Debates between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah

There have been 17 exchanges between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah

1 Mon 28th March 2011 Amendment of the Law
HM Treasury
2 interactions (1,244 words)
2 Wed 16th June 2010 Industry (Government Support)
Department for Education
3 interactions (1,021 words)
3 Tue 15th December 2020 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
3 interactions (269 words)
4 Thu 10th December 2020 National Security and Investment Bill (Twelfth sitting)
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
22 interactions (3,293 words)
5 Thu 10th December 2020 National Security and Investment Bill (Eleventh sitting)
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
40 interactions (4,501 words)
6 Tue 8th December 2020 National Security and Investment Bill (Tenth sitting)
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
37 interactions (5,784 words)
7 Tue 8th December 2020 National Security and Investment Bill (Ninth sitting)
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
22 interactions (3,550 words)
8 Thu 3rd December 2020 National Security and Investment Bill (Eighth sitting)
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
21 interactions (3,825 words)
9 Thu 3rd December 2020 National Security and Investment Bill (Seventh sitting)
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
21 interactions (2,765 words)
10 Tue 1st December 2020 National Security and Investment Bill (Sixth sitting)
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
25 interactions (5,603 words)
11 Tue 1st December 2020 National Security and Investment Bill (Fifth sitting)
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
9 interactions (3,188 words)
12 Thu 26th November 2020 National Security and Investment Bill (Fourth sitting)
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
11 interactions (2,731 words)
13 Thu 26th November 2020 National Security and Investment Bill (Third sitting)
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
7 interactions (1,771 words)
14 Tue 24th November 2020 National Security and Investment Bill (Second sitting)
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
11 interactions (3,629 words)
15 Tue 24th November 2020 National Security and Investment Bill (First sitting)
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
5 interactions (1,994 words)
16 Tue 17th November 2020 National Security and Investment Bill
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
2 interactions (1,084 words)
17 Tue 22nd October 2019 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
3 interactions (319 words)

Amendment of the Law

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah
Monday 28th March 2011

(9 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
HM Treasury
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard -

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is exactly what the Budget would do for our imaginary business. Three hundred and fifty million pounds’ worth of regulation will be scrapped, the dual discrimination rules in the Equality Act 2010 will be ended, Lord Young’s recommendations on health and safety will be enacted, and new business regulations for the smallest business will be stopped. That is a great starter for 10 from the Chancellor.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) rightly pointed out, our corporation tax has been reduced by 2% this year, and by 2014 we will be paying the lowest corporation tax in the G7—16% lower than in the US. Many say that that is just a tax cut to line the pockets of business owners, but I disagree. Business owners know that every extra £1 paid in corporation tax is £1 less to reinvest in their business to support growth and job creation, which the Labour party seems never to have understood.

Lowering corporation tax is vital in attracting new, overseas business to the UK. Corporation taxes are not the sole attractor, but they and tax certainty are important in attracting overseas investment. The fact that chief executive officers, such as that of WPP, have announced that their companies are coming back to the UK is testament to that, and today’s letter in The Daily Telegraph from the leading private equity houses reiterates the point.

Let us go back to our little business, which is growing, employing more people, and making more and selling more to the world. However, the cost of fuel is hurting us, and we watch our costs and those of our suppliers increase with transport costs. Luckily, the Government are listening. They feel our pain, and decide to deal with the high petrol price. Under the previous Government, our fuel duty would have shot up by 6p in three days’ time. After all, by the end of their 13 years in power, 75% of the cost of fuel was taxation.

For the employees of our company, the 45p per mile allowance is another huge milestone. The allowance has been 40p for so long that most young people in work cannot remember it ever increasing. That amount was out of step with economic reality. This increase not only makes sense, but is vital for those in business who use their own vehicles, and is particularly helpful to the self-employed. It also, by the way, helps voluntary organisations such as Voluntary Action Stratford-on-Avon, whose volunteer drivers provide such an excellent service.

I return to our little business. What happens if we are successful, and if through our hard work and entrepreneurship it grows, and another business wants to buy us, or we want to float our company? Thanks to the Budget, our capital gains tax relief for entrepreneurs has been doubled to £10 million, increasing the reward for our hard work and investment, and encouraging more individuals to invest in their own business. As you can see, Mr Deputy Speaker, our hypothetical company, like millions of real-world start-ups, will have been aided by the announcements in this Budget. It is a Budget for growth, and through it many start-ups and small firms will get a fighting chance to be a great success. I commend the Budget.

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

I want to declare an interest. From 2004 to 2010, I worked for a regulator—the bogeyman of Conservative Members. I worked for Ofcom. Working in that area, I was very aware of the dangers and limitations of regulation. However, I am also influenced by my time spent in the private sector in countries that have little or no regulation. It would make for an interesting reality show-type experiment to take Conservative Members who decry all regulation and place them in an entirely unregulated environment to see how they would fare without established property law, civil protection, guaranteed quality standards, working rights, planning control or health and safety.

But enough fantasy. I want to focus on why we need better regulation and the role of regulation in growth. All Governments promise to reduce regulation. I am quite sure that every Byzantine emperor came to power on a platform of less regulation. When Labour was elected in 1997, one of the first things we did was set up the Better Regulation Task Force, and later the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008 put in place a requirement to remove unnecessary regulation. However, regulation often has unforeseen consequences or is interpreted in bureaucratic and inflexible ways. The solution is not to call for a war on all regulation, but to examine existing regulation imaginatively and to ensure that more public servants have experience of business.

Having worked for a UK regulator with European regulators, I know that we often translate into English law and then interpret European directives in ways that are much less flexible and more burdensome than those in other countries. I welcome evidence-based proposals, therefore, to reduce and/or improve regulation. The improvements to clinical trial regulations proposed in the Budget should lead to better regulation, which is good for business and innovation. However, the sleight of hand by which the Government have delayed green building regulations will actually add to the uncertainty in the building industry and reduce our energy efficiency.

We should not forget that the financial crisis would have been even worse had Labour heeded Tory calls for more deregulation of the City. As the shadow Chancellor has said, we should have been tougher with the City, but the Conservative party was certainly not calling for more regulation in that case. Since coming to power, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—the self-styled department for growth—has introduce 26 new regulations in six months, of which several will impose a burden and substantial costs on businesses.

The Government’s repeated calls for reduced regulation are yet another example of their rhetoric exceeding their reach. We know that the Government are recklessly cutting too far and too fast, but they are also entirely failing in leadership. Labour believed that the Government had a duty not to pick technology winners, but to deliver the coherent business, academic and political environment in which the best can win.

Recently I visited a small but growing, innovative high-tech manufacturing company, Kromek, which is developing colour X-rays for security applications. It is based in NETPark—the North East Technology Park—in County Durham, a business park supported by the RDA and the local authority. However, the company is finding it hard to get the talent that it needs, because of the Tory Government’s visa policies—an example of new regulation preventing growth. As the north-east chamber of commerce recently said:

“Since the Government came to power, business have seen the reversal of plans to recycle Carbon Reduction Commitment revenues; the Feed-In Tariff capped; and a delay to the expected start date of the Renewable Heat Incentive. These changes are delaying investment in low carbon technology.”

That regulatory uncertainty means jobs being lost in new industries, including in the north-east. As NESTA—the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts—said when discussing regulation:

“Removing barriers to innovation is important, but on its own it is not enough. Innovation happens in an ecosystem and Government has a role to play in constructing that environment.”

To conclude, rebalancing and growing our economy requires vision, leadership, regulatory imagination, coherent policies and targeted investment. This Government are offering up a few regulatory sacrificial lambs to distract from the vacuum at the heart of their strategy for growth.

Industry (Government Support)

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah
Wednesday 16th June 2010

(10 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) said at the beginning of the debate, we stand on the brink of a new industrial revolution.

Let me declare two interests. Newcastle was at the leading edge of the first, high-carbon industrial revolution, so we have an interest in seeing a resurgence of industry and manufacturing. As an engineer, I too want to see manufacturing and industrial resurgence. But it is not my interests that lead me. There are five global challenges that require a new industrial response.

First, population and economic growth across the world are stoking demand. Secondly, the global financial crisis has made it extremely important that we grow other sectors. Thirdly, climate change is making many of our ways of building and manufacturing things inefficient. Fourthly, the population of the western world is ageing. That is a good thing; it is good that people are living longer, but it requires different markets and goods— for example, more automotive goods. Finally, globalisation means global markets and global industries.

On the Opposition Benches, we believe that we need to grow our way out of the global financial crisis. The challenges I have enumerated give us many opportunities for growth in the UK, in the north-east in particular; for example, in renewable energies such as wind power, which is why the previous Government invested in NaREC—the New and Renewable Energy Centre—a world-class testing facility for wind turbines in Blyth. Sustainable transport provides another opportunity for growth, which is why the previous Government invested in it by giving grants to enable Nissan to build the electric car facility in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson).

Some months ago, I visited Newcastle university’s electrical engineering department, where I saw the world-leading research into electric motors that is taking place as a result of the previous Government’s increased funding for research and development. Another example relates to ageing with dignity, as promoted by the centre for ageing and vitality in Newcastle.

We stand at the brink of enormous industrial change and the potential for enormous industry growth. The Government have two possible responses. They can leave things to the market, get out of the way—such a well-loved phrase—and let the existing capital and goods markets figure everything out, or they can put in place the economic and active industrial policies that will support industry. The Government seem to have decided to do the former; or having listened to the words of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, I would say that they have decided to do the former while professing to do the latter. I want to say why that is not in this country’s or even the coalition Government’s interests.

As I have said, I am engineer by profession. I also spent three years getting an MBA to hone my business and management skills. I have worked in France, the US, Nigeria and the UK, as well as travelling extensively for my work. I have seen many different combinations of private and public sector involvement, including the raw entrepreneurship of Lagos street markets. Having listened to Conservative Members expressing their contempt for all regulation, including that on health and safety, I now understand that that is the kind of market economy that they want to bring to this country. I have also worked in the highly regulated labour markets of Germany. I have helped to build small businesses, to grow medium-sized ones and to expand multinationals. I have also helped to set up the framework for the public sector regulation of the telecommunications industry. So I know from bitter experience just how difficult it is to create the virtuous cycle of investment, innovation and job creation.

Let me tell hon. Members what I have found that works. The role of the private sector is crucial—it mobilises investment, creates jobs, innovates and takes risks—but the public sector is equally important. The right regulatory environment gives investors the confidence to invest and helps smaller companies to compete on a level playing field. By providing grants and incentives for innovation and investment and using the public sector procurement process intelligently, the public sector can help emergent industries to flourish. By directing funds to build the right infrastructure, the public sector helps ideas to become businesses. Conservative Members are right: the public sector does not create jobs, but it can provide the soil and fertiliser to enable them to grow. So we need active individuals, partnered by industrial activism. A proactive partnership between the public and private sectors is essential if the UK is to take a leading role in the world’s low-carbon future.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard -

I am pleased to see a fellow engineer on the Opposition Benches. I recall the hon. Lady not wishing to be here for the election of the Speaker and wanting to go back to play bingo in Newcastle. Is she proposing that the Government give further subsidies to the bingo industry in her constituency?

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I would thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention if I could understand the line that he is drawing between bingo and the huge questions that we face. I support the bingo industry—I support all service industries—but he may not have followed today’s debate, which is about Government support for industry, particularly manufacturing and engineering industries. I would appreciate being able to stick to that subject for the rest of my contribution.

Labour’s industrial activism means that there are appropriate grants to support industry across the country. Under Labour, the regional development agency One NorthEast was able to take strategic regional decisions and support new technologies and the complex supply chains necessary to make them successful. I share the utter confusion of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) about Government policy with regard to the RDAs, which are to be abolished but allowed to re-grow in some form that is not entirely clear. That uncertainty is damaging jobs and industry in Newcastle and across the north-east, and I urge the coalition to provide clarity and send signals that a regional strategic decision-making authority will continue to exist.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah
Tuesday 15th December 2020

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

The recent Small Business Saturday event meant that the spend from the Great British public rose to £1.1 billion this year, which is a 38% rise on last year. The Government will continue to champion small businesses, through our unprecedented support schemes, as they begin to recover from the impact of covid-19. As the Secretary of State has just reminded me, the spend is not £200 billion—it is £280 billion of support for small business.

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

Of the £5 billion of new online spend because of the pandemic, 40% has gone to one website, Amazon. Many small businesses are afraid that they will not make it through the winter because of a lack of Government support, and they have Brexit and climate and technological change to deal with too. So I want to ask the Minister this: what is the plan for small businesses to survive covid and build back smarter and greener? I am talking not about vague promises, but about firm commitments to help businesses invest in new technologies, as Make UK has called for, or to target procurement to support net zero businesses, as the Institution of Civil Engineers proposes. Or are the Government just going to let business down again?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

As a fellow engineer, the hon. Lady will know that the Made Smarter initiative has been a tremendous pilot in the north-west. We recently announced a further expansion, with £300 million—£147 million coming from the Government and the balance coming from the private sector—to support the adoption of technology into manufacturing. I hope the hon. Lady will continue to support Government initiatives such as Made Smarter.

National Security and Investment Bill (Twelfth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 12th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah
Thursday 10th December 2020

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to Opposition speakers, the shadow Minister and the hon. Member for Glenrothes, for their contributions and to my hon. Friends the Members for Arundel and South Downs, for North West Norfolk, for Clwyd South and for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine for their excellent interventions.

On new clause 1, it will not surprise the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central that the Government’s position remains consistent with that of 1 December, when amendments relating to the new clause were discussed. Such amendments included, among others, proposals for the inclusion of a definition of national security in the statement made by the Secretary of State. The new clause seeks to create a new, exhaustive list of factors that the Secretary of State may take into account when considering whether something is a risk to national security.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am listening intently to the Minister’s response—given the great skills of the Committee he is taking the new clause in the right spirit—but it is not appropriate to say that we are presenting an exhaustive list when we specifically say, “this and other things”. It meant to be not an exhaustive list but a guide and a sense.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I apologise. I will say instead that the clause seeks to create a non-exhaustive list of factors that the Secretary of State may take into account when considering whether something is a risk to national security for the purposes of the Bill.

The Bill as drafted does not seek to define national security. It also does not include factors that the Secretary of State will take into account in coming to a national security assessment. Instead, factors that the Secretary of State expects to take into account in exercising the call-in powers are proposed to be set out, as the hon. Lady rightly said, in the statement provided for in clause 3. A draft of the statement was published on introduction of the Bill to aid the Committee’s scrutiny efforts. The draft statement includes details of what the Secretary of State is likely to be interested in when it comes to national security risks. That includes certain sectors of the economy and the types of acquisition that may raise concern.

While it is crucial for investors’ confidence that there is as much transparency in the regime as possible, there is self-evidently a limit to how much the Government can and should 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 new clause would instead place in the Bill, alongside the statement, a non-exhaustive list of factors that the Secretary of State may have regard to when assessing a risk to national security. That raises a number of issues. First, it is unclear what the benefit is of including a non-exhaustive list of factors that the Secretary of State may have regard to directly in the legislation as opposed to in the statement.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I will happily take the hon. Lady’s intervention once I have gone through these points.

Secondly, the new clause would not replace the statement; instead, it would appear to sit alongside it. The Government think that would probably cause confusion rather than clarity, although I have no doubt that the hon. Lady and the Opposition agree that clarity for all parties will be crucial to the regime’s success.

Thirdly, by stating what may be taken into account when assessing a risk to national security under the Bill, the new clause indirectly sets out what can be a national security risk for the purposes of the Bill, and therefore what comes within the scope of national security—many colleagues pointed out some of the evidence suggesting that we should do exactly the opposite of that—which could clearly have unintended consequences for other pieces of legislation that refer to national security. The Bill requires that the statement from the Secretary of State be reviewed at least every five years to reflect the changing national security landscape. Indeed, in practice, it is likely that it will be reviewed and updated more frequently. We think that this is the right approach, rather than binding ourselves in primary legislation.

Fourthly, but perhaps most importantly, I note in this list that the Secretary of State may have regard to an ever-broadening set of suggestions that Opposition Members wish to be taken into account as part of national security. On Second Reading, the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), requested that an industrial strategy test be included in the Bill alongside national security assessments. I am afraid that an industrial strategy test is not the purpose of this legislation.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I was referring to the shadow Secretary of State’s request on Second Reading that an industrial strategy test be included in the Bill.

As I was saying, factors that the Secretary of State may have regard to through the new clause are wide ranging. This is an important Bill about national security and national security alone. We do not wish to see an ever-growing list of factors for the Secretary of State to take into consideration. That would risk the careful balance that has been struck in this regime between protecting national security and ensuring that the UK remains one of the best places in the world to invest. The Government consider that the Secretary of State should be required to assess national security as strictly about the security of our nation. That is what the Bill requires. These powers cannot and will not be used for economic, political or any other reasons.

While I understand the objectives of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, for the reasons I have set out I am not able to accept the new clause. I hope the hon. Member will agree to withdraw it.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his response, not all of which was entirely unexpected. I also thank the hon. Member for Glenrothes for his speech and his interventions, which were very much to the point.

I feel that the Minister was, to a certain extent, doing what the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs accused me of doing—I did say that I had learned so much from the Minister—which was arguing both sides of the question at once. He seems to be saying that there should not be any definition, but that if there needs to be a definition, it is already there in the statement that the Secretary of State has set out. Indeed, I have been looking for that statement, because I did not recognise it from the way the Minister described it when talking about giving detail on the types of national security questions that might arise.

Break in Debate

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to speak briefly in support of additional support for SMEs. The hon. Member for Glenrothes is a champion of small businesses, which is a pleasure to hear. As he set out, and as has been set out in a number of the amendments that we have tabled in Committee, we are concerned to make sure that the seismic shift in our national security assessment with regard to mergers and acquisitions does not stifle our innovative but often under-resourced small businesses, which are such an important driver of our economy. New clause 2 reflects our intentions, particularly in amendments 1 and 11, to support and give further guidance to small businesses. I hope that the Minister and Conservative Members recognise the importance of supporting small businesses at this time through direct measures in the Bill.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for Glenrothes and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central for setting out the arguments in support of new clauses 2 and 3, which both relate to the treatment of small and medium-sized enterprises in the regime.

On new clause 2, the Government are a strong supporter of SMEs and have sought to provide a slick and easily navigable regime for businesses of all sizes to interact with. We are creating a digital portal and a simple notification process to allow all businesses to interact with the regime without the need for extensive support from law firms, which is a particular burden for small businesses. Furthermore, there is no fee for filling a notification, unlike many of our allies’ regimes, which in some cases charge hundreds of thousands of pounds for a notification. Consequently, we do not expect this regime to disproportionately affect SMEs.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point, because, as he rightly says, factors other than the risk profile of the acquirer may determine whether an acquisition is subjected to greater or lesser scrutiny. It is also likely that any list would quickly go out of date. Entities in this space can change and emerge rapidly, especially if parties are attempting to evade the regime and the Secretary of State’s scrutiny. In addition, such lists being intentionally published or otherwise disclosed publicly could have significant ramifications for this country’s diplomatic relations and our place in the world, in respect of both those on one of the lists and those who are not on the list. Publishing the list may also give hostile actors information about gaming the system, to the UK’s detriment.

I would suggest that what the hon. Member for Ilford South describes would essentially be an internal and highly sensitive part of a national security assessment. While I appreciate the sentiment behind the new clause, I do not believe that it would be appropriate to set out such details in writing. It is, however, entirely reasonable for the hon. Gentleman to seek to reduce the burden on business where possible, in particular if the acquisition presents little risk and can be cleared quickly. I have an enormous amount of sympathy with that aim.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not intend to make a speech, but I wanted to intervene on this particular point. A part of the source of the new clause is the Minister’s own comments. He said that national security was not dependent on a particular country. He is giving a lot of reasons why there cannot be a list, because of different actors, but does he recognise that national security may relate to a specific country? Has he woken up to the risks that particular countries may pose?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I assure the hon. Lady that Her Majesty’s Government do exactly that, but the Bill is deliberately country-agnostic. Indeed, to give parties predictability on small business and to provide for rapid decisions where possible, the regime has clear and strict timelines, as we have heard throughout the debate. Additionally, clause 6 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations to exempt acquirers from the mandatory notification regime on the basis of their characteristics. Arguably, this places the strongest requirement on acquirers, such as where acquisitions by certain types of party are routinely notified but very rarely remedied or even called in. Taken together, these provisions are already a highly adaptable and comprehensive set of tools, so the list and its proposed use would be unnecessary and potentially harmful.

I shall touch briefly on national interests, which the new clause once again references. I have said before that the regime is intentionally and carefully focused on national security. That is specifically the security of the nation, rather than necessarily its broadest interests. This is therefore not the right place to introduce the concept of national interest, which would substantially and, we strongly believe, unhelpfully expand the scope of the regime.

In conclusion, with the strength provided by clauses 1, 3 and 6 already in the Bill, I am of the very strong opinion that the Bill already achieves its objectives. I therefore cannot accept the new clause and ask that the hon. Member for Ilford South withdraw it.

Break in Debate

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is with some regret that I rise to move new clause 7, because it is the last new clause we propose to the Bill. It is a Christmas present to the Minister. Things have certainly been interesting since we began our line-by-line scrutiny. With your leave, Sir Graham, I will take this opportunity to thank all those involved in drafting the Bill, as well as the Clerks, who have worked so hard and played such an important role in helping to draft amendments and provide support to all members of the Committee. I also thank you, Sir Graham, for chairing it so admirably.

We have learned a great deal over the last couple of weeks. I have learned just about everybody’s constituency—

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

Would the hon. Lady like a test?

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will not take up the opportunity of a test. We have all learned a lot about air flows—in this room, at any rate—as we seek to maintain some heat. What we have not learned, though, is how the Minister believes the Bill can be improved. All our line-by-line scrutiny has yielded many assurances, compliments on our intention and, indeed, some letters, for which I am grateful, but no acceptance and not even the commitment to go and think about some of our constructive proposals, amendments and new clauses. I urge him to consider this new clause as an opportunity to show that he truly believes, as he said earlier, in the skills, experience and expertise of the Committee by reflecting on the potential for improvement.

The new clause returns to an earlier theme and would require—the Minister will be pleased to note that that is a “must”, not a “may”—an annual report to be prepared by the Secretary of State

“in accordance with this section”

and a copy of it to be provided

“to the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament as soon as is practicable after the end of that period.”

It sets out what should be in that report, such as the events, the number of entities, the nature of the risks and

“details of particular technological or sectoral expertise”

and so on. It would provide the Intelligence and Security Committee with information about the powers exercised under the Bill and allow closer scrutiny and monitoring.

The new clause reflects how we have consistently supported the need for the Bill. Our approach to the security threats we face is to push for change specifically to allow broad powers of intervention, but for those using those broad powers to be held to account by Parliament and through transparency. Our international allies do exactly that. The US requires CFIUS to produce a non-classified annual report for the public, alongside a classified report for certain members of Congress, to provide security detail to them, allowing congressional scrutiny while retaining sensitivity of information.

As I think the Minister acknowledges, the Government have been late in following where international allies and the Opposition have led with calls to better protect our national security, so he must not fall behind in following our calls for accountability and transparency. That is critical not just to ensure our security and wider parliamentary understanding of the nature of the threats we face but for accountability.

The Secretary of State is to be given sweeping powers. For the last time, I should say that we will go from 12 reviews in 18 years—less than one a year—to 1,830 notifications a year, which is more than five every single day. The Secretary of State will be able to intervene in every single such private transaction. It will be hard to bring claims against national security concerns in court, where the judiciary will understandably find it difficult to define national security against the Government’s definition. In that context, it is important to bring expert parliamentary scrutiny to the Government’s decisions. I do hope the Minister will reflect on that. Alongside a public report, the new clause would require the Government to publish an annual security report to the Intelligence and Security Committee so that we have greater accountability without compromising security.

I will say a few words about the evidence base and the reason for tabling the amendment. Professor Ciaran Martin said:

“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.”––[Official Report, National Security and Investment Public Bill Committee, 26 November 2020; c. 81, Q96.]

My understanding is that the only accountability and transparency mechanism is the public report, which may be published, and the prospect of judicial review, neither of which provide for expert scrutiny on the security issues.

I also ask the Minister to reflect on Second Reading, where member after member of the Intelligence and Security Committee stood up to say that they felt that their expertise would be useful and helpful in the working of the Bill.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the shadow Minister for her contribution on new clause 7, which seeks to require the Secretary of State to provide an annual report to the Intelligence and Security Committee, including detailed information relating to mandatory and voluntary notifications, trigger events that were called in and final orders made. In particular, it seeks to require the Secretary of State to provide details of factors relevant to the assessment made by the regime, including the jurisdiction of the acquirer; the nature of national security risks posed in transactions where there were final orders; details of particular technological or sectoral expertise that were targeted; and other national security threats uncovered through reviews undertaken under the Bill.

I am pleased that esteemed members of the ISC are taking a continued and consistent interest, including in relation to their role in scrutinising the regime provided for by the Bill. The Committee will be aware that clause 61 requires the Secretary of State to prepare an annual report and to lay a copy before each House of Parliament. That clause provides for full parliamentary and public scrutiny of the detail of the regime, which we judge to be appropriate and which does not give rise to national security issues when published at an aggregate level. I reassure hon. Members that that annual report will include information on the sectors of the economy in which voluntary, mandatory and call-in notices were given. It will also give a sense of the areas of the economy where the greatest activity of national security concern is occurring.

We intend to follow the existing, appropriate Government procedures for reporting back to Parliament, including through responding to the Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The ISC’s remit is clearly defined by the Justice and Security Act 2013, together with the statutory memorandum of understanding. That remit does not extend to oversight of BEIS work. I am sure that the BEIS Committee will continue to do a sterling job of overseeing and scrutinising the Department’s overall work. I welcome and encourage the ISC’s security-specific expertise, which the hon. Lady referred to, and its review of the annual report when it is laid before Parliament.

For the reasons I have set out, I am not able to accept the new clause. I hope that hon. Lady will agree to withdraw it.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his response, but he did not address the issue scrutiny of sensitive aspects of how the Bill will work. I recognise that the ISC’s remit does not cover BEIS—that is the exact point of requiring such a report. As I think was discussed on Second Reading, the BEIS Committee will not scrutinise any sensitive information or information that is directly relevant to our national security. I am afraid that I cannot accept the Minister’s reasoning for his rejection of the new clause—namely, that it is effectively already covered by clause 61—so I will put it to a Division.

National Security and Investment Bill (Eleventh sitting)

(Committee Debate: 11th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah
Thursday 10th December 2020

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I beg you indulgence, Mr Twigg: I intend to speak first to clause stand part and then to amendment 29, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test. Clause 53 gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations that set out the procedure that the Secretary of State must follow when giving a notice of, or serving, an order once the Bill becomes an Act. The level of detail that these provisions will involve is most appropriately dealt with in delegated legislation. That will also allow the provisions to be modified more easily if changes are deemed appropriate—in the light of operational experience, for example. I know all colleagues will share with me the wish for the unit’s operations to be as efficient and as slick as we can make them.

Examples of notices and orders include information notices, attendance notices, interim orders, final orders or penalty notices issued by the Secretary of State for non-compliance. The clause sets out what may be included in the regulations. For example, they may include the manner in which a document must be given or served and whether it is allowed to be served electronically—for example, by email.

Amendment 29 would require the Secretary of State to make these regulations, which returns, if I may say so, to the recurring theme raised by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, about the difference between “may” and “shall”. At the risk of becoming predictable, my thoughts here carry certain echoes of our previous discussions.

As hon. Members will know, clause 53 gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations that will set out the procedure that must the Secretary of State must follow when giving a notice or serving an order once the Bill becomes an Act. It is an entirely laudable objective to ensure that the Secretary of State provides those affected by this regime with the right information on the operation of the regime, and it is one that I shall always support. In practice, though, the amendment is unnecessary.

Although the Secretary of State may make regulations to that effect, in practice, for the regime to function effectively, he must do so. I assure hon. Members that the Secretary of State certainly does not propose to commence the regime without first making these procedural regulations. I therefore assure the hon. Member that the amendment is not required, as he and the Government seem to be in hearty agreement on the importance of such regulation. I ask him to do the honourable thing and withdraw the amendment.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is an honour to serve under your chairship again, Mr Twigg. I detect a slight rise in temperature, at least on this side of the Committee Room. I do not know whether that is due to the heated exchanges over “may” and “should”—

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

Passionate exchanges.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Warm exchanges. It is certainly something to be welcomed.

I would like to say a few words to clause 53 stand part. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test observed, this is another example of a “may” rather than a “will”. The clause exists purely to enable the Secretary of State to make regulations—that is its function—and yet it places no requirement on the Secretary of State to do so.

While the Minister gave a warm response, saying that he and my hon. Friend are on exactly the same page and so on in our desires, I remind him that the Bill is not about our desires; it is about a legislative framework that protects our national security and gives, as much as possible, clarity and certainty to those impacted by it. It is because we recognise the importance of the clause that we wish it to have some effect in law, as opposed to being the gentle suggestion it seems to be at the moment.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

indicated assent.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope the Minister also agrees that we are moving to a much expanded national security screening regime. In 2002, Facebook was a year old or just being born. We are no longer in the place we were in 2002 when it comes to the issues of importance, volume, security and privacy associated with data and data sharing. I hope he will not rely on the 2002 Act as a justification, particularly as we are moving to an expanded national security screening issue and we are in a different data environment.

The strategy says that data is the economic engine, and we must be much better in assuring businesses and investors of their data protection. Instead of relying on appearances, the amendment holds up the standard of reason. Under it, the Secretary of State would have all the relevant powers of data sharing with relevant persons so long as the Secretary of State had reason, based “on a reasonable enquiry”, to think the person to be a relevant public authority.

It is critical that the UK has a national security regime that is grounded in national, competent exercise of state power to protect our security. The amendment would help to build success in that direction by removing a reliance on the use of appearance and instinct, by successive Secretaries of State, and grounding decisions in “reasonable enquiry” instead.

The expert evidence sessions provided support for that view. For example, Chris Cummings from the Investment Association said:

“There is so much around any investment process and the acquisition process that has to remain entirely confidential, that investors would require and would be looking for reassurance that these conversations could be held in the strictest of confidence and that nothing would appear until the right time.”––[Official Report, National Security and Investment Public Bill Committee, 24 November 2020; c. 66, Q78.]

I ask the Committee to consider whether sharing data on the basis of appearances gives that reassurance.

The clause will give information-sharing powers to the Secretary of State. We recognise the importance of that, and we do not want to hinder it unduly, but we expect that the Secretary of State should, and importantly, should be seen to, exercise those powers on the basis of evidence. It is only right that we have clear evidential requirements. Although the 2002 Act uses similar language, it is right that we in this Committee clean up that language based on 19 further years of experience.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I am grateful. If the drive of the hon. Member’s probing is to ensure that the Secretary of State, when he considers disclosing information to a foreign country, takes into account protecting people being caught in the regime who come from that country, I think I have just made it clear that the clause provides protection against self-incrimination in criminal proceedings corresponding to the protection provided in the United Kingdom. I hope that the hon. Member will be satisfied with that.

Finally, the disclosure is subject to data protection legislation, which provides additional safeguards in relation to the disclosure of personal data. I hope that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central will feel reassured that the Secretary of State may request only the information that he requires in order to exercise his function under the Bill, and that such information will be treated securely.

Amendment 30 aims to increase the scrutiny that the Secretary of State undertakes in deciding whether a person constitutes an overseas public authority for the purposes of disclosing information under clause 54. It is of course important to ensure that any person believed to be a public authority for the purposes of seeking information from, or disclosing information to, is a public authority. I am therefore pleased to reassure the hon. Lady that the Bill does that as it stands. The approach that we have taken mirrors that—I know that she does not like this—in section 243(11) of the Enterprise Act 2002, which includes a similar definition of an overseas public authority for the purposes of disclosure of specified information to overseas public authorities under the Act.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is generous in giving way. On his rebuttal of my argument on the CMA, it is not about whether I like it. The whole point of the amendment is to take it away from likes, preferences or appearances, and base it on evidence, and the evidence is that the environment has changed dramatically since 2002 in terms of data. Also, the Secretary of State is a political figure.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I remind her that the legislation requires the Secretary of State to act in a quasi-judicial way, not as a political figure. I appreciate that by a normal reading, “appears” may appear unduly casual, but that is merely a question of the form of legislative drafting, which is consistent, I remind her, with previous relevant legislation.

In addition, I reassure the hon. Lady that the principles of public law apply in any case. The Secretary of State therefore needs to act reasonably in fulfilling his functions under the Bill. That includes having a reasonable basis, supported by sufficient evidence, for coming to the conclusion that a person appears to be an overseas public authority prior to disclosing information. I hope I have provided the Committee with sufficient reassurances, and I therefore hope that the Opposition will withdraw the amendment.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

It is not a strange concept that a Minister acts in a quasi-judicial way in making such decisions.

I will now briefly turn to clause 55, which makes provision for specific restrictions in respect of information received under clause 54 from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. For the regime to function effectively, the Secretary of State needs access to the right information at the right time in order to make decisions with the fullest range of evidence available. One such source of information that might be invaluable to the Secretary of State is HMRC. Although the Government expect that the Secretary of State would seek first to secure the information he needs from the parties, it is important that such information can also be provided from elsewhere in Government, if it is held there.

Clause 55 provides that where information is received by the Secretary of State from HMRC or an onward recipient pursuant to clause 54, it may not be used for purposes other than the Secretary of State’s function under the Bill, and nor may it be further disclosed without HMRC’s consent. Clause 35 provides that disclosing information in contravention of clause 55(1) is an offence, as is appropriate.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I am just finishing my point.

I hope that hon. Members will agree that clause 55 provides appropriately robust safeguards for the onward sharing or use of information received from HMRC for the purposes of the regime. I recommend that clauses 54 and 55 stand part of the Bill.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would like to address a question to the Minister. In his remarks on these clauses, he has highlighted a concern. I might have missed it, but I do not see where the Bill sets out the information gateway through which the Secretary of State will receive information from HMRC in order to exercise his functions under the Bill. Clauses 54 and 55 are grouped together under the title of “Information gateways”. They discuss information gateways from the Secretary of State to public authorities and others, but I would really appreciate it if the Minister could write to me to set out how HMRC will disclose information to BEIS for the functions of the Bill. I am sure I do not need to remind the Committee that information held by HMRC is generally considered very sensitive by businesses and individuals alike, and there are generally clear restrictions on its sharing.

To return to the clauses and amendment more generally, part of the Minister’s argument missed what our argument was. We recognise the importance of disclosing some information, and we also recognise that clause 55 sets out tests with regard to the purposes of disclosing the information, and even to how the information can be shared onwards and to what information should be disclosed. What it does not do is test the nature of the public authority. Although we have had an interesting and, indeed, lively debate about the difference between legal language and casual language, I think we can all agree that it is in the interests of our democracy that our legislation can be read and understood by ordinary people. If the term “appears” is to be understood as it is commonly understood, the clause requires the support of our amendment.

Break in Debate

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will say a few words to the clause—reflecting the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test, in particular—because there seems to be a theme in the Bill. I know that the Minister believes that the Bill is beyond improvement, and that he is reluctant even to contemplate any changes, as he said in response to the hon. Member for Glenrothes, but he must recognise that a consistent theme seems to be that requirements, or “musts”, are placed on others and the discretion—the “may”, if you like—is with the Business Secretary. The Minister himself observed that we are keen to allow the Business Secretary the necessary discretion to fully protect our national security, but does he see not that that would better achieved by clearly circumscribing the Business Secretary’s actions?

I also support my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington in his recent contribution. Throughout this Bill, we need to ensure that the resources are there when placing requirements on bodies. I hope that the Minister can give such reassurances. On that basis, we recognise that the clause should stand part.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 56 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 57

Data Protection

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

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

Clause 57 provides that the provisions in parts 1 to 4 of the Bill containing a duty or power to disclose or use information do not authorise a contravention of data protection legislation, as set out in the Data Protection Act 2018. In addition, the clause provides that that information may be used or disclosed only if it does not contravene parts 1 to 7, or chapter 1 of part 9, of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which contains provisions about conducting interception, including restrictions on use and disclosure of intercepted information. These standard provisions are included where legislation concerns the use or disclosure of information. I hope that hon. Members will therefore be content to support this standard clause as part of the legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 57 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 58

Minor and Consequential Amendments and Revocations

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

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

Clause 59 removes a restriction on the ability of the Competition and Markets Authority to co-operate with its international partners on merger cases. At the end of the transition period, the UK will no longer be part of the European Union’s competition system. The CMA will become responsible for investigating the effects on competition of larger international mergers, which were previously investigated by the European Commission. In a globalised economy, effective cross-border enforcement of competition law, which protects UK markets and consumers, relies increasingly on close international co-operation. The ability to disclose confidential information to assist an overseas authority with this enforcement activity, including in circumstances where parties have not provided their consent for the information to be disclosed, is a crucial ingredient of strong co-operation.

Moreover, the willingness of an overseas authority to disclose confidential information will often depend on whether the receiving authority can reciprocate. Any restrictions on the CMA’s ability to disclose such information could therefore inhibit the effectiveness of its international co-operation. The overseas disclosure gateway, which is set out in section 243 of the Enterprise Act 2002, provides an important mechanism for the CMA to disclose information to its overseas counterparts when consent has not been provided by relevant parties. The gateway permits disclosure for the purpose of helping an overseas authority’s enforcement activities.

However, the CMA is currently unable to use the overseas disclosure gateway to disclose information that comes to it in connection with a merger investigation. This means that the CMA is restricted from sharing certain information with its overseas counterparts that might be crucial to their investigation of a merger. This restriction presents two challenges for the UK’s competition authorities. First, it weakens the control of mergers with an international dimension that might adversely affect UK markets and consumers. Secondly, it inhibits the CMA’s ability to receive information that might be critical to its own merger investigations, because it has no ability to reciprocate. That, in turn, could also weaken its protection of UK markets and consumers. Clause 59 rectifies this by removing the restriction in the overseas disclosure gateway and allowing the CMA to use the gateway to disclose merger information to overseas public authorities.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for setting out clause 59, because I had thought that it was inconsequential. I listened to what he said carefully, as I always do, but I did not hear him use the term “national security” once. The function of the Bill is national security. Although we have not defined it, we have debated that the Bill should be narrowly circumscribed to concerns of national security. Having listened carefully to the Minister, I get the impression that the clause has been added, and for very good reasons, to facilitate and enable the CMA’s competition and mergers powers.

We are putting the national security interest relating to mergers and acquisitions firmly here in the Bill, so the CMA is no longer concerned with and involved in that, yet this clause facilitates the CMA’s sharing of information with overseas public authorities. That information, by definition, will not be with regard to national security, because national security investigations will take place under the powers in the Bill that lie with the Secretary of State. I am somewhat confused as to what this clause is doing in the Bill. Would the Minister like to intervene to illuminate and clarify that the clause has something to do with national security?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady is quite right that it is to help the CMA.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I find it somewhat worrying, given our debates about keeping the Bill focused narrowly on national security, that the Government have added a clause to help the CMA in its functions. My hon. Friends and I have been thinking of a number of ways in which we would like to help the CMA in its functions and to improve the Enterprise Act, but we have been resolute in focusing on national security, because that is the matter before the Committee. Yet it seems that the clause, although very well meaning, is designed for an entirely different function.

You are not stopping the debate, Mr Twigg, so I presume it is in order to debate the functions of the CMA in relation to competitions and mergers generally, rather than to national security specifically.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

It is worth respectfully reminding the hon. Lady and the Committee that this is a separate topic in the Bill that is unrelated to the NSI regime, as set out in the explanatory notes.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have the explanatory notes, and they do not state that the clause deals with a separate topic. Paragraph 173 states:

“Clause 59 amends the overseas disclosure gateway in section 243 of the Enterprise Act 2002, removing the restriction on UK public authorities disclosing information that comes to them in connection with a merger investigation under that gateway.”

The explanatory notes do not state that the functions of the CMA are separate from national security as clearly as the Minister just has. I do not want to detain the Committee, but I register the Labour party’s concern—

Break in Debate

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, because he is absolutely right that, rather than having a debate on the contents of the explanatory notes, line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill should focus on what the Bill says, and it does not mention general improvements to our competition and mergers regime, much as we feel that improvements could be made. Although we will not oppose the clause, I register our disappointment that we were not better informed of the Bill’s additional scope.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I think that is slightly unfair; it is included in page 4 of the explanatory notes.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister’s argument is to look at page 4 of the explanatory notes, but it does not say that the CMA’s functions are separate from national security.

Break in Debate

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It says “interaction with” the CMA. but it does not say that that is separate from national security. In this afternoon’s sitting, when we discuss the additions that we would like to the remit and definition of “national security”, I hope that the Minister will recognise that the Bill is broader than national security, as was simply understood from his previous responses.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 59 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 60

Defamation

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

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

Clause 60 provides the Secretary of State and the CMA with absolute privilege against action for defamation as a result of the exercise of functions under or by virtue of the Bill. The clause has been included to ensure that the Secretary of State and the CMA have absolute privilege from defamation claims, on the basis that the function of the regime to protect national security is too important to be at risk or in any way curtailed by claims of defamation. It is, of course, not the Government’s intention to defame anyone through the regime or more widely. I hope that hon. Members will agree that this is an appropriate protection, supported by a well-reasoned regime that seeks to protect national security while supporting businesses and investors.

Break in Debate

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wholeheartedly endorse the Minister’s words on the skill and talents in this Committee Room. He said we were improving the Bill, but he is yet to accept any changes, so I am intrigued to understand what improvements he feels we have made.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

It is the challenge the hon. Lady offers that allows a Minister as junior as the one standing before hon. Members to be able to make the argument.

Finally, the report will also give a sense of the sectors of the economy where the greatest activity of national security concern is occurring. The Secretary of State may include additional information in relation to SMEs if he considers that to be appropriate. For those reasons, I am unable to accept the amendment, and I hope that the hon. Member for Ilford South can withdraw it.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will say a few words in support of the amendment and on the clause, and will respond to the Minister’s comments. I think we all recognise the importance of reporting annually on the seismic shift in our national security, and of scrutiny of mergers and acquisitions. Yet it has to be said that the Bill does not say what the report’s objective is. Neither did the Minister, in listing what was included, give an understanding of the reasons the items have been included, even as he rejected the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South, which seeks to add points of particular interest to small and medium-sized enterprises.

I note, for example, that the number of final notifications is given but not the number of interim notifications or interim orders made. It is hard to see whether the objective of the report is to give greater confidence, to enable us to fully understand the working, or to enable us to see whether the limited contents of the impact assessment prove to be accurate. The kind of information in the report, and in my hon. Friend’s amendment, is the information that a well-run Department should wish to have. Although we are unclear on the objective of the report, which is not set out, reporting on those items as fully as possible would certainly improve the workings of the Bill, as my hon. Friend has said he seeks to do.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I now turn to the Bill’s final provisions. Clause 62 sets out the transitional provisions for cases that may qualify for intervention under both the Bill and the Enterprise Act 2002. The starting point for the transition arrangement is that the 2002 Act continues to apply in relation to national security until the new regime is commenced. That means that qualifying mergers can continue to be scrutinised under the Act where the statutory requirements are met.

However, the Government do not wish to expose to some form of double jeopardy qualifying mergers that take place after the introduction of the Bill but before commencement. The clause means that, in effect, the Secretary of State must use one Act or the other. Not doing so would create significant uncertainty for business and investors and could, at least theoretically, lead to the perverse position of the Secretary of State, following commencement of the Bill, re-examining decisions that they themselves made merely weeks ago under the 2002 Act.

Clause 63 makes provision in relation to the regulations that may be made under the Bill, setting out how they must be made and what they may contain. All the regulations that may be made under the Bill are subject to the negative resolution procedure, except regulations made under clause 6, “Notifiable acquisitions”, clause 11, “Exceptions relating to control of assets”. and clause 41, “Permitted maximum penalties”, where the draft affirmative procedure will apply. Given their nature and effect, the Government consider that regulations under those three powers should be subject to the approval of Parliament.

Clause 64 provides that any expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State under the Bill is to be paid out of money provided by Parliament. Clause 65 is purely a technical one to provide for definitions of the key terms used in the Bill. I do not intend to explore individual meanings of key terms now; I will instead direct hon. Members to lunch and to the relevant clauses that provide them. Finally, hon. Members will appreciate that clause 66 is purely a technical one to set out the Bill’s short title and provide details about the commencement of the Bill’s clauses and the extent of the Bill.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for setting out the provisions of the clauses and for moving us onwards to lunch and to the end of the Bill. I will not detain the Committee with a detailed consideration of the technical provisions in the clauses and the interpretation of the various terms. However, the Bill as a whole would benefit from greater clarity, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test has so well set out, particularly in his reference to the use of language by bank managers.

We will not oppose the final clauses. We congratulate the Committee and particularly the Clerks and all those who have supported us in enabling us to reach the final clauses.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 62 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 63 to 66 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

National Security and Investment Bill (Tenth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah
Tuesday 8th December 2020

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I had been just about to conclude by saying that a key reason for the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South is that it asserts and requires the supremacy of the public interest over commercial interest in the Secretary of State’s actions in reporting on final notices. I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment.

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

With your permission, Sir Graham, I will speak to clause 29 stand part before turning to the amendment. The Committee has heard about the careful balance that the Government are striking in this regime by allowing for a discreet and commercially sensitive screening process wherever possible, while requiring transparency at key junctures where not to do so could disadvantage third parties.

Clause 29 is a key clause, the purpose of which is to deliver that essential but carefully chosen transparency. It places a duty on the Secretary of State to publish a notice of the fact that a final order has been made, varied or revoked. The main purpose of publishing notice of those facts is to ensure that third parties who may have a financial interest in a trigger event are not disadvantaged by the provision of information only to the parties involved. Examples of relevant third parties might include shareholders, suppliers or customers of the target entity, and other investors who may be considering investing.

The clause will provide important reassurance to the business community and the wider public about the circumstances in which final orders are made, varied and revoked. It specifies what information must appear in a notice, including, crucially, a summary of the order, revocation or variation, its effect, and the reasons for it. Similarly to the approach on orders, subsection (3) allows the Secretary of State to exclude information from the notice when he considers it commercially sensitive or national security sensitive. The clause is complemented by the requirement in clause 61 for the Secretary of State to report annually to Parliament on the use of the powers in the Bill. Clause 61(2) sets out an extensive list of the aggregate data that the annual report must include. Together, those provisions will help investors and businesses to understand the regime, and will ensure that Parliament can hold the Government to account on their operation at both individual and aggregate levels.

I will now turn to amendment 27 to clause 29. I remind the Committee that the clause requires the Secretary of State to publish a notice when a final order has been made, varied or revoked. As drafted, subsection (3)(a) provides that the Secretary of State may exclude from that public notice anything that he considers likely to prejudice the commercial interests of any person. The amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from excluding such information, unless he considers that publishing it would not be in the public interest.

The Committee has heard about the careful balance that the Government are seeking to strike in this regime, to allow, as I mentioned earlier, for a discreet and commercially sensitive screening process wherever possible, while requiring transparency at key junctures when not to do so may disadvantage third parties. As I set out, this is a key clause, the purpose of which is to deliver that carefully balanced transparency. Inherent in the clause is the degree of flexibility afforded to the Secretary of State to redact information when he judges that to be appropriate, whether for commercial or national security reasons. I hesitate slightly to return to a somewhat recurring theme—the difference between “may” and “shall”—but the fact that the Secretary of State “may” redact information provides him with the flexibility to decide case by case whether that is the right thing to do.

The hon. Member for Ilford South seeks to ensure with this amendment that the Secretary of State will not disregard the public interest when using the flexibility on deciding whether to redact information. The hon. Gentleman need not worry; that is my message to him. The Secretary of State will always seek to serve the public interest in this Bill and in all that he does. I can therefore assure the hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State will carefully consider any redactions made and that he will not take the decision to exclude information lightly.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I suspect that the hon. Member for Ilford South may wonder why, if it makes so little difference, we do not include his amendment and formalise the importance of considering the public interest. I suspect that that is also the point on which the hon. Lady wishes to intervene.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Committee recognises the importance of giving the powers in the Bill to the Secretary of State in the interests of national security. The powers of redaction are, or could be, in the interests of commercial sensitivity. Does the Minister agree that national security and the public interest should be supreme over commercial sensitivity? Why will he not make that clear?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I thought I had made that clear. The Bill strikes that balance between commercial sensitivity and national security.

I return to my reassurance on the importance of considering the public interest. In addition to the general principle that one should avoid amending clauses that, essentially, fulfil their objectives—if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it—I suggest that the Bill is not the place to begin adding references to the public interest. While the Secretary of State cares profoundly about the public interest, this specific regime is intentionally and carefully focused on national security. Although it may be an attractive proposition to certain hon. Members, my strong view is that by introducing ideas of wider public interest into the Bill, we would risk confusing and stretching its scope beyond its carefully crafted calibration. I have a tremendous amount of sympathy with what hon. Members seek to achieve with the amendment but, for the reasons I have set out, I must ask that the hon. Gentleman withdraws it.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

For the benefit of the Committee, I will begin with clause 30 stand part, which makes provision for financial assistance. I will then turn to amendment 24, and amendment 28 from the hon. Member for Aberdeen South.

The Government recognise that final orders, in exceptional cases—and I have to stress in exceptional cases, when we are administering taxpayers’ money—may bring about financial difficulty for the affected parties. This clause therefore gives the Secretary of State the legal authority to provide financial assistance to, or in relation to, entities in consequence of the making of a final order, to mitigate the impacts of a final order, for example. It might also be used where the consequence of a final order in itself might otherwise impact the country’s national security interests.

Hon. Members will know that such clauses are required to provide parliamentary authority for spending by Government in pursuit of policy objectives where no existing statutory authority for such expenditure already exists.   I am confident that such assistance would be given only in exceptional circumstances when no alternative was available. For example, the Secretary of State could impose a final order blocking an acquisition of an entity that is an irreplaceable supplier to Government, subsequently putting the financial viability of the entity in doubt. In such a situation, the Secretary of State could provide financial assistance to the entity to ensure that the supplier could continue operating while an alternative buyer was found.

Such spending would of course be subject to the existing duty of managing public money—the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central asked what checks and balances are in place—and compliant with any other legal obligations concerning the use of Government funds. To provide further explicit reassurance regarding the use of the power, subsection (1) specifies that any financial assistance may be given only with the consent of the Treasury.

The clause also covers reporting to the House when financial assistance is given under the clause. I will speak to that further when I turn to the amendments. I am sure that hon. Members will see the clause as necessary and appropriate, and have confidence that our Government, and future Governments, will have only limited, but sufficient, freedom to provide financial support under the regime as a result.

Amendment 24 would permit the Secretary of State to provide financial assistance in consequence of making an interim order, which was the hon. Lady’s point. As she will know, the Government take the management of our country’s finances very seriously, and such a power naturally requires appropriate safeguards to ensure that public money is spent appropriately. Restricting the power to final orders ensures that the Secretary of State may use it only to assist entities once a national security assessment has been completed and final remedies have been imposed—for example, to mitigate the impact of a final order on a company. It would not be appropriate to use the power to provide aid to an entity that is only temporarily affected by an interim order, which will last only for a period of review, likely to take 30 working days and, at most, 75.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his comments. When he says that an interim order can be in place for at most 75 days, I think he is adding 30 days, which is the initial period, to 45 days, which is the additional period. I am afraid that he is forgetting the voluntary periods.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

Yes, but the point remains that no final order has been made, and public money will be spent only in very limited circumstances, as I mentioned, in consequence of a final order. Any expenditure will be subject to appropriate safeguards.

Amendment 28, tabled by the hon. Member for Aberdeen South, would require the Secretary of State to inform Parliament if financial assistance given under clause 30 in any financial year, or any calendar year, exceeds £100 million. If during any financial year the assistance given under the clause totals £100 million or more, subsection (3) as drafted requires the Secretary of State to lay a report of the amount before the House.

If, during any financial year in which such a report has been laid, the Secretary of State provides any further financial assistance under the clause, subsection (4) requires that he lay a further report of the amount, so if he makes a report before the end of the year and then spends more money, which was the hon. Gentleman’s point, the Secretary of State will need to update the report. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman appreciates, the Government are committed to providing as much transparency as is reasonably possible when it comes to the use of the new investment screening regime provided for in the Bill.

The amendment would effectively mean that the Secretary of State must stand before Parliament twice—likely, once at the end of the calendar year and again at the end of the financial year, a few months later—to lay what is likely to be a rather similar report of the amount given in financial assistance grants under the clause. Although the Secretary of State would be flattered by his popularity, I am sure the hon. Member for Aberdeen South would agree that seeing him for that purpose twice in such a short time would be a case of duplication, and the Secretary of State would not want to take up his valuable time unnecessarily. I can assure him that the Secretary of State is fully committed to transparency and will ensure that Parliament has the information that it needs to track the use of the powers in the regime.

For those reasons, I am unable to accept the amendments, and I hope that hon. Members will not press them.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his comments, but I am disappointed that he seems determined merely to respond from his notes, regardless of the validity of the points put to him. On why it is inappropriate for financial assistance to be provided in the case of interim orders, his reason—as far as I can understand it—was purely that interim orders were too short to make any difference. Although he cannot say how long an interim order will last—he can say how long he thinks it may last—it could go on indefinitely, because I cannot see in clause 26 a limit on the number or length of voluntary periods that may be agreed for the assessment. On that basis, the assessment could last a significant time.

In any case, I hope that he, as the Minister for Business and Industry, is aware of how fast-paced the technology sector, in particular, can be. The inability to raise finance at a critical moment or to sell to a particular customer, for example, may cause significant financial and commercial damage to a small business or a start-up. I did not hear the Minister reject that point, yet he has rejected the need for any support during the period of an interim order. As I have shown, that is a mistake, and that is why we will press the amendment to a vote.

The Minister also made no response to my question about equity.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I apologise—I should have responded to that, and it was remiss of me not to. We will consider all forms of financial assistance, including equity.

To respond to the point the hon. Lady has just made about companies that may have IP or a product in its early, nascent stage of growth, that are struggling and that are fast-moving in terms of raising funds, we at BEIS talk to many companies like that, outside the remit of the Bill, and we look to support them in a variety of ways.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I genuinely thank the Minister for the clarification that equity investments will be included in this bit of the Bill.

Break in Debate

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As always, my hon. Friend makes a really important point, and one that I had not thought of. The point about this being applicable to medium-sized businesses is absolutely right. In some ways, medium-sized businesses can often be at a critical point; cash flow is so important, and they could suddenly become very distressed, but with the right cash flow or the right injection of capital, they could expand greatly.

Will the Minister consider this? During the pandemic, when certain innovations have become incredibly important, and cash and support are needed to significantly increase the volume of production—of a vaccine, shall we say, with which the Minister is intimately concerned—a delay of 30, 70 or whatever days will create a huge problem for a medium-sized or growing business, as well as for small businesses.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

In response to a point made by the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington about a company being in distress because it has lost a client, irrespective of the national security and investment regime we talk to such companies all the time. Whether they are small, nascent, medium-sized or large, we have other avenues of assistance to help those companies. That is the point I was making.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for that, which brings me to the point that I wanted to make in response to him. I discerned that that seemed to be his point—that the Bill may cause harm to companies, but that rather than seeking redress under the Bill, or this clause in particular, they should seek redress or some kind of compensation through the well-oiled machinery of Government that provides support for small and growing businesses. I am afraid that that response will be met with undiluted cynicism among the many small and medium-sized businesses that have dealt with Government.

Again, we are talking about a fast-moving situation. Perhaps the Minister will provide examples of where, on such timescales, support has been provided. More importantly, if that is a consequence of the Bill, why would it not be addressed in the Bill, especially as we have a clause that seeks to address this issue in the case of notices of final order. I gave the example of OneWeb satellites, which was a major investment that took some time to come about, and we were not clear whether it was a strategic asset or national security. Clarity is critical.

Break in Debate

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister says that it is unlikely that investigations would trigger concerns on both national security and competition grounds. However, the position that we are in right now with regard to Huawei is one in which the desire for more competition in our telecoms supply chain—that is, to have three vendors as opposed to two—led to a national security impact, which is why we are now in the process of ripping Huawei out of our network. Does he recognise that such examples may happen?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, but the difference is that I was referring to mergers. Such mergers would be rare. I do not think that anyone is merging with Huawei, or will in the future.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is quite clear that the acquisition of a vendor in our telecoms network by another country would have almost exactly the same outcome, so it may well apply.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I was merely pointing out that there was no merger. The hon. Lady will forgive me: she is correct, but I did say that it is a rare occurrence. That is the point that I was making to the Committee.

The amendment seeks to impose a requirement to publish the reasons for giving a direction. We do not think that that is necessary. The clause already requires the Secretary of State to publish a direction in the manner that he considers appropriate. I do not think that I would be disclosing too many state secrets were I to speculate that that would be published on gov.uk. That is a reasonable bet. In many cases, I envisage that it is likely to be accompanied by a high-level explanation, but it is right that the Secretary of State should be able to decide what is appropriate on a case-by-case basis.

The amendment also seeks to require publication of an assessment of the direction’s impact on any grounds for action under part 3 of the Enterprise Act 2002. I have two points to make to the hon. Member for Ilford South. First, such a duty would not be appropriate in all cases—for example, where a direction simply required the CMA not to make a decision on competition remedies until a national security assessment had been concluded. The amendment as drafted would still require an assessment to be published in those circumstances.

Secondly, the predominant impact on grounds for action will of course relate to competition. The CMA is the independent expert competition authority, and nothing in the clause as drafted would prevent it from publishing its own assessment of the impact of a Secretary of State direction on the possible competition issues of a case. The clause also requires the Secretary of State to consult the CMA before giving a direction, so it will be able to inform him of the likely impact and he can factor that into his decision whether to give the direction. I believe that is the right approach and while I understand the hon. Member’s motivations in tabling the amendment, I urge him to withdraw it.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

Clauses 40 to 47 cover the civil sanctions under the Bill. I will cover them fairly briefly but I am happy to discuss them in more detail if it would be of interest to the Committee.

It is vital that the Secretary of State has appropriate powers to punish and deter non-compliance with the regime. Should a person breach an order under the regime or fail to provide information or evidence where required, it is vital that the Secretary of State has the power to bring the offender into compliance as quickly as possible to ensure the efficacy of the regime.

Clause 40 provides the Secretary of State with the powers to impose monetary penalties on a person where he is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the person has committed an offence under clauses 32 to 34. Clause 40(6) requires the Secretary of State to consider the amount of a monetary penalty to be appropriate before imposing it and it must not exceed the relevant maximum set out in clause 41. The power to impose monetary penalties instead of pursuing criminal proceedings will contribute to ensuring that the Secretary of State has a number of enforcement options to tailor to the situation.

The Secretary of State will not take the power to impose monetary penalties lightly and is required by clause 40(7) to take into account a number of factors, including the seriousness of the offence and any steps taken by the person to remedy the offence in question. I am confident that hon. Members will agree that the clause is valuable in ensuring that the Secretary of State has the appropriate enforcement mechanism to secure compliance with the new regime.

Clause 41 sets out the maximum fixed penalty and, where applicable, the maximum daily rate penalty that may be imposed. The penalties set out here are substantive, and I recognise that they may seem draconian, but they may have to be issued against companies that have significant financial incentive to disregard legal requirements under the regime and put national security at risk by going ahead with an acquisition, so the penalties need to be an effective incentive to comply. I also remind Members that these are maximum penalties; the Secretary of State will have a duty to ensure that any penalty imposed is reasonable and proportionate.

The clause also enables the Secretary of State to make regulations specifying how the maximum penalties applicable to businesses should be calculated and to amend the maximum penalty amounts or percentage rates. It is important that we can adjust any penalties over time, to ensure that they are a sufficient deterrent against non-compliance.

Clause 42 requires the Secretary of State to keep all monetary penalties imposed under review. It also provides a power to vary or revoke penalty notices as appropriate in the light of changing circumstances. Importantly, under the clause, where new evidence comes to light about a breach, it can be taken into account by the Secretary of State, and the penalty notice can be increased, decreased or revoked as appropriate. In all variations, there is, of course, a right of appeal, which is provided for by clause 50.

It is important that both criminal and civil sanctions should be available against offences committed under the Bill, but it would not be appropriate for them to be used in tandem. Clause 43 ensures that parties cannot be subject to both criminal and civil sanctions for the same offence. The clause is vital in giving businesses and other parties certainty and assurance that they will not be penalised in two separate ways for the same offence, which would clearly be unfair.

Clause 44 gives the Secretary of State the power to enforce monetary penalties by making unpaid penalties recoverable, as if they were payable under a court. Failure to comply with a penalty notice would be enforced in the same way as a court order to recover unpaid debts. It also provides for interest to be charged on unpaid penalties that are due.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for setting out the provisions of these clauses. Perhaps this is my ignorance, but what will happen to the moneys recouped through the penalties?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I am very happy to write to the hon. Lady on that, but I suppose the money goes back to the Treasury.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That was my assumption, but I know that in certain cases penalties can be used to offset the expenses incurred in creating the regulatory regime, or in supporting companies that are adversely affected, as we discussed earlier.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I am very happy to come back to the hon. Lady on that point.

Clause 45 ensures that the Government are not unduly burdened with costs relating to the imposition of monetary penalties, which can be expensive. The clause enables the Secretary of State to recover the associated costs from those who are issued with a penalty notice. The amount demanded will depend on the circumstances of each case, but the Secretary of State will need to comply with public law duties in imposing the requirements and in fixing the amount. In particular, the amount will need to be proportionate.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his reasoned and thoughtful remarks. As I said in my intervention, all decisions in the Bill are subject to judicial review. Clause 49 does not apply to information sharing post screening or enforcement decisions. The exception to JR is monetary penalties and cost recovery, which have a bespoke appeals process, as he probably knows.

Clause 49 concerns the procedure for judicial review of certain decisions. The clause provides that any claim for judicial review of certain decisions, which are set out in the clause, must be no more than 28 days after the day on which the grounds for the claim first arose, unless the court considers that there are exceptional circumstances. That period is shorter than the usual period in which a judicial review may be sought, as we have heard from the hon. Member for Southampton, Test. Generally, judicial reviews must be sought within three months in England and Wales, but not in Scotland or Northern Ireland, where they must also be sought promptly.

I will set out why that is the case shortly when I turn to amendment 26, but I believe that the shortened time limit strikes the right balance for the regime, enabling sufficient time for a claim to be lodged while providing for timely certainty about the effect of relevant decisions made under the Bill. I should also note that the court may entertain proceedings that are sought after the 28-day limit if it considers that exceptional circumstances apply. The usual route to challenge a decision made by the Secretary of State is via judicial review, and this is entirely appropriate for decisions made under the Bill. However, it is vital that this route does not result in prolonged uncertainty over decisions relating to screening.

I now turn to amendment 26, which seeks to extend the period within which applications for judicial review may be made from 28 days to three months. As I have set out, the Bill’s 28-day period in which claims for judicial review of certain decisions made under the Bill generally must be filed is shorter than the usual period in which judicial review may be sought. Again, it is entirely right that the hon. Gentleman wishes to probe us on why that is the case as judicial review plays a key role, which he clearly agrees with, in ensuring that the Government, and the Secretary of State in the case of this regime, act within the limits of the law. We have thought carefully about that while developing the Bill, and I welcome this discussion.

Why the shorter period? It is undeniably important that the Secretary of State is held independently accountable for his decisions under the regime. That must, however, be balanced—this is the important thing—against the need to avoid prolonged uncertainty over the status of screened acquisitions or the general functioning of the screening regime, which may have a chilling effect on investment, leaving the types of questions that a judicial review would answer, such as whether a decision to clear a transaction was unlawful, potentially still open for three months before it is clear that a judicial review is not going to be sought, which could make it extremely difficult for the various parties affected to plan and adjust following such a decision. Any party with a sufficient interest could seek a judicial review and all parties affected could be impacted. That is why we have come to this decision.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for the points he is making, which I am seeking to understand. Clause 49(2) mentions “relevant decisions”. Why would “section 19”, “section 20” and “section 21” that deal with the powers to require information and so on cause uncertainty, and not other provisions in the Bill?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

The point I was trying to make is that the uncertainty in any of those sections means that any party to a transaction can, if they feel they could frustrate the process because the outcome might not be advantageous to them, use the judicial review process to add to the uncertainty of a transaction. In addition, there is also a public interest in timely certainty and finality about decisions made under the regime that are, after all, imposed for the purpose of safeguarding national security. The 28-day limit is also in line with the current merger screening regime that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test asked about, where applications for the competitions appeal tribunal made under the Enterprise Act 2002 to review a merger decision must be made within four weeks, a time period chosen after public consultation. There may be some situations where, for legitimate reasons, 28 days is simply not enough. It is therefore important to remember that this Bill provides that the court may “entertain proceedings” that are sought after the 28-day limit, if it is considered that exceptional circumstances apply.

This shortened time limit and flexibility is for the courts to deal with exceptional circumstances. It strikes the right balance for this regime, in my view. It allows sufficient time for parties to obtain legal advice and mount a challenge, while also providing timely certainty about the effect of the relevant decision made under the Bill. I therefore hope that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test will withdraw the amendment.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

With permission, Sir Graham, I will speak to clauses 50, 51 and 52 together. Clause 50 concerns appeals against penalty notices or variation notices. It is only right that parties have the opportunity to appeal decisions made by the Secretary of State in relation to monetary penalties imposed. Clause 50 provides a person who has received a penalty notice or a variation notice with the right to appeal to the court within 28 days, starting from the day after the notice is served.

On an appeal against a penalty notice, the clause provides that the court may confirm or quash the decision to impose a monetary penalty, confirm or reduce the amount of a penalty, and confirm or vary the period in which the penalty must be paid. It may not increase the amount of the monetary penalty. Where the appeal is against a variation notice, the court may confirm, vary or quash the variation, but again it may not increase the amount of the monetary penalty.

Clause 51 provides a right of appeal against decisions made by the Secretary of State related to requirements to pay costs associated with monetary penalties. Clause 52 concerns extraterritorial application and jurisdiction to try offences under the regime. Let me briefly turn back to clauses 32 to 35, which create the offences of the regime. We would normally expect that if those offences occurred, they would happen in the UK. That will not, however, always be the case, and offences will not always involve UK nationals or bodies.

As befits a regime that concerns the actions of international actors in relation to the United Kingdom, the Bill has some application beyond the shores of the UK. For example, the Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to issue final orders on conduct outside the UK by certain categories of person with a connection to the UK, including UK nationals and companies incorporated here. Therefore, clause 52 provides for the offences in clauses 32 to 35 to have extraterritorial effect, including in relation to non-UK nationals and bodies. That means that conduct abroad that amounts to an offence can be prosecuted and it also enables the Secretary of State to impose monetary penalties in relation to offences committed outside the UK. That ensures that regime obligations are not unenforceable simply because they concern conduct abroad. I hope that hon. Members will agree that, in a globalised world where transactions routinely take place across borders, it is important for enforcement to be able to react with equal agility. I therefore submit that the appeals process set out in the clauses should be adopted and that, in a globalised world, it is necessary for extraterritorial regime breaches to be enforceable.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to respond in this debate and observe how quickly we have galloped throughs parts 2 and 3. I wonder if that may in part relate to the descending temperatures that we are enjoying. While I know that the Committee shares my fascination with the various procedural and judicial issues with which we were wrestling, the temperature gave no scope for anyone to get comfortable enough to fail to pay attention. I recognise that we on this side of the Committee are in an advantageous position in that we are furthest from the open windows.

We recognise the importance of clauses 50 to 52 in terms of appeals against monetary penalties, of appeals against costs and of having extraterritorial application and jurisdiction to try offences. The Minister set out the reasons for that. To return to an intervention from the hon. Member for Wyre Forest, I am concerned about whether the provisions will be enforceable and useable in having extraterritorial application and jurisdiction over those who are not British and where the offence does not take place in the UK. Do the Government envisage––the impact assessment is, once again, remarkably silent on this––issuing international warrants to get access to those thought to have committed offences but who are not in the UK? Will the measures be pursued and enforced actively or are they there to deal with exceptional circumstances? I would be happy for the Minister to intervene.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I think that the hon. Lady’s question is whether the Government will genuinely be able to punish offences committed overseas. Clearly, in a globalised world where transactions routinely take place across borders, it is important that we have the ability to punish offences and be as agile as those who wish to do us harm. It is therefore right that these offences have extraterritorial reach. We will work with overseas public authorities to ensure that offenders face justice where appropriate.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for that intervention. I am reluctant to test his tolerance by bringing Brexit into this, but I hope that we will continue to have the means to engage with overseas jurisdictions in order to pursue those who break UK law, here or abroad. We will not oppose the clauses, and I congratulate the Committee on making such speedy progress.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 50 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 51 and 52 ordered to stand part of the Bill,.

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

National Security and Investment Bill (Ninth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 9th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah
Tuesday 8th December 2020

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
- Hansard - -

Clause 22 makes provision for circumstances in which false or misleading information is provided to the Secretary of State. Hon. Members will agree that a regime that protects our national security must take appropriate account of those who would wish to mislead us. It is not often that hostile actors offer up honest answers to difficult questions. In addition to the penalties that are provided for in clause 40 and elsewhere, the clause ensures that any decision that is taken on the basis of false or misleading information, and which is materially affected by the false or misleading information, may be reconsidered by the Secretary of State. Following reconsideration, the Secretary of State is then free to affirm, vary or revoke any such decision.

That may, for example, involve calling in a trigger event after an initial decision not to do so, if, for instance, it is discovered that false or misleading information was provided in the notification form. That might ultimately lead to remedies being imposed on the trigger event, including blocking or unwinding it where that is necessary and proportionate for the purpose of safeguarding national security. The Secretary of State is required under subsection (5) to give any call-in notice within six months of discovering that the information was false or misleading.

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

I thank the Minister for his comments on clause 22. This possibly shows a lack of understanding on my part, but could he say a little about how the Secretary of State will ascertain, decide or judge that information has been false or misleading?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. The Secretary of State has a number of tools available to him, including our security and intelligence services. Of course, if the information is deemed to be false or misleading, he will be able to take appropriate action.

There is otherwise no time limit to revising a decision. The time limits under subsections (2) and (4) of clause 2 for calling in trigger events that have already taken place do not apply. We judge that this is an important signal to send. If people provide us with false or misleading information in relation to a trigger event, the Secretary of State may still call in the event for consideration whenever the false or misleading information comes to light, even if the event has long since completed. If truthful information is provided, the time limits in subsections (2) and (4) of clause 2 apply. If people provide us with the right information, they will have certainty. If they provide us with false or misleading information, we may revisit the trigger event whenever the false or misleading information comes to light.

Without the clause, parties could, in theory, deliberately provide false information to ease the passage of their trigger event. The Secretary of State would then be powerless to reopen the investigation into the event and impose national security remedies on it. I stress that I expect cases involving the provision of false or misleading information to be few and far between, but the Government must take steps to mitigate such risks.

Hon. Members may have some concern that the Secretary of State’s ability to reconsider previous decisions chips away at businesses’ confidence to invest. To those hon. Members, I say that the provision applies only to materially false or misleading information, and even if such information is provided unintentionally, it is essential that the Secretary of State has the power to consider the case one more. Moreover, it may be the case that false or misleading information is provided deliberately by a hostile actor. I hope hon. Members will agree that as well as providing slick and efficient processes for business, the Bill must not leave any loophole to be exploited.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 22 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 23

Meaning of “assessment period”

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 22, in clause 23, page 15, line 15, leave out from “as” until end of line 16 and insert

“as agreed by the Secretary of State in accordance with subsection (9)”.

This amendment seeks to limit the flexibility of extending the assessment period to the conditions set out in subsection (9), and to remove the need for the approval of the acquirer.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I absolutely hear what the hon. Gentleman says. The issue then becomes one of national security. As we heard in the evidence sessions, most founders and directors know exactly what they are inventing and what their intellectual property is, and therefore whether there is a national security risk, however nascent the business may be.

I briefly turn to amendment 22. I am grateful for the Opposition’s continued, and in some ways unexpected, push for ever greater powers for the Secretary of State, who I am certain will be most delighted. The amendment would remove the requirement for the Secretary of State to agree the use of a voluntary period or a further voluntary period with the acquirer to consider whether to make a final order or what provision that final order should contain. I do not believe that would be the right approach.

We have set much store in the statutory timescales provided for in the Bill. It is vital for the businesses and investors that we all care about that they have confidence in when they can expect decisions so that they can plan accordingly, which goes back to the point of the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington about planning for an investment or fundraising event. That is why any extension of the assessment period, beyond the collective 75 maximum working days of the initial period and the additional period combined, requires agreement from the acquirer in recognition of the fact that the process is being lengthened beyond the customary timeline. Enabling the Secretary of State to do that unilaterally would be a matter of concern for business and investment communities alike.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his concern about our encouragement, in our probing amendment, of the Secretary of State having greater powers. When the Minister looks at other organisations, such as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States or, even closer to home, the CMA in the UK, which do not have voluntary period extensions, can he understand why there are concerns about how that process would work? What international comparisons has he made?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

We talk to our Five Eyes allies and other nations. As the Secretary of State and I set out on Second Reading, we have worked collaboratively with many nations to try to get the balance right so that the Bill does what it does and is proportionate.

I accept that the amendment also attempts to provide some mitigation against that by directly referencing subsection (9). That existing subsection limits the Secretary of State to being able to agree a voluntary period only where he

“is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that…a trigger event has taken place”

or is “in progress or contemplation”, and that

“a risk to national security has arisen…or would arise.”

He may do so only for the purpose of considering

“whether to make a final order or what provision a final order should contain.”

As such, I gently point out to the hon. Lady that the limitations that she seeks to impose on the Secretary of State through the amendment are already provided for by the clause as drafted. Subsection (3) does not provide a parallel or broader power for the Secretary of State to agree a voluntary period or further voluntary periods for other reasons. It is already subject to the limitations set out in subsection (9). I hope that addresses the hon. Lady’s principal concern. I assure her that, as with so many areas in the Bill, we are singing from the same hymn sheet. For those reasons, I cannot accept the amendment, and I respectfully ask her to withdraw it.

I will turn very briefly to new clause 4. I am grateful to hon. Members for contributing to the debate by suggesting a new clause to allow acquirers to lodge complaints. Under the current drafting of the Bill, the Government can already be held to account on their performance on screening investments. First, the Government can be held to account through the annual report that they are required to publish, as provided for in clause 61. That provision requires the Government to report on the number of notifications that they have accepted and rejected, the sectors of the economy in relation to which call-in notices were given, the financial assistance provided and the number of final notifications given.

Secondly, the Government can be held to account through the judicial review process under clause 49. Acquirers, or indeed any party to the transaction, can claim for judicial review of a relevant decision. Furthermore, throughout the review process, the parties to an acquisition can contact the investment security unit for a discussion about their case and can request to speak to a senior official if needed. Creating a formal complaints procedure would be unnecessarily bureaucratic when acquirers already have better routes available to them if they are unhappy with the decision-making process.

Members from across the House have commented that it is important—the hon. Lady mentioned this earlier—that the appropriate resources are allocated to the investment screening unit. The Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that that happens. It would be unwise to divert some of those staff from undertaking scrutiny of issues of national security to staff a complaints procedure, particularly where JR is available for any serious concern regarding the process of assessment.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hear the Minister repeatedly referencing the judicial review process without, I am afraid, addressing our point: judicial review is not an option that will give relief to a small, nimble start-up.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I mentioned judicial review as the second way in which the Government can be held to account. The first is the requirement for the Government to report to Parliament annually. Colleagues and Committees will therefore be able scrutinise the work of the unit. Although I understand the hon. Lady’s objective with new clause 4, I am not able to accept it for the reasons that I have set out, and I hope that she will agree to withdraw it.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Committee for considering our amendment and new clause, I thank the Minister for his response and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington for his able interventions.

I am somewhat disappointed by the Minister’s response. I think it is absolutely true, as he said, that as with so much, we are on the same page when it comes to what we are trying to achieve. There are significant issues with the clause as it stands, however, and I do not feel that the Minister has addressed them in his response. He did not, for example—I am happy to take interventions on these points—address the issue of voluntary extensions. We do not see that in the US process, which has a number of stages. It allows 45 days for a national security review, including a 30-day limit for the director of national intelligence to submit intelligence analysis and an option of a 15-day presidential determination if needed, but it does not have a voluntary period for extensions. The CMA in this country does not have a voluntary period for extensions. The Government are introducing a voluntary period.

I thank the Minister for clarifying that as well as having the acquirer’s approval, the Secretary of State has to meet the conditions in subsection (9), and that both the approval and the conditions in that subsection are satisfied on the balance of probabilities. That does not, however, address the issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington raised about whether the acquirer is likely to agree to a voluntary period. Without clarity on that point, the clause allows voluntary extensions that, in practical terms, may not prove to be of use to either the acquirer or the Secretary of State.

On the new clause, I do not want to appear cynical, but I am sure that the Minister and those on the Committee who have worked in and with small businesses—particularly in our tech sector and in some of the 17 areas identified for mandatory notification, such as artificial intelligence and data infrastructure—will agree with me when I say that I do think that any small business would see an annual report to Parliament or a judicial review as a relief, given the ever-present desire for investment finance or for progress and innovation at breakneck speed. The Minister has not made a case against the need for a process to address procedural disputes.

I said that amendment 22 was a probing amendment, but I want to test the will of the Committee on supporting greater clarity and understanding for our small and medium-sized enterprises. I will seek to press the amendment to a vote, as I will for new clause 4.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I see where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. The House has many levers at its disposal, including the Select Committee process, to probe the effectiveness of the new regime.

I shall now make some headway. The provision is designed to ensure that orders reflect changing circumstances and do not remain in force for perpetuity without further consideration. Parties subject to orders may themselves request that the Secretary of State vary or revoke their order. This is another mechanism to ensure that orders remain appropriate. The Secretary of State must consider such requests unless the request relates to a final order and, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, there has been no material change in circumstances since the order was made or last varied, or if the party concerned has previously made a request to vary or revoke the order since that request.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for the progress he is making in reading out the provisions of these clauses, but I am trying to understand the length of time that an interim order can be in force. What is the maximum time an interim order can be in force?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

It is time limited, but that does not specify what the time needs to be. I will happily write to the hon. Lady.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not sure that it is time limited, because of the number of additional voluntary periods that the Secretary of State can invoke.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I am happy to come back to the hon. Lady on that point.

Clause 28 requires that orders made under this Bill be served on anyone required to comply with them and anyone with whom the call-in notice was served. The clause also places certain requirements on the contents of orders or accompanying explanatory material as well as giving the Secretary of State the power to exclude sensitive information. The clause sets out the process that the Secretary of State must follow after making an interim order or final order. This provides the clarity and predictability that we all want for businesses and investors.

First, clause 25 requires the Secretary of State to serve the order on everyone who needs to be aware of it, including anyone who is required to comply with it as well as anyone on whom the call-in notice was served. That will provide clarity for affected parties. The Secretary of State is also required to serve the order on such other persons as he considers appropriate—for example, a regulator who is considering the trigger event might need to be aware of the terms of an order.

Secondly, the clause sets out the information that must be contained within an order or its accompanying explanatory material, including the reasons for making the order, the trigger event to which the order relates, the date on which the order comes into force, and the possible consequences of not complying with the order. That will help to ensure that parties are clear about why the Secretary of State has made the order and what they must now do as a result.

Thirdly, the clause enables the Secretary of State to exclude information from a copy of an order or its accompanying explanatory material that he considers commercially sensitive or national security sensitive. That will help to ensure that the process of serving orders does not negatively impact on parties’ commercial interest or on our national security interest. The clause makes provision for notifying those affected by variations and revocations of orders, with a view to ensuring that they are properly communicated in a timely manner.

I hope that hon. Members feel reassured that clauses 25 to 28 will frustrate hostile actors and enable the Government to work with business in executing this regime, that there are safeguards to ensure that orders do not stay in place longer than is necessary or proportionate, and that all relevant parties will have the information they need in relation to orders. I therefore commend the clauses to the Committee.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let me start my thanking the Minister for setting out the purpose and details of clauses 25 to 28, which set out the remedies and the process of the timelines that we discussed in relation to clause 23. As he has suggested, and as the Opposition recognise, many of our amendments and arguments have been focused on trying to ensure that the process of assessment, interim orders and final orders works not just as effectively as possible, but as clearly as possible. It should be as clear as possible to the many businesses that will come under the remit of the Bill, particularly the small and medium-sized enterprises that the Opposition seek to champion.

On the requirements for interim orders, which are set out in clause 25, the Minister is absolutely right to say that we have to have regard to the actions of hostile actors. Indeed, we will be looking for greater clarity on who those hostile actors might be, but we have to recognise that hostile actors might seek to circumvent the provisions of the Bill in order to make off with important intellectual property or to otherwise influence the companies’ assets that they are seeking to acquire. We therefore recognise the importance of interim orders, as set out in clause 25. As I have told the Minister, I am not clear about the maximum timeline that the interim orders can be in place. Regardless of that, it is clearly necessary for them to be put in place and to be defined. They need to be reviewed and rewritten, and other provisions in clause 25 set that out.

My understanding is that interim orders give way to final orders and the final notifications. Although we have some concerns about how those notifications are to be made, which we shall consider later, a final order, made as effectively and quickly as possible, is clearly important.

I am not sure that the Minister made it clear in clause 26(4):

“Before making a final order the Secretary of State must consider any representations made to the Secretary of State”.

This seems to me to be a very broad statement, yet here we see—as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test will observe—that it does not say “may”, but “must”. I am not clear what that is seeking to address, as I would have thought that it was normal practice for the Secretary of State to consider representations made to them.

I wonder whether this is setting up the potential for a future judicial—or other—review, should any representation be made that was not considered to have been considered. Perhaps the Minister will write to me to give his view on that, or to set out what part of the process that statement is trying to address or give accountability on.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

If the hon. Lady’s question is about how broad clause 26 is—

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 26(4).

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

The reason for that is to enable the Secretary of State to tailor remedies accordingly, as a limited list of remedies could result in risks being ineffectively addressed. I am happy to write to her on anything else she requires.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My question is not about the broadness of the orders, or even the discretion that the Secretary of State has, because, as the Minister has observed, we have sought to probe that level of discretion in these powers; it is about the broadness of the provision that:

“Before making a final order the Secretary of State must consider any representations made to the Secretary of State”.

What is meant by “consider”? How would a failure to do so be identified and reported on, and how would the Secretary of State be held to account? I seek further clarity on that. Perhaps it is obvious to the Minister, and perhaps it is just to me that it is not obvious.

I would say, in agreeing to the provisions set out in clauses 25 to 27, that there are concerns that they will not be part of the general reporting, certainly in the provisions of clause 25, and interim reports are not mentioned in clause 61. I share the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test about a lack of reporting on the provisions of the Bill, but we recognise the importance of the clauses and will not be opposing them.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 25 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 26 to 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

National Security and Investment Bill (Eighth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to give some thoughts on clause 14 stand part, but will also refer to the amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South. Clause 14 is a critical part of this process, because it sets out the mandatory notification procedure. In some respects, it is the mandatory notification which places the greatest burden on those falling, or who might consider themselves to fall, within its remit. This is because it requires the person who is to make a notifiable acquisition to give a mandatory notice to the Secretary of State prior to the acquisition taking place.

The clause goes on to give the Secretary of State the option to set out the form and content of the mandatory notice. I shall come back to that. It then sets out the process by which the Secretary of State “must” decide whether to reject or accept that notice. If a mandatory notice is rejected, the Secretary of State must provide reasons in writing for that decision to be made. It also sets out the timescale elements and the persons to be notified. We recognise that mandatory notifications are an important part of making the Bill have the desired impact on our national security. It is absolutely right that in key areas the onus should be on those who will be aware that the transaction is taking place to notify the Secretary of State.

However, the amendment set out by hon. Friend is all about protecting and supporting the interests of small businesses. I am concerned that the Minister does not seem to be as vigilant about reducing the burden on and setting out the guidance for small businesses as we would like. All our constituencies have small businesses—it is often said that they are the lifeblood of the economy—yet in the Bill, and particularly in the clause, the Minister is not setting out the minimum support that they might require.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test got to the nub of the matter in one of his very informative discussions about the difference between “must” and “may”. He observed that the “must” falls on the person who has to do the notifying. For example, it could be a small artificial intelligence start-up with a few members of staff, none of whom is a lawyer—remember that there are no de minimis provisions in the Bill for the size of the acquisition that must be notified—that is seeking investment from a foreign party. That start-up would be asked to indicate whether that investment would involve making a notification. Not only that, it must decide itself the form that the notification should take.

I really cannot understand why the Bill apparently seeks to give discretion to the Secretary of State to lighten his load, but not to our fantastic small businesses or to business generally. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South said, why should a small business, the notifier, also have to set out the format in which its notification takes place? Given that the clause sets out,

“The Secretary of State may by regulations prescribe the form”,

why can we not simply turn that into “shall by regulation prescribe the form and content of a mandatory notice”?

Equally, when voluntary notices are considered, I hope the Minister has some ideas about what should be in the notification. If he does, is it not simple and desirable for him to share his ideas with our business community, which in less than a month’s time is facing a huge change in how it trades and does business with the European Union, our largest trading partner by value? That involves countless new forms to be filled out, as we have discussed in the Chamber, some of which are not yet designed. At the same time that that is happening, to require that they should decide for themselves what is involved in a notification seems wholly unacceptable.

On that basis, I ask the Minister to set out whether he intends to accept the amendment. If not, will he tell us what work has gone on in the Department to look at the kind of information might be required? How will the impact assessment assess the likely level of familiarisation required for this legislation—there is a phrase that says that there is not expected to be a huge amount of familiarisation required in it—while at the same time there is no guidance, assessment or inkling about the kind of information that will be required to be included in that notification?

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

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - -

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.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question; I will write to him on that point, rather than attempting to go through our thinking on this. He raises an important point on what happens after the effect.

Where the final order has the effect of clearing the acquisition outright, subject to conditions, the Bill provides that the acquisition is no longer void. Where the final order has the effect of blocking all or part of the acquisition, the Bill provides that the acquisition remains void to that extent. Further provision on this particular situation is made in clause 17. The deadline of six months for giving either a validation notice or a call-in notice was chosen by the Government to align closely with the Secretary of State’s other requirements to act within certain timescales under the Bill.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his promise to write to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test. The Minister mentioned on a number of occasions that a transaction is no longer void when a validation notice has been given. However, the transaction was void when completed, because it was completed without approval, so there will have been a period when it was void. What are the legal implications of that period?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

Is the hon. Lady is talking about a period when the Secretary of State was not aware of the transaction being void? If he is unaware of it, he is unable to act. It is only once he becomes aware, through a screening process or notification—

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to explain myself better. The question is not about what the Secretary of State can do, because I clearly understand that he cannot act on what he is not aware of. The fact of the transaction being deemed legally void for a period, which it will have been, may have some legal implications for the owners or the customers or whoever.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

Again, I am happy to write to the hon. Lady on that. Clearly, only when the Secretary of State is aware that a transaction is clearly in breach of the Bill is it then void. I am not clear as to what she is saying. Is she asking about before he is able to act?

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let me clarify. Clause 13(1) states:

“A notifiable acquisition that is completed without the approval of the Secretary of State is void.”

It is void at the time it is completed, not at the time the Secretary of State becomes aware of it. Sometime later, the Secretary of State becomes aware of it and gives a retrospective clearing of it, but there will regardless have been a period where that transaction was void. What are the legal implications for the owners? It seems to me that having a transaction being void for a period would have some legal implications, regardless of whether the Secretary of State has cleared it.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

Again, I am happy to write to the hon. Lady on that point. Maybe I am being thick here, but the transaction only becomes void once the information is available to the Secretary of State. Is she talking about before that period?

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My understanding is that it becomes void at the point when the transaction is completed. At some point after that, the Secretary of State gives a retrospective validation, but there is nevertheless a period of one year, or however long it takes, when the transaction was void. Does that not have legal implications?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I am happy to write to the hon. Lady on that point. What I think she is talking about is about the gap between the Secretary of State being aware and when the transaction actually took place, because the date where it is void is the date of the closing of that transaction, but I am very happy to write to her about that.

It is not in the interests of either the Government or the parties for the Secretary of State to have an unfettered ability to issue a call-in notice, perhaps long after he becomes aware of the notifiable acquisition. This approach provides a sensible mechanism for resolving the effects of automatic voiding arising from failures to receive clearance. I reassert my view that such situations should be rare, but it is only proper that the Bill provides such a mechanism for the Secretary of State to resolve them satisfactorily, should they arise. I hope hon. Members agree with that position.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank all the hon. Members for their contributions, and the Minister for his remarks and his good humoured response to the interrogation on certain parts of this important clause. I recognise the importance of the clause and the importance of considering retrospective validations without application giving the all-consuming power through the voiding of notifiable acquisition without the approval of the Secretary of State. This debate has illustrated the need for greater clarity.

In the absence of the additional guidance that we were looking for in our earlier amendment, this has the possibility of becoming a legal goldmine for lawyers who are requested to give advice on what would or would not constitute a void transaction at what time. I raise that in the context of the requests of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test and myself for greater clarity about the period, which may represent some sort of legal limbo, between when a transaction takes place but before it is given retrospective approval. However, we do not oppose the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 15 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16

Application for retrospective validation of notifiable acquisition

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

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

Clause 16 provides a mechanism for any person materially affected by a notifiable acquisition being void to make an application to the Secretary of State to retrospectively validate the acquisition. Although there is a duty in clause 15 for the Secretary of State to give a validation notice or a call-in notice within six months of becoming aware of the acquisition, we recognise that in practice that is often likely to be a process driven by the parties themselves. It may be, for example, that a party realises that their transaction was a notifiable acquisition only after the event, and wishes to take proactive steps to resolve the situation. The clause allows them to make a formal application for retrospective validation, following a similar process to the conventional mandatory notification route.

Subsection (3) enables the Secretary of State to make regulations prescribing the form and the content of a validation application. It is likely that that will closely resemble the mandatory notification form, given all of that information remains pertinent to the Secretary of State’s decision on whether to give a call-in notice. The Secretary of State will be entitled to reject the application where it does not meet the specified requirements, or contain sufficient information for him to decide whether to give a call-in notice.

If the validation application is accepted, all relevant parties must be notified and a 30 working-day review period begins. By the end of the review period, the Secretary of State must issue either a call-in notice or a validation notice. Once again, if a validation notice is issued, the acquisition is no longer void and the Secretary of State must confirm that no further action under the Bill will be taken in relation to that acquisition. As is the case with clause 15, retrospective validation through that route does not provide immunity against criminal or civil sanctions being pursued.

Validation does not change the fact that a notifiable acquisition did not have the Secretary of State’s approval prior to taking place. This is simply about how the acquisition itself should be treated, following the screening of all pertinent details relating to the acquisition. I hope that hon. Members will be supportive of parties being able to apply to the Secretary of State for a validation notice, and that they will see clause 16 as part of our business-friendly approach to the investment screening regime.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

The Government are committed to providing as much certainty as possible for business. The clause therefore provides parties with a mechanism to require the Secretary of State to decide whether a trigger event outside the mandatory notification regime will be called in. If parties wish, they may notify the Secretary of State of such a trigger event when it is in progress or contemplation or, alternatively, after it has taken place. Any early notification will allow businesses to plan for, and mitigate, any issues that may subsequently arise.

Following the acceptance of a satisfactory notification—one that conforms to the prescribed format and content, for example—the Secretary of State has up to 30 working days to decide whether to exercise the call-in power or to take no further action under the Bill. Businesses can rest assured that where the Secretary of State decides to take no further action following assessment of a notification, that decision may not be revisited further down the line. The only exception is if the Secretary of State has been given false or misleading information in relation to the decision not to issue a call-in notice, but I expect such instances to be few and far between. On those rare occasions where the notified trigger event does require further action, early notification means that parties can also factor in a security assessment following a formal call-in early on in their commercial timelines.

I hope that the Committee will agree that that is a pragmatic approach that provides the Secretary of State with the time he requires to properly screen trigger events, while giving businesses as much certainty as possible about when they can expect decisions. I would go further and say that the Government would welcome informal discussions with parties before the notification stage begins. That would allow parties to prepare for a potential assessment, while also allowing the Secretary of State to better understand the trigger event.

This is part of our commitment to working with investors and businesses in as transparent a manner as possible while protecting national security. However, I stress that a formal notification procedure is still required to enable the Secretary of State to make an informed assessment of the trigger event based on a full suite of information. I hope that hon. Members recognise the length the Government are going to to put in place a robust regime that both protects national security and retains business and investor confidence. The voluntary notification procedure, alongside the mandatory notification part of the regime, helps to strike that balance and will, I believe, work in the interests of all parties.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his remarks. He is aware of the Opposition’s concerns about the voluntary notification procedure. I shall not repeat what he has said, and we recognise the importance of the clause and of having such a procedure. As with the mandatory notification procedure, the Minister has rejected our request for a requirement to set out the form of that notification. I would like to press him on this and to ask whether he would perhaps write to me to set out formally where it is that the pre-existing requirement that he said exists says that the Secretary of State “must”, rather than “may”, set out the form for the voluntary notification. I am also not clear whether the voluntary notification form format and information requirements are the same as those for the mandatory notification, given the difference in one being voluntary and one mandatory. Clarification on that would be helpful.

We agree considerably that we want to minimise the burden on businesses and the chilling effect on investment, while securing national security. The clause is an important part of that, so we will not oppose it.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I am very happy to write to the hon. Lady; I thought that I had touched on that in my earlier remarks. The forms should be very similar, because ultimately the decision-making process of the Secretary of State, whether the notification is voluntary or mandatory, will pretty much be the same thing. I am happy to clarify that in writing.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for that intervention, and we will not oppose clause stand part.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 18 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 19

Power to require information

National Security and Investment Bill (Seventh sitting)

(Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

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.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

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 - -

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.

Break in Debate

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

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

Break in Debate

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 - -

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.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - -

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

National Security and Investment Bill (Sixth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

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 - -

Southampton, Test.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry. Southampton, Test.

Break in Debate

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 - -

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.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

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 - -

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.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

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.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

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?

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

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 - -

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.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

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 - -

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 (Fifth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
- Hansard - -

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 - -

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 - -

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.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his response and the generally constructive tone with which he laid out the aims of the amendments and the reasons he did not feel able to accept them.

There is, however, as I suggested in an intervention, a sense of the Minister playing both sides at once. He says that the scrutiny proposed in the amendments, by the ISC and through the multi-agency approach, should take place, but that it would be wrong to require it because it will take place. The hon. Member for South Ribble said that the challenges and the need for input scrutiny could be addressed by the right phone call at the right time. That is true, but there are many reasons why that might not happen. For example, the Minister might be looking at vaccine delivery at the time the phone call was being made. We therefore propose the amendments to ensure that that input, scrutiny and expertise are in the Bill.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

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

National Security and Investment Bill (Fourth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah
Thursday 26th November 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
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)
- Hansard - -

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.

Break in Debate

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 - -

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.

Break in Debate

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 - -

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.

Break in Debate

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 - -

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.

National Security and Investment Bill (Third sitting)

(Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah
Thursday 26th November 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
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 - -

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 - -

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.]

Break 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 - -

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.

National Security and Investment Bill (Second sitting)

(Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah
Tuesday 24th November 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

24 Nov 2020, midnight

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)
- Hansard - -

24 Nov 2020, 2:16 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

24 Nov 2020, midnight

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 - -

24 Nov 2020, 2:51 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

24 Nov 2020, 3:33 p.m.

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 - -

24 Nov 2020, 3:38 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

24 Nov 2020, 4:20 p.m.

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 - -

24 Nov 2020, midnight

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.

National Security and Investment Bill (First sitting)

(Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah
Tuesday 24th November 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

24 Nov 2020, 9:46 a.m.

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
- Hansard - -

24 Nov 2020, midnight

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.

Break in Debate

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

24 Nov 2020, 10:51 a.m.

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
- Hansard - -

24 Nov 2020, 12:03 a.m.

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.

National Security and Investment Bill

(2nd reading)
(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Chi Onwurah
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber