National Security and Investment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:44 pm on 17th November 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 5:44 pm, 17th November 2020

First, I note that I am the only woman on the Government Benches speaking in the debate today. That is not because many of my colleagues do not wish to. For example, my hon. Friends the Members for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher) and for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) cannot speak today because they are self-isolating or shielding and our virtual Parliament does not allow them to take part in these debates. The sooner we allow Members who are having to self-isolate and shield to take part in debates, the better.

I welcome the Bill and the work it will do not only to protect British business and our national security, but to provide more safety and comfort to companies and individuals from abroad investing in the United Kingdom. There is a clear need for the Bill to secure new investment as we transition into a genuinely independent trading nation for the simple reason that legislation in this area was last written at the beginning of this century, and it has not kept up with business and advances in technology since then.

I regularly speak to financial and professional services based in my constituency of the Cities of London and Westminster, and the legislation technology lag is often a key concern. I am glad that the Government are taking action to prevent the lag from growing any greater. As we recover from covid-19, it is essential, for the economy to recover, that we remain a vibrant and attractive destination for global investment. The actions taken under the Bill to make interactions with the Government simpler, more transparent and swifter than the current regime have to be welcomed for the benefits to both domestic business seeking international capital and those investing from abroad alike.

The Bill, as I understand it, will also create an investment screening regime in line with those that already exist in other nations around the world—many have been mentioned today—meaning that investors will be familiar with the processes that they will likely have to undertake. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is keenly aware that we must strike a balance between preserving national security and enshrining the UK’s world-leading position as an investment location. Of course, we are aware that it is only a small minority of rogue players who might pose a risk to our national security, so we must welcome legitimate investment as openly as possible. I hope the Government will continue to work with businesses as the Bill progresses to ensure that that balance is maintained.

Having said that, I understand that the Government predict, in their impact assessments, that less than 1% of all mergers and acquisitions and asset transactions will result in voluntary notification to Government. Some of the magic circle law firms based in my constituency believe that the Government may have underestimated those figures and, indeed, even if they are correct, it will none the less result in a much greater number of transactions being reviewed than is currently the case. They are concerned that the increased administrative burden of more reviews might deter investors. I would welcome a response from the Minister on that point.

I am pleased that the Bill’s focus is on national security concerns and that it will not enable the Government to intervene for wider economic reasons. This appears to remove the potential for any political interference when reviewing mergers and acquisitions. I would welcome assurances from my hon. Friend the Minister that it is the Government’s intention to take the politics out of that as much as possible. Furthermore, I am reassured that the new investment security unit will be within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, rather than across Government—although I take the point made by my hon. Friend James Wild—meaning greater consistency and potential speed in decision making. It is about that speed. As has been said already today, 30 days should really mean 30 days if we are to ensure that we do not block investment.

Finally, the Bill is to be welcomed in the broader context of other legislation before the House. I spoke last week in the Second Reading debate on the Financial Services Bill, brought forward by Her Majesty’s Treasury. Taken together, I believe the Bills represent a clear indicator that across Government, this Administration understand the priority and impact the financial and professional services, many based in the City of London, have on UK plc and the wider global economy. They will lead the recapitalisation of the economy post covid-19 and they will finance the Government’s levelling up agenda. It is right that we do what we can to ensure that they can operate safely and securely as technology advances in the financial marketplace.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and ministerial colleagues will continue to consult business as the Bill progresses through the House. Should I be able to act as a conduit to the business community in my constituency, I would be delighted to help. I commend the Bill to the House.