All 1 Bob Seely contributions to the National Security Act 2023

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Mon 6th Jun 2022
National Security Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading

National Security Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

National Security Bill

Bob Seely Excerpts
2nd reading
Monday 6th June 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
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I thank my hon. Friend, who has been leading the way through the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee and all the other work that has taken place on online harms. I am grateful to him for his engagement on all of this. He is absolutely right about holding the companies to account. I think it is fair to say that each of us, every single day, becomes more and more appalled at some of the material that circulates online—harmful content and the most appalling content around children. Even when it comes to terrorist acts, platforms are too slow when it comes to pulling some of this shocking material down. Let me give two examples from recent months: the situation with a synagogue in the United States where material was still circulating and the tragedy in America that took place with the school shooting. That is exactly why we must continue to hold the platforms to account.

State threats are becoming increasingly assertive and sophisticated. That is the key to the work that we are focused on in terms of how we tackle this new sophistication. We can never be passive in the face of malign covert activity designed to interfere with our national security and also our economy and democracy. The threats we face are everywhere, and we face them every single day. Many, many plans are disrupted by our intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies before they can be enacted. That is a sobering point, because on an annual basis we remind the public of the number of plots that have been thwarted and the level of activism that exists out there that seeks to harm our citizens and our country. It is our priority—my priority—to ensure that we stay ahead of the multiple threats we face. We all have a responsibility to our country and our public to keep them safe. That is why I know that the whole House will debate these measures in a sensible, measured way as we come together through this Bill to really focus on some of the challenges that we are exposed to and that we see day in, day out.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I thank the Secretary of State for all the work she is doing on this issue. On the foreign lobbying aspect of the Bill, I know that the Government are working through some options at the moment and have nothing concrete, which is fair enough, but what reassurance can she give the House that there will be quite a tight definition that is reasonably demanding on those people—those Chinese, Russian and Iranian fronts of covert influence operations—who we need to be tough on, rather than something a little bit weaker and maybe not fit for the purpose of the age?

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has touched on lobbying, as just one example, but we could expand the list. We have discussed in this House other enablers and facilitators, whether it is through Parliament or other means, to get access to the state, or institutions or arms of the state. I spoke earlier about the lacunas—the areas that we have to close down, or the grey zone, across the board. My hon. Friend has spent a great deal of time on this issue through the Foreign Affairs Committee. He is very much pursuing it and we look forward to working with him on it.

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Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Other hon. Members who intervened earlier in this debate spoke about the role of Parliament and the security directorate here, with which we are working closely, as are our intelligence and law enforcement colleagues.

I am afraid that I think this is where reality bites for all of us. Look at the changing world in which we live and the threats coming our way. I think we have to have even more curiosity about some of the approaches made to us. I say this because we of course want to go about our lives as freely as possible. We love our democracy, and our democracy and our free society must continue to flourish along with free speech. Of course, free speech is not necessarily a value universally held by those who want to target us and seek to do us harm.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I have a quick question on that. What does the Secretary of State make of Confucius Institutes, and those academics accused of allegedly recruiting either for the United Front or the Chinese intelligence services and who work in UK universities?

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. With this whole culture, and it is a culture, of covering up through other acts the intent of some organisations—the Chinese Communist party, for example—those seeds have already been established. That is why we have to find the right ways and the most sensitive and appropriate ways to address these practices. They have become long-established practices, and we are now only scratching the surface with the work that has been taking place in addressing them.

A new foreign interference offence will enable the disruption of illegitimate influence conducted for or on behalf of foreign states seeking to advance their interests or to harm the UK. It will come with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. It will be an offence for foreign powers to interfere inappropriately with the UK’s democracy and civil society through covert influence, disinformation and attacks on our electoral processes.

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Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper
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My right hon. Friend makes an important point, and he obviously speaks with the Intelligence and Security Committee’s insight on this issue. The only other consideration I would raise is that a last-minute proposal from the Government would be a problem, because we would end up not having full scrutiny, and this is an area where it is important to get the legislation right. On the points that the Committee has made about the importance of reforms to the 1989 Act, I encourage the Security Minister and the Home Secretary to have early discussions with members of the Committee, Opposition Front Benchers and Members on both sides of the House who have concerns. We will inevitably need to debate these issues during the passage of the Bill, even if the Government want to propose future legislation on a different timetable. Having those discussions at an early stage to try to get this right would be important.

We are also concerned about areas of the Bill relating to the ability of foreign powers to use misinformation and disinformation online, which the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) mentioned. My understanding of the interaction between this Bill and the Online Safety Bill is that some cases where misinformation or disinformation is repeatedly put online by a foreign state will not be covered and that there will not be a responsibility on social media platforms to remove some of that material, but it would be helpful to have some clarification from Ministers. Obviously that is an area where most of us in the House would want further action to be taken and would want there to be more responsibility on social media companies to take action. We would therefore like to explore whether there are further amendments that we could bring forward to this Bill or the Online Safety Bill. That would be very helpful.

We are also concerned about direct attempts to interfere with our democracy and elections. The Home Secretary has rightly included in the Bill measures to tackle foreign interference in elections but, as the Government will know, offences make little odds if they cannot be detected or measures are rarely enforced. As the Home Secretary will know, we have urged the Government to remove the loophole that allows shell companies to be used to make donations to political parties and to hide foreign donations and donations linked to hostile states. She will also know that the former director general of MI5, Lord Evans, who is now the head of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, has warned about the risks from shell companies, describing the risk from

“powerful forces out there that are trying to bring undue influence, part through parliament and part through money. We made some recommendations to close some of those loopholes but government hasn’t acted on them.”

Since the atrocity that is the illegal invasion of Ukraine, the Government have had to recognise that it has been far too easy for Russian money, built up through illegal activity or state-sponsored corruption, to find its way into the London economy. Again, we have both the follow-up economic crime Bill and this Bill, but I urge the Home Secretary to ensure that the loophole on shell companies is closed and that those weaknesses in our democracy are addressed, because the loophole in itself is a threat to national security.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) raised concerns about MPs being targeted. There are also concerns about Ministers potentially being targeted. The Home Secretary will know that the shadow Security Minister has raised questions about reports that the Prime Minister, when he was Foreign Secretary, met with a former KGB agent soon after the Skripal attack. I have not heard concerns raised that that was a planned or intended meeting, but nevertheless the reports of the meeting show how easy it is for Ministers, as well as MPs, to be targeted by agents of foreign and hostile states. I urge Ministers to provide some clarity about that meeting—whether it took place, whether civil servants were present—and about what protocols should govern how meetings take place for Ministers, what kind of debrief should happen afterwards and what kind of safeguards should be in place, and whether those will be covered by this Bill or we need additional protocols for civil servants, MPs and Ministers.

There are some areas where we will want to question the drafting of the Bill, because it is very broad. For example, there is obviously a difference between someone who is meeting the foreign intelligence agencies of our closest allies—for example an academic who meets with an Australian foreign intelligence service, providing it with useful information that might help with our joint Five Eyes security arrangements and might be in all our interests—and an academic meeting with someone from the Chinese intelligence agencies and handing over intellectual property or research information that undermines British industry.

We are keen to explore in Committee how those differences will be addressed in the Bill and how, for example, it will address some of the issues around co-operation with Ireland over Northern Ireland security issues, which will clearly raise some particular and special cases. We also want to explore what might incidentally benefit a foreign Government and what deliberately benefiting a foreign Government is, and how that is addressed. We also want to address some of the questions around the public interest and national security that hon. Members have raised.

We have already raised directly with the Minister for Security and Borders a series of questions and concerns about the drafting of clause 23, to ensure that it is not too wide and cannot be used to cover individuals committing serious crimes abroad. I welcome the letter we have received from him, but we want to pursue those issues in further detail in Committee.

Perhaps one of the most important issues that the Bill could easily address but does not yet is oversight. Because agencies rightly need to operate behind a veil of secrecy, there needs to be proper oversight to safeguard both those who work within the agencies and the national interest. The Bill rightly introduces an independent reviewer to look at the state threats prevention and investigation measures, and we know that is a parallel arrangement to the independent reviewer arrangements we have for terrorism prevention and investigation measures.

The Home Secretary will know that I have argued previously that it was wrong to replace control orders and that TPIMs were too weak. They have since rightly been strengthened. They are used in only a small number of cases, but it is immensely important that there is oversight of them, and there must be proper oversight of the STPIMs as well. It would not surprise me if they were used even less frequently than TPIMs, but there must be proper safeguards.

There is a gap in the oversight framework. The terrorism independent reviewer looks both at individual TPIMs and at terrorism legislation, so he can look at all of the aspects of terrorism legislation to see where there are gaps and whether it is not working effectively. The scrutiny by David Anderson and by Jonathan Hall has been invaluable. It has been good for Government, good for the agencies, good for Parliament, good for our national security and good for our historic freedoms and having the right safeguards in place.

That scrutiny by the independent reviewer has in the past identified weaknesses in terrorism legislation. Sometimes that has been exactly the point I raised about TPIMs becoming too weak and needing to be strengthened, but the independent reviewer has also identified areas where stronger safeguards were needed, particularly on digital measures, digital infrastructure and digital safeguards. There is a really strong case for having the same kind of independent scrutiny of the operation of these new powers on espionage. The Home Secretary has rightly said that this is important legislation, but also that this is the first time we are drawing up legislation in some of these areas and that some of the legislation has not been updated for many decades, so we should have some humility on this: Parliament will not get all the details right.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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If I understand correctly—perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) will be able to help me on this—the Ministry of Defence is covered by the Defence Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, the agencies and the Intelligence and Security Committee, but who covers Director Special Forces? That seems to be a bit of an oversight black hole. Where does it fit in? This does not seem to be arousing people’s attention thus far.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper
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The hon. Member makes an important point about other potential gaps. I would be keen to discuss with him further how that could be addressed.

There is a principle here, which is that sometimes important powers are not subject to the normal public scrutiny—inevitably, because of how they need to be used in order to keep us safe and to deal with hostile threats, be it from other foreign states or from terrorists. However, that veil of secrecy makes the need for independent scrutiny all the more important. Rightly, we have the Intelligence and Security Committee and other Committees, but also things like the investigatory powers commissioners. Specifically on the terrorism legislation, the role of the independent reviewer has been immensely valuable. I urge the Home Secretary and the Security Minister to look at widening the oversight provisions in the Bill. While there might be areas of disagreement between us, we will come to a conclusion and measures will pass through Parliament, but there will still be weaknesses in them and there will still be problems with the legislation.

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Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Jones
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The right hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. Without reform, the courts will define public interest anyway. I would sooner have this place define it than leave it to the courts or allow an ad hoc system to build up over time. I do not understand why the Bill does not take that opportunity, because it would help. Some journalists think that it would be a way of stymieing them, but I think it would clarify the position on the information that can be put in the public domain and would actually help to make that defence. I would rather have this House than a court of law setting those parameters.

The Law Commission made another recommendation that I think worthy of consideration, although we need to work out how it would work in practice:

“an independent commissioner to receive and investigate complaints of serious wrongdoing where disclosure of the matters referred to may otherwise constitute an offence under the Official Secrets Act 1989. That commissioner would also be responsible for determining appropriate disclosure of the results of that investigation.”

That would provide another valve in the pressure cooker of the system when people think that wrongdoing needs to be highlighted.

I would love to know why the Government have missed the opportunity to bring all these things forward in the Bill. I hope that as it passes we can insert some of them: that would not only strengthen the Bill, but give our security services the toolkit that they need.

The foreign influence registration scheme, which we called for in the 2020 Russia report and which is supported by the agencies, would make it unlawful to be an undeclared intelligence officer. I accept that there are issues with definition, but the consultation on the Bill described it as a key component of the new regime, yet for some reason it is not in the Bill. I hear the Home Secretary’s promises, but—call me old-fashioned—I think we should have it before us today to debate on Second Reading.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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The right hon. Gentleman is making a valuable point. One of the problems that we have to get to grips with is the difference between a paid-up agent—the sort of old-school spy who worked for the KGB and others—and someone who works ostensibly for the United Front and is not technically a spy, but is cultivating a malign and covert form of influence. Arguably, they are both as damaging. This is a genuine question: how does one decide which of the two is more serious? Do we equate them, in this day and age?

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Jones
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I think transparency is the way to do it. That is why Australia’s Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act, which was introduced very quickly in 2018, requires anyone engaging in lobbying or any kind of communications activity for the purpose of political influence on behalf of a foreign principal to be registered. The US scheme, which has been mentioned, was introduced in 1938 and came into force in 1939. If Australia and the US have such schemes, I am sure we can have one.

Personally, I think transparency is the best way forward. The approach that I understand the Government are looking at—having a list of countries on behalf of which people working have to register—is asking for trouble and will have to be updated over time. The Australian system and the US system are far better because they are all-encompassing.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I disagree slightly with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, although he is making a very good point. I think there is a very good argument for treating Oleg Deripaska differently from the New Zealand tourism board. For one, there should be a very light level of registration, because clearly the New Zealand tourism board is unlikely to be a front for anything other than New Zealand tourism, whereas Russian oligarchs, the Huaweis of this world and the United Front may hide all sorts of nasties behind them. If the Government have the courage to name China along with Russia, North Korea and Iraq, that is potentially an attractive option, is it not?

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Jones
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It is, but an active list that has to keep being updated is a problem. I would go broad first. If the New Zealand tourism board had to be caught by that—I am not sure we have anything to worry about from the New Zealand tourism board, apart from representing a fantastic country that is a great place for tourism—the important point is that it would be fair across the board. Again, I do not understand why that measure is not being brought forward today.

I will raise one last concern, which is about clause 23 and has been raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Kenilworth and Southam and also my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood. I see no purpose for the clause at all. I want to know from the Government what it is that is not already in legislation that they are trying to get at, or where the clause has come from, because it is certainly something I have never seen raised by the security services at the Intelligence and Security Committee. If we are to have this clause, I would also like to see some kind of oversight of it, whether that is the Investigatory Powers Commissioner or some other networks. Otherwise, the Bill is giving a large degree of latitude to individuals.

We should remember that this has been a hard-fought issue. The shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), raised the important point—let us be honest, it has happened over a period of time—that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner has been excellent in improving the oversight and robustness of the regulation around our security services, which are so important, and the confidence that people can have in that.

With that, I welcome that we have a Bill, but is it a Bill that will do what it says on the tin? I am not sure it will. It will need a lot of changing in Committee.

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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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The right hon. Gentleman is making a very important and valuable point. The Greenham Common people, for instance, absolutely had the right to protest. However, it is also worth making the point that the Soviets were indirectly funding quite a number of naive fellow-traveller organisations. At some point, under this law, an illegality could be committed because the people doing the overt influencing, the covert paying for these front organisations, would be committing a criminal act, if not the, perhaps, naive or hopeful people who were on the frontline and unaware of how they were being funded. So it is quite complex.

Stewart Hosie Portrait Stewart Hosie
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It is complex, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point, because all the discussion that we had earlier about foreign agent or foreign influence registration was precisely about capturing the crime of seeking to influence. We should not be seeking to criminalise legitimate protest. I do not think that that should be a contentious thing to say.

Those issues aside, we are at least seeing some progress in the modernisation of what was a very creaky and outdated system, but—as I am sure the Minister has gathered from all that has been said today—it is clearly work in progress. Let me repeat that the Government will have a bit of explaining to do if they are to convince the House that if this complex Bill becomes law, some of it will actually be enforceable.

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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I am very aware of my right hon. Friend’s background. What would he do about oversight of DSF, because it does seem to fall between two Committees, and, as such, it seems to exist in a bit of a black hole when it comes to oversight.

David Davis Portrait Mr Davis
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Can my hon. Friend explain the point?

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I am talking about the oversight of the DSF—Director Special Forces. Arguably, at the moment, it does not fall within the remit of the Ministry of Defence. It does not fall within the remit of the Foreign Affairs Committee and it does not fall within the remit of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Does my right hon. Friend think that it needs oversight, and how would he provide oversight of that rarified world that exists between the agencies and traditional defence?

David Davis Portrait Mr Davis
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My hon. Friend is tempting me into an area in which I will lose all my friends, as he well knows. My off-the-cuff response—and it is just an off-the-cuff response—is that it is an appropriate area for oversight by the ISC, not by the Defence Committee, simply because of the confidentiality and classification elements that apply.

Let me return to the question of the Official Secrets Act 1989. I agree with everything that has been said so far. I agree that we should look very closely at the Law Commission proposals, because we need certainty. What we have at the moment is an interpretation of the law by juries—whether it is the Ponting case, the Katharine Gun case, where we did not even get to the point because the Government ran away from the case on the first day of trial, or the Derek Pasquill case. In each case, we had an interpretation of the law on a commonsensical basis by juries. Thank heavens for that, frankly, because they have more sense, many times, than the Government have in these areas, but we need predictability on both sides. We need officials to know that if something is done that they think is against the public interest, they can be reasonably confident that the provision will be carried out. That, if it operates properly, will improve the public service. On the other side, the Government should also have a right to know what is coming in that area.

I will make one or two other small points. On the foreign power conditions in the Bill, Reprieve, Privacy International, Transparency International and other excellent organisations that do very good work have received some funding from other nations’ Governments. It does not seem to be the intention that the Bill would have them fall foul of this law, but that might be the effect, so we have to be very clear about how that works. Perfectly legitimate organisations could be left committing an offence, under this area of the Bill, if they use leaked information—which may not even be classified—to challenge Government policy. That requires a closer look.

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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I will not take up too much of the House’s time, but I am delighted to see the Minister in the Chamber. I hope to make some suggestions and give some opinions on some things to do with the Bill.

It strikes me that there seems to be a debate about whether we go deep or go broad. That is a very important part of the debate. For me, anything that does not capture a considerable amount of information about Confucius Institutes, about the universities, and about what law firms, lobbyists and former civil servants are doing in relation to oligarchs, Huawei and Chinese and Russian interests, will not be of service to this country. I will focus very much on the foreign lobbying aspect, because it is something that I have written about and discussed with the Minister.

First, we know that we need to improve lobbying laws substantially, and the endless, tedious and avoidable scandals over that should give us pause for thought. Secondly, we know there is a specific problem with foreign lobbying, and thirdly, in this era of blurred and confused lines between espionage, covert influence and lobbying, to ensure the health of our democracy we need a stronger and more transparent system. Arguably the Soviets always played that game from the 1930s onwards, when they started using friendship groups, and they really geared things up in the 1950s and 1960s through peace societies, churches and different types of organisations. The KGB worked through front organisations, much as the Chinese communists now work, sadly, through the United Front.

We are really playing catch-up on this. Our closest ally, the United States, has had the Foreign Agents Registration Act since 1938. Why? Because it identified, rightly, that it had a problem with covert Nazi influence trying to corrupt and influence its politics in the run-up to world war two. I am very glad the US had that law, because things might have been different if it had not. In 2018, the Australians introduced the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act, largely in response to covert Chinese influence—the Australians were careful not to pin it to one country, but there is no doubt why it is there—and I congratulate Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on it.

In the US alone we know, because foreign actors have to declare this stuff, that foreign agents spent more than $2 billion between 2016 and 2020 to influence foreign policy making. The only reason we find out about some of the worst aspects of what happens here is that the big US papers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post report on influence operations happening here if there is a US angle. We know about Oleg Deripaska’s major operation to try to get part of En+ off sanctions and various Members of Parliament—unnamed, obviously—who were helping, but we only know about that because of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

For me, it is a source of shame that we have to find out about what is happening in our democracy, in the nooks and crannies and dark corners of influence peddling, because of another nation’s laws. We need a good FARA, our own foreign lobbying law—a FOLO or a FARA, whatever people want to call it.

What else do I want to say? It seems to me—

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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If I may be helpful while my hon. Friend is finding his notes, he makes a compelling case—a case that was made prior to this Bill by the Government and by those who recommended this legislation: the ISC, the Law Commission and others. The issue is how we construct this, how it is included in legislation and in the Government’s proposals, and at what stage we will know more about that. That was rehearsed earlier in the debate, but it is important that we have real scrutiny of that process.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I am delighted that my right hon. Friend interrupted me just as I was fiddling around with my paperwork. There are two critical points that I will come to very shortly, looking at five potential options for the foreign lobbying and foreign influence element of the Bill, and at whether we go for a light touch, a moderate touch or a deep touch.

We know the situation with the Russians has changed dramatically, although it may change back in future years, but China is now, if anything, a more important case than Russia, because we know that the Chinese Communist party uses state, non-state and quasi-state actors in the same way that Putin’s Kremlin did. The one thing I see immediately on looking at the Bill—maybe the Minister can guide me here—is a lot of references to state actors. Is Huawei a state actor? We have had Ministers claim in this House that Huawei is “a private company”. In a communist, one-party state, a major company that is a front for Chinese technology is not a private company.

What are the Government going to do about the Oleg Deripaskas and the Abramoviches of this world? I know the world has moved on somewhat, but in theory, what are they going to do about rich players who are beholden to dictators in different countries? What are we going to do about the Saudis? They do an awful lot of influencing and influence operations in this country and a great deal of lobbying. They are our allies, but that is not a democracy. To what extent do countries such as Saudi Arabia need to be more transparent about the business they do here?

Both the Kremlin and the Chinese Communist party raise issues not only about politicians—who, for me, are not the most important aspect, and I am not just saying that because I am in Parliament—but about law firms, which are critically important. This is about the power of the finance houses and former civil servants who have expert experience of policy making. It is about the special advisers who work closely with senior Ministers and know how a Secretary of State’s mind operates and how they think.

Those things are, in many ways, frankly more valuable than how a Back-Bench MP or a member of an all-party parliamentary group is going to vote. We need a foreign influence element to the Bill, and my strong recommendation to the Minister is that we need something that is flexible and captures the idea that influence nowadays is not just peddled through people in this House. In many ways, many of the most important peddlers of influence are not Members of Parliament, but people in the civil service, or ex-civil servants, ex-military or ex-politicians—people in that sort of world.

If we are to have a foreign lobbying element, what should we look at? I recommend that we create laws to compel individuals and entities who lobby in the UK for hostile states and their proxies to record that on a national register. The Government accept that. The problem is that previous laws have limited lobbying to “consultant lobbyists”, which is not adequate to the task. We know that hostile states make use of non-lobbyist individuals and entities—those backed by or linked with a state, active in the spheres of academia, economics, culture and the media. Registrable lobbyists should be anyone who influences Government decisions or national policy, and that will therefore include PR consultants, research firms, reputation managers, law firms when they offer additional services, and banks. Law firms in particular have been at the corrosive heart of some of the most corrupting elements of how individual oligarchs have tended to use and manipulate power in the west.

I would also create laws to force foreign Governments to disclose when they spend money on political activity in the UK; that ban foreign Governments or their proxies from providing political, financial and other support during election periods; and that compel foreign Governments and their proxies to label and disclose material and campaigns undertaken in the UK, especially those online. I would make those laws enforceable by criminal penalty. The Government are approaching some of those positions, which is great, but it is the breadth that is important.

On the next element, there are three options. One is a weak regime that treats everyone the same, so the Saudis the same as a Russian oligarch, or Huawei, or the New Zealand tourist board—sorry to bring up that example again. Or the Government could say that they will have a two-tier system with a very light registration for the New Zealand tourist board or the Norwegian salmon producers association, but a much higher degree of form filling and detail giving for Chinese, Iranian and Russian organisations and the potential influencing that they are doing, especially with the United Front. Or do we just have a very deep set of requests for everybody, which would probably result in a lot of unnecessary form-filling? The Goldilocks solution for me is level two, with a light layer of registration for all organisations that are working on behalf of foreign states or their entities, but a much deeper level for named countries, individuals or institutions, including Confucius Institutes.

We should also have a level that understands the importance of making sure that we know what is going on in our universities. When we have PhD students here from China whose sole purpose is to steal as much intellectual property as possible, that is not a good thing. We should at least acknowledge that that is going on.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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On that very point, my hon. Friend might want to turn his attention to the Confucius Institutes that are active in several of our universities and may be doing precisely what he says. I will say no more than that, but I regard them—as I hope he does—with a considerable degree of suspicion.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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As ever, my right hon. Friend stays one step ahead of me. We know that the socialist paradise of Sweden has banned the Confucius Institutes, which is a potentially attractive route forward. As several hon. Members have said, transparency is critical.



Just to finish the point about a two-tier system, while we need a light regulatory touch for most foreign entities in this country, the critical element is when would the Government have listed China, for example, for a much deeper level of requirement about proxies and registering interests—state interests and Huawei interests as well? Would they have done it in 2012, before the visit of President Xi? Probably not. Would they have done it in 2016? Would they be under pressure not to use these laws? We need a Government willing to use these laws and willing not to have an entirely laissez-faire system—a Government who understand that, in this day and age, defending our institutions, our democracy and people in this country from covert malign influence is absolutely critical, and that we need to take an approach that is deep in some areas but also broad and that captures all those involved.

Craig Mackinlay Portrait Craig Mackinlay
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I see that my hon. Friend is about to finish, and I have just got in in time. I understand his desire for both breadth and depth, and he has very clearly identified various actors that would fall within the definition that he desires. However, there are big financial institutions that will at times be guns for hire for countries or institutions abroad, and for such a period their work may be contrary to what this country might like. I think that would be too broad, so what would his interpretation of that be? I am thinking of the big financial institution that perhaps assisted Greece into the euro at the time. It was perhaps a policy that was not great for the UK, but we would not say that it was normally a hostile institution.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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No, my hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is where the element of judgment comes in. By the way, I thank him for interrupting me. I look forward to the day when colleagues will spot my perorations; we have not quite got to that yet. That is where the judgment of Ministers comes in handy, and I shall leave it at that.

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Liam Byrne Portrait Liam Byrne
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The right hon. Member puts his finger on precisely the lesson that we should draw from allies such as the United States. Today, the United States has a battery of eight types of controls and measures that are regulating and controlling the export of—or, frankly, efforts to steal—technology and data to countries such as China.

The Bill says that it will be an offence to engage in

“conduct…that it is reasonably possible may…assist a foreign intelligence service”.

I am afraid that negligence must be part of that conduct. Our American allies now have: provisions for delisting Chinese firms, which they have applied to companies such as Sina Weibo; an investment prohibition list that has now hit 59 Chinese firms; a ban on share trading; export bans and restrictions that have added scores of Chinese entities to the unverified list, which therefore have tougher rules on receiving shipments from US exporters; an export ban; provisions for revocation of trading licences; data controls, which first President Trump and then President Biden ordered; and, of course, targeted sanctions. My question for the Minister is: where is the similar framework for the United Kingdom? We are now in grave jeopardy of a control gap emerging between the United Kingdom and our closest ally.

When I tabled parliamentary questions on those eight different measures to the Government asking where our similar framework was, I got a lot of waffle from the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully). I then asked the Government what controls are in place on nine of the 1,100 key companies now controlled in some way, shape or form in the United States: those such as Huawei, ZTE, Hikvision, Hytera and Alibaba through to China Unicom—I will not go through them all. Despite our adding China to the UK arms embargo list earlier this year, the only one company that the Minister could name that is subject to UK controls was Huawei.

I am afraid that we are now at risk of a control gap, and we are still behaving as if we believe in free movement of weapons-grade intelligence. That is presumably why individuals such as Clive Woodley, funded by the UK university system and the Ministry of Defence, are still wandering around organising conferences on weapons in China. Given the poor job that the National Security Council did on co-ordinating complex operations such as the evacuation from Afghanistan, I am seriously concerned that the Government lack the capacity to co-ordinate the Treasury, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for International Trade, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the intelligence agencies in controlling what needs to be controlled. I would like to see a duty on Ministers to report to the House on companies of concern, particularly those operating from countries where we have arms embargoes, with clear measures to control them.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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The right hon. Member is, as ever, coming up with some interesting ideas. Are those ideas for this Bill, or would they have been better in the National Security and Investment Act 2021 or potentially be better in the upcoming economic crime Bill II? They may fit more naturally into other laws.

Liam Byrne Portrait Liam Byrne
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I leave that to the judgment of the House in the debates that we have, but we must make the framework coherent, because, frankly, it is not coherent today.

My second point is about the defence of our democracy. The Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), was absolutely right to flag the fact that we have needed a defence of the integrity of our democracy at the core of our strategy for a long time. I called for it back in 2018, but right now, neither the Electoral Commission, nor the Advertising Standards Authority nor Ofcom has the power to regulate adverts placed on social media. People can therefore get away with ads on social media that could never be placed on television. Facebook, as all of us know, is like a wild west. There are also no constraints on what parties can spend in between elections, which allows people to surge investments in politics between elections, and there is no control to stop unlimited donations to political parties from abroad if they are laundered through the bank account of a British citizen.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the GRU and the Internet Research Agency placing adverts on Facebook and other social media sites for pro-gun and anti-gun rallies, and for anti-Muslim and pro-Muslim rallies, taking place in the same towns on the same day in the United States, designed specifically to incite violence and bloodshed?

Liam Byrne Portrait Liam Byrne
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Perhaps no one in this House has done more than the hon. Gentleman to expose the hybrid warfare and divide-and-rule tactics of Russia, but we are wide open to them, not least because a person can give unlimited amounts of money to political parties if they are laundered through the bank account of a UK citizen. Call it, if you will, the Sheleg manoeuvre.

Ehud Sheleg, no doubt an honourable man, has given £3.3 million to the Conservative party, yet The New York Times revealed that a suspicious activity report from Barclays flagged that £2.5 million moved to Mr Sheleg from his father-in-law in Russia wound up in a UK account that then shifted £450,000 to the Conservative party. The New York Times reported that Barclays flagged the SAR with this statement:

“We are able to trace a clear line back from this donation to its ultimate source… Kopytov”—

the father-in-law—

“can be stated with considerable certainty to have been the true source of the donation.”

Along with a number of other hon. and right hon. Members, I flagged this to the National Crime Agency. A day or two later—the NCA did not spend an awful lot of time looking at this—a letter came back from Steve Rodhouse, its director of operations, which stated:

“As you will be aware, provided a donation comes from a permissible source, and was the decision of the donor themselves, it is permitted under PPERA. This remains the case even if the donor’s funds derived from a gift from an overseas individual.”

That is utter nonsense. It is completely ridiculous. No doubt Mr Sheleg is an honourable man, but the Sheleg manoeuvre could be exploited by all kinds of bad actors.

Finally, we in this House have defended a number of extremely brave journalists and former colleagues, such as Catherine Belton, Tom Burgis, Arabella Pike and Charlotte Leslie, who have all risked everything to raise a red flag about bad actors and threats of foreign influence, yet their thanks have been to be hounded in court by oligarchs who seek to rack up hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal bills to deter such people from telling the truth. If we are to defend whistleblowers, and I am pleased to see that provision in the Bill, surely this is the moment for the House to unite in refining, if not legislating for, a defence for people who make arguments that need such a defence.

We are in new times, and the return of great power competition is upon us. We need new defences, and this Bill is a chance to make good some of those defences now.

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Steve Baker Portrait Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con)
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Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a wonderful birthday present to rise to support the Government on this important and interesting legislation, which I am grateful to have had the opportunity to study and read around. In fact, it has been interesting to discover just how much one can learn about the work of the security and intelligence services.

Before going any further, it is worth taking this opportunity to say that, as a Member of this House and, indeed, as a former member of the armed forces, I have always believed our default position should be to stand with the police, the armed forces and the defence and intelligence services, which seek to secure our freedoms, to keep us safe and to work in the public interest.

When thinking of where I might find words to praise them, I went back to the 2016 report from the Intelligence Services Commissioner, the right hon. Sir Mark Waller. It was his final report before the institution was superseded, and he said in the executive summary, on page 5:

“I would like to record that the United Kingdom is extremely fortunate with its intelligence agencies. They combine an extremely high level of operational competence with a collaborative approach and a respect for the law which makes them trusted and respected internationally.

The UK Intelligence Community’s attitude to ethics in general, and legal compliance specifically, is impressive and reassuring. While there is some legal debate about certain powers, I have never seen any evidence that the agencies institutionally would knowingly break the law… In terms of my inspections, I have found that the substantial compliance teams in each organisation and the relevant departments of state think deeply about the application of executive power and the intrusion into the privacy of its citizens. Everyone I inspect approaches the process in an open manner. Indeed, rather than hiding problems, they are often proactive in raising the most difficult issues with me.”

I was very reassured to read those words from the former Intelligence Services Commissioner, who was responsible in Government for supervising the intelligence services. Indeed, I think all of Government could learn from that culture of compliance.

The point that I am trying to make is this. In this Bill, once again we are handing very significant powers to agents of the state that they will then use with some degree of discretion; I will come to specific examples later. That is why it is vital that from the top to the bottom, the entirety of Government is led with a spirit of compliance with the law—a compliance culture. The document—admittedly, a 2016 report—goes on to talk about some of the risks inherent in the security and intelligence services, and some of the safeguards that are in place. It is all very reassuring. Indeed, the later Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s most recent report also includes a number of important points about safeguards.

Let me turn to some specific points. We have already had a pretty good canter around clause 23, but as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Sir Jeremy Wright) said, it is worth pointing out that it is a widely drawn clause. We all have to be sensible and mature in recognising that our work overseas through the Secret Intelligence Service is bound to seek to procure just some of those things in the explanatory notes that we are making criminal offences in the UK. We have to be realistic that when we are furthering our own interests—sometimes against hostile powers—we need to give people this waiver in relation to seeking to procure offences overseas.

Of course, the security services must be able to encourage and assist offences overseas, particularly when it is deemed necessary, but deemed necessary by whom? The particular point I want to make about clause 23 that has not been made is that when one goes through the commissioner’s various reports, one can see there is a fairly widespread use of so-called section 7 thematic warrants, within which SIS in particular can operate with a fairly wide degree of discretion and with internal controls on what is done. That means that a person like me, who is always instinctively wary of powers given to the state, must trust that institutions not open to all of us to scrutinise have processes in place; and, as I have said, we can be reassured that they do have very robust and important processes, and a great culture of compliance with the law.

But what would happen if, God forbid, one day this country was led by somebody at the very top who did not have a strict culture of compliance with the law? I think I have made it clear how I voted tonight. And what if, after a period, that culture of non-compliance in No. 10 Downing Street were to permeate throughout the whole apparatus of the state? What if the machinery of government was changed so that supervision of the intelligence and security services was moved within No. 10—just for example, since that is proposed; or has it happened? It is certainly on the cards.

I am extremely wary of a clause drawn this widely in the context of thematic warrants. I should also say, with great respect to SIS, that there is within the commissioners’ documents—the most recent and the 2016 document—evidence of, shall we say, sparse record-keeping, which has not always served the institution well, particularly in relation to rendition, to which I will come. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend the Security Minister will not mind my saying that there are extremely good reasons for drawing clause 23 a bit tighter, including defending the integrity of the institutions, and our brave men and women within them who defend us. There seems to be a general consensus that that should be done, so I hope that he will look carefully at clause 23.

The next point I wanted to make was about the 1989 Act, but we have cantered around that, so I refer to my earlier remarks; the issue of damage needs to be dealt with.

Let me turn to STPIMs. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I remember when TPIMs were very controversial in this place. I think the principle involved in TPIMs and STPIMs is now water under the bridge: the point has been conceded and we have all moved on. I do not like fuzzy justice—to me, the idea of restraining somebody’s liberties without a conviction undermines the rule of law as it is generally understood—but okay, we have plenty of safeguards, so now the devil is in the detail. It will require minds more learned than mine to propose amendments to STPIMs to ensure adequate safeguards.

The reason why I am so interested in the Bill relates to the general assault on liberty that we saw after 9/11. As a former member of the armed forces, I thought that there were certain ultimate values that we were willing to fight and die to defend, and that we were compromising those values by giving the state the power to restrict liberty without a conviction—that is one of the reasons I came here. Well, I have to admit that I have lost that argument. It is water under the bridge, but it is a pretty important argument to have lost, so as part of reversing that assault on liberty post 9/11, I look to the Government and learned minds outside to ensure adequate safeguards in relation to STPIMs.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I understand that my hon. Friend is talking about STPIMs, but more generally, does he see the Bill as beneficial to liberty overall? I do, because by doing something about covert and malign lobbying, we will increase transparency and integrity in our decision-making apparatus in this country. Does he share that opinion?