Panel, which has a different and distinct role to play. The notification percentages are slightly different: it is 25% in the Bill, and 30% in the Takeover Panel, so ensuring that there was no accidental misalignment would be most useful.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Welcome, Mr Cummings. You mentioned the feedback from your members about keeping the Bill focused very much on national security. The message that we want to get out there is that Britain remains very much open for business, and that we want to maintain our place in the premier league of foreign direct investment. How has that statement of policy intent, which we published alongside the Bill, landed with your membership?

Chris Cummings: When it comes to a clarification point around national security, this is similar policy-intent-driven legislation to what we have seen in other emerged markets, such as the US, Germany, France and so on. We do not find that it is out of step with other developed markets. In other jurisdictions—I will take the US as an example—the legislation has started small and then grown as people have become familiar with it. The UK, perhaps because we feel we are playing catch-up—that is not for me to say—has started on a larger scale first. That is why there are queries around scope and around the durations. We look forward to engaging with the definition of the 17 sectors to ensure it is as specific as possible, and to ensure that we understand the operation. We would like to hear from officials and colleagues in ministerial positions on how they see it working in practice, so that the investment community is really clear that the rules of the game have not changed, and that the UK really is as attractive as we want it to be for incoming investment.

As I mentioned, we represent UK-based investment managers, but of course, those organisations are headquartered not only across Europe, but in other parts of the world, particularly the US. We are managing pension scheme money not only for UK savers and pensioners, but from other parts of Europe and places as far-flung as Brazil. If we as investors were looking to make an investment in UK plc, we would need to be clear about where head office was, and where the money was coming from. All those things could be either pre-approved or ruled in court as quickly as possible to ensure that there is not a missed beat in attracting the investment that we all want to see.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Nickie Aiken.

National Security and Investment Bill (Third sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee stage & Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 26th November 2020

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National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 26 November 2020 - (26 Nov 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q You mentioned, and I think it is absolutely right, the issue about going from a standing start to such an increase in the number of callings but also in the number of notifications—the impact assessment estimates 1,830 notifications. That is on the acquirer and does not take into account the fact that almost every start-up seeks capital investment at some point and I imagine would, therefore, as a consequence have to think about this regime. What impact do you foresee on the UK’s investment climate and especially on capital sources for small and medium-sized enterprises? How could that impact be mitigated or encouraged to be as positive as possible?

Christian Boney: I think this question really divides into two. In terms of larger corporates, investment by, and in, larger corporates is very likely to be unimpacted in any meaningful way by this legislation, because large corporates and their advisers are very used to going through regulatory clearance processes. This will just be another thing that needs to be added to the list.

I think you make a very valid point in the context of start-up and early-stage companies. The concern I would have principally is with those companies that are in that phase of their corporate life and fall within the mandatory notification sectors. Given the kinds of companies that this country is trying to encourage to flourish—those that are active in areas like artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and quantum technologies—a reasonable number of start-ups, I would expect, would fall within those mandatory notification sectors. For them, this regime is going to make the process of getting investment more time-consuming and more complex.

Anything that can be done in the process of consulting on the mandatory sectors, and anything that can be done to pair back the regime to make it more workable for companies in that stage of life, the better. An example might be some form of de minimis threshold, which is included, such that really early-stage companies do not fall within the mandatory notification regime, but the Government can nevertheless rely on their call-in power down the track, should that early-stage company becomes successful and more strategically important within the UK. Those are my principal thoughts. Lisa, do you have anything to add?

Lisa Wright: Not on that point, no

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q May I return to the national security issue—as opposed to the wider public interest test, which is an important question—and get your view as to the Bill’s scope, which is very much focused on national security, versus the wider public interest, to which I think my colleague’s first question alluded?

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To clarify, my question was this: how would you distinguish between national and economic security?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My question is more about your reflections on the Bill being narrow in its purpose to deal with national security versus the wider public interest.

Lisa Wright: It is already a very broad regime; it catches a lot of transactions, as we have just discussed. I therefore think it is important and right that it is limited, in terms of the substantive concerns that it is catching, to national security. That is already a necessarily, I think, uncertain or undefined concept. Corporates and investors can make it work as long as other aspects of the regime work efficiently. That may be subject to some of the points that Christian just made about the impact on start-ups.

I think that once you broaden the regime out from national security into other considerations, you do risk introducing quite a degree of unpredictability, which possibly would impact on people’s assessment of the investment climate in the UK. My understanding is that the existing intervention regime under the Enterprise Act is planned to remain in force, so the national security considerations will come out of that and will be dealt with under this new regime. But there will still be the ability for—[Inaudible.]

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Mr Boney, do you have any observations while we are waiting for the tech to work?

Christian Boney: I agree entirely with what Lisa has been saying. I think the scope of the Bill is already broad, so to my mind, broadening it further to take account of other areas is likely to introduce the uncertainty that Lisa was referring to and, as a consequence, have a potentially negative impact on the investment climate in the UK.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Lisa, it looks like we have got you back now. Would you like to add anything?

Lisa Wright: I am not sure at what point you lost me, but I think I was saying—

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We lost you while you were talking about a “degree of unpredictability”, Lisa.

Lisa Wright: Okay. In my view, if you were to broaden the regime out from national security to take into account other considerations, that would introduce quite a degree of unpredictability and would, I think, potentially impact negatively on people’s assessment of the investment climate in the UK—I am sorry if I am repeating myself. However, my understanding is that the existing intervention regime will remain, so national security will come out of it, but the Government will still be able to intervene in transactions on other public interest grounds under the Enterprise Act. That regime has some limitations, but those powers will still be there.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you very much for the really excellent evidence you have already given us. I want to go back to what Mr Boney said about de minimis thresholds and whether you might look at introducing de minimis thresholds for particular areas, sectors or industries that I guess you would say are considered to be low risk from a security point of view and highly beneficial to the UK economy, which should therefore affect our thinking about how you might filter this whole process. But are there not other considerations on filtering as well? In essence, this is a risk management process and you have to identify the highest risks. Surely issues of critical national infrastructure would place a type of acquisition into the high-risk quadrant. If the acquirer is close to a state or Government—particularly a hostile Government—that would place it in the high-risk quadrant. Therefore, on having a more filtered process, is the de minimis threshold the right way to go, or would it not be better to have a strategic approach based on a hierarchy of risks?

Christian Boney: I think the de minimis concept is potentially relevant and helpful in the context of thinking about what needs to be subject to mandatory notification. If you are not within the mandatory notification regime, that does not mean that the Government cannot exercise the call-in power so long as the relevant tests in the legislation are satisfied; it just means that the relevant company does not have to make a notification. There are elements of the mandatory sectors where some form of de minimis has already been included. Energy is a good example of that, and that makes sense in the context of energy.

I think it is worth exploring whether, within any of the other sectors, where we are more likely to see start-up, early-stage companies operating, there is benefit in introducing some form of de minimis regime solely in respect of the mandatory notification requirement. As I say, if a small-scale company operating in critical artificial intelligence is receiving investment from somebody who we view as a hostile actor, that transaction might escape mandatory notification, but that does not mean it escapes voluntary call-in by the Government at the point they become aware of it. That is something that might be worth exploring.

--- Later in debate ---
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. I am very taken by your definition of sovereign and friendly capability. Indeed, that is exactly what we do not have in our 5G networks, hence the mess with Huawei.

Moving on slightly, a comment made numerous times on Second Reading was about the role of the intelligence services. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) asked for more intelligence in the process. How can the Bill better ensure that the intelligence services, including the National Cyber Security Centre, have input and scrutiny and, indeed, provide their expertise as part of the process so that the appropriate decisions are taken?

Professor Martin: I think the essential, principal requirement is not the intelligence services’ involvement—although that is important and I will come to that in a minute—but the understanding of technology and technological developments within Government. These are fundamentally economic issues as well. Apart from anything else, if you look at some of the reasons why the Bill has come about, you will see that, in strategically important technologies, the Government have invested heavily in university-sponsored research and in private sector research, only to see the fruits of that research sold off. Even if that did not impact on national security, which in most cases it does, it is not a good return for the taxpayer in terms of long-term UK involvement if the intellectual property ends up being monetised elsewhere.

I have enormous respect for Mr Jones and I think he is on to something in terms of involving the national security and intelligence services, but I do not think this should be intelligence-led. In my experience—obviously, I cannot go into detail on this particular aspect of it—secret intelligence adds relatively little to your knowledge of intent. If we take Russia and China, the two big strategic threats to the UK, Russia does not have a strategy in this space. We have to worry about Russia and cyber-security because it attacks us, but it attacks us on the internet that the west has built.

China is very different. China has a technological, strategic dominance aim, but it is not a secret. It is published and has been translated into English in the Made in China 2025 strategy, as you know. Our knowledge about the precise, intricate details of how that is implemented gains relatively little from secret intelligence.

What secret intelligence does have, particularly in GCHQ and the NCSC within it, is a knowledge of how technology works in terms of the national security threat space. I think the UK has a head start on other countries, because the National Security Council innovations of the 2010s gave the intelligence services a much bigger voice at the table, and that is reflected in the structures that we have now. The UK should be well placed to be able to listen to the intelligence services, but I would encourage—not least to make sure that in this very delicate balance of trying to show that we still have an open economy and are not shutting the doors to investment—as much transparency as possible on the decision taking. It will not always be possible because GCHQ technologists will know about things—exploitations of particular bits of technology—that they cannot reveal. They will be able to tell that to secret forums within Government for consideration—I am quite confident about that: there will be a seat at the table for them.

My recommendation would be that, as far as can safely be done, the Government should be relatively open about why they make the judgements they make about strategic areas of technology and the interventions they will make once this Bill is passed—assuming that both Houses wish to pass it.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Professor, that was excellent and I am very grateful for it. I will follow on from that thought and ask about the proposed powers within the regime for the Secretary of State to gather that information, which, as you quite rightly remind us, is not necessarily secret but about understanding the technology, or a particular piece of the technology, within the sector. What are your thoughts on the regime for the Secretary of State to be able to gather that information to inform a decision or to call in witnesses, so that they are able to really understand that particular issue and therefore make a decision on it?

Professor Martin: I suppose the mantra, if I had one, would be, “Broad powers, sparingly used, with accountability mechanisms”. It is incredibly hard to be specific about this, for two reasons: one is that new areas of technology crop up, as they invariably do, and the other is that sweeping categorisations are needed on the face of legislation.

I am not a deep technical expert—although others are available from my former organisation—but if you take sweeping, umbrella titles like “quantum” or “artificial intelligence”, there are huge swathes of that where, actually, not a lot of these powers in the Bill will be used. There will be companies that will be doing very interesting things—10 interesting things—of which only one would be caught by this Bill.

If you take areas like specialist quantum computing and so forth, I think the community of interest and expertise is actually relatively small and has relatively good relations with Government—not least because, again, while it is not perfect, the whole system of research council funding and Government investment in funding technological research is pretty good, by international standards—so you end up knowing these people. One of the reasons that this sort of policy evolution came about, which has led to the publication of the Bill before you—I remember this from discussions within Government—is that people were volunteering to come to us. World-leading experts, people who had been funded by the Government—I will not go into individual cases because it is commercially sensitive and possibly security sensitive—would come to Government and say, “Look, we’ve had this inquiry from a Chinese behemoth,” or even, “We’ve had this inquiry from a US company,” and so forth: “What do you guys think about this?” and, invariably, we would have to have an informal influencing discussion.

I do not think that some of the businesses to which this will apply will be screaming that this is horrible Government regulation and intervention in areas where that should not be made. There was already a dialogue; there was just no legislative framework. Of course, that meant that companies that felt a loyalty to the UK and so forth but that also had to look after their commercial interests were sometimes in a real bind.

To try to answer your question, I think that the powers should be fairly broad. I think there should be accountability and transparency mechanisms, so that there is assurance that they are being fairly and sparingly applied.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q This is very interesting evidence. I want to ask you a little bit more about China. As you rightly pointed out, much of this is in the public domain, and the Made in China 2025 strategy is very clear about the objective, which is to achieve global technological dominance. Given your experience at the National Cyber Security Centre, can you share with us a little bit more about how that would manifest itself in practice? What do you see as China’s next moves, in terms of rewriting the rules on technology and on creating that dominant position that you have talked about? How do you see that manifesting itself?

Professor Martin: I think there are broadly two or three areas in which China is very interested in doing that. I can make some comments on motivations, because I think they are very important, and then I will finish with how that manifests itself in UK casework.

Clearly, China has set out a stall, which it published in Made in China 2025, in which it said it wants to be the world’s pre-eminent leader in a number of key areas of technology. It mentioned artificial intelligence and quantum, and it is throwing vast sums of state money and long-term strategies at them, unencumbered by the need to seek re-election and popular consent, so it is a very powerful movement. That is the first thing: it is trying to build up its capability.

China is also trying to change, at least for itself—we will come to that in a minute—the way the internet works. It was reported earlier this year that Huawei and other major companies in these international standards bodies are looking at something called new IP protocols, among many other things. To give you a sense of what the motivations behind that are, at the minute when traffic flows around the internet, despite some popular impressions to the contrary, it is actually pretty hard to work out what is going through it. Therefore, it is relatively difficult to censor, although China has managed it in some ways. The new IP protocol will make it much easier to work out what sort of traffic is going through and being rerouted, so it makes it much easier to control. China is trying to dominate and essentially get a lead in the strategic technology, and also to change the character and culture of the technological age from one that started off fairly anarchic to one that is much easier to control. That is what it is trying to do.

Why is China trying to do that? A lot of this is about the assertion of its own power for itself—the regime, power, Chinese nationalism and so forth. I think it does intend to extend its sphere of influence, but I have never seen that as the primary motivation. One of the interesting things, post the pushback from the Trump Administration and the US sanctions on Huawei, is the extent to which China will now accelerate its desire for self-sufficiency, and the extent to which that leads to a separate pole of technological influence that may become less interested in countries such as the UK, European Union countries and North America.

To date, how has that manifested itself in cases in the UK? Ms Onwurah has already mentioned the Huawei controversy. If you take Huawei as a company, I think it shows the different ways in which this can manifest. The Huawei 5G controversy is going to be dealt with by a Bill that I believe is coming to the House next week, not this one. The 5G controversy was not about investment; it was about selling to British companies to build stuff. Obviously, that case has been very heavily analysed.

I think that the more interesting case in the last 10 years involving Huawei was its acquisition in 2012 of the Centre for Integrated Photonics—a world-leading British firm in a really key area of technology. That, in my view, was pretty strategically damaging. If we had our time over again, that is the sort of thing that the Bill might well notify. I know you have taken evidence from the likes of Charles Parton and people with huge China expertise. The fact that the acquisition of the Centre for Integrated Photonics did down Britain’s technological development was probably a by-product. The point is that Huawei could buy world-leading research, which China could then take and appropriate for itself very cheaply. That is what it will continue to do to build up its own capabilities.

National Security and Investment Bill (Fourth sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee stage & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
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National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 26 November 2020 - (26 Nov 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. You made it clear that you are praising the Department for the work it has done, and I accept your reluctance to criticise it; I think you are right—there is a lot of work, and this is a very complex area. Do you have any direct recommendations you would make to the Department in terms of what might need to change and in particular the preparations it should make for dealing with this large number of notifications?

James Palmer: My partner, Veronica Roberts, appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, and she and I will be submitting a list to this Committee. I am afraid we do not have time to go through it today, but I will draw out a couple. Some of the mandatory filing sectors are very broad, such as communications. Again, the Government have said that they welcome narrowing those. There are not de minimises in a number of those sectors. It is true that there are other jurisdictions that do not have de minimises, but they are not jurisdictions with as large a proportion of their GDP linked to trade, and they are not jurisdictions that are as much seen as international business headquarters as well as centres of international business; there is a difference.

There is a de minimis for transport, for example, and it is very focused on ports over a certain threshold and on airports over certain levels of traffic. That is excellent, because those are the kinds of business that it makes sense that you would want to catch. The same layering has not been applied elsewhere. In particular, I worry about catching the sale or the licensing of intellectual property in relation to any of the technology areas. I think that that will catch an awful lot of things that people have not thought about yet, and I think that it will create a big burden for those small businesses.

I can conceive that in one or two very narrow areas—in some of the material science and so on, I am told—there may be low-value things that need to be caught. I am personally very sceptical that low-value things need to be caught in many other areas, because how can they be that important to the economy if they have a value that is below £1 million?

One of our concerns is that, although we know that the Government are very committed to a free trade agenda here and trying to make this work, I have worked with new regulators as they have developed for a very long time, and—forgive my saying so—I have never seen a regulator whose remit was only at the level that was predicted when it was set up. All remits expand exponentially, and that is one of the fears we have.

I would certainly advocate ensuring that the factors that the Secretary of State has to have regard to include, for example, impact on trade. The cost-benefit analysis sets out a sensible attempt—again, it is a much more developed piece of work than the, frankly, not-that-great cost-benefit analysis done in 2017-18; this one is a good and credible attempt—to work out what the actual cash costs are. But it does not address, as the Regulatory Policy Committee drew out, the real economic costs. It may all be okay, but the risks there are not hundreds of millions, but absolutely billions, and the UK’s competitive positioning there.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
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Q I was going to ask you about whether the Bill is proportionate between being very focused on national security—albeit, as you quite rightly point out, there is a spectrum of that—versus public interest, but I think that you have answered that issue in saying that you would very much guard against expanding it.

James Palmer: I will just explain why. I remember working when the public interest regime still applied. The move away from the public interest regime started in the 1980s. Pre the 1980s, this country was not an international investment destination; it really was not. We have earned that position. Whatever one’s politics—I am not party political—this is something that the UK has earned. We have done that by moving to being pretty open-minded in foreign investment. We have actually not worried that much about national security considerations being controlled through ownership, because again this debate has been—sorry, let me first come back to the Minister’s point.

I am very nervous that if you open it up to public interest, you vest that authority in a politician; forgive me, but that is what leads to lobbying, to short-termism, and to completely inconsistent decision taking. I am afraid that whatever Ministers at the time may say about these decisions, there is no external credibility on the predictability of those. It does not matter whether Ministers think they are doing it in good faith or on security grounds. It does not come over that way.

On broadening it to public interest, I completely agree. I am very grateful—because I know that there was a debate about this—that it has been rightly focused just on national security, albeit with a broad ability to intervene to protect the national interest.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you very much indeed for your useful and interesting evidence. I want to ask about some tangible examples, just to get a sense of where you stand on this spectrum—in this debate between economic openness and national security. You have made your position on it quite clear, which is that we should not sacrifice one to the other. Do you think that the Arm-SoftBank transaction would have gone through under this regime?

James Palmer: My own view is that I actually hope so, because I think that there is a debate here. We all identify a business that has been established in the UK, and we regard it with pride as a national asset. I completely understand that. I am not just interested in global M and A; I am interested in investment in the UK. My goal is not just M and A. It is the investment, which we will not get without M and A at the end, because investors want to know that they have the ability to realise.

My own judgment—I am not an economist, but most of the economic evidence that I have seen supports this—is that you do better by allowing people to come in, allowing them to sell, not necessarily completely untrammelled, but on a broadly liberal perspective, giving them the certainty and confidence to do that.

I think what we are debating here is about those things that are generated solely in the UK—for example, research, work and ideas that are funded by the UK Government. I can see why the UK Government might want to keep control over those things and link their funding to a level of control. If someone takes funding on that basis, I can see that. I do not know enough about the history of Arm, but it was acquired by a Japanese parent, not by a so-called hostile actor. If we are not going to allow Japanese businesses to buy into our technology businesses, I think we look like a less interesting technology investment and growth destination. We might hold on to a business for another five years, but what businesses are we losing for our children and grandchildren in 10, 20 and 30 years’ time? That is how I look at the question.

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Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I have a quick follow-up question. Should we consider a separate test of public or strategic interest, or are you saying that our economic and security interests are intertwined, so it is the definition of security interests that needs to be expanded? What are your views on that?

David Offenbach: It is very difficult to separate these. When you look at GKN, for example, 50,000 people—even now, after covid—are headquartered in Redditch, near the Minister’s constituency. It is one of the largest industrial companies worldwide, 250 years old, and a defence contractor to the Ministry of Defence, but the question is whether the amount of defence work it does, apart from its other engineering, is sufficient for it to be called in under the existing legislation. Clearly, the decision was made that it was not appropriate, and it is the same with Cobham. Cobham clearly had a national security element, but it was not sufficient for it to be called in and blocked by the Minister, so I think it is very difficult to separate the economic from the national interest, because these companies are multi-layered; they operate in different markets; some of their work is sensitive, and some of it is not sensitive.

That is why I think it is better to try and improve this Bill than deal with it under a separate Bill. The problem is that it has taken three years to get to where we are with this Bill. If we are just going to say, “Let’s deal with it another time”, it might take another three or four years before we get to consider that, so while it is here, while it is on the table, let’s try to improve it now and make it really work for Britain, so that we can build back better—to use a phrase—going forward.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Welcome, Mr Offenbach; thank you very much for making the time. I wanted to get your view on how you think the Bill deals with the range of sanctions available to the Secretary of State in order to protect national security. How do you see that?

David Offenbach: I am very pleased with it. It is much better than the previous regime, because now, rather than just having post-offer undertakings that are subject only to contempt of court criteria if they are breached, we have a proper statutory framework that will enable the Minister to impose orders so that for non-compliance, there is a breach of statutory duty, not merely a breach of an undertaking. Of course, one of the problems with the takeover code is that the object of a takeover code is to protect shareholders and to encourage fair dealing in takeovers. It is not there—and this has never been its job—to protect the public interest; it is there to protect the shareholders who are in receipt of an offer, so that they have been given fair treatment. For example, if you take SoftBank and Arm at the moment, we do not know whether or not they will have complied with their post-offer undertakings when the five years is up, because the price that is being paid now is more than was paid in 2016. There is no complaint. Public interest is irrelevant to the job of the takeover panel, which is why this new regime is a very welcome improvement on the old regime.

Sam Tarry Portrait Sam Tarry (Ilford South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Mr Offenbach. This is very interesting evidence, and clearly you and the previous witness have really exposed this tension—this debate—between having an open and liberal economic approach, and our self-interest and national security. This is not a new debate: Peter Lilley had his famous Lilley doctrine, and earlier this week, we heard from Sir Richard Dearlove. Most of the Committee members listened in earnest to that discussion.

For me, there is something really important we need to explore a little bit more when it comes to our approach, in terms of rushing to be the most open, the most liberal, the most pro-business country we can possibly be, and the exposure that is left—in this case—to China. Just thinking about that, are there particular areas of law that you think need to be tightened up and thought about alongside this, and that need to be looked at in tandem, perhaps around IP protection, licensing and that kind of thing?

David Offenbach: I think this actually does most of what is necessary. I do not think it needs to be improved in that regard. One thing that does slightly worry me is that the present regime, which is essentially a competition regime, has the Competition and Markets Authority as a statutory body, having lost national security to the new unit that will be set up inside BEIS. They only have financial stability, media plurality and public health, which was added this summer, but it is a proper organisation that deals with public interest in those areas. Public interest is the only area.

It is quite important for us to think that one of the reasons why one wants to extend the definition of national security to a public interest element is because there are many more areas of public interest, other than those three that are now left in the CMA. There is a little bit of an anomaly, because national security does not have its own separate statutory body to deal with these issues. It suggests that this is going to be put into a little hole somewhere in BEIS and that somehow competition is more important than national security, because it has a statutory body.

I wonder whether there should be a parallel statutory body, which could be called the national security investment commission, or something like that, that actually dealt with these things separately, outside BEIS. That would deal with some of the objections that people have and that a Minister is going to be lobbied about. It would be dealt with in more of a quasi-judicial way, in the same way that the CMA now deals with referrals to it. I wonder whether the Minister would like to consider that, as part of the amendments.

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Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Are the other tools or powers needed to make interventions with regard to strategic capability in place under the Enterprise Act 2002, such as for the Arm takeover? I am not sure that they are. Given your experience, will you say a bit about the level of resourcing and expertise the unit would need to make such assessments?

Creon Butler: On your first question, I do not think we have that yet as a country. Actually, with the previous Prime Minister we had a clear definition of a number of sectors that were felt to be very important, but it is a continuing story in terms of exactly how we are going to intervene to ensure that those sectors are strong. We have some powers, but there are a range of tools. I previously mentioned public contracting, where we do our research and development, and competition policy specifically to make it impossible for British companies to develop in those sectors, and so on. There is a broad range of policies for ensuring we have those sectors, and I think they are continuing to evolve.

Your second question is a really crucial one. I guess a key point is that this is not an absolute thing: you cannot protect the country from all possible national security risks through this route. The only way you could do that, potentially, is by having every single investment notified and examined. That would create an enormous bureaucratic monster, which would really not be what we want.

The further point is that when you are looking at the right cases, you want to be sure that the judgments that are made trade off with the national security risk, as I have defined it, but also with the potential economic benefit of having an investment in that area. To do that, you need expertise among the people who are making such judgments, which spans security expertise but also economic, investment and commercial expertise. It is very important, first, that there enough people to do the judgments properly, and secondly, that you have a breadth of expertise. Certainly in the past, we may have swung from one side to the other. Sometimes you have had what people would describe as a securocrat approach: “There is a possible risk here. Let’s go for it—let’s eliminate it, whatever the economic cost.” Sometimes, on the other hand, you have had the alternative situation: “Let’s encourage investment, whatever the risk might be.” I think it is important that we get a balance between those two.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Welcome, Mr Butler, and thank you very much for your attendance. Reflecting on the changing nature of the national security threats that we are now facing, which you alluded to in your answer to my colleague, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, how do you think the Bill builds on the Enterprise Act 2002? It has been 18 years since that legislation was introduced, so it would be great to get your take on that. Given your CV, it is worth getting your reflection on that while we have you here.

Creon Butler: I think—I am sure many people have said this—it is very clear that the previous legislation needed updating and was not fit for purpose, given both the way in which the global economy as a whole has evolved and the way in which the threats have evolved. It is both necessary and urgent to update that, and the way the Bill has done that, in terms of this first phase of creating the powers both to collect information and to intervene, makes a lot of sense. We have to fine-tune it and make sure it works properly, but this is a good first step. As I said, though, it is really important, if you are going to have such broad powers, to define exactly how you will use them—and much more precisely than the Government has done hitherto.

The further point is that this piece of legislation does not do everything. Alongside it, we need to strengthen our ability to collect the information we need about those threats. There are a number of elements. One that I have some experience of and that is really important is the question of who actually owns and controls companies that are operating in the UK—the question of beneficial ownership transparency. If you do not know that a hostile power is influencing a company that might be registered in an overseas territory or something of that kind, you will not be able to take the steps that you need to take.

A further area—it is a step in the right direction, because it gives us the powers to engage with this issue —is through international co-operation. Looking forwards, we need to strengthen and enhance our international co-operation with like-minded partners by going beyond the Five Eyes and including other really key partners, such as Japan, the EU and so on. That will enable us to do two things. First, it will enable us to share information about the things that can happen, such as the techniques that hostile powers are using. You may see it come up first in one country, and if we can share that information, we know that we can be prepared for that. Even more importantly, you may have a hostile power that does a number of things in different parts of the world, and it is only when you see the entire picture that you can see what the threat is.

Having that kind of international co-operation to do that is really important. These powers are necessary to get us in the same place as some of our key allies, in terms of what we can do. I do not think we are ever going to be able to standardise the areas of intervention or the nature of powers, but we should push very hard to enhance the sharing of information in the way I described.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you very much for the very interesting evidence that you are providing. I want to focus on the acquirer risk element of the Bill. The statement of political intent states that

“the National Security and Investment regime does not regard state-owned entities, sovereign wealth funds—or other entities affiliated with foreign states—as being inherently more likely to pose a national security risk.”

Do you agree with that assessment? Logic would seem to suggest that the closer an entity is to a foreign Government, the more likely it is to pose a risk to our national security.

Creon Butler: Clearly, some state-owned enterprises can be a significant risk, but some clearly are not. VW has a significant state element in it through North Rhine-Westphalia, but that does not make it a national security risk. At the same time—this goes back to the point I was making about who actually controls companies —you could well have a company that is registered in another country and, particularly if that country does not have very beneficial ownership transparency laws, as even some very close allies such as the US do not, the company emanating from it could have ill intent towards us.

For that reason, I think the Bill is right not to make a special regime for companies that are state owned, because that could go wrong in two ways: either you could be looking at only one set of companies when there are others that are potential threats, even though they come from close allies, or you may end up spending a lot of time looking at companies with state shareholdings that are really no threat at all. Clearly, when you come to do the analysis, whether there is a stake from a hostile state will be an important part of the analysis that you do in assessing that threat. I think the Bill gets it right in not creating a special regime, but that does not mean that this will not be an important part of the analysis that you do in assessing the threats.

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Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q What that says to me is that, while the impact assessment looks at the cost to the acquirer, there will actually be a cost to the acquired party in terms of clearing themselves in advance or clarifying what their situation is, and I do not think that is covered in the impact assessment as it stands.

Will Jackson-Moore: Yes, in many cases it is a raising of finance for a partial stake. It is an entrepreneur looking to attract capital to expand their business, seeking to bring in an investor to provide maybe 25% of additional equity capital. They want to have a competitive situation where people are offering the most beneficial terms possible. Many of those investors will be overseas investors.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Following on that, Mr Jackson-Moore, the current regime under the Enterprise Act 2002 stipulates that the assessment of transactions is dealt with on a case-by-case basis by the Government. This legislation effectively puts into law the timeline by which assessments are made. Do you think that and other provisions in this Bill will send a message to the industry and to the investment community of a slicker, more efficient way of dealing with assessment of transactions?

Will Jackson-Moore: For the vast majority of existing transactions, the existing legislation was not really a major factor; it only addressed a handful of transactions each year, whereas this is much more in the mainstream of the M and A market and therefore it will be much more on people’s agenda. We already have a number of organisations reaching out to us to understand the potential implications for ongoing transactions.

I do not think the timeframe in itself represents a barrier, since it is not that dissimilar to other jurisdictions, but again it is the application. If you look at Australia, for example, buyers have the ability to pre-clear themselves, and that type of amendment would be very helpful to ensure the free flowing of capital.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Stephen Flynn.

National Security and Investment Bill (Fifth sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 1st December 2020

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 1 December 2020 - (1 Dec 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg, and to speak on this important Bill. I am grateful for the congratulations—or perhaps commiserations!—of the shadow Minister and all colleagues on my new role as the vaccines delivery Minister. I am obviously focused on the NSI Bill now, but I am also conscious of my responsibility for delivery, and I had a very good conversation with the devolved Administrations last night.

I hope that the Committee agrees that the Second Reading debate and the evidence sessions last week demonstrated the importance both of this legislation and of getting it right. I again place on record my thanks to the Opposition parties for the constructive way in which they have approached the Bill thus far, and I look forward to discussing the amendments that they have tabled to this part of the Bill.

Amendment 3 requires the Secretary of State to assess a multi-agency review or recommendation of the Intelligence and Security Committee before issuing a call-in notice. I remind hon. Members that it is vital for the Government to have the necessary powers fully to scrutinise acquisitions of control over entities and assets that may pose national security risks. To enable this, clause 1 gives the Secretary of State power to issue a call-in notice when he or she reasonably suspects that a trigger event has taken place, or is in progress or contemplation, and that that has given rise to, or may give rise to, a national security risk. It is entirely reasonable, as Committee Members have said, to want the Secretary of State to make full use of expertise across Government and Parliament to run the most effective and proportionate regime that he or she can. The amendment aims to recognise that.

To explain why the amendment would not achieve that noble aim, it would be helpful briefly to summarise the overall screening process. First, businesses and investors can notify the Secretary of State of trigger events of potential national security concern. In certain parts of some sectors, notification by the acquirer will be mandatory. Following a notification, the Secretary of State will have a maximum of 30 working days to decide whether to call in a trigger event to scrutinise it for national security concerns. For non-notified acquisitions, the Secretary of State may call in a completed trigger event within six months of becoming aware of it, both on a case-by-case basis and when developing his overall approach. The Secretary of State intends to draw on a wide variety of expertise from across, and potentially beyond, Government as is appropriate.

If the Secretary of State calls in a trigger event, there will be a detailed review. At the end of the review, the Secretary of State may impose any remedies that he reasonably considers necessary and proportionate to address any national security risk that has been identified. The Bill gives the Secretary of State 30 working days to conduct an assessment, but this may be extended for a further 45 working days if a legal test is met, and then for a further period or periods with the agreement of the acquirer. The purpose of the initial assessment of whether a trigger event should be called in is not to conduct a detailed review of the entire case, or to determine whether the trigger event in question gives rise, or would give rise, to a risk to national security. That comes later. It is simply a preliminary assessment of whether the trigger event warrants a full assessment. Prohibiting the Secretary of State from calling in a trigger event until a multi-agency review has taken place, or the Intelligence and Security Committee has provided a recommendation, could severely upset the process – as we heard eloquently from my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for giving way and again congratulate him on his new role. I also thank him for his constructive tone. I sense a contradiction in the point he is making. He is saying that the Business Secretary will call on a wide range of advice and expertise, but that if he is required to call on a wide range of advice and expertise, it will upset the process.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What I am trying to get at is the point made so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble—the bottleneck issue. It is unlikely that adding this review, or requirement for a recommendation at the stage where the Secretary of State is assessing whether to issue a call-in notice, would be feasible within the 30-day window following the notification.

I remind the Committee that the Government’s impact assessment estimates that there will be at least 1,000 notifications every year. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble said, under this amendment, every single one would need a multi-agency review or an Intelligence and Security Committee recommendation, which would be a truly massive and, in my view, unfeasible undertaking.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The review would be required before issuing a call-in notice. The impact assessment mentioned about 1,830 notifications, but only 90 call-in notices. It is not accurate to say that the amendment would require about 1,800 reviews. It is only for those that would lead to a call-in notice, which is a much lower number.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We can debate the number, but the issue is one of delay and bottlenecks. It could mean that the Secretary of State was timed out of calling in potentially harmful acquisitions and of imposing any national security remedies. Alternatively, if the initial assessment period following a notification was extended beyond 30 working days, which is not currently possible under the Bill, that could reduce certainty for businesses, which I know the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Aberavon were also concerned about. Any delay to remedies addressing national security risks would be a problem. However, I assure hon. Members that the Secretary of State will eagerly seek expertise and advice from a wide range of sources, and we will work together to safeguard our national security. Having a slick and efficient call-in process is vital to that.

Amendment 4 seeks to require the Secretary of State to consult the Intelligence and Security Committee prior to publishing a statement on the exercise of the call-in power, known as the statement of policy intent. Clause 4 requires the Secretary of State to carry out such a consultation on a draft of the statement as he thinks appropriate, and to take into account the response to any such consultation during the drafting process. That process could include engagement with interested parties across the House, and I am delighted to learn that such esteemed colleagues as members of the ISC might wish to discuss the statement in detail. Parliament has been provided with the first draft of the statement, and we would welcome its view on its content.

I draw attention to the fact that clause 4 requires the Secretary of State to lay the statement before Parliament, as my brilliant hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine rightly pointed out. If either House resolves not to approve the statement within 40 sitting days, the Secretary of State must withdraw it. That provides Parliament, including members of the ISC, with plenty of opportunity to influence and scrutinise the contents of the statement, which I believe is the aim of the amendment and which I am therefore not able to accept.

Amendment 5 would require the Secretary of State to notify the Intelligence and Security Committee prior to making regulations under clause 6 and to enable the Committee to respond with recommendations. I welcome the contributions made by many members of the ISC on Second Reading, and I have since written to the Committee Chair, who unfortunately was unable to attend, to follow up on a number of the recommendations made by his colleagues.

Clause 6 defines the circumstances covered by mandatory notification. The Bill calls them “notifiable acquisitions” on the basis that they must be notified and cleared by the Secretary of State before they can take place.

Members are aware that any modern investment screening regime must provide sufficient flexibility for the Government to examine a broad range of circumstances, bearing in mind the increasingly novel way in which acquisitions are being constructed and hostile actors are pursuing their ends. The regime needs to be able to respond and adapt quickly. Regulations made under the clause will be subject to parliamentary approval through the draft affirmative procedure, giving Members ample opportunity to ensure that mandatory notification and clearance regimes work effectively.

The draft affirmative procedure means that regulations may not be made unless a draft has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House. I am pleased to advise esteemed members of the ISC that in developing the regulations the Secretary of State will take the greatest care, and will consult as widely as is judged appropriate, while ensuring he is able to act as quickly as needed. I see no need for a formal consultation mechanism. Indeed, such a mechanism between the Committee and the Secretary of State would be unprecedented.

For the reasons I have set out, I am not able to accept the amendments, and I hope that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central will not press them.

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0

Division 1

Ayes: 6


Labour: 5
Scottish National Party: 1

Noes: 10


Conservative: 10

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is vital that the Government have the powers necessary fully to scrutinise acquisitions and control over entities and assets that might pose national security risks. The Bill refers to such acquisitions as trigger events.

The clause therefore gives the Secretary of State the power to issue a call-in notice when he or she reasonably suspects that such a trigger event has taken place or is in progress or contemplation and it has given rise to, or may give rise to, a national security risk.

The parameters of the call-in powers will give the Secretary of State sufficient flexibility to examine potentially sensitive acquisitions connected to the United Kingdom while ensuring they may be used only for national security reasons. The Committee will note that in the acquisition of or control over businesses, unlike in the Enterprise Act, there are no minimum thresholds for market share or turnover.

Why is that necessary? It is necessary because acquisitions of small businesses at the start of their ascendancy can harm our national security, particularly if they involve the kind of cutting edge, world-leading technology for which this country is known. Although there is a broad range of scenarios in which the power may be used, of course, most trigger events will not be called in, as they will not raise national security concerns.

Examples of those that may be more likely to be called in include a person acquiring control over an entity that operates part of our critical national infrastructure; a person acquiring the right to use sensitive, cutting-edge intellectual property; and boardroom changes that mean that a person acquires material influence over the policy of a key Government supplier. Clauses 5 to 12 and schedule 1 set that out in detail.

Call-in notices may be issued in relation to trigger events that are in contemplation or in progress, as well as those that have already taken place. That will ensure that potential national security risks can be examined at any stage of the process rather than, for example, waiting until a transaction has taken place or is nearing completion, when it is more difficult for the parties involved to make any changes that may be required. It is envisaged that, in most circumstances, call-in notices will be issued after the Secretary of State has received a notification about a trigger event from an involved party, but it is also important that the Secretary of State retains the ability to call in trigger events where no such notification has been received. The limits for issuing a call-in notice are set out in clause 2.

The Government are committed to ensuring that businesses have as much clarity as possible when it comes to the use of this power. We heard in the evidence session about the need for real clarity for businesses, so the Bill is proportionate. The Secretary of State may not, therefore, exercise the power until he publishes a statement for the purposes of clause 3, setting out how he expects to use the power. The Secretary of State must have regard to the statement before giving a call-in notice. A draft of the statement was published when the Bill was introduced. I do not intend to anticipate our discussions in respect of the statement when we move on to clauses 3 and 4, but I am confident that it will provide reassurance that the Secretary of State intends to exercise the call-in powers in a measured and considered way.

Hon. Members will appreciate, though, that it would not be responsible, given that national security may be at stake, for the Secretary of State to be restricted to exercising the power only in the circumstances envisaged in the statement. The purpose of the statement is, after all, to set out how the Secretary of State expects to exercise the call-in power, not to give binding assurances. That is why clause 1 specifies that nothing in the statement limits the power of the Secretary of State to give a call-in notice, though I reiterate that I expect the vast majority of call-in notices to be issued in accordance with the expectations set out in the statement.

I hope that hon. Members will agree that clause 1, alongside clauses 2, 3 and 4, enables the Government to carry out a vital assessment of relevant trigger events in a measured and effective way.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his remarks on clause 1 stand part and for setting out the Bill’s aims and ambitions. We largely agree with those aims and ambitions, and in that spirit I will give further clarity on the Opposition’s overall position. We stand in support of the need for the Bill, and indeed we sought it years ago. We support the need for the new powers to protect our national security, as set out by the Minister, and the need for those new powers in the context of changing technological, commercial and geopolitical realities. Our approach to the Bill is therefore one of constructive challenge and is guided by three principles, the first being the security of our citizens. We do not want narrow legal definitions. Our proposed amendment to clause 1 would have ensured broad input into the considerations, such that our national security was not threatened as a result of insufficient expert advice or by the pure, ministerial market ideology of recent record. Our group of amendments sought to bring legal powers, multi-agency expertise and proper decision making to bear in putting British security first.

There has already been significant discussion of the right national security powers, both on Second Reading and in the Committee evidence sessions. An essential part of that discussion has been focused on the merits of giving the Government powers to protect our national security by using a public interest test. There are understandable concerns that too broad a test might result in a drop in investment for the UK’s start-ups and businesses, and these concerns note an economic challenge in expanding our national security powers. At the same time, however, there is widespread agreement that national security and economic security are not entirely separate. They are deeply linked. A national security expert told us that a narrow focus on direct technologies of defence, for example, was mistaken, and that we should look at the defence of technologies that seem economically strategic today and might become more strategic in future.

Our concern is that we have a Government who are years behind our allies in even contemplating the new national security investment regime. We have seen only 12 national security screenings in 18 years, and not a single instance of the Government acting decisively to block a takeover and guard our national security. In the context of what other countries are doing and how rapidly technologies progress from being economically strategic to becoming security threats, we must not just consider a narrow national security test, but pursue a road to sovereign technological capability and much more ambitious and robust routes to protecting national security and strategic interests. The Opposition will therefore put the security of our citizens first. We will not shy away from regaining national sovereign capability, and we assure our citizens that Britain will have the technology and the capability to protect its national security.

In scrutinising the Bill and this clause, we will champion clarity and support for our prized SMEs and innovative start-ups—the engine of British jobs and British prosperity. We have already heard from market participants that the Government’s belated rush with this Bill has created huge uncertainty and concern over the ability of BEIS to operate the new investment screening regime that the Minister set out. The Government’s impact assessment notes that 80% of transactions in the scope of mandatory notification will be by SMEs. We heard from our expert witnesses that the impact assessment fails to account for the costs faced by the acquired companies, and for the overall impact on funding for our start-ups. The Opposition will not turn a blind eye to those costs for our small and medium-sized enterprises. At each step, the Opposition will plug gaps left by the Government in coherent policy making, to champion British creativity and innovation. It is the least our small and medium-sized enterprises deserve.

Finally, we will stand for effective scrutiny of the Government of the day. That is why we tabled the amendment, which has unfortunately not been accepted by the Committee. However, we will find proportionate, robust and democratically legitimate means of seeking accountable action to protect our national security. Our amendments will stand up for British security, and for competent and coherent decision making. Clearly, we regret the Committee’s decision on our amendment, but we will not oppose the clause standing part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Further provision about call-in notices

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I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment, and certainly the spirit in which it is intended. Although we want to make it clear that it is important that, as often as possible, the trigger event and the associated call-in are clear, resolved and put to bed thereafter, there are circumstances where that is not possible, and the Minister should have the ability to rectify that problem and act in the best interests of national security and of fair play for the companies involved.
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test and other hon. Members will permit me, in responding to the hon. Gentleman’s points, to begin by considering stand part and by laying out the Government’s broad rationale before turning to the substance of the amendment.

The clause contains further provisions about the use of the call-in power. It is vital that the Secretary of State is able to call in and scrutinise trigger events that have taken place. However, it is right that clear limits are placed on the call-in power to ensure that it is used in a proportionate manner—the whole point here is proportionality. The clause therefore prohibits a trigger event from being called in more than once. It also provides that the Secretary of State may issue a call-in notice only up to five years after a trigger event has taken place and no longer than six months after becoming aware of the trigger event.

The time limit of five years strikes the right balance between ensuring the Secretary of State has enough time to spot completed trigger events that may pose a risk to national security. The hon. Gentleman cited evidence from Dr Lenihan on 3Leaf, which speaks more to the screening operation than the amendment. Of course, the Secretary of State also has to make sure that the risks to national security are balanced against avoiding undue uncertainty for the parties involved, which we all want to make sure we look after, and we have heard from colleagues about the challenges that small businesses face in building or rebuilding their business

For trigger events that take place before commencement but after the introduction of the Bill, the five-year time limit starts at commencement rather than from when the trigger event takes place. If the Secretary of State becomes aware of that trigger event before commencement, the six-month time limit also starts at commencement. The ability to call in trigger events that take place before the commencement of the call-in power but after the introduction of the Bill will help to safeguard against hostile actors rushing through sensitive acquisitions to avoid the new regime, now that we have set out our main areas of interest.

The five-year time limit does not apply if the Secretary of State has been given false or misleading information, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) reminded us, or in relation to notifiable acquisitions that have been completed without prior approval.

In all this, we will seek to provide as much transparency and predictability as possible. The Secretary of State may not, therefore, exercise the power until under, clause 3, a statement is published setting out how.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Could the Minister say a little more about what the problem is with not having the Minister’s or the Secretary of State’s hands tied? Our amendment simply says that if information comes to light that creates cause for concern, the Secretary of State may, if he or she so wishes, look into it again. It is not an obligation; it simply makes sure that the option is there.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was going to address that at the end of my remarks, but I will touch on it briefly and hopefully reiterate it at the end. It is about certainty and proportionality. Everything we are doing by legislating in this way has an impact on businesses and the certainty of attracting investment and growing, as the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, reminded us in her opening speech.

As I was saying, a draft of the statement was published alongside the Bill. Following commencement, if parties involved in trigger events are concerned about them being called in, they will be able to remove any doubt about this by notifying the Secretary of State of their event. They will then be entitled to receive a quick and binding decision on whether the Secretary of State will call in the event.

I will turn briefly to amendment 10, which seeks to extend the Secretary of State’s power to issue a call-in notice in respect of a trigger event that has previously been called in when no new material information becomes available within five years of the trigger event. After a trigger event is called in, the Secretary of State has—

National Security and Investment Bill (Sixth sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee stage & Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 1st December 2020

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 1 December 2020 - (1 Dec 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing clause stand part.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. As I was saying, after a trigger event is called in, the Secretary of State has 30 working days in which to carry out a full national security assessment, although that may be extended in certain circumstances. During that period, the Secretary of State may use his information-gathering powers under the Bill to gather from relevant parties any further information he requires to make a final decision. I can reassure hon. Members that the Secretary of State will make full use of these powers to fully assess every aspect of an acquisition.

Where, at the end of an assessment, the Secretary of State imposes remedies in relation to a trigger event, the Bill provides a power for him to amend those where appropriate. Such an amendment is really relevant only in cases where a trigger event is called in for scrutiny but ultimately cleared by the Secretary of State outright, without any remedies being imposed. In cases where false or misleading information is provided that materially affects the Secretary of State’s decision to clear a trigger event outright, he may revoke his decision and give a further call-in notice up to six months after the false or misleading information is discovered.

Adding further opportunities to call in a trigger event each time new material information becomes available after the Secretary of State has already had the opportunity to carry out full scrutiny of the trigger event would be disproportionate and give rise to unjustified uncertainty for the parties involved. The Government have been clear that this regime must provide a slicker route to investment by providing clarity and predictability for investors. Sadly, the proposed amendment would create uncertainty for businesses, with them unable to assess if and when the Secretary of State might call in their trigger event again, up to five years after the trigger event has been completed. That is why I am unable to accept the amendment. I hope that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test will agree with me and withdraw it.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Our amendment was genuinely intended to be helpful, to try to ensure that what we see as a loophole is closed. The Minister has indicated that, in his view, that loophole would be closed at the expense of uncertainty in company land, as it were—uncertainty for those companies that might be subject to this procedure.

The circumstances that would see this amendment put into action—I have outlined some possible circumstances—would be very rare; only circumstances in which things had changed very substantially, in terms of global interest in particular areas of our economy, or circumstances in which information that could have been supplied was not supplied, and not because there was an intention to be malicious or misleading, but because people did not get to the bottom of something first time around. In those circumstances, companies would perhaps anticipate that that change might happen, and certainly if there were substantial global changes in who was interested in what, then companies would also anticipate that to a considerable extent. I do not share the Minister’s view that the amendment would place companies in general in a state of uncertainty.

The additional assistance that the amendment would provide to make the process watertight should be taken seriously. However, I hear what the Minister has said and appreciate that a balance has to be achieved between different arrangements so that they are satisfactory both for national security and for company wellbeing and development—I am sorry that he has perhaps come down slightly further on one side than on the other in his appraisal of amendment 10. However, I appreciate what he has said and therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Statement about exercise of call-in power

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Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased to speak to this group of amendments, which relate to clause 3. This clause provides for a statement to be published by the Secretary of State, setting out how he expects to exercise the call-in power. Clause 1 requires that this statement is published before the power may be used. There are three amendments in this grouping—amendments 1, 2 and 9—and I will speak to each of them in turn.

I advise the Committee that we have interpreted amendment 1, including with regard to the Members’ explanatory statement, as seeking to amend clause 3(1) rather than 3(3). The effect of this amendment, as we believe it was intended, is to require the Secretary of State to publish the statement. As I set out on Second Reading, the Government are committed to providing as much clarity and predictability as possible for business when it comes to the use of the new investment screening regime that is provided for by this Bill. The proposed statement will provide valuable information to businesses and investors, and help them to determine whether they should submit a notification about their trigger event. Indeed, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament, publish and not withdraw the statement before the call-in power may be used. In effect, this means that the Secretary of State will need to have published a statement to use the call-in power, which is crucial to the regime.

Of course, as the security landscape changes over time, he may wish to publish an updated statement at a future point; this will need to go through the same consultation and parliamentary procedure as the original statement before it can take its place. I assure hon. Members that the Secretary of State has neither the intention nor the power to run this regime without having first published a statement.

I will now turn briefly to amendment 2, which would allow for the Secretary of State to include a definition of national security in the statement provided for by clause 3. The Secretary of State’s powers under the Bill are expressly predicated on investigating and addressing risks to national security. When exercising these powers, the Secretary of State is required to proceed on the basis that national security is strictly about the security of our nation. That is because what national security means is a question of law, which has already been answered by the highest courts of the land as being the security of our nation.

The Secretary of State will obviously need to comply with the law when exercising the powers in the Bill. There is therefore no need to define what national security means in the Bill. As Dr Ashley Lenihan—a fellow at the Centre for International Studies at the London School of Economics, who was quoted earlier by the shadow Minister—mentioned in last week’s evidence session:

“What we have seen is that most foreign direct investment regimes of this nature all refer to national security. I do not know of a single one that actually defines it or limits itself to a particular definition”.––[Official Report, National Security and Infrastructure Public Bill Committee, 24 November 2020; c. 38, Q42.]

Furthermore, as national security is a term used in the Bill, it would in any event not be appropriate for the Secretary of State to define the scope of the term in the statement; the statement is not legislation and is not subject to approval by Parliament.

Wanting to understand the Government’s aims and expectations for these powers is entirely reasonable—there is no discussion about that. However, I refer the Committee to the comments of Michael Leiter, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP, who told us that he would consider that

“it is a bit of a fool’s errand”––[Official Report, National Security and Investment Public Bill Committee, 24 November 2020; c. 49, Q55.]

to define national security. Instead, the statement will set out how the Secretary of State expects to use the call-in power, and we plan to include details of the types of national security risks in which the Secretary of State is especially interested.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I just want to come back on the point the Minister made about other regimes not using a definition of national security. The United States Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act provides a sense of congress on six factors: countries of special concern; critical infrastructure, energy assets and critical materials; history of compliance with US laws; control of US industries that affect US capability and capacity to meet national security requirements; involvement of personally identifiable information; and potential new cyber-security vulnerabilities. In his comments, the Minister said that no other regime includes a definition of national security, but that sounds like a definition of national security to me.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Aberavon for his comments. I was quoting from the evidence that Dr Ashley Lenihan provided. She said:

“I do not know of a single one that actually defines it or limits itself to a particular definition,”––[Official Report, National Security and Investment Public Bill Committee, 24 November 2020; c. 38 Q42.]

if that is what he was referring to.

Instead, what I am trying to share with the Committee is that the statement will set out how the Secretary of State expects to use the call-in power. Within that, we plan to include details of the types of national security risks in which the Secretary of State is especially interested. These include certain sectors of the economy and types of acquisitions relating to entities and assets that may raise concern. I think I have said enough on that.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not sure that the Minister has; it is always a pleasure to hear his dulcet tones. In all seriousness, is this not open to interpretation with a change of Secretary of State, in the way that we have seen in the US with a change of President, and how that President chooses to define what national security means?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the hon. Member’s contribution. Of course, no Government can tie the hands of future Governments, if that is his argument.

Moving on, I commend hon. Members for their interest in the process and function of the regime, made clear through amendment 9, which provides for additions to the statement about the exercise of the call-in power. It aims to ensure that the regime created by the Bill is properly resourced with the right numbers of skilled staff. The hon. Member for Ilford South was thoughtful in his concern about that. However, I would say to him and other Members that the purpose of the statement is to set out how the Secretary of State expects to exercise the power to give a call-in notice. It will provide information on the types of scenarios where the Secretary of State may consider there to be a national security risk. It would not be appropriate to add details about how the regime will be staffed.

Furthermore, internal arrangements on resource and skills are a matter for the Secretary of State and, of course, the permanent secretary at BEIS. I reassure hon. Members, however, that the Bill compels—this is the lever for Parliament, in my view—the Secretary of State to publish an annual report, which will provide information on the number of mandatory notices accepted and rejected, the number of voluntary notifications accepted and rejected, and the number of call-in notices and final orders made. That review is incredibly important in measuring performance. The exact details and requirements for the annual report are set out in clause 61. I will not go through all of them.

For the reasons I have set out, I am unable to accept the amendments and hope that Opposition Members feel able to withdraw them.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his response. I particularly thank my hon. Friends for the points that they have raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South set out the importance of reporting on resourcing. I am disappointed that the Minister could not accept that amendment. He said that it was not appropriate to include details of resourcing and staffing. I point him in the direction of the Government’s misinformation unit, which was set up to grand acclaim in order to address that important issue. As the Minister for vaccines, he will have a strong interest in the effectiveness of misinformation, which could harm our wellbeing and future return to normality.

That unit was set up. Written parliamentary questions that I tabled revealed that it had no full-time staff or full-time equivalents, and we see a resultant lack of action on misinformation. I make that point to counter the Minister’s assertion that it is not important to have details on resourcing reported. On the contrary, our experience in Parliament and the civil service suggests that it is what is resourced that will get done, with the appropriate skill and care. With such a great number of cases, and such a great change in the scope of takeover and acquisition legislation that the Bill represents, reporting on resourcing is very important.

I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South for such intriguing and at times amusing oratory on the importance of a single word in the right place.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Southampton, Test.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry. Southampton, Test.

--- Later in debate ---
0

Division 2

Ayes: 6


Labour: 5
Scottish National Party: 1

Noes: 9


Conservative: 9

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We must now deal formally with amendments 2 and 9, which can either be pressed to a Division or withdrawn.

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0

Division 3

Ayes: 5


Labour: 5

Noes: 9


Conservative: 9

Sam Tarry Portrait Sam Tarry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 11, in clause 3, page 3, line 16, at end insert—

“(7) The Secretary of State must publish guidance for potential acquirers and other interested parties separate from the policy intent statement.

(8) Guidance under subsection (7) must cover—

(a) best practice for complying with the requirements on acquirers imposed by this Act and regulations;

(b) the enforcement of the requirements; and

(c) circumstances where the requirements do not apply.

(9) Guidance under subsection (7) must be published within six months of this Act receiving Royal Assent.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to provide clear guidance to potential acquirers and other interested parties.

Again, this is, in our view, a fairly simple amendment. It is important because it is about ensuring that we are an attractive destination for business. A number of witnesses were very clear that many businesses need an early warning. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to provide clear guidance to potential acquirers and other interested parties, so that people are not put off from investing or getting involved in the British economy because of red tape that they might fear being tied up in. The amendment is about providing that clear guidance to companies.

If the Government went even further and published guidance that created regulatory sandboxes and clear engagement guidelines for innovative small and medium-sized enterprises, which could benefit from efficient regulatory engagement to pursue investment transactions just as, for example, the Financial Conduct Authority has done for the UK’s world-leading FinTech sector, we could turn this into an opportunity to encourage the right types of companies from our allies around the world to invest in Britain.

One of the things we fear is the introduction of significant uncertainty. We know that hard work is going on to finalise a trade deal. Businesses have for so long felt that their big problem, in deciding about long and medium-term investment, is uncertainty. The amendment is about tackling straightaway any fears of uncertainty among businesses, particularly innovative SMEs, which will not have the resources to spend on figuring out the lengthy processes and, potentially, the accompanying guidance that could be put in place once the Bill passes. The amendment would require the Government to try to reduce that uncertainty.

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Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South for moving the amendment. The Committee must support the aims of the amendment and the implementation of the requirement to publish guidance for potential acquirers and other interested parties separate from the policy intent statement. My hon. Friend set out the importance of avoiding uncertainty and of providing certainty for companies and businesses that might come into the scope of this Bill.

Now is perhaps the time to highlight a failing of the Bill and the impact statement, in that the focus is on the acquirers—those who will acquire companies or shares through transactions. The explanatory notes explain why that is the case: because a trigger event might take two or three separate transactions to complete, such as acquiring a 25% interest, so it has to be on the acquirers to make the notification. I understand that, but I think the impact statement dramatically underestimates—in fact, it does not make an estimate—the impact that will have on those being acquired.

By that, I think particularly of small start-ups—our small, innovative new ventures and new enterprises, perhaps spun out from universities or other institutions. As they seek finance to grow and to thrive and to make further discoveries and innovations, they will have to give a lot of consideration to the provisions in the Bill. To be frank, as all of us who have worked in small businesses know, time is at a premium, as is access to legal advice. Small start-ups need this kind of guidance easily and readily available. I fail to understand why the Minister would not want the Department to provide this guidance specifically to companies, separate from the policy intent statement. I support my hon. Friend’s amendment.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Amendment 11 would require the Secretary of State to publish guidance in relation to the Bill and regulations made under it within six months of Royal Assent. The hon. Member for Ilford South raised an important issue and I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Government’s plan for communicating the application of the proposed new regime, including the requirements that would or might be imposed on persons. It is important that appropriate steps are taken to make such persons aware of the requirements that would or might be placed on them. I have used “persons” here deliberately as it is the correct term, but I wish to make it clear that that includes acquirers.

First, the Government have published factsheets on the digital platform .gov that make clear what the measures in the proposed legislation are and who they apply to. The factsheet “Process for Business” sets out step by step what steps persons must or may need to take to ensure compliance with the regime. Secondly, we have set up the email address investment.screening@beis.gov.uk specifically for the purpose of providing advice on what may be in scope of the NSI regime for persons to contact to ensure that they properly understand the proposed regime. Of course, the Government believe that the Bill does not require any adjustment but should adjustments happen as it passes the scrutiny of this House and the other place, then any adjustments that affect persons would be reflected in the factsheets.

Thirdly, the Government have published and will continue to publish guidance alongside key documents in the Bill. Hon. Members will, for example, be able to review the information likely to be required for notifications online, as well as draft guidance. It is our intention to complete similar such guidance wherever it would be beneficial to parties. I hope that that provides sufficient reassurance for the hon. Member for Ilford, South and the shadow Minister that the Government are thinking carefully, and will continue to think carefully, about how to ensure that all parties who need to understand the measure are able to. For the reasons that I have set out, I cannot accept the amendment and I hope that the hon. Member for Ilford, South will withdraw it.

Sam Tarry Portrait Sam Tarry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wish to press the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:

0

Division 4

Ayes: 6


Labour: 5
Scottish National Party: 1

Noes: 9


Conservative: 9

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope that hon. Members will recognise that the Government are committed to providing as much clarity and predictability as possible for business on the use of the new investment screening regime provided for in the Bill. Clause 3 is the third clause related to the call-in power, and concerns the statement of policy intent. Colleagues will remember that clause 1 requires that, prior to the use of the call-in power provided for in that clause, the Secretary of State must publish and not withdraw a statement that sets out how they expect to use the call-in power.

The Secretary of State was pleased to publish a draft of that statement alongside the Bill to enable hon. Members, businesses and, indeed, the general public to review the approach he expects to take. As hon. Members will no doubt have seen, the draft statement contains details of what the Secretary of State is likely to be interested in when it comes to national security risks. It includes certain sectors of the economy and the types of entities, assets and acquisitions that may raise concerns.

Although it is crucial for investors to have confidence that there is as much transparency in the regime as possible, there is self-evidently a limit to how much the Government can disclose in that regard given that the regime deals explicitly with national security matters. Nevertheless, the draft statement goes into some detail about the factors that the Secretary of State expects to take into account when making a decision on whether to call in a trigger event. The statement will also be required to be reviewed at least every five years to reflect the changing national security landscape, although in practice it may be reviewed and updated more frequently.

Taken together, I hope that hon. Members will agree that the requirement for the Secretary of State to publish a statement of policy intent prior to use of the call-in power and the requirement to review it regularly provide a good level of transparency and guidance to businesses, while not disclosing our national security vulnerabilities, which of course hostile actors would be grateful to receive. The statement will provide valuable information for businesses and investors and help them, we believe, to determine whether they should submit a notification about their trigger event. I hope that hon. Members feel that I have sufficiently explained and justified the clause and its place in the Bill.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 3 is critical, as it sets out the context in which the Secretary of State will exercise the important power to call in transactions. We have sought in our amendments to improve it. I accept the Minister’s response to and rejection of our amendments, and his belief that the clause provides for the guidance and clarity that businesses need. I would just say to him that it was the clear conclusion of just about every witness in the evidence sessions that greater clarity and understanding were required, and that to make this change was an immense mountain to climb.

In some respects, the Government could not give too much support and guidance, within the bounds of national security, to the many companies and persons who will be caught up in the measures. Having said that, given that it is an essential part of the Bill, which we support, we accept that the clause stand part.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Consultation and parliamentary procedure

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I turn to clause 4, I will begin with a reference to clause 3. The statement provided for in clause 3 sets out how the Secretary of State expects to exercise the call-in powers that we have just been discussing. It is the Government’s view that this statement is important in ensuring that businesses have as much clarity and predictability as possible regarding the potential use of the call-in powers, including the areas of the economy where national security risks are likely to arise. Likewise, clause 3 also sets out that the Secretary of State is required to review the statement at least every five years.

It is right that there are mechanisms to ensure that the Secretary of State seeks external input, where appropriate, on the proposed contents of the statement and that Parliament can scrutinise the final version. Clause 4 therefore requires the Secretary of State to carry out such consultation on a draft of the statement as he thinks appropriate and to take into account the responses to any such consultation during the drafting process. Those requirements also apply when the Secretary of State seeks to amend or replace a published statement.

Our plan is to launch a public consultation shortly after the passage of the Bill to make sure that affected parties can provide comments to us in good time. Before the final statement may be published, clause 4 also requires the Secretary of State to lay it before Parliament, following which the statement will be subject to a procedure akin to the negative resolution procedure. If either House resolves not to approve the statement within 40 sitting days, the Secretary of State must withdraw the statement. I can assure the House and hon. Members that the Government are committed to ensuring that this new regime works for those most affected by it. Investor and business confidence is imperative to the recovery from the covid pandemic. That is why the Government propose to put in place these requirements before the Secretary of State is able to publish the statement and exercise the call-in power.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5

Meaning of “trigger event” and “acquirer”

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss:

Clause 10 stand part.

That schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I turn now to clauses 5 and 10, alongside schedule 1, which set out much of the detail on the circumstances covered by the Bill. Clause 5 begins to set the scope of what may be called in by the Secretary of State by providing the overarching definitions of “trigger event” and “acquirer”. The Government are clear that these new powers should be sufficiently broad to cover potential risks to national security. Clause 5 sets out that the new regime is focused on the acquisition of control over both qualifying entities and assets. These acquisitions are collectively known as trigger events. I do not intend now to explore what does and does not qualify as an asset or entity. Instead, I would direct hon. Members to clause 7, which provides such definitions.

Following on logically, the person gaining such control is the acquirer, and to address a query raised on Second Reading by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), I should make clear that “person” includes both a body and an individual. Subsequent clauses explain the specific ways that control can be acquired for the purpose of the Bill, but this is a necessary clause to set the broad parameters of the regime. The trigger events within scope of the call-in power are defined in clauses 8 and 9 as acquisitions of control over qualifying entities and assets, but the Government consider that the Bill must supplement that by providing for interests or rights to be treated as held or acquired, and therefore for control to be acquired in certain circumstances, such as acquisitions involving indirect holdings or connected persons.

That is why clause 10, in combination with schedule 1, sets out various ways in which rights or interests are to be treated for the purposes of the Bill as being held or acquired, including, for example, joint arrangements with other parties. These edge cases are critical to ensuring that determined hostile actors cannot deliberately structure acquisitions in certain ways to avoid being covered by the regime. While many trigger events may be straightforward, direct acquisitions by a party without any connection to other persons involved in the target entity or asset, there may be broader factors that need to be taken into account when considering how control over an entity or asset may be held.

It may be that the ability to control the entity or asset is acquired, for example, as a result of arrangements between the acquirer and other shareholders or their relationship to other shareholders. The approach taken in schedule 1 broadly mirrors the concept of holding an interest in a company, already familiar in UK company law through the persons with significant control register, introduced in 2016.

Taking each in turn, paragraph 1 of schedule 1 defines joint interests, whereby two or more people holding an interest or right jointly are each treated as holding it. That means that any joint holdings of the acquirer will be taken into account when assessing whether control has been acquired over a qualifying entity or asset.

Paragraph 2 defines joint arrangements so that parties who arrange to exercise their rights jointly in a predetermined way—for example, to always vote together in a particular way—are each treated as holding the combined rights and interests of all the parties involved in such an arrangement. That is important to prevent hostile actors from being able to co-ordinate the acquisition and exercise of rights that might otherwise fall below the threshold of a trigger event.

Paragraph 3 defines indirect holdings, whereby a person holds an interest or right indirectly through a chain of entities, where each entity in the chain has a majority stake in the entity below it, the last of which holds the interest or right. We know that determined hostile actors are likely to seek to obscure their acquisitions through complex corporate structures, so it is vital that the Secretary of State can intervene in such circumstances.

Paragraph 4 simply stipulates that interests held by nominees for another are to be treated as held by the other, rather than the nominee. Paragraph 5 defines the circumstances in which rights are to be treated as held by a person who controls their exercise; this would cover, for example, instances where a person acquired a stake in an entity, but it was evident that they had an arrangement with a third party about how to exercise the rights that came with that stake.

Paragraphs 6 and 7 provide for the circumstances in which rights that are exercisable only in certain circumstances and rights attached to shares held by way of security are respectively to be treated as held, and mirror corresponding provisions in schedule 1A to the Companies Act 2006.

Paragraphs 8 to 10 define connected persons; as set out, connected persons are each to be treated as holding the combined rights or interests of both or all of them. That would cover, for example, shares in a company separately by a husband and wife or a brother and sister. Finally, paragraph 11 sets out that two or more persons sharing a common purpose are to be treated as holding the combined interests or rights for both or all. That would include two or more persons who co-ordinate their influence in relation to an entity or an asset, similar to joint arrangements. This will ensure that the Secretary of State is able to assess the impact of co-ordinated acquisitions.

Taken together, the concepts detailed in schedule 1 are a crucial part of ensuring that the new regime is flexible enough to deal with the complex reality of some acquisitions of control over entities and assets. Without these provisions, hostile actors could seek to take advantage of the gaps by structuring acquisitions in a way that would be out of scope of the regime, despite the very real risks that that might present. I trust that colleagues on both sides of the Committee want to ensure that the regime covers such cases suitably.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his comments on clauses 5 and 10 and schedule 1, which are quite technical provisions designed to allow for the different ways in which control may be acquired over a qualifying entity or asset or a trigger event may occur. I shall not repeat what the Minister so ably set out, but simply say that we recognise the need to set out ways to mitigate the impact of hostile actors, as he put it, going to complex lengths to hide their interest in a qualifying asset or entity. However, having the powers and these definitions is not the same as actually using them. There have been several instances in which hostile actors have behaved in entirely transparent ways that we have not identified and prevented. While these provisions are necessary, we need to see the ways in which the Secretary of State will actively identify evolving risks even as they hide behind complex financial organisations.

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Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

But if the IP, the patents and various other things have been made off with by another company, and the administrators have presumably agreed to that, although they never hold the rights, where are the shareholders and creditors’ duties and rights at that point? Indeed, what is the remedy as far as the Government are concerned in those circumstances?

I can honestly say I am fairly confused about this, so I do not have the full answer to the hon. Member’s concerns. I am raising this more because I am not sure whether the wording in the schedule is fully adequate for those circumstances. I would be grateful if the Minister gave me some assurance, took some of the clouds from my mind about this, or alternatively said, “Well, we’re going to have a look at this to see whether there is a bit of a problem that we might have to fix.”

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest addressed the issue of the administrator’s acting on behalf of the creditors. The important point to focus on—I will happily write to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test after the sitting—is that ultimately, it is the acquirer. If a malign actor were come to acquire those assets, and it is notifiable as part of the 17 sectors, then the transaction is made void. That is the remedy, effectively, because the acquirer would have to come forward and make representations to the investment unit about why they are acquiring and get clearance.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test for the points that he is making. I wish to put to him, and effectively the Minister as well, an example which was raised yesterday in debate on the Telecommunications (Security) Bill, with which I am intimately familiar as the collaboration is between Nortel, an equipment vendor for whom I worked in the past, and Huawei, on a project to develop new technology. When two entities come together and collaborate, which I do not think will meet any of the trigger events described here, but instead create something which has IP in it which is of value, how does that come under the provisions of the clauses and the schedule?

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Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let us take the example given by the hon. Member of Nortel collaborating with Huawei or any other entity. They have to satisfy themselves that if they wish to acquire something else in future, they will effectively have to go through the same process of national security clearance. Collaboration between entities or in academia are covered under the separate guidance, including from the agencies, on who they collaborate with, but I think that is a different issue. Once an asset is created that has a national security implication for the United Kingdom, the Bill comes into play.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 accordingly agreed to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6

Notifiable acquisitions

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 6, in clause 6, page 4, line 27, at end insert—

‘(4A) The Secretary of State must have regard to the protection of critical national infrastructure when making regulations under this section.’

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to have regard to the protection of critical national infrastructure when making notifiable acquisition regulations.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I congratulate the Minister on his recent appointment as the vaccine tsar. I must say, he is taking multi-tasking to a whole new level, and we wish him well.

I rise to speak in favour of amendment 6, which is closely related to amendments 7 and 8. Sir Graham, should I speak to amendments 7 and 8 as well now, or to amendment 6 alone?

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Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend. His intervention is telling because it points to a fundamental failing at the heart of Government in terms of being joined up and credible. We cannot condemn aspects of China’s activity and its increasingly assertive behaviour —potential military threats to Taiwan, and sabre-rattling in the South China sea—while opening up our nuclear energy capability to that same hostile foreign actor. Security is about our credibility, resilience and ability to stand strong and united, because we know that the Chinese Communist party will exploit weakness and division. Consistency is vital—consistency and security are two sides of the same coin.

To answer my hon. Friend’s question, I profoundly and sincerely hope that the investment to which he refers would not have passed this test. Frankly, if it had passed this test, the Bill would end up not being worth the paper it is written on. This is about the implementation of the Bill and the Government’s capability to stand up for our national security and critical national infrastructure, which is at the heart of the amendment.

It is worth pointing out that the Intelligence and Security Committee defines our critical national infra- structure as

“certain ‘critical’ elements of infrastructure, the loss or comprise of which would have a major detrimental impact on the availability or integrity of essential services, leading to severe economic or social consequences or to loss of life.”

I am convinced that no Member present would argue with that definition or against putting those considerations at the heart of what Parliament and the Government stand for.

We must include critical national infrastructure. It would follow best practice—our allies the United States and Canada both include critical national infrastructure in their list of key factors to assess as part of national security, so we would not be reinventing the wheel but simply following best practice. In the expert witness sessions, I asked Sir Richard Dearlove specifically whether he thought that a definition of critical national infrastructure should be included in the Bill. He said:

“I would certainly see that as advantageous, because it defines a clear area where you start and from which you can make judgments”.––[Official Report, National Security and Investment Public Bill Committee, 24 November 2020; c. 24, Q31.]

As I said the start of my comments, sovereign capability is what this is really about, and our sovereign capability is profoundly undermined by the fact that so much of our critical national infrastructure is not in our own hands. Supply chains are over-extended and often depend on actors that perhaps 10 years ago we did not see as we do now, which has to be taken into account. I urge hon. Members to consider the amendment seriously, because it goes to the heart of what Parliament and Government should be about.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Amendment 6 would require the Secretary of State to have regard to the protection of critical national infrastructure when making notifiable acquisition regulations. I welcome the intention of the hon. Member for Aberavon to ensure that the protection of critical national infrastructure is considered by the Secretary of State. Indeed, I take it as a ringing endorsement of the approach the Government have taken in clause 6 to define the specific sectors and activities subject to mandatory notification clearance.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we intend to introduce regulations under the clause once the Bill has received Royal Assent, and we are currently consulting on the sector definitions, which cover much of the critical national infrastructure that he quite rightly shared with the Committee, including energy, civil, nuclear, transport, communications and defence. We are publicly consulting, in particular with sector experts, the legal profession, business and investment communities, to ensure that those definitions provide clarity and certainty, and are focused on the specific parts of sectors and activities that can pose risks to our national security. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, in developing any notifiable acquisition regulations, the Secretary of State will always take into account the national security needs of the country within the critical national infrastructure sectors, the advanced technology sectors and the wider economy.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for giving way; he is being very generous. Does he not see the advantage of including this point on the face of the Bill? It makes an important statement—it is a political statement, really—about the need to ensure that, whatever the regulations say, critical national infrastructure is embedded in the Bill.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. The word that slightly worries businesses is “political” statement. I think that that is a concern. I think his intention is right, and the reason why we have taken the route of mandatory notification for the 17 sectors is precisely the point he makes. I assure him that the Secretary of State will always take into account the national security needs of the country within the critical national infrastructure sectors. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman will recall that the Government introduced a statutory instrument to include health in the Enterprise Act 2002 when the covid pandemic hit.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wonder whether I can tempt the Minister to confirm that the 2015 Secretary of State’s investment agreement concerning Chinese control of the nuclear power station and reactor was a naive act by the Government and did not take national security properly into consideration, and that the Secretary of State who signed that agreement in the Minister’s Department clearly did not do so. Will the Minister both reflect on the naivety of that deal and give an indication that such a deal would never be contemplated by this Department in future?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Hinkley Point deal with EDF, the operator and junior partner in that is CGN.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was not quite; I was referring to the investment agreement on the Hinkley deal that enabled the Chinese state nuclear corporation to develop one third of that series of reactors entirely within its own resources. That was signed into the agreement by the then Secretary of State so that they would be junior partners in Hinkley, equal partners in Sizewell and 100% owners, operators and organisers of Bradwell. That is what I was referring to. The Minister ought to say a few words on the likely actions of the Department in future under the terms of the Bill.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Crucially, Minister, interesting though this topic may be, those last few words should be firmly in your mind in any response you give.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to you, Sir Graham, for refocusing our attention on the amendment. Suffice it to say that national security is always taken into account when it comes to nuclear or energy, as it was at the time of those agreements. The point I am trying to make is that we must be flexible to ensure that the new regime can adapt to the threats of tomorrow. That is the right approach to ensure that we can keep this country safe. Of course, any such regulations will be subject to parliamentary approval through the draft affirmative procedure, giving Members of this House and the other place the opportunity to ensure that the mandatory notification and clearance regime works effectively. As such, I cannot accept the amendment and I hope that the hon. Member for Aberavon will seek leave to withdraw it.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister, but I am afraid that we will have to push the amendment to a Division, because it is so fundamental to how we see the purpose of the Bill. We have heard lots of assurances today along the lines of, “Trust us. We are on the right track. We get it.” I hope the Minister will forgive us, but we prefer the “trust but verify” model. Therefore, we think that this provision should be in the Bill, and I will have to press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

0

Division 5

Ayes: 5


Labour: 5

Noes: 10


Conservative: 10

Amendment proposed: 5, in clause 6, page 5, line 3, at end insert—
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0

Division 6

Ayes: 6


Labour: 5
Scottish National Party: 1

Noes: 10


Conservative: 10

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 13, in clause 6, page 5, line 3, at end insert—

“(10) Notifiable acquisition regulations must be reviewed one year after they are made, and at least once every five years thereafter.”

This amendment would require notifiable acquisition regulations (including which sectors are covered) to be reviewed one year after they are made, and once every five years thereafter.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair once again, Sir Graham. As things stand, I think it is probably a fair assessment, based on what we have heard, that perhaps if the Government had their time again they might have been able to bring forward a consultation in relation to which sectors will be linked to the Bill once it is on the statute book.

I think that a disappointing approach has been taken. It could have been done in a much more constructive manner. The purpose of the amendment is to try to highlight that the issue is a real one, and to highlight the scale and scope of the sectors. As we talked about, there is perhaps concern about whether a specific sector goes far enough. For instance, does artificial intelligence look properly at the role of social media? Does the infrastructure tie into social media in any way, shape or form? There are other examples of that too. Having the review after a year would perhaps allow the Government to be a little more certain about where their priorities lie, and to provide additional certainty to businesses in what is an ever-moving landscape. National security is, of course, an ever-evolving issue, as we have heard passionately from a number of Members.

I will keep my remarks succinct. The amendment is about tightening things up and removing the difficulties that are being caused by the lag between the Bill and the consultation, and doing so in a constructive fashion to try to assist the Government.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To discuss this amendment, I believe it would be helpful to revisit briefly the role of notifiable acquisition regulations under the regime. A key part of the Bill is the ability it affords the Secretary of State to make acquisitions of certain shares or voting rights in certain entities—notifiable acquisitions, meaning they must be notified and cleared by the Secretary of State before they can take place. Those types of entity are to be specified in regulations by the Secretary of State and the Government have published a consultation on the definitions of those types of entity, which fall within 17 key sensitive sectors of the economy that we propose to initially be covered by the mandatory notifiable regime.

The regulation-making powers in the clause are the best and most proportionate way to enable the Secretary of State to change over time what does and does not constitute a notifiable acquisition. That is crucial for two main reasons. First, it would not be the right approach to set the types of entity covered by mandatory notification and their definitions in stone, forever, in 2020. We all know how difficult this year is. The Secretary of State must be able to update them, in some cases rapidly, as the threats we face evolve and to keep pace with technological development.

Secondly, the Secretary of State must be able to react to the operation of this regime in practice. While the Bill does not include a white list that exempts specific acquirers from the mandatory regime, we have been clear that we will monitor closely the volumes and patterns of the notifications made to the Secretary of State. It may emerge over time, for example, that acquisitions by institutional investors and pension funds are routinely being notified but very rarely remedied or even called in. Such evidence could build the case for using the powers in this clause to make exemptions to the definition of a notifiable acquisition, on the basis of the characteristics of the acquirer.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Order. I do not know who the person who has just walked in is, but only Members are allowed in the room. Please leave immediately.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Apology accepted.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is therefore right that the Secretary of State keeps a constant watch on the regulations. Indeed, it is vital that he has the flexibility to re-assess and, if needed, seek to update the regulations as soon as is needed, while taking a proportionate approach that gives as much stability to business and investors as possible. Ensuring this vital timeliness and balance means it would not be appropriate to impose particular requirements on when and how frequently the Secretary of State should review the powers, so I cannot accept the amendment. However, I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Aberdeen South that keeping the regulations up to date and proportionate is of the utmost importance, and I can assure him that that is what the Secretary of State will do.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will certainly take that assurance from the Minister in the spirit in which it is given, but that is probably as far as that will go. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 6 defines the circumstances covered by mandatory notification. The Bill calls them notifiable acquisitions, on the basis that they must be notified and cleared by the Secretary of State before they can take place. The Government have looked carefully at investment screening regimes around the world, in particular those of our Five Eyes allies and other security partners. Common among them all is the inclusion of a mandatory notification component to ensure that the most sensitive transactions must be actively considered and receive clearance by the relevant authority before they can take place. We have concluded that that is the right step for the United Kingdom to take as well. That reflects our developed view that the Government must have greater assurance that certain acquisitions in the most sensitive sectors, including both the national infrastructure sectors and certain advanced technology sectors, are safe to proceed.

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None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Before I put the question formally, for the benefit of Members––particularly new Members who have not been able to be here as much in the last year as would otherwise have been the case––let me say that a good way of thinking of the rules of order in Committee is to think of them as being pretty much the same as in the Chamber. Similarly, above and below the bar applies in Committee as well as in the Chamber.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7

Qualifying entities and assets

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 7 provides the definitions of “qualifying entities” and “qualifying assets” within the scope of the Bill, where, if they are subject to an acquisition of control that raises national security risks, the Secretary of State may take action. The Government have deliberately adopted a broad definition of “qualifying entities” to ensure that we can protect national security, regardless of the form of the legal structure of an entity that is being acquired in a trigger event.

Entities can be established or restructured in different forms including, for example, companies, limited liability partnerships and unincorporated associations. The clause includes an indicative, and non-exhaustive, list of the entities in scope. However, “individuals” are explicitly excluded. We expect most trigger events to concern companies, but we must also ensure that hostile actors cannot undermine or bypass the new regime through an entity being structured in such a way as to avoid scrutiny. It is therefore right that the clause provides for a broad definition of an “entity”.

Equally, from time to time, there may be cases that concern the acquisition of control over non-business entities such as trade bodies or industry groups that the Government none the less need to be able to scrutinise. The clause also permits the Secretary of State to scrutinise acquisitions relating to non-UK entities, if the entity carries on activities in the UK or provides goods or services to persons in the UK. As I am sure hon. Members will acknowledge, the cross-border nature of trade and supply chains in today’s world means that conduct abroad may impact national security here. For instance, goods that are critical to the defence of the realm may be supplied from abroad. If those goods were to be interfered with, that could harm our national security.

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Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very happy to have the opportunity to set out what we are trying to achieve with this amendment. While the previous amendment was very much about protecting our assets, this one focuses on the characteristics of the acquirer. It is absolutely clear that any successful screening regime has to be based on a solid understanding of both aspects—both the asset and the acquirer—and that both are equally vital to the successful implementation of the regime.

Harking back to the debate we had about an earlier amendment, the objective here has to be smart regulation. What do we mean by that? If we try to catch everything, we end up catching nothing. We have to prioritise. We have to have a screening system that has a smart, nuanced and well-informed understanding of risk, both in terms of the prioritisation of our assets and the prioritisation of understanding the characteristics of the acquirer. It is on that basis that we prioritise action, and when our investment security unit needs to intervene.

The amendment is focused very much on the characteristics of the acquirer. It is about ensuring that we guard ourselves against the influence of foreign powers that wish to do harm to our country—those that have an agenda. The Minister said earlier that companies get a bit worried when we use the term “political”, but national security is a fundamentally political consideration, because it is about our political analysis of the threat from hostile foreign actors and our understanding of what the national interest is in a holistic sense. We have to give that political leadership. We cannot expect the business community to take that decision for us; we have to give a lead on understanding where the investment is coming from and what the characteristics of the company or investment vehicle are. Fundamentally, going by the old adage that he who pays the piper chooses the tune, where there are state-owned and state-backed entities, it is absolutely clear who is paying the piper and who is choosing to the tune.

The amendment we have tabled would mean that any acquisition involving state-owned entities or investors originating in a country of risk to UK national security—a fundamentally political calculation—and creating a change of influence would count as a person gaining control of a qualifying entity. By including state-owned enterprises explicitly on the face of the Bill, we would be ensuring particular regard to the issue even where shareholding levels are low.

We understand the thresholds for trigger events, but what we are saying is that when the characteristics of the acquirer ring particular alarm bells, that should apply regardless of the shareholding level that is being considered by the acquirer. We know the threat from state-owned enterprises is disproportionate; that is why we are recommending a kind of disproportionate action in this amendment, to address the reality of the characteristics and to ensure that we are carefully guarding against potentially malign actors.

Again, this is not a new concept. Other countries use it in their regimes, and we are simply proposing that we follow suit and have a smarter strategy and approach to regulation at the moment. The clarity that we need, of course, is from understanding that where allied states are involved and the transactions are efficiently screened for approval there is little cause for concern, but with this amendment, even small and discrete investments from hostile states and from state-backed entities within those states would be fully captured.

Let us turn to the expert evidence that we received, particularly from Michael Leiter, the legal expert and lawyer, who said:

“With respect to sovereign wealth funds or state-controlled investments, there is a perfectly good argument that yes, the standard of review might be…more rigorous.”—[Official Report, National Security and Investment Public Bill Committee, 24 November 2020; c. 48, Q54.]

Let us be absolutely clear: we do sometimes see so-called private takeovers, where often the state-backed entity is rather obscured within the ownership structure. They are carried out by companies and investment vehicles that are in fact a front for authoritarian state actors, who have wider political, national security and geopolitical agendas and whose values are frequently at odds with ours.

A recent obvious example is the attempt by an investment vehicle backed by the Chinese state to take over Imagination Technologies. The company was the target of a hostile foreign takeover attempt, and that investment vehicle had direct links to the Chinese state. Then there are even more obvious examples, to which my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne Central and for Southampton, Test have referred, particularly around Hinkley and Bradwell, where there is a clear ownership structure coming directly from the Chinese state.

We must also recognise the broader agenda with things such as China’s belt and road initiative, which is about creating debt-trap diplomacy. It is about building influence by entering other economies in such a major way that those economies effectively become dependent on the Chinese state. Of course, that comes with lots of strings attached, and it is part of the deal that those countries are not able or permitted to speak out when the Chinese state behaves in ways that we would not find acceptable. I hope that the Government and the Minister will seriously consider the amendment, because the characteristics of the acquirer must be taken into account if we are to have a smart regulation system that prioritises and does what the Bill sets out to do.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This group of amendments would provide for certain cases to count as a person gaining control of a qualifying entity. The amendments are to clause 8, which defines the circumstances in which a person gains control of a qualifying entity for the purpose of the Bill.

Amendment 7 would ensure, as the hon. Member for Aberavon mentioned, that any acquisition involving state-owned entities or investors originating in a country of risk to UK national security and creating a change of influence would count as a person gaining control of a qualifying entity for the purposes of the Bill. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s intention to ensure that national security is comprehensively protected. I reassure him that the Bill provides no carve-out or special treatment for state-owned entities or overseas investors where they acquire control of a qualifying entity or asset. They will be subject to the mandatory notification requirements in the same way as any other acquirer, and the Secretary of State will have the power to scrutinise any acquisition of control by such parties where the legal test for call-in is met. That includes the acquisition of material influence over the policy of the entity.

However, the Government have been clear that the regime is nationally agnostic, and that each acquisition will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The draft statement of policy published alongside the Bill simply states that the regime will not

“regard state-owned entities, sovereign wealth funds—or other entities affiliated with foreign states—as being inherently more likely to pose a national security risk.”

I strongly believe that this is the right approach. We must recognise that many such organisations have full operational independence in pursuing long-term investment strategies with the objective of economic return, raising no national security risks.

Moreover, the clause already sets out the circumstances that constitute control of an entity based on levels of shareholding and voting rights and material influence. Amendments such as this could, for example, capture increases of equity stakes at any level, even though many could not realistically be expected to give rise to a national security risk. Developing a list of countries of risk would likely be a moving feast that would quickly become out of date in response to changing geopolitics and would most likely harm Britain’s diplomatic relations and place in the world, giving rise to a chilling effect on investment in these shores.

Amendment 8 would create a new case of a person gaining control of a qualifying entity for “changes to material influence” in industries critical to the UK’s capability and capacity to maintain national security, including economic security. Once more, I welcome the emerging cross-party consensus that the Bill must capture more subjective acquisitions of control, rather than solely levels of shares and voting rights. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that acquisitions of material influence over the policy of an entity are very much in the scope of the Bill. That applies within the 17 sectors but also to the wider economy. Parties can notify the Secretary of State of a trigger event concerning the acquisition of a material influence, and he will have the power to proactively call in such a case if the legal test is met.

I should clarify that material influence is not a scale. It is the lowest level of control that can be acquired over a qualifying entity, which captures acquisitions of smaller stakes or other rights or interests in entities, such as board representation rights. As such, it is not immediately clear to me what circumstances such an amendment would bring into the scope of the Bill, given that it would capture changes to material influence. None the less, I admire the ingenuity of the hon. Gentleman’s seeking, at least in part, to define national security through the amendment and its explicit reference to economic security. As he will know, the Bill does not define national security, and, as I said on Second Reading, I think that is a real strength, not a weakness.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister says that this Bill is not country specific. I know he does not want to define national security in the Bill, but does he think that our national security can be country specific?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think that the Bill is proportionate and I think that national security is not dependent on a particular country. Malignant actors come from different nationalities. The Committee heard from a number of experts last week the reasons for not defining national security, not least because it might limit the Secretary of State from being able to respond to new and emerging threats that did not fall within the definitions set out in statute. For these reasons I cannot accept these amendments, and I would gently encourage the hon. Member for Aberavon to withdraw them.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment in his intervention.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for giving way—sort of. One of the key sentences in the Government’s statement of policy intent is in the section on acquirers, which says:

“Clearly, national security risks are most likely to arise when acquirers are hostile to the UK’s national security, or when they owe allegiance to hostile states or organisations.”

I recognise that the statement of policy intent is a draft, but clearly somebody in government thought it a good idea to put that sentence in there, and I absolutely agree with it. It is therefore very difficult to understand the disconnect that appears to exist between the Bill, which is agnostic on different national actors, and the statement of policy intent, which explicitly talks about when acquirers

“owe allegiance to hostile states or organisations.”

On that basis, the amendment touches on a crucial issue and we shall be pushing it to a Division.

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None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I think that was an intervention.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not wish to keep repeating myself, but I have set out the reasons why I cannot accept these amendments. I would again gently encourage the hon. Member to withdraw the amendment, but I suspect we will be heading to a Division.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are moving back and forth here. As I set out, the issues around the characteristics of the acquirer are so important to ensuring that we have a smart approach and the sentence within the statement of policy intent is so absolutely spot on that we will push the amendment to a Division to show our support for that section of the statement.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

0

Division 7

Ayes: 5


Labour: 5

Noes: 10


Conservative: 10

Sam Tarry Portrait Sam Tarry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 12, in clause 8, page 6, line 38, at end insert—

“(10) The fifth case is where a person becomes a major debt holder and therefore gains influence over the entity’s operation and policy decisions.

(11) For the purposes of subsection (8A), a major debt holder is a person who holds at least 25% of the entity’s total debt.”

This amendment would mean that a person becoming a major debt holder would count as a person gaining control of a qualifying entity.

--- Later in debate ---
Mark Garnier Portrait Mark Garnier
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very sympathetic to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Ilford South. He refers to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, on which I sat. There is no question whatever that the bondholders of banks have a huge amount of influence on a bank—more so than the equity holders. I am worried about a couple of things with the amendment. The first is that it is very difficult to define what level of debt ownership constitutes control, because technically there is no control in law. It is possible to have an influence, but we cannot define what control is.

The second point is that tradeable debt, as in bond market debt, is something that is usually stuck to quite a sophisticated company. Most companies will have bank debt. Of course, if we start talking about bank debt, we introduce the tricky concept of where the bank is domiciled. For example, someone can borrow money from Barclays Bank, or they can go to a Russian, Chinese or Hong Kong-based bank. The sentiment behind the amendment is really important, because there is a lot of control by debt owners, be they banks or bond holders. However, it is too complicated to support at this level, because it needs much more debate and scrutiny, and we would need a much more cleverly worded amendment to support this. I do think it is a very important point, and I support the principle behind it.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

These amendments would ensure that a person becoming a major debt holder would count as a person in control of a qualifying entity. Amendment 14 would go further and ensure that a person becoming a top 3 supplier to an entity also counted as a person gaining control of a qualifying entity. I acknowledge that the hon. Members for Ilford South and for Aberdeen South are right to highlight that there are, in a small number of cases, national security risks that can be posed through debt.

Access to finance is crucial for so many businesses. In order to grow and succeed, they will often take out loans that are secured against the businesses and assets that they have fought so hard to build. That is why the Bill allows the Secretary of State to scrutinise acquisitions of control that take place where lenders exercise rights over such collateral, which goes to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest. Such an approach will prevent hostile actors from artificially structuring acquisitions in the form of loans, which, following a swift and convenient default, might otherwise allow them to evade scrutiny.

I can provide further reassurance to the Committee that the acquisition of any right or interest that enabled a person to exercise material influence over the policy of a qualifying entity, including by creditors through debt arrangements, would be in scope of the Bill. It was noted by Christian Boney, partner of Slaughter and May, that the Bill strikes an acceptable balance by not having debt providers specified as a separate case. Depending on the facts of the individual case, that might capture the acquisition of rights by the lender to appoint members of the entity’s board. That is a common approach by lenders when striking an agreement to provide significant amounts of finance, particularly for big infrastructure projects, in order to safeguard their funds. The Bill would cover a scenario where that provided material influence over the policy of the entity, but the amendments would go further still and stipulate that any person becoming the holder of 25% or more of an entity’s debt was a trigger event in itself.

The Government do not believe that the provision of loans and finance is automatically a national security issue—indeed, it is part of a healthy business ecosystem that enables businesses to flourish in this country. I fear that such an approach would likely create a chilling effect on the appetite of lenders to support otherwise attractive and viable projects. Lenders need confidence that they can see a return on ordinary debt arrangements in order to provide that service. I believe that such a chilling effect would have a detrimental impact on the range and extent of finance that is available to UK businesses, particularly SMEs, and their future prospects would suffer as a result. That is the very opposite of the Government’s intention. We must support our innovators and entrepreneurs as we seek to build back better from covid, rather than limit their opportunities to succeed.

Amendment 14 would create an additional case for any person who became a top 3 supplier to an entity. In effect, it would be a new trigger event. I share the desire of the hon. Member for Aberdeen South to ensure that business within our most sensitive supply chains can be protected. I believe the Bill does that already by allowing the Secretary of State to call in trigger events across the economy, when he reasonably suspects they may give rise to national security risks. That includes key suppliers.

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0

Division 8

Ayes: 6


Labour: 5
Scottish National Party: 1

Noes: 10


Conservative: 10

Amendment proposed: 14, in clause 8, page 6, line 38, at end insert—
--- Later in debate ---
0

Division 9

Ayes: 6


Labour: 5
Scottish National Party: 1

Noes: 10


Conservative: 10

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 8 sets out for the purpose of the Bill the circumstances in which a person gains control of a qualifying entity as defined in clause 7. More specifically, the clause sets out the four ways in which control can be gained.

The first two cases are where certain shareholdings or voting rights are acquired. The clause stipulates that acquisitions increasing a person’s holding in a qualifying entity above 25%, 50%, 75% or more all constitute trigger events. The thresholds have been chosen because of their significance under UK company law.

Under the Companies Act 2006, a number of key decisions relating to shareholders’ rights in relation to the decision making of a company require a special resolution. Special resolutions require a majority of 75% of votes to be passed. This means that a holding of more than 25% allows one person to, by themselves, block a special resolution. Similarly, a holding of 75% or more allows one person to, by themselves, pass a special resolution.

Under the Companies Act, ordinary resolutions, which apply to more routine shareholder decisions, require a simple majority. This means that a holding of more than 50% allows one person to, by themselves, make decisions affecting the governance of a company.

The Government believe these thresholds represent reasonable proxies for various levels of control over entities. The clause deliberately includes references to both shares and votes to prevent the artificial construction of acquisitions to avoid meeting one of these thresholds—for example, a 40% stake with 51% of voting rights. In most cases, ordinary shares carry the equivalent amount of voting rights: one vote per share.

Recognising that the regime also concerns entities other than companies established under the Companies Act, the third case explicitly extends the same principles on voting rights enabling the passage of a resolution to other entities. That means that any acquisition of voting rights that allows a person to secure or prevent the passage of any resolution governing the affairs of the entity is a trigger event. This is important because other types of entities are not subject to the Companies Act and may have different thresholds for the passing of resolutions.

Finally, the fourth case that constitutes control of an entity is the acquisition of material influence over its policy. This reflects that no single shares or votes threshold is appropriate in every case.

Material influence is an existing concept under the Enterprise Act 2002, which denotes the lowest level of control that might give rise to a relevant merger situation that may be considered for competition or public interest reasons. Material influence captures acquisitions of smaller stakes or other rights or interests in entities, such as board representation and rights, which nonetheless enable a person materially to influence the policy of the entity.

Other factors, such as the status and expertise of the acquirer or a relationship of financial dependence, may be relevant. Clearly, determining whether material influence has been or is to be acquired will require an assessment of all the circumstances of the case by the Secretary of State. It is not possible, therefore, to provide any hard and fast rules that will be applicable in all cases.

The Competition and Markets Authority has published guidance about what it considers to constitute a material influence. The Secretary of State intends to apply that in so far as is possible in the context of this new regime, for the purposes of determining whether control has been or is to be gained over a qualifying entity.

For the avoidance of doubt, the Government have no plans to publish their own separate guidance on material influence. Collectively, these four cases represent the ways in which control of entities can be acquired for the purpose of the Bill. It is vital that they stand part of the Bill so that the Secretary of State may scrutinise acquisitions of control over entities in whatever form that takes. I hope that hon. Members will agree that this approach has been carefully considered to reflect the complexity of the make-up of modern entities.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As we are over time, I shall not detain the Committee long, but I want to say a few words on this important clause. Our debate has again highlighted the Minister’s apparent determination and conviction that the Bill cannot be improved on, even as we all acknowledge––and as the Telecommunications (Security) Bill makes absolutely clear––that the Government’s record on national security in this context can very much be improved on. I noted his celebration of the innovators and entrepreneurs, and his concerns about the chilling effect on them of bringing debt holders into the Bill’s remit as proposed in the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South.

The entrepreneurs and innovators seeking investment, particularly foreign investment, are unfortunately to have no such protection from the Minister. We want a consistent and robust approach, given the breadth of powers that the Bill gives to the Secretary of State. I was concerned that, even with the wise intervention of the hon. Member for Wyre Forest, the Minister did not make a proposal to take these constructive amendments away to consider and perhaps return with Government amendments that reflect them later in the Bill’s passage. We will not oppose stand part, but I hope that the Minister will continue to consider our suggestions for the improvement of this and other clauses.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9

Control of assets

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 9 sets out, for the purposes of the Bill, the circumstances in which a person gains control of a qualifying asset, as defined in clause 7. A person gains control of a qualifying asset where they acquire a right or interest in, or in relation to, the asset, and as a result they can do at least one of the following.

First, they can use the asset or use it to a greater extent than prior to the acquisition. This would allow the Secretary of State to intervene, for instance, when an individual purchases a sensitive site and can therefore access and use the site. Secondly, they can direct or control how the asset is used, or direct or control its use to a greater extent than prior to the acquisition. This second mechanism by which a person can gain control over a qualifying asset is particularly important as it brings into the scope of the regime those who may not have complete control over the asset, but who can nevertheless still direct or control its operation. Without that, there would be a control loophole that hostile actors may seek to exploit.

It is worth noting the relationship between this clause and clause 11, which provides an exception for control of assets in circumstances where the acquisition is made for purposes wholly or mainly outside the individual’s trade, business or craft. That is intended to put acquisitions such as consumer purchases firmly out of scope of this regime. I reassure hon. Members that the Secretary of State does not routinely expect to call in trigger events relating to assets. However, I hope that the Committee will agree that it is nevertheless important for the Secretary of State to retain this power to guard against hostile actors who seek to acquire control over sensitive assets as an alternative to acquiring the business which owns them.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. ––(Michael Tomlinson.)

National Security and Investment Bill (Seventh sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 3rd December 2020

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 3 December 2020 - (3 Dec 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Good morning, everyone. Before we begin, I have a few preliminary points. As usual, please switch your electronic devices to silent; I just remembered to do mine. The Hansard reporters would be grateful if Members could email any electronic copies of their speaking notes to hansardnotes@parliament.uk.

Clause 11

Exceptions relating to control of assets

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 11 is intended to provide an exemption for certain asset acquisitions, which would otherwise be trigger events. The power to call in acquisitions of control over qualifying assets, as defined in clauses 7 and 9, will significantly expand the Government’s ability to protect our national security.

The clause ensures that these new powers will not extend to certain acquisitions made by individuals for purposes that are wholly or mainly outside the individual’s trade, business or craft. The Government do not believe, for example, that it would be right for the Secretary of State to be able to intervene in consumer purchases. Given their nature, such acquisitions cannot reasonably be expected to give rise to national security risks.

Moreover, a regime which could apply to such circumstances would quickly become impractical and could result in significant numbers of additional notifications for no national security gain whatsoever. As such, this clause explicitly limits the types of assets that the Secretary of State may scrutinise in line with the Government’s intention that the regime will primarily concern control of entities and only extend to assets as a precautionary backstop.

It would mean, for example, that sales of software products to consumers by a software company would not be caught by the regime, but—this is important—it would not prevent a transaction involving the software company selling the underlying code base supporting that software to a buyer acting in a professional capacity from the possibility of call-in under the regime, where that might give rise to a national security risk.

The Government have also carefully considered whether certain types of assets should remain outside this exemption clause. We have concluded that all assets that are either land or subject to export controls, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest regularly reminds us, should not fall within the exemption. This approach, I believe, reflected in the clause, recognises the unique nature of the risks posed by land acquisitions and proximity risk to certain UK sites, as well as the particularly sensitive nature of items on the export control lists. The Government consider that this approach is proportionate and appropriately exempts acquisitions that do not give rise to national security risks, while ensuring flexibility exists to scrutinise hostile actors directly targeting the acquisition of sensitive assets.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I note that subsection (2) lists some exceptions, many of which are framed in terms of regulations of the European Parliament and the European Council. Let me ask the Minister two things. First, why is that the case, given that we will be completely out of the European Union in a matter of days? Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, if the European Parliament and the European Council were to amend those regulations, do the Government intend to amend this legislation to keep in step with what is happening in the rest of the European Union?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman on that detail.

Question put and agree to.

Clause 11 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12

TRIGGER EVENTS: SUPPLEMENTARY

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 16, in clause 12, page 8, line 4, leave out from “does” to end of line 11 and insert

“establishes that arrangements are in progress or contemplation which, if carried into effect, would result in a trigger event taking place.”

This amendment would expand the scope of events to be considered trigger events.

--- Later in debate ---
The amendment seeks to probe the Government’s approach to such contingent events. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady and share her reflections on the collegiate way the Committee has worked. I also thank her for her comments on the quality of the Bill. It is testament to the quality of the team that has worked on it—I place on record my thanks to the excellent civil servants who have worked on the Bill—and the level of consultation. We heard from the hon. Member for Aberavon, who is not in his place, that this has been a long time coming. There was the Green Paper in 2017, the White Paper in 2018 and then the consultation. There was, of course, deep consultation before the laying of the Bill as well.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his comments. I want to make it clear that we are not in any way indicating any criticism of the civil servants who have worked hard, in extremely difficult conditions in the midst of a pandemic, to bring the Bill before us. I think we can all agree—we had some discussion on Tuesday about the nature of parliamentary scrutiny—that the objective of the process is that the Bill benefits.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Hear, hear—I agree with every word.

For the benefit of the Committee, I will begin with clause stand part, before turning to the amendment. The Secretary of State’s power to call in trigger events that have taken place is limited to a maximum of five years after the trigger event takes place and six months after the Secretary of State becomes aware of the trigger event. It is important to bear that in mind when discussing the amendment. That means that the issue of timing as to when a trigger event actually takes place is incredibly important. Many trigger events will have a self-evident completion date, as supported by contractual or other legal agreements. However, some trigger events may be less clearcut. There could be terms agreed formally by the parties, followed by further documentation, leading to a formal completion, all spread out over a period of time.

The clause ensures that where a trigger event takes place over a period of more than one day, or if it is unclear when during a period of more than one day the event has taken place, the last day of that period is treated as the date the trigger event takes place. In addition, the clause seeks to provide clarity about when a trigger event may be considered to be in progress or contemplation, where a person enters into an agreement or arrangement enabling them to do something in the future that would result in a trigger event taking place. It makes clear that entering into such agreements or arrangements, including contingent ones, does not necessarily mean that a trigger event is in progress or contemplation at the time the agreement or arrangement is entered into.

Amendment 16 would ensure that a person entering into any agreement or arrangement that enables the person, contingently or not, to do something in the future that would result in a trigger event taking place would be deemed a trigger event in progress or contemplation for the purposes of the Bill. I welcome the intention to ensure that the Secretary of State can be notified about acquisitions before they take place and I understand the motivation behind that. That is very much the Government’s policy. Indeed, the inclusion of mandatory notification and clear requirements within the proposed 17 sectors illustrates that approach in the most sensitive parts of the economy.

The timing of any notification is clearly very important. It must contain sufficient information for the Secretary of State to decide whether to give a call-in notice. That means that a proposed acquisition must be at an advanced enough stage that all the key details are known: for example, the names of all the parties involved, the size of any equity stake in the entity or asset, and the specifics of any other rights—such as any board appointment rights, which the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington cited in his intervention—being provided to the acquirer.

In some cases, however, such details may be known, but the likelihood of a trigger event actually taking place may still be low because the acquisition is conditional. For example, the striking of a futures contract or an options agreement may stipulate conditions that must be met before the acquirer is required to, or has the right to, acquire a holding in an entity or an asset. Such arrangements are common in the marketplace where, for example, a company’s future share price might be the basis of a conditional acquisition. Equally, lenders provide finance to many UK businesses on the basis of conditional agreements, often with collateral put up by the business as security in return for the loan. Those terms may, subject to certain conditions being met, allow the lender to seize collateral if repayments are not made as agreed.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can the Minister explain, first of all, why subsections (3) and (4) are included here as part of a supplementary clause when they clearly affect definitions, and as such go to the very heart of the Bill? The main clause is about defining the date on which something has happened for the purposes of calculating when later stages have to take place, but subsections (3) and (4) not only apply to those timings; they apply to everything in the Bill. I wonder whether the Minister could explain why those subsections are not included in one of the earlier clauses.

Secondly, I understand the Minister’s argument, but would it not be more prudent to work on the assumption that if somebody insists on some kind of contingent future rights being built into an agreement, they think there is a possibility that they will have to exercise them? Would it not therefore be prudent for the Government to work on the assumption that they are likely to be exercised? If not, is the Minister not concerned that we could have a situation where a whole series of small events, none of which looks particularly significant by itself, adds up to something that does become significant when taken in sequence, but there might never have been a stage during that process where the Bill, or the Act, allowed the Government to intervene?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I am just getting to the crux of the resistance to this amendment on the Government Benches, so if he will allow me, I will do that. As far as subsections (3) and (4) are concerned, we think they are exactly where they should be in the Bill.

In the loan scenario, obviously loans are routinely paid back by businesses as planned, so lenders do not have the option of enforcing any rights towards collateral. Indeed, even where businesses default on payments, lenders will often look for an alternative way to recoup their funds, such as restructuring the repayment amounts or repayment period. That is why the Secretary of State generally only expects to be notified about and, if the legal test is met, to call in acquisitions when they are genuinely in progress or contemplation, not just when they are optional or might take place in the future, as the amendment would effectively do. That could include where an option holder had resolved to exercise their option, or where a lender had decided to enforce their collateral.

None the less, the clause as drafted does provide the Secretary of State with the ability to call in at the time agreements or arrangements are entered into. That would be determined on a case-by-case basis and would, as per subsection (4), take into account how likely it is in practice that the person will do the thing that would result in a trigger event taking place. The amendment put forward by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central—she is right to probe on this—would mean that entry into any agreement or arrangement under which a trigger event could take place in future would be treated as a trigger event currently in progress or contemplation, allowing it to be notified and called in by the Secretary of State. We believe that this would—unintentionally, I am sure—have two significant negative implications.

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Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, I am asking whether the Minister would like to intervene.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not think I need to.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am disappointed that the Minister chose not to address the genuine concern about the provisions in the Bill being gamed by hostile actors.

I share his concerns about increasing the powers of the Secretary of State at a time when, as we understand, there are many more calls on the Department’s responsibilities and it may not have the resources. We have already noted the conflict of interest that can occur between national security and the Department’s focus on increased investment.

As I said, this is a probing amendment, so I will not press it to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13

Approval of notifiable acquisition

--- Later in debate ---
What would be the expectations of the employees of DeepMind, who are now in California, with regard to relocating back to the UK? How would their pension rights be affected? How would acquisitions that DeepMind and/or Google had made over the years be impacted? I do not expect the Minister to be able to set out in detail every potential scenario, but it is right that we have greater and more effective guidance than is to be found in the Bill or its supporting documentation. I look forward to the Minister supporting our amendment and taking it forward.
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for her constructive engagement with the whole Bill, and especially with clause 13. She referred to the Intelligence and Security Committee, and this Committee will know that I have written to the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

However, in answer to one of the questions raised in the letter that has been circulated to the Committee, which the hon. Lady referred to, it would clearly not be appropriate for me to speculate on individual cases, not least because decisions on past interventions have been taken by previous Ministers or Governments, who made their decisions based on the facts as they were known at the time. The Enterprise Act 2002 has provided a robust basis for nearly two decades to intervene on mergers that might have raised concern. However, it is also right that we modernise our powers, and that is exactly what this Bill will do.

The Bill provides—we had a similar discussion about that at Second Reading—that if an asset or company is deemed very valuable to the United Kingdom, it does not matter who the acquirer is, even if they are from a friendly nation, and an intervention can still be made by the Secretary State.

Clause 13 sets out the mechanisms by which the Secretary of State may approve a notifiable acquisition. After I have set out the rationale for the clause, I will speak to the amendment itself. As I have set out previously, notifiable acquisitions are acquisitions of certain shares or voting rights in specified qualifying entities active within 17 sensitive sectors of the economy. These acquisitions must be notified to, and require approval from, the Secretary of State before they may take place.

That approval can be given in three ways. First, when a mandatory notice is submitted by the acquirer, the Secretary of State may decide not to exercise the call-in power—for example, because he does not reasonably suspect that a national security risk may arise. In those circumstances, he is required to notify each relevant person, following the review period of up to 30 working days, that no further action will be taken under the Bill in relation to the proposed notifiable acquisition.

Secondly, when the Secretary of State exercises the call-in power in relation to the notifiable acquisition, he may make a final order at the end of the assessment process, which, in effect, gives approval to the notifiable acquisition, subject to conditions. Again, in that instance the notifiable acquisition is clear to proceed.

Thirdly, as an alternative to the previous scenarios, at the end of the full assessment process the Secretary of State may ultimately conclude that no remedies are required. In those circumstances, he is required to give a final notification that confirms that no further action will be taken under the Bill in relation to the call-in notice. Once more, that means that the acquisition is cleared to take place.

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Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for eloquently setting out the clause. I have to suggest that he not place words into my mouth—certainly as we have such excellent reporting. Although I did not say that I thought it was an excellent deterrent, I did indicate that it could be an effective deterrent, were it considered workable.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for that clarification. I wrote down the hon. Lady’s words. She did say that it is an excellent deterrent, and went on to make her argument for the amendment.

To return to the substance, the provision means that the acquisition has no legal effect if it is void. It is not recognised by the law as having taken place. Clearly, voiding is a situation that it is in the interests of all parties to avoid, which should act as a powerful compliance incentive, if I can describe it as such. The Government’s view is that voiding is the logical result of a regime based on mandatory notification and clearance for acquisitions in the most sensitive sectors before they take place.

Although the Secretary of State, or the courts, may be in a position to punish non-compliance with criminal or civil sanctions, voiding is necessary to limit or prevent risks to national security that may otherwise arise where such acquisitions take place without approval. For example, there may be day one risks whereby hostile actors acquire control of an entity and seek to extract its intellectual property and other assets immediately. This is a reasonable and proportionate approach, and in arriving at this position we have carefully considered the precedent of other investment screening regimes. For example, France, Germany and Italy all have voiding provisions.

Amendment 17 would require the Secretary of State to publish guidance within three months of Royal Assent and then review it annually in relation to the approval process for notifiable acquisitions. I have listened carefully to the hon. Lady’s case for the amendment, and I hope that I can begin on common ground by saying that clearly voiding an acquisition is something that it is in the interests of all parties to avoid. That is why we are consulting on the sector definitions covered by mandatory notification and clearance, rather than simply presenting them to Parliament and external stakeholders like a fait accompli in the Bill.

That approach will allow experts from the sectors and the legal profession, and businesses and investors, to help us to refine the final definitions and tighten them up to ensure that the regime is targeted and provides legal certainty. Equally, mandatory notification applies only to the clearest acquisitions, focused on objective thresholds of shares and voting rights. Together, that will help acquirers to determine whether their acquisitions are in scope of mandatory notification, and therefore allow them to comply with their statutory obligation and avoid any voiding scenarios altogether.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree that the sensible starting point is that, if a major transaction has not complied with legal requirements, it did not happen. As the shadow Minister outlined in her comments, however, it is easy to imagine situations in which the fact of a transaction such as this becoming void could have significant impacts on people who are completely innocent of any failure to comply with the law. Is the Minister comfortable with the fact that the Bill has almost literally nothing to say about those people and that there is not provision for any kind of redress? There is no statement as to what happens to people who may quite innocently find themselves facing significant detriment through the actions and failures of others.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. As I was laying out, there is precedent from other screening legislation in Germany, France and elsewhere. Of course, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central is concerned about the hundreds of thousands of people who may be shareholders in a company. If the acquisition was a notifiable acquisition and completed without approval, it is void, regardless of the number of shareholders.

I return to the point I was making before the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. Together, this will help the acquirers determine whether their acquisitions are in scope of mandatory notification. None the less, the Bill sets out the various ways in which an acquisition may be retrospectively validated, both proactively by the Secretary of State and in response to a validation application, where non-compliance occurs. I believe the guidance that the amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish is well meaning but fraught with difficulties.

There are a number of reasons why the Government must reject the suggested approach. First, the amendment is an invitation to the Secretary of State to, in effect, legislate through guidance to set out the legal implications of acquisitions being voided pursuant to clause 13. In our view, it would not be appropriate for the Secretary of State to do so, as it is for Parliament to legislate, but ultimately for the courts to interpret and apply that legislation.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central will be aware of the much-quoted report from the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, which has emphasised the importance of avoiding guidance being used as a substitute for legislation. We have no intention to do so in respect of voiding.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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I confess that I am somewhat surprised by the Minister’s comments. Does he feel that all guidance is an invitation to the Secretary of State to effectively legislate through guidance? Is that something that the Minister feels is the case for all guidance? If that is the case, we will not be getting very much guidance for businesses at all. Does he not feel that, in terms of regulatory clarity, there should be effective help and guidance that is not legislation? He is right to say that it is for the legal system to interpret, but it is also right that we have clear laws to be interpreted. As the hon. Member for Glenrothes said, there is currently nothing in the Bill about what “voiding” means and what it could mean.

None Portrait The Chair
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Order. I remind Members to keep interventions as brief as possible.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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Of course, not all guidance is guidance that the Lords Constitution Committee would have effectively considered to be a substitute for legislation. I will make some more headway, as I am conscious of the time.

Furthermore, the legal implications of voiding will depend on the particular facts of each case. It will ultimately be for the courts, as I said earlier, to resolve any disputes between parties.

Secondly, and for the same reasons, it would not be appropriate for the Secretary of State to publish guidance on who constitutes a “materially affected” person under clause 16(1). If it will assist the Committee, I will say that we consider these to be ordinary words of the English language and that whether a person has been materially affected by voiding will depend on the particular facts of each case. Ultimately, it will be for the courts to interpret this provision and to resolve any disputes between parties.

Thirdly, we do not consider guidance under paragraph (c) in the amendment to be necessary or appropriate. Final orders issued by the Secretary of State will need to be clear, and it is expected that in most instances they will follow extensive discussions with the parties so that all understand the conditions being imposed on the trigger event. That is equally true in relation to voided acquisitions scrutinised by the Secretary of State retrospectively. Where remedies imposed by the Secretary of State include restrictions on completion, it will be an objective question of fact, dependent on the circumstances of each case, whether the acquisition proceeds contrary to those conditions. This does not involve any determination by the Secretary of State, and it would ultimately be for the courts to resolve any disputes between parties, so it would not be appropriate for the Secretary of State to issue guidance setting out the “informational and evidential standards” that would apply. More generally, the value of any guidance would be limited, given that it would necessarily reflect the fact that retrospective validation will be dependent on the facts of an individual case.

The new regime understandably covers a broader range of acquisitions than is the case now. That is absolutely correct, as the hon. Lady stated. The combination of that fact with the reality that some voided acquisitions will come to light months or years after they take place and any number of events, involving numerous parties, may have occurred since then means that the Secretary of State must consider any validation application on a case-by-case basis. That is the right approach to keep this country safe, and this takes us back to the central issue that voiding is the logical result of a regime based on mandatory notification and clearance for acquisitions in the most sensitive sectors before they take place.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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I sense that the Minister’s speech is coming to a close. He makes the point that voiding is the logical consequence of the new regime, based on mandatory notification. I have said that we recognise that, but, further to the intervention by the hon. Member for Glenrothes, if it is the necessary consequence, why is it not included in the impact assessment?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I thank the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Glenrothes for their questions. It would be nigh on impossible to have an impact assessment as to what happened to a deal that should have been notified under the 17 sectors and then was voided. I believe that is something the Opposition should understand, in terms of the proportionality of the new regime, and I hope that it is something the hon. Lady and her colleagues can support. I hope that she will withdraw her amendment.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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I thank the Minister for his remarks. As I set out, we recognise the importance of this power. We were not seeking to remove the power to void—for transactions to be deemed void. But as I also set out, the two words “is void” have a huge impact, and it is of concern that neither the Bill nor the impact assessment addresses that. The Minister said that it would be impossible to assess the impact of voiding, but the impact assessment, where it looks at the number of affected businesses, estimates the number of investment decisions, notifications, security assessments and remedies. It makes estimates of all those, but has nothing to say on the number of potential voidings. That is a significant gap in the Bill and the impact assessment and, as a consequence, in the level of certainty and understanding about the Bill.

I have said a number of times that we are going from a standing start of 12 notifications in 18 years under the Enterprise Act 2002, which the Minister cited as having robust powers, to the almost 2,000 that we are expecting. Given his response, however, on which we see no likelihood of him moving, and given that we acknowledge the importance of the powers, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14

Mandatory notification procedure

--- Later in debate ---
That is about as vague and woolly a time requirement as it is possible to put in legislation. I remember, thinking back to my days in the Health and Safety Executive, that the phrase “reasonably practicable” appeared in a lot of legislation on health and safety requirements. The “reasonably” part means taking into account the other circumstances applying to the Secretary of State and the Department at the time, so if they are up to their eyes in dealing with Brexit, trade deals, getting the vaccine distributed or anything else, then “as soon as reasonably practicable” could become a very open-ended time limit indeed. As soon as the Secretary of State has decided to accept—
None Portrait The Chair
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Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot move to adjourn while a Member is speaking.

Michael Tomlinson Portrait Michael Tomlinson
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I apologise to the hon. Member for Glenrothes; I will wait.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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It is easy to see that there will be circumstances where “as soon as reasonably practicable” becomes a very open-ended time limit—or non-time limit—indeed.

Given that so much of the rest of the Bill puts time limits on the Secretary of State to ensure that potentially beneficial transactions cannot be held up forever simply due to delays in the Department, the combination of the words “as soon as reasonably practicable” in subsection (5), right at the start of the process, and the massive uncertainty in the minds of businesses if the Secretary of State does not make regulations persuades me that the Bill should not allow the Secretary of State to make those regulations but should require the Secretary of State to make them, because the clause simply does not work or make sense if they are not made.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Michael Tomlinson.)

National Security and Investment Bill (Eighth sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 3rd December 2020

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 3 December 2020 - (3 Dec 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the National Security and Investment Bill 2019-21 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
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I am grateful to the hon. Members for Ilford South, for Southampton, Test, and for Glenrothes, as well as to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, for their contributions on this set of amendments and clause 14. With the agreement of the Committee, I will begin with clause 14 stand part and then turn to the amendments.

Clause 14 provides a mechanism for proposed acquirers to notify the Secretary of State of notifiable acquisitions, which are those circumstances covered by clause 6. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central said, we on this side of the House really do care about small business; indeed, we will be celebrating Small Business Saturday by highlighting the great small businesses that are trying to recover from covid-19. To avoid duplication or unnecessary burden for businesses and investors, if the Secretary of State has already given a call-in notice in relation to the proposed notifiable acquisition, no notification is required. Otherwise the proposed acquirer must submit a mandatory notice containing the necessary information for the Secretary of State to make a decision about whether to exercise the call-in power.

The Government carefully considered which parties should be legally responsible for this notification. In many cases we expect this to be a collaborative process between parties that have an aligned aim for the acquisition to take place. However, there may be instances where an acquirer who is purchasing shares from a number of individual sellers is the only party aware that, in totality, they are carrying out a notifiable acquisition. For example, if an acquirer buys 10% equity in an entity specified under the mandatory regime from two separate sellers—20% in total—each seller may be operating under the assumption their transaction does not meet the threshold of a notifiable acquisition. Equally, the entity itself may be unaware of these acquisitions until after they have taken place. As such, only the acquirer can reasonably be expected to know that their activities constitute a notifiable acquisition and the responsibility to notify therefore rests with them.

The precise information that will be required and the form of the mandatory notice will be set out in regulations by the Secretary of State in accordance with subsection (4). For the convenience of the House, the Government have recently published a draft of the information that is likely to be required in a mandatory notice. As hon. Members might expect, this is likely to include all the pertinent details about the acquisition, including the target entity, the nature of its business, the assets it owns, the parties involved, the details of the equity stake and any other rights that form part of the acquisition—for example, any board appointment rights.

Following acceptance of a satisfactory notification—for example, conforming to the format and content prescribed —the Secretary of State then has up to 30 working days to decide whether to exercise the call-in power, or to take no further action under the Bill. The Secretary of State will be entitled to reject a mandatory notice where it does not meet the specified requirements, or where it does not contain sufficient information for him to decide whether to give a call-in notice.

The nature of the information required should mean that such instances are rare, but it is crucial that the requirements of the notice are met in order for the 30-working-day clock to start only at the point the Secretary of State is in a position to make an informed decision. By the end of the 30-working-days review period, the Secretary of State must either give a call-in notice or notify each relevant person that no further action will be taken under the Bill. In effect, the latter clears the acquisitions to take place unconditionally.

The power to specify in regulations the content and form of the mandatory notice is an important one, as the Secretary of State may need to change this over time in response to the operation of the regime in practice, and in response to the volume and quality of such notices given and rejected. I certainly believe that this approach ensures that Parliament can scrutinise any such changes. This clause is a procedural necessity to give effect to the mandatory notification regime once notifiable acquisition regulations have been made, and I trust that it will be supported by both sides of the Committee.

Amendments 18 and 19 are designed to require the Secretary of State to make regulations specifying the form and content of a mandatory or voluntary notice, ensuring that the parties have clarity on what information they need to provide in order to have properly notified. That is undeniably important—I share the focus of the hon. Member for Ilford South on that point—so this is an entirely sensible proposition. I suggest, however, that the amendments are unnecessary because the Bill as drafted already achieves that aim.

In practice, in order for the notification regime to operate, the Secretary of State will first need to make regulations specifying the form and content of a notification, regardless of whether clauses 14 and 18 say that he “may” or “shall”. I pay homage to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test for introducing that experience to the Committee. Regardless of whether clauses 14 and 18 say that the Secretary of State “may” or “shall” make such regulations, the notification regimes cannot operate without the notification forms being prescribed in the regulations.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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I am somewhat confused. The Minister is saying that clause 14(4) in its entirety is unnecessary, because those things are already prescribed. Will he set out in more detail where they are already prescribed? He argues that they are already prescribed, but where are they prescribed?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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Let me make clear to the hon. Lady what I actually said, which was that whether clauses 14 and 18 say that the Secretary of State “may” or “shall” make such regulations, the notification regimes cannot operate without the notification forms being prescribed in regulations. My point is that whether the clauses say “may” or “shall”, it makes no difference. I therefore hope that the hon. Member for Ilford South will withdraw the amendment.