National Security and Investment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:50 pm on 17th November 2020.

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Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire 5:50 pm, 17th November 2020

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken, who represents a constituency where many businesses will have to wrestle with some of the implications of the Bill as it passes through and becomes law. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Minister on their preparation of this Bill. A lot of good time has been put in over the past couple of years and good evidence has been presented to prepare the Bill for debate today, and it will be my pleasure to support it.

It is both easier and right to look at this as a national security measure and not so much as an investment measure; we have to deal with the investment implications, but it is important that we get the national security measures right. There has been lots of conversation today about the requirements of the Bill, but I have to say that the evidence of historical examples has not been quite as strong as some of the measures in it. In many cases, this is a precautionary Bill, rather than one driven by the evidence historically. I do not think we want to be too critical of what we have been doing over the past 10 or 15 years. As many Members have said, this Bill is bringing something up to date so that we can deal with the things we think might be coming in the next 10 or 20 years.

I can now see why the Minister has had to thread a needle to try to land this precisely. Many voices, on all sides, have been asking him to extend the Bill. Indeed, the Bill has the potential to be an expansive octopus, given the pressures that might be put on the Government to extend it. I have heard about having a wider national interest test and including more sectors than the 17 we already have. We have talked about a definition of the national interest, which has been portrayed to the Minister as something that might restrict, but, as he well knows, the more precise a definition, the broader it can be in terms of how it is interpreted for others.

There have been many cautionary comments from others about the extension of the Bill into a national industry strategy for the country—that is not the purpose of the Bill. Edward Miliband, the Opposition spokesman, who is no longer in his place, misjudged the Bill in saying that that is something we need to adorn it with. That would be completely inappropriate and it would take away from some of the scrutiny I hope Members will give the Bill as it goes through Committee.

I ask the Minister to be aware of and listen to people on the potential for unintended consequences. We have heard a lot about the decision in respect of Huawei, but he will be aware of the potential for retaliatory measures by us. Please look at the unintended consequences in respect of innovation in some of the sectors that may be affected. In that regard, I just point Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as an adviser to a technology company.

May we also feed something in from the Government Benches about a pattern we are seeing? As we are bringing forward more regulatory measures and as we take back regulatory powers from the EU, parliamentarians are constantly raising the question of what parliamentary oversight of those regulatory powers there is. It would be useful if Ministers would look at that. I congratulate the Minister on presenting the Bill and I am grateful for the opportunity to make some comments today.